Lessons from the day job you should apply to your writing gig

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

For many of us, creative writing is not our main job. (Cue sobbing.) Just in my small circle of writer friends we are CEOs, sales clerks, IT nerds, teachers, technical writers and office drones. Lessons gleaned from those jobs, however, carry over into our writing, revising, platform building and marketing.

Here are a few things I’ve gleaned from cubicle life.

  1. Don’t overpromise and under-deliver.

“I’m negotiating with the executive committee to give you a nice raise this year.”
“When we upgrade, one of those licenses will be yours.”
“That position will be created in Q4 of 2017.”
“You’re a gem and I fully support you.”

If you consistently tell people what they want to hear and then don’t come through, it makes you look unprofessional at best, untrustworthy at the worst. There are two obvious ways to avoid this:

  • Don’t make grandiose promises. Or as my dad sometimes says, “Don’t write checks your ass can’t cash.”
  • Follow through on your promises. No excuses, no flaking. This is easy to accomplish if, for instance, you provide a generous timeline and then finish early (or under budget, etc.).

If you’re not going to have your draft done on time, be honest. If you don’t have room on your blog for a certain feature, don’t blow smoke and then bail. (Can you tell this is a pet peeve?)

Your reputation and integrity are everything in writing just as in business.

2. Watercooler gossip is never a good idea.

We’re not in high school, people. There’s genuine concern and information sharing, and then there’s gossip. You know the difference. Have a questions? Ask the source. Heard troubling rumors? Go get facts from people who know the truth.

This kind of behavior is also closely related to being a drama bomb and/or stirring the pot. A word of advice: Save the drama for your novel.

3. Schedules and deadlines are your friends.

Telling a Type A person to just “turn it in whenever” is likely to cause a panic attack the same way that gifting a Type B person a bullet journal is a pointless waste. Determine what works for you and DO THAT. Simple, right?

If your boss needs a report at 9 a.m. Friday and you hand it to her the following Monday, your ass is grass. FAIL. You get fired, demoted, yelled at, she takes away your cookie and Starbucks or some other unpleasantness occurs.

Apply that logic to your writing habits/gig.

If you’re a Type A, get up and write at 5 a.m. (there’s a 5 a.m. writers breakfast club on Facebook. Message me and I’ll hook you up). Then you’re done for the day and you can happily relax knowing you aced that mofo. Cross it off your alphabetized to-do list.

If you’re a Type B who HATES to plan ahead and has a hard time getting started, break everything down into tiny tasks. Write 500 words before work. Write 500 more on your lunch break. Pfft, you got this.

And no one gets their cookie taken away.

4. Think like a business—even if you’re the only employee.

This is a difficult concept but super important, especially for those of us who are more artsy types, and I’ll admit it took me a ton of trial and error (and failure) before I finally understood the concept. And honestly, I think having a job outside of writing is helpful in getting into this mindset. We have this notion that writing is an art and therefore aesthetically above the barbarism of money.

Nope.

If you are independently wealthy or making enough in royalties to live how you want, then fantastic – this blog post isn’t for you. If, however, every tax season your accountant makes a comment about your consistently failing to make a profit, then honey, we need to talk.

Google the phrase, “side hustle.” Or if you’re really badass, look up Mr. Money Mustache and his thoughts on optimization. Tracking expenses and setting goals is so important for writers who intend to publish. It means the difference between being a sustainable activity or a strain on other parts of your life.

Don’t be afraid of money and mathing. They are not dirty. They are facts of life. Set a goal of X dollars in royalties or X dollars in profit (above what you spend on marketing, giveaways, events, etc.). Decide you’re going to write and publish two novels this year. If you really must avoid money amounts, set another measurable goal – increasing your royalties by 10% or doubling the number of books you sell this year compared to last year. Get out your calculator and map it out, or use one of the many free budgeting software options. There are any number of goal-setting, countdown tracking programs and apps, as well.

No excuses.

