Are You a Success? By Whose Standards?

November 4, 2013

I’m still a little bleary-eyed and disjointed from odd train schedules and driving throughout the night — I just got back from the annual Call To Action conference, where I came up with ideas for at least two blog posts for Young Adult Catholics, so overall, I think it was a fruitful trip. Between audiobooks on the drive and traditional books on the train (not to mention a 7-hour wait at the station), I also finished three books–one of my favorite parts about traveling–including APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, which I’ll review here by next week.

Source: Flickr: Jim Henson’s Fantastic World

On the drive home this morning, I was listening to the new biography on Jim Henson. I’m always a bit nervous when I pick up biographies of creative geniuses, afraid that I’ll feel woefully inadequate by the time I’m done. I thought that would be the case with this one; Jim was already well on his way to the legacy that would become The Muppets by the time that he was in college. But as I follow the story more deeply, I realize that success to the rest of the world and success to Jim weren’t necessarily the same thing. Jim’s characters are recognized and beloved around the world, yet he spent years trying to break beyond being “a puppet guy”–even before he worked on Sesame Street, launched The Muppet Show, or created any of his feature-length films. He wanted to expand into doing “arty” films, including experimental videography, live action, and ambiguous messaging. He only attained moderate success in that arena, with many of the projects he wrote and devoted himself to during this time failing to find an audience. Those that did find an audience met with mixed reviews, and have faded into obscurity today.

It reminded me of the article I found most intriguing in Write Good or Die, “Success” by Kristine Kathryn Rush. In it, she talked about how many writers who are outwardly successful didn’t consider themselves successes because they hadn’t achieved what they really wanted to do. I can relate to this. I used to think being published in something besides a student journal would designate me “successful.” When I hit that milestone at age 21, I wanted to have something published in a book, then write for a wider audience, then publish fiction. Around this time last year, I even ended up with my name on the cover of a book (although I didn’t write it), and I felt as though I were a “real” writer for about a week.

There are other external measures of success, too. While I’ve never made a ton of money, I’ve been privileged to find work I enjoy ever since college, not to mention work that is in my field. My current combination of working part-time as an employee for a news organization and freelancing to round out my time and my income is my “sweet spot” as far as work-life balance is concerned. By my own standards, I consider myself pretty lucky. I know others who are as smart, talented, and educated as I am who have not been so lucky in their work lives, and I remind myself often that I’ve got nothing to complaint about.

Except. I don’t really consider myself a success. My dream of publishing a novel, which I’ve cherished since I was about 10, is still out of reach. And it’s hard to feel successful after spending over half my life writing books and still feeling like I don’t have the right answer to the question, “Have you been published?” or “What have you written?” I feel that the answer to what I’ve published and what I’ve written are not really the same, although there’s the tiniest bit of overlap.

I believe that writing is its own reward; in fact, it’s so rewarding that I have a lot of trouble getting myself to devote as much time to submitting my work as I devote to writing it. The E in APE totally freaks me out. But I know that if I go through life without publishing a novel, I will feel like I’ve failed at my own measure of success, regardless of what else I might accomplish. And if I do publish one? I have a feeling I’ll be plagued by wishes that more people had read it, that it got better reviews, that it sold more copies.

This all might seem like a rather discouraging thread, but its effect on me is the opposite. It helps me keep things in perspective. Even Jim Henson received three years’ worth of rejections on a project he loved that never did get produced. I hope that at the end of his too-short life, he was able to appreciate everything he had done, and not dwell too much on what he hadn’t. I hope I’ll be able to as well.

Because ultimately, the next dream will always be out of reach. That’s the definition of dreaming. And maybe that’s why so many people who were “success stories” by the world’s standards felt like they fell short of their own. And maybe that’s not as depressing as it seems.


It’s Here: The Nov/Dec Issue of Verily Magazine

October 21, 2013

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time. The November/December issue of Verily Magazine is finally for sale, and it features my article, “Natural Wonder: Understand Your Cycle to Regain Your Sanity and Appreciate Your Body,” on page 87. In case the title doesn’t make it clear (and I think it does), the article is about the Fertility Awareness Method, focusing on the non-reproductive benefits, and how understanding it can give women tons of insight about their bodies.

