As I sit here in silence, just moments after Joe Biden has delivered his Inauguration speech, I’m struck by what this week means for me personally. You see, Monday was the nine year anniversary of my suicide attempt. January 23rd will be the one year anniversary of my freedom ride. It’s a big week, by anyone’s reckoning.
Generally, I try to write up something about suicide and mental health and reaching out in the darkness for this week, but I’ve been having a hard time forming it in my mind this year. Not that suicide is any less serious or that it’s any less important to reach for a hand when you’re in trouble, but just… I don’t know. It’s been a wild ride and there are so many more things I want to say than I think I have the capacity or the words for.
But also, Uncle Joe had a lot of things to say about unity and hope, and maybe that’s the real point here. Maybe that’s what ties this week together.
A Lot of Anniversaries
I’m not generally one to celebrate every little date on the calendar, but there are some days that are burned on my soul. Two of them live in this same week (three, now, I guess, if you wanna count the Inauguration). They were both days when I was experiencing the depths of desperation. Apparently I’m a bit dramatic, or maybe I just make a lot of mistakes… I’m not sure which.
Nine years ago, I tried to take my own life. I’m not proud of it, but I’m also not ashamed of it, and since then, I’ve spent my time trying to help keep others from ending up in that same place. It ultimately was due to a bad reaction to antidepressants, which I had just started (there’s a warning label now for that sort of thing), but I will never forget how out of control of my own mind I felt.
I will never forget how so many people reached out to catch me in my darkest hour.
I will always owe those people my very life. It could have gone a lot worse than it did.
This is why my door is always open for anyone who finds themselves stumbling in the dark. I’m far from a professional, but I can listen, and I will nudge you toward the light. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to help.
Saturday is another big one for me, though, and one I’ve not talked about before. January 23 was the day I fled my marriage with nothing more than four dogs and a few bags of clothing. Like with my suicide attempt, I am forever in debt to a whole lot of people who helped me in that desperate moment. From the friends who are family that saw me to shelter to the judge who issued a three year protection order so I could get myself back to a place of peace and security.
These are all debts that can never be repaid, you understand. They’re the kind you take to the grave. But at the same time, they come from the simple kindnesses we owe one another as people. When someone is in despair, we give them a hand. When someone fears for their safety, we give them shelter. It’s how we should behave as people, regardless of our beliefs.
Uncle Joe and the Hopey Changey Bits
Today as I listened to Uncle Joe deliver one of the most down-to-Earth and heart-felt speeches I’ve heard in some time from a politician, I was reminded of both of these huge acts of kindness. And of the sheer number of people it took to help move me from the darkness into the light on both occasions.
What we have ahead of us, as a nation, isn’t really any different. We’re still fighting a pandemic, we’re trying very hard to learn to trust one another again after four years of living in a world turned upside down. We’re traumatized, we’re battered, we’re so, so tired. And that’s really just the sort of surface level of the situation.
But what I heard today was a call for unity. A call for us to stand together. To help one another. To remember who we are as a family of people. That we’re all important and that we all matter to one another. Uncle Joe reminded us that when we don’t pull together, we pull apart.
And I don’t know about you, but there was no better message I could hear today, the day wedged solidly between two violent personal anniversaries. I am a broken person; we are a broken nation – but we can all heal and see the light again.
Everything is possible when we work together to elevate those who have the least and need the most help.
Today I have hope for America. And I have hope for myself. And I have hope for you. And I have hope for everyone. It’s a welcome feeling.
As I sit here listening to the tapping of the keyboard like rain on a metal roof, I’m participating in one of many, many rituals in my daily life. We all have them. Get up, get a shower, eat breakfast, take your keys from the place they always hang, run out the door, go to work, punch the clock, attend your station, perform your duties – each step part of a ritual enacted and perfected by after day after day.
You may have noticed that I was unusually silent last week.
I wasn’t mad at you, I didn’t take off on an exciting whirlwind tour, what happened was quite mundane and profound. You see, my rituals were thrown off by an unexpected power outage that created a chaos spiral. On New Year’s Eve, we had a freak ice storm that pulled the branches of a very lovely pine tree down onto my power and internet cables, violently ripping them out of my house.
The effect was immediate. Not only to my house, but to my psyche. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to power through an ice storm, but the last one was something like 14 years ago, when I was considerably younger and far less reliant on comfortable sameness. Comfortable sameness. That phrase seems so… middle aged. I never expected that I would embrace the march of time.
But in that chaotic pause, I was not too gently reminded how much rituals matter in my daily life, and I was determined that I would make a blog post about the whole thing.
Rituals in Writing, Rituals in Life
Writing, like so many other things in life, requires going into a specific sort of head space to properly accomplish. Some writers need absolute silence, others, noise. A few like myself need controlled dissonance to properly distract the demons that make it hard to focus.
We all have rituals that help lubricate the day. There’s no sinnin’ in it. There are valuable time management skills buried in daily rituals. After all, if you don’t have to think about how to make the coffee or burn the pancakes, like you do every day, it speeds up the process.
