A Video Doorbell Changed My Life

If you’ve been a regular reader, you know that I don’t always go off on personal tangents.  But this one, I mean, it’s a Big Deal ™.  A few weeks ago, RIng dropped the price on its basic video doorbell.  I’ve been wanting one for a long time because I’m a scary hermit that doesn’t answer the door or leave the house.  What I mean is that UPS knows my address by heart, but has no idea what I look like.

So, anyway, when the price was dropped, I was poised to strike.  I mean, I was confident a video doorbell would make a difference.  It took all of 10 minutes to install once I got the frikken hole drilled in the brick on the front of my house.  If you have a basic understanding of power tools and a little extra time over your lunch break, this is definitely something you can handle.

How are Doorbells Related to Writing?

My ever-questioning horde, let me explain.  To start with, I have four dogs.  Four.  In Missouri, this was not considered totally crazy, but here in Fort Worth, Texas, it’s a different story.  People just don’t have that many dogs.  Nothing is really made with that many dogs in mind.  So I have to go out of my way to keep them calm and quiet so the neighbors two blocks over aren’t disturbed and call Animal Control.

It is what it is.  I try to not be annoyed by my new homeland.  It has a lot going for it, like a lack of winter weather.

Combine these doggos with my almost compulsive urge to order shit from Amazon, eBay and other merchants so that I don’t have to leave the house.  See, if I’m out there in the world, I’m not safe inside my ice cave.  And that’s just no bueno, you know?

in pre-Ring days,  I’d have a sign that people would ignore.  It said, more or less, “don’t fucking ring this bell or knock or I will cut you.”  Delivery guys were assholes and did anyway.  One, when I asked him why in the world he rang the bell that was covered by one such sign, countered by asking me how else I’d know my order was delivered.

The answer?  Uh, I get a text message as soon as you log it.  Jerk.

You don’t need much of an imagination to understand how loud and stressful this was becoming.  Between delivery people who didn’t understand how their own system worked and my easy to work up terriers, it was… it was chaos.  Loud, ugly, overstimulating chaos.

I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t sleep for all the stress.  So, I did it.  For $99, I solved that problem.  Bitches like it when you solve problems.

Better Writing Through Quiet Doorbells

You know how it’s super annoying when someone interrupts you mid-thought and you have to stare at the page for 20 minutes to sort out what it was you were driving at when it happened?  Yeah, that’s what my dogs were doing to me several times a day.   It was affecting my work.  It sucked.

Today, when a package comes, I get a silent alert on my desktop and a vibration on my phone.  That’s it.  Most of the time, the dogs don’t even realize someone has been here.  That spells quiet time more often, fewer false alarms and so many more fully executed thoughts.

I have literally reclaimed hours of work time due to this doorbell.  It has paid for itself over and over again.

Just so you know, as part of the quiet installation I had to disable the bell on my doorbell.  In case you want to get one because I said it was pretty awesome.  That’s my special tip for you.

Now Go Write!

I know that I usually give you some sort of advice or whatever, but today it’s all doorbells.  Doorbells will change your freaking life if you get the right one.

Now go!  Go forth and write like the wind!

New Year’s Letter 2018

I’ve been writing these New Year’s Letters for long enough now that it’s not only a tradition, but a compulsion to do them.  So much so that I think about them long before it’s time to put fingers to keys and punch them into life.  Every year, I think that they’ll be trite and meaningless, and every year, they serve as a refocusing point for me, and maybe for some of you, and so I think that makes them pretty much ok and not entirely self-serving bits of debris in a sea that’s already fairly stuffed full of flatulence-loving self-promotional acts woven together from delusions of grandeur and mental masturbaton.

Was it the Year We Needed?

Another year has come and gone, and it’s been a Hell of a year.  It was not the year I expected to have, not by a very long shot, but maybe it was the year I needed to have.  As most of you know, I moved house from southwest MIssouri to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metroplex in February 2017.  I very nearly lost my mind during that process.  I have never before felt so much stress or so little control over anything, and I’ve been told I had cancer twice (I did not).