I’m thrilled about the article, and I’m also thrilled that Verily Magazine exists. Its tagline is: “Less of Who You Should Be: More of Who You Are.” While not as overtly feminist as magazines like Bust or Bitch, what it adds to the genre of women’s magazines is distinctly refreshing. The Nov/Dec issue includes articles about female bullying, an examination of dating “rules,” the effects of pornography on women, men, and relationships, and the prevalence of rape as a tactic of war. There’s some great advice about keeping your sanity in the sometimes-insane holiday season. It has some fashion spreads and tips, too — which feature real women instead of models. There are no ads and no airbrushing.

Its target audience is women ages 18-35, which is probably why so much of it resonated with me. It reminds me of the “grown-up” version of New Moon Girls, a magazine and web community for girls ages 8-14, which I’ve worked on in various capacities for 11 years. New Moon Girls is also ad- and airbrush free, featuring girls as they are and not as the world tells them they “should be.” Both publications would make great gifts for the girls and the women in your life this holiday season.

Writing and the Immeasurable Payout

September 3, 2013

Recently, I subscribed to Holly Lisle’s e-newsletter on a recommendation from Publishing E-books for Dummies, which I’m reading as part of my Rumpled ebook project. Although my inbox is full with newsletters and updates that I often don’t have time to read, I’m glad I took a look at Holly’s post about whether writing is worth the price. I recommend that not just writers, but anyone who wonders about the “price” of their dreams, take a look.

As a freelancer who juggles work for a variety of clients, as well as a part-time job with fluctuating hours, I often find myself weighing costs and benefits in my head before I accept any project, knowing that to do so means I may have to give up others. Questions include …

  1. How long will the work take me, and how much does the project pay? In other words, what will be my approximate “per hour” rate?
  2. How enjoyable is the work? Or, conversely, how boring, difficult, or frustrating is it?
  3. How reliable is this client at paying on time, or how long will I have to wait to get paid?
  4. If the pay-rate is low, are there other benefits — such as building up my portfolio, reaching a certain audience, or bringing me closer to something I want?

The best projects, of course, are the ones that are enjoyable and that pay well. But I will sometimes sacrifice higher pay for work that I find more enjoyable. Ultimately, though, my goal as a freelance writer is to get higher pay for fewer hours of work … so that more of my time is freed up for my own writing. In fact, being able to make my own writing a priority was largely the impetus that pushed me to transition from work as a full-time staff person to a freelancer. The reality of making money as a freelancer means that I don’t have significantly more time to write than I did when I worked for a company full time; what I do have is greater flexibility, which means I can work my other commitments around my writing. And that is worth a lot.

Still, I learned long ago that I cannot apply this cost/benefit model to my writing. Doing so would utterly depress me. Ultimately, I want to publish a novel with a major publishing house — that’s my most desired tangible outcome of the investment I make in writing. But even if that happened, there’s no way that the advance would ever compensate for the years that I put into getting me to that point. If it takes approximately 10,000 hours to attain true mastery, and you secure a $10,000 advance (a fairly generous sum, and unlikely from small presses), that translates into $1 per hour for your work. As a freelancer, I won’t work for those rates, and neither should anyone else.

But I’m not writing this post as a freelancer. I’m not writing my novels or my journal entries as a freelancer, either. I’m writing them for something else, something that is not easily quantified, and that has meaning even if they never bring any money in. I don’t write with hopes of payment and recognition; but I think these things would be mighty nice perks, since I’m going to be writing anyway.

And I am going to be writing anyway. I appreciate a “break” from writing between big projects, but after a month or so I start to feel “off” without a writing project threading through my life. I still get excited for new ideas and for old ones; I still feel as though there may never be enough time in the world for me to do all the writing I want to do, to tell all the stories I want to tell. This both daunts me and inspires me. I expect that my writing will take different forms throughout my life, but I know that to stop writing would be to lose a part of myself — perhaps even a crucial one, without which the other parts of myself might crumble apart. And who could put a price on that?

Free Writing Ebook from Scribendi

June 7, 2013

business writingSince early 2009, Scribendi, an online editorial services company, has been one of my most steady freelance clients. The experience of working for them has only improved over the years, as they’ve raised wages and begun offering other juicy incentives for helping out during especially busy times or receiving positive feedback on an order. But perhaps one of the things that has impresses me most about Scribendi is their dedication to improving their clients’ writing. This isn’t an organization that wants to keep clients dependent on their services; it’s one that believes it can be most valuable by guiding clients to become stronger writers on their own … even if that means they might eventually outgrow Scribendi’s services.

