Imma go ahead and drop the TL;DR right here, right now:
- Time is your most precious commodity
- Work is hard, but writing is harder
- You are your best advocate
- Say “no” sometimes
There. Now you can get back to your daily lives.
Here’s the thing, y’all: My priorities have shifted drastically in the past year, in ways I neither anticipated nor found consistently comfortable. It’s changed how I approach being an author, a businessperson, and a 28-year-old woman living in one of the most amazing cities in the world.
That’s when it started, of course–when I moved to Chicago last year to take a bigger, better job at a tech company. Twelve months later, I don’t regret making that choice, not on any level, despite not loving my workload and having to be more conscientious with my budgeting (because city costs, yo). I don’t regret it…except when I remember that I have a this other, second, emotionally draining, psychologically fraught career as a published, contracted author.
I’m bad at that second career. To be good at the job that brought me to this city and pays all my bills, I have to be bad at authoring.
It’s the worst. No, really, and believe me when I say that I recognize the incredible privilege I have in being able to say that this situation–my complete and utter suckage at writing–is The Worst. It’s by no means even close to The Worst Thing Ever, not that I’ve experienced, not that others have experienced, but you guys. You guys. I’m a failing, flailing, writerly mess.
That shift in priorities I mentioned? I went from someone who had a day job only to subsidize my $1,000/year author income and the creative work I considered my Calling…to someone who has a day job because she rocks that day job, rocks it hard. Oh, and then writes books on the side, interspersed with a meager (but vital) social life, because, well, because it’s tough to let go of a dream.
Especially when, deep down, I know it’s a dream I’m not supposed to let go of in the first place, despite not even being able to pay one month’s rent with what I bring in annually from my several published titles. Writing is my therapy, and, frankly, I can’t afford a shrink–which is why I’ve had to, uh, Get It Together. And, you know, keep it together.
Now, I’m fairly certain there are several authors out there who’ve figured this sh*t out–that tightrope walk of a balancing act between the work that finances one’s lifestyle and the work that feeds one’s soul. I’m not one of those authors, unfortunately, but in the spirit of Getting It Together (where “it” equals “sh*t”), I want to share with you four of the best lessons I’ve learned from being a ball-breaking boss lady in a male-dominated industry of the corporate world, lessons I’m now adopting into my business of writing.
So. Here’s how I boss, like a lady.
Time is your most precious commodity.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve worked less than 50 hours in a given week at the office (and usually, I clock in closer to 60). It’s not my personal preference but not unexpected, with what I do at said office. At my previous gig, yeah, the 40-hour work week was a unicorn, but the difference now is in how that time is used.
I’m slightly ashamed to admit, in writing this, that I…probably didn’t work as hard as I could have at that old job. But lordy, I hustle in my current role. It’s a constant series of challenges I find I thrive on, but it means by the time I walk through my front door at the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I don’t want to stare at another computer screen. I want to turn my brain off. Sometimes, I want to do my laundry and clean my bathroom and read a book and meet a pal for drinks and call my mother and paint my nails. So I started doing those things, because every night it felt like my mind was on the verge of breaking. Not because something was wrong with my daily life, but because something was right–my job.
Without making a conscious choice, I diverted my hours away from writing. But then I would panic and turn on my computer and stare blankly, blindly at my manuscript. I would tap out a few hundred words and crawl into bed ready to cry. I hated every paragraph, but not because it was bad writing. I hated it all because I was tired as hell. As someone who is rather perpetually perky, I found this fatigue unconscionable.
So I made a change–a very recent change, which is still sort of falling into place even as I type this post: I now only write on weekends, starting Friday evening, and only in three-hour chunks broken up by meals, naps, and socializing. I gave myself permission to shut off my brain at night, Monday through Thursday. The first rule of corporate life is Maintain Your Calendar, and I realized I was struggling to write well because I wasn’t Maintaining My Calendar outside of the office. It’s a necessary change, albeit a humbling, frustrating one: Where I once churned out an 80,000-word novel in under two months, a first draft will now take me approximately four.
My roll, it is slowed, y’all. This change is the reason I had to beg my very patient editor and very understanding publisher for several extensions on CRAZED, and why we pushed the release date from October 2015 to January 2016. Time is truly the most precious commodity a body has, but I had to want more than to simply find time to write; I had to want to write productively. Once I stopped thinking about my productivity in a broad sense–what I was accomplishing in a week, a month–and narrowed it down to those three-hour sessions, I started breathing much easier.
