Setting Boundaries as a Ward Against Anxiety

At the long-ago recommendation of Erik Wecks, a local-to-me author and friend, I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

(I’ve been picking up books like this lately because I want to dig deeper in my work – both my fiction and my non-fiction. The authors that I admire the most are the ones who bare their souls on the page – something that’s hard to do if you’re someone like me who hates digging in to her own feelings.)

In it, Brown talks about learning to let ourselves be vulnerable in order to live more “Wholehearted” lives. To get a taste, check out this TED Talk she did a few years back.

Brown’s insights on the way we as humans shield ourselves from being vulnerable have been eye-opening to me. I haven’t come across a single chapter yet that doesn’t cause me to say, “Oh, yeah. I do that.”

Last night, though, I didn’t just see a glimmer of myself reflected – instead, it was as though I came face-to-face with myself in a mirror.

Numbness as a shield against anxiety

In the section, Brown talks about how people try to shield themselves from uncomfortable feelings like vulnerability and anxiety through alcohol and pills, drugs, television, and anything else that takes the edge off the pain.

We’ve all done this, at least on occasion:

  • A glass of wine – or three – at the end of long day.
  • Binge watching a TV show until we fall asleep on the couch.
  • Scrolling manically through social media and email to keep from thinking why we’re so anxious in the first place.

What struck me last night was an observation she made on how her research participants could be divided into two camps:

Group A defines the challenge of anxiety as finding ways to manage and soothe the anxiety, while Group B defines the problem as changing the behaviors that lead to anxiety.

“Clearly, I’m in Group A,” I told myself, despairing. “I’m constantly stressed out, always trying to do too much.”

Brown goes on to talk about how differently Group A and B deal with things like email and voice mail:

  • Group A goes to great lengths to control everything, answer everything, deal with everything.
  • Group B goes to great lengths to minimize the distractions: unsubscribe, tell people they won’t be available, set expectations and boundaries.

And the strangest thing happened. As I read on, I realized that somehow, even though I still think of myself as being in Group A, I’ve transitioned into Group B.

I’ve spent years trying to do it all and failing miserably. Too overwhelmed and anxious to sleep, finishing a bottle of wine on a Wednesday night just to try to dull that both of panic jolting through my chest so I can finally relax.

When my husband used to tell me that I needed to cut back on things because I was too stressed, my answer was that I should be able to do it all.

That I just needed to get better, faster, tougher. Smarter. That my inability to do everything was because I was a failure.

This quote from Brown hit me hard:

“The participants who struggled the most with numbing, Group A, explained that reducing anxiety meant finding ways to numb it, not changing the thinking, behaviors, or emotions that created anxiety.

“I hated every minute of this part of the research. I’ve always looked for better ways to manage my exhaustion and anxiety. I wanted help “living like this,” not suggestions on how to “stop living like this.” My struggle mirrored the struggle that I heard from the folks who talked the most about numbing.”

Learning to set boundaries

Reading this last night made me realize that slowly and without even quite realizing it, I’ve learned to set boundaries in my life.

Now, when I find myself overwhelmed by responsibilities, I take a look at how I got there and create a plan for avoiding that path in the future. I create new sets of rules and boundaries for myself. I add new items to the list of things I say “no” to.

As I read through the section, I began to realize just how many boundaries I’ve set in the past year:

  • I set aside time in the week for writing fiction, and tell my clients I’m unavailable.
  • I no longer check my email first thing in the morning.
  • I honor myself and my pre-existing deadlines by saying no to work I don’t have time to do.
  • I keep from letting the world hijack my day by not listening to the news or checking social media in the mornings.
  • I no longer work on evenings or weekends, except in very rare cases.
  • I no longer say yes to social events I don’t want to go to.

Until I read this chapter, I hadn’t realized just how powerful these boundaries have been in reclaiming my life from anxiety.

I waited so long to set them because I was afraid – afraid to say no to clients, afraid to say no to friends and family. Again, it’s as though Brown is living inside my head when she writes these words:

“We have to believe that we are enough in order to say, “Enough!” For women, setting boundaries is difficult because the shame gremlins are quick to weigh in: “Careful saying no. You’ll really disappoint these folks. Don’t let them down. Be a good girl. Make everyone happy.” For men, the gremlins whisper, “Man up. A real guy could take this on and then some. Is the little mamma’s boy just too tired?””