I know a lot of writers who struggle with time management (myself included), but I’ve also learned a few tricks for overcoming my own misguided behavior over the years. Rituals made such a difference for me.
If you don’t already have rituals to help automate some of the more basic parts of your day, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot. I promise you don’t have to admit that you’re getting older and less spontaneous. Just look at it as freeing up processing power for more important tasks, like searching the Internet for increasingly bizarre memes.
Establishing Useful Rituals (No Chanting Required)
One of the most important rituals for me is something I like to call “breaking the seal on the writing day.” I don’t do this every day, because I don’t write every day, but I do it most days. When I get a fresh new day, I have to start totally from scratch. I can’t carry over the momentum from days before – I can’t even do that if I’m interrupted for an hour or so, if we’re being honest. So, breaking the seal is kind of a big deal for me. It’s become a bit of a ritual for my work life.
In that blog I linked, I talk about seal breaking specifically, but here, we’re just going to talk about rituals kind of in general. How to start a ritual, how to use a ritual. Here we go:
Start with the problem. What’s the issue you’ve got that requires a little better approach? It should be a problem you face most days, otherwise it’s not really a regular ritual. For example, you may always forget to take your cholesterol meds before bed. This is a simple one a lot of people struggle with. It should be a simple thing, rituals that are too complex are easy to forget.
Designate a ritual space. I know this sounds all kinds of mystery cult, but the truth is that having a space for your ritual, whatever it is, makes it easier to build associations and help you remember to ACTUALLY DO IT. So, for example, put your cholesterol meds in a place where you are near bedtime, in a designated spot, so you don’t have to go digging around looking for them. Be middle aged. It’s ok.
Set a reminder. If you’re terrible at starting rituals, do what I do. Set a reminder for a specific time. Your phone, your watch, your home assistant, they can all help you remember. If nothing else, you’ll wonder what that incessant noise is long enough that it may occur to you what you’re supposed to be doing. This works as well for work tasks as life tasks.
Perform the actual ritual. It’s all fine and good to plan to do a thing, but you actually have to follow-through. This is probably the hardest part, really. But do the thing. Do it again. Do it over and over at the right time until it’s just part of your life.
Rituals are great, they truly are, but they can get a bit dodgy when unexpected chaos erupts. So, while I really believe in the power of rituals, I also try to not become overly reliant on them. After all, it really sucks trying to remember how to do a thing outside of your usual ritual environment.
Now, back to your regularly daily scheduled rituals…. *chants in Gregorian*
Hooboy. If you’ve been following this blog for long, you’re well aware that today is the day I issue the traditional New Year’s Letter. It’s a tool for me to reflect upon what’s happened in the year: the wins, the losses, the things I can fix, the things I can’t affect. In a year filled with Twisted Teas, Angry Bees, and Dreaded Disease, I don’t even know how to begin this.
I guess I’m going to begin at the beginning. Of the year. And work from there.
See, while 2020 was transformative for most people, for better or worse, it was especially pivotal for me on a very personal level.
2020 was the year I fled my marriage. It was the single most dramatic period of my existence – and I’ve seen some shit. On January 23, 2020, I left my home in Fort Worth, Texas, with four dogs and a few bags, and I didn’t look back.
That trip ultimately would take me (and the hounds) over 2,200 miles across six states, and showed me, once and for all, that Internet friends are real friends. It took an army to help me get home, and resulted in an outpouring of love and hope that I’ve never experienced before. It was absolutely life-changing, and I will never live long enough to properly thank all of those involved.
Late on February 10, 2020, we made it back to an empty house, full of possibilities.
It was only then that I even realized there was a pandemic coming on. I’d been a bit occupied, you understand. About three weeks, give or take, after we got home, I was called by my doctor in Texas and advised to go into isolation.
I won’t lie, it was a bit of a gut-punch. See, I had really been looking forward to getting reacquainted with the land of my birth, the Missouri Ozarks. The open spaces, the trees (you have no idea how much I missed trees), the calm, folksy ways of my people. All of it. I was ready to soak it up like a dehydrated mongoose.
But instead, I stayed home and I waited.
I ordered groceries, I shopped on Amazon, I wrote what work there was to write. And I waited.
One week turned into two, two turned into four, a month turned into six months, six months into nine, and here we are… give or take.
I’m still waiting. But it’s the end of 2020, so I’m done waiting in 2020. Tomorrow I’ll start waiting in 2021… (that’s a joke)
In all this waiting, a lot of very bad things happened. People got sick. We lost over 350,000 of our countrymen – who didn’t have to die – to a poorly executed COVID response. We cried collectively, we shared our fears, we celebrated the best we could while together, but apart.
It was a Hell of a year and I can promise you that our experiences will be remembered for generations to come.
I don’t even have the words for this year. But I do have a lot of hope. Even after all this blackness, I have hope. Maybe I’m a dangerously optimistic person in these strange times, but I have ALWAYS believed in humanity. I always believe we’re better than we think.
Collectively, I mean. Some of you are real assholes.
Looking back on 2020, I think we all did really well. Given the circumstances, merely surviving was a massive accomplishment. But we did more than that. We learned to make sourdough starters, we navigated online shopping (many for the first time), we figured out ways to stay in touch safely. We reached out when we were in danger or in doubt, and others caught us.
