Three Articles on the Creative Practice

Catapult: Watchword: A Writer Should Keep the Future in Mind

It is hard to be straightforward. It’s hard to be yourself. I don’t know why, but both statements are true. “The artist,” I believe, represents a mode of living best examined both from the outside, as an object, and from within, as a living, daily, and often frustrating practice—with the goal of becoming more straightforward, and being yourself.

I love everything about this Mensah Demary essay. Go read it twice.

Verabee: How the Sausage Gets Made

I thought it might be fun to show how I paint a page of my book from start to finish. I know I’m always curious about how artists work, maybe you are too.

Hat tip to Lucy Bellwood for sharing this link on Twitter, which is how I found it. (Also, I’m just now realizing that Verabee is Vera Brosgol, whom I met at a creative retreat in Juneau, Alaska a few years ago. Her book Leave Me Alone! is great, trust me.)

LitHub: On the Daily Rituals of Joan Didion, Patti Smith, and More

In 2005, Didion told an interviewer that she typically spends “most of the day working on a piece not actually putting anything on paper, just sitting there, trying to form a coherent idea and then maybe something will come to me about five in the afternoon and then I’ll work for a couple of hours and get three or four sentences, maybe a paragraph.” The slowness of the writing process stems, Didion has said, from the sheer difficulty of thinking clearly. “Writing,” she said in 2011, “forces you to think.”

I can’t be the only person who finds these kinds of interviews fascinating, if not inspiring. ❤️

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How to Create the Systems/Structure in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at the idea that it takes effort to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day you get to ride Space Mountain — that is, if you want to enjoy the ride on a day when you’re not tired or hungover or feeling ill from too many park snacks or whatever, you need to start planning for the mood you want to have in advance.

This is easier said than done, I know. (Especially when you’re trying to create a structure that will increase the likelihood that a whole family will be in a Space Mountain mood on the day they ride Space Mountain. You can’t control other people’s feelings or desires or needs, but you can theoretically institute an early bedtime… in an unfamiliar hotel room where you all have to sleep in the same space and some people might be too excited to sleep and you all might be jetlagged and the air conditioner might be making noise and so on and so on. Best of luck.)

So let’s add on another layer — this time from an article by Kira M. Newman that first published at Greater Good and then ran on the Washington Post. The piece is titled Why You Never Seem to Have Enough Time, but since you can probably come up with a list of reasons why you never seem to have enough time on your own, I’m going to focus on the part of the article that looks at how to align disparate goals:

Why does passion seem to free up our time? The researchers who observed this phenomenon wanted to discover what was really going on.

They found a clue when they asked employees about how conflicted or aligned their goals were. Employees lacking in passion said that their goals were competing with each other, fighting for time and attention; for example, the drive to do well at work might make it hard to get home for dinner with the family. But passionate employees were different: They saw their goals as supporting each other. After all, healthy home cooking and family bonding might give them more energy and motivation tomorrow.

This is the type of example that’ll immediately devolve into a comment fight that goes something like “if I can’t get home in time for dinner then how am I supposed to do the healthy home cooking thing” followed by “I batch-cook and freeze meals on the weekend” and then by “I can’t (or don’t want) to spend my weekends cooking” and then by “there are websites that teach you how to make a month’s worth of meals in a day,” and then a reminder that some people live in food deserts which makes that kind of prepwork difficult, so now that I’ve had that argument, you all don’t have to.

Instead, focus in on the part where the “passionate” people (not a huge fan of that word but okay) are trying to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day they get to ride Space Mountain.

Once again, the typical comment: “yay I get to cook my own food so I have energy to give my labor to capitalism,” and yes, I totally get that, so let’s extend that last sentence a little. Healthy home cooking and family bonding might give these employees more energy and motivation both at work and with their families.

Or at work, with their families, and at their creative practice.

You know where I’m going with this, after all. 😉

Now that I’ve set up this idea of planning for the experiences you want to have and aligning disparate goals to support these experiences, I’m ready to tell you how I structure that planning and alignment in my own life.

