Skype Date with a Book Group

Last week, I Skyped with a book group that’s working through Make It Mighty Ugly in 2015. (You heard that right; they formed the group just to work through the book!)

What a fun way to spend an evening – both for me and, I hope, for them. They brought up some serious food for thought, which is part of why I love talking about ugliness and creative demons with as many people as I can.

Check out the ugly creatures they made after our chat:

Mighty Ugly creatures from book group

If you want to gather a group to talk about and do some exercises from Make It Mighty Ugly, I wrote up a wee guide to help you get started.

2014 Year in Review

At the very end of 2013, after my first properly relaxing holiday in a couple of years, I had a major realization about my general situation. I realized that I was wrong when I thought I’d gracefully handled becoming a parent on such short notice at the end of 2010, when in fact I’d handled it gracefully only in my personal life. Over the previous three years, I’d managed to completely hoop my business.

So I started 2014 excited by my realization, and eager to mend my broken professional life.

The Year, Professionally

I decided my theme for the year would be STRENGTH. I wanted my work to stand on firmer ground. I wanted to feel more financially secure. I wanted to get my body in shape. Rather than feeling like I was constantly treading water, I wanted to start pulling some solid strokes.

Over the course of 2014, I:

  • billed more for editing in the first quarter than I had in all of 2013 (which isn’t saying much, except that it also speaks volumes).
    • projects I worked on included three books and quite a few craft patterns.
  • revamped my weekly newsletter, nearly doubled its size, and actually sent it pretty much every week.
  • taught at Craftcation Conference.
  • taught a beginner crochet class at Craftsy.
  • spoke at Creative Mornings Vancouver.
  • had my book published.
  • went on a book tour of nine major cities.
  • completed a year of making (the first daily project I’ve ever completed, despite starting several).
  • wrote and self-published my first ebook.
  • sold my first soap.
  • started a podcast.
  • launched my first Etsy shop.
  • built my first self-hosted shop.

Do I feel like my business is stronger at the end of 2014? Hells yes, I do. Many of the projects I started or grew will continue into next year, which is a very welcome change from the short-lived, flash-in-the-pan projects that defined the previous few years. (I’m continuing my newsletter and podcast, will teach at Craftcation again, will experiment with selling more soap, will do another #yearofmaking, and will continue with both my Etsy and self-hosted shops.)

Though not a raging bestseller, Make It Mighty Ugly has been, as far as I can tell, very well received. It got a starred review in Library Journal, which, duh, made me super happy. I’ve heard from perfect strangers about how much they’ve enjoyed the book, and that’s pretty much all I need to consider it a success. (I have no idea how well it’s been selling; I won’t know until I get my first royalties statement in a month or two.)

I remain completely in love with the ideas of Mighty Ugly, and I look forward to continuing to explore them in the coming year.

Some Thoughts on Editing

I hired an editor when I was working on the Year of Making ebook, and not only did she make the book so much better, I got to experience a phenomenon a couple of my own editing clients have reported to me: I made back the cost of editing in the first twenty-four hours my ebook was out. That’s three separate anecdotes, and though they certainly do not a guarantee make, I do find it fascinating. Of course, each of those books was written by an author who has an audience that was excited for the book, and the books were written with those audiences in mind. If a prospective client comes to me and they have an established audience, too, I’ll certainly mention this anecdote to them. Editing is not terribly expensive, and it’s quite possible that with a strong product, a solid platform and some good marketing, you can make your editing fee up in the first day your book is out.

Looking Ahead

I’m ending the year with an idea for my next book; I’ve just signed a contract with some very smart, creative people to do more online teaching (more on that very soon!); I’m awaiting a new manuscript to edit (from a repeat client!); I’ve lined up a steady editing schedule with another repeat client; I have a Mighty Ugly professional-development workshop scheduled for July (I’ve wanted to do MU workshops in this context for years; even just one is more than I did in 2014, so that’s exciting!); and I’m considering selling soap at my first in-person market. This is a far stronger start compared to last year. That firmer foundation I wanted to establish? Established.