People will look back on this year and see nothing but loss, doubt and fear. Some will see selfishness and political upheaval. It’ll be a year that kids didn’t go to school, workers were sent home, businesses were shuttered… but for me, until the day I die, this will be a year of hope.
I watched people fight for and love one another ferociously. I saw families get closer than they’d ever been before. I was fortunate enough to be party to various acts of kindness for those who were struggling with the “new normal.” (Heck, we even collectively deposed a would-be dictator…)
This year, I saw so many little candles burning in the black, it fills my heart beyond bursting.
We’re none perfect, and we’ve all made mistakes this year. We’ve all had to balance our physical health and mental well-being (and a few people have been really complete and utter bastards), but by and large, I think good is winning. I think good is going to come out on top at the end of all of this.
It may be hard to see right now. Especially for those who are working as frontline workers, those who are in the thick of the medical system, those who have lost someone, but in big giant brushstrokes, I think most of us were looking out for others as best as we knew how to do. I think most of us gave what we could spare to keep those people who didn’t have enough going after the government had abandoned us.
This year, I’m going to remember the simple, beautiful acts of individuals. The tiny kindnesses that meant more than anyone could possibly believe. There’s no lesson this year. There’s nothing I could have done better, nothing I should have done differently.
I’m proud of how I handled this year. I’m proud of how you handled this year. I’m proud of us. Collectively.
If we can do 2021 like this, but with less fear and more faith and belief in truth, I think we may well be on to something.
It’s December 22, 2020 and I’m sitting here contemplating the coming year.
If you’ve been a follower of this blog for any amount of time, you know I write a New Year letter to myself every year. 2020’s… boy, I don’t even know where to start. But, today is pre-Christmas, so I’ve got time to sort it.
Today, I just wanted to give you a quick shout out for this, the two week Holiday gambut so many of us run year after year. It’s gonna be weird, not gonna lie. It already IS weird. But this is life in the Darkest Pandemic Timeline.
We’re sitting at over 325k dead in the US alone, 1.7 million and counting worldwide. In most corners of the planet, we’re fighting for our lives and the lives of the people we know and love. None of this is normal.
I have friends who are reporting their local medical facilities are overwhelmed and on the verge of collapse. I have friends who are reporting their countries are going back into the highest level of lockdown possible. I have friends who have died, friends who have been extremely ill, friends who are protecting someone they love by avoiding them at all costs.
I feel you all. I feel it so hard. It’s difficult to be alone at the holidays, no matter if you’re religious or secular. I’m immunosuppressed, so trust me, I hear you. It’s been a rough fucking year.
But, even so, there’s hope. There’s a little bit of hope. Vaccines are going into arms as we speak, brought to us by scientists who have collaborated across all sorts of borders, with proper funding (for once), in the greatest meeting of minds that our generation will ever know.
The US government has finally gotten its act together to bring relief to millions of people who are still out of work due to the crisis, potentially avoiding collapsing the American economy, which would definitely have global impacts.
There’s a raging fucking fire burning, but I can hear the choppers full of water. Can you? You might have to listen really closely, but they’re coming. Hold on for dear life. One Zoom Christmas won’t hurt anybody. I promise. Zoom is awesome. Zoom is where it’s at.
I love you guys, and I’m so proud of you for being so brave. It won’t be long now. The cavalry’s coming, but we have to keep fighting until they get here. Wear your masks, be careful who you come into contact with, don’t lick any random doorknobs.
I promised I’d tell you how to find your people in the last blog, but when I did that, I had no idea what a monumental task it would be to put that into actual words. Then a friend of mine made a post on Facebook about loneliness (it was a helpful post for people feeling lonely, she’s a good egg). And although this blog is meant to be for your personal development, over time it’s also come to be very useful for people in their personal lives, too, so it kind of got me thinking.
Marketing yourself to the wrong people IS a lot like hanging out with people who don’t get you, which can be a source of loneliness. The constant miscommunication and disappointment that you’re having to explain your core essence to someone is the same whether personal or professional.
Even though we, as creatives, have a job that requires we learn to handle A LOT of rejection, it still stings. It still can generate professional setbacks if there are too many losses in a row. This is why it’s SO much easier to just find your people than to try to force yourself to be someone that you’re not. After all, this world is built on niches upon niches, there is absolutely someone who gets you out there, and almost certainly enough of those people to allow you to make a living.
After all, NO ONE is *that* special. Not really. We’re all just meaty bags of pulp at the end of the day.
Identifying Your Segment, Sector, Humans, or Fleshy Bags of Wonder
Before you can find the people who will hold on to you and understand the unique talents you possess, you’re gonna have to do some real soul-searching and, frankly, be painfully honest with yourself. I’m sorry, but this is the only way.
I’ve met a lot of young writers who really want to be a certain sort of writer: clever, sarcastic, witty, sardonic, intense, intellectual, the list is long, but who were really something entirely different. And there’s no sinnin’ in learning how to write like someone else, or to get better at networking with some kind of self-help reading, or to generally improve your skill base.
