Be nice to yourself.
Be nice to others.
Be nice to yourself.
Be nice to others.
So, in the grip of the schmancy bullet journaling madness, I ended up making a page for new year’s resolutions. What can I say, pretty pens just give you the urge to make pretty lists!
So, without further ado, here are my resolutions:
What are yours, readers?
Okay, so there are no actual bullets involved. Thankfully.
As you know, one of the things I love is continuous change. On the surface, that sounds unsettling, but in actuality, it is the key to me achieving my goals. It is me saying, “my current approach is not working, but I still want to do this thing, so how do I go about it?” For instance …
Bullet journaling is the same. The idea is simple: take a blank notebook and make it into the kind of day planner you need. For me, day planners tended to have way too much space on some days and way too little on others. They don’t have an easily delineated space for communications, one of my most fraught daily tasks, and there’s no good place to make random notes. But a bullet journal can be exactly what I need.
One of the absolute best things about bullet journaling, hands down, is that it allows you to add emphasis to tasks that you absolutely HATE. I’m betting that if you keep an eye on your day to day activities over the next week or so, you’ll find one that “should” be easy (emails, mailing bills, eating a healthy breakfast, whatever) that you just can’t make yourself do. You drag your heels. Every time you sit down to do it, you remember a hundred other things that you could be doing and wander off, etc. Your bullet journal will let you separate this task out into as many steps as you need, add a bribe if you want one, and give you the satisfaction of checking it off once it’s done. If it’s emails that you hate because they suck up your time, you can do something like the following, with each of these items as a ticky box:
By admitting to yourself that you hate a task and assigning it space that corresponds with how much mental energy it’s taking you, you can get much further. Stop pretending it’s easy just because it “should” be.
A bullet journal is also a way to inject creativity and beauty into your life, and I cannot stress enough how important I think this is. You’ll find tons of people who can do absolutely gorgeous ink drawings or watercolors in the margins. You may be one of them! I’m not, but I absolutely add doodles: some flowers, swirls of color, clouds and snowflakes on my weather tracker (I check each night as I make my next day’s schedule). You can also do something like the below, which actually seems doable for me:
Before diving in with all the bells and whistles (which, if you’re like me, tends to be how you do these things), I’d spend a few weeks with just any old notebook you have available. Try out different things. Come up with a key and see if it works for you. Notice how your current day planner ISN’T working for you: do you need space for random notes each week? A page or a half a page to jot down appointments for next week? How about a separate place for your grocery list? Think about what you want and try it out. Then, and only then, should you look all over to see every cool new idea. A lot of them simply won’t be useful to you, and waiting until you know what you need will help you select what you want. Even then, you will continue to adapt as you move onward. Let it change.
Do you already bullet journal? If you’ve got a blog or instragram feed where you show your progress, comment below so people can check it out!
What does “living the dream” mean? I get told a lot that I’m doing it, because people are genuinely pretty chuffed that I’m doing it (I know really wonderful people, and yes, I know how lucky I am), but the weird thing is that this actually creates a f*ckton of stress, like I’ll be letting all of these people down if I go back to a day job at some point.
And so, with thoughts of a day job and steady income on my mind, I not only feel ashamed to say as much to people, I also stop engaging in conversations that go down that path, as if I no longer have the right, as if entertaining the thought of a day job is a betrayal of the dream.
But … is it? I know I can write books (whole series, in fact!) while holding down a day job. I remember, fondly, when I came home and couldn’t wait to get writing because that was the high point of a day, that was my escape. That’s not the whole story, of course – that particular job came home with me emotionally more often than not, and often I was tired and stressed about self-imposed writing deadlines. But neither the day job or the freelancing is inherently better for me, and it’s not inherently better for the writing, either.
So, my question is this: if my bread and butter money comes from a day job, and I can delight in the very act of writing, and laugh and shrug my shoulders if a book finds a tiny core of passionate readers but never makes a bestseller splash … is that no longer “living the dream”? I don’t think so. I think any life where you get to pursue and enjoy your art is living the dream.
Art lives first in the creation. As long as you delight in what you make, it doesn’t matter if you’re a bus driver or a chamber orchestra player, an attorney or an author. As long as you’re making that art, you’re living the dream.
