Refusing the Fear

One of my big things for 2015 is publishing fiction. It was one of my big things for 2014, too, but it didn’t happen. Lots of other good things happened, but I didn’t publish any fiction. This year, I’m taking a few proactive steps to push myself along:

I’ve taken a spot on the calendar of a very in-demand professional editor. In December, she announced that her first available opening for 2015 was August, and I grabbed the slot. So, I now have a deadline.

Writing fiction is scheduled, just like my client work. Each day begins with #firsthourforfiction. (Except today. Today I’m sick and haven’t written any fiction yet. Having that time as part of my daily schedule makes doing the work easier. Just like when I rode the city bus to school and walked to class. Exercise was a built-in part of my day and much easier to fit in.

Daily reporting on what I’m working on will give me a good reason to actually do the work. I’m posting #firsthourforfiction reports on my public Google+ profile, and have also joined a couple of accountability groups.

All of those things may seem like normal, common sense things, but in reality, they are tactics for dealing with fear. Feeling afraid of writing is something new for me. Writing is what I do; it’s what I’ve always done. Writing is how I make decisions, it’s how I work out tangled emotions, it’s how I speak most clearly. I write hundreds — often thousands — of words almost everyday. I’ve written and published a non-fiction book without the least bit of fear. Articles don’t scare me, nor blog posts.

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Why is fiction scary?

It’s not because it’s a window into my soul or anything cliche like that. I have no plans to write any kind of ground-breaking literature. I just want to tell a story. This book will be the equivalent of a TV show you might watch for entertainment. I’m not trying to change minds or say anything important
with it.

It’s not because I fear rejection. Since I’m going to self-publish, there won’t be anyone to reject it. I don’t expect it to be a best seller or anything like that. If things go according to my long term plans, it will simply be the first of many entertaining stories that will provide some small income for my retirement years. I have no plans to market this one story at all. I will simply write it, polish it, and publish it, then move on to writing the next one.

I think it is scary because some people I respect will read it, and maybe they won’t like it. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. People pay me money to write things. If the people I respect don’t like the stories I write, maybe I’m not really good at it. Then, I’m not good at anything.

Now, that is the deep, dark, sinister voice inside me. It’s not the optimistic, bright outlook I work for, or even the logical, calm train of thought that I rely on. It’s the ugly thing that I try to ignore.

It won’t be ignored, though. It asserts itself. It’s the reason this novel has not yet been published. It’s the reason so many other stories are sitting, half finished, in my documents list. It’s the reason I’m still a wannabe and cannot speak about writing fiction from a position of authority and experience.

2015 is the year of seeing projects through in spite of the fear. It’s the year of having a little courage.

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“I’ll Take a Look at It on Spec”

The majority of my writing clients are regular clients, and most of them are people I’ve met. I work with several local business owners, and a few folks I met or found online. In any case, my invoices go to pretty much the same group of people month after month. Sometimes there will be additions, and sometimes clients will drop off. Now and then, I like to look for new work — either because I’m ready to boost my income, or I want to learn about a new industry, or I have a good story idea.

Recently, I decided to look for publications within a particular industry. I had some ideas for stories and wanted to see what the market was like. I identified a couple, called

It's nice to look at pretty flowers while pondering a difficult business dilemma.

It’s nice to look at pretty flowers while pondering a difficult business dilemma.

one, and learned they preferred to receive queries. I read several past publications then pitched three articles. The editor liked one of them and emailed me to say that she would “take a look at it on spec.”

If we were talking about a publication I’d dreamed of seeing my name in for years, maybe I’d feel differently, but my first reaction (in my mind only) was “I don’t work on spec.” But then I thought about the fact that this editor doesn’t know me. She would be taking a risk by assigning an article to an unknown. I offered to send clips in my introductory letter, but maybe she doesn’t have time for that. Even if she does have time to look at my clips, she has no assurances that I will turn in clean copy; there’s always the chance that my clips were cleaned up by some other editor.

However, I would be taking a risk by spending the time to write a good article on spec. It would, of course, be tailored to fit the tone and voice of this particular publication. There would be several interviews involved. It would take time and effort to do it right — time and effort that I could be spending on doing work for clients who know (and regularly pay) me, or looking for clients willing to take the risk of getting to know me. There are definitely two sides to this spec coin!