But there’s a difference between doing this and trying to overwrite who you are at your very core. It’s that heart that makes you you, and, as far as I’ve ever seen, that bit doesn’t really change a lot once you’re a fully mature person. This is where the honesty thing comes in, because you need to recognize who that is, what it is that makes your heart beat, and harness the fuck outta it.
Maybe you want to be a clever writer, but you’re really an analytical one. You know what? That’s ok, there are so many places you are amazingly useful and people who WANT a naturally analytical writer will fall all over themselves to find one who will embrace that. There are also places where your cheek is way too fucking much and you’ll get kicked to the curb for being sassy. I am both a highly analytical thinker and have a bad case of the sassypants, so I speak from experience here.
But you know who I want to be? Or who I used to want to be, before I realized that I could only be who I am anyway? I wanted to be one of those writers who sound so, so smart. They pull in quotes from philosophers I’ve never even heard of, they speak four languages fluently, they are all that is intellect and class. That’s who I used to want to be. That’s the round hole I used to try to pound myself into.
You know who I am? I’m a walking dad joke wrapped in rural folksisms. I’m a person with a great deal of practical knowledge, not nearly enough formal education, and no fear. I’m a force of nature, just like you, but I would have never realized this until I really took a long look at myself.
So, step one is to really understand who you are and what your skill set looks like. Because, as I’ve said so many times in the past, as writers, we’re not in competition with one another. The client will hire the best fit for what their brain eyeballs see. They hire the person who they think is the right person, there’s really not even a contest.
It’s like dating, really. Just because you go on a bunch of dates doesn’t mean those people are competing with one another. What you’re really doing is sizing them up to see if any of them are the right person to help build the future in your mind. Honestly, this whole blog came about because I was thinking about how much dating was just like sending out job inquiries. Every potential match is different and there’s a certain amount of self-understanding that’s required to figure out which ones are the best for your overall well-being.
Where Do Your People Live?
The biggest trick to finding your people is to figure out where they live. That mainly means in professional circles, so please don’t go knocking on doors asking around. There are personalities that exist in all realms, of course, but some tend to attract certain types, and the real trick is to find where your type hangs out.
This is kind of like an intro to audience segmentation, honestly. To find your people ask yourself this simple question: Who do you connect with easily? Women aged 25-40 with college educations? Blue collar men in the trades under age 50? Be specific and honest. The more specific you can get, the closer you’re going to get to their homes.
Social media is a great place to fish for people, but you can’t exactly do that when you’re looking for writing work. Clients tend to frown on you stalking them.
What you have to do, instead, is set out a lot of bait and see who comes swimming up. That bait needs to be all you, as you are, and nothing less. I’ve hired a lot of writers over the years and I can tell you, I rarely hire the ones that sound like carbon copies of one another. I hire the ones that have teeth and voice and have zero shits to give.
Your Opinion in a Relationship Matters, Too
So, this is where I’m gonna go into the actual actionable stuff. Like ya do. See, the whole point of casting the bait and reelin’ them in is so you can actually talk to these people and get a feel for what they’re about. In your professional life, social life, actual life, doesn’t even matter. It’s the same trick.
You may not be yet ready to walk up to every new person and treat them like you’ve known them all your life, but you can get a bead on them and whether or not a relationship with them will end up making you happier or more miserable, whether you’ll feel like a member of a team or increasingly isolated.
These are my top tips for feeling out strangers (not feeling up strangers, that’s against the law):
1. Be honest about who you are. In a job interview, you should obviously be a bit more formal than you would in your life life, but it’s still important to be honest about who you are, what your needs are, and how you believe those can be met. For example, when I meet with a potential client for the first time, I get the money talk out of the way right away. If they won’t pay me what I deserve, there’s no reason to waste anyone’s time. We’re not going to be compatible if they don’t value my work at the same level I do.
In the same vein, I also make sure they understand that I’m not a churn and burn content flipper, I don’t do fast content, I do good content, and the things I generate for them will make them money for years to come. That’s who I am. I’m slow sometimes, but I am always methodical. I am all about doing the job right. If they’re not for that, then it’s probably not going to be a good match because we simply don’t have the same values when it comes to work.
I have ethical lines in the sand I won’t cross. For example, I won’t overuse the fear button just for a sale; I’m more of a hopey-changey type. I’ll sell hope all fucking day long, man. But fear, that’s not me, even if that’s what the client thinks they need. I’ll walk before I support that shit, because I know who I am now.
2. Have some personality. Along with being honest about who you are in a professional way, you should be honest about how you work. What’s it like to be around you? Are you a miserable prat that no one likes? Well, maybe keep that under your hat… but if you’re someone like me who is super casual with everyone, well, you definitely need to get that out. Don’t lead with fart jokes, but don’t give the impression that you’ve got a stick up your ass, either, because that’s who that client will expect to meet time after time.