5. Play the game and network.

 Playing the game and networking is not a contradiction to the above advice to avoid gossip. What I’m referring to here is the art of diplomacy, which can be insanely difficult for some of us, or even a completely foreign subject especially when applied to the workplace (whether that’s an actual office or an online one).

It took me 37 years to realize that 1) not everyone is as blunt and straightforward as me, 2) not everyone is as emotional and altruistic as me, and 3) there are people who will take advantage of those first two attributes.

As writers, you and I may be excellent at creating put-together characters who know just what to say, when and how to say it, and what to do in each situation. And when we don’t, it’s an admirable character flaw. Usually.

But place us in a real-life situation where we have to interact with actual people and think quickly to say the correct thing and, well, there’s a reason we choose to stay behind the keyboard.

Getting along with people with whom we work on a regular basis can be learned. So can self-advocacy and self-preservation. There is a certain mindset that can be put on and taken off as needed. I happen to have someone I can turn to who is excellent at sniffing out bullshit and who has helped me learn CYA tactics, as well as how to say things … without actually saying them and pointing fingers.

As a blunt person, this has been incredibly difficult, but I’m getting there. A great resource is The Muse. I’ve searched for any number of oddball  situations and they usually have an article on how to handle the issue. Good stuff and it’s free. (No, I don’t have any sort of affiliation with them. I just like what they put out.)

The second part of the equation is networking. Chances are you already have an awesome social media presence, just be sure to keep it fresh and be open to meeting new people who may not even be your target audience. That’s okay. If you’re in an office, you don’t only make friends with people in your department or who directly affect your upward mobility. That would be pretty shallow. Apply the same concept to your social media. Make friends and contacts outside of your readership and circle of writerly types.

HOWEVER, that’s not to say you should avoid those who have the ability to positively affect your career. I would encourage you to specifically seek out those who  LinkedIn calls “influencers.” They can’t help you if they don’t know you exist.

Before you go, let me know if this article was helpful. “Like” it, comment, reblog or share if you took away something valuable. Thanks! 

 

Part IV: When the Muse Goes AWOL: Finding Your raison d’être

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Quick question: Why did you start writing?

There’s no wrong answer. (Unless it was to get rich and famous. Then we’re all going to laugh at you.)

I know exactly why I started writing (creatively). I even remember the moment.

I had moved from my life-long home in rural Ohio to the Gulf Coast and the deepest reaches of the Deep South. I was alone despite being married, a foreigner in a strange country with small children and I needed to process the strange culture in which I found myself. There are only so many WTF moments a human brain can handle before it seeks an outlet. And that’s how my first book was born. I was a SAHM who needed catharsis and intellectual stimulation.

Then everything changed again.

I’m now a single mom (engaged!) with a dry but demanding full-time day job and almost-tweens who are into all sorts of activities. I’m the main breadwinner and the head of my household, pulled in a million directions. I no longer have the South as inspiration. I have … cornfields. Concrete. Office politics.

Any of this sound familiar?

There’s a wonderful French phrase that encapsulates the next step of the writing process: raison d’être.

Loosely translated as “reason of being” or “reason for being,” it reveals the crux of the matter.

What is your reason for writing? What was your reason when you started? What is your reason now? Just like everything else we’ve discussed in this series, your reason has probably changed quite a bit from when you first started.

And just like taking the time to identify and then confront your fears around writing, take some time to look at the flip-side: your biggest, wildest dreams. Are they enough to keep you motivated? Will they be the kick in the arse that you need when the ohhh, shiny! wears off?

Here’s a secret: you may not be able to identify your main reason for writing. That’s pretty scary, huh? The sad truth is that you may not have a reason anymore. Whatever void or purpose writing fulfilled in the past may no longer be applicable to where you are now. I often come to that conclusion.

And then … I hear a song. Or see a picture of a unique-looking person on Pinterest. Or I get SO ANGRY about politics or an injustice or someone’s ignorance that I NEED to put down words before I explode!

Sound familiar?

Baby steps, friends. Start with just one thing that will get you closer to being a productive writer again. Your muse will eventually get the message and kick in with more ideas than you can handle. Until then, be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.