I mean, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Because I have to build the suspense just a little. ❤️

How to Create the Systems/Structure in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 1 (of Many)

Last week, I wrote a short post about how we know when we’re doing our best work.

Over the next week (or so), I want to write several posts about how to create the systems and/or structure in which we can do our best work — because although I absolutely agree with the whole “putting your butt in the seat is 90 percent of doing THE WORK” thing, it’s that other 10 percent that can transform THE WORK into your BEST WORK.

(Yes, I know that not all creative work involves a butt in a seat, don’t @ me.)

I’m going to kick this discussion off with something I heard on a recent episode of the Rope Drop Radio podcast, since I currently have Walt Disney World on the brain.

Also, it’s super-relevant.

In Episode 148, Bad Disney Advice, Derek Sasman and Doug McKnight explain why the whole “don’t get your FastPasses 60 days in advance because you don’t know what mood you’ll be in when you visit the parks” thing is terrible advice:

DOUG: I’ll tell you what mood you’re going to be in, in each park, 60 days out. You’re going to be in the Pandora mood, you’re going to be in the Slinky Dog mood, you’re going to be in the Space Mountain mood, what other mood am I missing? Test Track, Soarin’ mood? Come on, folks. Maybe a Frozen mood? I don’t even know you, and I know what mood you’re in when you’re going to walk around the park. But then you’re going to be miserable —

DEREK: Because you’re going to be waiting in line for two hours [without a FastPass].

DOUG: Have fun with that.

I agree with the gist of this — like, most people who visit WDW are going to want to ride one of the big headliner rides, and getting a FastPass in advance will help with that — but I want to look more closely at the word mood.

Because, as anyone who’s ever done a family vacation (or any kind of vacation) knows, you can spend six months thinking about how much fun it’ll be to ride Space Mountain and then, on the day of, you’ll be in the tired mood or the hungover mood or the my feet hurt mood or the if my dear loved one complains or whines one more time I’m going to scream mood.

So what you actually have to plan for, in addition to the FastPass, is how to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day you’re going to ride Space Mountain.*

I’d say “what does this have to do with creating your BEST WORK,” but I’m pretty sure you’ve already put it together. Planning to work on your project at a certain time, getting your butt in that seat, is only half of it.

The other half is doing your best to come to that seat in the right mood.

This is why you see many creative types say things like “I don’t check the news or social media until I’ve completed my work session, because I don’t want to see something that might turn my thoughts away from THE WORK.”

Why Tara K. Shepersky’s writing ritual included an early-morning walk before she sat down at her QWERTY.

Why I don’t do email until 10 a.m.

Those are just some of the systems and structures people put into place to help them do their BEST WORK — but, as this post title suggests, they aren’t the only ones.

We’ll discuss more tomorrow. ❤️

*Take this advice from someone who had Blue Bayou reservations and then ate this nasty Galactic Grill** meal that made her feel so gross that, two hours later, she wasn’t in a Blue Bayou mood. HUGE REGRETS. 

**Do not make the mistake of walking up to the Galactic Grill and thinking “yay, a place with no line!”

Two Articles on Never Being Too Old to Go After What You Want

Longreads: Is it ever too late to pursue a dream?

In September 2017, Stoddard enrolled as a freshman at Algonquin College, one of Canada’s largest public colleges. Not long after, the accounting major joined the basketball team. But Stoddard wasn’t just acting on a whim, a loosely conceived midlife crisis outfitted in size 14 Air Jordan 8s: Stoddard, who is known around campus as “Old Man Dan,” has serious hoop dreams. “You can call it lunacy,” he told me over tea with honey at Tim Hortons on campus. “I’m not saying I’ll make the NBA or go play overseas, but I want to get to a point where I can do it.”

Can a 39-year-old play college basketball? Absolutely.

LitHub: When 80 Famous Writers Published Their First (and Last) Books

In compiling these figures, I found it interesting to see how the length of a writer’s publishing career didn’t necessarily have any bearing on their current level of fame. Just look at the ten writers with the shortest number of years spent publishing: Shirley Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Roberto Bolaño, Toni Cade Bambara, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Sylvia Plath, Nella Larsen. You wouldn’t exactly call any of these people “minor” or “forgotten.”

