I’ve just prepared my taxes for 2013, and that hammered home what I already knew: 2013 was a terrible business year for me. We paid more for childcare than I grossed.
I need to work, and I want to work. When I don’t dedicate a fair amount of my time to ideas outside myself and my home, I go nuts. I feel absolutely zero guilt about this, so don’t gird yourself for a post about parental guilt. I have none. And though in 2013 the math of my business didn’t land me in the black, I have no regrets about our childcare expenses.
My work is an amorphous beast, and it will always come in torrents and dribbles. Which isn’t to imply that I have no control over it, but it is to imply that I have no illusion about it ever being steady. I do freelance work as an editor, I write books, I speak at events and conferences, and I teach.
When O arrived so suddenly at the end of 2010, we handled it like champs, if I do say so myself. What I realized toward the end of last year, though, is that part of how we managed to handle it like champs was that, without consciously deciding to do so, I pretty much threw my business under the bus. For example, Craftcation was the first conference I traveled for since 2011. In that time, Instagram has replaced Twitter as the, “Oh, I know you from ____!”
I went back to work when O was four months old and the manuscripts I’d lined up to edit before he came around started coming in. We hired a part-time nanny, who moved on to have her own baby five months later, and then we hired Em, who was O’s part-time nanny until he was almost two-and-a-half.
I thought that was all perfectly ideal. We couldn’t afford a full-time nanny, but we also didn’t need one because I didn’t have full-time work. I thought it was pretty great that I could give O hugs at lunchtime, and part of the reason Em was such a good fit for our family is that I loved having her around, and since I work from home that was pretty important.
Eventually, it started to become apparent that O’s behaviour was way better on days he got to play with other kids versus days it was just him and Em or him and me. And so we started to get twitchy about daycare. We’d been on a couple of daycare lists for over a year at that point. Out of our control, and stressful, that was.
And then we got The Call, and were offered a spot in our top-choice daycare, and were told they couldn’t accommodate our request for three days a week, but could accommodate four. So we took it, and four days of daycare was less expensive than 3.5 days of part-time nanny, so that was nice, too. Em got a new job and O started daycare, and suddenly my work time was in an empty, quiet house.
After a few months, we decided a more structured, consistent schedule would be better for all of us, and in around September or October, O switched to attend daycare full-time.
I’ve made more money from editing contracts in the first quarter of 2014 than I did in all of 2013. I’ve been approached for all sorts of projects, some of which have been a perfect match and some of which haven’t been. I’ve said yes and no and maybe, and all the while I’ve had work to do.
It’s not a coincidence that my work life has thrived in the time since full-time daycare became a part of our lives. I have a consistent, dependable work schedule. I have flexibility to schedule phone meetings and in-person meetings and work-related travel. I have the quiet and space I need to utterly zone out, which is an essential part of my work that I rarely had an opportunity to achieve before.
No guilt. O is so happy and stimulated at daycare. His teachers are wonderful human beings, and he’s made many friends. He’s far happier there than he was spending most of his time one-on-one with an adult, that’s for sure.
Last year, it was all I could do to write my book and try to start up a doomed magazine business. When that magazine project crashed and burned last June, I was stuck with a whole lot of time I’d set aside for it and not filled with freelance work. After panicking for a short while, I hustled, which is part of why the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 saw an uptick of editing contracts. It’s daycare that allowed me to recover so relatively quickly, because it gave me space and time.
I may not make a ton of money in 2014, either, but I’ve already filled my quota of doing meaningful work that’s the kind of work that forms a foundation for more work. My kind of work takes a long time to ramp up. It takes a long time to prove yourself an asset to conferences and workshops, to line up clients who will hopefully come back again and again, to plan the promotions that will hopefully lead to a best-selling book, to be consistently visible and smart and vibrant and fun so people looking for those qualities in a collaborator find you and come calling.
This year, I’ve stopped doing the things you’re generally supposed to do, and started only doing the things I know are worthwhile and meaningful and good for business – where business = making money. Goodbye Mailchimp, hello TinyLetter. Hello Freshbooks. Hello Year of Making. Goodbye any amount of focus on Facebook for business. Hello Instagram. Goodbye “I’m a freelance writer”, hello “I’m a freelance editor, specializing in helping authors produce outstanding self-published patterns, craft books and non-fiction.” Hello, “My new book is coming out in the fall, please pre-order it, for I think you’ll enjoy it.” Goodbye trade shows. Hello book tour.
For the first time in more than three years, I’m on the right track, mostly because I’m simply on a track. I’ve pulled my business out from under that bus, resuscitated it, and gently nudged it back into the world.