Thanks for reading – I hope you found these discussions helpful. Be sure to circle back and read Parts I, II and III, as well.

 

 

Part III: When the Muse goes AWOL: Your New, Scary Writing Process

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You know those nightmares you have about being back in high school and walking the halls naked while everyone laughs at you? (Admit it, you’ve had that dream.)

Writing again after a long hiatus is kinda like that. Or like riding a bike. Or re-entering the dating scene and having s- nevermind. You get the point. It’s not going to feel the same.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

Yes, there’s a 50% chance that it’s going to suck, but there’s also a 50% chance that you’re going to be amazing. The good news is that there’s a 100% chance that you get to fix whatever sucks when you edit. Which brings us to the process of actually writing.

We all the know the steps:

  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing

Google it and you’ll find a million versions and methods. It’s been my experience that we usually get stuck somewhere in the first three steps. When the Muse cooperates and life is grand, we push through and eventually produce something presentable. But our Muse? That broad took off to Tijuana with her girlfriend and a hundred bucks.

So forget her – she was too needy anyway. We have to get down to brass tacks, like, yesterday. So here’s the super-simple but super-difficult truth:

You must decide that you are going to write again and that you’re willing to put in the time and effort, no matter how scary that seems.

That’s it. Now let’s unpack it a bit, starting with what I think is the crux of the matter: fear. Conquer the fear and the rest will come back like muscle memory.

Ask yourself some serious questions:

  • What exactly are you afraid of?
  • What does a worst-case scenario look like?
  • What is the end goal?
  • What can you do right now to move closer to being a productive writer again?
  • What is your time-frame? Do you even want the pressure of a deadline? Maybe you need that pressure.
  • How will you handle failure?
  • This may seem counter-intuitive, but how will you handle success? Are you ready for it? Can you handle the attention that comes with being in the public eye?
  • How much time can you devote to the process each day/week/month?
  • Are you going to write solo or return to/find a new writers’ community?

These are general questions, but undoubtedly there are more that fit your specific situation. I’m going to be really honest here and give some personal examples of the questions I ask myself and some of my fears (OMG) to give you for-instances:

  • I’m now divorced but still using my married name as my author name. Is that going to be weird? Is it going to piss some people off? How do I feel about that?
  • Over the last couple years, I lost friends who were family and big-time supporters. Are they going to read my new stuff and laugh at me? Are they going to TROLL me?
  • Were my author days just a phase? Have I moved on? Am I that fickle?
  • What if I’m just not excited about my ideas and characters anymore? Do I give up? Reinvent myself? Start writing smut under a pen name?
  • I hardly have time to pee these days. How on earth am I going to find time to devote to writing?

I’m sure you can superimpose your own fears onto some of the ones I listed. I wish there was a magic balm to sooth them, but it doesn’t exist. (Unless you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy?) It all circles back to the decision I mentioned earlier. Do a deep dive (<—O GAWD, CORPORATE SPEAK) and first identify your fears, and then address them one by one. No, really. Use your time in the shower or driving, or right before you fall asleep to have frank conversations with yourself about your fears. Write them down if that helps. Maybe seeing them on paper will take away their power. Talk to writer friends. Here’s an idea: start a conversation on Facebook or Twitter. (Two birds, once stone – know what I’m sayin’?)

After that, come back so we can talk about Part IV: When the Muse Goes AWOL: Finding Your raison d’être

In the meantime, talk to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

Part II: When the Muse Goes AWOL: Planning a Resurrection

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You were once a social media maven. You had a real, live fan base. Small, but respectable and loyal. These readers got you and what you were putting out.

And you let them down.

(In my case, poor Lewis in Shelf Life has been outside on Pete’s porch for … three years?)

(If you’re a reader not a writer, flip around the scenario. Your favorite author went MIA. You’re so over her and her unprofessionalism.)

Do you have any fans left? Will the same readers who loved what you wrote before like what this older, wiser (hopefully) you writes? Social media changes so quickly. How do you get up to speed again? Where do readerly types get their info now?