It doesn’t matter when you start doing THE WORK. It doesn’t even matter whether you can devote your whole life or just part of your life to THE WORK. All that matters is that you do THE WORK you want to do.

Whether it’s writing or singing or playing basketball. ❤️

Two Articles and One Podcast on the Media We Choose to Consume

LitHub: The 25 Authors Who’ve Made the Most Money in the Past Decade

Some takeaways: 1. Franchises make money, and so do adaptations, but if you want to be a literary millionaire, you really have to write a) for children or b) a mystery (or romance) that strikes fear (or lust) in the hearts of the world. 2. It’s hard to beat James Patterson, but a true phenomenon (Harry PotterFifty Shades of Grey can do it). 3. Some years were good for writers in general, others were (relatively) lean across the board. A full accounting follows. Good luck, aspiring writers.

Maybe you really should be going after the “older woman younger man humorous romance where the younger man has a really cute dog” niche.

The Millions: Women and Small Publishers Dominate 2019 Man Booker International Prize Longlist

The prize honors the best translated fiction from around the world and splits the £50,00 prize evenly between authors and translators. This year, the longlist features authors from 12 countries and books translated from nine languages; it is dominated by women and independent publishers.

This is the first year in a while where I haven’t read any of the books on the Man Booker longlist. Do you have any recommendations?

The Indicator From Planet Money: The Economy Inside Your Head

LEIGH CALDWELL: American adults are now spending 11 hours a day consuming media. And media is the ultimate immaterial good. It’s something that really plays within your head. You might — it’s triggered by something outside, but really, all of the benefit that you get, all the enjoyment you get is inside your own mind.

What about the enjoyment you get while consuming media WITH FRIENDS? Is that inside your own mind, or outside of it?

What about when media moves you to laughter or tears? Or when you talk to the characters on the screen because they’re about to go into the abandoned house full of zombies and THEY REALLY SHOULDN’T GO INTO THE ABANDONED HOUSE FULL OF ZOMBIES? Is it “just inside your head” when your head is making sounds that come out of your head?

For that matter, why isn’t a live concert or sports game something you only enjoy “inside your mind,” since the sitting-and-watching principle is the same?

And what about actual sports? You feel the running and jumping and stuff in your body, but you enjoy it in your mind — because most of the time your body is like wow this is a lot of work you’re asking me to do right now and your brain is like wheeeeeendorphins!!!!!

Anyway I enjoyed this podcast episode but I have a LOT OF QUESTIONS about its “inside your mind” assumptions, PLEASE DISCUSS. ❤️

Why Hank and John Green Argue We Should “Diversify Our Identities” (and Why I Agree)

I love the Dear Hank and John podcast, to the point where it gets bumped to the top of my podcast queue every time it releases. I haven’t listened to today’s episode yet, but I will this evening — and in the meantime I wanted to share a quote from last Monday’s episode, The Queen’s Dream Job, featuring John Green in conversation with Danielle Bainbridge of PBS’s Origin of Everything.

The quote comes about 15 minutes into the podcast, when John and Danielle answer a listener’s question about getting hired for a dream job. “How can I think of this as just another opportunity,” the listener asks, “and not the opportunity that I’d better not waste? If it doesn’t work out, how do I not see it as it’s all downhill from here?

In response, John Green describes the various emotions he went through after learning that his first novel, Looking for Alaska, would be published by Dutton Books — specifically his worry that he would never be able to write (or publish) another novel, and his subsequent realization that “If I hadn’t gotten to write another novel, I would have been able to do other things.”

John continues:

“I think one of the problems we have is that we often think, like, when we talk about what are you going to be when you grow up or what are you going to do with your life we imagine that you’re only going to be one thing or you’re only going to do one thing, and of course life isn’t like that. You end up doing a lot of things, and some of them you do professionally and some of them you don’t do professionally, but, you have to kind of… my brother always says that you have to diversify your identity. You have to see yourself not only as one thing. If you see yourself just as a YouTuber and your YouTube influence declines, it’s, like, catastrophic to your sense of self-worth.