Daycare, man. Changed everything.
I’ve been to loads of conferences, and none is like Craftcation. The organizers behind this event have created a magical balance between recreation and education, with so much making. It would take me hours to properly recount my time in Ventura, so I’ll briefly sum up and tell the rest of the story in pictures.
I was there for three days. Not enough time! Next year, if they have me back, I’ll arrive for the pre-conference, for sure, if for no other reason than that I didn’t have time to explore Ventura (home of a fabulous used book store, and Super Buzzy!).
Craftcation is geared to small handmade business owners, and involves both business classes and crafts classes. So I took a class with the ever brilliant Kari Chapin about growing (or not) your business, and I took a class on how to make soy candles. Both = awesome.
I also taught two classes – one, a hands-on Mighty Ugly workshop; the other a larger class on Embracing the Ugly Side of Your Business. Both classes were well attended, but more than that, they were both filled with people who really dove into the sometimes unpleasant muck I asked them to dive into. And they did it with grace, compassion, humility and generosity. I love all of them.
One of the things I’ve loved about the Year of Making project I’m doing is that I’ve taken up drawing and doodling. That this was timed with the release of Lisa Congdon‘s Creativebug class was total coincidence, but I was a little beside myself to actually meet her at the conference. She delivered a wonderful keynote address, which was so in line with everything I do with Mighty Ugly that I not only referred to her talk at the beginning of both of my classes to set the context, but I also screwed up the guts to shake her hand after her talk and tell her I loved it. I think I’m over my fangirl nerves now, which is good, because we’ll be crossing paths again in the future and it’s exhausting to feel like a doofus. (See what I did there? More on that future path-crossing soon.)
Ok, no more babbling. Photos!
We made headbands. Not one to follow the trend of using flowers and feathers, I made mine a cupcake. And did that cupcake make it home with me intact? Yes. Yes it did.
Craftcation organizes office hours with the instructors. I love this idea so much, and I loved the conversations I had with people who came.
Bourbon and crochet:
I’ll write a round-up post about Craftcation soon (it will be filled with love, for the conference was amazeballs), but my friend Isaac Watson just posted a link to a piece that hits on a topic I would have buried in that post, and it deserves to be front and centre, so here we are.
I taught my favourite class on Saturday, to a room full of fabulous students. The class is called Embracing the Ugly Side of Your Business, and it’s about taking a long look at the things that nag us, terrify us, and subtly or dramatically hold us back in business.
Actually, to say I “teach” the class is a misnomer. Because what I really do in this class is facilitate a conversation that allows the students in the room to help each other. And boy howdy, did my Craftcation students step up. They were open, honest, encouraging and generous.
Because so much of this class involves open discussion, no two sessions are ever the same. But one topic inevitably comes up in a room full of creative businesspeople, and it’s my goal as the “teacher” not to be the one to bring it up first, because it’s advice best given by someone else.
And that advice is to hire someone to do that nagging, terrifying thing for you (or at least to do one of the nagging, terrifying things). Because though many of us are nagged and terrified by generalized feelings of self doubt and fear of failure, most of us are also nagged by doubts related to our ability to do one or several specific tasks that are required to run a business.
Go read that essay I linked to above, if you haven’t already.
As businesspeople, we cannot be successful without help. We just can’t. None of us is ace at all the tasks we need to accomplish to run our businesses. None of us, so stop planning the angry email you’re composing to me in your mind in which you’ll tell me you’re a skilled accountant, graphic designer, publicist, marketer, product designer, manufacturer, writer, editor and salesperson. If you think that, you’re full of shit.
When someone in my class raises her hand and says, “Have you considered hiring a bookkeeper? I did that, and it was the best money I ever spent,” I go home happy. Because when that simple statement is released into the room, a collective sigh of relief is exhaled. Everyone has thus been given permission to spend money to solve a problem. And they have been assured the money will be well spent. And then various people around the room start nodding and mumbling about the graphic designer they hired to design their packaging or the friends they pay to work huge craft shows with them, etc.
When Abby Glassenberg hired me to edit her ebook last year, it wasn’t her glowing praise that made me superduper happy after she launched the book (though of course that made me happy), it was that she wrote on her blog that she made my fee back in the first five hours the book was on sale.
We are makers, crafters, artists, DIYers, but in business, we can not and should not go it alone.
I’ve been editing some sewing patterns by a designer I adore, whose bag designs blow my mind. And though someday, maybe soonish, I do intend to lock myself in a room for a day to make one, I remain somewhat intimidated by all the fiddly details that go into sewing a really extraordinary accessory. But it’s been on my mind. And she’s been encouraging me to just do it already (and she’s right, I should).