So – high five, all of you out there doing your art.
Oh, man. So Konmari has come and gone as a fad and I’m just getting around to it. Honestly, one of the things I liked best about it when people told me they were doing it (…eons ago) was that you thanked items for their service before letting them go. I relentlessly anthropomorphize things, which is just one of many, many reasons I find it difficult to let go of them.
Well, I got rid of 2 gigantic bags of things. Shirts, sweaters, on and on and on – and I still have too much stuff.
Phase 2 is that I have my pants and my shirts stacked up, and I’m just going to use whatever item is on top that day (assuming the colors don’t clash). If I don’t want to wear it? It’s going away.
I do feel a lot lighter without that stuff, though. I wasn’t wearing it, I wasn’t using it, and a lot of it was new and really well made, including some business stuff. Hopefully, someone finds it who can use it!
Has anyone else been on a decluttering spree lately?
To whoever you are, whether or not I know you, however you found your way here, I want to say first that I am wishing you all the best and I hope beyond hope that you make it someday in writing. I do. I like reading a lot, I was a reader before I was a writer, and I want to read your stuff someday. That would be super cool. I wish you all the luck in the world.
Keyword, that: luck. We’ll be coming back around to that in a moment.
In the meantime, know that what I want most out of this is for you to take the leap you’ve been wanting to take. I hope you’ll get to the end of this armed with more knowledge, and that you can leap without getting clobbered by some totally preventable clobberings. (Totally a word.)
So, without further ado…
I’ll be honest with you, I’m never entirely sure how to begin this. I still haven’t figured it out. No one tells you how to mentor when you get into this. I want to give you all of the information I wish I’d had when I went into this, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. So, do you have any specific questions?
Seriously. The more specific you can get your questions, the easier it is to set you on the path.
For now, I’ll set out a few rules – the natural laws of writing, if you will.
Rule 1, 2 ways
Rule 1a: It is possible to pour your heart, your soul, and every ounce of skill you have into a manuscript, and not be able to pull it off. It is also possible to pull it off, get the most amazing cover you’ve ever seen, nail it on the blurb, choose all the right keywords…and hit the market wrong, in some way you may never figure out. The book might take off a month later, a year later, never. You won’t know the future, and you won’t know all of the reasons for the past.
This is the hardest lesson. God, I wish it were possible to tell you that enough effort can make not only a fantastic manuscript, but also a bestseller. I do. I wish it were possible for me to say that you could totally nail any concept you wanted to work with, too. I do.
I can’t. Here’s what I can say:
Rule 1b, paraphrased from author Boyd Craven: If you climb up into a tree in the middle of a thunderstorm and wave a piece of metal around, it’s really more a question of when lightning’s going to strike you, not if. When you absolutely nail your story and your presentation, that’s what you do. Maybe lightning won’t strike this time, but if you keep climbing up that tree, it will strike eventually. Also, since this is a metaphor, you won’t die from a lightning strike. So, bonus.
Rule 2: there is no correlation between the quality of your manuscript, and how you feel about it. In fact, the Katson Uncertainty Corollary states that you can either know what you are trying to accomplish with your manuscript, or whether or not you think it’s any good, but not both.
Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Words that got dragged out of you one at a time with rusty pliers while you dreamed of any other career and wanted to die? Occasionally fantastic. Words that flowed like a gently burbling stream? Occasionally pure crap. That manuscript you cannot, for the life of you, get right? Will often get amazing reviews. Not only can you not tell how good a manuscript is by how you feel about it, you can’t even guarantee that you’ll feel any consistent way about a manuscript over time. Them’s the breaks. That’s why we have editors and beta readers.
Rule 3: Most parts of publishing are in constant flux. It’s completely $%&*ing exhausting, but you just have to try to keep up. You’ll miss something. That’s okay. That’s what rule 4 is for.
Amazon changes their algorithms, Nook stops distributing in the UK, Google Play shuts down to new authors. The terms of Kindle Unlimited change, you realize FNAC hasn’t delisted your books, you spend $100 on a promo that was the best a year ago and doesn’t seem to work now. You’ve made plans, dammit, you’ve gotten into a groove, and now everything is changing? How were you even supposed to know about all of this?