Along those lines, Scribendi is currently putting together a series of writing ebooks. Their first one, Effective Business Communication, has just been released. Most of us have probably had days at work where we hit “send” too soon on an email or CC’d the wrong person, causing embarrassment at best or downright humiliation or harsh reprimands at worse. We’ve had days where we’ve stared at a blank screen, inert at the thought of beginning that big report or grant proposal or marketing plan (I’ve had tasks stay on my to-do list for weeks, not because of lack of time, but because of how daunting the blank screen is.) Since most professions require written communication of some sort, this book can be helpful to anyone who has a job or is looking for one. And for a few days, you can download it for free. Enjoy!

Overwhelmed, or Just Lucky?

February 13, 2012
I thought about blogging today about how the upheaval in my personal life has once again been detrimental to my creative life. I’ve mentioned it here before, how hard it is for me to write in transition. For me, transition is the enemy of The Writing Life, whereas routine seems to be its best companion. As I write that now, I realize how ironic that is, because it is in the transitions that life truly happens; if it weren’t for transitions, what would we have to write about? Everyone knows that the hallmark of good fiction is character development, and a character that ultimately changes by story’s end. Memoir, too. So I’m going to keep living, and changing, and writing about it all in my journal — and maybe when the dust settles, I’ll be able to utilize it in fiction, too.
These days, my life feels like an endless to-do list, and I’m at the point where something has to go. Because it’s so hard for me to write in transition, I’ve decided to go easy on myself in this regard. But as I was feeling overwhelmed at the grocery store today, wondering how I would ever get it all done, I remembered a podcast I listened to by Gregg Braden last week. I’d never heard of him before, and I still don’t know much about him, including how credible he is or isn’t. But his work has to do with research to link whether our thoughts or, more specifically, our belief systems and deep-soul feelings, have the power to affect our reality. He claims that our thoughts are weak, but that when we deeply believe something, it has the power to impact our circumstances. And so, with this in mind, I try not to let myself get stuck in a feeling that I “can’t do it all” or that there’s “just too much.” I’m trying to consciously change my script to this:
I have enough time, money, and energy to meet my needs.
And when I remembered that this is what I want to learn to feel deeply, I immediately saw my dilemma from a whole new angle. Right now, I’m swamped with freelance work and wondering whether I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’m trying to decide whether I’ll need to let someone down or whether I just need to pull through this stretch, not drop any balls because I may need this work in the future. And that’s when I realized how incredibly lucky I am to have this problem. When I first started freelancing three years ago, I was petrified with the fear that I’d be without work and without a means to support myself. Money is incredibly tight right now … so what better time to be inundated with work? I can do this, one deep breath and changed script at a time. 

Oh, Internet, How I (Haven’t Really) Missed You

September 21, 2011

In the wee hours of Monday, September 20, my wireless router died quietly in its sleep. Monday morning, I was in denial. It will come back, I told myself. All morning, I did laundry and washed dishes. By noon, my Internet still wasn’t up. I gathered my courage, packed up my computer, and brought it to my parents’ place. On days that I’m not at the library, if I can’t get online, I can’t work. I accept and return all my assignments online, not to mention the regular email accounts that must be checked to make sure I don’t drop the ball on an all-important issue.

Yesterday, my Internet was still down. I went into the library half an hour early, where I accepted two orders from Scribendi using the library connection. Later that night, I went to my parents’ place again to download both orders to my flash drive, so that I could work on them offline until the Internet tech guy came out to my place at 4 today. That means that before 4 pm, there was no one around except me, Microsoft Word, and two long-ish manuscripts in need of editing. Both were due by the end of the day.

Last night, I estimated that the manuscripts would take me about 14 hours to edit; I wasn’t looking forward to the long day, but I need the money and both were at least interesting projects. I felt incredibly impressed with myself as I worked through the first manuscript before lunch; by the time the Internet guy came, I’d done my first pass on the second one, too. In all, both manuscripts took me about eight hours to complete, six hours fewer than I’d predicted. Now, this isn’t totally due to my lack of connectivity; both pieces were in better shape than the pieces I’m used to editing, and I based my estimation on word count alone without taking a peek at the skill of the writers. Still, there was something so incredibly satisfying about having no choice but to dig into those pages, at least while I was seated at my computer. Usually when I’m editing or writing something, a thousand distractions run through my mind: has that client’s payment been deposited into my checking account yet? Do I have new email at Yahoo? What about gmail? What were the guidelines of that publisher I thought might be a good fit for my work? Have any of my friends updated their Livejournals? What’s the current prize on Coppergoose? The gossip on Facebook? Should I update my progress on my “currently reading” shelf at Goodreads? What’s the meaning of sigil, anyway?

