Writer’s Winter Break Class Prep

So today I’m going to share with you the short piece I put together for the Writer’s Winter Break retreat/conference I’m attending later this week.

(Assuming the weather doesn’t keep me from flying out on Wednesday. It has been snowing constantly since Friday afternoon.)

Here’s the context: for the class I’ll be taking with Meg Wolitzer, I’ve been asked to bring one page of my own writing, one page of another author’s writing, and up to two pages addressing an issue in my own work.

I’m bringing the first page of The Biographies of Ordinary People, the first page of Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers (which I reviewed on this blog a few years ago), and the following statement:

I wrote The Biographies of Ordinary People in 2015 and 2016, with funding support from Patreon; after the novel was finished, I queried it and was told that, while the writing was lovely and the characters compelling, it was too quiet to be marketable. One agent said “I can work with you to develop something that might be more appealing to a large audience, or you can keep what you have as an art book that will appeal to a select few.”

I chose art book, published and marketed and toured it myself, and the people who loved it loved it.

Then I told myself I needed to learn how to write something that might be more appealing to a large audience.

In the past two years, I outlined one speculative fiction novel about Mars that went nowhere, drafted a second speculative fiction novel about parallel universes that I immediately trunked, and got most of the way through the draft of a cozy mystery with a Millennial-aged amateur detective (she’s got student loans and a social media obsession). My writing is no longer as lovely and my characters are no longer as compelling; I’m writing for “the market” and it’s not working.

I don’t think this is necessarily a genre issue; I read avidly and love all genres. One of the reasons I picked Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers as my published-writing sample was because it is either a literary fiction or a science fiction novel (I’ve talked to indie booksellers who didn’t know where to shelve it) and I would love to write something like that.

The other reason I picked The Wanderers is because the opening chapter does what I was trying to do with the opening chapter of Biographies — introduce us to the world of a woman who lives mostly in her head, who has issues being honest with the people in front of her and is about to leave everything she’s ever known — but it’s tighter and more satisfying and plotty in a way that Biographies is not. 

You turn the first page of The Wanderers wondering why Boone has called this meeting, what he’s going to ask Helen to do, and whether she’ll agree to do it. (To be fair, you also turn that first page feeling pretty sure that she’ll agree to do it. This is how stories work, after all.)

You turn the first page of Biographies remembering what it was like to live in a tiny apartment in the Pacific Northwest in 1989. That was actually what I was going for, and why the people who appreciated this book did in fact appreciate it, but… it’s not enough for what I do next. 

And I don’t know what that’s going to be, but I want it to be better than what I’m writing now.

I’ll be back from the retreat next Monday, and I’ll let you know how it goes. ❤️

(also there will still be a guest post on Wednesday)

(don’t miss the guest post)

What I Learned at FinCon

So FinCon!

How did it go, you ask? (Or, at least, I assume you’re asking.)

The short answer is that I enjoyed my first FinCon so much that I have already registered for the second one. It didn’t hurt that they were combining the early registration discount with a discount for Grant Sabatier’s Financial Freedom Summit next May, which, like, of course I want to go to that, Grant’s book Financial Freedom literally changed my life.

The longer answer is that I left FinCon with a big question that is both annoying and intriguing: what big career goal should I be chasing next?

The reason this question is annoying is because, like, did you read my most recent financial update? The career goal I’m chasing right now is more of this. How long can I maintain a balanced freelance schedule, writing for clients I enjoy working with, and bringing in between $7,000 and $13,000 a month?

I mean, I’ve barely had my current level of success as a freelancer. Just since this spring, really.*

But people are asking me when I’m going to go after a column in a Major Publication or when I’m going to write My Book (and no, they don’t mean the novel I’m currently drafting, they mean my Money Book), and part of me is like but what I have now is working so well and the other part is but should I put together a book proposal?

I think the real question is where I want to be in five years, and so far my answer has been “very close to financially independent, so I can continue to craft the work and the life and the creative career that I want.”

Though I figure I’m going to end up writing that Money Book (or, more likely, a Freelancing+Money Book) eventually, sooooooooo WHY NOT TRY TO SQUEEZE IT IN RIGHT NOW I GUESS?

