Good morning! How're you doing? Lots has been going on with me lately, the most exciting of which was I saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie give a talk (pictured above). No surprise, she was amazing.
I've also been reading lots of books, flipping back and forth between what I feel like reading (The Door into Summer, by Heinlein, which was meh) and what we're discussing in my book club. Right now that's White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and once I got passed the confusing prologue I've been completely sucked into the story, which is about pica, twins, and family ghosts in a bed and breakfast in Dover. It's very gothic in the best sense of the word. Be on the lookout for a review soon.
My other big news, in case you missed it last week, is that I published the opening story (chapter?) to my serialized novel, The Ice Girl, on Amazon, which is exciting. I'm editing part 2 now and will post it next Sunday, in case anyone's in the mood for a story about moving to Russia and working as an ice girl in the KHL (Russia's version of the NHL hockey league). I like to think of it as When Harry Met Sally crossed with a slightly more serious version of Slapshot. It's got a will-they or won't-they romance going on, and if that's your thing, you might check it out. Available to download for just $0.99.
Ok, but on to what I really wanted to talk about, which is the amazing Adichie.
I love going to author talks because they tend to be some of the most eloquent, interesting people on the planet. I guess that makes sense when you make your living on words, and Adichie was no exception. She talked about everything, from her first novel Purple Hibiscus (my review here), to racism in America as assumptions on how you believe a person is or will behave based on the color of their skin (so true), and how the fight for gender equality isn't over. She also spoke about her struggle as a writer, which was the recurring anxiety that the day's writing wouldn't go well. I think a lot of us feel that way when we sit down to write.
The talk seemed to end way too soon because we were totally engrossed. I bought a copy of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and got it signed. It's a short read and a great roadmap for how to raise feminists (both boys and girls) and make sure you're applying those same lessons in your own life. I would definitely recommend it for new mothers, which is why the book was written after one of Adichie's friends asked her for advice on how she should raise her daughter to be a feminist. If you're interested in the subject, I've also linked to Adichie's seminal TED talk "We Should All Be Feminists" in a previous post. It's worth watching.
Have you read any of Adichie's work? I still need to read Americanah, and will admit that I'm a little intimidated by its length on top of my other reading commitments (and after a long day of editing, sometimes the last thing I want to do is read more, which is a shame). Still, sometimes you just have to put on your big girl pants and do it, because you know it's going to be good.
Have a great week and see you next Sunday!
So for all my writing and reading friends out there, I wanted to give you a quick heads up about some exciting literary events that are coming to the D.C. area, in case you happen to live around here or will be passing through.
First of all, the National Book Festival is coming up on September 2! This FREE event is sponsored by the Library of Congress and brings together some really exciting authors for the public to listen to and engage with. Speakers include Roz Chast (of New Yorker cartoon fame, whose book I wrote a review about here), Diana Gabaldon, Roxane Gay, Ha Jin, Condoleezza Rice, Cokie Roberts, David McCullough, Colm Toibin, and so many more. You can find the full list here. For a one day event, I think it's going to be really hard to see everyone I'd like to! The National Book Festival takes place at the Walter E. Washington convention center with doors opening at 8:30 am. I've wanted to go to this festival for YEARS, but have never gone for one reason or another. Can't wait to finally experience it and nerd out with other book lovers.
The other big literary news is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is coming to Maryland! She's giving several talks at different locations from September 24-26, including at the Baltimore Book Festival, about her novel Purple Hibiscus, which Maryland Humanities is sponsoring as a kind of state wide book club. I'm about half-way through the book, and it's very well written, though I admit I'm having some issues with the main character's passivity - but it does make perfect sense since this is a story about family abuse. Looking forward to finishing it and seeing how it turns out.
It was actually my best friend who alerted me to these upcoming talks, and even though she lives all the way in Dallas, she's flying home for the long weekend so we can see Adichie together. My friend is a huge fan of her writing, but also of her TED talks, including the one I've linked above, "We Should All Be Feminists." Check it out! I admit, I have not read enough of Adichie's work (Americana is perpetually on my "to read" list), but this has been a great excuse to dig into her catalogue in preparation to hear her talk.
And if you're in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area this September, I hope you'll be able to make it to these events. I know I'm super excited :)
Last week I spoke about starting Lexapro, so I wanted to give you a little update about how I'm feeling.