And hells yes, that makes me feel strong.

Personally

2014 was the year I started enjoying jogging and running. I’d never enjoyed it before, despite several attempts, but this year I found myself eager to do it. Yesterday, in fact, we bought a treadmill, such is my desire to run even when it’s dark out and even when it’s pissing rain.

That said, I’ve spent the last quarter of the year a bit of a mess. A foot injury in September prevented me from running for two months. After staying perfectly healthy through a truly nutty October (book tour!), a wicked stomach bug in November knocked me on my ass for four days, and set me two full weeks behind in work just as the calendar started barreling toward Christmas. So though my foot was healed by the end of November, I couldn’t even entertain the idea of starting my running habit back up, for I felt the need to be chained to my desk chair (I did get all the work done).

Then Greg’s semester ended and we took off work a week early to visit some friends and camp in our wee camper in their driveways. Owen had the sniffles when we left, but it turned out what he really had was the plague. Then Greg got it. Then I got it. We cut our short trip short by a couple of days, and three days after we returned home I discovered I’d turned that plague into shingles (caught very early, thankfully; I’m pretty much fine!). I suppose the shingles should force me to realize I’ve perhaps ended the year not as strong, physically, as I’d wanted.

It does serve as a pretty effective wake-up call. I tend to be conservative about pushing myself too hard, but I see now that I wasn’t conservative enough this fall (then again, book tour! Too hard or not, that one was a no-brainer). Also, as a family, we need to remember to take a proper, relaxing holiday at the end of the year. Road trips are awesome, but they’re not relaxing.

But hey, looking ahead to 2015, we’re going to take an epic road trip in May and June. It’s the last time we’ll be able to do such a thing during the not-crazy-July-and-August season before Owen starts kindergarten. So I’ll arrange my work schedule around this epic trip, and I do believe I’m in a position to do that fairly gracefully (because I have wonderful clients who think epic road trips are worth working around). We’ll see. (By “epic” I mean we’re going to spend about five weeks on the road with our wee camper, driving a massive loop around the western U.S., going as far south as Southern California, and as far east as New Mexico and Wyoming. National Parks, here we come!)

As for my creative life, #yearofmaking certainly had a profound effect on pretty much everything. I’ve become a maker in my fullest understanding of the word. My commitment to tinkering, experimenting and trying new things has left me feeling downright capable, and that’s totally in line with my over-arching goal of building strength. I’ve become utterly comfortable flailing around in front of others as I try new things (often ungracefully). This was the year the “mighty” in Mighty Ugly really settled in for me. I started 2014 a yarn crafter who occasionally sewed, and I ended it obsessed with painting and making soap (and still knitting and crocheting, and I’ll be doing a lot of sewing in the coming months).

My kid (he’s four now; I’m dying from it), it turns out, is a bit of a perfectionist. His desire to know how to do something seems to get in the way of him actually learning how, but he also seems to have internalized that we’re a family that makes things. We made gifts together this holiday season, and he proudly gave them out. He knows that everyday things like soap and lotion and bath fizzies are made by us. He makes requests.

I took him to an arts crawl last month, and was fascinated to see what interested him. He’s an object guy, that’s for sure. Decorative art meant nothing to him, but he was interested in pottery and woodwork. He’s also pretty Lego obsessed (he’s a to-the-letter instruction-follower).

He’s taught me that though I’ve become pretty ace (if I say so myself) at nudging grown-ups to confront their creative demons, I know almost nothing of a preschooler’s way of thinking. I default, as is almost always a good parenting strategy, I’ve found, when safety isn’t an issue, to leaving it alone. But I do intend to occasionally experiment in 2015 to see if anything sparks an impulse in him to create beyond the scope of Lego. (If he doesn’t, I won’t worry about it; he’s got the fine motor coordination, so there’s simply no need.)