And then the math part of my brain is like “let’s figure out which of these paths actually gets you to your goal of being financially independent in just under seven years, like the calculators say will happen if you keep working like you’ve been doing, and the Money Book path is the one that’s probably the least likely to get you there, considering what you know about both the traditional and the self-publication industries.”

Basically, if I spent two years writing and editing and publishing and promoting a Money Book, I could realistically expect to earn around $5K pretax, before expenses. (Sure, it could be a runaway bestseller, but it probably won’t be.)

I’d still be freelancing throughout, assumedly, but I’d be taking time out of the highest-earning point of my career to work on a project with significantly lower financial returns.

But I’d also have a book, which might open up new opportunities.

So I haven’t decided what to do about this yet, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I have decided, however, that I need to figure out how to get on the FinCon speaker/panel list for 2020. I want to specifically craft a seminar on What to Do When You’re Not Early Career Anymore, or Mid-Career Freelance Advice, or something like that—because much of what I saw at FinCon was pitched towards the entry-level. (The exception was Lisa Rowan’s excellent tutorial on how to get people to speak honestly about their finances in interviews.)

And then, I suppose, I can tell them what I did between FinCon 2019 and FinCon 2020.

After I figure it out. ❤️




*It is interesting how much I’ve done—and how much my career has changed—since The Billfold shut down, and how some people at FinCon still thought of me as “the editor of The Billfold,” or “the former editor of the former Billfold,” and I went in knowing that would be part of the conversation, and when I got quoted in the Washington Post I was identified as “the freelance writer and editor of the now-defunct website the Billfold,” and… none of that was easy, but it was not unexpected, and next year I expect the conversations will be different.

Thought of the Day: Knowing Your Point of View

I just got back from this morning’s FinCon keynote, presented by Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and I won’t go into the whole thing right now because it was very interesting (and very revealing re: trends, I cannot tell you how many times Ramit advocated for the value of travel and spending money on travel, which is… well, you know my thoughts on that).

But I will touch briefly on one part of the keynote, which had to do with “if you want to stand out in a crowded field of financial influencers, you need a specific point of view.”

Arguably, I’m already standing out in a crowded field of financial writers—though what I do doesn’t fall under the “influencer” label per se. I’m not fashionable, in any sense of the word; when I got to meet Ramit at the book signing afterwards, I didn’t even get a photo for the ‘gram or whatever (A DECISION I ALREADY REGRET, I KNOW YOU HAVE ASKED FOR MORE PHOTOS).

But when he asked all of us to reflect on our point of view, aka the lens through which we saw the world, my first thought was “I’m a realist who is also an optimist,” but that was way super generic.

Then I remembered one of my favorite posts from this blog: Your Choices Limit Your Choices (And That’s a Good Thing).

That’s a coherent, specific statement that manages to cover exactly what I mean by “I’m a realist who is also an optimist.” It also clarifies that I see the world as a place where we can make choices about what we do, while acknowledging that we can’t choose everything.

Because if we follow Ramit’s other piece of advice, and consider quadrupling our spending on whatever brings us the most joy, well… you either have to figure out how to earn more, where to cut back, or whether it’s worth pulling that money out of your savings and giving future you slightly fewer choices. ❤️

Thought of the Day: The View From My Hotel Room

This is less of a thought than a photo—although I did think, when I took this photo, that DC is still one of the most architecturally interesting cities out there. Gorgeous buildings in so many different styles, and no skyscrapers because of the Height of Buildings Act in 1910, so you can always see the sky.

I used to live in DC—very near this hotel, in fact—and one of the reasons I wanted to live here was because of views like this. ❤️

Thought of the Day: When Your Flight Gets Canceled

So I was supposed to fly out to DC this morning for FinCon, but a bunch of flights in and out of Chicago were canceled due to weather, including my own.

The online system found another flight for me that would leave in the afternoon, connect through Charlotte, and arrive in DC at 8 p.m., which… um… I know that Charlotte is just outside of Hurricane Dorian’s path, but it’s still not the direction I’d like to be flying this evening. Plus, some flights in and out of Charlotte have already been canceled and/or delayed, which could have ripple effects on my flights and connections.

I had the option to change my flights myself through the American Airlines app, so I looked at what was available and chose a different afternoon flight connecting through Chicago and arriving in DC at 8.

But again… I know how this works. When morning flights are canceled, afternoon flights get delayed, and the odds of my arriving in DC at, like, midnight and/or spending the night in Chicago were decent, if not high.