“But if you’re able to diversify your identity, and understand that you’re also a brother and a father and a son and lots of other things, an AFC Wimbledon fan and whatever else, it becomes less of a devastation. I really do believe that.”

I agree with John — and, by association, Hank — but I’d also suggest that you have some identities that aren’t dependent on your relationship to someone else.

Right now, for example, I am a blogger and an author and a teacher and a freelance writer and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend and a member of a choir, and all of these aspects of my identity are balanced in such a way that if one of them disappears (say, the one where I ran a LLC that should end up getting legally closed this week) I am not unmoored.

But this set of identities requires readers and clients and family members and friends and so on. They are dependent on how I am viewed by other people.

My identity as a pianist does not.

Yes, in the past I have worked as an accompanist and a lounge pianist and a church organist, but the thing about playing the piano is you can do it without being observed or evaluated and it still counts.

You can do it just for yourself.*

Same with biking or journaling or reading or knitting or dozens of other activities that serve as play when the rest of your life is going well and as anchors when the rest of your life isn’t. (You already know how much time I put in at the piano as The Billfold LLC was shutting down.)

Remember: play is a gift you give yourself; performance is a gift you give an audience.

So make sure at least one of your identities doesn’t require an audience to exist — and then you’ll exist too, even when when no one is watching. ❤️

*You can even play certain masterworks in ways you know the composer probably never intended, with intense shifts in dynamic and tempo, just because that’s how you want to do it and there’s no piano teacher hanging over your shoulder to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

THE LIFE Takes Work

So… this morning I was updating my post subheds using techniques I learned from Jane Friedman’s Magical Marketing Trifecta webinar, and I accidentally updated and published the first draft of my post THE LIFE Takes Work.

I didn’t end up using this draft because I thought it was too much about me and not enough about takeaways for the reader, but since my accidentally clicking “publish” meant it went out to all my email subscribers and RSS subscribers, might as well share it with everybody.

Have fun comparing and contrasting the two versions, and feel free to let me know which one you like better. ❤️

I remember exactly where I was (in my dorm room, in college) when I realized that sending a birthday card was not a single-step task.

First, you needed a birthday card. A blank card could do in a pinch, or a thank-you card with the words “thank you” crossed out and the words “happy birthday” written instead, if you were the kind of person who could pull that off; you could even fold a piece of printer paper in quarters and draw your own card, but you’d still need an envelope to put it in.

Then you needed to write the message.

Then you needed to address the card, which — if you didn’t have the address immediately at hand — could become a step of its own. You might have to dig your address book out of the back of a desk drawer (after searching two other desk drawers first, also, I went to college in the year 2000 when people still used address books). You might have to call your mom to get the address, which meant setting aside an hour for the chat that would come afterwards.

Then you needed to put a stamp on the card. If you were the kind of think-ahead person who bought stamps in books, you might already have one; if not, you’d have to go to the post office or to a place that sold stamps (and although drugstores and grocery stores do occasionally sell stamps, they don’t advertise it; you have to go to the special customer service desk and ask).

Then you needed to find a mailbox. I don’t remember exactly where the mailboxes were in college, but when I lived in Seattle the nearest blue mailbox was a half-mile away (which meant that mailing a letter involved a 20-minute walk; also no, there wasn’t any place to leave letters in my janky dump of an apartment) and the nearest post office was two miles away. (There were a few third-party “Sip and Ship” services that were closer, but there are some things you can only do at a USPS.)

So sending a birthday card, if you were willing to pay extra to buy the card at the post office, and if you had the address close at hand so you could write it on a scrap of paper before you left for the post office, could take a single 40-minute trip. (The extra minutes are for waiting in line at the post office to buy the stamp, or book of stamps if you’re feeling flush.)

But it would more likely be three individual errands: the procuring of the card, the writing and addressing, the stamping and mailing.