3. Interview the interviewer. Because of my background in journalism and sales, it’s second nature to me to ask a lot of questions and to size people up. This is admittedly not a skill that comes easily to a lot of people, but anyone can learn how to do it with some practice. A job interview, just like a first date, should go both ways. They ask you questions, you ask them questions, you have a proper conversation. If you get little red flags popping up all over the place, maybe you decide this one is best left alone, or, at very least, to be watched very carefully for signs of going toxic.
4. Allow yourself to say no. I’ll be apologizing for this forever, I’m afraid, because I used to say that writers should always say yes and never say no. Admittedly, the environment was a lot different back then, but that was still really miserable advice to offer. You should absolutely tell people no when you mean no. No, I won’t do this. No, this price isn’t gonna work. No, I have zero experience writing about cooking waffles for ducks. It’s ok to say no. It’s not a dirty word. It’s a limit on how many of your resources you’re willing or able to spend.
If the client isn’t giving you answers you like, say no. Maybe there’s a way you can work together differently, maybe there’s not, but you won’t know until you say no and offer a compromise. No, I don’t do DropBox. How do you feel about Google Drive? No, WordPerfect isn’t an appropriate word processor for the 2020s. I can send you anything that’s MS Word compatible. No, I won’t take any goddamn paper money, get that shit out of my face.
I’ve learned that how people respond to “no” says a whole lot more about them than how they respond to “yes.” With yes, they know they’re getting what they want and it’s all good. With no, well, it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe they’ll get what they want eventually, maybe not, but they won’t get their EXACT way, and there are some intolerable assholes who will out themselves quickly when you drop the N-word. No, I mean…
This is only really a basic primer on finding your people. What I know about this subject could fill a book, so if you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask here in the comments or via my FaceBook account, Waterworth Writes.
I used to give horrible advice when it came to clients. I really did, it’s not a lie, and I will totally own that. I used to say that you (as a writer) should be a chameleon, and as a chameleon, you should be able to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And while I still maintain that it’s an important strategy as you’re establishing your business and trying to keep food on the table, it’s not a recipe for longer term happiness.
And, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that happiness is really important. Like so much more important than I ever imagined. You can make happiness from nothing, but it’s a lot easier if you just find the people who help feed that happiness. This is a lesson I’ve taken from COVID and I want to pass it to you.
This goes for your personal life, your professional life, your recreational life… it goes for everything. If you’re surrounded by a lot of miserable cunts who couldn’t care less if you live or die, well, it’s hard to generate your own little island of joy. If you find yourself around people who are pretty pleasant and who kinda like, you know, get you, the whole process is a whole lot easier.
And that’s why I’ve come today to correct myself. Because you don’t need everybody to love you. You just need the right people to love you. This is meant to be for your writing life, but it also can be applied to your generally squishy people life.
We’re Not For Everyone
I have long known that I wasn’t for everybody. I knew I could be intense, I could get lost in my own head, I had a variety of interests that make most people’s eyes glaze over. I knew all of this about myself, but I also knew it was just kinda how it was. This is just who I am.
And while all of that stuff was true, there was a falsehood in there. One I wholly believed and it crippled me. I thought I was among a small minority of people who were this potentially unbearable. I thought I was rare and gifted in my level of general inability to be loved by others when I let it all hang out.
I was so, so stupidly wrong. I suffer terribly from Imposter Syndrome and I’ve written about it many times over the years (you can find blogs about it here, here, and here). It ebbs and flows, but this year has been a real fucking winner in that battle (that’s sarcasm). I think that’s where I got the idea that I was an insufferable taint of a human…
The truth is that NONE of us are for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, an accountant, a fucking trust fund hippie… doesn’t matter. You’re not for everyone. And that’s ok. It takes a lot of different types to make the world turn, and you can’t be everything for everybody. It’s just not possible.
Get some healthy expectations will you? GOSH!
… But We ARE Glorious Among Our Own
I’ve been a digital writer for most of a decade now and I’ve learned one ineffable truth. There’s only one person like you in the whole goddamn world and you’re super fucking glorious to someone.
I mean, I think you’re an asshole, but what does my opinion mean? Nothing.
There are niches upon niches upon niches of people in this world. Social media and digital marketing has driven this point home to me harder than you could possibly imagine. So what if the biker gangs of the world don’t want to hang with you? You’re more of a ship in a bottle type. Fuck ‘em.
This goes doubly when it comes to being a working writer. There are going to be clients who really don’t like you. I mean, some will absolutely loathe your very existence and be kind of salty that you get to use up oxygen. I’ve had those clients and they’re impossible to please because what they want is something that I cannot ever be. What they want is someone else, even though I’m alarmingly sexy, disarmingly talented, and remarkably fond of curse words and bad jokes.
You can’t be everything to everyone. I may have already said that, but I still mean it. I mean, we’re about 750 words into this thing, I have no idea what I was writing ten minutes ago…
Anyhoo. My point, if I have one, is that I was fucking wrong, you deserved better, and I failed you. So, let that freak flag fly, my friend. Be who you are. There’s no other motherfucker on his planet who is just like you.
Tips for Flying That Freak Flag
As per the usual format, I’m gonna give you some kind of advice that you can actually use. I’m good for more than useless platitudes.
