Thoughts

EXTREME BUSINESSING

Most of the posts I write will be about looking before you leap, especially if you’re looking at taking your business/hobby/passion to the next level.

In order to know where you’re going, to first need to be looking in that direction.

In order to make adjustments for sudden changes, you need to know what all your variables are.

All of these things are true, and making plannings and preparing specifics will always have their place.

But sometimes, you just need to jump out of that airplane.

Have a parachute with you, sure. Extra savings, a strong support system, someone on the ground with a giant mattress. These are all good things.

But take the risk.

The result could end up being a smelly heap of garbage (hopefully with no actual broken bones), but it will always be worth it. As a wise man frequently reminds me: there is no such thing as a good or bad experience—there is only experience.

It’s possible the risk you take will send you flying straight to your goal, or into the notice of people who can propel you where you want to next. You can make new friends, have a few laughs, rake in the cash.

Or everything could crash and burn, but you learn some incredibly important lessons along the way.

To fail, to miss your goal, is necessary in business as in life. Success feels really great, but it doesn’t teach you nearly as much as making mistakes (as long as you’re willing to pay attention to what the mistake actually was), and the best way to make mistakes is to take the risk.

Is there a course you’ve been on the fence about taking because it’s a bit on the pricey side (within reason; please don’t bankrupt yourself)? Have you been hesitating about showing your latest work in process to anyone because you don’t feel it’s ready yet? Do you know someone who could possibly help you move to your next goal, but you’re too nervous to make the first move in speaking with them?

Do it.

Embrace the pounding heart, the clammy palms, the uncertainty.

You’ll never know what gold you’re going to find on the other side unless you do.

Thoughts, update

The Art of the Direct Sale

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of sharing a table at the Ottawa Geek Market at the Nepean Sportsplex, and my experience once again reminded me how much I love direct sales.

I really do.

On a normal day, I have my people quota. It’s quite low. I prefer socializing in groups of 3 or 4, max around 6, and depending on the group, I have a limit of a couple of hours. Then I get tired, conversation gets difficult, and I just want to go home to a cup of tea and a book.

But you get me behind a table covered in my books and ask me to be “on” for an 8-hour stretch?

I am there.

And I’m good at it.

Want to know my secret?

I genuinely, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, enjoy it.

As an indie author, there’s a huge push for online sales.

This makes sense! People around the world have access to our books. I have readers on pretty much every continent, and much as I would love to get to all of those places and meet them in person, it’s not feasible at the moment, which means I need to learn how to connect with them via the wonderful world wide web.

This part…I’m not so good at and continue to study so I can improve.

In person, however, there’s nothing I find easier.

I love the personal element to it, the chance to chat about books in general and find out what someone else is reading/enjoys reading/doing in ones spare time.

When I work the market in the summer, I love finding out where everyone is from, whether they work downtown and are out on their lunch break, or in from another city/country. I like to hear about what they’ve seen in Ottawa, where they’re heading next, and what their favourite part of their trip has been.

My goal when a reader comes to the table isn’t a sale. Sales are nice, of course. Sales help fund the next event, the next book, the next internet bill, but they’re not the be-all and end-all.

My primary aim is the connection. Getting my card in someone’s hand and hopefully continuing the conversation either over social media or (even better) at my next event! Having return people show up when I least expect them is always such a nice surprise, and each time I feel like I get to know them a little more.

So if you have trouble with the idea of direct sales, that they’re too intimidating or nerve-wracking, try changing your perspective on it! You’re not in it for the sales, you’re in it for the chats (and the people-watching in between).

Want some practice? Next time you go grocery shopping, ask the cashier how their day is going so far–and mean it!

Review, writing

Mastering Amazon Descriptions

Blurbs.

Some might consider them the worst part of indie publishing.

Others consider them the funnest and bestest part.

Only one of these groups needs professional help.

For everyone else, there’s a great new book out by Brian Meeks, all about learning the art of writing cover copy.

I’m only just getting started with it, but have already tried to adopt his initial advice in changing the way I write blog and Facebook posts: smaller text blocks and more white space.

And I do notice a difference!

People are busy and they don’t want to break down huge chunks of texts.

I sure as heck don’t if I’m reading a bunch of blog posts. Give it to me short and sweet, and if that’s the way I like to read, then why did it take me so long to change my style?

I’ve slapped my wrist for that one.

I’m only getting started on the book, so I’ll give a full review once I’m finished, but I do recommend you check it out! Anything that can take some of the pain out of crafting one of the most essential marketing points, am I right?

