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.

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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.

Three Articles About Doing THE WORK

I’m going to start doing Sunday link roundups, first because I wrote “daily posts” at the top of my blog, not “weekdaily,” and second because I look forward to the Seattle Review of Books’ Sunday Post all week because they always share a collection of thought-provoking articles that I might not have found on my own, so… why not share a few thought-provoking articles myself?

Make a Living Writing: Stop Whining: How to Crush Your Freelance Writing Excuses

Not a huge fan of the headline (it’s not as much “whining” as it is “time-management issues” and/or “not understanding how to break a freelance project into easily-completed components”), but Linda Formichelli’s advice is exactly what I’d give an early-career freelancer:

Q: What if you get bored with an assignment and don’t feel like writing?

Formichelli: I’ve heard that kind of writing excuse from freelancers a lot. “I don’t feel like doing it.” “I’m not in the mood.” “I’m not inspired.” “I’m tired.” “I’m sick.”

If any one of these things makes you want to put off writing, don’t just do nothing. Choose tasks you can work on based on the amount of time and energy you have. If you have a half an hour and you’re really tired , maybe you update your website, or file your expenses, or just do something that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower.

But if you find that you always have the time and energy for research or posting on social media, and you never seem to have the time and actually writing, you know you’re in writing excuse territory. If you want to learn more about how to deal with this problem, go read this blog post by Mark Manson: F*** Your Feelings. It’s perfect advice for this situation.

Afford Anything: The Incredible Power of 10x Thinking

I have become obsessed with Paula Pant’s Afford Anything blog, because personal finance and the way you can use money and skills to shape the life you want will always be my jam.

Also, the tagline is “You can afford anything… but not everything. What’s it gonna be?” which means it’s all about making choices, and that’s my peanut butter.

This particular “making choices” post focuses on taking actions that support your goals:

Better questions yield better answers. So ask yourself: How can I separate what’s worthwhile vs. a waste of time?

Try this:

Step #1: Write a five-year goal.  For example:
* I earn $45,000 per year in passive income.
* I run a company with $1 million in annual revenue.
* I manage a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter with capacity for 25 dogs and 40 cats.

Four tips to help you craft this vision:
* Write in the present tense — “I earn,” “I manage,” “I run.”
* Focus your goal into one sentence.
* Shoot for specific numbers.
* Read this aloud daily (in present tense). Your mind will believe its a foregone conclusion.

Step #2: Judge every activity by a single question: “Is [X] the most important step I can take towards my 5-year goal?”

Elizabeth Strout: How I Paid the Bills While I Wrote the Book

This interview is part of a Medium series titled Day Job, in which Mike Gardner asks various authors how they earned the money to support their writing (especially during the early stages of their career). If you aren’t a Medium member, you’ll only be able to read three of these pieces before you get hit by the Medium paywall; I was a particular fan of the Elizabeth Strout interview because she and I made nearly identical educational decisions for nearly identical reasons:

Medium: Did you study writing in college?

Elizabeth Strout: I studied theater. It was like writing, because I was always trying to be another person. But I never took a creative writing class. I can’t say anything more than my intuition was “it will not be good for me to sit among my peers and hear what they have to say about my work and to say things about their work.” But I was always writing. There was one professor who knew that, and he was the chairman of the English department. He believed in me. I would show him my stories, and when I had a paper due for his class, he would give me a short story instead. It was our secret.

If you have other articles worth reading that you’d like to share, leave ’em in the comments!