Hello Rebels, welcome to episode 66 of The Rebel Author Podcast. This week is a little different. It’s a solo show where I’m reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned this year.
In this episode we cover:
- Why your reaction is everything
- Redefining the meaning of work
- Why creativity is a dish best in silence
- Why business basics matter more than anything
- Self-care isn’t needed, it’s a fucking priority
- Friends, and YOU are everything
- A last note to end on
It’s the end of 2020, a momentous occasion. I’d like to say something profound, something deep and meaningful when in reality, all I can muster is “What the fuckity fuck was this year?” I’m a writer, you’re a freaking writer and I bet in a thousand fucking turns of the sun none of us could have written the absolute cluster fuck that was this year. But as much as I’ve a twisted sense of humour and a dark heart, I’m an eternal optimist and I’d like to end the year with a bit of fucking cheer and tangible actions to work towards next year. Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned from 2020.
Reaction is Everything
My dear friend Katie has a tattoo from Jack Canfield that says E + R = O. Event plus reaction equals outcome. Never has that been truer than in 2020. It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s the hard, uncut truth.
This year has been a sink or swim kind of year, either it’s crushed you or you succeeded in spite of it.
But what I can tell you with absolute certainty, is that whatever your reaction to this year, it will have created your outcomes. When the pandemic hit, I panicked. I thought my business was screwed. The schools shut, how in the bollocking shitsticks was I going to get anything done with my 6 year old begging for rice cakes and “peppermanis” every 4 seconds going to allow me to work?
And yet, I wrote more books this year than any other year. Ever.
I’m still not entirely sure how that happened. What I do know is that it had everything to do with my reaction. I’m the kind of “fuck you, you try and squash me and I’ll succeed anyway” girl. Not everyone is and that’s okay. The world needs every kind of person. I probably could have been more supportive to friends and family emotionally during the pandemic, but I’m just not that sort of person, work and creativity are my solace and I’m just lucky that that also happens to be my job now.
When I look at this year, I’m still shocked I managed to do as much as I have. My son spent 8 months off school and I did 95% of the homeschooling and childcare because I had that flexibility.
What am I trying to say?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have different reactions to events and adversity and that’s okay. The greatest factor in influencing our outcomes is within our control, it’s ourselves. What you have to do is workout how to make your strengths happiest and then work with those strengths through the ups and downs.
This is one of those times where “know thyself” means everything and I’ve really learned that this year. I’ve tried very hard to work on myself, to learn about myself and as a result, change my processes beyond recognition, I’ve found workarounds that are even more effective than how I was working before the pandemic. None of which would have been possible without a global crisis and the determination to find a way to keep going.
I found a quote which I think best sums this up which I believe was said by Vivienne Greene
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
LESSON 1: Our reactions create our outcomes, therefore learning our strengths and how to capitalise on them is crucial especially in times of adversity.
The Meaning of Work
The meaning of work has changed for me this year.
As authors we have a somewhat tenuous link with work. We literally tell lies and make shit up for a living. It’s scarcely what I’d call hard work. And yet, somedays it’s utterly gruelling and exhausting and fuck if I’m not totally brain dead by the end of a day of drafting or editing then I did it wrong. And yet, it’s still not “work” like my wife’s work. For anyone who does this full time and used to work in a corporate hellmare, you’ll understand it’s two entirely different universes of work. I look at what my wife does and thank the universe daily that I don’t have to go into work. But she looks at what I do, the constant financial pressure, the requirement to doll out words like candy, the need to constantly create something from nothing and she thanks her lucky stars for her job. It’s all relative, I guess.
Our job as an author is different. It’s everything and nothing. My mindset has definitely changed. The more I do this, the more I fall in love. In fact, I am so utterly in love with what I do it’s barely passable as a job in my head any more. At least, not the creative work anyway. Sure, the admin and emails and marketing feels like work sometimes, but for the most part, I no longer feel like I have a job and I certainly did for the first year of being self-employed.