Letting your freak flag fly is a delicate balance. You don’t want to be a walking cartoon, but you do want to let potential clients (and humans) know that you’re not a blank slate. Try this stuff:
1. When you write (or otherwise communicate), do it freely. Take a big, deep breath, and reach down to your gut stuff. Speak from your metaphorical diaphragm, let whatever’s rattling around in your brain bubble up, so long as it makes sense in the context you find yourself in.
For example, I may have a piece to write about making paint choices, since I still do home improvement content.
I once got an AI-generated Facebook status (from one of those many weird tools on the Internet) that said my status should be “In the Maldives, the water matches my hair.” I think about that a lot. Probably a lot more than is reasonable or sane.
Anyway. I got this message from the AI-bot and I think about it a lot, like I said.
If I were to have a piece on this year’s colors of the year (I might have that slated for today) and one of them is aqua, AND there was a photo of me with the article, I might talk about this very story. I might say, “This year’s color of the year from Sherman-Williams is an aqua called ‘Potatoes By Starlight.’” And then I might mention the time I got a message from an AI-bot about my hair matching the water in the Maldives.
I’ve not been to the Maldives to confirm this prophecy, but I have no doubt it’s accurate. In fact, there are days that’s the only thing I am pretty sure is true…
See how all that just kind of rolled out as a story? Well, that’s what communicating freely is about. Weave a little bit of yourself into everything. It doesn’t always come naturally, so I recommend practicing a lot.
2. Use the Words You Use. As writers, we’re sticklers about language. In fact, I think sometimes we’re far too stickler-ly about it. There’s no functional difference between a lot of words, like “often” and “regularly,” for example. Those words are basically the same, but they sound a lot different, and they give off different smells.
If you mean “regularly,” but you think the proper thing to do would be to use the word “often” to avoid the dreaded “-ly” ending, you’re trying way too hard. Use the words you use. Your words have power, even if you don’t like it. Your diction has meaning, purpose, and a place where it fits. It’s easier to find the fit than to force yourself to write in a way that is against your own nature.
As long as it’s the proper dialect for your project, use the word that you use naturally. Stop trying so damn hard to impress people who probably don’t give any shits about which way you go.
3. Remember It’s Ok to Have a Personality. You are who you are, and that’s actually pretty cool. There’s not another writer in the world just like you. In fact, I get more work because I’m voicey than because of anything else in my credentials. People love that they read me and hear ME when they do it. They know these words were shart from my own word hands and not from some potentially generic person that might not even be alive.
Inject your interests, your thoughts, your own expressions, anything you can squeeze into the requirements for your work. Trust me, you’ll come out so much better and your readership will eat it up.
Give your words life. Give your conversations life. This is the way.
You’re never going to be everybody’s Cup O’ Noodles. Some people are on low sodium diets, or they’re allergic to wheat, or they just really can’t stand that artificial chicken flavor. It’s ok. You’re SOMEONE’S Cup O’ Noodles, and what I’ve found in all these years is that it’s a LOT easier to find those people who jive with you rather than trying to stuff yourself into a mold where you’ll never really fit.
So go find your people, be they clients, coworkers, friends, or lovers. Find your people. You will never regret it. (We’ll talk about how to do that next week)
I’m writing this BEFORE Day 257 (it’s Wednesday, November 18, if you’re curious), so presumably, things are going to be more or less the same by the time it publishes. But, for the sake of … whatever… let’s assume all things have proceeded as you’d expect a week prior.
So, it’s Day 257 (for you, anyway) and there’s still a pandemic on. It’s still dodgy out there. Things are still uncertain, scary, awful, trying, stressful, exhausting, among other descriptors. The good news is that vaccine trials are starting to report in and they look pretty hopeful. The bad news is that Thanksgiving is coming up in the USA and it’s going to make everything a lot worse.
Oh, I know this is a blog about writing and the writing life, but let’s face it, we’re all living this life right now. This COVID life. And, what happens with that is affecting us in ways big and small, so we might as well just fucking talk about it and get it out front.
Thanksgiving is Doomed
I sat through a press conference an hour or so ago put on by my local health department. They were begging people to cancel Thanksgiving plans, to please mask, to please stay home if they’re sick. They were pleading, because although my city did reasonably well up until school reopened however it could, we’re failing hard now.
The no shits given attitude that has permeated the rural counties around us is starting to penetrate our walled city on a hill. (We aren’t really walled, but we are on a hill. That other bit was hyperbole. I know you’ve never been here, most people have never even heard of Springfield, Missouri.)
Those of us who are holding out and who have dwelt in the city on the hill for years generally have a bit of a different outlook than our relatives who live out in the wild of the rural counties. Not all of us, in either direction, but it’s pretty safe to say the city is far more liberal leaning than the counties. And those of us in the city are having to have hard conversations about this with our rural family.
Because masking and not, you know, spreading the plague about, has become such a political issue, it’s turning into a very us versus them situation, when it should really just be an us versus the fucking virus situation. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a crossroads because family meals are one of the few ways we still have to hold to our traditions, for we are a simple people with simple ways.
And there’s nothing wrong with simplicity. It’s lovely in its way. I came back from the bigger world because of the beauty of it. But just this once, we can’t be simple creatures. We have to be more than that.