Actually, not bad. Pretty good even. My problems aren't solved by any means, but they certainly feel less impossible. I don't really know how to describe it. It's not that I necessarily feel happier, but I am having an easier time seeing how my goals and issues can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I certainly don't feel like a different person, but I do feel less "wound up," if you know what I mean.
For instance, I've been struggling to finish a short novella for the last few months. It could not be a simpler story (purely commercially driven for publication on Amazon's KDP) that I'd already completely plotted out, and yet I have not been able to just sit down and finish the damn thing so I could move on to better projects.
Yesterday I finished it. After literal months of being about 2000 words from the ending, I was finally able to sit my butt down and get it done.
Is it the medicine? A placebo effect? A combination of all the other things I'm doing? Not sure. But I'll take it.
The only other thing I've been doing differently is making more of a concerted effort to apply some cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, particularly the one related to procrastination/perfectionism. It works like this: you make three columns on a piece of paper and label them Task, Perception, and Reality. You write out your tasks and then on a scale of 0-100, rate how difficult you perceive they will be. Then after you complete the task, you rate how difficult you actually felt it was in the Reality column. Those of us that struggle with anxiety generally perceive things to be more difficult or awful than they really are, which contributes to our procrastination. I've been struggling with that issue lately, so I've been using this exercise and finding it really helpful, because it provides tangible evidence that the activities I need to do aren't nearly as hard as I expect them to be and it creates a kind of positive snowball effect for future tasks.
Anyway, just wanted to report that I'm definitely feeling a little better and having an easier time with things. The mild Lexapro side-effects have worn off and I'm feeling like it's really helping, especially in combination with the cognitive behavioral therapy I've been working on. That makes sense since the combination of medication plus therapy is supposed to be more effective than either one alone. I don't know why but I find that pretty cool to see in action. It gives me a lot of respect for psychiatry.
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 (email@example.com) 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.
The other night, I went to a local book club hosted atMystery Brewing (an excellent pub/brewery in Hillsborough, NC that's well worth a visit if you're in the area). It was my first time going, and I kind of lucked out because the club had organized a Skype session with the author of the book (The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel). Obviously, it was really cool to listen to her thoughts on the novel, which was about the devil in small town Ohio, but I was even more interested in what she had to say about her publishing experience, since I have similar goals.
Although The Summer That Melted Everything was technically her "debut," I think Tiffany said it was something like her eighth completed novel. According to her, she had met some resistance over the years from agents who thought her work was a little too dark to be commercial. I totally respect her for sticking to the stories she wanted to tell, but it's also interesting to know that dark plots can be considered a "problem" in the publishing industry (as unfair as that is).
She also mentioned the amount of marketing she did for the book herself. I've heard that's fairly typical these days, but it was helpful to hear her confirm it, because it made me realize how much more serious I should probably get about building my author "platform" (i.e., this blog).
The thing is, it just feels weird to be soliciting emails for newsletters that you readers aren't interested in because I don't even have a product yet, or something of value to give in return. Yet everyone says to get started as soon as possible. The sooner you begin getting blog subscribers and email addresses, the more you'll have for marketing purposes later on down the road (and boy, did it feel icky just writing that sentence - even if it's true).
I do some self-publishing on Amazon KDP and have a totally separate website for that pen name to list all my titles. So in that instance, I actually do have something to "give" the reader in exchange for their contact information. For instance, I can tell subscribers when I'm running free book promotions. That feels like a fair exchange.
Whatever your thoughts about marketing, since I believe many of you are also writers, I figured the very least I could do is share a tool with you that I use on my KDP website to analyze user information and solicit emails for my newsletter. I spent an entire day looking for a tool that would allow me to easily copy and paste code to create simple subscription pop-ups, click-maps, and compile Google Analytics into a more user friendly interface, and I finally found it:
This website tool is so easy to use and it does exactly what I want it to. It's also free. So if you're trying to build your author platform, don't waste time looking for something better. There are a lot of options out there, but they all cost money, and what I've learned as a KDP author is that your success somewhat depends on how low you can keep your operating costs. Sumo fits the bill. It's exactly what every aspiring author needs to manage their website.
With all that said, I hope giving you this information will also allow you to forgive me if I install Sumo on Wordly-Bird. So if you see a pop-up requesting your email, feel free to ignore it. It just seems like if I want to get serious about being a published author - then I need to get serious and do some things that make me slightly uncomfortable. I'll try and figure out what more I can give to make these kinds of annoying email solicitations more palatable. Hopefully sharing this Sumo tool with you is a start. (Seriously, install it, it's amazing - they also have incredibly helpful download and installation videos on their website.)