Ideally, I could offer this editor some kind of compromise, but I’m having trouble coming up with one. The publication is lovely, and one of the best in this particular niche. The pay is what I’d call average to low in the wider lens of magazine writing, but high for the industry. I’m opposed to working on spec — on principal, and because this is what I do for a living. It’s not a hobby. Getting paid matters. There’s the possibility of pitching the same story to several publications in case the editor doesn’t want it, but that doesn’t feel quite right either.

Have you dealt with this situation? What was your response? 

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Remembering Why I Am So Busy

6:30am – get up, feed all of the animals, start working on three articles that must be submitted to meet deadlines.

8:30 – wake husband, see him out the door

11:15 – admit that only one of the three articles will be ready to turn in, email editors to ask for one more day

11:45 – arrive at part time job in time to shove some food in before my shift

12-8:10 – work, work, work

8:30 – return home to cook dinner and try to wrap up at least one article

For some people, that would be an average Monday. For me, that’s a long day.

 

Lately, I’ve been busier than usual (you may have noticed the months-long hiatus from this blog). Most of the time, I’m careful to build down time into my schedule, but for the last couple of months, I’ve been booking myself completely solid. There are articles to write, a part time job to enjoy, marketing projects to complete…

Being especially busy can be good. It seems like my mind is sometimes more creative when my body is busy. But, if there’s no time to give that creativity an outlet, it just sits there. Finding the perfect (and elusive) balance between creative (usually non-paying) work and work that pays the bills can be difficult, but seems to me to be a worthy pursuit.

This summer, I want to help grow a giant garden, which means spending at least 4-5 hours a week weeding and shoveling and doing glorious physical labor outside. I also want to take a couple of short trips, go to a local amusement park, and spend some time in the woods. All of that means careful time management and the need for funding. It means working some long days so that I can enjoy time off.

I’ve also set a personal deadline: I will publish a novel-length work of fiction by July. I have a first draft, and have begun the second. But it is slow going between the paying work and the fun stuff. Writing a novel falls somewhere in between those two. It’s a big goal, and there are fun aspects, but it is also work.

With all of these goals, the idea of sacrifice has been on my mind. It’s pretty common to read that if you Business owners usually have to make sacrifices to run successful businesses — maybe give up some personal time in order to work longer hours. Novelists, especially ones who have other, paying jobs usually have to sacrifice some time to write. A goal I haven’t mentioned here yet is fitness, and a common thread among people who are very fit is that they spend time shopping, cooking, and working out. Time that could be spent building a business or writing a novel.

One of the most-often clicked on posts on this blog is about pursuing multiple goals. I wrote it several years ago. I’ve never been one to narrow my focus. At this point, it would be painful for me to put my novel aside or to decide to forego the garden this year. Those are the kinds of things that keep me from feeling burned out. Success in any one area spurs me more to reach the other goals as well.

Yet, some days I end up feeling tired and angry. Yesterday was like that. Looking back over what I did yesterday, there was no time to remember why I’m so busy. No time spent on my novel, or even in my flower garden. There was no time to exercise or nurture myself at all.

Is it better to have whole days spent off — writing novels or planting gardens or hiking — and then work long hours on other days? Maybe. Entire days dedicated to fun are important. But, weaving some fun into everyday is equally important. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, a little time to mentally unwind is a necessity.

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Examining My Story

Early this month, I posted about being back in my place as a full time business owner.  A couple of weeks ago, I had several conversations with a friend about what her ideal job would look like, which led to some deep soul searching. Yesterday, I read Peter Shallard’s excellent post about the

I'm still weaving my story. (photo credit: flickr, Creative Commons)

I’m still weaving my story. (photo credit: flickr, Creative Commons)

power of our personal narratives. All of that together added up to me taking a serious look at where I am, how I got here, where I want to be, the best way to get there, the story of then, the story of now, and of then, and of the journey between the two.

In Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig, I shared a certain personal narrative – the tale of how I ended up back in an office. Today, I’d like to share my new story:

My Story, Version 2 (aka The Truth)

A quirky lady who never quite found her professional niche got laid off around the time she had an idea for a writing business. She drew unemployment and read a lot of books. Then she began finding clients.

It’s easy to get complacent, though, and she does. She has a few clients and is making enough money to get by, and gets lazy. Eventually clients start dropping off, as is normal, but she doesn’t replace them. She spends most of her time waiting on clients to come to her. She does some half-hearted marketing, then decides to find a job.

