So if you're new to the blog, you might not know that I'm going through some pretty major life changes, including getting divorced and temporarily living at home with my parents to save up money to buy my own place (renting with pets is tough, and frankly, I've been ready to own a home for a while). Since I don't want to live at my parent's house for much longer, I'm working really hard to save up the last $10,000 or so I need for my down payment.
The biggest thing I've done to reach this goal is set up a strict budget, which has mostly involved fiddling with an excel spreadsheet for the last few months until I finally came up with some realistic numbers. This has required being really honest with myself about my expenses, including looking ahead to future costs and factoring that into my savings. I've found that opening multiple savings accounts for specific purposes has been really helpful to ensure I never need to dip into my down payment money. For example, I have separate accounts for pet meds and vet bills, car maintenance, reoccurring software and website costs, medical savings for upcoming copayments and deductibles, etc., and I contribute a small amount of money into each one of these accounts every month so that when I do need to pay for any of these items, I already have the money set aside to do so.
On top of that, I've started using another cool app called Daily Budget. Basically, you input your fixed expenses and your savings goals, and then it calculates how much remaining money you have to spend per day for the rest of the month. Every purchase you make outside of those fixed expenses gets entered into the app. If you over-spend one day, then you'll have less for the remaining days. If you don't spend any money one day, then you'll have more later. It's not a groundbreaking idea, but it is helpful to have a little app that instantly does those calculations for you so there's never any question about whether you're over-spending. I guess it helps me feel more accountable and aware of where my money is going. Because it's not like I'm saving 100% of my money. Living with my parents, I think it's pretty important I get out of the house at least once a week and hang out with people my own age. That means spending a little bit on gas, parking, public transportation, drinks, what have you, but using the Daily Budget app makes sure I never over do it.
If anyone's interested in a more detailed post on how I do my budget, particularly as a freelancer, let me know. I'd be happy to share some tricks I've learned.
To get me in this savings mindset, I've also been listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast. He's not 100% my cup of tea, I don't really care for his attitude at times or his political opinions, but I generally agree with his money principles. Basically, pay off your loans and then stay out of debt however you can (excepting a mortgage) by living within your means and keeping a strict budget. Again, it's not groundbreaking, but it works, and I find it's kind of helpful to have a virtual "cheerleader" for my savings and budgeting plans. I think his books are pretty good resources as well if you're looking for some money guidance.
So I'm feeling like I have a much better handle on where my money is going, and now I need to focus on increasing my salary. Getting divorced and having my household income suddenly cut in half has been quite a blow, and I need to make up for some of that loss. Increasing my hours with my university appointment has helped, but I need to take it a step further. I have ideas about teaching an online class and finishing my science writing book to sell on Amazon (and I have a pretty large Facebook group for marketing), but it's so hard to find the time to create new things when I feel like I'm always just barely keeping up with the freelance editing. Add to that my social life, which despite being fairly marginal takes up a disproportionate amount of time because of all the commuting I have to do to the city just to be around people my own age. Sometimes, it feels like I'll never have the time to work on these extra sources of revenue, but I guess if increasing your income were easy, everyone would be doing it.
My ultimate goal with all of this is to get back my independence so I can focus on the things that are important to me, like writing and other creative pursuits. I guess I think of this as the responsible road to life as an artist. Maybe you can relate.
How are your finances these days? Any savings goals or budgeting tips you'd care to share?
I'm just going to be honest with you, I'm only writing this review in hopes of saving you $15. And before you question my motives, I also want to point out that I am a massive (massive!) Star Wars fan, and I think Carrie Fisher is actually a pretty good writer. But this book is clearly a money grab and you don't need to buy it.
The Princess Diarist received a brief whirlwind of publicity last year when it was published, primarily because in it Fisher (aka Princess Leia) revealed that she and Harrison Ford had a secret affair while making the first Star Wars movie. And if that information alone is enough for you to enjoy a book, then by all means, go ahead and read it. But for anyone else who was hoping for a little more, something that you know a personal diary might actually reveal, I'm afraid you're out of luck.
And if you're interested in how Star Wars was actually made, the first third of the book does provide a few interesting insights from Fisher's perspective, but not nearly enough. For instance, she does explain how she got the part, how she was asked (and failed) to lose weight for it, and boy does she bang on about that hair. But there's not much beyond that. Personally, I would have loved to know what it was like to film the garbage compactor scene, stuff like that, but she never really mentions any that specific from Star Wars.
The diaries themselves don't even appear until about one third of the way through the book, which I found confusing given the way the book was marketed as a diary. But frankly, that had to have been a very conscious decision because these journal entries really weren't worth publishing. I mean, if you like reading pages and pages of vague teenage angst, by all means go ahead. But I found them to be incredibly underwhelming. Mostly they repeated ad nauseam about how little she meant to Ford and how powerless she felt to end things with him. (Because he's Harrison Ford I guess? If nothing else, this book was a good lesson in why it is not ok for a person to mistreat you even if they are ridiculously good-looking.)