Take a deep breath.

To quote Forrest Gump and the stepping-in-shit-epic-jogging scene: “It happens.”

Readers are people. Most of them understand that life happens. Some may want to know the juicy details of why you pulled a disappearing act, but most just want another good story. And that’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if you’re not up on the top 10 trending hashtags and you don’t have an account on EVERY. SINGLE. SOCIAL. PLATFORM.

Just get back to writing. Write, author! Write! (What’s with all the Forrest Gump quotes? Jeez, brain.) Keep your next move a secret. Don’t tell your fans and followers that you’re going to write something new. After X years, they don’t care. What they will care about is when you tell them you’ve written something new and it will be out on a specific date. They will care when you give them a synopsis that rips their face off. They will care when the cover reveal makes their jaw drop. They will care when you over-deliver and they learn to trust you again.

So get on that.

But first, here are the two things you need to start doing if you haven’t already:

  1. WRITE. Then edit. Then write some more. Simple, yes? Nooooo. (More on that in a sec.)
  2. CONNECT. If you’ve paid any attention at all to building an author platform, you’ve known for years that social media isn’t about blasting followers with advertisements. It’s about connections and conversations. Unless you went full hermit, you’re still active on Facebook. Probably Twitter. Instagram. Maybe Snapchat or at least Goodreads. Resist the urge to announce on those platforms that you’re back, bitches! Instead, simply be active. Talk books (other people’s books) with them. Read. Update your profile info on a couple sites. Share a funny picture or fangirl (did I just date myself with that word?) over buttery soft leggings. BE HUMAN. Then, when it is time to announce to the world that you’ve got another book baby, they won’t be tired of hearing about it already.

You were hoping that book would write itself, weren’t you? Yeah, no. Get back to it and put in the time, but know this: what worked for you before may not work now. You may have had blocks of time all to yourself to craft perfect sentences before your life went to shit changed. Embrace the change. (Punching it in the face rarely works. Ask me how I know.)

Find what works for you NOW.

How? I’m so glad you asked.

We’ll dive into that in Part III: When the Muse goes AWOL: Your New Writing Process

 

Part I: When the Muse goes AWOL: Overcoming years of writers block

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Once upon a time, a woman became a book blogger, wrote a couple books of her own and enjoyed moderate success. The last one was a cliffhanger, but never fear! She began drafting its sequel immediately.

Then a dangerous storm destroyed her entire life, ripping up her home, tearing apart her family and shredding the pages of her stories. The woman was so busy rebuilding her life that words and ideas were the furthest thing from her mind. She tried to jot down plot bunnies that came scampering past. Some of them even leapt into her arms, but those arms were already occupied with more than the woman could carry, so the bunnies gave her a few sad blinks before eventually hopping off to more welcoming recipients.

Then another storm came. And another. And another.

The woman couldn’t catch her breath.

After three forevers had passed, the woman noticed some of the dust had settled and she could see more than a couple feet in front of her. On this side of the chaos existed a tiny slice of peace – drops of happiness, even. There was also loneliness, silent and swirling in the breeze inside her head. It had replaced the whispering, singing friends who had kept her company for so many years, even through difficult trials.

But this time was different.

The storms had been too ferocious.

The woman had ignored the singing friends too long.

The woman stood before a fork in the road, both paths leading to beautiful – but different – destinations. A wonderful choice to make, for sure, but still a tough decision. Take one path to leave the apocalyptic past behind in order to pursue the beauty before her. Choose the other and welcome back the singing voices she once loved. Doing so, however, meant reopening old wounds and cutting out parts of her new beautiful life in order to make room for the voices.

***

How does an author begin to write again after years away from that lifestyle?

The simple answer: Hell if I know!

The thoughtful answer: By accepting that things have changed, that the author is no longer the person he or she was when those other books were written and published, and by making a plan.

More on that in Part II.

Gratitude Challenge: Week 7 – A Friend

Tags

, , , ,

I’m baaaack! Took last week off to celebrate Mardi Gras here on the Gulf Coast, but this week’s challenge is to express gratitude for a friend. Instead of focusing on one in particular, I’m going to sing the praises of them all.