Even once that move was complete, the stress level was immense because of the incredible amount of culture shock I was experiencing.  Along with that, I had to maintain my business, maintain some level of workload, try to rebuild a household, maintain my health and not fall to pieces.  As it turns out, these were very significant challenges.  I spent a lot of time stumbling around in the dark, but as they say, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”  And I did.  I had to because there wasn’t anything else.

When we lost Will this summer, then both my grandparents, a friend from school and my great aunt, I was pretty sure I was going to lose my mind completely.  I shut down emotionally for a while.  I’m sorry about that.  You deserved better.  I deserved better.  But it was much too much for me to handle all at once.  Those of you who pulled me out of that deep, dark pit are saints for everything you did and continue to do.  It was a very bad, bad place with no color.  I won’t lie, I’m still recovering from that.  Mostly, I’m ok, but sometimes I’ll hear a song or something and just start crying for no reason.

I was also given hot and cold news about my health this year.  The neuro added a diagnosis of mixed Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease and Essential Tremor, the rheumatologist added Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis.  The hepatologist, however, said that my liver was in really good shape, the tumors have all but disappeared and the inflammation is gone.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.  But it means that all the exercise and healthy eating has to be a permanent thing or that liver transplant becomes a discussion we have to have again.  So good and bad.

A New Normal

It took months to return to normal, but I’ve found it again.  I’ve found maybe better than normal.  I’m hoping.  Every night I go to bed and hope that this is a permanent thing.  I’m allowing myself to believe there’s going to be a tomorrow and a yesterday and that I’ll remember a week ago.  So far the memory is still a bit hit and miss, but it, too, is improving.  Texas has been very good for me and it’s nothing like what I expected it would be.

I’ve started some new projects that are very, very promising.  I’m excited to see where they go in the new year.  It’s boring work stuff, but for me it’s pretty exciting.  I have a lot of creative control and my input is valued highly.  Sometimes that’s worth a lot more than money, really.  It’s difficult to describe how much that matters, but trust me, it does.

Friends Near and Far

One of my very real fears about moving to Texas was being so far from my home base, the people I’ve known my whole life and my family.  The culture in the Ozarks is very family and clan-focused and it’s really the central focus of the whole thing.  I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how it would go.  I knew my health would make it extremely difficult to get back often or regularly.  Eight hours in a car, minimum, is a lot for me.

But, you know, my dad was right when he said that things aren’t like they used to be.  All you have to do these days is hop on the Internet and your friends are right there.  All the friends I have in the box.  They were there through the toughest times and the easy ones, too.  If you’re reading this, you know who you are.  You have no idea how much you’re appreciated.  How much you’re needed.  How much easier you made it to make this massive transition.  

Who’s chopping onions in here?!?

On to This Year’s Goals!

Now!  As for the coming year, there should be goals.  There should always be goals, even if you don’t achieve them.  Otherwise, what are we?  We’re just floating along like jellyfish, hoping something will hit, I guess.  So, I suppose we’ll start with these:

  • Consume at least one book a week.  So, maybe reading is still a little tough, but audiobooks are working out ok.  Thanks John and Jason for pushing me in that direction.  
  • Travel a bit.  I’ve been to Austin once, and San Antonio twice.  I can make both trips very easily, so I should go more often and for funsies.  Also other places….
  • Establish and enforce better work/life balance.  I am the worst for dicking around on the Internet when I should be working and then panicking and doing a bunch of work at the last minute.  This has to stop.  Time management and work/life balance should be this year’s main work goals.
  • Invest more time in my personal brand.  If I can do the thing above, I should have time to do this thing.  My blog is sad and lonely and a site I’ve literally been working on for a year needs to launch.  It’s pathetic.
  • Get better at meal planning.  Ah, this is also a time management thing.  If I had better meal planning skills, I’d not take a freaking year to figure out what I was having for lunch.
  • Lose another 50 pounds.  This is partially because of all the med changes and partially because I like cookies too much.  I need to get back on the one cookie per meal diet, exercise more and track everything.
  • Run three 5Ks.  I’m signed up for the Cowtown 5K on February 24th, but I’d like to do at least two more.  It’s a little bit of a challenge because I need to ideally take Annie.  All this has to be cleared ahead of time and can be a pain.
  • Explore the metroplex.  I’ve lived here for 10 months and have yet to really explore the city.  I need to do this.  Annie needs to see the world.

