6 years of Fictionforteens.com: Musings on Consumerism and Curriculum in 2021

The moment when 13-year-old me, daydreaming whilst staring out of the car on the way home one dark night, decided that she would combine her love for opinions and writing with her bookish obsession is a moment I’ll be eternally thankful for. 6 years later, I can well and truly say that creating this website has been the catalyst for my continued love of writing and reading, a passion that I hope to take to a professional level one day. Reading and reviewing books has undoubtedly improved my writing for essays at school and university, prepared me to create another blog, opinionalwrites.wordpress.com (cheeky plug I know), and enabled me to write for my university’s student newspaper. Being an avid reader alongside a keen reviewer has given me an insight into the bookish world over time, so I thought I’d share some of my most recent thoughts with all of you, and the resolutions that these have prompted. 

I can confidently say that my library card is one of my most treasured possessions. As a young child, I was lucky to be able to visit my city’s library, and peruse a wide selection of books written about and for people my age. Later on, I went to volunteer in that library, creating some of the magic that had nurtured my love for reading and had encouraged me to delve into mysterious and magical worlds designed to enthrall younger readers. From the readers that I know, there seems to be quite a strong consensus: libraries are incredible, and the source of the majority of the books that we all read. In an era of public service cuts, I feel a duty to support and utilise my local library to access the books that I read for pleasure and review. So, when I heard about some of the discourse on Twitter about consumerism on bookstagram (the book-related side of instagram) I was immediately hooked. 

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

This was something that had been on my mind a while – I had set up my own instagram account, and ended up following a wide variety of fellow bloggers and some book influencers. My feed was flooded with immaculate and vibrant photos of stacks, shelves and spreads of the latest, hottest books, all adorned with bookish merchandise, figurines and beautiful flowers. I didn’t feel like I could keep up with these photos – there were only so many angles you could take a picture of a smallish bookshelf from. 

I feel lucky that I own books, and the ones I do own are cherished and appreciated; I hope to hold on to them all for a long time. Likewise, if you are willing and able to spend a lot of money on books, then good for you – they’re one of the best things to be spending your spare cash on. What I take issue with is the unspoken narrative that to be successful on these platforms, you have to be “hauling” 10+ books a month. I’d like to see more bookish people with influence to be promoting the use and establishment of libraries (particularly in lower income areas around the world) and for bookstagrammers to feel like it’s okay to only buy one book once in a while (or none at all). As the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world. I’m going to make one of my 2021 resolutions to promote libraries through my platforms. I’ll post photos of books borrowed from my library, and research more into the issues surrounding access to libraries both in the UK and worldwide.

This year has caused the bookish community to take a long hard look at their bookshelf and reading habits, and consider whether they’re reading a wide range of books, written by authors from under-represented communities. In the wake of widespread BLM protesting, anti-racist reading lists have spread online to encourage people to learn more about a difficult but important topic. This focus on diverse and reading widely made me reflect on the books that I’d read as part of my school curriculum. I can’t think I particularly loved any of them, and I was amongst the keenest of readers in the class. For GCSE, we read Inspector Calls, Romeo and Juliet, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and a selection of poems on the topic of war and conflict. We’d previously read Jane Eyre and Kiss the Dust, the latter of which was probably the best out of them all because of the relevant themes explored. 

This made me think of the role education has on life-long reading. Angie Thomas’ words immediately comes to mind; she’s an incredible storyteller and truly inspirational. In one interview, she says that “there’s no such thing as a reluctant reader. They just haven’t found the right book.” This is spot on. It saddens me when people think that reading is boring, only because of the books they’ve read at school. Of course, it’s fine to prefer other hobbies, but I think there’s a book out there for everyone. Books set centuries ago with archaic language may be great for students in further study and students that are keen readers, but I think that YA fiction and diverse books are the way to go for students that are yet to find the read for them. Give students magical worlds, with intricate and mesmerising detail. Give students diverse characters and storylines, so everyone in the class has an opportunity to feel seen. Give students incredible plots that will have them eager to read on. So, in 2021, I’d like to recommend more books to people that are struggling to find a place to start when it comes to reading, and really utilise my blog for easy use so everyone can find exactly what they want. 