It took me too many years to realize how to set boundaries, because a voice inside my head kept telling me, “Who are you to say no? Who are you to think you deserve the weekend free? Who are you to be all high and mighty?”

Well, I have an answer.

I’m me.

And I don’t have to answer to anyone for the boundaries I’ve set for myself.


What are the boundaries you’ve set up in your life? How do they help you cope with anxiety and overwhelm? Let me know in the comments!

Camp Nanowrimo, Day 1 – and a request

Have you ever done Nanowrimo? It’s National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. People around the world take on the challenge of writing a novel (50,000 words) in one month.

I participated years ago and enjoyed the challenge of writing daily – plus, the excitement of hearing everyone else’s progress is really enlivening!

About a week ago, I heard about Camp Nanowrimo. It’s the “summer camp” version of Nanowrimo, where you can set your own word count goal, then shack up into digital “cabins” with other writers in order to share encouragement and feedback.

I decided to sign up on a whim because I’ve been really floundering in my fiction writing habit lately, and I needed a good kick in the motivation. I set a goal of 30,000 words for July (or, about 1,000 words a day). With that goal, I should easily finish the next Durga System novella, and probably get started on some other stuff, as well. I already met my 1k goal for today, so there’s one day down!

Here’s where the request comes in.

I’m trying to get some accountability for my writing, and I’m thinking of starting a standing #1k1hr challenge on Twitter weekday mornings. Probably 8am Pacific, since that will motivate me to get up and get those words out before I get deep in email and client work.

Wanna play? If so, tweet me at @jkwak and let’s write some words together!

On Medium: An Evernote Productivity System for Creatives

I’ve had a few people ask about my to-do list/productivity system recently, so I decided to write an in-depth post about it.

It’s basically an Evernote notebook that I set up based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method – essentially, a digital version of his series of folders and notes. In it, I plan out my tasks for the week and keep track of all the bigger picture projects I have going on in my life.

As a bonus, because it’s in Evernote, I can link to other notes and subfolders within the program.

(I love Evernote.)

For a long time I struggled to find a system that was flexible enough to accommodate my ever-changing workload, digital enough to travel with me, and convenient enough that I’d actually use it.

Enter my Evernote Productivity System. Evernote productivity system screenshot

This system works particularly well for me because I feel more at ease when I know exactly what’s going on in my day/week. Will it work for you? Maybe, maybe not. If you like to have minute-by-minute control of your day and never lose track of your tasks, it just might. If you prefer to roll with the punches and work on whatever you feel like at the moment, maybe not.

Either way, it doesn’t hurt to check it out. Even just reading this post might inspire you to think differently about your own to-do management system.

If this sounds vaguely interesting to you, here’s the post:

An Evernote System for Self-Employed Creatives.

I’ve been wanting to experiment more with publishing on Medium, and since I was recently invited to join the Writers on Writing publication I decided to make this my first topic. I have to say I love formatting posts in the Medium ecosystem – it’s very pretty. I haven’t tried actually drafting anything there yet, since I don’t trust my drafts not to disappear. I’ll stick to Scrivener there, thank you very much.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the post! If you end up using all or any of this system, I’d love to hear about it.

How do you to-do? I love learning from other people’s productivity systems. Let me know how you structure your day in the comments!

New To Freelancing? The 3 Things I Wish I’d Known

Hey there! This post is part of a series of freelancing advice articles from various bloggers, coordinated by invoicing app Invoice2Go. If you’re looking for a simple way to invoice through a phone app, definitely check them out. And as for all the usual disclosures: I’m not getting a cut of any sort – I just dig this project of theirs as a way to support the freelance community. 🙂


I hate making mistakes.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a tendency to be way too hard on myself when I did something wrong – even if no one else noticed or cared.

In fact, that perfectionist tendency is what has often kept me from trying something new, or pushing myself too far. After all, if I don’t push myself too hard then I can’t fail, right?

On the surface that may be right, but I’ve also started to realize that the safe way is a boring way to go through life.

I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone in a lot of scary ways, but by far the most life-changing was when I decided to stop playing it safe at a desk job and start make a career as a freelance writer. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way – but I’ve also avoided a lot of pitfalls by learning from freelancers who went before me.