The community will help, but make sure you are one of the helpers, too. Read on to Rule 4 for more information on that.
Rule 4: Every piece of help you give other professionals will come back around tenfold.
I have never in my life met a demographic with more generous, helpful, genuinely amazing people than the indie publishing crowd. (For all I know, the traditional publishing crowd is exactly the same way, I just don’t know all that many of them. It seems likely, though – I mean, they really like books, too.) I know very, very few bestselling authors who don’t have blog posts and books and facebook groups devoted to helping other authors achieve the same success. They don’t hide their process, and they don’t get stingy with their advice. They’re awesome.
But publishing is also a part of the world of Art, and Art is difficult, and sometimes, after pouring your heart and soul into something only to see someone else’s career take off, there is bad feeling. So there is also a contingent of very bitter people who tear other people’s work to shreds and leave nasty reviews and all sorts of things. Very unpleasant.
It seems like indie publishing is a sort of double helix. You can get into the helpful spiral and go up, or get into the non-helpful spiral and go dowwwwwn. Get into the helpful spiral, I say. And you know how you do that? Be on the message boards. You almost always have some area of expertise someone else doesn’t have – and when you see that knowledge gap, fill it. Do that whenever you have the chance. I know it takes time, but you’ve been there, right? Late, exhausted, completely unable to figure out how to get the headers correct on your paperback formatting, and wasn’t it amazing that someone came to help?
Be that person. Just trust me on this one.
Rule 5: Financially speaking, the best time to start writing for a living is probably never, unless you’ve inked a very large deal (in which case, whooooo!). You’re still probably going to do it anyway.
Okay, so if you have inked a very large deal, skip this and go celebrate. Spin around in the sunshine, take a day off, watch your favorite movie, go revel. We’ll come back to you in Rule 6. Go, go! (Likewise, if you just hit it really big on a book and you have tons of money, go take a few days and wiggle your toys and enjoy. Maybe buy a pretty notebook or two. Whatever you want!)
For the rest of you… Financially speaking, I can give you a few clues on how it goes to be an author. If you get an advance, of course there’s that, and then there’s either a 2 month lag for royalties after each month-end, or a 2 month lag for royalties after the end of a quarter, depending on which vendors you’re using. Usually a combination of the two. I’m given to understand that traditional publishing often does quarterly-with-lag as well.
This makes your income incredibly variable. Often there’s a gigantic summer slump. Christmas is volatile. And even if you hit it big right out of the gate, you won’t see that money for a couple of months at least (boo).
So the best time to quit your day job to start writing is:
Honestly, from both a financial and mental standpoint, writing is hard, writing for a living is a lot of pressure, and I sincerely advise you to write your first few books, at least, without needing to make your bread and butter money from that. It’s a time-honored tradition. Stephen King did it. Most of the big indie authors did it. You are not in any way lesser, or a failure, for having a day job while you build your career. In fact, it will probably help you write without getting all up in your head, which is one of the big problems writers face.
As with Rule 1b, if you keep climbing that tree and waving the metal around, you should be good to go at some point. Keep your finances in order and maybe speak to a financial advisor occasionally. Hopefully, you will be good to go soon!
Rule 6: When you’re successful, some people will be really happy for you, some people will really want to be happy for you but won’t be able to, and some people will just be mean. Focus on that first group.
Our friends and family are…well, we love ’em, quirks and all. Unfortunately, many writers (and, I’m sure, musicians, actors, sculptors, etc) have family and friends who either refuse to be happy for them on principle or really, really want to be happy for them, and in an ideal world would be…but aren’t. And this is really, really hard.
If you’re not a thick-skinned person (and most writers I know really aren’t), this is going to be rough. You’re going to want to scream, “I know! I know you think I don’t deserve this! But I’m a writer, I have that playing on repeat in my head all day already, you don’t need to rub it in!” Because from your Aunt Betina who thinks you should have become an accountant to your snide Facebook friend who wants you to know that your writing isn’t as good as it should be, there will be people who waste no time in telling you how terrible you should feel about your success. And – and – I don’t know how they do this, but they are really fantastically good at knowing precisely the thing to say to throw you for a loop. Even people who’ve never met you before can do it, it’s really freaky.