2020 has been a testing year, and I hope and plead that 2021 will be better for everyone. This was quite a lengthy post, so if you’ve read this far, thank you. To everyone who’s ever read, followed, liked my work – thank you. It really does means a lot. Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to another year of fictionforteens.com.

Take care,

Alyssa

How I Have Improved My Blog Posts – A Self-Improvement Journey

My last post about blogging, Want to Start Blogging? What I’d Wish I’d Thought About When I Started Out, had a pretty good response, so I thought I’d have a go at writing something else on blogging, and my experiences.

I can’t believe that I wrote my first blog post when I was 13, not because it was particularly good, but because 13 feels like such a long time ago. I don’t need to tell you that the amount of personal growth that we undergo during the formative teenage years is huge, but thirteen-year-old me has come a long way. In terms of blogging, I like to compare what I wrote a couple of years ago with what I’m writing now; the process of narrowing down the differences and finding areas that I can still improve upon is uplifting and self-improving, so I wanted to condense this into a blog post for you.

I’m still learning, and not only is this list a record of what I have already done to improve my writing, but I’m hoping it will serve as a memorandum for future me to consult when writing posts. Also, I’m not saying that any posts that don’t do the things I mention are automatically bad – these are the ways that I’ve improved my posts.

The most significant challenge I’ve set myself is to be more precise. Before I wrote this article, I dug up some of my oldest posts from the depths of my archives, spanning back to 2014, and I jotted down some of the stock phrases that I used. In my Hunger Games review, for example, I said that Katniss was a “strong female protagonist”. It’s not hard to imply what this means, and therefore what Katniss’s attributes are, but without some examples and more specific vocabulary, we can’t paint a picture of Katniss’s traits in our mind. In my Scorpio Races review, I tried to expand a little on why I liked our main character, Puck, and how she contrasted to the male lead, Sean, which fleshed out my review, but I knew I could take it further, and offer my blog readers even more of an insight. So, in my review of A Curse So Dark and Lonely, (probably one of the reviews that I am most proud of!) not only did I list some of Harper’s traits, I gave an example from the book where she demonstrates them. With the male lead, Rhen, I made a link between the way he was portrayed and the stereotypical representation of male love interests in YA Fantasy.

Every time I instinctively reach for phrases like “every chapter ended with a cliffhanger”, I urge myself to take this further. Was it because I was emotionally attached to the characters, meaning that I was invested in their wellbeing? Or because the plot was so well-crafted that I wanted to know how the big mysteries of the novel would be solved? Or was it because every chapter ended in the middle of action, when the protagonist was at their most vulnerable? It may be a mixture of these things, but to add that additional layer to the post, I always make sure that I go that extra step.

Everyone’s reason behind starting their blog is personal, and it tends to be a mixture of a couple of factors. For me, I wanted to spread reading and encourage teens to pick up books, by recommending books that I’ll think they like, as well as the personal challenge of improving my writing and copy-editing. Therefore, it follows for posts to have a purpose. On the macro-blog-level, this means the post matching what you’re setting out to achieve with your site (as explained above), and on the micro-level, every post should have their own purpose, within itself. So, when I write a blog post, I think about what I’m trying to achieve, and this is particularly relevant for my book reviews. When I review a book, I want to a) share my thoughts on the book with people who may have read it and b) give people reading my blog a real sense of whether it’s worth their while reading this book. I’ve found that in order to be most satisfied with what I write, I have to bear these two points in mind. It’s like having an internal purpose (point a) and an external purpose (point b). I’ve been trying to implement both of these points by including star ratings, having a concluding sentence at the end of my post to sum up the book, including trigger warnings/content warnings, and comparing books to others in the genre. Not every post will include all of these, but I’m consciously trying to weave them into my posts in order to fulfill Fictionforteen.com ‘s purpose.

My final point is about vocabulary. In the space of 5 years, there have been so many opportunities for me to add to my personal lexicon; especially as a book blogger. Reading a lot means that I’m constantly coming into contact with words that I haven’t used before. I find that to make my posts pop, the thesaurus and it’s wealth of synonyms is a must, as well as checking the dictionary definitions of words that I’m not too sure of.