In the spirit of paying it forward, here my biggest pieces of freelancing advice.

(Oh, and by the way? I spent the last week visiting my family back on the farm, where my 5-year-old niece sagely told me, “If we make mistakes, that means we’re learning.” Learn from the rugrat’s wisdom, everyone.)

1. Sow your (marketing) oats widely

Last week I was talking to a friend, a real estate agent who’s just getting started in the business. He mentioned to me that he’s been surprised lately when prospects he talked to months ago contact him out of the blue – he’d written them off, but they were just biding their time.

That sort of thing happens to me (and other freelancers I know) all the time. A few days before that conversation, I received two emails about prospective work: one from a client I’d written for two years previously, and one from a new prospect who’d been referred to me by a client I’d worked for nearly three years ago.

Part of marketing is about planting seeds, and understanding that those seeds will grow in ways you can’t anticipate. My current biggest client is the result of a friendship I struck up during a networking event. We were both unemployed and just enjoyed each other’s company – but when my new friend got a job at a creative agency several months later, I was the copywriter she knew to call.

2. You probably won’t make money on your passion topics

I see this question again and again in freelancing forums and comment sections:

“I’m passionate about writing about [antiques/spirituality/yoga/golfing/knitting]. How can I find people who will pay me to write about this?”

The hard reality is that you probably can’t. When I first started, I wanted to write about cycling, crafting, travel, and beer. They were things I was passionate about – but they’re also things that a lot of people are passionate about.

I’ve sold articles to travel websites and beer magazines – and I even sold an article on bicycle crafts to a fashionable bike style magazine. I wrote for the Brewers Association trade magazine. I wrote for cycling blogs. But trying to scrape together a career of $50 travel site articles and “free exposure” blog posts was frustrating. Paying markets for these topics were few and far between – and competition was fierce.

It took me ages to learn this, but in industries that people are passionate about, there’s a steady supply of writers who are willing to write about the topics for pennies – or for free.

I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t pursue writing about topics you’re passionate about – just understand that it’s going to be much harder to find well-paying gigs in a popular topic.

3. Think sideways to break into a new niche

Another question I see a lot is how do you get clips to break into X or Y niche. The trick is by making your clips work double duty.

Let me tell you what I mean.

The only clips I had when I started out were travel writing. For the reasons outlined above, I wanted to break into better-paying niches – so I pitched a travel article to a parenting magazine. Sweet! I now had a parenting* clip to add to my portfolio.

I’ve used the same trick to break into trade magazines, cycling magazines, corporate blogging, and eventually into my current primary work writing B2B content marketing pieces for software-as-a-service companies.

(If you want more specific examples, I wrote about this in more detail on Make A Living Writing a couple of years back.)

When you’re starting out, take the work you can get, but don’t be satisfied with it. With every piece you write, scheme how it can advance your portfolio and break you into the next niche. With some strategic thinking, you’ll make it to your dream niche.

(* I have no kids. Bonus advice #4 – don’t worry about only trying to write what you know. As I told one of my current clients when they asked if I knew anything about forklifts, “Nope, but I know a lot about research.”)

Was this helpful? I’d love to hear your own tips – or challenges! Leave ‘em in the comments.

9 Ways To Invest in Your Writing Business

(Fun fact!: 500,000 Venezuelan bolivares used to be worth about $300 USD. It is now worth $0 USD because they reissued their currency. Change your unstable currencies in the airport *before* you fly home, kids!)


I like to set a theme for each year — particularly for my freelance writing business. This year’s theme? Pruning back the wrong opportunities, and investing in my business.

Of course, I’ve been investing in my business all along. I joined the Freelance Writers Den. I took classes with people like Carol Tice and Ed Gandia. I invested in the software and tools, like Freshbooks and a properly-functioning laptop, I needed to run my business effectively. But this year, I’m actively seeking out investment opportunities I know will help my business grow.

Most of those things do cost money, but I just want to say this off the bat: You don’t need to have a lot of money to start investing in your business.

But owning a writing business is no different than owning any other type of business — you need to be constantly investing profits and energy back into it if you want to see real growth.