I was in this mindset when I stumbled onto a link to Dog Under My Desk’s Get Carded Wallet pattern, so I bought it. Because it’s adorable, and I decided that the $14 for the pattern would certainly be worth it. And because I knew I’d have a whole day to myself last weekend when the guys were away overnight. And because it only requires a couple of fat quarters and some interfacing and a zipper, and I had all that at home already. A good first step before making a larger bag, right? Right.
You guys, this pattern is amazing. Not only does it include a step-by-step photo tutorial of the whole shebang, it also includes some variations I found very appealing (like making a pleated change pocket instead of a ruffled one, and a fabric ID pocket rather than a clear vinyl one), and it involves engineering I found so very clever.
I don’t know how many hours it took me to sew this. I do know that I did almost nothing else after I finished the eye masks in the early afternoon last Saturday, and that I went to bed around midnight. The outside is part of a piece of sale fabric I picked up at Spool of Thread a few months ago. The inside is a fat quarter I’ve been hoarding. This was my first time using fusible interfacing, and I managed to fuse it successfully only less than half the time, so that’s confusing. But whatever, I worked around it. I didn’t have the one piece of sew-in interfacing the pattern calls for, since I only had fusible, so I wowed myself with cleverness by fusing two pieces together into one, non-sticky, very firm piece.
Anyway. I woke up Sunday morning and made coffee and then finished the wallet in a mad dash of stitching and snipping and turning-out and public radio. And this is what I had:
I’m so proud of it. Really, I’m proud of myself for not backing away when I saw how involved it is to make something like this. It is involved, and it probably took me like ten hours to make it, but it’s also quite simple. Just one step after another, like anything. And beyond being happy with the making, I’m happy with the product. Part of the reason this project appealed to me in the first place is that I’ll be traveling so much in coming months, and I prefer to travel with a smallish, lightweight wallet (my usual wallet is big and heavy, because for some reason I can’t manage for it not to be, and for some other reason it seems grown-up even though that’s really dumb). Most smallish lightweight wallets don’t have the right assortment and/or arrangement of pockets, but this wallet does. It’s perfect, I tell you.
As you read this, I’m winging my way to Southern California for Craftcation, wallet in bag. I hope some crafty pals notice it, because I’m ready to brag.
I’m going to be travelling for more than half of April. No joke! I’ve put the auto-responder on my email that pretty much says, “Uh, text me if it’s an emergency, otherwise there’s a chance you won’t hear back from me till May.” I’ll be relying an awful lot on benevolent wifi gods, Whatsapp, frugal use of an exorbitant roaming plan, and people’s good-natured understanding. I’m sure I’ll obsessively document my adventures on Instagram, which is my favourite thing of late.
First up will be Craftcation Conference on Thursday, then I’ll be home for four days, then there’s a family wedding back east and Passover shenanigans, then home for a week, then another trip to do something last-minute but exciting that I’ll talk your ear off about in around three months and that will require a constant state of planning-for amidst the rest of the chaos and it will also involve crochet, which I’m very excited about let me tell you.
There’s a pile of clothes in the corner of my bedroom waiting to be packed. There’s a pile of Mighty Ugly supplies for my Craftcation workshop. There are pages of notes in my bullet journal for travel details, workshop notes, and lists. There’s hourly neurotic checking that my passport is where it should be. I’m catching up on laundry. I’m that jerk who tells friends I can make plans in May.
Ok, so. This past weekend I had the house to myself for nearly two days. I channeled my scattered thoughts into sewing obsessively, as you do. I’ll update you on crafty things over the next week or two via the handy scheduling feature of WordPress, so you can have the illusion that I’m a blogger with her shit together while I’m zinging around like a headless squirrel. (Well that’s a gruesome image for you.)
I started with a simple project on Saturday morning: an eye mask. Seems a sensible thing to have when traveling lots, right? And since I’ll be bunking with Haley, AKA The Zen of Making, at Craftcation, I realized I’d better make her a matching one. And since I was making matching eye masks, I figured they’d better have sheep on them. Because sheep. And because I had the perfect amount of scrap sheep fabric for two masks. I used this insanely simple tutorial from Dog Under My Desk, who is my new favourite person (as you’ll see in my next post about what I made on the weekend).
Instead of fleece for the soft side of the masks, I used some scrap microfibery towel I’ve been poaching for various projects over the years. That hint of orange elastic is my favourite impulse craft purchase of late – it’s intended to be used for diaper covers, or something. It’s really soft to the touch, and not too sproingy.