Work is hard, but writing is harder.
A significant portion of my day job involves writing stuff, or telling other people they need to write stuff for me. If I’ve learned anything from making folks write that stuff, it’s that nothing terrifies a person so much as staring at a blank Microsoft Word® document. Doesn’t matter if she’s an engineer who’s written spec for countless marketing slicks, or if he’s a project manager with a dozen years of phased implementation plans under his belt–everyone fears the empty doc.
It took a while before this terror really pinged with me. My frustration with all of these individuals–Jesus Lord, why is my inbox so f*cking empty–reached peak saturation a few months ago, but I deflated like a balloon when I finally got a dude on the phone and asked him, well, why my inbox was so f*cking empty. And he looses this shaky breath and says, “I just don’t know what you want me to write.” (Despite me having given him very clear directions on several occasions.) “Can’t I tell you this stuff over the phone and…you write it?” So I let him dictate to me all of the information I needed, consolidated it into a clean write-up, and then sent it back to him. Immediately, he gives me a ring. “This is amazing. How did you do that?”
“Yeah, except I would never have come up with something like this.”
A-ha. A clue, Sherlock.
How often do we hear that authors are a special breed? Fellow writers, I know you’ve experienced some iteration of this statement, usually said with a slightly negative connotation. We’re introverts, we’re hermits, we’re nerds, we’re geeks, we’re super into expanding our cat family. But we also claim a singular talent that a majority of humankind cannot. We’re more than storytellers, more than wordsmiths–y’all, we make words our bitches, every time we sit down to stare at that blank document.
But what you’ve got to remember is (or what I’ve got to remember is) that it’s. Still. Hard. Writing, I mean. God, is there anything more daunting than staring down a blank document when you know you need to fill it with a 5,000-word chapter by the end of the night? (The answer is no. No, that is the most daunting of all the dauntings.) Sometimes I need to remind myself that just because I’ve got that talent, it doesn’t make the writing any less hard. The difference is, when faced with that white void, authors turn to the scaffolding inside us, climb on, and begin construction anew. Each new chapter is a room, our authorial skills the load-bearing wall.
Writing–creating–is one of the most difficult pursuits an individual can undertake. It’s a feat to write a novel, no doubt, but when most folks would hit their hustling wall and throw up their hands, we hustle harder. Breaking through that wall is magical, exhilarating; I want every writer, aspiring or established, to experience that magic. Because writing is harder, and you’re the boss lady ballsy enough to take on that blank document and kick its ass into submission.
You are your best advocate.
When I was 17 and breaking up with my first real boyfriend, my dad went out and bought me a newly published book entitled He’s Just Not That Into You. (Note: this is how my father shows his children he loves them–he gives us books. Obviously, my father is brilliant.) Years later, an ensemble romantic comedy film of the same name was made, which I pretend does not exist. Why? Because of that ridiculous last-scene line between Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long about her no longer being the rule, but the exception.
Okay, yeah, romantic. And I respect the sentiment behind it–I mean, how many romance novels are based solely on this premise? (Answer: most of them.) And, yes, in theory, I’d love to someday be someone’s exception. That said, it is absolutely, one-hundred-percent the wrong approach to take in your career, no matter what that career is.
It’s all part of the hustle, right? You are the rule until you’re the exception…and even when you think you’re the exception, you’re still probably the rule. So you’ve got to believe in your business–no matter if that business is corporate or writing or whatever–that you’re always the rule. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work your butt off. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to strive, to challenge yourself, to climb. But it does mean that you shouldn’t wait for, or depend upon, someone noticing that you wrote a really excellent novel and offering you representation, a publishing deal, royalty checks for tens of thousands.
Those things exist–representation by an agent who believes wholeheartedly in your work, multi-book contracts with major publishers, advances and payments that more than cover your monthly rent–but they are the exception, when you look at just how many titles are pushed onto the market each month. You deserve more than to simply hope you’ll achieve this Someday (capitalization intended). The mentality of keeping your head down, quietly and regularly putting forth your best work, being an unassuming friendly presence on social media…none of that pushes someone to notice and offer. All that behavior does is ensure you don’t piss anyone off.
