Image from MildArt, one of my favourite quotes from Jack London, who also wrote the poem I want on my gravestone.
Many people ask me, “how do you do all the things? I struggle to just do one thing. And you are over there throwing things around like Kanye in a Thing club.
Is that a topical reference? Do the kids still listen to Kanye?
I do love me some Thingliness. Bree and I had our Kickstarter campaign come out this month. (Check out Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones and support us! We’re nearly halfway there). I’ve also got the next book in the Briarwood Reverse Harem series – The Castle of Water and Woe – out on the 29th. I applied for a grant/writers residency for a science fiction project. I have freelance projects to finish. I’m organizing a hiking trip and another big friend group event, AND our travel plans for next year. I’m doing media for the book. I’m writing on this blog. I’m snuggling cats and trying to be a half-decent wife and friend and still find time to watch The Handmaid’s Tale.
So here you go. Here is how I do all the things:
1. I don’t actually do all the things. From the outside it might look like I do all the things, but I really don’t. I have hundreds of things I have not yet done. I have many other things that I let slip in order to do these other things. I could blog more often. I could take lots of selfies and be better at social media. I could clean the house more (okay, a LOT more). I could do other creative projects and finish my cross stitch and paint the haunted house I’ve been trying to paint for the last three months and weed the garden and learn how to sew. I have not done those things because I am not superwoman.
2. I set my whole life up to facilitate the doing of the things. I knew I always wanted my life to look the way it does now, so I focused on getting it to look this way. I do not have kids. As of February, I haven’t had a day job. That’s a BIG thing. When I had a day job I was even more scatterbrained and did even less housework. I am totally and utterly driven toward doing the Things. Not everyone is like that and I’m not sure how to make that happen.
3. I subscribe to a low-information diet. I don’t pay much attention to day-to-day worldwide affairs. This includes news and events within my industry. Right now there is some INSANE controversy going on in the indie publishing world. Seriously, it’s nuts out there. I care, but not enough to read all the updates and social media buzz.
I believe it’s important to be informed, but seeing hourly updates and arguing back-and-forth on Twitter isn’t going to achieve anything. It doesn’t make me MORE informed. It doesn’t solve any problems. It won’t usually change anyone’s mind. It doesn’t make me feel good.
What does feel good is writing another book or doing another Thing.
Knowing isn’t always better. I also try not to be involved in things where I don’t believe I have the chance to make a difference. If I feel sad about something I see on the news, I try to donate to an organisation that’s trying to make a difference, and then I stop reading. My eyeballs don’t need to disseminate every single piece of news media. You may disagree with this. That’s totally cool. I 100% see the other side of this. However, a low-information diet works for me.
4. I have projects that pay the bills, and projects that I do for love. I always have a mix of projects going on – a book that’s for my core audience, freelance work that offers a guaranteed hourly rate, and projects like the Kickstarter that are more of a gamble. Multiple streams of revenue are good (I talk about this a bit here) and so is being able to switch from one project to another when you get tired.
5. I am always afraid. The fear is perpetual. It never goes away and the bigger you get and the more dramatic the project and the more personal the content, the more intense the terror. I am afraid that I’ll never be as successful as I am right now. I’m afraid that I’m actually terrible and people will figure it out and tell everyone in the world. I’m afraid that I’ve unwittingly created a character or story that hurts someone or contributes to a culture or belief system I disagree with. I’m afraid people will accuse me of copying them or doing something underhanded that I never did and will come after me with a smear campaign. I’m afraid that I’ve poured everything into a project and people will hate it and it will feel like they hate me.
Most of all, I’m afraid that I’ll have to crawl back to the tech-industry as a failure and get a normal job. That’s not the end of the world, but giving up is pretty much the end of MY world.
Fear can be paralysing, but it can also be a great motivator.
6. I don’t take rejection personally. Rejection at the beginning of the project (I didn’t get that grant. The publisher didn’t want my project) is easy to deal with. Rejection via reviews or critical comments after you’re put work out into the world is much harder. Often I just don’t read reviews.
7. I finish stuff. I reward myself for finishing one thing by starting another thing. You can’t ship what you don’t finish.
8. 95% is good enough. I get each project to a point where I think it’s perfect, then I get at least two other people with some expertise to look it over and give feedback / editing. Some stuff slips through. It’s usually not important stuff.
I could continue this process of refinement and editing for years to go from 95% to 100%. That final 5% usually takes as long as it took you to do the other 95%. But I could wait and refine and wait some more.
I wouldn’t be shipping. And I wouldn’t be eating. I like eating.
9. I need things to look forward to. I like to have lots of events and friend dates and travel and professional development to break up what is really quite a monotonous schedule (get up, feed cats, write, lunch, Gilmore Girls episode, write, dinner, read, bed). Anticipation is good vibes.
10. I compartmentalise my free time. I read for at least 30 minutes every single night. I try not to work on my computer or do anything else in front of TV or movies. If I’m at a party or having lunch with a friend, I pretty much won’t look at my phone at all. I don’t even have FB or anything on my phone. I do this because I’m on the internet 50 hours a week for my work. That’s enough. It’s really enough. I’m not gonna miss anything. But I WILL miss amazing moments with friends if I’ve got my face in my phone.
11. I cut the chaff. Periodically I take inventory of my life (usually if I notice I’m feeling extra stressed or if CDH or a friend notices I’m being extra scatter-brained) and cut the things that aren’t working. I do a LOT of things that haven’t Thinged in the way I wanted them to. There was my Corpsepaint Kitty web comic, and The Asocakalypse sock shop, and running content marketing courses for small businesses. There was the ‘Dummies Guide to Metal’ that went to a publisher and never came back, and the Gothic Wedding Planner AND the medieval craft book that went to another publisher and never came back. Many more things have ‘failed’ than have succeeded. Recently, I stopped my patreon because it wasn’t growing beyond the initial $50 a month I managed to hit when I launched it last year. I may readdress it in a year. I am also winding down as a wedding celebrant. Clearing out the things gives you more space for new things.
12. I am never ready. I just do it anyway.
There’s a quote from Steve Jobs that I admire:
“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is — everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it.”
13. I apply for everything I want. There are lots of opportunities out there for grants, scholarships, prizes, residencies, etc for artists. If I think they sound cool, I apply, even if I think I haven’t got a chance in hell. Everything thinks they don’t have a chance, so they don’t apply. I once got a prestigious scholarship at University that I never imagined I’d be awarded. One of the organizers told me only three people applied for the scholarship. THREE. And I can’t help but think it’s because no one thought they had a chance.
14. I dream.
That is how I do the things. Some of it might be useful to you if you want to do the things. Maybe you have other ideas and methods that help you do the things. That’s awesome. Let’s all do the things!