And then I was like “well, if I left on Wednesday morning instead I’d still make it to FinCon before it officially got started, plus I’d get an entire uninterrupted workday today instead of trying to squeeze in work between seminars tomorrow, plus I’d get to sleep in my own bed tonight and go to bed at a reasonable hour instead of not knowing where I’d be sleeping or when, plus I could make my usual BodyPump class this afternoon.”

I had to call American Airlines customer service to get the flight changed to Wednesday (the app wouldn’t let me do it), but they had no problem making the change for free.

So here are my thoughts for the day!

  1. If your morning flight gets canceled and your schedule/commitments/finances are flexible, pick tomorrow’s morning flight over today’s evening one. (Yes, maybe you’re a night owl who doesn’t mind late flights, and yes, maybe you don’t want to pay for another night in a hotel if you’re making this decision on the return leg—but you might end up spending another night in a hotel anyway, if the delays continue to cascade.)
  2. An uninterrupted day of work is worth much more than an interrupted one. If they had told me it would cost $200 to switch my flight to Wednesday, I would have paid it—I had already made that decision before I made the call. (Of course, that’s because it would be a tax-deductible business expense in my case, and I need to rack up a few more of those before the end of the year. But the last time one of my flights got canceled I ended up paying more than $200 for the hotel room that I had to book late at night after staring at flight delays all afternoon, soooooooooo it would have been totally worth it. For me.)

So back to work for me, and back to the airport tomorrow! ❤️

I’ll Be at FinCon Next Week

Wanted to let you all know that I’ll be at FinCon (the convention for “money media nerds”) next week—and after asking myself “do I have time to post a new post every day while also doing the convention and doing some freelance writing during the convention,” I have decided that I can fit in a very very short post every day.

(Probably not much longer than this one, which is the length it is because I’m trying to get a bunch of other stuff done before I leave for FinCon.)

So expect your “where I got published/open thread” post tomorrow, then no post on Labor Day, and then three short “thoughts from FinCon” posts followed by the Friday “where I got published/open thread.”

Monday, September 9 will be the monthly Financial Update (plus a FinCon cost roundup), and then we’ll be back to the usual blogging schedule from there.

Also: I am actively looking for guest posts for September, so if you haven’t pitched me yet, NOW IS THE TIME. ❤️

Seattle readers: I’ll be at Readerfest THIS SATURDAY

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

I wanted to give you an update about Readerfest, Seattle’s newest book festival! Here are the deets:

  • Saturday, September 9
  • 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • The Brig & Amphitheater at Magnuson Park in Seattle (6344 NE 74th Street, Seattle, WA 98115)
  • Authors, musicians, storytellers, theater, crafts, vendors, AND PROBABLY MORE
  • FREE

Here are the deets specific to me:

  • At noon, I’ll be part of the “What Makes a Story ‘Literary’ Fiction” panel, with authors Nancy Kress and Spencer Ellsworth.
  • At 1 p.m., I’ll be at the Big Booksigning—so come get your book signed, or if you already have your book signed, just come say hey!
  • At 3 p.m., I’ll be part of the “My Path to Publication” panel, with former Seattle youth poet laureate Angel Gardner and author Robyn Bennis.

In between those panels, I’ll probably… be listening to other panels? Jammin’ to the music? USING THE TOILET? (Definitely that last one.) If you see me around, feel free to introduce yourself. I am ready to hang and chat.

The best thing I wrote in the past week… or more like the past month… was this big project with Reviews.com in which I researched over 100 meal replacement shakes—and taste-tested 13 of them—in order to determine The Best Meal Replacement Shake of 2017. During this process, I… um… fell in love with Huel. (I KNOW, I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD BE A SHAKE PERSON.)

I could go into detail about my food habits (I like eating the same thing every day) and my digestive system (see “USING THE TOILET,” above) but all I need to say is that if you come to Readerfest you’ll probably see me drinking Huel for lunch.

The best thing I read in the past week was Elle Beau’s #Poonique Story, a 15-chapter saga about getting recruited by a MLM, going all in, and getting out. It’s honest, hilarious, and provides an inside look at the manipulative techniques MLMs use to keep their salespeople invested both emotionally and financially.

Thanks for reading. ❤️