You can find Mastering Amazon Descriptions here (and be sure to join the FB group to get feedback and input from others suffering the same cover copy pains!)

update, writing

Who You Know

No matter where your passions lie, networking is necessary evil.

Don’t stress or panic!

It doesn’t have to be as scary as all that.

Sure, it might mean chatting with strangers and remembering to brush your hair, but it can be fun and memorable and present opportunities you never would have gotten if you’d stayed at home, headphones on, nose in book/video game/canvas/guitar case/garden, etc.

I’ll even share a secret with you.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to put on pants.

Okay, if you’re leaving the house to do this networking thing, please, put on some form of clothing. Not only will you avoid the chill, you’ll also avoid the criminal charges, and that’s just better for everyone.

BUT you don’t have to leave the house.

Social media is a wonderful thing.

It can be.

Just avoid the people who make you miserable.

But that’s an aside.

Point is, social media is full of people who share your interests and are looking to connect with like-minded people for support, advice, discussion, inside jokes that only fellow writers/musicians/gardeners/gamers will understand.

And really, that’s what networking is.

To go out and expect to meet people just for the sake of getting opportunities is not going to get you very far. Most people have an easy time sniffing out when they’re being used.

Proper networking is right there in the name. Network. Connection. Information going back and forth to create a complete data set. The wider the network, the more information, the clearer the picture.

Twitter, when done carefully and when well-curated, can be a fantastic source of networking. It can be easy to fall into the world of trolls or instigators, but if you’re paying attention to the people you follow, you should be able to only see what you want to see.

In my case, the recent hashtag #WritingCommunity has introduced me to a whole new circle of writers in various stages of their careers.

It has allowed me to find support and encouragement and to offer it in others.

My time on Twitter led me to one of my first circles of writer friends, many of whom I’m still in contact with today, 10 years later.

One of those people is the person who get me into indie publishing.

I’ve met people who have brought me into anthologies and boxsets, who have led me to writing forums that have helped me hone my craft and get inspired, who have become close friends, confidantes, and kindred spirits.

This weekend, I’m heading off to meet a few of these people in person, and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of getting the words written and talking shop with a whole cabin of people.

So try not to think of networking as a four-letter word.

Find your own way of reaching out and meeting people in your field.

You never know how your life will change for the better.

Thoughts, Uncategorized, Wordy Babble, writing

“Flow” with it

My progress through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow* is coming along. It’s not really the kind of book I rush through. More the type I take in bite-sized pieces so I can ponder what he’s saying.

And so far, I’m hooked.

I just finished the third point out of seven of what creates that “optimal experience,” this sense of being so wrapped up in what you’re working on that you lose all sense of self, of time, of your past or future.

The first point is the idea that the challenge must require a degree of skill. There is a window that lies between frustration and boredom, determined by the degree of skill. If the challenge sits too far above your skill level, you get frustrated, if it’s too far below you’re bored.

Sounds about right, really. I’ve experienced both those states at various jobs, as I’m sure many of us have. It’s not fun. That’s how you wind up spending your day scrolling on your phone and either lose said job or run through all your monthly data.

The sweet spot is right in the middle, where there’s enough you don’t know to keep you learning, keep you questioning, but enough you do know that you’re capable of completing the task.

He points out that the process of completing the task isn’t always sunshine and roses, but that after you rise from the zone, there’s a rich sense of achievement and a desire to tackle it again.

The second point he discusses is the merging of action and awareness. The idea that become so immersed in what you’re doing, so mentally involved, that you almost…lose the sense that you’re the one doing it.

Each movement, each thought, each step, becomes natural, instinctual. There is no room for self-doubt or second guessing.

He notes that it’s only when you rise out of the zone that your sense of self returns with a stronger, fresher zeal. As though in order to learn what makes you you, you first half to forget yourself.

The third point is that you must have clear goals and feedback. The goal part I’ve always known, but the feedback took me by surprise for how obvious it was.

What I found interesting–or I should say, what resonated with me–is the fact that said feedback comes in very different ways depending on what you’re doing. If your goals are something tangible, than your feedback comes from someone’s reactions or the completion of a task. In the cast of writing, however, that feedback isn’t always obvious with every writing session.

I don’t have someone sitting behind me providing notes with each first draft chapter (frankly, the idea is both tempting and horrifying), but I do have my own emotional reactions to each day’s output as well as my word count goals. These forms of feedback are enough to keep me satisfied at the end of a day’s work.

The fourth point for this post, and final for today is the concentration for the task at hand. Similar to the second point, is the idea that nothing else is going through your head except for what you’re working on.