I’m sorry to say that my mind grabs onto these distractions when I start to feel bored or stuck with my current project, and I follow them wherever they may take me, taking just “one more click” like an addict needing one more puff on one more cigarette. I justify each one by saying it will only take a few minutes, which is usually true. But snippets of five or ten or fifteen minutes away from my work or my writing add up. The havoc it wreaks on my brain is even worse.

I still had many of these urges today. Knowing I didn’t have immediate gratification, they eventually subsided, and my focus improved. When I really needed a mental break, I had lunch, drank a cup of tea, took a power nap, and even watched an episode of Sex and the City. The difference between this and my usual working habits were that each of those activities had a clear end point. The food and tea run out. Sex and the City episodes are less than 30 minutes long. I had to wake up to let the Internet guy in. This means I was more productive than usual today, but I didn’t feel totally burnt out at the end of it. That’s because I didn’t throw all those tiny increments of time away on the rabbit hole that is the Internet, a place in which there is no end in sight, and willpower alone is your only salvation.

I found myself feeling a little let down when the Internet was back up again. Now that barrage of distractions would once again be part of my life. Not having the Internet in my home isn’t an option; for me, no Internet means no income. Still, it occurred to me for the first time that I have power over whether my computer is connected to the Internet or not. So when I settled in to finish my edits, post-Internet, I pulled the plug on it until I was ready to upload my completed assignments.

What a relief to realize that I have a choice! Sure, the Internet is still only a click away, but that extra step of having to reconnect it makes me think twice before I chase whatever random whim sounds more fun than my work. I’m making a commitment right now to disconnect the Internet when I need to be intensely engaged with writing or editing. I’ve known for a while that multi-tasking is bad for my brain, but now I’m finally going to do something about it. I challenge you to do the same.


Finish What You Start

August 8, 2011

On the Belbin Team Inventory, I score as the Finisher. This may be why I haven’t often fallen into the trap that snags many writers, of starting multiple projects but finishing none of them. That is, I haven’t fallen into that trap until … lately, when I’m in the middle of editing an anthology, writing a short story, submitting a novel, and still hoping to enter at least two contests, apply for a grant, and maybe write an essay or two.

So when I read these Six Tips for Finishing What You Start on Susan K. Perry’s blog (Susan is an author I “follow” on Goodreads), they resonated with me in a way they wouldn’t have in the past–especially tip number one, about keeping a schedule. I can definitely attest to the importance of keeping a schedule in finishing writing projects, and not sticking to this schedule has been my downfall in the past couple months. As a part-time freelancer, sometimes my schedule is too flexible for my own good. My writing time gets shifted around from day-to-day … and sometimes, it gets shifted right off the agenda. So here I am, once more making a renewed commitment to write first-thing in the morning, every morning. On days that I’m working from home, my day starts when I say it starts; and on days when I work at the library, I rarely have to be in before noon. So in theory, writing consistently first thing in the morning shouldn’t be hard. Except, it is hard.

It’s hard because writing at any time of day is hard. It’s hard because no one wants to start off their day doing something as grueling as writing can sometimes be. But for me, there’s something that’s even harder: writing at ANY other time of day.

When I don’t write first-thing in the morning, I have lots of excuses as to why: I needed to see if I had any assignments that were “on fire” and in need of immediate attention. I’m at a loss for inspiration and hoping that it will come to me throughout the day. But although waiting sometimes brings results, I honestly can’t feel good about my day until after I’ve worked on a writing project. So if I work on my writing first thing in the morning, I go into the rest of my day knowing that the hardest part is behind me–and feeling a weight lifted from my shoulders. And if that elusive inspiration really does strike as the day goes on, well, there’s no rule against writing twice in the same day, is there?

So now, I’m off to bed–I have to wake up early for writing tomorrow.