There’s really nothing to do but grit your teeth and gut it out. Eventually, the reflexive self-recrimination and -hatred gets kind of boring and you can’t expend the energy on it anymore, but do try to make sure you’re spending time with people who make you laugh, taking time to do things you love (baths, walks, curling, hanging out with your dog, you name it), and trying to get healthy food into yourself at least occasionally. Ignoring assholes is difficult and it has been since kindergarten, but you’ve built up an arsenal of techniques by now that can help you do so (or if you haven’t, get ready because you’re about to learn real quick).
The people that are happy for you, well…there’s nothing to say there except to hug them close and never let them out of your life, because they are amazing. If you believe in angels, those are what they look like. They’re people who are kind and generous and full of happiness that can help you keep going on a down day. Keep those people in your life and try to learn from them so you can be one someday.
The ones that are really tricky are the two or three good friends (or close peers) who so, so, so want to be happy for you…and can’t be. They know they should. They definitely know. They probably know it doesn’t reflect very well on them that they can’t be. But they can’t. Attempts at support go sideways as they drag your manuscript through the mud a liiiiiiittle bit too harshly for it to be a good faith thing. Happy moments get bogged down in them ruminating on how unfair life is. Or making snide little comments about how much luck is involved in publishing. Or…
It doesn’t matter. The real takeaway here is that these people, no matter how much you love them, are not your friends right now. If you have to see them, gird your loins. Ideally, you can keep contact to a minimum and go back on a trial basis later (but you don’t have to give them a second chance). Whatever the issue in their life is that they can’t be happy, if they can’t talk to you about it straight on and are instead trying to make sure you feel terrible, don’t spend your time and energy on that. Because…
Rule 7: Success is a mind@$#%.
Sorry, but it really is. Success is, genuinely, a difficult thing to get through. People come out of the woodwork to ask for money, manuscript help, and for you to send their book to your mailing list. Suddenly, administrative tasks (book bloggers, local newspaper and bookstore calls, setting up a business account at the bank) seem to take up 98% of your day, and the truth is, you’re letting them, because…
…how the $%#* are you ever going to repeat your success? You have become very aware that your success is a gigantic fluke, that you never deserved it, that you can’t repeat it, and even if you think your last book was hot shit, you have no idea where the magic comes from and you’re sure it’s gone forever.
So I’m going to say what even the most supportive people in your life might have trouble saying: it’s okay to be overwhelmed right now. It really is difficult. Take care of yourself in all the small ways. Call a friend. Cry over a journal entry. Eat three cupcakes by yourself or buy some expensive running shoes or whatever it is that will help you get through this really, really difficult moment right now. And just try, for me – for me – to write one sentence. That’s all you have to do. It doesn’t have to be good. Just a few words on that new manuscript, the one you were so excited about a few months back.
Just write one sentence. You can do it.
Rule 8: Whatever you do to make the money for bills is work.
As with many rules on this list, I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t. Writing is torturous and transcendent and amazing and difficult and wonderful, sometimes all at the same time, but if you do this for a living, it will also be work. You will have deadlines and bad days and rewrites and it will be hard and you will need to do it because the bills have to get paid.
I don’t know how else to say this, but I think this is the thing I have the most trouble explaining to people. Art is difficult. Art for a living is difficult. You will need to show up even when you don’t feel like it to get things done. Often, you would rather be there than anywhere else, because you love writing and you’re amazingly happy that you get to write every day. But if you’re picturing lazy mornings with a couple of hours of work and then bumming around in cafes, I’m afraid that isn’t the reality most of us have. (That’s not the reality most of us want to have, either, but that could just be sampling error.)
Rule 9: People definitely, positively judge books by their covers.
It’s true. Study the covers in your subgenre and ask around for people’s recommendations of cover designers. Same goes for blurbs. Writing blurbs sucks big-time, but it has to be done.
Rule 10: Getting better at writing, outlining, and hitting tropes will not destroy the magic.