How You Can Save Lives
Look, I don’t give two fucks if you don’t like the tea I’m spilling here, but if you’re a regular follower of this blog (and if you still are after how poorly I’ve been doing at updating this year, God bless you), I owe it to you to tell you the truth. I’m always devoted to it, you know this about me.
Staying home this year will save lives. Maybe not yours, maybe not your cousins’, but someone’s life. Because even if your family dodges a bullet, your having a normal holiday just encourages everyone else to do the same. And some of those people will not be so lucky. Some of those people will die gasping for their last breath while drowning in their own lungs.
Can you imagine what your friend’s grandmother would feel in her last moments? Or how terrified your pastor’s uncle will be when he’s isolated and alone in a COVID ward? Can you feel the deep loss that some families are going to experience because their dinner became a super spreader event?
If you’ve not given it any thought, now is the time. Now is your time to be bigger than politics or power grabs. Now is your moment to take a stand and save the people around you from themselves.
I believe in you. Do the right thing and stay home. Have a video call with your family. There’s room for a laptop at your dinner table. You can still share a meal without sharing a disease.
Welcome to Day 221 (give or take), things are still pretty dodgy here in the ol’ US of A, if we’re being totally honest with ourselves. We’ve got a full blown pandemic on, people are denying there’s a full blown pandemic on, which is simply amplifying said pandemic, and work for anybody in the business services sector is super touch and go.
Sure, the actual work is there. But the getting paid for said work? We’re on a day by day basis now, I think. Too many small businesses are going under too quickly, the rest are hiding in their bunkers with their cash or investing in advertising with a great deal of hope that they’ll be able to pay the bill when it comes.
It leaves us, the writers of the world, in a weird place. Do we finally cave to that lucrative career at 7-11? Do we trade in our keyboard for a bar code scanner and a good pair of shoes to join the growing army of people working to ensure shipments are going where they need to go?
Is Waterworth Writing?
Waterworth is writing.
I’ve spent weeks, even months, turning over the current economic trends and looking for any kind of insight into how to proceed. I’ve closed my digital marketing business (at least for now) and am working on building up my writing work to keep us in tea bags and beans. Not together.
It was a hard decision. Being niched in so deeply that all you do is make words is a blessing and a curse. In one hand, you know exactly what every day looks like, but on the other hand, you know exactly what every day looks like. It’s an endless sea of characters and spaces.
And that’s fine for some people. Some people need that. For me, it’s difficult to get started when I know that’s the sum of it. Me, the keyboard, the pounding, the music in my head. That’s it. It drones on and I sit here working in a void, hoping someone will be able to pay in these unprecedented times.
I hope, I write, I hope, I write. But some days hope is hard to come by, which makes the words hard to come by. Some days I just scream in my head for hours because the horror of life is too much. Some days I have to escape to the woods because the orders pour in all at once and I am no longer able to really deal with the pressure.
How Do We Move Forward?
It’s the other question I’ve been asking myself for months. How do we move through this and to the other side? Of course, that assumes there *IS* another side. I’m beginning to doubt this.
If this is life now, if pandemic world is the only world, what’s to become of us? What happens to the writers and creatives of the world who need a bit of hope to keep moving? Those of you who thrive on darkness should be sitting pretty right now. It takes both kinds to make the world go ’round.
I try to include an actionable element in these blogs, and for today, it’s about moving forward. How do we move forward? I’m not entirely sure because this is all so new and uncharted, but I think it goes something like this:
Remember that we offer a valuable skill that most people don’t possess. We communicate like champs, that’s what we’ve done for years, or decades, or since time immemorial. Before we can convince anyone else to believe in us, we have to believe in ourselves and what we have to offer.
Keep swimming. The currents are rough and there’s no telling where we’re headed, but we have to keep swimming. If you’ve never seen Finding Nemo, I mean, it’s just about motion. Sometimes motion is a waste of energy, but sinking to the bottom and getting stuck in the mud never gets anyone anywhere.
Know that every step is a step. On the same theme as keeping up the swimming, it’s important to remember that every step is a step forward. You don’t have to swim the English Channel to be swimming. Send out a few inquiry letters today. Rebuild your resume. Look over your samples. Every step is a step.
Remind your fellow writers they can do it. I know it sounds counter productive, but for me, at least, having someone else to cheer on helps me feed my inner cheerleader. I think to myself, “well, if I believe Amanda can do this, how hard is it for me to believe I can, too?” And so it reinforces my belief in our profession entirely.
Treat job hunting like a job. When the real estate market collapsed in 2007, I chose to bow out rather than to keep lead-chasing. I’m not doing that this time, even though our industry is threatened by so much uncertainty. I’m sticking this one out. And every day, I send out packages, I do something to make people remember I exist. Engage your social media, make a lot of noise (don’t be annoying, though, no one likes that), be seen. You know how to do it. We just have to be seen by more people than ever before.
I don’t have all the answers, guys. I’m not sure I even have some of them. But I do know that we can’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. I mean, I tried that and can confirm that it’s not horribly effective.