I know a lot of people guffaw at New Year’s Resolutions, or even year end goals, or whatever you wanna call it.  It’s all the same thing.  Really, the timing is arbitrary, but I think it’s pretty important to have a set time of the year to stop what you’re doing, evaluate where you are versus where you want to be, and kind of double down your efforts.  

I don’t think it hurts to assess your progress.  You can disagree all you want, that’s your right, but I can also call you a pig-faced waffle stomper, so I think that makes us a bit even.

So, whatcha got?  What hot burning desires do you have for 2018?  What’s driving your engine this year?

Totally Off Topic: Strength and Tragedy

You sweet little motherfuckers might have noticed my absence the last few weeks — that wasn’t because of something you did, though I’d love to blame it on you.  Really, I would.  But, unfortunately, even assholes need a chance to reflect sometimes.  That’s where I was.  I was in my Thinking Hole ™.

Something many of you don’t know about me is that I’ve spent the last five years living a nightmare of epic proportions.  My health has been very bad, I was told by doctors not once, but twice, that they believed I had liver cancer.  I’ve had a dozen surgeries, been on a zillion fucking medications and been snatched from the jaws of death more than once.  I’m not even being hyperbolic.

As it turns out, it’s not exactly an easy process to be a patient in the American medical system.  In fact, it can be the most difficult thing you ever do.  You have to fight for yourself while doctors glare at you and ask condescending questions like, “Do you have any medical background?”  I won’t go into my string of issues, but needless to say I’ve spent as much time in medical facilities as the doctors and nurses who ask those sorts of fucking questions.

The Concept of Strength in Tragedy

I saw a post earlier from a friend on Facebook from an atheist perspective that discussed how she (the writer) was offended when people say that so and so was given strength from God to get through something hard.  That’s sort of what prompted this post, actually.  Because I spend a lot of time thinking about that concept — the idea of Strength in Tragedy.  That’s what I’ve been pondering in my Thinking Hole ™, actually.

I don’t think people who have never been in a bad place really get it.  I don’t think they understand what this idea of Strength in Tragedy actually means.  When you’re at the brink, when there’s no more rope and you’re being told on December 23 that you have to be evaluated right away because liver cancer, there are literally only two ways you can respond.  You can shut down or you can stare that fear right in the eye and boop it in the nose.  Some people have to do both.  On December 23, I opted for door number three.

I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for my family, but I also didn’t want to go to St. Louis for this evaluation and then spring a cancer diagnosis on them out of the blue.  So, I waited until after the holidays to say anything.  I shut down because I couldn’t handle the thought of fighting another day, I didn’t think there was any way it could end well — I just… didn’t want to deal with cancer on top of Christmas.  It was too much.

I cried for weeks until my appointment.  I managed to tell my parents before I went, but it was hard.  I made funeral arrangements (Holman-Howe in my hometown, if you’re wondering where to send flowers in 100 years), I tried one last time to get life insurance (failed miserably).  All the while, my close pals cheered me on.  All the while, they held me up when I was dying inside.

Later, after the cancer scare was over and every test in the world for tumor markers came back clean (I now have to repeat these yearly), people praised me for my strength.  How they could never go through something like that, so on and so forth.  I know, in my heart, that these people mean well.  I know they do.  I appreciate that they were trying, because I know it’s hard to know what to say in these situations.  I usually call someone a cunt and then ask them if they want to get some tacos, but that’s just me.

But the idea that you couldn’t walk through fire if you had to — that anyone would do anything differently — it doesn’t truck with me.  I think you would do exactly the same thing I did in a time of tragedy.  I think you’d reach out to your friends and family, I think you’d find it within you to face that fear headlong, I think you’d mourn and I think in the end you’d be ok.  I think it’s within us all to do this.

Depression and suicide in the face of these things — that’s something else.  That’s a person who is already suffering from a separate problem being pushed too far.  Depression is another thing.  If you’re mentally healthy, you’d respond the same way.  And I know of that which I speak.  In late 2011, I was faced with the same diagnosis — but back then, I was freshly divorced (literally like two months out), I had just lost my farm and my little dairy goats and my fucking dog.  I mean, I had nothing.  I was living out of boxes in a friend’s apartment, I was in a bad way.  I’d had my gall bladder out, then the cancer thing… and another surgery — I couldn’t bear the strain, mentally or physically.