Also, when this book came out, both she and the media really glossed over some issues of consent between her and Ford, which is frankly inexcusable. I first heard about this book on NPR's Fresh Air, and as far as I remember, not once did Terry Gross ask Fisher about the night in question. Not ok, Terry.
The final third of the book takes a big leap into the present day, which Fisher spends complaining about her fans. Those comic book conventions you go to in hopes of getting her autograph? She calls them "lap dances," and freely admits she only does them for the money and could not care less about the fans. Actually, that's a nice way of putting it. It's not that she doesn't care about her fans, it's that she has open contempt for them.
I mean, I can kind of see where she's coming from. Yes, it would get obnoxious to have everyone compare your present day appearance to how you looked forty years ago, but did we really need to hear her mocking fans for 30 pages? And if she felt trapped into signing autographs for money, maybe she should have tried spending a little less instead of blaming people for enjoying her performance? It all left a bitter taste in my mouth, and it seemed so completely unconnected to the previous two-thirds of the book that I had to wonder whether this wasn't some massive meta-commentary. Like she was laughing at us, the readers, for buying into her lap dance of a book.
Or maybe, and this would be much worse, this writing is a serious reflection of her self-acknowledged bipolar disorder, in which case I don't feel comfortable having funded such a gross exploitation of her mental health issues. This book really does feel like it was barely edited. I guess why bother, the publisher knew it would sell regardless.
Anyway, I bought and read The Princess Diarist for a book club I just joined, and I was happy to learn that everyone else shared my opinion. We all had been looking forward to this book, and then were really disappointed upon reading it. We felt like we'd been tricked by marketing once again (see Ready Player One and The Martian). Is this phenomena unique to science fiction fans? It seems to keep happening to me. Maybe it's happening in every genre these days. Basically you can sell a lot of crappy books as long as you market them right. The reader might feel cheated at the end, but what do publishers care, they've already got their $15.
July 1 marks my one year anniversary of freelance editing! 12 months of self-employment and not once did I need to dip into savings! I made money, covered my expenses, and even put some away. I'm calling this a major win, A+! Starting my own business was the best decision I ever made, if only because I was able to prove to myself that I could do it. That's a very empowering feeling.
I didn't become a millionaire, but I'm ok with that, because the whole point of starting my editing business was to work from home and have more flexibility for writing and working on my own projects. So how'd I do on that front?
I'd give myself a B-. I definitely wrote more and I even started publishing short stories on Amazon, which have sold reasonably well. But I didn't finish the novel I started last July (nor did I manage to finish it for NaNoWriMo 2016). The first draft is probably two thirds done, yet it's just sitting on my hard drive. I know exactly what I want to do with it, I have all the scenes planned, I just haven't been able to get focused enough to execute.
And that lack of "focus" stems more from the fact that I'm utterly exhausted from reading and editing all day long. This was something I hadn't anticipated. When you read and write for a living, it makes it hard to do it for fun.
So what's the solution? Maybe treat fiction writing like it's a real job and not some side-project or hobby. I know I also need to write in the morning, which has always been my preferred habit, rather than waiting until the end of the day after I've already tired myself out with editing jobs.
The other thing I need help with is staying mentally organized. Each time I take a writing break, and this one with my novel has lasted several months now, I pretty much forget where I've left off, what plot has been established, which characters know what, etc., and figuring that all out again sounds daunting. The answer is to simply read what I've already written all the way through, but we're talking about some 30,000 words here. That's a lot! And I'm already reading and editing ~5000 words of technical writing a day for my ESL clients. It adds up.
But there's really no other answer than to dive back in. I can't stand an unfinished project, and even if there are other genres I'd prefer to be working in at the moment (my short stories are especially off genre for me and I'm sick of writing them), I still feel like this novel is something I need to finish because it has potential (in my opinion). I can't throw away a half-way decent try just because I'm a little tired. I only need to manage my time better.
Got any tips for that? Maybe having a writing partner would help keep me accountable. I'm pretty good at meeting internal and external expectations (I fall somewhere between an Upholder and Obliger on the four tendencies scale), but I always make external expectations a bigger priority. This is how I'm able to meet my clients' deadlines, but it also means that I'm only very productive in my writing when I have virtually no external expectations (and when does that ever happen).
So for this next year of freelancing, my goal is to make writing a bigger priority. Paying the bills is great, but the whole point is to achieve my creative goals: publish good books that make people happy.
So does anyone want to partner up? It could be as easy as a weekly email checking in with each other about how we did on our writing, or really anything if you have a different goal in mind. Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any interest. I would love to do it.
p.s. Please don't judge my editing skills based on this blog post or others. I'm writing this at 10 pm, which is not my finest hour of the day.
Writing, editing, and doing science when I feel like it. Just a book without a genre.