1. Invest in the right tools

Unlike starting a restaurant, starting a writing business doesn’t require much capital. You can turn in decent work using just an ancient laptop with spotty Wi-Fi, but as you establish yourself it’s worth investing in proper tools — for your own sanity if nothing else!

Consider the tools you need to do your job well and hassle-free: a new laptop, a good desk, software (like Freshbooks and Dragon Dictation), a high-quality monitor, a standing desk, an ergonomic chair….

These things don’t need to be expensive, but you need to be able to count on your tools.

2. Invest in your education

One of the best ways to grow your business is by increasing your skills. Whether you’re interested in picking up a new type of project — like case studies or white papers — or breaking into a new industry, seek out courses, podcasts, blogs, and webinars. Some of these resources may be paid, others may just require an investment of time.

3. Invest in a long-term side project

One way to invest in your business is by taking time to work on a personal project that will pay off long-term dividends. (These dividends don’t always have to be monetary.) One copywriter friend is currently taking time from her busy client schedule to create a webinar that she hopes will net her bigger and better projects. My side projects are my novels, and this blog.

Invest in your future by building something today that will support you tomorrow.

4. Invest in professional conferences

Attending a professional conference is a good way to not only learning new skills and meet new people, it’s also a good way to demonstrate to potential clients that you’re serious about your business.

In this recent High Income Business Writing podcast with Ed Gandia, Jennifer Gregory talks about some of the connections she made by attending Content Marketing World last year. It’s a really inspiring story about putting yourself out there, and treating your business as a business.

After listening to that podcast, I signed up for Digital Summit PDX next month. I’d been on the fence, but decided to take the leap and get serious about networking with other professionals in my field.

(If you’re going to be there, hit me up! I’d love to meet for coffee/happy hour.)

5. Invest in quality peer networks

What kind of people do you want to be surrounded by? Seek out those people, and invest in building relationships with them.

Since we’ve moved to Portland I’ve been developing an amazing network of writer friends. Some of these have been chance encounters — like the two science fiction writers who introduced themselves to me in a coffee shop because they noticed I was using Scrivener. But much of this networks has been built by me deliberately saying yes to as many opportunities as I can. Being proactive in asking people out for coffee. Attending readings and introducing myself to people at the table beside me. Going to meet-up groups and networking events.

I’m lucky in that Portland has a very interconnected speculative fiction writing community, but even if your town doesn’t have a good writing community, you can seek out these relationships online. I’ve spoken before about my freelance writing accountability group. I’ve never met these women in person, but they’ve become a core part of my freelance business.

6. Invest in professional memberships

As part of creating your personal network, it can be beneficial to fork over some dough for a reputable professional membership. Maybe you could join a trade organization, or, like I did when I was first starting out, join a paid forum like the Freelance Writers Den. The quality of the networking you’ll find in these organizations is often much more professional than what you may find in less formal organizations or forums.

7. Invest in professional touches

If you want to be seen as a pro, you need to look like a pro. Get professional business cards. Invest in a solid website. Get some nice headshots. None of these things need to cost you a ton of money. Try bartering with a friend who’s a photographer or website designer. Or opt for pre-designed business cards on Vistaprint.

As your business grows, revisit your initial marketing collateral from time to time to see if you can step it up. I’ve always done my own website design, for example, but this year I finally invested in a professional theme for this site. It still required work on my end, but it was approximately 1,000,000 less hours of my own time that went into it. I consider that $40 well spent!

8. Invest in your personal growth

This one is a bit more nebulous. It’s important to remember that you, a human, are at the center of your writing business. If you’re not taking care of your personal stuff your business will suffer.

Hire a business coach. Go to a therapist. Pick up a self-help book or two. Start meditating. Get out and walk every morning. Spend time with your family. Deal with your childhood trauma. Invest in your relationship with your partner.

You’re both your best boss and your best employee — take care of yourself.

9. Invest in a financial buffer

At the beginning of 2015, I was completely stressed out about money. I had enough to pay my half of the bills — most of the time — but I didn’t feel stable. I kept working my way up the pay scale with every new gig I picked up, though, and by the end of 2015 I had given myself a raise and had three months worth of business expenses saved up in my business’ savings account.

Talk about a stress-reliever.

To me, one of the most important things in running a freelance business is financial stability. That’s what keeps you from saying yes to jobs that aren’t right for you or getting trapped by clients you hate working for. It’s what lets you sleep at night, even if you just lost a big client or have a surprise bill come due.