It was too much and I jumped hard.  I own it.  I did it.  I tried to untether myself from this mortal coil.  I never told anyone my gruesome plan, because they would have been markedly more horrified than they were when they found me unconscious from an overdose of narcotic pain medication.  But it would have been a death fit for the level of emotional pain I was in at time time — betrayed by my ex, by my body, by the world.  As I laid in my bed, waiting for the pain meds to numb every inch of my being, to calm the consuming fire inside of me, something else moved in… something comforting… and that was the night I lost my fear of death.

The following weeks were hard, I was forced into a mental institution because suicide is illegal here.  It is a crime and I was treated like a criminal.  There was no therapy, there was no help — only TV time, sleep time and group activities that mostly consisted of coloring.  They talked at us about how taking a walk outside could help curb stress while we were locked in a building that was smotheringly hot, where the windows couldn’t even be opened — we had no way to go outside for a walk, or even a long-distance stare.

I have a book outlined about my experience there.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to write it.  The first 22 pages were written while I was inside, using the only implements I could get at the time: a golf pencil, a marker and a crayon.  If anything could convince a chronically depressed person to succeed at suicide, that facility would do it — you never wanted to go back to that den of isolation and hypocrisy for any reason.

The Moral of the Story, I Think

Anyway… the moral of the story is that there’s strength in each and every one of us, a deep, deep strength that keeps us moving — maybe it’s hardwired in our DNA — but it’s there.  You can and you will pull through, there is not a tragedy so large that a mentally healthy person can’t overcome.  Yes, it will hurt like a sumbitch, and you’ll cry rivers of tears and you’ll think you’re completely losing your mind and coming apart at the seams, but you’ll get through it.

Someone has been through that same shitpile you’re going through now, someone else has plowed their way to the other side.  Their example proves there is an other side and with enough pushing and screaming and punching and weeping you’ll get to it just like they did.  Whether that strength comes from God or your strong belief in vaccines or your dream of one last tasty cream-filled donut, I don’t know.  I think it comes from without and I think it comes from within.  I think we all have someone watching out for us.  Even if that someone is a buddy masquerading as a guardian angel.

So, I think the next time someone you know overcomes a bad situation, you need to say “Way to go!,” or “You’re awesome!!”  or even, “Hey, cunt!  Let’s get tacos!” instead of telling them you couldn’t do the same.  Because you can.

Now go back to writing or I’ll find you and beat you to death with a golf pencil.

 

PS.  I’m much better now, in case you were wondering.  I’m in full recovery, everything’s peachy fucking keen, except for these enormous medical bills and prescription prices.  Get on that, would you?

NaNoWriMo: Don’t Look Back (Clowns Will Eat You!)

Today’s Day 17 of NaNoWriMo and you should have a word count of about 28,333.333333.  Are you there yet?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  I’d say it’s not too late, but by now it certainly is — but I bet I can guess what’s slowing you down.  You’re looking back at the stuff you already wrote, aren’t you?

I knew it!  Stop that.

Writing a novel is something like writing a marathon.  You can’t look back — I’m pretty sure it’s against the rules.  Also, it makes you stumble and you usually end up with pavement burn… that shit stings.

You Can’t Afford to Look Back

Ok, so clowns won’t actually eat you, but looking back over your work is a temptation you can’t afford when you’re trying to bang out anything.  Looking back leads to reworking and reworking lead to deleting large passages and deleting large passages leads to throwing your hands up and screaming “FUCK IT!” at the top of your lungs.  Trust me on this.

To be successful at this novel-writing thing, you’ve got to stare ever-forward into the molten, burning heart of the unforgiving sunset.  Look forward, face forward, plan FORWARD, and keep fucking running.  I mean writing.  Writers don’t run.  That’s the first rule of Writing Club.

Don’t look back, that’s my point.