I currently have a box of 50 blank cards in assorted designs (though there are probably only 30ish cards left), but I’ve used up my most recent book of stamps. So instead of being able to write the cards and drop them off in the mail slot at my current (non-janky) apartment, I’ll need to block off 30-40 minutes to go to the post office.

I could order stamps online, but when I tried putting them in my cart and checking out, the USPS said I needed to create an account first, and I instinctively noped out of the tab even though I’m sure creating yet another account for yet another retailer would be fine, just fine.

Except it’s supposed to rain all day today, and tomorrow we’re scheduled for 40 mph winds. (I should mention that I don’t own a car; I walk, bike, bus, and take occasional rideshares.)

Which means I might need to order the stamps online after all.

I’m telling you this story because I, like most of the internet I follow, read Anne Helen Petersen’s How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation this weekend — and in my case I didn’t identify with it quite as much as everyone else on the internet seemed to.

Like, I get that something like “mailing a birthday card” is a task that your brain thinks should take five minutes, so you keep putting it off until the next day because it’ll only take five minutes, except when you finally think “I should write that birthday card” you realize you don’t even have a birthday card to write on, and then you think about the amount of steps it requires to get the card and the stamps and the rest of it and it feels overwhelming so you don’t do it.

I get that.

And part of me wants to say “well, if you implement a system like David Allen’s Getting Things Done then you can identify the birthday card task as three discrete errands and schedule them as such, ask me how I know,” but I also know that isn’t what Petersen is really writing about here.

She’s writing about the fact that work and life both take work, and that sometimes the work of work and the work of life are so much work that there isn’t any time left over for the actual life.

I’m not capitalizing work or life in these instances because neither are THE WORK or THE LIFE as defined in last Friday’s post — that is, Petersen’s not writing about the work we’d like to be doing or the life we’d like to be living, she’s writing about the work and life we’re stuck with, partially due to economic crises and late-stage capitalism and the increase in shadow work and smartphones keeping us tethered to our jobs and so on and so forth.

I actually liked Petersen’s post on how she wrote the burnout piece a lot better than the burnout piece itself, btw; it was more personal, and included details like (paraphrased) “maybe the reason why we hate running errands is because they take longer than they used to, thanks to companies cutting staff and forcing us to wait in ever-longer lines, etc. etc. etc.”

But the response to the burnout piece made me want to write about the idea that THE LIFE, and this time I mean the capitalized ideal LIFE you’d like to have, where there’s time to do the work you need to do (capitalized or not) and manage your responsibilities without feeling constantly burned out, takes work to create.

In fact, you could call THE LIFE a creative project of its own.

***

The first time I thought seriously about the life I wanted, and what I needed to do to create that life, was after grad school. I finished undergrad in 2004, moved to Minneapolis for an internship that fell through, and became a telemarketer. When I couldn’t stand telemarketing anymore I started temping at an insurance agency, which paid $13 an hour instead of $9 but was a much worse job; my two major tasks were stuffing envelopes in a silent, windowless room and, four times a day, pushing a heavy cart of copy paper around the office to refill the copy machines. This was before earbuds were a thing, so I kept my brain busy by reciting poems and song lyrics and chunks of text from my favorite books in my head, and decided — whether accurately or not — that the only way out of this type of work was to go back to school.

Like Petersen, I went into grad school with the idea that I would become an academic; I graduated knowing that it was unlikely I would ever become one (or at least not the tenure-track kind), and so I asked one of my professors what kind of job I could get, with my skills, that paid $50,000 a year.

He told me to become an executive assistant.

This is all the uninteresting part of the story, except maybe the part where I committed myself to earning at least $50,000 a year. That was the first step in my decision to create my own life, and maybe it was the most important one (money plays such a huge role in both THE WORK and THE LIFE, after all), but as soon as I got that $50K+ admin job (after a move to Washington DC, a stint on my sister’s air mattress, and a temp job as a receptionist) I took two more steps towards building THE LIFE I wanted:

  1. I told myself I would only rent an apartment that was two miles away from where I worked, so I could walk to work and back every day. This was because a few years prior I had done some housesitting for a professor who lived two miles away from campus, and that morning/evening walk made me happier than just about anything.
  2. I also told myself I wanted to be near an Ashtanga yoga studio, because I had studied yoga off-and-on in the past but now I wanted to start studying seriously.*

At this point I need to acknowledge just how much luck was involved here.** It was August 2007, so we had recovered (mostly) from the dot-com crisis and had yet to fall into the Great Recession. I would not have gotten a starting salary of over $50K if I had been hired six months later. Without that salary, I would probably not have gotten my apartment, though I might have been able to find another one within the desired two-mile radius. There’s a lot that went right for reasons out of my control.

