Monday, January 13, 2020

Confessions of a Floptimist by Jodi Moore


Not gonna lie. This past year was rough.

I lost my dad December 2018, so 2019 was a year of difficult ‘firsts’: the first New Year’s Day I wasn’t able to share my silly resolutions with him. The first birthday of his I wasn’t able to call him on the phone to say, “I love you.” The first birthday of mine I wasn’t able to hear him say that to me.

Full disclosure? I told him anyway. Yep. I talk to him all the time. About my day. About our family. About my fears. About my dreams. Sometimes, I feel his hug. Other times, I can hear him roll his eyes. Both make me smile. (Okay, since I’m in full disclosure mode, both have prompted tears as well.)

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself this year, it’s that I’m a ‘floptimist’. You know, that tenuous soft spot between optimist and pessimist, that fragile balance between “if it’s not okay, it’s not the end” and full-on dystopia? In other words, if you evaluate my emotion on a scale of 1 to 100 Acre Wood, I’m a total mashup of Tigger and Eeyore.

A floptimist is someone who believes in oneself fully and unconditionally, except when one hits a bump in the road (a.k.a. "flops".) A floptimist will then cry or rant, but ultimately understands that a rejection, diversion, or even an overwhelming loss, however painful, can eventually be redirected, revised or crafted into something positive and/or inspiring. We acknowledge it hurts, but also recognize it promotes growth.

It’s a useful tool for me as a writer.

This past year, I found it a lifeline as a daughter. I wanted to create a scrapbook to honor my dad’s memory, to honor his legacy, to help us heal. But my Eeyore was in full swing. Like many families, ours had suffered some dark times, where there were limited photographs to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. What’s more, the current politics were inflicting even more cracks. How could I do this? Where could I even start? Thankfully, Tigger bounced in right when I needed him most.



(Note: I found this t-shirt advertised on Etsy. It’s by Miko Tees. And now I want it, lol!)

Sure, there were things that had tried – and still aim – to tear us apart. But there was a lot more that we shared, that connected us, that bonded us: our love of music, of art, of sportsmanship. Our love of dancing, of parties, of food. Our love of holidays, of animals, of each other.

Our love.

Because ultimately, that’s what matters.

At least to this floptimist.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Attending My First Conference in Years by Sydney Salter

The year 2019 reminded me about the importance of connecting with other writers and learning new work strategies at writing conferences. I attended the Women Writing The West conference in San Antonio, Texas - what a great group of writers! The group is super welcoming, supports professional writers with great prizes and marketing opportunities, plus their conferences include really fun field trips - missions, museums, The Alamo.

I used to attend ALL of the local writing conferences, plus the two big SCBWI conferences, and I hosted two conferences in Salt Lake City, Utah and Boise, Idaho as the area's Regional Advisor, not to mention several smaller retreats and meetings.

After seven years I burned out. Running conferences turned from a joy to a chore as I found myself sandwiched between launching my children into the world and caring for my mother and mother-in-law who both had catastrophic life-changing events within two weeks of each other, which resulted in both of them living in my basement for a few months (along with a spare brother-in-law).

I should have contacted a Reality TV producer. But I was--
Freaked Out.
Stunned.
Discombobulated.

I managed to eke out some writing, slowly, painfully over those years. But connecting with the writing community? Aside from a monthly dinner with fellow writing friends (which I often skipped), I didn't have it in me. I hunkered down for intense care-giving.

Things eased in 2019 as I adjusted to all the various forms of loss. And even with one mother left in the basement, I felt like I returned to myself a bit more. A more "experienced" me (is that a nice way to say it?). I signed up for a writing conference in San Antonio, a city I'd always wanted to visit. I read a book about The Alamo. I entered the group's short story contest. I signed up for a pitch session.

What a lovely weekend of making new writing friends. Oh, the joy of talking to writers who are the only people who really get me (I wasn't the only one who'd read a book about The Alamo to prepare for the field trip). I felt like a "real" writer for the first time in a long time.

The best part? I came home from the conference so motivated to Get To Work!





Wednesday, January 8, 2020

BOOM! The Writer Who Lived--by Kimberly Sabatini

This month we're talking about what we learned in 2019 and how we are applying it to our writing. Ironically, my 2019 writing take-away is in stark contrast with what I've learned in previous years.

In the past, it's become obvious to me that learning to plot and NOT be a complete pantster would be a huge game changer for me. 


It's exploded my previous notions on how to be a good writer.

I've studied books on the topic, taken online classes, explored the topic at conferences and I've done dives into the work of writers I admire--to see how they made it work. 
And I've clearly come out the better for having blown up my previous way of thinking. 

And then there was this year's lesson...

BOOM!

Despite all the planning and prepping and box checking I did along the way for my work-in-progress, SLICE, things happened in my manuscript that I couldn't prepare for. 

I lived.

The very act of living in a world that has given me so much to think about--both good and bad-- has changed the trajectory of my story.

I'm not sure how other people work, but I write fiction because I'm too much of a coward to keep a journal. The very thought of writing down my uncensored feelings feels quite dangerous to me--someone might read them. 

But when I write fiction, all those same thoughts and questions can be on the page in a less recognizable way. That's not to say that my writing doesn't clearly hold my unique finger print. I'm confident you can see threads of me woven through the whole thing. But if you knew what was in my head most of the time--you'd know this feels like it's the balance between authentic and private that I need.

But back to the mind-blowing lesson of 2019. 

Despite all my best laid plans--I evolved and continue to evolve and change and that keeps showing  up in the choices I make for my writing. 
I see it in unconscious decisions when I look back at my themes and choices.
I see it in the ah-ha moments that make me go...but what if instead of this I do that?