Stressed about money? About what to make for dinner? When you are in this zone, in the “flow,” money and dinner don’t exist. For as long as this perfect storm lasts, there is only the challenge in front of you.

I find this all fascinating. I love how the mind works. I love how it’s primed to allow us to find our own fulfillment and satisfaction and happiness just based on a few tweaks of mindset and circumstance.

I have certainly experienced these things through my writing, but he points out that you can achieve this flow state no matter what you’re doing. As long as there’s a balance of stimulation and interest, any task can provide this optimal experience.

What about you? Does any of this sound familiar to you? Any tasks you take on that trigger this loss/discovery of self?


*if you missed it, you can find my first post about this book here.

update, writing

Self-Editing: Personal Tricks

Last week or so (time means nothing to me anymore), there were a lot of posts going around about paying for edits and how it is so crucial to not bankrupt yourself for the sake of publishing, so I thought it might be a good time to go through some of my personal self-editing process to take some of the weight off the costs of edits.

Though I will always hold that it’s in any writer’s best interests to have a professional go through your work for content/line edits, that’s not necessarily where you need to start. Make use of critique partners and swapping work, and get a solid handle on self-editing.

None of this is always easy. Unless you’re one of those people who derives enjoyment from deconstructing all of your work (Hi!), the task can be overwhelming or boring or, *gasp* you skip that part.

Critique partners are fantastic, but it can be a challenge to find someone who delivers feedback in a way that meshes with your preferred way of receiving it, or who delivers on time, or who knows enough themselves to point out the relevant weaknesses.

I have a wonderful critique partner. I’m sure we curse and swear at each other over the interwebs, but by the time I finish making my revisions based on her feedback, I know I’m walking forward with a stronger book.

She’s not where I start, though, and my self-editing process has changed significantly over the years. Heck, I would say it’s changed significantly over the last year.

When I first started publishing, my editor at the time (and now my editor again, huzzah!) sent me a gift that has remained at the heart of my process. Susan Bell’s book The Artful Edit gives a fantastic and thorough breakdown of each layer to be considered during edits, from a macro and a micro level. Things like character, plot, conflict, theme, and working down to line edits.

In fact, thanks for the reminder me, I’m going to re=read this book to get a refresher on some of these things now that more of my system has changed.

One of the most common tips you’ll hear is to set your book aside and walk away for two weeks or two months or two years. Give it some time to breathe and distance yourself from it.

This is pretty great and necessary advice. If you jump right back into edits the moment you finish, you’re not going to see what might be missing. Your head is still going to be in the story, where you already know what’s supposed to be there.

It can be hard to set it aside though, so my way of forgetting about it is to draft another book (she says, somewhat facetiously).

When the time has past, my next step is get out a notepad and start reading. Ideally in a format where I can’t make any changes. I don’t want to be nitpicking at things just yet. Turn a blind eye to the typos and awkward sentences. At this point, it’s all about the big stuff.

I go chapter by chapter and take note of everything that needs to be changed. I treat myself as my own alpha reader, giving myself feedback in the way that will most help future me. I flag places where motivation is weak, where emotions are missing or where conflict needs to be tightened up. I can get a big-picture look at my story arc and make sure that all that necessary beats stand out with as much oomph as possible.

Obviously, this can’t all be done in one pass, which is why I do fifteen of them with various depth of focus, but with my most recent round of edits, I found this made a huge difference. I was able to rewrite full chapters knowing what I needed to hit instead. My character development is more consistent and my plot a bit less saggy in the middle.

I have one more major round of revisions to go before it goes to my critique partner, and at that point I know I won’t really be able to see anything else for myself. The rounds of self-edits would be endless, constantly wondering and tweaking and nitpicking to the point where the book can never be released, which is why, for me, it’s critical to have someone waiting to get their hands on it.

What are your self-editing habits? What have you found that works or what doesn’t?

Thoughts

The Magic of “Flow”

You may have noticed, if you pay attention to my Goodreads Books in the sidebar, that one of my on-the-go books is always some kind of…thinky book. Sometimes self-help, sometimes inspirational/motivational, but more often than not, it’s something with a research/pop psychology vibe.

I love it. Gaining a new perspective, picking up different theories on why the brain does what it does or why people behave the way they do. Just like with my craft/business books, my goal is always to get at least one thing out of its pages.

But one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that all of my go-to authors (Daniel H. Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Charles Duhigg), reference one name and one book in particular: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Because his work is referenced so often, I’m super excited to dive into the source material myself.

