Playing Games

Playing Games

Everyone needs at least one go-to method to release all of that stress that builds up through the week (or weeks). You can go the low-key route and set aside time to meditate. Or you can choose to engage in vigorous physical activity and wear out your system so your brain has no choice but to collapse into exhaustion. (Frankly, my brain refuses to cooperate with that logic, but it works for some people) Then there are those of us out there that choose to take our stress to the battlefield of the dining room table (or whatever table proves handy) and engage in ye olde tradition of Game Night. Sure, it might lead to another kind of stress (it depends on the game of choice for the evening), but at least for a few hours, you’re not thinking about that project that’s weighing you down.

All that matters is CRUSHING your opponents.

For introverts, Game Night is sacred. We hoarded it as a treasured secret well before COVID-19 swept in and confined people to their homes. Competition across a cardboard land (or duels with stiffened cards) bring out the side of us most people don’t realize exists. Peep in on your introvert friends during a heated campaign, and you’ll swear you’re witnessing a pod person moment. Rooms fill with laughter, loud discussion, and the kind of cut-throat language usually reserved for your favorite action movie. Of course, you’re also talking a GROUP of introverts, so it’s a safe zone where we’re not worried about saying the wrong thing, offending anyone, or tripping over our own feet. And we’re not attempting to make small talk. Game Night exists for introverts to be themselves. COVID-19 just introduced the concept to the extrovert world when they ran out of things to binge-watch.

Now that lockdown has extended to…you know, I don’t even remember how many months (years?) it’s been at this point. Suffice it to say that we haven’t had the chance to leave and explore the outside world in an eon. Even with the vaccine, most people prefer to stay close to home out of a sense of safety. And that means Game Night has taken on a new life. Instead of the extroverts kidnapping their introvert friends and hauling them into social situations, now the tables have turned. We’re bringing the our poor extrovert friends (undergoing massive withdrawal symptoms) into our gaming worlds and introducing them to the fun that is Cut-Throat Uno or Runes and Regulations or Villainous. And then we’re ruthlessly cutting their feet out from under them and laughing at their losses.

And they don’t know what to do with us.

Game Night’s FUN! For those few hours, you have no friends! There aren’t any alliances (well, none that last more than a few moments, anyway). Your brain shoves those worries and stresses aside as you plot out a strategy to achieve your goals. And some of these games are downright devious these days. They’re DESIGNED to pit you against each other! We’re talking spouse against spouse and sibling against sibling! It’s friendly carnage on the highest level. And there’s nothing but laughter and sputtering for those hours. You can’t laugh and stress at the same time – proven fact. You also can’t fret and strategize at the same time. (Trust me. As someone with an advanced degree in anxiety? I know what I’m talking about)

Meanwhile, everyone enjoys snacks and throws out conversation. What you don’t realize is the talk? It’s DESTRESSING! You’re spitting out your worries to make room for that next evil plot in the game. (You need the room in your thoughts) And everyone offers their take on the situations, provides comfort, and acts as a quasi-group therapy. Without anyone catching wise. Because all of you are too busy scouting out each other’s game boards or the number of cards in hands. (We won’t go into Monopoly. That game should NEVER come out at Game Night – unless you’re planning to end a friendship or get the police involved)

It’s the best invention in the world – and it’s what introverts have been doing for EONS. We’ve survived lockdown by breaking out game boards via Zoom and Skype. And now we orchestrate small get-togethers with others who are vaccinated. And we laugh – and vent – and ruthlessly target one another with our plans. Then we laugh and sit back at the end of the night and feel a thousand times better. Waking up the next morning? We’re refreshed and ready to move on to the next task.

All from ONE Game Night.

Crazy, right? But it works. No one leaves feeling angry, worked up, or miserable. (Laughter = endorphins) And even if you’ve slaughtered everyone around the table, there’s no hard feelings. (Just watch your back next time, because everyone WILL gun for you) It’s the spirit of Game Night and how it works. And if you’ve never tried to participate in one of these events, you should. You don’t know what you’re missing. More importantly, your brain doesn’t realize the benefits waiting on the other side.

Give it a shot. You won’t regret it. (Well, unless you agree to a Monopoly tournament. All bets off there)

Redefining Vacations

Redefining Vacations

Vacationing at Fairy Stone Lake

Vacations rank at the top of almost anyone’s list of priorities. They represent a block of time where you don’t have to answer phone calls, respond to emails, turn in assignments, or pay attention during meetings. And, yes, it took some effort, tears, and promises to convince me that I could step away from work for a few days, but I’m better for it (workaholics are special people). However, we didn’t follow the “usual” pattern people take with their vacations – and not simply because of the Delta Variant wreaking havoc around the country. As a result, my writer brain spent six days exploding with ideas and thoughts. (Oh, all right – four days. Travel days aren’t the most inspiring things in the world)

And you can do the same thing.