If you want something, ask for it. Tell them, directly, why your work is better than the vast majority. Give them a financial reason to want to take a chance on you. Show them not only your track record, but what your plans are for the foreseeable future. Explain how you’ve invested in yourself, to illustrate why they should, in turn, invest in you.
If there’s an agent or an editor out there you’d love to work with, and on whom you’ve done your research, start networking. In business, putting yourself in someone’s orbit (not in a creeper-y way, of course) pays dividends. Don’t hesitate to sell yourself, not just your book–and yes, I know that is sometimes outside of your comfort zone, but you are ultimately what that agent/editor is buying–you and your brain and your energy and your creative drive and your business plan and all of the books you could ever possibly think to write in your lifetime, and not just this one story in this singular instance for a limited print run.
That one story is probably the rule, but you–yes, you–have the potential to be the exception.
I swear I’m not crazy. And I realize that you might not want to believe me, when you look at my booklist and you see that I’m a mostly digital author, and that I’m not signed with an agent at this time, and that (as mentioned earlier) I only bring in about a grand a year in author income. But that is in part because I haven’t taken my own advice–at least, not as an author. In my corporate career, if I want something, I fight for it. I argue, I persuade, I show them how much value I bring to their company, and the success I’ve found (and continue to find) is because I’m not sitting around waiting for notice or an offer.
Deep down, I believe that I’m the exception, but I always work like I’m the rule, and I remember there’s no shame in reminding people how exception-like I really am. Don’t stand in your own way, pals. You are the best advocate you’ll ever have–and, sometimes, the only advocate.
Say “no” sometimes.
I cried at my desk last week. Like, my office desk, out in the middle of the seventh floor, in front of my colleagues. One of my closest work buddies looked at me in that typical man-panic before patting me awkwardly in an effort to soothe, but I’d hit my wall, you see? I can count on one hand the times I’ve truly sobbed in the workplace, and I’ve always made it to the restroom before emotion overwhelmed me. Until last week.
The situation(s) leading to this particular less-than-professional embarrassment are irrelevant, but needless to say, the proverbial straw shattering my hump was being put in an impossible position, told to complete an unreasonable task in an unrealistic amount of time. “I’ll do my best,” I told this VIP. Then, immediately, I followed with the lie, “Yes, yes, I’ll do it,” hung up, and promptly burst into tears.
Looking at my buddy, blinking through puffy eyes, I sniffled, “Why did I tell him yes? I already know I can’t do this.” It was so dumb. And so, 47 minutes later, when I was supposed to have completed this task, I emailed the VIP everything I’d been able to whip together and wrote the following: Given the time constraint and limited resource availability, it is not possible for the team to provide you with XYZ as requested.
If I’d said “no,” I probably would have escaped to a stall in the ladies’ before leaking eye fluids. I probably wouldn’t have eaten half a tub of cookie dough ice cream for dinner that night. I probably would have felt relieved. Hell, I probably would have felt effing empowered. And while I’d like to take a deeper dive into the psychology of why I didn’t say it–believe me, there are decades of gendered socialization buried in last week’s lack of no-ing–it’s more important to remind myself that saying “no” is as much a part of success as saying “yes.”
No, I won’t be able to get that manuscript draft to you today.
No, I don’t want to be on social media right now.
No, I can’t afford to just give my books away for free.
But all that no-ing sets you up for positive future action. No, I won’t be able to get that manuscript draft to you today…because I’ve scrapped the last third to early revisions, so that I can deliver a stronger final product! No, I don’t want to be on social media right now…because stepping away from Twitter gives me time to experience the real-life social networking opportunities around me! No, I can’t afford to just give my books away for free…because my writing is my business, and a business needs investment in order to grow!
It’s worth noting that the ability to say “no”–and have someone else respect that “no”–is a privilege. Being able to toss up your hands, back away, and take some time to get yourself together is a luxury. So I tend to hoard my “no”-ing. Learning not only how to say “no” but when to say it is, to date, my toughest personal challenge, be it at work, for writing, or in life. That said, I think it’s the challenge I need most to conquer.
Boss Lady 101
Look, I could fill a book (har har) on the things I’ve learned working for a couple of Fortune 500 companies, and how those things are so weirdly applicable to the business of being a romance author–it’s a crazy amount of crossover, for serious. But these four little nuggets of…well, they’re not precisely wisdom…but I sincerely hope they serve as critical affirmations of what it takes to not only Get It Together, but Keep It Together.