I’ve noticed that “work” the things that bring in cash and pay my mortgage don’t always feel like work. Sometimes it’s fun, it’s play, and sometimes it even feels relaxing. So when I’m meant to be off and resting, there are times when all I want to do is pick up the proverbial pen and play because yes that’s my job but it’s also my favorite game and I happen to like playtime. That said, it’s a tricky one to explain to my loved ones who are desperate for vacation time and then can’t think of anything worse than working.
This realisation came in part from Becca Syme and her coaching through the Strengths for Writers course where I discovered my number 2 strength is “achiever” this essentially means I like to get things done achieve tasks and goals and when I don’t do those things — like on a holiday, I actually end up more stressed than relaxed.
What does this mean going forward?
LESSON 2: It means that my work is sometimes my play and while rest is essential, so is play. So I give myself permission to play when I’m on a break. If you need permission, you have it.
Creativity is a Dish Best Served in Silence
There is one thing, no matter how hard I try, that I’m yet to find a solution to. For me personally, I work best in silence sans interruptions.
When I was in the day job, I spent most of my time with headphones in my lugs ignoring others. The first year of full-time authoring was spent in silence. I didn’t use Zoom for sprints, I didn’t have people in the house, my wife worked under a “presenteeism” culture and my world was quiet, very, very quiet indeed. And I did not realise how much that changed me.
I NEED SILENCE.
My creativity needs silence. Worse, it needs uninterrupted silence too.
This year, I’ve had neither.
I’m yet to find a solution. Shutting my door doesn’t work, six (now seven) year olds don’t give two tiny violin sized shits about closed doors, the world is their dominion, doors are but mere wooden enemies to be slain in a fit of handle abusing, banging door opening shenanigans.
My wife procured my noise cancelling headphones as she had “the man” to work for and equally couldn’t concentrate under the conditions. There were days when I had to go and sit in my car for 30 minutes to steal some silence for myself.
What this year showed me is that while I can work under interrupted, noisy conditions, I am FAR from productive in them. In fact, on the occasions my wife took our son so I could work, or the days that he actually went to school, I would produce 10 x what I did on any day when he was at home, more to the point, I would produce more on those fleeting occasions than I ever would on a normal day.
Never has Parkinson’s law been more acute to me. I edited an entire book in 4 days, something that would usually take me 3 months. If that isn’t a wake up call I don’t know what is.
LESSON 3: While I can work under intense and noisy conditions, I know I work more effectively and efficiently under a certain set of conditions. Which means two things, next year I will try harder to create those conditions, and when I don’t have them, know that it’s okay if I don’t get as much done because better days are coming. I’m also going to be looking at the amount of pressure I put on myself. I think I’ve gone too light. If I can edit a book in a week, how much more can I get done? I need to up the ante, I can do more in less time and I shall make it so.
Business Basics Matter
I am convinced that if it weren’t for working on the business basics this year, then my business would have crumbled. As it is, I’ve seen more than 20% increase in turnover despite the chronic fucksickle that was 2020.
I genuinely attribute that to going back to business basics and ensuring that I’m on top of them. So what are they for me personally?
Independence: I’m alarmingly aware of how dependent I am on Amazon’s machine. So ensuring I focus on other income streams and avenues for sales has been super important. I’ve set up a webshop on my website and been learning more in the background about wide marketing as well as increasing the income streams I have.
Financial Stability: For me, I’m a long way off where I want to be but I’m certainly making progress towards it. This year when the pandemic hit, some of my freelance dried up, which showed me how important it is to create assets and have as many avenues of income as possible.
Income streams now include:
- Editing — though I’ve now stopped this.
In the next five years I want to add:
- Rental income from properties
- Rights licensing
I also looked at areas I could save money, like over paying on my mailing list. I was super reluctant to move, I knew the systems, I liked the systems, I had t o overhaul my autoresponders and didn’t wanna. But I did the hard work and moved and saved myself over 400 quid a year.
I also upgraded my website and while that took a whole week to sort, it’s made for a much cleaner, more efficient site that’s more user friendly for customers.