Hello, hello! How's it going? Having a good week? Bad week? Productive? Lazy? Even though I've been updating here fairly consistently, I've been feeling a little disconnected from this blog. I think it's because I haven't been sharing as much personal and inner-life stuff as I'd like. I'm going to work on that because there's nothing I hate more in a blog than a tedious run-down of external life stuff (Here's what I ate! Here's what I wore! Here's where I traveled! Here's a recommendation!). All of that is well and good, but it gets boring without knowing a little more about the writer and their thoughts and hopes, etc. It's a tricky balance.
I've had an unusually light editing week, which has let me focus more on writing and publishing. I always appreciate these moments, because they're so few and far between, but I also find them a little overwhelming. There's so much work to be done. So many stories to write, edit, publish, and market. Being an indie author could easily be a full-time job (and I think it is for some people), though I guess it depends on whether or not the pay is commiserate to the effort.
I haven't talked about this stuff much, but I've been publishing on Amazon Kindle fairly regularly (Kindle Direct Publishing). And just so you know, for almost six months, I had almost no sales. This didn't surprise me in the least. It's hard to break through the algorithm of any online platform and get noticed among the millions of options that are available. But I kept plugging away at it. I don't know why exactly. I guess I felt like I'd be writing this stuff anyway (or something like it), so I may as well post it on Amazon.
And then a funny thing happened. About two or three weeks ago, my sales started to pickup, particularly my KENP numbers (the number of pages that are read). For six months, I had more or less ignored those page counts because they occurred so rarely. Maybe once a week, someone would read one of my stories, and since you only get paid ~half a cent for every page read, that didn't amount to much money. But I did notice that when people read my stories they virtually always read all the way through. That felt pretty good. Like I was on the right track.
Well once I broke through Amazon's algorithm (I think by shear volume of stories) and more people started reading my work, suddenly those KENP numbers started adding up. It's still not a lot of money, but I've now made more in the last two weeks than I had in the previous six months.
So I'm busy trying to capitalize on that momentum. Bundling stories together into book deals. Establishing better social media presence for that pen-name. Tweeting (affiliate) links to those deals. Writing more stories and considering different genres. Like I said, this could be a full-time job.
What stories are these? Unfortunately, I'd never share that trash on this blog in a million years. Basically, I sold out and wrote a lot of commercial romance garbage that I would never feel comfortable attaching my real name to. But I'm still kind of proud of it because it's a fun exercise to put literary merit aside and just focus on writing a story that draws more people in.
Amazon KDP is obviously not a good place to publish if you're interested in being a literary fiction author. The people who sign up for Kindle Unlimited (who will be the most likely to find your ebook) are not there to discover and read the next Hemingway. They're looking for good deals on fun genre fiction (romance, science fiction, maybe some mysteries, etc.). But if you enjoy writing romance, I would highly recommend posting a short novel or a few short stories on KDP. It's fairly easy to do. I find the hardest part is designing a decent cover, but other than that, there's really nothing to lose. It's a fun hobby with the chance to make a few bucks at the same time. It's like the writer's version of Etsy.
I still hope to go through the traditional publishing route one day, and I'm still working on those stories. I wish I could share them with you now, but I'm not sure it's a good idea to publish those particular books on Amazon first, even if I still retain the copyright. I don't know, maybe it doesn't matter. If I had more time, I would devote a lot more effort to understanding traditional publishing, and whether or not publishing on Amazon first is considered a detriment.
Anyone have some advice on that? If you have a story that's good enough for Amazon KDP, but it might also be good enough (with some additional editing and work) to query agents with, should you save it for the traditional publishing route? Or could you "test the waters," so to speak, on Amazon first? It's just so tempting to jump right into the immediate commercial opportunities of self-publishing, but maybe that's short-sighted.
My strategy of late has been to focus on writing more commercial work, post in on Amazon, and hopefully draw enough income from those sources to allow me to cut down on my editing work so that I can devote even more time to writing what I would consider my more literary projects. But maybe that strategy is all backwards. I really don't know.
Seriously, if you have thoughts on this, please comment. I'd love to hear your opinion. Or if you have questions, feel free to post them too. I would love to get a conversation going on this self- vs. traditional publishing debate. Do you start commercial and go literary? Or do you shoot for the literary publication first if that's your real goal?