It’s a common problem, but the roots are usually in one of these places:

Insecurity.  You don’t think you can really write.  You don’t think you belong writing.  You don’t think your writing is good enough.  It’s probably not, because first drafts suck.  It’s a rule.  Don’t worry about it, get your novel sketched out and go back and fix it later.

Control Issues.  OMG!  You’re a grammar Nazi.  Man, I hate fuckers like you.  Still, if you are a grammar Nazi, now’s the time to tame your personal demons.  It’s not time to quibble over whether or not you used the right form of “whose” or if your spaces are the correct distance apart.  JUST WRITE and edit later.

The Doubting Man.  I covered The Doubting Man in this blog post, so you should already know what to do about him.  That little fucker’s the reason we can’t have nice things.  He shits on everything we love and tells us we suck.  Kill him!  Kill him with fire!  Then write.

In summation, no matter what your problem is, no matter what your excuse is WRITE, MOTHERFUCKER, WRITE.

Keeping Up the Pace

Some of you may be legitimately losing your stride because you’re exhausted.  Writing is a tough business.  This is what I do every day, six or seven days a week.  And it takes real mental stamina and grit to keep going… there’s no joke about it.

If you’re starting to lose steam instead of looking back too much, I’ve got a different set of suggestions.  Those are:

Find Your Eye of the Tiger.  When my writing team at Top Shelf Copy is starting to drag ass and feel like they’re about to die right before deadline time, I make them all listen to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”  If that doesn’t work, I punch them in the faces repeatedly until they look like hamburger.  When you’re running your race and all you want to do is lie down and die, see if you can find some music to stimulate your brain.

I have a playlist called “Write Like the Wind” and another called “Damn the Torpedoes” that I use when I’m in that spot.  It’s not instant adrenaline, but it builds until I can keep going again.  I highly suggest you find one of your own — stuff like workout playlists, running playlists and that sort of thing usually are pre-rolled and work best if you don’t have time to build one.  The trick is to turn that into background music and pace to it.

Running and writing aren’t that much different.  I’m convinced I burn calories as I tap on the keys.

That’s why I’m so slim and trim.

Take a Break.  Yeah, I said it.  If you’re mentally exhausted, kicking that horse doesn’t help.  It’s still dead.  Take a day or two off, give yourself a weekend, something… because when you’re tired from writing, you’re never going to get re-energized by continuing to move.  I was given this advice years ago by a wise old Captain.  He was also a writer, but he was also a Captain.  I think he worked with mermaids before he started writing.

Anyway.  It’s burn-out, plain and simple.  Some people have a little bit left and can push on, others don’t.  Don’t hurt yourself, your book and your joy in writing it by forcing yourself to keep going.  You’re tired.  Take a day.  Take a week.  Fuck NaNo and do what works best for you.  Rest and get back to it.

Shelve Your Book.  This is a risky move, as you probably know, but sometimes you have to shelve your book to get some new perspective.  If you’ve tried taking a break and you just can’t find the energy to pick it back up, shelve that baby.  Give yourself a month or two, then look at it again.

Maybe you just can’t crank this book as quickly as you thought.  Maybe you need more time.  It’s ok if you do — but admit it for the sake of your book and sit it on a shelf.  When you come back to it, remember that it’s a rough draft, with “rough” being the important part.  It’s not going  to be perfect, so when you pick it back up, don’t judge it.  Just write.

To those of you struggling with NaNo: it’s time to do something about your book-related problems.  Maybe you need to rest, maybe you need to destroy The Doubting Man, maybe you need to ditch that book for a while and go to the zoo.  Only you can figure out what’s going to keep you running this race — dig deep and find it.

But whatever you do, don’t look back, because your rough draft is just that.  It’ll get better.

Harness Your Darkness

I don’t generally share a lot of personal stuff here, but since I’ve been away and I can’t think of ANYTHING else, I’m going to share something with you that’s from my real fucking life.  I was diagnosed with an incredibly rare and life-threatening condition on Monday.  Yes, yesterday, on Canadian Thanksgiving.  What fucking irony.

I don’t know if I should scream or punch the wall or fucking curse out the mailman for wearing those little blue shorts.  I want to grab a checker at Wal-Mart and throttle the life out of them.  I want to smash all the beautiful things into impossibly small pieces.