Still, I went into this next phase of my life with deliberate intention, which I’d never really done before. I knew the work I was doing as an executive assistant wasn’t THE WORK I wanted to do with my life. But I had a few key components of THE LIFE I wanted to live, including THE MONEY, all of which probably prevented the burnout that might have come otherwise.

***

Since then, I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to get closer to THE WORK I want to do, THE LIFE I want to live, and THE MONEY I need to fund it all. I’ve made a lot of specific, active choices in the process, some of which led me closer to what I wanted and some of which turned out to be not what I wanted at all.

One of those choices was to get really into time management (in the Getting Things Done sense), which is why I have a box of 50 blank cards at my desk and a list of tasks I need to complete, by day, scheduled a month in advance. Homemaking takes work too, after all.***

Other choices involved — well, I think I’ll save some of those choices for later this week, because this is long enough (and because I want you to have a reason to come back tomorrow, mwah ha ha).

I will note that choosing what you want your life to be like includes some very difficult decisions; in the past year I made the choice to move closer to my parents, for example, which has given me the chance to know my parents better and take advantage of living in an affordable, artsy, bike-friendly Midwestern city, but which also separated me from several close friends, tied me to a particular location, and set up the shape of what my life might look like in the future (a larger caretaking component, probably). I also recently made a choice to take on a creative project that did in fact lead me very close to burnout, and when I realized what that choice had done to my life I had to finish my commitment to the project and then accept that I could no longer take on projects like that; I had too many responsibilities and long-term goals and physical needs for sleep and etc. that took priority.

Plus — and I figure you’re going to put this together on your own at some point, so I might as well make it super-clear — I have chosen and embraced spinsterhood, which gives me certain freedoms (such as the freedom to relocate to an affordable Midwestern city without considering how it might affect a partner or children).

But I’m not telling you all of this because I think your life should be like mine. I’m telling you this because I think making choices about THE LIFE you want takes work, and it’s really easy to find yourself in the life you have instead, and it’s that disparity, as much as the birthday cards and the post office and the rest of it, that causes burnout.

Also money, because money is always involved.

Also there’s a question of whether there’s always a choice you can make, in the “even if your life is nothing like THE LIFE you want, you can still recite poetry in your head at your terrible job and by doing so keep a bit of your own soul” sense, and I will note that during that particular job I did feel relatively soulless, and maybe the only reason I’m writing this now is because I got lucky.****

But more on this tomorrow. ❤️

*I did find a studio, and I’ve kept up my Ashtanga practice ever since.

**Privilege was also involved, of course. In 2007 I was both privileged and ordinary, in the sense that I had advantages that many people didn’t but people with my advantages were a dime a dozen.

***I was once on this panel where someone asked me how I found the time to do all of the creative work I get done, and I explained that I went at it the other way around — I set aside the time to do all of the life-stuff that needs doing (including rest/recharge time) so I could give the rest of the time to my creative work. It was at the point where I said “and the dishes take 20 minutes every night, so subtract 20 minutes for that…” that the audience started laughing.

****And privileged.

Three Articles on BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

The Cut: What I Bought With My Oprah’s Book Club Money

Five months before my fourth book, An American Marriage, was published, I was driving in my car late in the evening and I got a call from Oprah. At first I thought it was the books editor at O magazine. I’ve written for them in the past, and she told me she had a little review or something that needed to be done, so I was expecting her call. Oprah played a trick on me! I picked up the phone and she said, “Hey, girl. This is Oprah.”

I loved Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage, and I love this piece in which she explains how it did (and didn’t) change her life financially.