From everything I’ve read, “flow” is that state of mind where nothing else in the world matters. You are in THE ZONE. Food doesn’t matter. Sleep is unnecessary. Even bathroom breaks are left more or less forgotten.

It is the ultimate state of fulfillment–or, as he believes, happiness.

The whole idea is that happiness and success are not concepts that can actually be reached, they are a side-effect of the optimal experience, of finding yourself in the flow whatever it is you happen to be doing.

It’s a fascinating idea and hopefully one that will help me lose my need for “perfect” and focus on the enjoyment and fulfillment I get out of my work on a regular basis.

I’ll keep you posted as I read and let you know what I get out of this one.

Have you read any non-fiction books recently that have really blown your mind?

Thoughts, writing

Editing: The Personal Touch

PLUS you get a very small sneak peek at on of my WIPs

I had an interesting experience this week that really brought home how important it is to have a strong personal editor-writer rapport.

Along with working to build my own client list, I’ve been applying to positions to do some proofreading/copyediting for external companies. I see it as a great way to bring in a steady income while also developing the skills I want to put back into my own business.

This particular job would have been great. Working from home, choice of projects, ability to choose my own hours… but no client interaction. Everything would come from the company-as-mediator.

This sort of raised some questions for me, but I figured I would apply for it anyway as it couldn’t hurt to see what the process was like.

Part of the application was a series of mock assignments based on the various types of projects that would be coming in. Technical papers, English assignments, blog posts, etc.

But as I started it, I realized how much of a double-edged sword having the company-as-mediator would wind up being.

Now, to be fair, I come at projects very much with a creative-editor/writer mindset, where keeping the voice and authenticity of the piece clear is just as crucial as ensuring it’s typographically/grammatically clean. This company, I suspect, is looking for more of a technical editor. Someone who just dives in and makes changes at will.

But as I was working through these assignments, there were moment where I was left with questions. The meaning of the sentence wasn’t entirely clear. Was there more to the point they were trying to make? A sentence that started, but never really ended, arguments that never seemed to reach their point.

I suppose the point of the test was to prove that I could edit these sentences in a way that made them sound complete, however possible. But that would just be rewriting someone else’s work, which, I guess, just isn’t in me to do. I want to be able to foster relationships with my clients, just as I foster relationships with my editors. I want to be able to leave comments in track changes requesting/suggesting clarifications, just as I love when my editors do this for me. It allows the weaknesses to be caught without losing the authenticity of the piece.

It takes a great deal of trust to send someone your work. Ego is involved, money is involved, and your faith in the final product before it goes out into the world. More than anything else, you want to make sure that you’re working with someone who cares about your WIP as much as you do, who wants to make sure that the best version of it goes out into the world.

To date, I’ve been incredibly lucky in the editors I’ve worked with. They had turned the pages of my WIP black and blue, but I have walked away with the absolutely confidence my book was stronger for it.

If I can be that and offer that for someone else, then that just makes every comma question worthwhile.

What do you look for in an editor?

update, writing

Why Proofreading?

As we’re now deeply in the new year and I’ve settled into a bit of a new routine, I figured it was time to start promoting my business again. You know, refilling the coffers post-Christmas, keeping myself out of trouble, making sure I keep my skills honed.

The year has gotten off to a good start, contract wise, but I still have a lot of room in my schedule for projects and manuscripts that need a fine-tooth combing.

And I don’t mean just novels.

One of the reasons I decided to offer proofreading services was my time at my dayjob. Part of my job was to distribute incoming correspondence to the appropriate teams, which meant reading them to see where they best fit.

Some of the letters were from private citizens, but most came from organizations. Not-for-profits, unions, funding programs, etc. Organizations and businesses that wanted to be taken seriously with their requests.

But often their letters were riddled with typographical, formatting, or grammatical errors.

Heck, I’ll go out to a restaurant, and the menu will be full of errors. We went to a mid-scale place one day, and they had spelled blackened salmon differently THREE TIMES (blackened salmon, backend salmon, blackend salmon), to the point where at first I thought it was actually three different varieties of salmon.

And yes, I am one of the people who questions the quality of the service and food if no one performs a quality assurance check on one of the first real impressions a customer will make of their establishment (yes, I am one of those people. No, I don’t point it out to the servers. It’s not their fault and they’ve probably already been told fifteen times).