As a writer and someone who is active in the community, I have a lot of acquaintances, and they’re awesome. I have a smaller circle of casual friends who know what I’m up to and what’s going on in my life, and they’re fantastic, too.

However, this past year has been the most tumultuous of my entire life, and many acquaintances and casual friends fell away. Hell, a number of people I thought were close, like-family friends disappeared. Those ones hurt, not gonna lie.

But I’m so very blessed and grateful for the friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin … very, very thin. (Sadly, we’re not talking about my figure!) These are the friends who’ve listened to my rants and meltdowns, who carried my china cabinet up a flight of stairs when I moved, gave me advice when I didn’t know what on earth to do, who stayed until late in the night to put my daughter’s bed together, and who continue to talk me down from the metaphorical ledge when drama strikes. And strikes again. And again.

They encourage me to keep writing, to keep being a great mom, to take some time for myself, and they go shopping with me when retail therapy is in order. They share a bottle of wine with me when it gets to be too much, they stay up past midnight texting to be supportive, and one friend kisses my forehead when I need that connection.

Despite all the loss this past year, my friends make sure my cup runneth over. “Grateful” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Gratitude Challenge: Week 6 – The City You Live In

Tags

, , , ,

Good grief, if you know me at all you know I’ve written extensively about my adopted home along the Gulf Coast. After spending my first three decades along the shores of Lake Erie, moving to the Deep South was culture shock at its finest.

WANT and NEED (and the accompanying short story AFTERTASTE) are set in Mobile, Alabama, as is my upper-YA SHRAPNEL. Only SHELF LIFE is set somewhere else.

As far as gratitude is concerned, this city (region, really) has given me so much to be thankful for. It was here that I finally put all the things swirling in my head onto paper, which eventually turned into a novel about a girl from the “right” side of the tracks. The friends and fellow writers I met through the area’s thriving arts community helped propel me to go further than I ever thought I would.

I’m also grateful for all the everyday opportunities this area provides: cultural events, sunshine in February (hey, a girl needs her Vitamin D), fried green tomatoes with crawfish sauce, moonshine, Mardi Gras, giant hair bows for little girls, and some of the most polite gentlemen I’ve ever met. I’m grateful that they taught me to raise my standards.

Tank tops in March, windows down and music up any time of the year, diversity, and hello — salt water and sand!

I may not have been born in the South, and I’ve retained a few Yankee tendencies, but dang, I’m so very grateful to Mobile and the region for giving me the life I always wanted.

What are YOU grateful for???

Gratitude Challenge Week 4: Something Someone Gave You

Tags

, , , , ,

Although I’ve written extensively about the culture shock I endured after moving to the Deep South, there was one regional custom that I welcomed with open arms: Pearls.

They’re everywhere.

Worn with jeans, with workplace attire, with date night dresses and especially at formal functions. Hell, I know a woman who is mostly house-bound and wears comfortable sweatpants and shirts, but by god, she’s boasting pearl earrings.

I. Love. It.

See, I’ve always preferred classic stuff over trendy. I’m pretty sentimental, too (shh, don’t tell anyone), so when my favorite grandmother gave me her best pearls to wear on my wedding day, my heart overflowed. Not just because they’re beautiful, but because they came from her. From what I understand, my grandfather wasn’t always the nicest guy (he died when I was in 4th grade) and there wasn’t much money to splurge on niceties, but every Christmas and Easter, he picked out and bought a nice outfit for my grandmother to wear, complete with jewelry and shoes.

On their 40th anniversary, he bought her a pearl necklace. We all figured it was nice, but nothing overly special beyond sentimental value. It came from a local department store, not a jeweler.

I wore it on my wedding day, even though my cousin and maid of honor accidentally broke the clasp putting it on me. I think my dad secured it with a safety pin? Something like that.