This is a fear I harbored for a very long time. I was afraid that outlines would trap me, tropes would turn me into a hack, and craft notes would make my book sound like everyone else’s. Instead, here’s what I’ve learned:
Rule 11: Play.
This is your career and it is important, but please, please never take yourself or your craft too seriously to play around with your language, story outlining, genre, or anything else. Keep your experiments hidden if you’d like to (I know I often do), but don’t ever stop experimenting. Even techniques you don’t use much can still be there for when you need them. You wouldn’t expect a sculptor only to use one tool to shape their chosen medium, or a painter to use only one brush, and you don’t have to use only one, either. Play!
Suggested reading (in no particular order):
As a parting note, the same rules of life apply here as well: check for references on contractors, don’t believe sky-high promises, don’t let any of your own crap limit your writing, remember to take care of yourself, be kind. Let go of your books once they get out into the world, and when you see bad reviews, remind yourself that there are books you hated, too. If you keep working, keep learning, keep playing, keep stretching – you’re going to be fine.
So pull out a notebook and start writing – I want to see your stuff pop up in my Amazon suggestions! -M
P.S. If you’d like to sign up for a weekly digest, you can do so here. No spam, only post round-ups. Promise!
TAKE YOUR REST.
As freelancers, we know that work does not always arrive in conveniently week-sized packages, with conveniently week-sized deadlines, and at times when we can both take our weekends and finish the projects in time to pay bills with the money.
So how do you work within this reality and still pay your bills? A few recent projects have let me fine-tune my strategy, and it’s really quick simple: finish the job, and then take as many weekend days as have accrued. Seriously. That’s it.
Example: if you work Monday-Friday usually, and you receive a job you need to start on a Sunday, that will take 11 days to complete, that Sunday is the first day you need to start counting as accrued weekend time. You work that Sunday, and then the next week, and then Saturday-Sunday, and then through Wednesday. At this point, you have three days of vacation accrued. Take Thursday-Friday. Take the weekend. And then take Monday, because you are still owed a day.
“I can’t afford to take five days in a row.” You can’t afford not to. You are not salaried. There is no team to pick up your slack. You cannot coast for a week and still get paid. To get paid, you need to finish projects, and to finish projects, you need not to be sick in body and/or spirit.
So take the days, and do (wait for it) absolutely nothing with them. I mean this. I just spend two days playing video games for my delayed weekend, and I don’t even mean finishing a video game, I mean bumming around looking at the scenery and learning to video-game-cook, with reruns of Friends on in the background. I am serious. I did nothing useful with my time. (Except mow the lawn. I did that. But it’s a small lawn, so that took me about ten minutes.)
Doing nothing? Was fantastic. At the start of the two days, I felt tired as crap. Very proud of what I had pulled off in the preceding days, yes, but absolutely exhausted. I didn’t want to type. I didn’t want to open a word processor. So I didn’t. I did nothing. And in the background of doing nothing, I recharged. By the time last night rolled around, I actually felt refreshed and eager to start working on a manuscript of mine in the week or so between pieces of the contract project. This morning, I got up, made some coffee, and had the time and energy to be grateful for the life I have.
Contrast that with this time last year, when I was working 16 hour days every day and irrationally upset when people wanted to do things like spend time together (BECAUSE DEADLINES), and I think you can pick a clear winner.
We all have a learning curve, and we all have to pay our dues. I can’t help you with the second one (beyond counseling you sometimes on how to indicate to clients that your time and talents are valuable), but I hope you can use my experiences of the first one to take some shortcuts. We’re in freelancing to pursue our passions, not to wind up in a self-made prison, surrounded by the sound of our own voice saying things like, “I should be happier.”
Take your time off. Remember what time off you’ve skipped and bank it. If there is one piece of advice I can give, over and over again, it is that. Your work will thank you.
A roundup of the most recent posts (and, of course, some excellent things from around the internet!).
And what’s happening on the internet lately? TONS.
What are you reading? Favorite books, favorite blogs/TV shows/books? Let me know!
Don’t save your resolutions for New Year’s Eve. It’s a contemplative night, and one that lends itself to making grand promises and sweeping declarations, but this is usually about as successful as grocery shopping on an empty stomach: you wind up with too many resolutions and a lot of them go bad.