From what I can tell, there are many reasons for these oversights:

  1. Most likely, the errors were just missed. It happens. Even with a proofreader, the chances of having a 100% perfectly error-free document is small, especially with longer projects. The human brain is fascinating and autocorrects what it sees so that everything makes sense. But having someone unconnected with the creation of your project will mean a cleaner end result.
  2. Hopefully not the case, but they might not care. Their mentality might be: Get the product out and move on to the next. The content will still be clear and the reader will figure it out for themselves. Sure… but impressions do matter. If you’re giving a presentation, do you make sure your outfit is tidy or go on in with a rumpled shirt and no brushed teeth after an onion- and garlic-filled sandwich?
  3. They brought someone in who was too familiar with the project. Again, the brain autocorrects. If you know the subject matter too well, you’ll know what was intended and miss the errors. There are ways to help with this: change the font of what you’re editing or read it on a different medium (tablet vs. computer; print off a paper copy). Just the change in appearance can help you see things you might have missed.
  4. They used someone they had on hand who doesn’t have the background/experience to know what they’re looking for. Typos can be caught easily enough, but grammar can be tricky. Sometimes it takes someone with a passion for knowing how semi-colons work to ensure they’re in the right spot.
  5. This last one is what I suspect to be a huge reason for official/important documents going out with errors: proofreading is often lumped in with administrative assistant tasks, and admins are expected to a) know how to do the work; and b) get the work done between all their other tasks. I’ve seen this quite a bit as I’ve looked for new contracts, and I find it staggering. For one thing, it’s a whole different way of thinking between editing a document and booking travel arrangements (nothing but respect for folks who are able to do the latter; just the thought of doing it makes my palms sweat. Give me commas any day). For another thing, how on earth do you expect someone to be able to hunker down and really focus on the nitty-gritty of a document while being interrupted to book travel arrangements? You can do it, sure, but the quality won’t be there.

So that is where I am offering to come in. Even if you’re not an author, even if you’re a student, an entrepreneur, applying for grants, getting ready to submit a thesis, a research paper, an article, a really important blog post, it can absolutely be worth it to fork out a few bucks to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, making the best first impression. So if you’re interested in getting a quote, feel free to send me a message!

That being said, I also intend to continue doing research on how best to teach/share some of the rules and techniques I use to better help you do some of this on your own. Do you have any questions/any particular issues that pop up that you’d like me to cover? Let me know in the comments!

update

Take the YOU Time

When it comes to running my business, my process is always in flux.

For one thing, the sort of tasks I need to focus on changes every day, as does my concentration, my mental state, any other stresses going on in the world outside my office.

The part that always stays the same: every single day, there are things that need to get done, and there are things that can be set aside for a while.

This is true across the board, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a parent, a student, or a kid who needs to decide whether they want to finish their video game or binge watch the entire MCU.

And it can be overwhelming to stand at the start of your day, knowing that your to-do list is now onto its third page, and you still don’t have any idea how to start this project that’s due in three days.

One thing I have learned–the one part of my process that tends to stick around, because when I fall out of the habit my stress levels start climbing–is to take the time you need out of every day to prepare your battle plan.

I don’t care if it’s a to-do list, a schedule, an actual strategic map written in blood on your bathroom wall*, but if you’re the sort of person who finds you tend to run into your tasks with your war cry ready only to find yourself quickly torn down under the panic of having too much to do and no time to do it, take the time to stop and breathe.

For me, that routine starts with my bullet journal, a habit I formed thanks to my friend Kate, who has turned her journal into a work of art (as have many people, as you discover when you fall into the rabbit hole on Instagram and Pinterest).

Every single morning, the first thing I do is sit down and make the list of tasks I want to accomplish during the day, in both my personal and business life. I keep a daily spread, a weekly spread, and a monthly spread, each on designed to keep me en route to my goals, which, hopefully, brings my whole business forward.

Current template of my weekly spread

It doesn’t have to be in the morning, though.

Depending on my schedule, I’ve made use of lunch breaks during the dayjob, or as a way to wind down at the end of the day, planning my tomorrow so I didn’t keep myself awake at night trying to figure out what I needed to get done.

Since I’ve started this routine again and stuck with it consistently, I’ve noticed a huge change in my outlook on the day, my time management, my sense of balance between personal and professional, and just general mental well being.

But again, this might change. I could go from bullet journaling to drawing maps on the wall, but the change is part of the process right?

Wise words from Yoga with Adriene’s Adriene Mishler

What are your methods to stay on top of things/stay within a reasonable level of sanity? Post-it notes on the mirror? Pen and paper in your purse/backpack? A good pen and the back of your hand? Let me know in the comments below!


*please don’t do this. It would be difficult to maintain every day and would very quickly start to smell