These aren’t normal thoughts.  Hell, they’re not even healthy thoughts.  But, as writers, we’re often filled with very uncomfortable feelings and notions that we should really never tell anybody else.  Not our spouses, certainly not our family, but other writers get it.  Every day is an exercise in sorting out the inappropriateness.

Every fucking day you probably wonder what would happen if you set the neighbor’s fucking nasty house on fire or planted a bomb under that car with the unholy booming base.  You don’t, because you’re still hanging onto some semblance of sanity, but we’re the ones… we’re the ones that when we slip, we fall all the fucking way down.

We imagine evil.  We’re not all peace and calm inside.  As copywriters, we have to shove that aside and work with another part of our brain, the one that doesn’t want to break and burn.  But some days… some days…. there’s simply nothing else.

What do we do?  How do we overcome these urges?

I vote that we don’t.  Let’s use those days to bring fucking maniacs to life and birth the kind of darkness that keeps normal people awake for a full week.  Let’s learn how to dig out that black stuff and ride it to the end.  Why the fuck not?  Why should we be forced to always write the happy, punchy stuff?

Every copywriter has a dark, evil novelist in them.  Every one.  We reject our nasty side too much — we need to grab that guy and chain him to the keyboard.  Because he’s the evil maniac we need sometimes.

I have to write copy today.  But I have to spew out all my darkness.  I need to blow something up on the page.

Some Days I Miss My Goddamned Typewriter

Hey-Girl-ManateeBack in 1850, when I was a young journo, I had a typewriter.  It was a Royal, it punched a hole through the paper when I hit the letter “O” and it was slow going.  But, after fighting with Google Authenticator for the privilege to log into WP in another browser (not even a different computer), I really miss that beat up old machine.

My fucking head hurts, my fucking cell phone narrowly escaped getting its little brains based out on the nearest rock and throwing my fucking slow goddamned computer out the window still feels like a reasonable option.  These are the kinds of things that lead to sneaky hate spirals.

Here’s Why I Fucking Hate Hackers

You realize, of course, that all this Luddite-like rage has been inspired by the actions of just a few.  If the Internet wasn’t a digital ocean living in fear of a few unrepentant Great Whites, we’d have our cats’ names as our passwords and that’d be it.  This 2-Step Authentication thing wouldn’t matter.  It would be a waste of time.

After all, it’s not paranoia if they’re actually out to get you.

Because of some hateful, nosy motherfuckers, I have to have a 2-Step Authenticator installed on my screwy LG G2, I have to make the phone talk to the computer through the Internet and I have to fucking remember passwords that contain uppercase letters, lower case letters, numbers, symbols and fucking hieroglyphs in them.

So, to every black and gray hat out there — I say FUCK YOU.  FUCK YOU AND YOUR WHOLE ILK.  FUCK YOU FOR RUINING THE PURITY AND INNOCENCE OF THE INTERNET.

As I remember it, there was a time that this place was as innocent as a newborn manatee.  All you had to do was claim you were Dr. Rosenthal and you’d have access to the University archives, people shared data on open networks and no one, not anybody, ever fed the trolls.

Then we commercialized this Virtual Eden and BAM, it went straight to Hell.

TO HELL I SAY!

So, today I say to all hackers and the hoops they make me jump through to just publish this stupid blog: EAT SHIT AND DIE!

I’ll be over here cuddling a manatee until my urge to destroy something beautiful is soothed.

I Was a Minor Twitter Celebrity and All I Got Was This Coffee Mug

Field Where I Grow My FucksI know it’s been a while, I’ve been buying a house.  I have a life.  Why shouldn’t I?

Anyway, while I was away, a writer I know made me a minor Twitter celebrity.  I had no idea until the tweets started hitting my defunct Twitter account.  I got home from working on my newly acquired fixer-upper of a house and bam! there it was.

What Does Fame Taste Like?

Fame, as we all should know by now, tastes like Bernie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.  Sometimes it’s sweet and fruity, and at other times it tastes like earwax.  Either way, it’s fleeting, and the next morning, nary a fucking peep of the once famous cursing copywriter was to be seen.