Socially, this year was a challenge, especially since August. It’s hard to be a working parent and a (gregarious) introvert and also see friends on a regular basis. I just love being at home, and there’s very little that will entice me out of here after a solid day’s work and a couple of hours with my family. More often than not, my pajamas go on right after I put Owen to bed at around 7:30.

But however much I love being a homebody, I also value my friendships with others. And that means I have to get out. This coming year, I’ll need to figure out how to manage that in such a way that’s rewarding rather than stressful. One thing I certainly want to do is more regularly attend the weekly knit night at my local yarn store.

Finally

Really, I just need to stop writing this post. There are loads of directions I could go in, but we’ll have friends arriving in a couple of hours for a party, and I need to tidy up the place (and if I manage it quickly, I intend to paint my nails all kinds of sparkly).

Over the last several years, we’ve had some doozies, of the we’re-not-dead-so-we’re-stronger variety. 2014 was most certainly not one of those years. It was a year of growth, joy, connection, accomplishment and strength. I’ve done a good job of not downplaying that. It’s a true delight to say I’ve had a good year. It’s certainly not something I’ve taken for granted, and I’m going to do my best to take the good feeling into 2015 with me. Hopefully, it will grow.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, for supporting my work with your hard-earned money and your invaluable words, and for your quiet contemplation. I hope you, too, had a solid year of strength and growth, and that 2015 is a year of health, happiness and continued adventure for you and yours.

Happy New Year!

New Ebook: Year of Making

yearofmaking ebook cover

I’ve talked about it all year, my #yearofmaking. About how surprisingly amazing and transformative it’s been to make something, anything, every day.

Earlier this month, I talked with Miriam Felton, the person who started #yearofmaking back in 2013. We got a little… enthusiastic about it. Because though it’s simple, a year of making is also pretty freaking awesome.

Though a few people also started doing a year of making this year, many more have hinted at maybe sorta wanting to do it. Which means that, obviously, worksheets are in order (click thumbnails below to embiggen).

Year of Making: A Grand Adventure Through 365 Daily Acts of Creation is a 35-page ebook that chronicles all the wonderful things you get when you commit to making something every day. Featuring nine worksheets to help you figure out what you already enjoy making and what you fantasize about making if only you had (um, made) the time, and to help you keep track of what you do make over the course of a year, this ebook is like a jumpstart to a project that may just end up being the most amazing project you ever take on.

Beginning on January 1st isn’t necessary or even important, but it seemed like a good idea to get this all together in time for the new calendar year.

So until January 5th, the ebook is a special launch price of $10 CAD (the goal was $9 USD, but Etsy forces me to list prices in my local Canadian dollar, so there you have it).

You’ve been thinking about maybe doing a year of making, haven’t you? Well, there’s nothing to do now but do it. I’ll be doing it again, obviously, starting my second year on January 1st. Please join in! The more the merrier.

The only rule is to make something (even the tiniest part of something) every day for a year. Snap a photo and share it online tagged #yearofmaking. Get further inspiration and all those delicious worksheets right here. (For PayPal users, the ebook is also available here.)

A Little Late to the Etsy Game

screenshot of Etsy shop

I remember when Etsy launched. Pretty much, I mean. Because obviously I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do remember the huge news of it. And I remember thinking, “What kind of stupid name is that?” And I remember being all, “Holy crap, this is amazing.”

I’ve been to Etsy HQ in Brooklyn. I sat on a panel there once. I spoke at an Etsy conference in Portland once. But though I have worked with many, many sellers of goods over the last decade, until last month I had never sold any goods online, myself. I have always worked on the editorial side of the crafts industry.

In the time since Etsy came around, the e-commerce landscape has changed dramatically. It’s no longer brain-breakingly difficult to set up an online store – not only because Etsy’s still around, and also Shopify and BigCartel and any number of other options, but also because there are plugins to get the job done in a relatively straightforward manner on platforms like WordPress.