Of course, that means you have to give up some tried-and-true vacation staples. Are you willing to take your time off and DO something? Or is turning into a slug somewhere more interesting to you? I mean, I get it: you’re beat down and exhausted. All you want to do is unplug your brain and stuff it into a jar. That’s what I NEEDED to do after the past…okay, so I can’t remember when my last official vacation was. And when we started talking about where to go and what to do, it was tempting to choose ANYWHERE and then turn into a zombie for the entire trip. After all, that’s what a vacation usually represents. But you’re not going to gain any inspiration from that kind of behavior. And if you want to find something new for your writing? You’re going to have to abandon those kind of plans.

Ready to think outside the vacation box and get your creative juices flowing? Okay, take a deep breath, and make sure you’re sitting down (because I’m going to shock you).

1. Venture “Off the Beaten Path”

Roaring Run Falls

Yes, I know, it’s exciting to go to the beach, amusement parks, or even into the city. You’ll end up wedged in with thousands of other people and get to wait in various lines. (Standing in line to place an order for food still counts) I’m not trying to knock that kind of vacation – especially since I’m a HUGE roller coaster fan and a devotee of Broadway. But with the pandemic suffocating the planet, none of those vacations are exactly practical. And, honestly, I’ve never come up with a new writing idea standing in line for an amusement park ride. (No matter HOW long the line stretched)

If you want to jump start your brain, you need to consider getting away from the popular vacation zones. Look for places that don’t get all of the tourists. You’ll find hidden gems that are every bit as stunning and amazing, without giant lines and long waits. (Not to mention saving you in the bank account department) Yes, I’m talking about using the natural wonders of the world to help you out here.

That waterfall? It’s called Roaring Run Falls. The complete hike came in around 2 miles and wasn’t horrible. And parking was FREE. (Plus, staying along the stream, we got a nice cooling breeze – unexpected bonus)

2. Wake Up Early

Mist on the creek at Fairy Stone State Park

I know – it violates every rule of vacations. But if you get out of bed and venture out into the world, you’ll see things other people miss out on. When we hit the lake, NO ONE was out there; we had it to ourselves. That meant we got to see this mist veiling the creek. Talk about fodder for any number of stories! (I mean, we were already in a location called Fairy Stone) The temperature PLUNGED in the area, and everything was still and quiet. No matter what genre you aspire to, you could work with that scenery.

And the mist didn’t hang around. By the time we needed to turn back? The sun had burned it off. Even 30 minutes later, we would have MISSED it.

GET OUT OF BED AND GET OUT THERE!

3. Bring Your Phone

Roaring Run Creek

Yes, I told you to venture into No Man’s Land, and now I’m suggesting you bring a phone. (Stick with me here) No, you’re not going to get a signal – more than likely. We lost internet here and there throughout our trip. But that isn’t why you want your phone, anyway. (Seriously, you probably need a vacation from staring at it)

The camera on your phone will work whether you have internet capabilities or not. And that means you have a chance to capture inspirational photos, videos, or even audio. Scribble notes directly on the image for what triggered your story idea. You DON’T need to be a fantastic photographer, and the weight? It’s manageable on any hike.

4. Ditch the Itinerary

I’m the first to admit to having a vacation itinerary. I planned out where we were going, what times to break, and how everything was supposed to go each and every day. It helps everyone stay “together” when families or friends want to spend the day in one location but engage in different activities. But itineraries? They don’t work when you’re looking for inspiration.

So don’t worry about having one. The most we did on our vacation was decide where we were going each day. And even then? We stayed flexible. When we hit Fairy Stone State Park, we flipped our plans around, hunting for fairy stones in the morning and hiking afterward. (A brilliant idea, as it turned out, as the grueling 5-mile hike wiped us out) And we didn’t have a set time for how long we spent on our “hunt” – something I normally WOULD have done. Instead, we called it quits when we felt satisfied with our haul.

You can’t leave your mind open if you’re rushing from Point A to Point B. Instead, you’re going to spend your vacation looking at your watch. And you’ll end up missing the imagery around you. You have 24 hours in the day. Leave them open. Let the world around you fill them in.

When we got back to our cabin in the afternoons, I pulled up Evernote and jotted down all of the ideas that sprang up throughout the day. Everything from the mist across the creek, the glassy expanse of the lake, tangled tree branches, to our conversations in the car traveling from location to location went into notecards. (That’s right, I even came up with freelance writing ideas!) And I didn’t sacrifice ANY relaxation in the process – even waking up at 7:00 AM every morning.

Was it the grand vacation we originally started thinking about? Of course not. But did I bring home more ideas and a sense of rejuvenation I normally DON’T? You bet! And it’s given me a new perspective on vacations. So if you’re contemplating a trip, you might want to do the same. Your writing brain will thank you.

Attention, Attention

Attention, Attention

Marketing Icons
Image by ar130405 from Pixabay

Writers write – it’s what we’re good at. And when we aren’t writing? We’re usually thinking about writing. Maybe it’s a new plot for a story or novel. Or it could be thoughts for a pitch of an article we want to contemplate. Our brains constantly cycle around the written word and how to assemble sentences into new, coherent thoughts. That’s what we’re best at. (At least, one hopes you are. There probably are a few people running around out there using the “writer” label with no rights to the title. And you know who they are, despite the fact they have publishing credits) Whether you focus on the fiction side of things or freelance in the real world, you find vocabulary fascinating.

At least, until you have to apply it to YOURSELF.

Writers are readers. So it doesn’t take much to drive us into a bookstore, over to a magazine rack, or even up to the newsstand. Words – silent, printed words – exude a siren song we can’t resist. This is why we usually have a giant stack of books somewhere in our house we add to with a solemn promise of, “I’m going to read these – eventually.” But for other people, they need something else to guide their feet in the same direction. The sensation of the eyes skimming over text isn’t enough for them. And that’s where marketing campaigns come in. Flashy advertisements (or, I’ll admit it, movies and television adaptations) engage their interest and connect them with a book cover, magazine photo spread, or news headline. And for the biggest publications out there, you’ll find teams of marketing geniuses capable of producing slick campaigns that can catch the general public’s attention. Yes, you knew about a book years ago, but suddenly your family members start talking about it over the dinner table as if it just hit the shelves. All courtesy of some well-placed advertisements.

But the average writer doesn’t have access to those teams. If they want to see the same level of promotion, they need to rely on themselves. And that’s a daunting task. Remember, writers are – by and large – introverts. But marketing requires an extrovert’s talents. You need to reach people out in the public eye, branch out into the social media feeds, and engage in discussions with people you’ve probably never met. Not only are you attempting to write, but you’re also trying to SELL. And the product? YOU.

Which is usually where your words disappear.

Writers shoulder the responsibility of marketing most of the time. Yes, even those bestsellers out there. Publishers might pitch in here and there, but not to the extent you think. And if you’re a freelancer? No one’s going to do the work for you. You’re on your lonesome to get your name out there and attempt to attract attention to yourself. (Good attention, by the way) You can’t sit back and hope the world will happen to stumble onto your phenomenal writing and flock to your door, begging you to solve their writing woes. (I mean, you CAN, but you may need to start that process as an infant because the wait’s going to be a whopper) If you want people to sit up and take notice, you need to break out your soapbox and bullhorn and start performing for the crowd. Ideally, with the same wit and competency you use in your day-to-day work.

Talk about insane pressure! We’re writers – not entertainers! Even with a background in theatre, I don’t feel confident when I grit my teeth and sit down to handle my marketing work. It’s a chore – with all of the attendant negatives we assign to that word. How am I supposed to convince anyone to follow me on social media, subscribe to my blog, believe I’m a confident writer? In the moments when I’m picking out quotes, designing graphics, or deciding on topics to write about, I’m NOT confident. And when I finally send out my little blips of marketing and self-promotion? I get crickets in response. (Unless I happen to slide the Minions into the mix. They always get tons of responses) But this necessary evil? It’s part of being a writer, a freelancer.

And you have to keep pushing through the reality of the work. If you’re committed to the lifestyle of a writer, anyway. (Ha, I said lifestyle. As if we’re doing something more than sitting at a keyboard all day) You need to figure out what to say about YOU, how to set yourself apart from the millions of other writers out there. And you need to remain true to your identity in the process. Not to mention realistic. Are you ever going to garner the same kind of response as a model? Or a cute pet? Nope. Will you spark endless threads of debate the way a political issue might? Probably not (you might, depending on your chosen genre). But does that mean you need to throw in the towel and give up? Of course not!

No one’s going to handle your self-promotion for you. And while it’s frustrating, and your brain turns off when you try to figure out what to say about YOU, it’s a process. One I’m struggling my way through a little more each day. But I’m getting a pattern down that I’m happy with. You can do the same thing. Think of ONE thing you can add to your schedule that fits the concept of marketing. And then work from there. What do you have to lose?

“No Capes!”

“No Capes!”

Interview Outfit
Photo by Adrienne Andersen from Pexels

For most of my working career, I’ve worn uniforms of one form or another. From lifeguarding at the local pool to my years as a vet tech, each position came with an expected appearance. And, in a lot of ways, that made my life easy. Even when barely coherent, it didn’t take much effort to get ready in the morning. So long as I kept the scrub tops and bottoms on separate shelves, I could manage to clothe myself. (And, yes, that was an early “lesson learned”) Throwing on that red bathing suit and a pair of shorts? It was even easier! While not allowing room for creativity or imagination, it provided structure and simplicity to my morning routine.

But it made interviews weird.

Everyone’s heard the phrase “dress for the job you want.” Frankly, I think it’s a stupid adage. No one walks to the pool in a bathing suit with a whistle around their neck. Mostly because the managers figure that you showed up because you were interested in a lifeguarding position. (Either that, or you were an idiot incapable of realizing the pool was still closed for the winter) You dressed like a responsible individual, exuding confidence that you could – if needed – rescue a drowning individual. No matter how attractive you look in swim wear, that isn’t the image projected.

The same thing goes for the medical field. While they KNOW you’re there for the technician position they’re so desperate to fill (newsflash: the veterinary field is always short-staffed), no one’s impressed by someone walking in the door in scrubs. I don’t care what Hollywood shows you: NO ONE looks good in scrubs. They’re a functional garment, and there’s nothing fashionable about them. The interview is meant to demonstrate (again) responsibility, maturity, and intelligence. And if you want the job, you’re going to dress appropriately.

Or you’re going to end up looking for work elsewhere.

So, yeah, stupid rule. And I’ve always laughed at it. (If I dressed for the job I WANTED, I’d bust out some dramatic successful supervillain creation – whatever that looks like. I’m also not sure it would work well at any of the places I’d apply…) But, for some strange reason, it hit between the eyes when I was staring down the barrel of an interview for a writing job. I panicked. What in the world are you supposed to wear to convey the image of intelligence, creativity, dependability, competence, and everything else someone could want out of a writer? How to portray the essence of WRITER?

I stood in front of my dresser, walked back to my closet, and I fretted. What have I seen successful, professional writers wear? That, it turned out, was a stupid question to ask. My only exposure to those people has been Cons. And what did they wear? Well, some wore costumes. (An interesting idea, but probably not the best) A few DID dress in business attire. But the majority? They looked like average, ordinary, COMFORTABLE individuals. Probably because that’s what writers ARE, when you think about it.

Breakthrough!

Freelance writers? We don’t sit in front of our computers and laptops in business suits. (If some of you do, fantastic. I hope you have a comfy chair) We’re not the corporate type. Everyone has an individual voice they lend to their work. And that’s reflected in what we throw on each day. Our appearance is as unique as the tone of voice we capture in sentences. And our publications? Those are what speak for us LOUDEST. So why was I fretting over something like what to wear – in a Zoom interview, of all things?

It made me stop and reassess. Instead of trying to go out of my way and figure out what a “professional freelance writer” (such an absurd concept) might look like, why didn’t I look like ME? They had my portfolio with my work. They weren’t trying to figure out if I could walk into an office every day with heels and a dress (been there, done that). No, they wanted a writer who could meet deadlines, prepare content, and provide creativity. (The fact my hair’s currently bright pink was probably already a strike against me for the whole corporate thing, anyway) So why not dress like ME? Isn’t that who they were interviewing in the first place? A quirky, creative writer a little outside of the box?

Oh, wait – that WAS the job I wanted!

In the end, I didn’t throw on anything other than my usual clothing. I even forgot to put my contacts in and had my glasses on (not that they’re bad or anything – I quite like them). No makeup, no jewelry, and nothing special beyond my Hocus, Pocus “My Lucky Rat Tail” socks (for luck, of course) – and the interviewer couldn’t see those, anyway. Oh, and Tonks, of course. She participates in EVERY work call I attempt. (How she knows the sound of that camera coming on is beyond me)

Maybe my different, casual look dinged me. Or maybe it didn’t, because the focus was on, oh, I don’t know – the strength of my answers to the questions? I guess I’ll have to wait and see. But I’M in a better place in regards to the whole interview outfit question. I’m a weird, creative person! And that’s the image I want to project. I’m submitting proposals to jobs that look for energy and entertainment and the ability to engage people. I can do that, without scrambling to overhaul my wardrobe. If nothing else, I’ll stand out from the crowd. And THAT’S something you want in the freelance world.

Maybe there’s a little something to dressing for the job you want – provided it’s the right job. And if anyone sees a posting out there for supervillain, let me know! I have the PERFECT outfit!

Literary Homicide

Literary Homicide

Does anyone else get jabbed in the side during movies for muttering, “That’s not how it is in the book?” (At least, if you’re polite, you mutter. Sometimes it slips out at a higher volume because you can’t restrain yourself due to outrage) Or maybe you walk out of a theatre with intense back pain because you slouched lower and lower in the seat, mortally embarrassed for your favorite author, beloved characters, and a treasured fandom. Not to mention, you’ve had to grin and apologize uncountable times to the person in front of you for stomping your foot every time someone screwed up a line or behaved so far out of context, your body reacted without thought.

It’s appalling!

And Hollywood loves doing this. They destroy our favorite books left, right, and center. It’s almost to the point that you start to believe they’ve hired someone who’s only job is sitting in a corner of the room, plotting how to unravel plots, twist characters, and murder classic lines. The Anti-Author, if you will. Maybe other people in the audience don’t realize what’s going on (other than to whine they don’t understand what the hype is about said book), but YOU know. And you slowly hemorrhage as hundreds of potential readers turn their backs on a work of literary genius. All courtesy of the Anti-Author.

Friends and family grew so tired of my endless diatribes against poor film adaptations, they refused to go to the movies with me. Hell, they wouldn’t even sit in a living room with me if they knew I’d read the book already. And I couldn’t blame them or get upset about it. I felt personally victimized by the actions of a bunch of Hollywood executives sitting in a back room, hacking apart my favorite fictional pieces. Seeing that “Soon to be a Motion Picture” sticker on a book in the store? That felt like a knife in the guts.

I needed a new habit.

Rather than feeling my blood pressure reach stroke level, I decided to flip the order of things. Any book that caught my interest courtesy of a movie or television trailer stayed on the shelf until AFTER sitting through Hollywood’s version. But I promised myself not to let that version taint my opinion. (After all, I was intrigued enough to consider it, and odds were pretty high I’d already skimmed the book jacket) Even if I rolled my eyes through the movie and left with a sour taste in my mouth (*cough* Artemis Fowl *cough*), I determined to return to the book after. Usually because I was so convinced there was NO WAY the author was THAT bad.

It’s a system that’s served me well about 99% of the time. (There are exceptions to every rule, and that 1% proves that sometimes even Hollywood can’t make something better) Instead of driving everyone crazy in a semi-quiet theatre – a rant for another time – I can wait, blithely innocent of every twist and turn with the rest of the audience. And THEN I can prattle on about everything Hollywood got wrong once I’ve devoured the book…depending on who I can track down and get to hold still long enough to listen.

But it isn’t a perfect system.

Sometimes those magic makers get sneaky. They decide to turn pieces into film that I’ve already read. It’s a wrinkle in the system that I can’t account for. (NOT reading isn’t an option) For instance, the Shadow and Bone trilogy. I started my usual grumble-fest – until my husband looked at me and told me he was enjoying the series. He hadn’t read the books, but I HAD. So I bit my tongue. (And, honestly, on the scale of adaptations, it’s not bad)

Then there are a few times I’ve been TERRIFIED to watch a movie because of how fantastic a book was. I didn’t want to witness the burning destruction of a phenomenal piece of literature. But those teasers and trailers are SO tempting. They crawl under your skin with appropriate lines, glimpses of characters better than you imagined, and hints of accurate plot. So I braced myself for disappointment – which never came. A Monster Calls and The Fault in Our Stars? They got it right. I’d read the books before the movies hit theatres. And I didn’t want my emotions shattered. (We won’t touch on the fact that either one will cripple you emotionally on their own) But someone hog-tied the Anti-Author in both instances. Because the films created the same depth of feeling the books did.

So while there might be some bugs in my system (and an occasional exception to the rule), it’s kept me from losing my cool as often. And I don’t have as many bruises on my ribs. It DOES mean I have to wait to read certain books, which is frustrating. But when you balance a potential stroke against a little delay? Yeah, health ranks higher.

Defending the Line

Defending the Line

You have to defend your boundaries
Photo by Burst from Pexels

What’s one of the best things regarding freelance writing (or any freelance job)? Getting to set and control your hours, of course. You have complete freedom over when you want to work. Which means you have ZERO obligation to keep a standard 9:00-5:00 schedule if it doesn’t work for you. Want to take an extended lunch hour? No problem. Feel like burning the midnight oil when no one else is up and about (and likely to pester you)? That’s your decision. Only want to work during the week and leave your weekends open for adventures? You have the right to make that choice.

YOU are in control of yourself.

As long as you complete the work and deliver it to your client on time, they don’t care if you “clock in” at 2:00 PM or 2:00 AM. It’s a huge perk. You aren’t squished into the box of regular work hours, staring at a clock and wondering why that minute hand never moves. And you don’t have to get on your knees to beg for time off when doctor appointments or other events pop up out of the blue. You simply schedule them to suit your needs and work around them. It’s one of the best situations out there. Honestly, freelance writing took a GIANT load of stress off my shoulders in that regard.

Until I realized people are time thieves.

The words, “I’m a freelance writer, so my schedule’s flexible,” are absolute poison. Suddenly, I opened a gateway for people to decide they have the right to invade my world with demands. That “flexibility” translates into excessive wait times, multiple appointments over several days (because one makes no sense), and frequent interruptions. After all, why should they worry about taking time out of my life? I can simply work later, right? I gave these idiots permission to intrude on a schedule I worked so hard to carve out.

You HAVE to set boundaries with the outside world. Yes, you have that flexibility – when it’s needed! Otherwise, people need to learn that you’re working! Maybe you don’t punch into a clock every day, with a boss hovering over your shoulder, but you still have assignments and tasks to accomplish. You ARE WORKING! It looks different, but it’s no less important than what they’re doing. How would they feel if you treated them the same way? (Ask them sometime) Stand up for yourself and defend that boundary. The freelance work you do is IMPORTANT, and if you can’t work? Well, you’re not going to pay those doctor bills (or whatever the appointment is for).

Admitting you have flexibility is a dangerous thing. You’re trying to be accommodating. A lot of people struggle with their schedules because they’re trapped in those jobs with bosses that frown at them when they ask for five minutes to breathe. They need specific times. You don’t. So you’re trying to help out the rest of the world. But you don’t want to get taken advantage of, either. It’s a careful balance of being helpful while still setting up walls to defend YOUR time.

And, honestly, I’m still working on the balance.

I cut people off when they start tirades about how great it is to not have a schedule. I point out that EVERYONE tries to steal my schedule. I chop phone conversations short. And if I’m in the middle of an article and feeling overwhelmed? Those calls go to voicemail. I’ll deal with them later – as I would with a “normal” job. Maybe it shocks the doctor, but it reaffirms the boundary I’ve set. My work needs to come first. You need to figure out how to do the same thing. And if you work in the middle of the night, you need to build those walls to defend your sleeping time.

Our work looks different to the rest of the world. That doesn’t make it NOT work.

Tag It

Tag It

Screen capture of Evernote tag list

Most people look over my workspace (virtual or physical) and label me psychotic. Because if you can think of it, I have it. Color-coding, tracking sheets, Post-It notes, scratch paper, files with (color-coded) tabs… I even have one notebook for writing down the weirdness with my health and one for the Minions (complete with cute stickers on the outside so you know which belongs to who). Organization is my life. I can FEEL when a book or movie is out of order on the shelf (and I’ll go crazy until I remedy the situation). So it stands to reason that I’d never overlook a way to sort through my research.

Or so one would think.

Subconsciously, I think I allowed some self-sabotage to get to me. After all, following a dream you’ve held your entire life is terrifying. You expect to crash and burn and go crawling back to corporate, soul-sucking America. (Incidentally, if you’re happy in corporate America, good for you. I never was) So when I set up my first few “notes” in Evernote, I didn’t bother with the single-most critical feature of the program: the humble Tag.

Allow me to briefly diverge here and confess that I’m old enough NOT to live in a world of hashtags. To me, the “#” is still a pound sign. You use it to play tic-tac-toe, not to devolve into weird spirals on Instagram or Facebook. When I had my first blog out of college, tags made their introduction as a part of blog culture (before any of us knew what the hell SEO meant). But that blog died ages ago, and I lost practice. I only picked it back up with my writing.

Fast forward to last month when I found myself scrolling back through PAGES of notes, trying to find the name of one stupid fish. I knew I’d researched it at some point, and I knew the title of the Note, but where the Note lay in the “stack?” That was a mystery. Then came the realization that I was coming across the same dog breeds over and over – with no desire to cover the same territory. But THOSE Notes lay buried even DEEPER. And while flipping through physical notecards would take longer than scrolling through a screen, Evernote wasn’t making my job easier.

Because I failed.

If I took a few extra moments after finishing each assignment to type in a few tags, I could simply pull up the entire list and then view the Notes I needed. The option sits at the bottom, waiting happily for input each time a Note’s created. You can throw as many tags on as you want, with no character limits. A level of organization deeper than anything I’ve yet encountered, and I MISSED it!

So guess what I got to do – on my days off, no less. That’s right: go back and assign tags to every single Note. Over TWO HUNDRED Notes! We’re talking an entire weekend, stuck on the couch with my laptop, working through research – some of which I haven’t see in MONTHS. But I finally caught up on everything. (And, honestly, once I had a chunk of the tags set, I got to select them without a need to type them in) The work’s already paid off, too. Which is why I have a little Post-It reminder scribbled down to tag NEW research, preventing the need to repeat this insanity.

Organization exists to save you time and effort. Of course, if you ignore the options, you create MORE work for yourself. And when you’re a freelancer, there’s a GOOD chance you may find some themes cropping up time and again. Rather than redoing work you DON’T need to, tags can save you from going up the wall. It’s a huge time-saver. And when you find yourself filling up your calendar (something you’re probably going to strive for), every moment counts.

Or you can wait until you’re drowning in Notes and then decide you want that last little helper. It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I wish I’d thought ahead – like I usually do. (Self-sabotage is a tricky slope!)

2020 in Review

2020 in Review

2020 switching to 2021
Image by sarajulhaq786 from Pixabay

Not many people have warm fuzzy emotions related to 2020. Odds are, you’re one of the majority counting down the seconds until we punt this year out the door. (And cringing in anticipating of what 2021 will decide to bring) I won’t blame you; we got hit with a whopper of a year this cycle around the sun. And it’s easy to focus on the negative – particularly for pessimists (such as myself). That said, pockets of light DID make their appearance this year. After all, I got married this year.

That wasn’t the only positive, though. This was the year I stepped into my forever dream of writing. And while I braced myself for failure when I walked through that door, I succeeded beyond my expectations. That isn’t to say I’m not one of the people shoving 2020 out the door (with a shotgun, if necessary), but I can’t hate it 100% – more in the realm of 95%.

Which is why I’ve decided to do a neat little year-in-review round-up of my writing. Not to brag, but to demonstrate how far I came from the start of this little freelance writing career. Also, it gives me a starting point going into 2021. (If you can’t continue to do better, what’s the point?) Honestly, it shocked me when I started looking at the numbers:

Freelance

  • Clients: 17
  • Articles Written: 194
    • Byline: 130
    • Ghostwritten: 60
  • Edited: 3

Reading

  • Books Read: 57
    • At least – I didn’t start tracking and writing reviews on Goodreads until the spring, so there’s a good chance I mis-remembered my timeline from the beginning of the year

Speculative Fiction

  • Short Stories Written: 8
  • Submissions: 34
  • Rejections: 27
    • Rejections with Personal Letters: 6
  • Publications: 0

I won’t deny 2020 WASN’T the year I expected. From the beginning, it threw me for a loop. And I experienced plenty of downturns and needed to make adjustments I didn’t anticipate. I could sit in the corner and refuse to acknowledge it’s presence in the calendar. Or I could look at everything I accomplished DESPITE what was going on.

And while I’m the furthest thing from an optimist, I’m going to stick to the latter. I amazed myself this year. And I have every intention of doing better in 2021 – no matter what it decides to throw in my direction.

Less Than Smart

Less Than Smart

Explosion
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Have you ever watched wedding shows and laughed at the couples for their decisions? Do you think you could make better choices? That you’re smart enough to plan things differently and avoid certain pitfalls or mistakes? Maybe you’re in the middle of planning a wedding right now, and you have notebooks and binders full of lists, diagrams, tabs, and contingencies (not a bad idea given the current Apocalypse situation the world finds itself in). You and your potential spouse are intelligent, and you’re determined to prove yourselves smarter than all of those people.

Been there, done that – failed epically.

Our wedding was November 14th. And while I will admit the ceremony and reception went off without a hitch (okay, tiny hitch – he forgot his vows downstairs and had to run down to get them), everything leading up to those hours? Colossal disaster. And definitely not in any of the notebooks or plans. Which came as a complete shock because we were those people: convinced we were smarter than everyone else out there and capable of defeating the wedding misery bug. We’d laughed at so many people, taken so many notes, anticipated so many potential problems. We honestly thought we’d prepared for the worst – and that includes the Zombie Apocalypse.

No matter what you do or how much you think you’re ready, you can NEVER out-smart a wedding disaster. No one, it turns out, is that smart. Things you never thought of or anticipated WILL go wrong, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. (Well – cry; you can cry. A lot) We learned that the hard way – over and over the entire week before that ceremony. And the irony is everyone chose to tell us that – the DAY OF.

We thought we’d found the answer to avoiding stress – even in the face of increasing COVID-19 numbers. I mean, there was stress leading up to the week of the wedding, and I’m surprised I wasn’t bald, but we assumed that was normal. It was all going to be worth it, though, to have everything locked down and in place. Our planning was going to pay off and allow us to settle down and find relaxation. I mean, how many people have a week to get ready for their wedding day? It was brilliant.

In theory…on paper…

Our first stress-free day happened when we got home – three days AFTER the wedding. When there was just the two of us and the FurKids. (And, considering we were looking at leftover food stuffed into our fridge, there was some lingering stress) Our sheer “brilliance” found us stressed out, miserable, and regretting the decision to HAVE a wedding the remainder of the week. (Please note: WEDDING, not marriage) And there were notebooks, binders, lists – the whole shebang. We were SO intelligent.