The project was so quick and simple that I had both masks done in no time. This may be a new go-to gift pattern for the jet-setters in my life.
Alright, kids. If you’ll be at Craftcation, I can’t wait to see you! And if not, well, I hope you’re also psyched for grand adventures brewing!
My bullshit meter has been sitting in the red all day, and I need to bring it back to normal or I’m going to blow up, or something.
I went on a little rant on Twitter this morning, but the character limit didn’t allow me to fully get at my pet peeve.
My pet peeve is this: woo-woo rhetoric in the context of business advice for women.
It seems like everywhere I look, someone is selling an ebook, course or seminar on some or another topic that involves the words goddess, soulfulness, or spirituality. Or some variation or combination of words like that.
(Men, do you encounter this? I know the products I’m talking about here are aimed specifically at women because of the design they’re couched in and the gendered language, like goddess. I don’t think I’ve seen anything remotely flaky like this aimed at solo male creatives, but please school me if I’m wrong.)
Now, I’m unconcerned with anyone’s individual experience. It’s specifically the proliferation of teaching and advice materials that connect this woo-woo bullshit with running a successful business that gets me.
Why? Because business is not church, people. And in case you have this but forming, business is not yoga either.
Know what I’d like to see? Reality. A whole lot more reality. An embracing of reality. That we are a varied and diverse group of people that is motivated by any number of factors to blaze our own trails in making a living. That it can be hard and it can be beautiful, sometimes at the same time. But let’s not assume that because we’re women, we need to get all touchy feely and woo-woo about everything.
I want to see rhetoric that sells materials and services to creative businesspeople without elevating business to the divine. Because business is not divine. Business is business. Life is life. Reality is reality.
As human beings, we will seek and find greater meaning in an infinite variety of ways, and we’ll do that in our businesses regardless of what other people tell us, because our businesses are a huge part of our lives. So enough telling us. Enough subtly hinting that we need to get in touch with some inner whatever in order to thrive and shine and float above… what? real life?
Because seriously. Reality is just great, folks. It’s a good place to be. We all live here. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it’s amazing and all the time it’s what we have, and it’s alright.
I want to feel capable and successful, don’t you? Do we need to be sold the snake oil of achieving goddess status to feel we’re worthy of all our basic desires?
I want to pursue work I find fulfilling and fun and that allows me to connect to other human beings. Why does someone have to imply that that’s somehow related to my soul?
I want to see words like satisfaction and profitable and meaningful.
In short, I’d like not to feel like I’m surrounded by flaky bullshit all the time.
There, I said it.
My usual place in the crafty/creative business landscape is on the fringes. I’m comfortable with that. I get that the sort of thing I’m complaining about here proliferates because it sells. People want it. And that’s fine.
But some of us don’t want it, and there’s very little else out there for us. And I’d like to know why.
So tell me, if you know. Please tell me. I need to let this go and get back to my everyday normal stuff. Which everyday normal, mortal, un-divine stuff forms the substance of my challenging, engaging, and utterly satisfying business life.
Ok, yes. The book has had a cover for a while. But the cover is now public, so I can show you!
The amazing Kate Bingaman-Burt drew the cover of Make It Mighty Ugly, and she illustrated the book, too. Also, I interviewed her, so it’s entirely possible the book will make you become as smitten with her as I have been for many years.
Let’s see, what else can I tell you?
The book is made up of essays, exercises, anecdotes, quotes, links and a bibliography. Because when I tell you I want us all to fight (and sometimes hug) our creative demons, I’m not messing around.
The book is orange. I mean, not just the cover. The inside is black and white and orange. Because the beautiful human beings who designed the book get me, like, in my soul.
I will be going on a wee book tour in the fall. Though I wish I had the time and money to visit all of you, it’s likely I’ll get to only a few big cities in the northeast and northwest. It won’t be any ordinary tour, though, and I won’t be traveling alone, and I’ll tell you more when there’s more to tell.
The best way to hear about events and the like is to get my newsletter, which I send out every week in the form of a letter to you about that week. It’s chill, and you can always just skip to the bottom for updates (and for links to some other nifty stuff).
Kids, I’m just so proud of this book, and I can’t wait for you to see it for real. I’m going to see a galley of it (otherwise known as an uncorrected proof, complete with typos!) when I visit my publisher next week to discuss the marketing plan, and I’m prepared to cry, even not in private. Eventually I’ll figure out a way to explain how I feel. Perhaps it will suffice to say I love this book, and I hope you’ll love it, too.
And now, it’s real!