And while this personal evolution can wreak havoc with my best laid, pre-made plans, I also know that the work is better and way more interesting because I'm a writer who lived and let my life find its way onto the page.

What piece of your life has blasted its way into your writing or another creative avenue in your life and changed how you see things?


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

It's Easy to Forget to Be Proud of Yourself: A Lesson from 2019 & Little Women by Joy Preble

There's this moment in Greta Gerwig's new version of Little Women where Jo has stopped writing. Life and family have gotten in the way. So have negative comments from editors (well, one editor but that's enough) who want to re-form Jo's stories into what they perceive as reader expectation. The heroine needs to get married at the end... or die. Even headstrong, brilliant, talented Jo March seems to forget how much she's accomplished, how proud she should be of all that she's done.

If there's one thing I've learned in 2019 that I am now bringing to the table each day I sit down to write, it's that I am worthy of that writer's chair. It's easy to forget. Someone always seems quicker and newer and louder and shinier. It's easy to forget my own shine. Easy to forget how proud I should be of seven books published when there's always someone on Twitter going on and on about dozens of projects and months of touring and oh how rough it all is to be so wonderful and hit all those word counts. All that shiny nonsense about how you have to write a book before this age or that age or you have to be on this list or that list or whatever.... It's so easy to give in to all that silly noise.

2019 taught me that sometimes, it's enough to be less. To step back. To make it about someone else. To let it go. (with all due respects to that song from Frozen)

2020 is time to take it back.

Always since I was eight and first read the book, the scene that made me cry in Little Women was Beth's death. If you don't know the story-- as I discovered the other that one of our bookstore customers did not and ruined it for her--forget I said that last part. If you do know that story, please know that at eight I never even finished the book for years after Alcott took Beth away from me.

In Gerwig's version, that's not what made me weep. Oh, it was sad, but inevitable. Instead, I came undone as Jo watches her book (these stories of domestic life and struggle that become Little Women)  being made. From the printing press letters locking into place to the pages being sewn together to the hide tanned into leather for a cover, to holding it in her hands and knowing its hers. That she wrote it, owned it, fought for its existence. Most reviewers don't even mention this. But most every writer I know, found it deeply moving.

So here you go: I am someone who had a large life before I decided I was supposed to be writing. Teaching and mothering and doing so many things. Then I fought for this new thing, this writing thing, because I knew it was part of my most authentic, deepest self. My people were there waiting for me. My words were waiting. But I had to put things on pause for a bit to remember that this, too, was me.





Monday, January 6, 2020

Never Give Up! Never Surrender! (Mary Strand)


This month, we’re blogging about what we learned in 2019 that we’re applying to our writing in 2020. For me?

Don’t. Give. Up.
"Never give up!
Never Surrender!"

This shouldn’t be something new that I learned in 2019. I practiced law for 16 years. I’ve played intense sports almost since birth. As a result, I’m extremely disciplined. I work hard. I meet deadlines. I’m pretty fearless.

But my knees conspired against me in 2018 and 2019, and depression ensued, and I went a total of 17 months without writing new words. I tried, briefly, but it didn’t work, so I finally gave up. At the same time, I made brief and infrequent forays into the world of querying. But I mostly gave up on that, too.

Okay, I didn’t give up entirely. While I was avoiding new words and agent queries, I wound up revising three manuscripts. No, it shouldn’t take 17 months (for me) to revise three manuscripts, but life was U-G-L-Y. (Still is. The knees still kill me.) I counted those three manuscripts, which now look pretty damned good, as a win. I also wrote a few songs. They weren’t novels, but I counted them as a minor win.


MOVIES: one thing
I do when not writing
Then came November 2019.

November is known widely to writers as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you follow the rules of it, which I occasionally do, you try to write at least 50,000 words on a new novel during the month of November.

Obviously, after writing zero new words in the prior 17 months, I wasn’t stupid enough to try writing 50,000 words in a single month. That would be like trying to run a marathon after going 17 months without going for a jog. But I decided to go with the SPIRIT of NaNoWriMo and try writing again. Goal: write an average of at least 2 pages per day every weekday in November, which would be 42 pages. I lost a few days to figuring out where I was going on the book in question, two or three days to sickness, four days to a last-minute jaunt to Florida (although I wrote on one of those days), and a couple of days to Thanksgiving. But I wound up with 45 pages in November.

Forty-five pages of writing in a month is nothing to write home about. (So to speak.) But it was 45 pages after 17 months of zero pages. A major win! I followed it with 49 new pages in December. At the same time, I sent out some agent queries, and I tried PitMad in December (a crazy, one-day Twitter event in which you try to interest agents and editors in your work). All of this was basically baby steps, but it was a start.

Another movie I saw when not writing.
Also: how my Thanksgivings went when I was growing up.

Frankly, this reads like one long, dull summary. (Sorry!) But what I learned in November and December, after learning virtually nothing at all in the preceding 10 months of 2019, is not to give up. Writing and querying and all of the rest is a habit. I’m still reacquiring that habit, but I’m now two months into being back in the game. It’s way too soon to say I’m TRULY back, but as I like to say: all progress is good.

Happy New Year! Make 2020 a good one. And don’t give up!

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hey, teacher! (Brian Katcher)

How to piss off people of various careers:

Police: Don't I pay your salary?
Teachers: It's like you get paid to play all day!
Stay at home parents: Must be nice not to work.
Clergy: So you only have to work one day a week?
Writers: What do you really do?


It's a sad fact of life, but every author I personally know either has a day job, or a spouse that's wealthy enough to mostly support the family. Unfortunately, writing is too precarious a profession to gamble the rent money on. I recently spent a year writing a novel, only to have my agent tell me it was unsalable. And just when the world needs more books about circus clowns who solve mysteries.
So what do I really do? I'm an elementary school librarian and computer teacher. While my responsibilities have changed with time, I've been a teacher in one form or another for the past 23 school years. 