LESSON 4: Working out your values and the business values that mean something to you matters. In times of crisis, it keeps you centered and gives you a singular focus. Without that knowledge I think I would have wobbled this year. The one I feel I missed this year was content marketing, I’ve let it slip and next year I want to come at it hard, from both the fiction and nonfiction front.
You’ve GOT to do Self-Care
This one is big for me. I have GOT to get better at self-care. My gift and curse is my desire to constantly achieve. On the one hand it means I get loads done, but on the other, it also means I regularly, willingly and with a twisted smile on my lips work myself into the ground.
This year I’ve had a number of health issues and they are purely down to the fact I don’t look after myself because I’m too busy looking after others and trying to run a business.
It’s not that I thought I was invincible, more that I’m relatively young and just took for granted that I could continue to push my mind and body.
Apparently I can’t, and I strongly suspect you can’t either. So here’s that phrase again, if you need permission to look after yourself, you have it.
LESSON 5: Our bodies are only human, we are not invincible, and we break when pushed too far. I need to look after myself in 2021.
Friends Are Everything
I spent the first year of working for myself totally alone. Sure, I had and still have writing friends, but this year has shown me just how important friends are. I’m very lucky to have a group of close writing friends who have seen me through this year, the tantrums, the emotional breakdowns, the anger, the hysteria. I’ve lost count of the number of zooms I’ve done with them, the days I’ve spent sprinting and gritting my teeth through the good and bad. I am deeply indebted to them, on the days when I wanted to give up they were there, on the days when I’d lost my mojo and motivation, they were there to pick me up and tell me to get a grip. I don’t want to mention any names in fear of forgetting someone. But thank you.
While this year has shown me how important technology is in keeping those connections alive, it’s also shown me that I don’t want to be a recluse either. Much as I love typing away in my quiet corner of the U.K., I need people, I crave human contact, I crave inspiration and input, I need to travel and be in the world, visit museums and friends and make memories. I miss people. I miss hugging, I miss seeing things and breathing in air and culture. No matter what happens next year, I need to find a way to get that in my life again.
I want to also thank my patrons. I adore you all, I love the chats we have in slack, the comments on posts and I am so grateful that you’ve joined me and supported me through this year despite the difficulties so many of us have had.
Thank you also to my Facebook group, you make my job so much fun and I adore the fact you’re all so engaged and such a supportive community. A big thank you to the group’s admins too who are whip-cracking, group-sorting machines, I’m deeply grateful to you both.
One person in particular has become a huge part of my life over the past year. We joke that we have no idea how it happened, and I really don’t, but I am so glad it has. Writers need other writers. We need people who understand the odd ways our brains are wired, we need friends that live and breathe creation like we do because this life is indescribable to those not living it. We might convince ourselves that we’re happy introverts that need no one, and nothing but our keyboards, we might convince ourselves that we can soldier on alone, wolves under our creative moon. But life is so, so much better, easier and happier when you let people into your life. This person taught me that. Thank you for becoming something of a mascot, a comfort blanket, a sounding board, cheerleader, confidant, mentor, business partner and best friend for life. Thank you for coming into my life at the exact moment I needed you, it made what could have been a shitty year, that little bit more fun.
LESSON 6: Friends, writing friends in particular, are everything. If you don’t have them, find them and grip onto them like your life depends on it. It does.
This too Shall Pass
This is where I want to leave you. In the knowledge that this year has been a cluster fuckery of bullshit and nonsense but that it too shall pass.
I want to leave you with what, I hope, is a message of empowerment. If this year hasn’t turned out the way you wanted, then I encourage you to look at you. And I mean that in the best possible way. I’ve spent a long time figuring out what works for me this year. I’ve disregarded lots of advice seen as best practice and “right” and instead played to my personal strengths and worked out what habits, environments and processes work for me to cultivate the best working outcomes. If you do one thing next year, let it be that. Don’t listen to cut and dry advice that tells you “you must do X, Y or Z” else you fail as an author, call bullshit, look at what has produced results for you and made you happiest and then rinse and repeat.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Find your dance, figure out whether you prefer salsa, street dance, ballroom or something else and then fucking run with it.
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THIS EPISODE IS SPONSORED BY KOBO WRITING LIFE