It can be really hard getting moving when there’s so much weight on you. But you’ll see. One word turns into three, three into ten, ten into a paragraph, then before you know it, you’re rolling again. The getting started is so hard, though. I know it is.
One word in front of the others, guys. And don’t forget to share your leads with one another. None of us have the same skill set and that means we’re not really in competition with one another. That potential client who passed on you will still pass on you if you tell your friend about the job. You either fit or you don’t, and it’s never anything personal.
Support your people. Support our people. We’re in dark days, indeed, but together we can work through it and not lose ourselves.
So, it’s been 200 days now since I initially went into coronavirus-related isolation.
Two hundred days.
Where have they gone? I wish I knew.
This year has been such an incredible waste of my professional life that I can’t begin to explain it. But in a way, it was a reawakening of my personal life. See, even though it’s been rocky with work and having the mental fortitude to do my job, these two hundred days have given me a new perspective.
Even though we work in a highly competitive, production based field, we deserve a few things. Breaks, sick days, time away from the computer. I’ve realized these things actually make my life more complete and my writing a lot less lopsided. It’s good stuff.
It’s Time for a Plan
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m about to hit my busiest time of the year, because not only am I servicing existing clients, I’m working up new marketing to try to entice bigger, better ones. I’m doing two jobs, basically, so I can keep going with the one I have.
I’m not complaining, it is what it is, but this is the busy season. We’ve walked into it. That means more wrist strain, more chair marks imprinted into our ample backsides, more sitting in front of blank pages and despairing.
This year, I’m going to try to make a better plan: less, but more. More time spent doing what I want. Less time spent worrying about what clients think. I’m going to bang the keys, deliver the deliverables, and let the worry go. It’s not good for anything, anyway.
I’m safe in my house, I can stop in the middle of my day to buy groceries (it’s not as busy at the market then), I can go for a walk with my dogs. I can escape, but I must not escape by staring and worrying. It’s time to push some life into those empty holes.
I don’t know what you’ve learned this year, or what changes you may have in mind for futures near and far, but I’d like to hear about them.
Our writing community has become a very different thing with so many parents having to help their kids with school while working from home (and the whole rest of the world discovering remote work!) and it’s going to be different for a long time to come. We might as well strategize together.
I’ve been meaning to update this blog. I have. But it was just a week ago that I wrote the last entry… wasn’t it?
As it turns out, it’s been 154 days.
154 days. I’ve never bothered to count that many days, I’ve never had a reason to. Sure, we count months and weeks and years, everybody does that, but DAYS. Who counts them? Who bothers?
It’s just a day, it’s almost nothing.
It’s just a day, it’s sometimes everything.
There have been 154 since I last put fingers to keys for you, my once adoring and attentive audience. Maybe I can give you a reason to be that again.
It’s just a day, it’s the day we begin again.
Ebbs and Flows
This year has been really fucking weird. I’m pretty sure no one on the planet, literally, would disagree with me. It’s been creating strange tides in my part of the industry, both because work seems to be a bit up and down and because I am absolutely a bit up and down.
At first, I was a lot more down than up. Things were very confusing. I wasn’t sure if I should move forward, step back or tread water. I wasn’t sure if I should quit entirely and give up forever. I wasn’t sure about much.
But as the days passed and the dead piled so deep the numbers no longer had any meaning, I stopped being so numb. I started being able to sleep again, even though I should have been in even more dire straights. I started to live again, among so much death.
And today, 154 days later, I’m adding something else to my day: you.
How’s It Going?
So how are things going for you? I am not at all confident that I can guess what the future will hold. I am not at all confident that anybody can. Things are bad, there’s no doubt.
But, I’m starting to get faint glimmers that things will get better.
There’s a lot we can’t control right now, more than most of us probably want to admit, really. But there’s a lot that we can control. And those are the things that it’s going to be critical to focus on for the remainder of this year.
School is starting and everyone is holding their breath. Colleges are already closing again because disease is spreading like a wildfire. It’s disheartening, there’s no doubt about it.
It also stands as a huge illustration of how success and failure really work.
Successes and Failures: Coronavirus Edition
Some days we go mad with anger and resentfulness because something awful has happened. Some days we zoom with enthusiasm because something wonderful seems to be just around the bend.
We move forward, we move backward. It may feel like we’re getting nowhere, but we’re inching ever onward. We’re learning, we’re growing, we’re striving for more. It’s all anyone can do, really, in the greater scheme of things.
And by anyone, I mean, a random person on the street… there are probably a few people who actually can do more, but we won’t talk about them here.
I’m Moving Forward, Too
A lot has happened in my life during the pandemic, too. I lost Annie, my wild and weird hound mix. I gained a new Favorite I never expected. And, I’ve made a major decision in my life: to return, at least in some small way, to local news.
It took me a long time to decide to do that. First, because I’ve been out of it for a while, but secondly because of how wildly unpredictable it can be. But it was my first love and it’s a part of me I can’t leave in the past.
So, keep your eyeballs glued here. I’ll be telling the stories from behind the stories that you may find completely delightful. Or not. I’m not your mom.