And if anyone's interested in learning how to publish on KDP and understand some of its quirks, let me know in the comments. I feel like I've learned so much from trial and error over the past six months. I'd be happy to share if you'd find it helpful.
I'm working on a little book right now (just an ebook) for scientists on how to improve their writing. With the amount of editing I do, I noticed they tended to make the same mistakes over and over again, probably because scientists get very little training in how to write despite the fact that they're expected to publish research articles almost continuously.
So as I edited, I started keeping notes on these errors. Then I pulled together an outline from these notes, and lately I've just been chugging away at the actual writing of each chapter.
It's kind of fun and it's coming along! I've finished the first draft of the Introduction, the chapters on how to write in the active voice and other little "secrets" of good writing, like varying your word choice, and last night I more or less completed the first draft of the grammar section. Now all that remains is a few chapters on the best method for writing a research article, how to format a manuscript for submission, some basic Microsoft Word tricks that really make writing and editing so much easier, etc.
And as I was taking stock of what work remained, and congratulating myself on how far I had come, I thought to check my old notes for these upcoming chapters.
Lo and behold, I discovered I'd already written the method chapter! I'd completely forgotten about it, but while I was taking those notes, I got on a roll one day and slammed out ~1000 words on that section.
Copy and paste? Don't mind if I do.
I tend to do this a lot. I write things, and then I forget all about them. Usually it's a problem. I know I've needlessly re-written chapters of my sci-fi novel several times over only because I forgot where I was in the thread of the story. It's hard to keep track of these things when I'm often overwhelmed with editing work and have to put the writing on hold for a while.
But sometimes this little habit of mine comes in handy, like last night, when I was staring down the barrel of another chapter to write, and then 30 seconds later realizing I'd already done that work!
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book so I can do I a little editing to spruce it up, then give it to my beta readers (i.e., my husband and my mom), and finally get this project finished. That's been my theme lately - just finish.
I have so many writing projects I want to work on, I decided the most efficient thing I could do is finish up the ones that are in progress right now. So I published another short story on Amazon. I'm also finally finishing the editing on my practice novel, which I set aside for a little while because things got busy while I was starting the editing business. When that book's done I'll post it on Amazon too (because it's fun to get a buck or two every now and then from your writing and to see that people actually read your stories to the end!). Now I'm finishing up this science writing book and once that's done, then I'll have the time to focus on my close to completed (but not quite) NaNoWriMo project from last year.
Then I'll have a decision to make in terms of what novel I want to work on next. There's my sci-fi story I've been thinking about and writing/rewriting for several years now, but I've got other ideas too that might be a little simpler and more at my skill level. Then there's always my little book on organic chemistry (I love little books), which again, might make a good Amazon ebook. Decision, decisions...
This is why I wish I could write full time. I hate having to choose my writing projects based on efficiency, but I also want to be smart about it. When you have limited time to write, you've got to make that time count.
How are your writing projects going these days? Are you spread thin? Or are you better at focusing on starting and finishing a single story at a time. Honestly, I'm undecided about which way is better. It's nice to switch tasks when I get stuck on one project, but the tendency to never finish anything longer than a short story is also much higher.
I've got a to-do list that's a mile long (actually, it's several index cards long). There's always a list of things I want to write. Novels, short stories, non-fiction e-books, blog-posts, emails, etc.
And lately, I've stumbled onto something that I think a lot of people have already figured out, but as usual I'm slow to learn the rules to any game.
Basically, re-use your content.
On my editing website, I have a small blog where I talk about basic grammar mistakes that I notice scientists often make in their manuscripts. I write these posts because I'm interested in grammar, but I also use them to market my business to some degree. So for example, I wrote a post about the difference between the abbreviations "e.g." and "i.e." and then I posted that link on Facebook. That link brought people who were interested in learning how to use those abbreviations to my editing website, and now maybe they'll use my editing service at some point in the future. Basic web 2.0 marketing.
So that's great, but it's certainly time consuming. Writing those blog-posts sometimes keeps me from writing fiction or non-fiction at the end of the day because I'm exhausted. I feel like my brain gets used up.
But then I realized that I can kill two birds with one stone. Because I'm also trying to write an e-book for scientists on how to become better writers by learning some simple rules and tricks. Maybe you're already seeing the connection...
So now when I write these grammar-focused blog-posts, I just copy and paste them into my working draft of the science writing e-book. I'll revise it later to fit into the appropriate chapter. So I turned one post into two uses. Win win!