So while you’re shelling out for courses, a new laptop, and a ticket to Content Marketing World, be sure to be putting a portion of your money aside for savings, too. Your future self will thank you


What are some ways you’ve invested in your business? I’d love to hear about them – leave a comment!

Jessie and the Dictator: an Update

Since I wrote my last post on using Dragon Dictation for writing, several of my friends and internet acquaintances have jumped on board with the software. More and more people are seeing dictation as a way to live a healthier, more productive writerly life.

It can still be a pain in the butt, though, as I outlined in my last post.

I’ve been using dictation more and more as a tool in both my fiction and in my freelance work over the last six months. Despite my initial frustrations and the steep learning curve, I’m starting to be quite happy with the results.

If you’re just starting out and as frustrated as I was, take heart. There’s hope!

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Fiction

When I first started dictating, I had a tough time making it work for fiction. I think in part by typing, and it was awkward to force my thoughts to flow as I spoke them. I could puzzle out plot problems, but I couldn’t draft a scene.

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve actually switched to where I’m dictating my first drafts more often than typing them. One reason for this is that I’m feeling easily distracted these days. Even when I turn on Freedom and turn off my phone, I still have a hard time sitting down and doing the work.

When that work is drafting a new scene, I’ve found the fastest way to get words on the screen is to take myself on a distraction-free walk and just talk it out.

Originally, I felt like the first draft quality of a dictated draft was pretty terrible. But as I’ve gotten more accustomed to speaking my scenes instead of typing them, the quality has improved drastically. I’m now really happy with the scenes, and they require only a small amount of editing.

I’ve also gotten waaaay better at writing a scene from scratch, imagining it as I go rather than having to dictate a scene where I already know what happens.

(I almost always outline my books, but at the scene level I often feel like I’m wandering in the dark. Outlining will definitely be a topic of another blog post.)

Freelancing

While dictating fiction turns out to be a good way to get away from my desk for a while, when writing for clients I’m normally still tethered to my computer as I dictate. That’s because I need to have my research, interviews, and reference materials in front of me – unless I’m dictating an opinion-based blog post or something that I can fabricate out of the information that’s already in my head.

This was already going well in the last post, so I’ll just say it’s continuing to be a productive way to write non-fiction for me.

The software

Some of the frustrations that I had using Dragon Dictation came from my own quirks, and those are mostly all ironed out.

Mostly.

Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned along the way that will hopefully make the process easier for you, too.

“New Line” vs “New File”

For the longest time I’ve had a problem where Dragon would open a new file about 30% of the time I said “New Line”. It would drive me batty, but I finally realized just yesterday that you can disable built in commands.

Just go to Manage Commands in the menu, search for the command you hate, and click the box that says “Active.”

Dragon dictation screenshotHopefully that will solve my “new file” problem.

The right microphone increases accuracy

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to buy a new headset and see if that helps. I ended up getting the Andrea NC-181VM USB On-Ear Monaural Computer Headset, and that helps tremendously. According to the internet, the USB connection provides way better accuracy, and the Andrea NC-181VM seemed to offer the best quality for the cash. (It’s $32 on Amazon.) It’s relatively comfortable – even while I’m wearing my glasses – and seems to do a good job of recognizing my voice.

Plus, it makes me look extremely professional.

Jessie wearing headphones
How may I take your order?

Quirky capitalization and punctuation

I often edit as I’m going along, if I’m standing in front of my computer. For that reason, where the cursor is on the screen doesn’t always correlate to where Dragon thinks the cursor is.

It took me forever to realize this.

For example, if you tell Dragon to correct a word and then manually move the cursor back to the end of the line, Dragon still thinks it’s back in the middle of the sentence. Therefore, if you say the word “period”, Dragon will add a period, then automatically attempt to capitalize the first letter of the word it thinks is still to the right of the cursor. If you notice this happening, simply commands Dragon to “go to end.”

Rampant running backwards

This still happens from time to time if I try to correct a word, especially once the document becomes large and cumbersome. If any of you know how to stop this, let me know. It makes me crazy.