Instead, whenever you see the need for a change in your life, why not take incremental steps to bring that change to fruition, starting immediately? If, for instance, you realize that you’re often stymied in political discussions, make plans to set aside 20 minutes per night to research the issues – starting now, not January 1st. One of my recent ones has been that whenever I find myself feeling ignorant (“Wait, when do you use ‘lay’ and when do you use ‘lie’?”), I’ll look up the answer right then.
There’s a reason we like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, and that’s that they’re really helpful. We all have things we’d like to change about our lives, and the idea of making that change ourselves is proactive and awesome. Just don’t let rules get in the way: rules like, “resolutions are for New Years,” or, “I need to fix this all today,” or, “there’s only one way to fix this.” Tiny steps for incremental change will net far greater results in the long run, and a willingness to try new solutions will help you adapt and keep on moving toward your goals! Try it today! (And other infomercial slogans!)
One last word to the wise: if incremental change and many solutions aren’t helping you reach your goal, consider whether your goal is something you need to reach. To borrow an example from a friend’s life: if one is dealing with consistent hip issues, physical therapy is definitely cool, but if you can structure your life to avoid long walks and get your cardio in with swimming, do you really need to do physical therapy with the goal of becoming a distance runner? If you live on your own and hatehatehatehate cooking for yourself, why not try something like nutritional shakes? Think outside the box, and be real with yourself about your capabilities and desires. Too often, we let ourselves make resolutions not only about changes we need to make, but also changes that would be best for…someone else…
So, go on. That one change you’ve been sitting on? Try implementing it today.
Inspired by this post, which drove home so many things.
We grew up getting lost in books. Books transported us away from days we couldn’t fix and schoolyards filled with taunts, and gave us worlds beyond anything we could imagine. We were Alanna and Meg Murray, and sometimes we were Han Solo or the Dread Pirate Roberts, too. We dreamed ourselves in those worlds where we could be kind and strong and courageous, because that was what heroes did, and we learned, too, about the strength of compromise and teamwork and being ladylike.
Because we knew, deep down, that there was an undeniable strength in kindness and civility. We understood that it was true that good deeds could make the world a brighter place, even tiny good deeds, even small acts of courage – just like Gandalf told us.
And we learned that even in some of the books that inspired us, that “ladylike” was a trap: obligatory and devalued all at the same time. We loved Susan and we felt a guilt at loving her still when she showed herself to be unworthy of Narnia. We loved the women who showed grace and humility in all they did, and we tried not to notice how they seemed to get the short end of the stick. How their stories weren’t really told. How their victories weren’t really theirs. How they were so often killed to stoke the fires of someone else’s rebellion. We were fed the same maze of contradictions about what to wear (or not) and when to stand up for ourselves (or not) and we saw free thinking answered with mythical punishments.
Now we’re adults. We’re contemplating raising daughters and goddaughters and nieces of our own, and we want to show them the books that we loved so much – and we’re beginning to realize just how much those books hurts us. We put our trust in them, we walked with them into strange lands beyond anything in the world today where we could witness epic stories of love and redemption and courage…and there, we were told to make ourselves something the world could ignore. For the greater good, of course. We faced the complicated tangle of loving an adventure with all our heart and being inspired by the wisdom of the characters, while being devalued, all at the same time. And we don’t want the next generation of women to be hurt the way we were, so we ask ourselves, do we shield them or do we not?
Maybe we realize that we can do both. We can hand our daughters and friends and nieces the book and say, “The way he treats Susan is kind of crap, but I really loved these. Let me know what you think.” After, we can play frisbee with them, or take them to buy lipstick, or both. Hell, we can stop beating ourselves up for wearing lipstick, and we can model that for the next generation. We can show them that we truly do value civility and compromise by teaching them to negotiate and make sure their own interests are part of the compromises they make, and we can be careful not to shoot them down when they speak their mind and take a stand. We can give them the books we loved so much and new books, books that haven’t even been written yet, that show them new ways to be. We can give them the books we loved…and we can also listen to their voices.
Because if we let them be, the stories we tell can be just as important as the stories we hear.