Here's another example. The other day I was reading All & Sundry's blog-post about meditation, which inspired me to write this long and detailed comment because I'm really interested in that topic. Well I wound up adapting that comment into a blog-post here. I figured, hey, I spent a lot of time writing that comment, why not expand it?
I'm calling this BOGO writing, buy one get one free. Obviously, you have to be careful not to overdo it (I think a lot of bloggers who have written "books" make this error by repackaging old blog-posts, which just ends up pissing off their readers). But if you've written good content once, why can't it be used in a different context when there's virtually no overlap between the readership?
I guess it's an example of working hard AND smart, something I've always struggled to do. I can work like a dog, but dogs aren't that smart...
Do you ever BOGO write? Is it a no go or a yes go?
I have a hard time getting started on work. Sometimes, I'll wind up dithering away one or two hours before I finally start editing. It sucks, because those one or two hours come out of my personal writing time. And every day I tell myself I'm not going to procrastinate (except it's not even procrastination exactly, it's more of this inability to start anything), but I usually wind up doing it again. I've struggled with this since I was kid. Writing school essays was never hard. It was starting the essay that would send me into a near panic every. single. time. And then once I got over that panicky hurdle, I'd be perfectly fine again. It's a weird type of anxiety.
On election night, I didn't go to bed until close to 2 am. It took me that long to accept that Clinton had lost. And as I was curling up under the covers, this thought popped into my head: "I just want to disappear into my story."
The other day, my husband and I were driving home from D.C. It's a long drive, and sometimes when I'm bored, I think of things that make me laugh.
"What are you laughing about?" my husband would ask.
"Oh, just about how I used to play basketball in a turtleneck."
Many miles later:
"What are you laughing about now?"
So I told him the story about the time I was in the bathroom at my old job when I overheard a student ask another girl if she had a tampon. She didn't. But I always kept a tampon hidden in the bathroom, behind this random bowl of potpourri. So I opened the stall door and said, "I have one!" and showed them my hidden stash.
"Did they think that was weird?"
And that's why I was laughing, because it was only at that moment, sitting in the car somewhere on I-85 did I realize that eavesdropping + popping out of a random bathroom stall + revealing a hidden tampon might be considered a little strange...
"I think they were equal parts horrified and grateful."
My pets have weird nicknames:
Hans (grey cat): Hansy, Dazzler, Gremlin Cat (he's very impish)
Bunbun (siamese cat): Bunny, Buntaro, the Bunbun (we joke that he's so dumb, he doesn't understand that "Bunbun" is his name, not his species)
Hammie (german shepherd): Ham Sandwich, Hamberlina Jolie, Muffin Chomper, Nose Tube (cause her head is pretty much just a giant tube for her nose).
I don't know why I felt like writing these thoughts down. They've been bouncing around in my head for a few days. Maybe it will be fun to read them again later.
I've never had much success with New Year's resolutions...except for one.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to feel more "put together." I wanted to feel better in my clothing (this is along-standing issue I've had about dressing sloppily).
But instead of resolving to "dress better," I decided I would make one very small change: to always wear matching underwear. Nothing fancy. But my top and bottom would match.
I achieved this by throwing out all the random underwear I owned, especially the ones with goofy patterns and colors from Victoria's Secret, and then I went to Macy's and bought 5 pairs of black underwear and 5 pairs of nude at one of those sales they periodically run. I already owned two black bras and two nude bras. Then when I got dressed each morning, it was a snap to either choose a matching black or nude "set."
5+ years later, my underwear still matches using this same system, and even though no one else can tell, it does make me feel slightly more polished.
I think what made this "resolution" succesful was that I framed it as a small, concrete change that I could make in my life fairly easily. Apparently, making a decision as convenient as possible is one of the best strategies for establishing a habit.
So this year I'm going to try the same thing.
Instead of "I will lose weight," I'm going to:
Instead of "I will save/make more money," I'm going to:
Instead of "I will write more," I'm going to:
I might add more little changes as I think of them and write them here so I can come back to this list if I'm feeling off-track.
None of these things are ground-breaking, but I think they will add up and help me achieve several goals I have for the year, which include:
There may be more, but this is what comes to mind right now.
What are your goals for this year? What small, easy changes can you make to achieve them?
Writing Streak: 3 days
My Books on Amazon:
Waking Lions by Avelet Gundar-Goshen
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro