stevemedcroft.com
27Nov/180

What kind of editor do you need?

I blew $1,500 on a copy editor to help me make Succubus the best novel I could produce, only to realize I needed a different kind of edit altogether. 

Independent authors hire professional editors

When you map out the professional process it takes to produce high-quality, long-form fiction or non-fiction, there comes a point where you need someone other than yourself to edit your work. A professional editor can catch errors, check for consistency and readability, provide direction, and highlight ares of the work that need improvement; find the grammatical and spelling errors that would distract a reader from the message of your work.

In the traditional publishing world (where you are awarded a contract business who will publish your work), that editing is a service provided by your publisher. For my two non-fiction books, my publisher provided a full-service edit when I turned in the manuscript. I received feedback and had approval over the final changes, but the task of choosing and working with the editor was my publisher's responsibility.

A typical workflow for authors working independently (where you put your work directly into publishing marketplaces like Kindle and Kobo), is to hire a freelance editor ahead of publication. For my novel Succubus, which I published to Kindle, I hired an editor directly. It worked like this: After I completed what I considered my very best draft (multiple revisions), I went online and searched for recommendations. I selected three potential editors, submitted pages for a sample edit, made my final choice, and booked into their schedule. The total cost was about $1,500 and two three weeks from time I submitted my draft.

The money I spent was an investment. I made it in the hope that it would help me write a better book. I intended to use what I learned to grow as a writer as well, to look for repeated corrections that show me what fundamental flaws I have in my writing style.

When I reviewed my edited manuscript, every page had suggestions. She caught grammatical errors, corrected some formatting issues she found, spotted duplicate words, etc. It felt like a thorough run-through. I was happy to see that she did the work. But, ultimately, I felt like I didn't get what I expected and I was disappointed.

What I didn't get (and what I really wanted) was any kind of global feedback on the story itself. What did the editor think worked about the story. What didn't work. Did she think I should add or change anything? Were the characters believable? Should I work on my dialogue? Description? Narration?

Choose the right kind of editor to move your writing forward

To edit Succubus, I had hired a copy editor. I didn't know that there were distinctly different kinds of edits I should have considered, and I had chosen the wrong one. In broad strokes, there are four different kinds of edit you could hire for book projects. Each one provides a different review of your work. Each one provides unique benefits. When you seek a partnership with an editor, it is essential to be clear on what kind of edit you're looking for.

  • Developmental edit - a broad review of your manuscript by a professional editor. Expect a developmental edit to provide feedback on your story structure, adherence to genre, include comments on tone, setting, dialog, etc. A developmental edit is intended to provide you with professional guidance on how the book is shaping up, and to give you actionable course-corrections to take into your next revision.
  • Copy edit - A more thorough review of the story than the developmental edit, a copy edit will focus on language and story flow. This kind of edit will include grammatical and other usage corrections. You might get elemental questions on your settings and dialog. You might see changes to the order of paragraphs or chapters intended to make the story stronger. You may also received notes and comments on sections to cut or that need to be fleshed out.
  • Line edit - an intense, line-by-line copy edit focused on sentence-by-sentence wording. The line edit will be the most thorough run-through of the manuscript. It will include grammar, spelling and usage corrections. A full line edit will likely not include notes on story or structure, but focus specifically on the mechanics of your writing.
  • Proofreading - even if you have revised your manuscript several times and paid for a professional edit, the last step before hitting the publish button is making dead sure there are no errors left for the reader to discover. Proofreading is the editorial step where someone clears the book of lingering typos or grammatical and  punctuation mistakes. This edit is not intended to introduce new ideas or corrections, just to read through the final, printable project and make sure it's as perfect as it can be before the rest of the world gets their hands on it.

My $1,500 investment in Succubus was not completely wasted. Even though what I needed when I hired a copy editor was a developmental edit first, I learned the valuable lesson to clearly define what kind of edit to pay for as I work on my next fiction project. I hope learning from my mistake helps you when it's time to get editorial help for your book-length project.

 

Filed under: About Writing No Comments
22Nov/180

Create Your Own Decluttering Process

What's in my backpack?

How many laptop bags does one person need?

Minimalism is about auditing your life and reducing it to the essentials. It's about letting go of possessions bought merely to satisfy some momentary urge or knee-jerk response to an ad. Minimalism is about curating possessions so that the ones that remain are in your life because the serve a specific purpose and bring you joy.

The work of decluttering can be a bit overwhelming when you first tackle it, but it so worth it. Reducing your possessions to the essential frees you mentally. Getting off the consumerist borrow-and-spend -to-acquire-stuff-you-don't-need treadmill frees you financially. In order to give yourself the best chance to succeed when you first start editing your possessions, have a system ready for how to make these decisions so that you end up with the best possible result.

What I mean is that it is very easy to attack the challenge of decluttering by simply throwing a whole bunch of stuff away. In fact, getting rid of things feels so good at first, you may overdo it. Three days after a purge, you might be feeling regret about some of the things that mad edit in the pile.

Or, on the flip side, some people meet resistance the moment they start purging their precious *stuff*. It's difficult to hold a gift someone gave you, no matter how useless, and let it go. Hanging on to things for sentimental or emotional reasons can leave you not much better off than when they started.

To help you avoid either of those pitfalls, it's important to prepare yourself in advance. Know what you want your final outcome to be an have a process for dealing with the task of decluttering.

We all find our own way, but this is the system that works for me:

  1. Target - I first Identify a category or area of possession that I want to declutter (Closet, Garage, Laundry room, TV cabinet, etc.).
  2. Remove - I then pull everything I own in that category or place out so I can see it all at one time.
  3. Analyze - I try to understand what led me to each of the choices in that pile. Which items bring me joy? What about them works for me? What about them gave me challenges? I get clear in my mind what the ideal thing(s) are in that category.
  4. Separate - I separate the pile into thirds - trash, give-away, and keep.
  5. Review - I review the keep pile one last time and hold each item in my hand and ask: Do I need this? Does this bring value to my life? If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no, it goes in the give-away pile.
  6. Return - I place the keep items back into the space in a clean, organized way (I buy storage and organizing containers and hangers only at this stage). The end result being that everything is essential, and everything has a place where it belongs.

We used this process on our bedroom closet, which was a crowded mess of things we never wear overwhelming the ones we did. We have a six-drawer dresser in the bedroom that was the the same. When we were done running through the decluttering process, we ended up with a lean, organized, half-empty closet. And no dresser at all! And I think we can go through one more time and trim a few more things out of what we kept.

I understand that this is a first-world problem, but I am sharing this next experience, this example of how  applied the logic above to declutter one small, personal area of my life, to help someone who is looking at an area of their life they would like to streamline.

Decluttering the work bag; a post-mortem

For as long as I have been working, I have carried some kind of bag or briefcase. The essential tools of work for me are laptop, notebook, pen, and the miscellany associated with daily working life (charger cable, headphones, spare ink for the pen, maybe a file folder or two). When I drive to work, that bag sits on the passenger seat of my car. When I travel, that bag serves as my carry-on. When I (occasionally) ride a bicycle to work, it sits on my back and is filled with a change of clothes on top of my work gear. When I ride my motorcycle, locally or long distance, it carries these same essentials at high speeds, in all weather.

In the past fifteen years, I had accumulated a number of work bags. Each one arrived in my life for a different reason. Each one had strengths, but each one also had weaknesses. So I never settled on one bag. I was always searching for the next one. For fashion reasons. Because the one I used at the time was imperfect in some way. Because I saw something someone else had and Just Had To Have a New Bag! When we decide to declutter, this is one of the areas of my life I wanted to fix. Here are the bags I owned and why (and this does not take into account the ten or fifteen backpacks bought on impulse or acquired as giveaways at trade shows and events.

  • Courier bag - roomy, my Timbuk2 courier bag was my favorite. It made a great overnight bag for travel. But, it was so roomy that when I needed to carry only my laptop and a notebook, it was too big. It was also not so conformable on the bicycle as you'd expect; the weight would shift awkwardly on my back and the strap pulled into my shoulder.
  • Leather briefcase - I had a beautiful leather satchel I bought over a decade ago. At the time, I was in a phase where I thought I had to class up the way I dressed. Suits, ties, expensive shoes. This was the bag I thought fit that mold I was trying to fill. It is a really good bag, but awkward to carry on a strap (impossible to carry on a two-wheeled vehicle). It fit the basics and had room for files and notes, but wasn't suited to carry clothes for overnights.
  • Backpack - The company I work for gave me a backpack the last time I visited the factory. I love the look of it and it was currently in use at the time of the decluttering. But, it is compact and the material thin so I found myself being careful every time I set it down because the padding for the laptop compartment felt insufficient.
  • Thule laptop case - My most recent purchase was an $80, semi-hard-sided laptop clamshell bag made by Thule. I liked it for everyday work, but again, it would not take an overnigt-trip's load. Also, the configuration of the single shoulder strap was awkward and unbalanced.
  • Chrome reporter's satchel - during one of my I-must-solve-my-work-bag-problem phases (or maybe just a caught-up-in-a-desire-to-buy-a-new-bag phase), I purchased a Chrome reporter's satchel. When I whittled my workday carry to the minimum, my other bags were way too big. I wanted something slim and sleek. This bag, with a single shoulder strap and lean, canvas pouches, made it into the collection. But, yet again, I quickly realized that I valued the extra space other bags afforded and hated the sharp-edged single strap. Also, this bag had no other handle to grab, so it was awkward to carry.

Hopefully, you get the point. I spent $1,000 trying to buy a solution to the challenge of what I needed every day to carry my working tools around with me, but every purchase fell short in some way.

Taking this declutter through the process I laid out above, I examined the pros and cons of each bag and built a profile of what I actually wanted. I wanted the lifetime quality of the courier bag with the design elegance of the leather briefcase and the Chrome reporter's satchel. I wanted a backpack configuration for carrying while riding a bicycle or motorcycle. I wanted significant protection for my laptop. I wanted room when I needed it to add more than the essentials when traveling.

Since none of these bags fit my essential needs, I let them all go. Which was tough, but I was determined to minimalize my life and this was the most glaring example of how I was holding onto things for all the wrong reasons. Then, armed with my ideal work-bag profile, I went online and opened myself up to find the right solution, determined to make no purchase until I felt completely sure I was buying my One Bag.

Based on the lifetime quality of my courier bag, I ended up on the Timbuk2 website. I picked a dozen models at first, adding anything that fit the basic criteria. Then I stared drilling into the details. I whittled the list repeatedly, making sure only bags that fit my every criteria remained in the pool of possibilities. Then I found myself with only one bag. I waited 24 hours to look at it again with fresh eyes, to again make sure it met all my criteria, and I purchased.

The bag is a backpack model Timbuk2 calls the Parker. At its core, the Parker is and everyday working bag for a commuter or bicycle couriers - weather-proof, high end rip-stop Cordura fabrics, heavy zippers and buckles; an industrial-grade product. It has reflective panels so I can be more visible when riding. It has a tight, well-padded laptop compartment. It expands so I can stuff it for overnight trips. It has multiple, organized pockets for all the small stuff I need to carry. It is, hands down, everything I needed.

So after tackling the decluttering of one small area of my life by having a system, by being thoughtful, intentional, and uncompromising, I went from a $1,000 pile of bags taking up a space in my bedroom to one, minimalist, full-time backpack that is perfect for my everyday needs.

What about you? What's the area of your life that is closest to you, where maybe you've overpurchased but have the most resistance to making tough decisions about what you truly need and what is superfluous?

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20Nov/180

Decluttering; Why Adopt a Minimalist Lifestlyle

The stuff mountain in our living room

There is a mountain of stuff in our living room. Three full black plastic bags. A tree of shoes. Two backpacks filled with electronics. Boxes of things. Boxes that are just boxes. Wrapping paper for gifts not given. Clothes. A guitar. It's all a giant, shapeless blob of possessions, all of them on their way out of our hands and into the hands of family and strangers.

We've come to that place in our lives where it's time to reevaluate our relationship with things. We are becoming minimalists.

There is a good documentary on Netxflix that maps that path of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, set out on their own path to minimalism. They talk of frustration with their pursuit of an outside vision of what the American dream should look like. Corporate success with a corresponding six-figure income. A car that announces to the world your status level. The biggest home your income can borrow against (maybe even a little bigger than that). A never-ending cycle of new clothes befitting your (ahem) station in life. Expression through possession with the goal to paint the brightest, most-promising, most successful image of yourself to the world.

The fallacy of the appearance of luxury as testament to personal greatness is the message being constantly presented to us of what this ideal life should look like. Through advertising, marketing, media, and other peer pressure, this goal of the perfect life is unattainable at modest, normal income levels. Even higher-than-average earners will likely need debt to service this lifestyle of consumption. Especially because we are encouraged to display comfort and largess from the very beginning of our working lives; told the the best way to reach this pinnacle of consumerism is the four-year college degree, which most people have to borrow money to earn.

This is an ideal scenario for money lenders (banks, investors, anyone who makes money by trading off others). Meaning, a bank is willing to lend you money to feed a consumerist lifestyle, so you can present a not-yet-earned image of prosperity to the rest of the world, and live a comfort you could not yet afford to provide yourself, by trading on two things. They lend you based on how likely you are to honor the debt, and how much extra money you will have available in the coming years. If you're a decent person and a decent earner, you have it made in America. If, of course, you want to live your life on a borrow-and-spend cycle that makes banks rich, lets you feel good about yourself today, but sells your potential to put the money you earn to work to create the life you really want.

Okay, I'm starting to sound a bit like a crank, so let me dial it back a bit.

Here's where some of this energy I have on the subject is coming from. I am in debt. Most of that debt is due to some short-term decision I made in the past. A short-term decision to do or buy something that, at the time, made me happy. I am fortunate in that I can afford to service my debt, but I see the income I earn leaving my hands every month to service these old decisions debts and I scream inside. I am at a place in my life where I want to focus on the things that make me truly happy, but because I need to continue to service these debts, I am unable to take some risks. I need to continue to earn at the level I am to feed the debt. I am over-committed, trying to build two lines of business at the same time while pursuing my passion for things that bring me true joy; cycling and for writing.

I need the lessons of minimalism to get control back over the direction of my life from here. Starting with how I handle my finances.

First cull: money

I am committed, damned and determined, to break up with the money lenders, the eliminate them from my life. To do it, I am paying off debt at a rapid pace. I am also not borrowing new money from anywhere. No more credit card spending. No changing my car on a loan. No school debt. No moving house or borrowing against this one. Coupled with the discipline of a fixed budget for our monthly expenses, every spare penny goes to the debt. It will take time, maybe two years, but eventually that debt will be gone. And when it's gone, and I can live on a more modest income, the way will be clear for me to re-shape how I spend my life's energy. I will be able to take some risks.

We're five months in to sorting our finances. There are tough, doubtful, tempting moments for sure, but the momentum of making progress is addictive. Every time I clear a balance and close an account, the joy of it resonate through my entire being. It feels like power. It feels like control. And that feeling is becoming more enticing to me than the short-term hits of pleasure I would get at being able to buy stuff with a card.

And once I got firmly on a path to declutter my finances and get clear of the cycle of consumerism, and out of the cycle of borrow-to-make-myself-happy-with-stuff cycle, I stared to question everything I owned. Even though I am modest person and didn't think I was that much of a consumerist, I still owned more *stuff* than I needed to be happy.

The biggest example of this was my collection of work bags. I plan to write a full post about this (and I'll link it here when it's done), but the short version is that I owned five laptop/courier bags. Each had been purchased because one of the others was imperfect in some way. By pulling together all my bags and building a profile of all the things I actually needed in a work bag, I was able to get rid of them all five and replace them with one, high-quality backpack, a singularly perfect work bag.

We are in the middle of repeating this process (pull everything we own out, evaluate what is essential and what brings us joy, and letting go of the rest) in all areas of our home. We've hit our clothes closet, the bedroom, the hallway closets and will do our living areas, kitchen, and garage next. I will declutter my office(s) next. Then my car. Streamlining my digital life will follow. When done, I hope to have a lean, manageable relationship with stuff. I will own things that are essential to my life. I will cherish the things I own because I will select for need and joy and insist on only owning quality.

The tribe of minimalism

I've been on this path for a while. We moved into our current house three years ago. When my wife and I talked about our requirements, I advocated for a smaller home with less square-footage, that would be less-expensive to run and simpler to maintain. I wanted solar power to decrease utility costs. I felt, even then, that we could purge and declutter and live in in a smaller space. She wanted more outdoor space for her horses (which were being boarded at another house at the time).

We found the perfect place, that checked both our boxes, and we and purged and purged and purged to fit the new space. We purged furniture. We cleared closets. We decluttered the garage. So the elements, the thinking, that led us to minimalism were there before now, just not taken all the way through. I just needed the help of having the philosophy organized into a system for me to grasp on to to turn it into action in my life. I found that system online in the many ways Minimalism is expressing itself; on YouTube, on Netflix, in books. There is a tribe of people pursuing minimalism as a lifestyle. They have blazed a path for the rest of us to follow. All we have to do is follow until we work out our own path.

Like I said above, we're just getting into the work of decluttering. I'll post more as we go through the process, sharing what we learn, what works and what doesn't, how we fail and, hopefully, how we succeed.

What about you? Have you ever struggled with trying to keep up with the American Dream? Do you feel like you have too much stuff? Are you burdened by your possessions? Have you tried minimalism? How did it go? Comment below or contact me.

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15Nov/180

The home-builder’s approach to writing

In order to lay out a project plan detailing how to write long-form fiction and non-fiction in less than nine months, we are wise to take lessons from the home-construction industry.

Writing a novel (or a non-fiction book) is a big job. The first draft of projects that are anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words and more can take months, even years. It takes even longer to refine that draft into a publishable manuscript. In order to make it to the end of such a big task, it's important to have a plan that spells out the journey from idea to finished product.

The challenge in writing longer works is how easy it is to lose momentum. Short-form writing is so much easier to complete. Knocking out a 1,500-word article is a single creative task. The first version can go down in one sitting. The re-write and polish done in a session or two.

In long projects, the work stretches out over a very long timeline. It's common to start off with excellent momentum as you plow headlong into the first draft. I can turn out 1,000 words or more a day in no time when I am hot on a new idea. In theory then, a first draft should take me two to three months. Re-writes and revisions take less time per go-through, so I should be able to pop off a couple of book-length projects a year, right? But, and I think is common to many long-form writers, my current work-in-progress has languished for almost two years due to breaks in momentum (overwhelmed by other work, reach a sticky plot point and have to step out of the flow of writing to solve it), for example.

Picking back up after long delays is unhealthy for a book (or its author). You have to re-insert yourself into the flow of the story, re-pack the various story and character threads in your active, writing brain (the one that sits under your conscious mind and works at the story's problems while you're driving, showering, or doing anything else but writing).

Knowing this is going to happen though, it's important to be prepared for it, to have a plan in place.

What writers can learn from the construction industry

My family and I live in a semi-rural suburban community in the greater Phoenix area. Nestled in an older neighborhood with 300 two-acre horse properties, we had been surrounded by mostly farm fields and open desert since we moved in. But lately, progress has marched our direction in the form of fast-turnaround, tract-home housing neighborhoods.

It's amazing to see these projects at work. Modern home construction, from outside observation, is a remarkably efficient human enterprise. Land is cleared in a matter of days. Wooden frames appear almost overnights. Within a month or two, the first finished model homes are open for sale.

If you've ever had exposure to construction management, you'll know that the efficiencies come from the following of a system that is much like the system it takes to create full-length fiction and non-fiction.

Construction projects are broken down into their elemental parts, working backwards from the finished product. You can't move furniture into a new house until every detail in the interior is finished. The interior can't be finished until the flooring and walls are in place. The walls and flooring can't be finished until the electrical and plumbing and HVAC systems are installed. They can't go into place until the frame is in place. Which can only be erected on a solid foundation. Which has to sit on land that is properly prepared.

This is an over simplification, but you get the point. Efficiency in construction is about managing those layered efforts, bringing in the right crews to construct the right layers in the right order. And within each layer, making sure that materials, plans, and everything else the crew needs to get their piece done as quickly and correctly as possible is in place.

The primary took constriction project managers use is the Gantt chart. Ever seen one? It looks like a color-coded spreadsheet. The timeline of the project runs across the headers. The project elements (the jobs that have to be done) and listed in the columns (in the order they have to happen).

From WikipediaA Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule, named after its inventor, Henry Gantt (1861–1919), who designed such a chart around the years 1910–1915. Modern Gantt charts also show the dependency relationships between activities and current schedule status.

Build your next novel like contractors build a house

Writers can learn a great deal from construction. Have a plan. Break the bigger job into a series of smaller tasks that are needed. Set intermediate deadlines to keep the momentum going.

The exact steps and the timeline goals are for you to work out. For me (since this is a letter to myself), writing a novel breaks down to the following steps/timelines:

  • Story idea and initial outline - two weeks. Not everyone is a planner when it comes to writing fiction. Some people have the amazing ability to just write their way through a first draft. I need a plan. It starts with a two-week budget for outlining the next book-length project. I start with the basics of the story - the main characters, the settings, the major story line. Then I break that into thirds (setup, climax, the middle bit). Then I plot out the scenes (about 100 total). I then write paragraph or two-length beats of the action in the scenes as a guide to follow when writing.
  • First draft - 12 weeks. How fast this goes depends on how many words per day and how many days per week you can give it. I'm good for 1,500-2,500 words a day (when I have an outline to follow). I can write 5-6 days most weeks (work and life depending). Which means, a 100-scene first draft of about 80,000 words should take me less than 90-days to complete. The goal here is to get the first draft out in one creative push. The better you're able to hold momentum during the first-draft, the more likely you are to finish.
  • Re-write (1) - six weeks. In my experience, it takes about half as much time to read through, mark-up, and execute changes to a first draft to get a complete second draft. I make lots of notes of things I wants to fix, change, and improve, and only make the edits after I've read through and marked up the entire story. I print my manuscript for this edit because I find it's easier to read/edit on paper than on screen.
  • Re-write (2) - four weeks. You might need only two or three revisions. You might need more. The point here is to predict the phases of production you need to complete your book and stay focused on one intermediate goal at a time.  At some point, you'll have your best draft, something you can pass on to a few readers for feedback.
  • Final draft - two weeks. Taking my final notes, and notes from the reader(s), you should be able to produce a best draft. Only then is it time for professional editing. Paying a professional editor to critique and revise your manuscript can be expensive, so you want to make sure I have my best-possible draft ready.
  • Editor - four weeks. I plan to write another article about the different types of editors available (there are several), but if you're serious about producing professional work, you need professional guidance. Editors work on contract and you have to book your window with them in advance. If you did not plan this deadline to deliver your final draft to an editor in advance, your project could grind to a halt when your story goes to the editor. Book your editor as soon as you know you're going to have a first draft, a couple of months before you'd be ready to submit.
  • Cover, copy, marketing - the same four weeks. While your manuscript is with an editor, take the time to get your marketing materials and cover done. I'l write more about this in another post, but there are numerous freelancers available to hire for cover creation. The book will also need blurbs for the back of the cover, copy for the listing pages, or your website . The book will need a dedication page, acknowledgements, references (if non-fiction), newsletter subscription page, a list of your other works, etc. Get all these things done while your edit is underway. Schedule them here so you don't slow your writing down earlier in the book obsessing about things that don't matter until. And, if you're publishing through a traditional route, this is the time to dial in your query, synopsis, and cover letter.
  • Copy edit - two weeks. Whether you use a third party of do this yourself, someone needs to go through every sentence of the book carefully and find the last stinking remnants of misspellings, double words, missing punctuation, before you dare say the book is ready. Try reading your book aloud to spot imperfections. Read each paragraph in reverse order, from the back of the book to the front of the book. Find whatever trick and tip you can to make sure you leave no mistakes in the manuscript before publishing.
  • Publish and promote. Whether you publish independently through the various mediums available, or pursue traditional publishing, stop fiddling with the book and switch your brain into selling mode. Then immediately start your next project.

Completing a book-length project (for me) is, in theory, a thirty-six to forty-week project. Somehow, I've managed to stretch the current work-in-progress to out over two years by allowing my momentum to break in the middle of this workflow! To finish, I need build out this novel-production plan (Gantt chart) once more, identify where in the process I am with the current work, and re-insert myself into the production flow.

How about you? Do you have a production plan that you follow for writing your long-form work (fiction or non-fiction)? How different is it from this? What am I missing that you include? What do I include that is helpful to you?

11Nov/180

Stop being a chicken and be a writer

I have dreamed of being a writer my whole life. Clouded by fear, I put all kinds barriers in the way of that dream. To get through my fear and actually start putting my writing out into the world, I only needed to embrace the barriers I had put in place to stop me. 

Learn to be the writer in all areas of your life

Writers sometimes hear a Universal whisper that says that that there is no time to write because we have to work (or errands, or chores, or endless-list-of-anything-but-writing). And when we don’t make time to write, the voice says we’re never going to get anywhere with our writing. And when we do write, the voice calls us an imposter and says the work is not good enough.

The voice can be overwhelming. It can get in the way of progress. It can bring whole projects to a grinding halt. The temptation when when the voice overwhelms all progress is to blame all the things the Universe puts in our way. Blame the job, blame the family, blame politics, blame Facebook.

Or maybe we try to ignore the voice. Neither of those things work. The only way to defeat the voice is to create a new voice. Instead of a hiss sniping away at your dream, learn to turn on a voice that is constantly asking the question in all aspects of your life of how you can be the writer right now, in this moment.

Panic attack in a room full of successful people

A few weeks ago, I attended an interesting conference for work. I found great value in the seminars and educational sessions. I made connections that were important to the work I do in the communications-technology space. But I felt a bit disconnected, a feeling I couldn’t at first, put my finger on.

The day opened with a general presentation in a large meeting space. The audience numbered a thousand or more. There was a main stage with three jumbo screens. There were videos, lighting, and professional sound.

Presentations by the host company spoke to their growth and success. A half-dozen speakers opined on the future trajectory of the industry, and about how we should engage in conversations with customers about Customer Experience as a means to connect with them around the technologies we sell.

The audience was into it. The speakers, one after the other, seemed genuine and proud and intelligent and focused. I was absorbing it all. Then one of the speakers opened his talk with a profession of ‘love’ for this business. “I love this business,” he said with reverent enthusiasm. “Don’t you love it?” The affluent and successful crowd cheered and clapped. I looked around. My colleagues eyes were bright, their smiles broad, their attention(the ones not tapping away on their smartphones that is) were connected with the speaker. I panicked.

I feel good about the work I do in this industry, but the word ‘love’ was threw me. I don’t ‘love’ the business. I bring value to the company I work for in this business. I apply one-hundred percent of my energy and effort to the work. When I am engaged with a customer, I bring integrity and skill and value to the relationship. But I do all that for money. For security. Because they pay me.

Not for love.

That panic didn’t come up in me because I couldn’t believe that someone could truly and honestly dedicate their precious lifetime to the sale and support of communications technology. The panic was cynicism was at myself for making the compromise to occupying a seat within a community that is not, on its surface, the one I want to make my life from.

How to survive a relationship when you don’t love the same things

The industry I work in is not at fault here. I admire the people I encounter there. There are a lot of driven, independent, successful people in the communications-service business, men and women who’ve enjoy great comfort and pleasure in life because of the work they do. Allowing me to participate and take a slice of the pie is a gift and lets me exchange my talents and time in exchange for the money they control.

The role I play (as a consultant) is that of product-knowledge specialist, sales engineer, and a member of the marketing team. It’s a custom-designed job. They use for me for the things I am best suited for. And I appreciate them for it.

The role though, is the compromise I make with myself. I sold myself into this amalgamation of responsibilities, exchanging my precious time and life energy in exchange for money. And when boiled down to its essence like that, I am not entirely proud of myself. Because...

… I want to make something of my life with writing. I want to Be a writer. But I make these choices about life that, I sometimes feel, box me out of the pursuit of writing as my life’s work. If I get self-critical about it, I take these jobs (and take on debt and other barriers to the pursuit of writing) as a way to put a wall between me and the risk of actually pushing through on that dream. The voice in my head also ways that being a writer means being a fiction writer. And being a fiction writer is only valuable if your fiction is commercially or critical successful.

So there I am, at this conference, conflicted because the job I had sold myself into put me in a place which did not align with my greatest ambitions. How do I turn this around? How do I live the life I’m living, honor the obligations I have now, and be a writer? I said, out loud (in my head) that I was so grateful to be where I was, but I was open to how I could live my life as a writer first.

Being the writer in all areas of your life

Then one of the speakers put three book covers on the screen. He said “These are the thought leaders in our industry.” He said that these books, all business books making the argument that improving Customer Experience was the best way for the industry to focus its technology, was the aspirational knowledge we all needed to gain. Writers were setting the pace and tone of the future. Writers were the gifted and celebrated leaders in our space. In my space. Right up there on screen. In front of the entire audience. Writer’s efforts being held up as the highest work in the industry.

Click. I got it, the reason I was there, how I fit into the world, how I could serve this community.

My problem was not that I have created a world where I don’t get to be a writer because of my obligations and my choices. My problem is that I am not waking up in the morning and looking at the world I operate in and saying “How can I be the writer in this space.”

Looking at the communications-technology community and saying “I am the writer here” opens up ideas about content to create (I am writing an essay on Customer Experience already) and stories to tell (company stories, personal journeys, long-form explorations into the concepts that this community wants to work in). It makes me think of copywriting and ghostwriting. It makes me think of writing for the trade publications, of creating white papers and eBooks. It makes me think that by getting known as the writer in this community, that I can help leading-edge thinkers get their innovations across. It makes me want to be open to how this community could use a writer, rather than being a frustrated writer feeling outside of this community.

The result of the epiphany is that I found a space of acceptance. To be a writer means to Be a writer in all areas of your life. Unbox that one-dimensional idea you have about what a ‘writer’ is. Shake the idea that ‘writer’ means only a certain thing and just start being a ‘writer’ at every opportunity, in every space. Write and share. Write and share. Do it well. Get known for it. Whatever comes of it will follow.

What writing journey are you on?

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