So why teaching? I could always get my job back at Enron, I suppose. And there are plenty of job opportunities in my town, as this enterprising gentleman demonstrated:


Well, there are several advantages to being a teacher.

*Summers off. I get about eight weeks off a year. I'm free to do whatever I want until early August when I have to go back and put my classrooms in order (and when someone invariably asks for a rewrite after two months of silence). 

*I have the immune system of a horse. My wife (also a teacher) and I were almost the only people who made it to family Christmas this year, due to a spate of the flu. We were repeatedly told that we risked infection ourselves, but we just laughed. We're exposed to so many germs on a daily basis that we almost never get sick.

*Excellent retirement. Put in your 31 years and you have a comfortable retirement ahead of you. Both my parents were teachers. As they are now retired and I'm paying into the retirement fund, I tell people I'm supporting my parents.

*All that stuff about molding kids' minds and being a mentor and stuff. Oh, and the chicken patties in the cafeteria. Those are great.

I'm often asked if I wrote a best seller, would I quit teaching. The answer is no. I think I'd see things through to the end. I have job satisfaction. And when things get rough, I can always abuse a vendor.

Dance, salesman! Dance for my amusement. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Not Yet Sidelined by Dean Gloster


            For most of us, writing novels isn’t lucrative. Only a small percentage are published, and even for those, unless it's a breakout success, economics are modest. About one in ten traditionally published novels earns back its advance so the author gets further royalties—paid only twice a year, and the checks can be tiny. (I have, actually, done the lab work on that.)

            Famously, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s royalty statement for 1940 showed that he sold only 40 books that year. (His novel The Great Gatsby was poorly received when it came out in 1925, and only became a hit during WWII, when it was reissued in pocket book format for GIs.)

Anne Lamott says that writers need a critical mass of five published books for a sustainable career, so that each new book bumps up sales of the others. For those of us (like me) who took up writing late in life and who write slowly, that’s a tough prescription.



Hence the side hustle—a side activity, usually for money, because grocers rarely take prose in payment at the checkout stand.

Most of my life, I did this backward: I had a full-time job or study, and a low- or non-paying creative side hustle. When I was in my first year at law school, I wrote game show questions for the lowest-rated daytime television show of the era, Card Sharks. I’d scribble them in the back of property class for the princely sum of $7 for each one the show used.

            Later, when I was a law clerk for judges in San Francisco and Sacramento, I did stand-up comedy, which culminated by being third runner-up in the 1983 Sacramento Stand-Up Comedy Competition—which is almost exactly as unimpressive and non-lucrative as it sounds. (During the semi-finals, they made loud blender drinks at the bar during our sets. I still have an irrational dislike for margaritas.)



Then, when I was a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, I drew cartoons about the experience and circulated them to the other clerks.



            I had to eventually tone those down after a third of the Supreme Court Justices (including my boss) asked to join the distribution list.


            When I was a lawyer for 30 years after that, I (sometimes) wrote on the side and gave a dozen presentations a year to trade and bar association groups to bring in business. More importantly, I saved my money. Lawyers benefit from cartel pricing—they must graduate law school and pass the bar exam and pay annual dues and take annual continuing legal education classes. If you don’t do all that, but try to compete by providing legal services to clients, the state will put you in jail.


Jailing people who compete is, in economic terms, a “high barrier to entry.”

            So, like a lot of us do, I traded time—decades of works as a lawyer—for money. And saving that money and giving up the practice of law has now given me back, in turn, the time to write novels, my dream job.



            I sometimes worry that I waited too long. Yes, there are late starters in writing who do well: James Michener published his first novel at 40, and then managed to publish 40 more. This year’s runaway bestseller in fiction, Where the Crawdads Sing, is by 70-year-old debut novelist Delia Owens.

It’s hard to know when people peak creatively, but there has been lots of research: The average age of novelists who win the Man Booker prize is 49 (with, on average, their seventh published novel.) A study found that 45 was average age at which winners of the Nobel Prize for literature published their “most important” work.

More recent research, though, suggests two kinds of creative approaches, where people peak in very different decades: For conceptual breakthrough artists who reinvent things through out-of-the-box thinking, they typically peak in their 20s. But those who are experimental/experiential—who build their knowledge throughout their careers and ultimately find new ways to analyze and synthesize that knowledge—often peak in their 40s, 50s, 60s or beyond. (For example, historians often publish their award-winning books in their 70s.)

With my fascination for craft, I suspect I’m more of an experiential/experimental writer, and hope that I still have decades of potentially strong writing ahead of me.

In any event, as I think about side hustles, I want to branch out from writing novels in the new year to go back to writing some nonfiction for magazines. In the time ahead, I also hope to put my MFA to work in teaching creative writing.



            You often get things from your side hustles besides money. I learned more about public speaking through a year of stand-up comedy than I did in four years of college as a communications major, even though I was there on a competitive speech-and-debate scholarship. And one of the things I’ve learned from blogging here at YA Outside the Lines is that I love writing nonfiction and having monthly deadlines. That's something I’ll have more of, writing some additional nonfiction for money in the year ahead.

Happy New Year, all.


Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean took up downhill ski racing in his 40s, went back to graduate school for an MFA at 57, and took up Aikido at 58. It’s possible he has some weird issue about aging.

When Dean is not writing, studying Aikido, or downhill ski racing, he’s on Twitter: @deangloster




Friday, December 27, 2019

The double hustle (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When I was in high school, I had an aptitude for writing. I also had an aptitude for a completely unrelated field. And I was interested in both, passionate about both. Which direction should I choose for college and beyond, I wondered?

Ultimately, I decided it would make more sense to have a career in this other field, and write on the side, than to try to do the reverse. This would also enable me to write whatever I wanted, since I wouldn’t be depending on my writing for income.

There was another benefit I hadn’t anticipated, but which has become clear to me over the years. Writing is an uncertain, risky, unpredictable, high-rejection profession. I prefer predictability. I like my efforts to be rewarded proportionally, not erratically. I doubt I would have been emotionally equipped to ride the emotional roller coaster of writing as my sole or central pursuit.

My day job has given me more than a steady income and health insurance (important as those are). Whether or not my creative writing is going well, I have a job where I’m needed and appreciated. I have a purpose and an audience there, and an entirely different way to use my brain.

I confess to envying full-time writers—especially during the hectic times when I was working full time and writing one book and still promoting the previous one. Instead of dragging myself out of bed at five AM for the commuter train, I wanted to sleep until ten and then head down the hall to my keyboard, free from any worries about late trains or bad weather. But then the writing would hit a low again, and I’d be glad to get to work where I got consistent positive feedback and could see the results of my efforts reflected in real-world, tangible projects.

These two parts of my life have really complemented each other. From writing I get to flex my creative muscles and hone my communication skills. In my day job I get to practice analytical thinking and technical skills. Both jobs involve problem solving, teamwork, and adaptability. I don’t think my life would be as good without both of them, and each of them makes me better at the other.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Travels to Fill the Well (Brenda Hiatt)


Like a few others here, I don’t have a side-hustle in the sense of something other than writing to pay the bills. Writing (and publishing what I write) is pretty much a full time job for me. But there are definitely other things I do with my life that help fuel my writing, in the sense of feeding the Muse. 

Other than reading (don’t we all share that one?) some of my favorite things to do when I’m not writing include swimming, Taekwondo, hiking and traveling. Having a daughter in Germany has given me an excuse for quite a lot of those last two, especially since she’s one of my favorite travel/hiking buddies. Because I find walking and hiking very meditative, I’ve been known to plot scenes, chapters, and once an entire book while rambling along a deserted path in the woods or mountains. 

Over the years I’ve hiked the Smokies, the Grand Canyon and seaside cliffs in Italy, but my most enduring memories are of walking portions of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. In 2010 I hiked the last 100+ kilometers of the Camino Francais (the “classic” Camino) with a group of about a dozen women, most of us (except my daughter) “of a certain age” and several of us writers. (One of those writers is right here on this blog!) 



That trip and the self-discoveries I made along the way were so inspiring and beneficial for me that I returned to Spain for another Camino in 2015. This time it was the entire Camino Ingles, the route that English and Irish Pilgrims historically took to Santiago de Compostela and its historic cathedral. My daughter suggested that route, partly because our ancestry is primarily English and Irish. I had to agree it seemed fitting that we follow the same path our ancestors might have, centuries ago. She did most of the planning, and as she had most of that summer free, she started her Camino first, hiking much of the Camino Norte along the northern Spanish coast with her husband. The day he had to go back to work, I met up with her in Ferrol, in northeastern Spain, to begin our hike of The English Way. 



Before leaving for Spain, I had already begun to write Gallant Scoundrel, the fifth book in my (non-YA) Saint of Seven Dials historical romance series. While simultaneously researching both that book and my upcoming Camino, I discovered a remarkable bit of serendipity: much of my hero’s backstory during the Napoleonic Wars would have occurred right in that same region! In fact, I landed at the airport in La Coruna, the very site of an infamous battle between the British and Napoleon’s forces. While hiking, it was fun to imagine the countryside as it would have looked while my hero was there fighting in the war (1809-1812 or thereabouts). A few of my observations even made their way into the book! 



From Santiago my daughter and I continued on to Finisterre (“end of the Earth”), the traditional end of the Camino, where ancient Pilgrims would pluck a scallop shell from the beach to bring back as a sort of talisman and proof that they had completed their pilgrimage. We then hiked up to Mexia, a breathtaking rocky peninsula, where we meditated on all the lessons the Road had taught us. 

Where to next? I don’t know, but she and I have discussed a walking trip in Ireland—which, coincidentally, is where some bits of my Starstruck books are set and where some of my characters hail from. Whether there or elsewhere, I very much hope my future holds many more rambling vacations on distant shores, since I always come back enriched and, I believe, a better writer for each experience.

PS - Happy Holidays and Peace on Earth to one and all! 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

"Side" Long Glances by Patty Blount

This month, we're talking about side hustles and yeah, my author career has always been something I've had to do on the side and that really bugs me.

I'd hoped I'd be able to make it my full-time gig, but the truth is, most authors don't get rich from their writing unless their work becomes a runaway bestseller, followed up with movie deals, Netflix series, or maybe a theme park.

I work as a technical writer and instructional designer. That means I design and develop training courses for my employer. It's a fulltime (and then some!) job with a good salary and benefits so until my writing takes off, writing will always be the side hustle.

The challenge is that books have deadlines and editorial schedules to keep. In fact, this time of year, I'm usually double-timing my efforts to deliver revisions on one book and draft another while also doing the 9-5 dance.

*yawns* I get tired just typing all that. So the question is... how do I recharge my creative cells? How do I make time for all the things I want to write?

The answer is PLANNING.

If you'd have told me this ten or twenty years ago, I'd have rolled my eyes. The last thing I wanted to do after finally finishing school was more homework, but once I started, I realized the power in planning and never stopped.

I have a terrible memory so I plan what I need to write. Each day, I jot down a note for a scene that reminds me what emotional motivations are in play, what goals I need to hit, what decisions the characters need to face. I don't have time to re-read previous scenes so my notes help me make the most of my writing time. I write and re-write my to-do lists because that helps me remember the tasks on them.

When I feel like I'm in control, I feel charged and energized and ready to tackle anything.

I do all of this in a bullet journal. I used to have 4 or 5 journals that tracked separate things like my diet, my autoimmune disease, my writing, etc. Now I use the BuJo for all of this. I'm not artistic; I like my bullet journal minimalistic. It works for me.

In my BuJo is a plan for earning more money from my writing efforts. Ask me next year if it's working. Meanwhile, hit me up in the Comments if you want to hear more about my Bullet Journal!

Happy holidays, everyone.

Peace.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

My Favorite Hustle (Holly Schindler)

Like most authors, I've done (do) a ton of stuff to help support the writing. Luckily, a lot of it's been writing-related (editing, mentoring young authors). When I first got started writing, I was teaching private piano and guitar lessons. My interactions with young people actually inspired me to start writing YA!

My current side hustle mostly involves helping my brother, who runs an antiques and collectibles business. I spend quite a bit of time going on buying trips with him. I'm sure you're expecting me to tell you this gives me an opportunity to push myself away from the desk and refresh.

That's true--nothing like getting a chance to clear the head and rest for a moment. Helps you come back to your current WIP with better focus. But this hustle does much more than that.

For an antiquer, buying trips include estate sales. Lots of them. And for the most part (morbid as it sounds), most estate sales are conducted at the end of a life. The family takes the most important heirlooms. They hire a company to price up the rest. Sellers like my brother come in to scoop up bargains or vintage finds for clients--professional decorators, costume designers, etc.

But things--a whole lifetime of them--also tell stories. In the midst of the cleaning supplies and the clothes and the knickknacks, you begin to see who the person was. A seamstress. A musician. A world traveler. I've been in homes overflowing with original art collections. Homes with antique furniture. One home looked exactly like the inside of an old bar--pool table, neon liquor signs, etc.!

It's not just china dishes and half-emptied boxes of Miracle-Gro out in the garage. You can see what was important to that person. You know if they were religious. How close the family was. Sometimes how many children they had. Whether they were an animal person. If they were a vegetarian (cookbooks can tell a lot--trust me). You know how vain they were. What magazines they subscribed to. What they read, how they thought...

Sometimes, at the end of walking through a home, you can imagine the person who lived there, sitting on the bottom step of the basement stairs.

You see lives--and that begins to help you shape characters. You give your characters the kind of furniture--the cook books, the knickknacks, the clothing, etc.--that helps your readers get to know them.

The things we choose to surround ourselves with tell our story. They can help your characters tell their story, too.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Even My Side Hustle Has a Side Hustle (Alissa Grosso)

Some days I feel like quite the hustler or side hustler as the case may be. That's because pretty much all my income comes from what many would consider side hustles. I suppose writing itself is a side hustle for me, but it's pretty low down there in terms of the income it generates for me at the moment.

Some people have day jobs, but I have a day business. It's like a day job, but I'm my own boss and there are no health benefits or paid vacation time. My day business is selling stuff on the internet. When I tell people this, they usually say something along the lines of "Oh, you sell on Ebay, then?" But the truth is I've never sold much on Ebay. I used to sell a fair amount of vintage stuff on Etsy and even wrote a book on it, but these days I do all my selling on Amazon.

It's nice because Amazon let's me (well, they charge me plenty of money) store my stuff in their warehouses and handles all the shipping and customer service. All, I have to do is get the inventory, list it, label it and ship it off to them. It's a lot of work, but with the exception of the month of November and the very beginning of December (when the UPS driver has to play a game of Tetris just to get all my boxes in his truck) it still leaves me with plenty of free time to write and work on my other side hustle.

Besides selling all manner of physical products on Amazon I create some designs to sell on print-on-demand items. So, I guess this still falls under the general heading of selling stuff on the internet, but in this case there is no physical product until a shopper actually purchases an item and it is printed and shipped to them. So, again no need for me to store physical inventory or ship stuff since I work with some different print-on-demand websites who do all this work (and take a percentage of the sale for their efforts.) I spread out this side hustle among a few different websites: Amazon again via their Merch by Amazon program, Redbubble and Zazzle.

Finally, although it's not an active side hustle that I'm involved in, I still make money from YouTube each month. When I was running my Etsy business I created a reselling channel on YouTube and would post regular videos about it as well the other reselling stuff I did. I made a few videos about how to create shipments for Amazon's FBA program, and even though they are a few years old they are still popular with others who are trying to ship stuff off to Amazon's warehouses, so thanks to the ads on them these videos still generate a little bit of monthly income for me.

I actually do still regularly post videos on YouTube on my Awkward Author channel, but since there are far less people interested in the weekly ramblings of an as-yet-not-very-profitable author this channel is far less popular and doesn't generate any income.

So, for my fellow writers out there or anyone who is looking for ways to bring in some more income, let me assure you there are plenty of ways to do that. It may take some trial and error to find a side hustle that works for you. In the past I've tried to cut it with various freelance writing gigs--not for me, Ebay--not my style and daily blogging--couldn't keep up with it. So, don't despair if your first, second or third attempt at a side hustle doesn't work out. There's lots of ways to make some extra dough and one of them is sure to be a good fit for you.

Alissa Grosso is the author of 7 books, which she works on when she's not making money from one of her side hustles. She chronicles her writing life including how little she earns from her writing in her Awkward Author vlog and podcast.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Do The Hustle (Jodi Moore)


This month, we’re talking about side hustles.

*cues song*

Wait...what?

The Hustle, by Van McCoy, the father of disco? Isn’t that what you asked for?

