By BRUCE DENNILL
Kelechi ‘Kay Kay’ Uchendu is the author of Bully Friends and the Founder and CEO of Kay Kay’s World LLC, which includes Kay Kay’s Fashion, a fashion brand that has been featured in British Vogue. Uchendu’s book for young readers, Bully Friends, highlights a major source of childhood bullying not often covered by media and entertainment. Through personal examples from her own childhood growing up in Detroit, Uchendu teaches young adults how to identify ‘bully friends’ and how not to become one themselves. From a ‘bad birthday’ party to ‘mean high school’ stories, the author’s personal accounts are both heartbreaking and illuminating.
How do you know when an idea is worthy of developing into a book? With songs or other shorter formats, you can get to a point of knowing if something will work relatively soon, but getting several thousand words into a manuscript and then deciding it’s a waste of time is far more frustrating.
If an idea is original, interesting, and inspirational, then I know that it is worthy of developing into a book. For example, I knew that Bully Friends was an original and interesting book because I had never seen anything like it before. I also had several people tell me that the topic itself was perfect for the world we are living in today. I hoped that it would inspire readers and motivate them to be better friends after reading the book.
When you do decide that a theme or story is worth exploring, how do you go about unpacking that?
I first make an outline of the book and then I work on each chapter one at a time. Since Bully Friends is based on my own personal experiences from childhood, I had to spend time thinking about my past, including some of the difficult experiences I went through related to bullying and decide which ones were best to include in the book. It was easy for me to remember these experiences in detail because they were traumatic and shocking, so I never forgot them. It felt easy to me to capture the feelings I had so long ago when writing Bully Friends.
Research: how much do you do, and how detailed is it?
I have interviewed celebrities and written articles for my blog, but Bully Friends is the first book that I have written. When I was writing it, I spent time researching the best resources to help young readers who may be having similar experiences with bullying that I did. I also read a lot of articles and books from other authors on bullying.
How much planning do you do before beginning in earnest? Do you have to know where you’re going to end up before you start?
I did a lot of planning before I started this book because it allowed me to be more focused on writing this important personal story. However, I am always open to change. For example, when I started writing, I did not know that I was going to make it into an interactive book. So, my first idea didn’t end up as the final product. Something that makes me unique from other authors, I think, is that I already know what I am going to write before I start typing. I have the narrative already in my head.
If the hundreds of memes about writing are to be believed, sitting down and actually putting words on a page is perhaps the toughest part of the job. What are the distractions you battle with the most when trying to work?
I am a millennial, so I am always checking my social media pages. Social media is the biggest distraction when I am trying to work. I am also tempted to watch YouTube videos, Criminal Minds episodes and Lifetime movies on my iPad. I was able to stop and get to writing by setting goals for myself. I told myself that I had to finish a certain chapter by a certain time. I could take as many breaks as I needed to as long as I finished the chapter before the deadline. This took the pressure off, but still allowed me to be productive and meet my deadlines.
Daily goals: what, for you, is an acceptable daily target, in terms of wordcount or the quality of what you complete, be it a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter?
My daily target varies depending on what I am writing. I like to tell myself that my quality always has to be amazing and whatever I can do in a day while still maintaining amazing quality is good enough.
How does completing a writing project fit in with your other duties?
I also own Kay Kay’s Fashion, a Detroit-based fashion company that has been featured in British Vogue, so writing is not my only job. This writing project fitted in with my other duties well because they both used the creative side of my mind. I used my Google calendar to plan out my day and set aside a specific amount of time each day to work on Bully Friends. I would typically write in the afternoon and in the evening.
Marketing new books – print or digital: what fresh ideas do you think could be introduced to the process to make new work more accessible and appealing to both new and established readers?
I think that doing virtual book launch parties with giveaways would help make new work more accessible and appealing to both new and established readers. I also think that partnering with relevant organisations and charities is another good strategy. And I think that reading a chapter of your book on YouTube is a fun way to accomplish the goal