Other People’s Useful Advice for being a Successful Writer (While Also Being a Decent Human Being)

While I like to share what bits of advice I give my own brain from time to time, a lot of what I live by was handed out to me by others, over the years. I still read advice sites like Lifehacker, and various writing advice blogs, specifically to find new ideas and new ways of looking at problems, in hopes they’ll become solved problems. Here’s a collection of recent links to words of wisdom you may need to hear yourself:

Never Be Ashamed of Your Side Hustle by Chelsea Fagan at Financial Diet – In short, we all have to make money. The less support you have from others, or the less time/position you’ve got in your current job, the more likely you are to need a side gig in order to make ends meet. This does not make you less of a person! Though you sometimes need to hide details of your other gig, there’s no reason to be ashamed that you have one.

For example: I have a full-time day job with a institution that provides mental health services. I’m comfortable saying that because I rarely discuss (online) what city I live in, much less which branch of the government I work for, so knowing a little about what I do probably won’t lead you to my patients. But I’m pleased to have this job, which is difficult at times but serves the community in a meaningful way, and also covers my rent. Because of this job, I’m able to focus on the freelance editing work that finds me, rather than spending non-earning time on finding enough clients. Plus, as I get promotions and make more money, and my living situation changes this fall, I’ll eventually be able to work less as a freelancer and more as a writer. Once that happens, I’ll be making most of my income from my day job, and it will basically be what makes it possible for me to be a writer, rather than someone who needs a spouse, parents, roommates, or a trust fund in order to survive while I pursue my dreams.

At SF Signal, Josh Vogt talks about “Playing Well with Other Worlds” – In short, when you’re hired/allowed to write tie in novels, shared world novels, games, or anything else where you’re writing your own story in a universe created by someone else, you need to remember that it does not belong to you. You absolutely must leave your ego at the door and work collaboratively with your editor, or you a) are an idiot, and b) won’t work for them/in this town again.

Why Fitspiration is Killing Your Motivation” by Coach Lawrence at Shredded by Science – Okay, maybe you don’t need to read the whole thing, which does go in depth about the “fitness lifestyle” vs “fitness competition”, but if you look at it as an analogy for writing, then it’s both relevant and valuable. (His science and psychology is on point.) Lawrence says:

Intrinsic motivation is defined by Professor Edward L. Deci as “initiating an activity for its own sake because it is interesting and satisfying in itself, as opposed to doing an activity to obtain an external goal (extrinsic motivation).”

One of the main models describing intrinsic motivation is called Self-Determination Theory, which describes three innate, universal needs that all humans are intrinsically motivated to fulfil:

Competence – humans are driven to control things, and experience “mastery”.
Relatedness – humans are driven to interact with, care for and be connected to other humans.
Autonomy – the ability for a human to make their own decisions.
Intrinsic motivation is awesome – it’s self-sustaining, incredibly powerful and usually very long-lasting. However, it generally takes a long time to develop, and as a result some extrinsic motivation is important when trying to alter habits and behaviours – especially at the beginning.

and goes on to show that #fitspiration is a combination of envy and punishment. All right people, now do we see the comparisons between punishing ourselves to attain someone else’s body, and punishing ourselves to attain someone else’s body of work? DROP AND GIVE ME FIFTY, MAGGOTS!

Ahem. Sorry about that.

Over at NPR, Anya Kamenetz discusses the problem of naming in Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them? In short – there are a whole range of skills which are necessary for success. For us, this means success as writers as well as human beings. She lists some of the broad categories of skills which you should be cultivating in addition to “maths” and “how to fluff your word count”.

In the comments, please share any articles you would recommend!

No More Bad Landlord (a followup)

As most of you know, last year — actually, the last couple of years, from March 2011 to October 2014 — I lived in a rented room, and then an apartment, belonging to one bad landlord. Over the final year of my tenancy, the situation progressed from “poor” to “slumlord”, as I dealt with harassment, threats, rats, black mold, a refrigerator that only worked sometimes, and eventually, a carbon monoxide leak. (Well. More than one.) Last fall, I got out and into a much better place.

But I wasn’t finished dealing with Mr. Bad Landlord. Even though he told my current landlord, during the application process, that I was “conscientious” and they’d be lucky to have me, he went behind my back and sued me in small claims court. I mean that literally: he actually listed my residence as the old apartment, and never actually served me with paperwork, so I only found out about it by chance. (Thankfully, the post office here forwards things quickly.) He claimed unpaid rent and fees for construction — not related to my moving out, since I did a great job of cleaning, but more importantly, took pictures. No, he actually tried to charge me for the cost of making the apartment safe from rats, and for fixing the CO2 leak in the basement. Please note: I did not live in the basement. After everything I’d already been through, this felt like another another load of bricks for me to shoulder. I had no lawyer, no money to hire one, and only my brain to save me.

Luckily, I like my brain. It’s pretty good for stuff. Over the last year, I’d learned a lot about the local and state residential rental statutes. I researched some more, and found that while his chances of winning were basically predicated on me not knowing he’d even filed, I had a great chance to proving him wrong, and a decent one of getting some money in return. So, I showed up to court. I came armed with all of my notes, emails, pictures, and a request for countersuit; rent abatement damages, for all of the things I paid for but never got (like a safe living environment). Bad landlord took one look at me and my binder of truth, and rescheduled the court date.

So, I showed up again. Again, he rescheduled.

And again.

And again.

Finally, two weeks ago, we arrived in court… and he dropped the case. I waited to say anything until I had in my hands the official letter from court which states the case was “closed and settled”. (Sure, okay, I’ll take that.) I got it today.

I could go after him in court myself, try to get back some of what I should never have had to pay, but at this point, I’m content to let it go. My life is good now, and getting better. Being definitely finished with all of that madness is a huge weight off my shoulders, which should help me focus on the things I’d rather spend my energy on. I’m finally at a point in my life where me and mine are ready to take a step forward, toward the future — something I didn’t feel right doing, until I had this and other financial/responsibility issues sorted out — and I don’t need old drama dragging me down. I am done with this chapter of my life.

Done. I always did love that word.

Sunday, Briefly

Feeling: Like my old self again. AT LAST.

Doing: Catching up on all the things. Working overtime at the day job, teaching my Plotting workshop, and editing for freelance clients. Plus, started costumes for DragonCon…

Not sleeping enough still, but it’s getting better.

Listening to: Cassandra Wilson, BB King (may he rest in peace), Sinatra.

Watching: I saw…

Daawat-e-Ishq (2014) Indian film somewhat (self-referentially) in the Bollywood style. Cute, happy, gorgeous colors and a focus on food/cooking. At the same time, it dissects the very serious problem of arranged marriages, dowry, and independence. Bonus for looking at it not just as a problem for women, but also for men: young men from “better ” households are essentially auctioned off to the highest bidder — the girl whose family can pay the most in dowry (generally presented as “wedding gifts”, though agreed to in advance between the parents). Change comes as much from women saying “I deserve to be valued for who I am” as men saying “I am not an object to be purchased or sold; I deserve love, too”. 5/5*

Nightcrawler (2014) Props to Jake Gyllenhaal for throwing himself into the character; if you’ve never been in the presence of an extreme narcissist — not the charming kind, but the disaffected, disassociated, bordering on sociopath without realizing most everyone around them sees that is something is just “not right” — then this movie might be worth watching. I turned it off three times, kept turning it back on and then giving up again. The main character was simply and purely unlikable. He was a bad guy. He was cold, violent, a thief and a liar. He didn’t bother trying to pretend otherwise; he pursued what he wanted, as if he deserved it no matter who he hurt in the process of getting it. He had, potentially, a few redeeming qualities that you could maybe make out if you squint hard enough, but nothing to show that he was capable of any sort of arc. By the halfway point it in the movie it seemed clear that he was going to be the catalyst for bad things happening to other people, and if he did suffer any consequences, it wouldn’t change him, only be seen as another setback, until he could steal another chance at his American Dream. (I blame the writing/directing here, not the actors, who gave good performances in the limited way they were allowed.) 2/5*

Wayward Pines (ep 1) A dull, Twin Peaks-flavored show without an original bone in its body. Don’t bother with this one unless you’ve never ever seen or read anything about a small town that isn’t what it appears to be in the first ten seconds. (Though this show is obvious from about ten seconds in.) 1/5*

Maggie (2015) Subtle, understated, purposefully anticlimactic (to be discussed further) story about a dying girl in a zombie-infected America. Notable for its stars, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gives an excellent performance, even given that I was somewhat distracted by someone else cracking up over the incongruity of a couple of Arnold’s lines. I will probably review this in depth later, depending on whether Don gets there first. (You want his review, honestly. It will have a lot more sarcasm.) Worth watching, so go watch it. 5/5*

Reading: NOTHIN’ BUT BLUE SKIES. Non fiction, reading based on Don’s recommendation. Go read his review here.

Writing: … Nothing, lately. I wish, but there’s too much else to do. Some day soon, I will be able to afford to cut down on freelance work and set aside time for my own writing again. Until then, I’m sneaking in bits of writing time wherever I can, and the last few weeks, there hasn’t been an opportunity. I’m hoping to finish revising a story I wrote a couple of months ago, this week, if the day job isn’t too hectic. (Half our admin staff is out for training, I’ve had to give up lunch breaks and am working late on top of it, so it will just depend on how much paperwork gets dropped on my desk before everyone else returns.)

What are you into lately?

The Unbearable Loudness of Being

I’m six weeks out from my stapedectomy. I’m mostly recovered: I still cough a little, each day, and my voice goes out sometimes, but I’m no longer fighting off a crippling infection. I don’t have the distracting superhero hearing from last month. In fact, there are times I still have to ask, “I’m sorry, what?” when it’s too loud at work, when there’s too much background noise at the right pitch to blur what I’m trying to hear. I can tell that I am hearing a lot more though, and how deaf I am in my left ear is now very apparent. (I used to think of it as my “good” ear.) I’ll need to get the same surgery on that side, if I want my hearing to improve more, and right now, I completely plan to do that. I see no real reason not to.

But. I’m not sleeping.

I have days where I sleep some – restless and uneven, but it’s four or five hours of sleep, added all up. Those days I wake up feeling like I am back on track! I dive into my to-do list, I make big strides, I am a rockstar at work, and I plan out the next day as if I will have an equal ability to move forward.

Then, it falls apart. I wake up dozens of times, at every little noise I wasn’t able to hear before. I’m a zombie the next day, shuffling after brains that are always a step out of reach. I get nothing done; I hate myself for slacking, I let other people down, and the pile of things I need to do looms over me. It sucks.

My audiologist says this is normal, that I will adjust soon, that it is harder for me because I’d compensated and gotten settled into a life profoundly empty of sound. I’d taken for granted that I could roll over onto one side and have total silence while I slept. That’s gone now, and no amount of tossing and turning will get me back to that sweet spot of blissful nothingness.

Which, I will eventually figure out.

Until then, I’m looking into ear plugs. I’m working as hard as I can whenever I can, and I’m apologizing to anyone whose emails are unanswered or who need me to be at my most functional best on the days I’m just not. (If that’s you, I am sorry. Please bear with me.)

File this under “all the things I wish I knew before my surgery so I could have planned for it”.

Stay Gorgeous

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This little note is one my desk at my dayjob, written for me by one of my nurses. It says “It’s a power thing. Stay gorgeous.” She wrote it for me after a tough day of dealing with convicted sex offenders, one of whom ran into me outside of work, got overly friendly, and then came in this week to see if he could make me talk to him. We were talking about the difficulty in interacting with people who seek out ways in which to exert power over you; in this case, trying to turn you into a sexual victim. Do we dress down even further? (I already dress extremely conservatively at work, with very little exposed skin, including ankle-length skirts or pants, long sleeves, hair down, and high collars. This isn’t because I’m shy — it’s because I have a lot of lovely ink and I don’t want to affect the perception of my job performance.) Do we stop wearing makeup? Do we avoid eye contact? Is there anything that we can do to minimize the potential of being targeted? Should we?

The answer is no. It’s a hard “no” to accept though, since we’re taught to defend against people who want to take something from us, and part of defense is (we’re told) minimizing the chance that they’ll single you out. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t talk about your life online. Don’t go out. Stay quiet. Stay hidden, and maybe they will leave you alone and target someone else… Do that for long enough, and you end up losing your whole life to a washed-out existence, afraid of what might happen. That some other people might want to hurt you to get what they want is like the potential of an airplane to fall out of the sky while you’re on it — chances are, it won’t happen, and you can’t control it if it does. Avoid shoddy airlines, ones with track records of failing to maintain their planes, just like you should avoid people who are clearly uninterested in much beyond their own needs, but stop flying? Not if that’s what you need to get you where you want to go.

You can’t help that people will be selfish. You can’t help that some people are broken, or hurting, or sick, or maybe never learned that empathy means not just recognizing how someone else feels, but caring about it. You can’t help that if you live your life to its fullest, if you’re brilliant and talented and driven and kind and loving, there will be some people who get jealous, or angry; who want to stop you from succeeding because they haven’t, or who want to take what you have. Want to own you, if they can. It’s not really about you. It’s them, their issues, their fears, their need for power and control. So, don’t let that stop you. Don’t give up your own potential because someone frightened or annoyed you into it. Stay bright and colorful and happy. Stay strong.

Stay gorgeous.