Oh. *smacks head* *giggles* You mean a side job, the thing that helps us creatives to pay the bills and all that. Please forgive me if I misunderstood, because my side job may actually involve playing The Hustle. Perhaps rock, country, hip hop.  Or the newest song by Billie Eilish.

You see, my side hustle is playing music by request. I’m a DJ. And not a radio DJ, but a mobile/club DJ, which means I play in front of a live audience, including everything from parties and charity functions to corporate events, from weddings to reunions to Bat & Bar Mitzvahs, in bars and clubs and event halls. I’ve played parties inside and outside, under tents, in ice arenas, sports centers and even in a few corrals.

I may be biased, but I was trained by the best: my husband. You see, I helped him DJ a fraternity party on our first date. And I was hooked. On him and on the job.

You see, I’d always loved music, and prided myself on knowing the titles, artists and words to the songs. What I didn’t realize is how much else is involved. When I tell people what I do, they say, “That must be so much fun!” And it is. But as with anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well. So, before there’s fun, there’s work to be done.

It’s not just the equipment and the music, it’s the knowledge, preparation and experience of how to piece the sets together to facilitate a dance floor. It’s being able to figure out what someone is insisting you play when they give you a line in the song rather than the true title. It’s teaching the electric slide 100 million times. Dealing with people who may have had a bit too much to drink. And being responsible for the minute-to-minute timeline of a 48-hour dance marathon.

It’s calming the bride who rips her special stockings with the bells embroidered on the ankles because she trips and skins her knees on her way to the chapel...

Oh wait. That was me.

But you get the picture.

The pay is much more than monetary. We’ve had the great honor of playing a couple’s song who never got to hear at their wedding 75 years ago because it wasn’t in the band’s repertoire. We’ve helped an elderly man stand so he could dance with his great-granddaughter on her wedding day. And we’ve played that special number for the child who just finished her final round of chemo.

(Pictured: Larry, me and our son, Steve. Along with our team of DJs, both of our boys, Alex & Steve, helped whenever we DJed Penn State's THON. It was definitely a family affair!)


Along with music, we’ve shared more smiles, hugs and tissues than we ever could have imagined.

Here’s the thing. We do have fun. And whenever I’m fortunate enough to DJ with Larry, we always sneak in a dance at the end. Because how can anyone else have fun if we’re not?


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Writers Have All Kinds of Skills by Sydney Salter

My writing life has become more isolated now that my children are adults - I no longer get that lovely rush of teen gossip and angst hitting at 3PM every day. My longtime writing group dissolved when the sole survivor moved out of state. My mother lives in my basement providing me with sporadic and often strange interactions throughout the day. Think Jane Eyre - with more margaritas and MSNBC. I know this will feed my writing someday, but not when I'm in the thick of it.

I found myself needing something more than a messy WIP to get me through the day.

I needed a side hustle. 

Everyone suggested writing related tasks. I'm good at editing college papers. While I enjoy learning about all kinds of topics, the editing leaves my brain exhausted. Especially if I'm in revision mode in my own work. I tried online tutoring, and loved chatting with my first client, a brilliant little boy who provided me with some of the best conversation I'd had in weeks. But the parent in me wasn't comfortable with the pressure put on this kid by a system of elite private schools and hyper-driven parents. It felt icky to contribute to that sickness in our culture. I also hated begging for jobs. Pick me! Pick me! I get enough rejection as a writer. Teaching English to Chinese children would have combined all of the downsides of online tutoring with a 4AM wakeup time. No thanks! 

I've watched my freelancing friends struggle to find the time - and creative energy - to work on their fiction. Again - writing related tasks seem to interfere too much with the fiction writing I want to do. 

I wanted to feed my creativity, not use it in the same way. 

Writing fiction has given me a unique set of skills, aside from the obvious ability to communicate. I read a lot of psychology to understand my characters. I'm a people watcher. I look for the complexity in a situation. I look for the complexity in people. I can't take sides - my antagonist needs to be just as nuanced as my protagonist. I possess an abundance of empathy. 

It turns out that all those skills make me a good small claims court mediator. 

No one knew what to make of me during mediation training: the children's book writer in the room full of lawyers. I wore colorful clothing. I hammed up our practice scenarios, not afraid of looking silly. I felt like such an imposter, but as a writer that feeling is familiar, if not comfortable. I also realized that my ability to think creatively was an asset. 

I love mediating! 

I get to see people in a raw emotional state. All kinds of people. So many strange disagreements. Helping people feels really great, too. I get to help people save their credit score. Revise the terms of a bad contract. Or save a friendship. Or repair a neighborhood relationship. And sometimes it all collapses in a manner worthy of good fiction.

My side hustle leaves me feeling energized and ready to keep up the often lonely work of telling stories. 





Sunday, December 8, 2019

Domestic Engineer by Kimberly Sabatini

This month on the blog we're talking about side hustles--the day job that pays the bills. 

As a Domestic Engineer, I've been with the same company for eighteen years, although I began eyeing the position twenty-six years ago, when I was newly married and a Special Education Teacher. The opportunity looked challenging, but very intriguing. 
So, when the time was right, I made the switch.

It's been a great job, although the hours are long and in the beginning the clients were a bit immature. But with time, it's hard to imagine working anywhere else.

If you're thinking that Domestic Engineer might be the side hustle for you, here is a list of the ups and downs of the job. It's by no means a comprehensive list. The very nature of the job is a combination of mind-numbing repetitive tasks, immeasurable love and laughter with the occasional task that feels like trying to nail Jell-o to the wall. But I have to say--it's still worth considering because of the job security.


Some other CONS of the position:

It involves the containment and disposal of multiple types of bodily discharges.

All-nighters are likely during the early years and late night transportation runs are necessary during years thirteen thru seventeen.

There can be repetitive motion injuries from folding, scrubbing, lifting and hauling. 

And you're also responsible for care and well being of all other living things at the job site--and their discharges.

It is next to impossible to track down you W2 form--it's almost as if the world and the IRS doesn't think you have a job--let alone a really important one.

Writing on the side often involves a weird schedule, unusual chunks of time and bizarre mobile offices--often while fatigued.


But then there are the PROs:

The job expands your heart by at least three sizes on a regular basis. For comparison, this only happened to the Grinch ONCE in a lifetime.

You can often work in sweats and yoga pants--encrusted ones will be overlooked due to the bodily discharges issue above. Sneakers are part of the uniform, but slippers can be used when appropriate.

There's a HUGE support group for the position--even bigger than the writing community.

There's also a free buffet of bite-sized food to snack on through out the day. 

Bonuses aren't just once a year--they're paid out sporadically and that kind of intermittent  reinforcement keeps job turnover low--despite the difficulty in taking a sick day.

With time, validation of a job well done moves away from external feedback and becomes measured from within and from seeing those once immature clients become something complex--like reading the 10th or the 18th draft of a manuscript.

And when it comes to writing, there's a bottomless well of material for writers to dip their bucket into.

And it eliminates any questions about what to do with your dedication pages. 


Look, am I sometimes envious of those writers who have different side hustles to pay for their writing? I can be. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I thought about it from time to time. What it might be like to tell people about my exotic job. Or what it might be like to immerse myself within different types of people daily. Or to have a job where I travel more.

But I'm also really grateful and proud to be a Domestic Engineer. And not just because it pays the bills so I can also be a writer, but because what I do is pivotal to the future of the world.

Not everyone can say that about their side hustle--which makes my life pretty damn amazing.


When my day job became my "side hustle".


A lot of my writing was a group activity.


A quiet moment at the office after a Daddy Party Weekend/SCBWI Conference.


Walking billboard.


Security at my Barnes and Noble book launch. <3


When the lines between your jobs blur. Book launch at Oblong.



















Saturday, December 7, 2019

Stumbling into the Side Hustle that Saved Me

Okay, so 'saved me' - as the title to this post states-- is possibly a bit over-dramatic, but not by much. Three years ago I knew I needed a more solid income again. Husband's job had changed, I was at an impasse about the option book for one of my publishers, I wasn't digging the unpredictable nature of substitute teaching, and for a variety of reasons, cobbling together a series of paid school visits for my YA novels wasn't as steady a set of extra gigs as I wanted either. Mostly, I think, after five years of working primarily from home, I was going stir crazy. I loved writing every day. I loved the freedom. But I wanted more structure. I wanted colleagues I had to get out of my pajamas for. I wanted to talk to someone on the daily who wasn't the dog.

So it was that I, with zero retail sales experience (unless you count McDonald's when I was seventeen, which I think is a stretch but was the last and only time I'd worked a cash register) but a solid, although admittedly author-side only knowledge of the publishing industry, stumbled into a job at Houston's oldest indie bookstore. "Children's Specialist" they said. That's what they needed. Part-time, although we tussled a bit over how many hours that would be. 15 sounded good to me. 30 sounded good to them. We ended somewhere in the middle... at least to start. They taught me how to use the cash register. Having only taught school or wrote from home, I learned what it was like to have a job where at least some days there was an actual lunch break of more than 7 minutes involved.

Fast forward to this week, three years plus later. It's been quite the ride. Not just because the job evolved (as jobs do when you are a Type A human) and I'm now Kids' Programming Director, pitching for events to the publishers, arranging and implementing school visits, broadening the shop's scope and partnerships, buying for kids and YA. (yeah, still part time...sort of) Not just because it turns out I was born for retail and love nothing more than putting the right books in people's hands. Or because I love being an advocate for authors and I love working with librarians and I pretty much discovered that I love it all, including working with publicists and reps and writing reviews and blurbs... and did I mention all those early galleys we get to read? (Are asked to read sometimes by the pubs, which will never stop being a thrill!)

It's also -- this crazy bookseller side hustle--reminded me of all the reasons I wanted to have my own books published in the first place. It's easy to get jaded and burned out in the business. It is after all a piece of the entertainment world, more or less-- always looking for the next best thing, always chasing that elusive something else. For most of us in the middle, that can be a hard pill to swallow some days. Exhausting to keep at it, to keep out there, to avoid getting sucked into the load of crazy that is social media where everyone teeters being carefully curated and shouting into the void. It's easy to think that everyone is doing better than you and guess what? They're not always. Lots of books don't sell the way they are expected to and lots of books get on lists because they are positioned to and what a great thing it is to work at an indie where we can champion any book we love and not just the ones on a corporate script. What a great thing to have a voice through my job to let the publishers know when I love a book.

Anyway. I love this job, too. I'm writing happily again, albeit not quite as fast as when I had hours of each day. I've found my full voice again in a million different ways.

Til next time...




Friday, December 6, 2019

On the Side (Mary Strand)

This month, we’re supposed to blog about side hustles, or what we do to fuel our writing.

I have no idea why I’m always so confused and/or stumped by almost Every Single Blog Topic, but I will note that (1) in high school, when my Spanish teacher said we could write an essay about either Topic A or whatever we wanted, I wrote about whatever I wanted ... and he then assigned whatever topic I’d written about to the class the next week, and (2) “side hustles” made me think about When Harry Met Sally, and how Sally always ordered her food “on the side.”

Harry: "On the side" is a very big thing for you.
Sally: Well, I just want it the way I want it.

(For the record, I agree with Sally.)

It may be that my confusion over this month’s topic will finally send me over the edge, and I’ll do what I used to do in Spanish class: write about whatever I want.

In Spanish.

At this point, I may not need to mention that my brain races in a million different directions, pretty much nonstop, and rarely in the direction that someone else asks it to run.  Also, I love love LOVE movies — I’m all about dialogue, baby — so almost anything that someone says will make me think of a movie I love, and there I go down a rabbit hole.  Like, say, to When Harry Met Sally.  But I’m more likely to quote Bull Durham.


Okay, fine.  Side hustles.  I don’t think I have one.  I actually googled “side hustle,” because I wasn’t sure what one was, which would be my first clue that I don’t have one.  I get the sense that I’d have to actually make money at something for it to qualify as a side hustle, and right now I’m just getting paid for writing novels.

But.

I’m actually working on songwriting these days, and my goal/hope/dream is to write songs I can sell to recording artists, and make money at it.  But would that be a side hustle or simply separate from but equal to my novel writing?  I have no idea.  I love writing songs (although I’m not yet prolific and need to work on that), and I think it’s cool that songwriting feeds my creative soul in a way similar to writing novels.  It fuels my creativity.  I can already tell that if I’m writing novels AND writing songs, and doing a lot of both, the songs fuel my novels and the novels fuel my songs.

(By the way, Music and Lyrics, with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, is a great movie about songwriting.)


Although songwriting fuels my novel writing (and vice versa), I’m not sure that PLAYING guitar or singing does, except that it fuels me as a person, and everything that fuels me as a person  — music, sports, travel, my crazy adventures, books I read, movies I watch, and almost every conversation I have  — ultimately winds up in some fashion in my novels.

But I don’t think any of this might be what I was supposed to write about.

Así es la vida.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Side Hustles and Other Feats of Magic


by Fae Rowen

Years ago when I was thinking about a career change (no, not to "writer") a friend said something that stuck with me. "Your job is just the pump that primes the well." Before that, my job was my all, my place in life, my reason for being.

Now my "main hustle" fuels my writing. I teach, and that provides the shelter and food necessary to sustain life. It also provides many other nice things to have in our modern economy, acting as the credit card for the "side hustles" which inform and fuel my writing.

Travel is important to me as a writer. I get to immerse myself in foreign cultures, try new modes of transportation, clothing, art, and food. When I knew I was going to spend a month in Egypt and Jordan, I took a belly-dancing class. I'm not a dancer; belly-dancing was a real challenge. On the second class the teacher said something like, "Just roll your stomach muscles." Excuse me? The only stomach muscles I know about are busy chewing up that brownie I had at lunch. Despairing of my inability to perform a "belly roll" (yes, think jelly roll) the teacher stood in front of me, pulled up my shirt two inches and said, "Show me how you move this."

I tried. I imagined what that skin should look like when it rolled, I pulled in places of my torso better left unknown and untouched. Then I pushed them out. Nothing in that small exposed area of skin moved. The teacher, who was at least twenty years older than me, shook her head. "I don't know what to say." Neither did I. But I learned the shoulder shimmy, the neck roll, and boy, could I use a veil!

Those experiences lead to a chapter in a book where my main character, a promising ballet student who'd had a serious accident and could no longer perform ballet, learned belly dancing and performed with a friend's traveling troupe. She didn't know it, but the contractor she'd had trouble working with was in the audience. Let's just say belly dancing can smooth over a lot of difficulties.

Improving my craft is important, so I attend conferences, take classes, and read articles and books on writing. Because I believe in giving back, I also write articles and blogs, like this one, speak at conferences and judge contests to help other writers with inspiration and craft skills. I get together with writing friends for writing retreat time.

On a daily basis I either hike trails and look at wildlife or work out with a trainer. Both provide fodder for my imagination and book ideas. "What would this creek look like on a world that has no plants and no animals?" (Sorry, I write science fiction, so much of my musing doesn't sound very sane.) I also love to cook, so, of course, my characters love to eat.

Virtually any place I go, anything I do is fair game for a writing "side hustle" from baby-sitting the kids next door to a spa day with my friends to a long rainy day spent by the fireplace with a book by a favorite author. Reading is always one of my go-to side hustles. I love feeling those emotions, those surprises, and those gasped breaths as much as any reader of a good book.

One summer I decided that I would use a magic trick once a week during my lectures the following semester to illustrate a point, make my students dig for the truth, or just have some fun. I took magic lessons. In fact, I worked as a magician's assistant to make sure I had the "real deal" as to how tricks were performed. From then on, my students were very happy about that side hustle. I was, too. After the first trick of the year, I can get their attention, their real attention, just by reaching for a prop, like a box of matches, a deck of cards, or by wadding up a piece of paper. My first magic endeavor was a mind reading trick that ended with my use of flash paper—which is sadly illegal now. Most of you probably don't know that mathematicians were also called magicians in Ancient Greece. Rightly so, since so many magic tricks are based on mathematics.

But I digress. Everyone's side hustles will be different, based on your interests and your "main hustle." Once your main hustle is perfected, you have more time to spend on side hustles, which can bring more creativity to your writing.

The key is to enjoy whatever you do. That will make you a better participant and more aware of your actions, your emotions, and the reactions of the people around you. Which will make you a better writer.

What is your favorite side hustle?

I want to thank all of you for reading my personal stories and thoughts during the past years. You have helped me soften the barriers between author and reader, and I am humbly grateful to you for that. This is my last post with YA Outside the Lines. I've decided to focus on finishing and publishing two science fiction series for adults, so, for awhile, I won't be working on YA titles once PRISM 2: Rebellion is available for pre-order by the end of this year.

About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order on Christmas, 2019.