One Christmas a few years later, my now ex-husband snuck the necklace out of my jewelry armoire and took it to a local jeweler to be cleaned, re-strung and the clasp fixed. I was thrilled. To this day, it’s still the most special gift anyone’s ever given me — both thoughtful and practical.

The jeweler also thought it was pretty special and offered to buy the necklace on the spot. He said the pearls themselves were exquisite in color and shape, the graduation of the size was flawless, and he hadn’t seen such a perfect necklace in years.

Obviously, selling something with that much sentimental value was completely out of the question, but he did a fantastic job re-stringing and re-knotting it, cleaned the pearls and gave a surprising appraisal.

They are my most prized possession. I usually save the necklace for very special occasions, but I’ve fully embraced the Southern tradition of wearing pearls. My parents add a piece to my collection every Christmas. One day, I can’t wait to hand them down to my daughter, maybe a granddaughter or two if I’m blessed, and I’ll be sure to tell them all about their great-great-grandmother who started it all.

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Week 3 – A Family Member

Tags

, , , , ,

IMG_0776This week’s gratitude challenge is so ridiculously easy. It’s my son’s ninth birthday, so naturally he’s in the forefront of my mind, as well as the day he was born and all the challenges we’ve faced together.

See, I never saw myself as a mom. I was going to get my PhD and take on the world in some grand capacity. Halfway through graduate school, something kicked in and I began crying through baptisms and Johnson and Johnson commercials. I needed a baby. NOW.

My pregnancy was anything but the glowing ideal you see on TLC. There was a lot more hurling than I’d anticipated, complications and scares. But on a bitterly cold January morning, the doctors removed him from me and I fell irrevocably in love with my new little man. A linebacker of a newborn, he was perfect.

Here’s where the “been through the war” part begins, and I’m writing this not to garner sympathy, but to acknowledge that post-partum depression is real, and so is colic, and being so sleep-deprived you’re nauseated, bat-shit crazy and ready to murder the next person who gives you unsolicited advice.

But it passes. You navigate the shifting of the earth and your entire existence up to that point. You fall in love every single day with the little smiling being you created. Maybe it’s because we had such a traumatic start (long story), but my son and I have a bond so deep it’s obvious to perfect strangers. He and I operate on our own wave length. I know every aspect of him, and it scares me sometimes when I see him doing some of the things I did as a child — the awkwardness, shyness, sensitivity. But then I see other things — his kindness, empathy and perceptiveness that exceeds his years.

I never saw myself as a mother. Now I know he and his sister are the biggest reasons for my existence. Sure, I have other purposes to fulfill, but I was meant to be his mom. He and I belong to each other. Even when he joins the adult world and makes a life of his own, I know our bond — and knowing I have his back unconditionally — will give him a sturdy base from which to leap.

That unbreakable bond? You bet I’m grateful.

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Week 3 – Family

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

What’s the first thing you picture when you hear the word, “family?”

Your parents, kids, your nuclear family or giant holiday get-togethers with fifty people? If you’re like me, it’s a combination of those things PLUS the friends who have become like family — the quirky perverts who text you dirty jokes to cheer you up; who pop over for dinner and play Legos with your kids; or who agree that yes, that guy over there is definitely checking you out (even if he isn’t).

All of us have ebbs and flows where we’re closer or more distanced from family, but the ones who stick around despite time and distance and the shitty ups and downs become our tribe.

For centuries it seems like family was all about blood — royal bloodlines, surnames, lineage, loyalty, etc. In many towns across the country, this persists. If your last name is [fill in the blank] you were probably born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but if you were born into that family, you’re probably trash.

familyMore and more, however, we’re seeing that the traditional model of “family” is expanding. How wonderful that friends bind together to support one another. How fantastic (and overdue) that same-sex couples and their children are more likely to be given the same recognition and benefits as hetero ones.

We have work families, hobby families, church families, step-families, in-laws and fur babies. Not a day goes by when we shouldn’t thank our lucky stars and be grateful these people (and pets) were sent into our lives.

And yes, writers form tribes as well, consisting of not only fellow author friends and editorial teams, but readers too. For that, I have immense gratitude.