When I decided in October that I wanted to sell personalized, signed copies of my book, I didn’t really even consider using Etsy. I didn’t already have a shop there, so there was no audience there for me to build on, and I’m a DIY web person, so I barely challenged my assumption that the obvious way to proceed would be to build a shop on my own website.

And build a shop I did.

I installed the free plugin, and I paid for a few extensions for it that would make my shop better and my life easier, and I got it all set up.

And then I didn’t really like it. I felt like if I was a potential signed-book buyer, I wouldn’t really be impressed by this author’s online shop. It didn’t quite look right.

And as the author, I wanted it to look better. But I didn’t really feel like I had time to do that task justice and still have books available in time for holiday delivery.

So the morning I was ready to launch my not-quite-great shop, I went over to Etsy to see if maybe that might be a better solution, at least for now.

Holy smokes, you guys. I had my Etsy shop set up and ready to go in like an hour.

And so then I launched both shops, and decided to see which one is a better solution for me on the back end, and which one is more popular with customers.

I launched the shops not quite two weeks ago. Since then, I’ve made one sale of one product on my website, and five sales of a total of seven products on Etsy.

For one of the Etsy sales, I needed to make a partial refund due to some confusion I created. I thought it would take me a while to figure out how to do that. It took me approximately fifteen seconds to get it done.

Etsy’s seller app on my phone makes a delightful ka-ching when I make a sale. The delightfulness of this is neither to be dismissed as useless nor underestimated for its significant degree of happy-making.

Now, if you’ve been a seller of handmade goods for a long time, I know you may be smirking at the naïve author going on about how great Etsy is. I’m well aware that longtime Etsy sellers have had more than one bone to pick with the service, and a lot of the complaints I’ve heard have been both very real and very appropriate. But I’m not naïve, despite being a noob. It’s quite possible that down the line I’ll decide Etsy is no longer the best solution for me, but not for now.

For now, Etsy most certainly is a great solution for me. For now, I see the fees I pay Etsy the same way Abby Glassenberg sees them – as a pretty darned inexpensive way to reach people. And I see the Etsy platform as one that lends credibility and ease of use to my brand-new shop. Like Abby says in her post, Etsy is a household name. My name is not a household name. My (small) sales numbers support my suspicion that people trust Etsy more than they trust me (or, at least that they trust the Etsy platform more than they trust my own platform).

I don’t know why I’ve been surprised by how simple and robust Etsy is, but I sure am glad I’m using it.

Of course I’d really and truly suck as a seller of things if I didn’t remind you that Thursday is the last day in 2014 to order a personalized signed copy of Make It Mighty Ugly, or a personalized signed bookplate. Lucky that orders placed by Thursday should have no trouble arriving at their destination in time for gift-giving.

The First Since the Book Came Out: Write Me a Letter

The very last exercise in Make It Mighty Ugly is one I actually started here on the blog well over a year ago. It was so interesting, and seemed to be so effective, that I put it in the book.

That exercise is to write me a letter. And in that letter, to name your creative fears, discomforts, demons. Name them, shove them into an envelope, and send that envelope to me. I, in turn, receive your letter. And in reading your letter, I become one other human being in the world who knows what plagues you. Who will, by virtue of my very existence, make you less alone. And then, if it’s cool with you, I might write about what you wrote (anonymously or not, your choice); or destroy your letter and never tell another soul about it.

 

Write me a letter.

 

This week, I received my first letter since the book came out.

Keetha wrote about something I’ve struggled with pretty much forever (in no small part because I once received the worst [well-meaning] advice ever, which I’ll write about another time), and I’m very grateful that she said I could write about her letter, because I have a feeling this will strike a chord with many of you, too. Here’s what she wrote:

My fear is that I let my fear stop me. This morning I’ve felt sickening, heart-racing anxiety: I have a free day to work on fun, holiday mixed media projects that I’m excited about! And can’t wait to dive into – except the fear that I will let myself down. Unrealized potential, ideas not acted on, dormant creativity, not ever trying because of fear – that is my fear.