You can’t plan for everything – no matter how hard you try. NO ONE is smart enough to pull off perfection (and anyone who claims so is lying through their teeth). Things WILL go wrong (sometimes spectacularly), and you have to let them. A horrible thing for a perfectionist to admit (and accept), but it’s the truth.

Did the ceremony involve laughter? Yeah – not always where I thought it would, but yeah. (I knew I should have made someone ask him to check for those vows) Were there tears? Yes – but they were the ones I’d hoped for. Did the music changes happen properly? Nope – but it was okay.

Did we get to eat at the reception? Damn straight. (Even if it wasn’t much since I felt sick after the preceding week of hell) Were we so happy to see friends we haven’t seen in ages? You better believe it – even if it was behind masks. Was I bummed the music ended up overrun? Yeah – I worked hard on that playlist. Did it break my heart to see people leave? Of course – I have no idea when I’ll get to see them again.

Will I ever do this again?

Not on your fucking life.

Weddings are a living nightmare – the people who tell you that aren’t lying. There’s nothing wrong with the Justice of the Peace. Given a second chance, I’d skip it. Correction, I don’t want to skip seeing the people I haven’t, but the other stuff? Yeah – out the door. It wasn’t worth it.

You can’t plan for everything, no matter how smart you think you are. I wish I could sit here and tell you differently (that was the original plan). Chaos theory works. If you can accept that, then have at it.

Ghosting (for Writers)

Ghosting (for Writers)

Ghost hand prints
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What do writers want more than anything else in the world? To see our work published. To run around and wave a book or magazine and point to our name on the cover or below an article. (It’s harder to wave the internet around, but when you work in online formats, you try to do the same) That’s the dream – to have the world think your writing is worthy.

Why else would we work day and night at our craft?

Which is why it can sound bizarre, crazy, or even counter-intuitive for a writer to sit here and tell you, you may have to work as a ghostwriter a time or two in your career before that magical byline happens.

What’s a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter, to be blunt, is a writer who does the work and receives none of the credit. Your writing goes up on another site, often under the guise of another person entirely. Occasionally, it even gets attached to another author’s name (which SUCKS!). You have no rights to the work, and (most of the time) you can’t include the work in the your portfolio – no matter how fantastic the piece might have been.

Some clients specifically label a job as “ghostwriting,” while others skip the step, and you find out down the line as your name disappears from the posts. (Reading contracts closely is always a good clue)

Sounds awful, right?

Why Ghostwrite

So why in the world would an intelligent, aspiring writer EVER agree to do such a thing? Because it’s WORK! Even if your name isn’t attached to it, your voice, style, and quality gets out there for people to read. You may need to work within a specific framework, but your voice always shows through. No one else writes the way you do – no matter what. The more you write, the more people read, the more they put 2 and 2 together.

Also, as you continue to do a good job and build a solid reputation, the more clients start to contact you. A healthy job satisfaction with positive reviews attracts new clients. They aren’t going to worry whether you have your name plastered all over; they want to know you’re reliable and competent. THAT matters more and more, especially as plenty of “freelance writers” out there feel quantity matters more than quality. If you stand out for solid, dependable work, you attract MORE work.

And some clients ARE willing to let you use that ghostwriting in your portfolio. They may ask for specific reference links, but if you’re allowed to keep it and hand it to future clients? That’s worth it, isn’t it? I’ve had a couple of clients who allowed me to do so, and it built up my portfolio nicely, especially in the beginning.

Staying Humble

Do I ENJOY writing without credit? Of course not. Who wants to do something and not get the credit for the hours they spent researching, writing, reviewing, and editing? However, it’s reliable work. Some of my highest bonuses have come from ghostwriting work. And it’s WORK. I’m not foolish enough to call myself a bonafide success and demand that I get a byline every time I turn around. (That’s how you STOP getting work)

Whether my name appears under the title or not, everything I work on SOUNDS like my writing. I have a distinct style and way of writing, and it comes across no matter the topic. As every assignment goes out and spreads through the internet, people start to get a feel for my voice. They recognize MY writing – even without my byline. That’s how I view ghostwriting.

It keeps me grounded. It reminds me to stay smart and breathe when a new contract comes up devoid of credit. And it makes that byline work all the sweeter.

If I never did any ghostwriting, I wouldn’t be the freelancer I am today – because I’d likely still be scrambling for work. Everyone starts somewhere. So before turning into a writing snob, stop and think through both sides.

Writing is writing. No one else will sound like you – and THAT’S what matters the most.