That’s ok.  I’m not really a fan of publicity — that’s why I do what I do.  I’m a publicity whore, but I’m shy, so I let others take the credit for me.  Ghostwriting is cool like that.

Like my Twitter fame, this post will be fleeting.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry for now.  Back soon with important writing advice, but if you need a fix NOW, check out my friend Allison’s blog.

Writers: You Deserve a Vacation

Ms pineappleIf there’s one thing you fucking pen monkeys fail at consistently, it’s giving yourself adequate time to recharge.  You need a fucking vacation.  There’s no better way, according to science, to increase your productivity and be the best whatever the Hell you profess to be than to stop doing it for a while.

I’m probably the world’s biggest hypocrite when it comes to telling others to take a break.  For example, in 2014, I worked from without so much as a weekend from January 1 until I went on my Honeymoon in May.  Even then, I worked some… much to my husband’s dismay.  That’s why I’m taking this week or so off — free of work, free of care… tra la la.

And, so must you.  It’s all fine and good for someone like me to tell you to take a break, but when orders are coming in constantly and you have no fucking room to breathe the logistics get a little touchy.  That’s why I thought I’d give you some hints for making a real vacation happen.  Not a working vacation, not a partial vacation — but a real vacation where all you have to worry about is getting out of bed and drinking yourself stupid.

Preparing for a Vacation

I guess the biggest thing you’ve got to do before you can feel truly free is to sort out what happens to that mound of work while you’re away.  You’ve got some options, but you’ll have to figure out what each client would prefer and manage it from there.  For the most part, here’s what to offer clients for options:

Writing Ahead.  You can write blogs ahead, that’s usually not a big deal.  Start about a month before your vacation and squeeze a few extras in here and there until you amass a pile.  A lot of clients like this option, and it’ll give you a few extra bucks to pay for drinks with umbrellas in them.

Not Writing at All.  Sometimes, you’ll find that your clients are fine with letting their blog or sales materials miss a week or two.  If they’ve got good stats and a large following, it’s not likely that a small blip will make much of a difference.  Plus, they’ll save a little bit of money while you’re away.

Hiring a Ghost.  Most clients will not like this option.  Many, if not all, of your clients hired you for what you bring to the table.  They don’t want George writing for you, otherwise, they’d have hired him.  Using a Ghost is something you should discuss ahead of time with your clients, else bad things may happen.

Step Two: Disconnect

Turn on an auto-responder that gives your clients some way to contact another writer in your stead while you’re gone.  Trust me, it’s a great way to retain clients and encourage loyalty.  They’ll feel like you’re watching out for them while you’re away and the writer who fills in for you will be pressured to be totally on the up and up.  If you’re worried another writer will steal your client, you and that client have bigger problems than your vacation logistics.

Now, throw your phone in the sea, stop looking at LinkedIn, don’t tweak anything, don’t promise edits or anything else during your off time.  Just be off.  You’re not going to reap the benefits of a break from work if you’re bringing work along with you.  You might as well pack your fucking computer in your luggage.  Don’t. do. that.

Upon Your Return

When you get back, don’t be shocked if it’s total batshit bedlam in your office.  In fact, expect it.  Clients might just want to shoot you a quick email that you’ll see when you get back, or three or ten.  Depending on the number of clients you’ve got, the mountain of email may be enormous.

That’s why you figured in a few extra days for re-acclimating to life in the pressure cooker.  You did, didn’t you?  If you need five days, take eight.  If you need a week, take 10.  Trust me, you want to ease back in… we work in such a high pressure environment that the only way to get organized is to pretend you’re not around.  Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I’m not saying you should lie to your clients, but when you get a stable full the troubles pile on.  Each client means well, don’t get me wrong, and they each believe theirs will be the only message you’ll get.  They have no idea that it takes a dozen small clients like them to keep a good writer afloat — and their email, plus the 11 others like it can kill your productivity if that’s what you find on your first day back.

So, check your email a few days before you’re supposed to return to work.  Organize the tasks therein.  Say some very unflattering things, drink some coffee and know that you’ve got to get back to work in a few days.  Try not to dwell on it, though.