The job doesn’t work out, so the writer decides to work harder. She realizes that everything that came before was research, career prep, and important. She learned about all the different ways one can be a freelance writer, all the different ways a writing business can be run. She made a slate of contacts, and realizes that all of that will translate into a better business now.

She shines up all of her samples and past work and starts making lots of phone calls. She calls businesses, ad agencies, and nonprofits. She writes everyday. She pitches blogs that pay contributors. She thinks of a few unusual ways to market and begins trying different things. Sheh emails letters of introduction and queries to editors.

She tracks all of her ideas. And enjoys all of it! Even the calling. It takes a little motivation to make 20-30 calls a day, but she realizes that she likes talking to people, learning about their businesses, and finding out more about the world. She makes lists, becomes aware of time management and starts getting more done each day.

It takes a few months, but she soon finds herself in a position to pick and choose her assignments. She is writing nonfiction books and selling them, doing some editing work, blogging, ghost writing, and writing – and more importantly PUBLISHING – fiction. She is making more money that she ever did as an employee.

What about you? I’d love if you share your personal narrative in the comments!  

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Collecting the Data

Beginnings are exciting. The fire of a new idea courses through your veins, your imagination builds perfectly constructed, beautiful castles. It’s true whether you are beginning a new job, outlining a new business, writing a new story–it’s exciting to START.

Endings often mean relief. You feel as if a weight rises from your chest, your stomach unknots, and you realize you’ve had your jaw clenched for awhile. Even if the ending presents new challenges and new worries, it’s normal to feel relieved when something that doesn’t feel quite right ends. The feeling that accompanies the end of a successful project can be elation and relief together, or maybe a vague sadness or nostalgia laced with relief.

There’s not even a word for what happens between the beginnings and endings, though. Middles? Middles are tough. That’s the slog, the grind, the hard part. Ask any writer and they will tell you the middle of a story is the hard part. After the excitement of getting started at a new job dies down, and the newness wears off, you are left with just…doing the work. In a sociology class I hated in college, I learned that the middle years of most marriages are also the least happy.

It’s easy to give up in the middle. It was about the middle of my first half marathon that I started wondering what in hell I was doing on that trail. Once you’ve outlined a business idea and it’s time to implement it, the real work begins, and it might not be quite as appealing in the execution as it was as a plan. Right now I’m in the middle of completing a certain number of cold calls, and everyday it’s a little harder to convince myself to pick up the phone.

The middle has something to teach you, though. It’s where you collect the data to test your theory, and where you learn if you enjoy doing the work. Without getting through the middle, you cannot feel the relief of the end.  You can’t experience the pride of a job well done if you don’t do the work. The idea stays an imaginary castle in the air if you don’t force yourself to actually hammer the nails.

What I’m trying to say here is…I have to go make some phone calls!

Do you struggle with middles? Do you have any tricks or tips on how to make yourself see projects through? 

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Embracing Change

Growing up, my family moved frequently. No one was in the military, it just took my folks awhile to decide where they wanted to settle down. By the eighth grade, I’d gone to something like 10 different schools. I learned to adapt, and adaptability has served me well.

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dava – ready for new things!

In my professional life, I’ve adapted to many different working environments, from the classroom to retail establishments to office settings. Working from my living room for the last three years has been by far the most comfortable workplace! But, it is time for a change. Beginning on May 28, 2013, I will begin working full time as a writer for  Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology. Not many jobs would be worth exchanging my pajama pants for more traditional office garb, but I did not hesitate to take this one! In addition to writing articles, and editing some student-submitted articles, I will have some input on the social media policies and activities of Psi Chi.

So, what will become of Smiling Tree Writing, both the blog and the business?

As for the business, I will continue to serve the majority of my current clients, but become very selective about taking on new ones. The blog will continue very much as it always has – that is to say, sporadically and unpredictably. There is a strong likelihood the Independent Writing Series will be expanded, simply because the business of self-publishing fascinates me. I still firmly believe that we are witnessing a shift in how books are written and distributed that is as important as the invention of the printing press.

It seems that people all over are undertaking big changes recently. Friends in Phoenix, Boston, and Northern California have found jobs; new cars and new babies and new relationships seem to fill my Facebook feed. Maybe it’s just that I’m experiencing a change so notice these things more, or maybe there is a bigger shift going on. What do you think? Are you taking on new challenges lately?

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