Reedsy: The 15 Best Books on Writing: A Reading List for Novelists

1. On Writing by Stephen King

Perhaps the most-cited book on this list, On Writing is part-memoir, part-masterclass from one of America’s leading authors. Come for the vivid accounts of his childhood — and his extended “lost weekend” of drinking and drugs in the 1980s. Stay for the specific, actionable advice on what it takes to become an author. Among the many craft-based tips are King’s expert takes on plot, story, character, and more.

From the book: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

I still haven’t read On Writing. I just put a library hold on a copy.

The Morning News: The 2019 Tournament of Books

Here’s how it works. Throughout the year, we gather, read, and assess the works of fiction we think would make worthy tournament competitors. In December we present our findings in the form of a “long list.” We then cull it to a final shortlist of 16 or so books. (Some years we expand the list beyond the core 16 to include an extra set of two or more books that compete in a pre-tournament play-in match.)

Yes, it’s March Madness for books. As far as I know, there aren’t groups of people forming office pools to bet on the brackets, but if I were putting money somewhere, it would be on Tommy Orange’s There There.

Three Articles About Building a Creative Career

Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about this week:

Afford Anything: Give Me Money! How to Find Freelance Work

Trying to build a business when your financial footing is shaky is like trying to hang beautiful wallpaper in a house with a rotting foundation.

First you need to pour a solid foundation. Then you can take on the higher-level, long-term projects.

Step 1: If you’re not earning enough to pay the bills, use the Pepsi Method. Grab as many projects as you can, even though they don’t pay you what you’re worth.

Step 2: Do this until you’re earning enough to meet your minimum monthly bills.

Step 3: Switch to the Versace Method for all your additional work.

Step 4: With each Versace-level project you start, fire at least one Pepsi-level client.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Afford Anything blog? ❤️❤️❤️

Whatever: The Limits of My Knowledge, Professionally (and Otherwise)

It’s fine for creative people to go through stages in their career, where the knowledge useful to an earlier stage falls away and knowledge useful to their current stage takes its place. Time happens, whether we prefer it to or not. Experience likewise happens. My experience is valid, and the information I have can still be useful, but all of it exists in the context of this is who I am and where I am now in my professional life. Additionally, it should be viewed in the context of survivorship bias — which is to say, I have made it to a particular place in my career, and while I can offer you information based on my experience to tell you how I got here, it might be more useful to examine the careers of people who haven’t landed where I have, despite having similar starting points and early career arcs.

John Scalzi explains the stages writers go through as they build their careers, and why he might no longer be able to give entry-level career advice.

Kameron Hurley: Why Do So Many Artists Suck at Business? Because Businesses Like It That Way

Back before I’d published any books, but after I’d gone to Clarion, I’d heard about a meet up for mid-career writers that new writers weren’t invited to. I felt that was horseshit. Surely I, as a newer writer, would need to know mid-career things?

But now I get it. Most writers three books, eight books, twenty books in, have far different concerns and priorities and most of all, experience, than writers who haven’t been through the grinder. Newer writers want to talk craft. Pros are talking about their first or third career reboot, shitty sales, and how to get out of noncompete clauses and shitty contract language.

This piece is about the business of writing, but it’s also about going through various career stages and what you prioritize during each stage. (KIND OF LIKE THE OTHER TWO PIECES I PICKED FOR TODAY, DO WE SEE A THEME HERE?)

It also makes me think of Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, because it’s been 44 days since I last referenced The Magicians on this blog and that is at least 30 days too long.

Specifically, the part where hedge witches get star tattoos to represent the level of magic they have accomplished, so they’ll know instantly whether another witch is at their level.

Because when you’re an early-career writer/freelancer/hedge witch, it’s easy to find peers. As your career continues to grow, the number of people at your level starts to shrink.

Which — I mean, you can always use what you know to help other people get to your level, and those types of interactions can be both emotionally and socially fulfilling for both parties.

But sometimes you just want to go to a bar with people who have the same number of stars as you, and those kinds of spaces aren’t always easy to find.