That’s it.  That’s all I know about taking a vacation.  I ended up working through most of my Honeymoon, but I don’t intend to do that this year.  This year, I pledge that I will make the most of my vacation, I will not become a workaholic, I will do what’s best for my poor, sick, fucked up brain.

 

Viruses Can Bite My Ass

Medical designIt wasn’t that long ago that all we heard about in the news was Ebola.  Although the thought of blood hemorrhaging from my eyes, nail beds and anus wasn’t pleasant, it was also so incredibly unlikely that you had a better chance of being savagely torn limb from limb by sharks in Missouri.  What wasn’t unlikely, though, was catching the flu virus known as H3N2.  Because the virus mutated after the flu vaccines were created, we were left with little or no protection from it.  In fact, the CDC predicts that vaccine’s effectiveness was 18 percent.

So, you can guess what I’ve been doing since the last post here on February 5th.  I finally broke down and went to the doctor last week and he healed me with a miracle drug and some miracle syrup.  Hooray!  So, four fucking weeks later, I’m back on the scene, ready to kick your asses for being idiots.  Are you ready?

I’m introducing a new section to Waterworth Writes called “English is Awful.”  This is a blog post a week about why English is terrible and what you can do about it.  Think of me as Grammar Girl’s meaner twin.  Because fuck English.

As I’ve stated before, English is among the most difficult languages for anyone to learn.  You’re lucky if you grew up speaking it, even more so if you grew up speaking it and Mandarin or Japanese, the other two top contenders.  As a writer, I’ve got this love/hate relationship with this language.  Ultimately, there’s a word to express anything  you need to say in this language, but whether or not someone else will actually understand what you’re saying is another question entirely.

Other changes you might want to be aware of:  I’ll be changing my posting days to Tuesday and Thursday, mostly because I want Mondays off.  If you don’t like it, fuck you — there’s a reason this isn’t a democracy.

Five Tips for Choosing Killer Samples

Free SamplesAs a writer, your samples say more about you than anything you could ever fabricate on your resume.  They, in fact, are your key to jobs.  That’s why it’s so fucking important to choose the right ones instead of just randomly sprinkling some pieces of your shittiest shit around the internet.

Choosing samples is as much an art as it is a science, but here are some tips for doing it better:

1.  Put your best foot forward.  Make sure the samples on your blog, Weebly site or that you attach to job inquiry emails demonstrate your very best work.  I’m not talking about work that became good because someone helped you out by editing it to death — I’m talking about work you did that came out amazing and was barely touched by editorial.  A potential employer wants to know how you write, not how well your work can be fixed by some killer editor out there.

2.  Stay focused on your subject matter.  If your niche is automotive writing, but you decide to attach a bunch of nipple ring blogs to your sample page, it’s not really productive.  How you write about nipples may be completely different from how you write about automotive topics — keep it relevant.  This goes doubly so when you’re applying for a job.  Samples that aren’t related will be tossed out, along with your resume and email address.

3.  Show your many sides.  As a writer, you may be asked to become a master of a number of formats and voices.  That’s not a problem for you, is it?  Well show your potential employers that you can handle blog writing, product descriptions, script writing and web pages by providing samples of each.  If you’ve written some in a casual voice and some in a much more formal tone, include that, too — being highly adaptable is a very attractive trait in a writer.

4.  Don’t force it.  Even if you really wish you had writing samples in a certain area, don’t force it.  Dear God, don’t.  An article you wrote once about kitchen sponges does not make you a marine biologist, ok?  If you want to break into that niche, share samples that you’ve written about animals or conservation topics — and admit your lack of experience.  Some clients won’t care if you can learn the material quickly.

5.  Keep it fresh.  This one seems obvious, but it’s actually the hardest part of maintaining a sample file.  Of course you’ll have some samples that are getting old if you’ve been focusing on a particular type of writing or niche for a while, but make sure you’re cycling the newest stuff in place of older counterparts.  The more you write, the better you get at it — at least in theory.  So it’s actually sort of counter-productive to keep old writing samples around.  Show your best pieces all of the time.

Samples are a vital part of being a writer, but sadly, most of you fuckers don’t know how to deal with them.  Now go follow my instructions and get some jobs!