I’m really looking forward to comparing my blog in another 5 years’ time, and using this post to guide my journey through reviewing, opinion sharing, and recommending. Maybe you might have found some of these points helpful – please let me know in the comments how you improve your posts!

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Thank you and take care,

Al

Want To Start Blogging? What I’d Wished I’d Thought About When I Started Out

Blogging is special. It allows you to elucidate your thoughts and stances on issues that are important to you, and share this with the world through written word.

If you already have a blog, then you’ll know this, but when I was starting out, I wasn’t fully aware of the power blogging had, and how to best utilise this powerful tool. I’m not referring to the nitty-gritty of web design and SEO (although I’m still getting to grips with that today), but rather the way to use a blog to make it best fit your needs and aims. I believe to get the most out of your blog, it’s good to have a think about why you are doing it and what your hopes are. As such, I’ve made a list of three things that I think you should ponder if you’d like to start a blog. Now, I’m by no means an authority on blogging and the like, but here are some snippets of advice that I hope you’ll find of interest!

  1. Don’t Give Up (Even If You Don’t Get The Response You Wanted)

Blogs are the perfect platform for sharing your interests with like-minded people, and this was one of the main reasons that I started fictionforteens.com. When I posted my first blog post, I wasn’t quite sure what would happen; whether the book enthusiasts of the world would flock in their masses to my humble site, or whether my posts would lie unread, the comments sections a barren wasteland. I got a couple of views on the post, and it took me a while to build on that, but what kept me going was the knowledge that I was doing what I loved and sharing that enthusiasm with other people. 

Along your blogging journey, some people may not mirror your enthusiasm for blogging and your subject of interest, and others may not give you the support that you hoped for. I must emphasise that the kind of people that I have just described are definitely in the minority, but this is significant enough for a blogger to down tools and forget about something that they have worked hard on. If your posts immediately blow up and reach visitors in all corners of the globe immediately, then that’s amazing, but if your posts don’t, do not become disheartened, but post because a) you enjoy it and b) you are passionate about the subject on which you are blogging. Your passion for what you do will come through in your content, resulting in an invested reader and a quality blog. 

2. Be Prepared to Promote

Once you’ve built your blog and published your first post, it’s time to start on some Shameless Self-Promotion. It may feel unnatural at first, but to get your post read, you need to shout about it from the rooftops (not necessarily literally, but whatever works for you, I guess). Utilise Social Media, pester your friends, and use whatever ways you usually spread the word about something to spread your blog around. When you’ve spent time and effort working on something, it should be spread – people won’t know about it unless you tell them. Not everyone will be interested, but there will be some people that are.

If you use WordPress, you can write your Social Media posts with a link to your new article when you publish your post – you just have to link your accounts for them to be posted. This works best for Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll usually put a photo of the new post on my Instagram story directing people to a link in my bio. All of this will help to do your hard work justice. Make your follow button for people with a WordPress account high up on the sidebar of your blog, as well as the box where people can put in their email address so they can be notified of new content.

3. You Will Improve

I’ve been looking at some of the posts that I wrote when I first starting my blog, and comparing them with my recent ones. Granted, I was only 13, and the progress is over a period of almost 6 years, but it’s satisfying seeing my personal growth and how I’ve formed my writing style through reviewing books. There’s still got a long way to go, and I try to make each post better than the last, but at the start, I didn’t feel like I could do any better than what I was already doing. All of this advice comes down to one thing: just keep going. That’s the best way of improving, as well as pushing yourself to write in formats that you’re not used to. For example, I found it difficult transitioning from writing book reviews and listicles to writing articles such as the one on multiple points of view, where I was forced to think more deeply about the structure and organisation of my article, along with having to determine what the crux of my conclusive argument was. Similarly, starting my new blog opinionalwrites.wordpress.com (any opportunity to promote) was a challenge, because delving into the world of politics and the arts, while I am familiar with the two, stretched me, and I’m very much still learning!

I hope this is helpful if you’re starting out on your blogging journey! Even if you’re a seasoned blogger, I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are, and any advice that you’d give to a fledgling writer!

Take care, Al.