I know, right? I honestly don’t think I made headway with my very similar fear until this year. In fact, I’m pretty sure the act of writing MIMU is what finally got me into a mindset that allows me to pretty much always start something I’m excited about. I used to be total shit at doing things I was excited about. It was as if the excitement was just too much. I was sure I’d screw up the act itself, so I’d just allow myself to bask in the excitement while not actually doing the exciting thing. I was constantly twisted up about this. It’s part of why I got into the habit of making audacious proclamations publicly – then at least I’d feel like I had to do a thing, you know?

The nail in the coffin of this habit I used to have of not making things has been #yearofmaking. I worked through so much of my own crap writing the book, that when I had the idea to make something every day, I was just sitting there ready to take all that work I’d done and, uh, put it to work. Keetha’s letter made me realize that my ugly voice pretty much never chimes in about this anymore. He never tells me I shouldn’t bother because I won’t be able to create something that even remotely approaches my idea of it. He doesn’t tell me my time would be better spent continuing to daydream instead of just doing. Nope. I’ve quieted him, at least on this one topic.

Now, when I have a free afternoon and a hankering to spend a few hours making something, I make it. I can’t stress enough how freaking awesome that feels.

If you’re reading this, Keetha, drop me a note sometime and let me know if you’ve made headway confronting this fear, eh? I’m rooting for you!

NaNoWriMo 2014: I’m Doing It

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

I wrote about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in Make It Mighty Ugly, and I said I’d probably participate this year. And so, though I didn’t have a clue what to write a novel about until I was in bed on Friday night, I’m doing it. After all, I did say I’d do it. In print. That’s practically like writing it in blood.

The idea of NaNoWriMo is that you write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. The reason I mention it in MIMU, and why I think it’s so great, is that the focus of the whole challenge is on quantity rather than quality. It’s about just getting it done, not about getting it done well. It’s not uncommon for fellow challenge-takers to wish each other well on their shitty novel. Because you can’t write a great novel in thirty days. But you sure can write a shitty one. And then you can revise and rework it into a great novel (or not) another time. (I’m pretty sure Water for Elephants came from NaNoWriMo. [I found that book a disappointment, but loads and loads of people loved it.])

(Edited to add: Here, Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, says it way better than I do.)

The whole point is simply to write a novel, and to not concern yourself with good writing.

I’ve never written a novel. I’m not a writer who has a handful of novels sitting in a drawer in my desk (also, my desk doesn’t have drawers). I have, however, started NaNoWriMo at least twice before, and not finished.

So this time I’m determined to finish. This time, I know I can write a 50,000-word book, because I have. And I know I can stick with a daily challenge, because I have. So I’m in a different place than I was the other times I took on this challenge then bailed.

 

What do you say? Are you in? It’s not too late to start!

 

On Friday night, when I asked Greg what I should write about, he told me I should write something to do with a hairdryer factory closing down. That’s a terrible idea, but it’s one more idea than I’d had without it, and so I went with it. (You may or may not be pleased by my assurance that the factory in my novel is not a hairdryer factory.)

I’m not concerned about how shitty my novel may be, but I am concerned that I’ll have nothing to write about. Then again, at the time I’m writing this post, I’ve written more than 3,000 words, so.

So far, my novel is terrible, but my word count is on target.

I’m going to follow Rachael Herron‘s advice from MIMU and try to do my novel writing before I start my workday every morning, so then it will be done and I won’t have to concern myself with it at the end of the day when I’m tired and lazy.

I’m kpwerker over at NaNoWriMo.org. Let’s be writing buddies.

Come on, dear readers. Write a shitty novel. I dare you.