Nikki's Notebook

My journey as a fiction writer and a place for my projects, writing and otherwise.

My DIY Postgraduate Education

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UntitledLike many people, there are two sides to me when it comes to making big decisions like “What do I do next in my life?” There’s the realist (pessimist?) and the dreamer. In all of my decisions, I’ve been able to see at least a little bit of the dreamer. When I chose to major in English, it was because I secretly wanted to write fiction. Except, I would never have told anybody that.

Instead, when I answered the question “What’s your major?” with “English,” I would often get the response, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” I always thought that a bit of a silly question, considering that if I wanted to be a teacher, wouldn’t I be an education major? Usually, what I’d do was shrug, and say I didn’t know, or make some joke about not having a job after I graduated. I managed to end up in education anyhow, thanks to AmeriCorps, but I still have no plans to become a teacher, either by going back to school or through any alternate degree program.

At each crossroads in my life, the dreamer in me struggles with the realist. It’s the same now that I’m approaching the end of this year with AmeriCorps. Going to grad school for English has always been in the back of my mind, and I did have enough professors encourage me to do it! However, the best advice I got was from one of those same professors who thought I’d be grad school material: Don’t go to grad school unless you know exactly why you want to go and what you want to study. He cautioned against grad school as a placeholder, or something to do just because you don’t know what you want to do next in your life. In the past few years, I’ve had vague thoughts of going back, but I’ve always wavered, because deep down I knew that’s all I would be doing: choosing grad school because I didn’t know what else to do.

Instead, I’m going to make my own DIY postgraduate education. Part of it will definitely include a job where I will continue to gain professional skills. The other part is going to be me spending time on writing and learning things related to writing. I still don’t know what form it’s going to take, and it’s going to take time, but I’m already taking the steps, and that’s what counts. It won’t be overnight, and it will be a lot of work, but if it’s work I enjoy, then I have achieved my goal.

What I won’t do is frantically try to latch on to the latest fad for making money on the internet, try to take advantage of people who don’t get it, or rush out sloppy work just so I can start promoting my first 99 cent ebook and expect to be the next Amanda Hocking. I’m going to do good work, hard work, thoughtful work, and quality work. If I’m going to do it, it’s going to be something I can be proud of.

Here is how I’m starting my DIY postgrad education:

Reading books:

I recently purchased Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and The Plot Whisperer when we stopped by Barnes and Noble the other day. It was an impulse buy, and perhaps a creative writing professor would have recommended different books, but it seems like a good start to me. I’ve started reading Self-Editing already, and it’s actually made me feel better about my writing. Not that I think my writing is so good, but because I knew a lot of the things it talks about already from the one creative writing class I took in college. I’m happy to know I’m starting good habits, even though I still have a lot of bad ones, too.


I’m writing every day, so I’m practicing. I like this video with a quote by Ira Glass: Ira Glass on Storytelling, because it comforts me and motivates me to keep going. I’ve always written fiction, but it’s never been on a consistent basis until this year; it was always sporadic and unfinished. So I still consider myself a beginner. I’m going to keep practicing.

Studying others who are doing what I want to do

Mountain and Pacific is my big find for the day. It’s the perfect tonic I need to cut through all of the noise out there about marketing your book, creating content that you can sell, having an author platform, how to be the next kindle millionaire, or whatever. I’ve just read issues 19 and 20 of In Treehouses and I’m enjoying Thom’s philosophy that doing something well, and with depth and thought is better than all the tweeting and arm-waving you could do to sell your product. I do believe that the best way to stand out is to focus on quality and honesty and to let the rest flow naturally from that. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there’s a place for marketing, but the thing being marketed needs to be worth selling first.

Learning new technologies

I’ve downloaded the files to get started on a WordPress based website, and will be poking around with it for awhile. I learn best by just doing the things I want to know how to do, so I just have to jump in and try it. If I can make a nice website, this blog might move there.

So those are a few things I’ve been doing for my DIY education, and there will still be more. I’ll read and learn all I can, and take the best ideas from everything and mold them into something of my own. If you’ve read this far, I hope at least some of it was useful or inspiring to you. Maybe for all this, I won’t succeed, but I’m determined not to fail simply because I never tried.

Gru says, “I don’t care if it has no steering wheel and the hatch is filled with too much stuff. I’m going for a ride in the car!”


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