It’s worth taking the plunge

Overall, Dragon has really been a worthwhile investment for me, both in terms of getting myself up and moving, and also in how productive am able to be when I’m writing. It still has its quirks, but it’s definitely worth it for me.

My biggest takeaway over the past few months is that it’s worth it to make the investment in a good microphone, and to take the time to get up the learning curve. You’ll be grateful you did.

Is Quitting Your Job to Pursue Your Passion BS? Yes and No.

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook the other day and I can’t quite get it out of my head: Quitting Your Job to Pursue Your Passion is Bullshit, by Janelle Quibuyen. Go take a read. It’s short.

If you read the comments you’ll see that a lot of people missed Janelle’s point – which is that the freelance life is sold with a lot of fluffy words and romance, and that those romantic ideas tend to place higher value on a lifestyle which often comes with unexamined privilege. Her point is that when we romanticize “living your passion” and call entrepreneurs “courageous”, we’re putting them on a pedestal they (we – I’ll put myself in that category) don’t deserve.

I love this line:

I am no more brave than the migrant worker picking your strawberries to send remittances to family in their home country. I am no more courageous than the recently-graduated millennial who works in a cubicle 9 hours a day to pay off massive student loans. I am no more of a boss than the working class mother with three jobs who feeds her children.

Someone told me recently that I work harder than anyone they know. I fervently disagreed. Yes, I’m dedicated to my job. Yes, I go above and beyond. Yes, I’m willing to put in the extra hours and to make sacrifices to work for my future and grow my business. But I’m hardly the hardest worker I know.

Jorge was of my favorite chefs at a restaurant I once worked at. He was so fast and efficient that he could feed an entire restaurant by himself, and he was always smiling. Plus, he made the best food. He had a wife and a super cute kid, and Jorge worked two jobs – often in the same day – to support them. Once when he mentioned he’d started a third job I asked him when his days off were. He thought for a moment, then told me, “Tuesday evenings.”

Jorge works way, way harder than me.

I work hard, but I don’t work as hard as my grandpa did or my father does out on the farm. I don’t work as hard as my mom does with her elementary school students, doing lesson plans every evening and getting to school before sunrise every morning.

My mom and dad at my cousin's wedding.
I love these guys.

I didn’t quit my day job because I was courageous. I quit it because I couldn’t stand sitting at a desk anymore. I didn’t so much take a leap of faith from a stable platform I was afraid to leave, I made a smart, calculated play to get out of a place I’d begun to feel trapped by.

I haven’t worked odd jobs and traveled because I was brave, I did it because I’m apparently allergic to consistent work. It hasn’t been courageous, it’s been fun-scary-stupid-fun.

And it’s been possible in a large part because I had a safety net.

That’s another point Janelle makes in her piece. It’s sexier to talk about the courage of an entrepreneur than to talk about the safety net that makes that courage possible.

The friend who shared this article originally on Facebook found it depressing – and I think that’s part of the reason people tend to focus on the courage than the logistics. No one wants to hear that the only way I was able to quit my day job was because I’d worked every night and every weekend for 6 months on freelance projects until I built up a tiny nest egg, then I went back to waiting tables four days a week to support myself while I grew my freelance business. I had a supportive partner, but I still had to pay my half of the bills – the bicycle industry isn’t the most lucrative field.

Not having kids made this easier – I could work crazy hours and pick up weekend doubles without worrying about childcare. I could do my freelance work in the middle of the day without having to work around naptimes. And when I finally quit waiting tables, my partner and I could afford to take a temporary cut in my paycheck because we didn’t have a third mouth to feed.

The ability to tolerate the risk of starting a freelance business is part privilege – you have to have a safety net, whether that’s savings, a side gig, a supportive partner, whatever – but it’s also part temperament.

What a lot of people miss in their romantic idea of freelancing is that you are literally starting your own business.

Friends tell me how much they would like to be able to spend all day writing – but when I explain I actually spend most of my day as Bookkeeper, Marketer, Sales, Dishwasher, Accounts Payable, Webmaster, and Customer Service Representative, they brush it off. “At least you’re doing what you love!”

And I am. But I love being a business owner and wearing all those hats. If you don’t have the discipline and business sense to be your own best boss and your own best employee, to deliver on time every time, and to keep doing it day after day (even on weekends if necessary), even when it all feels like you’re not moving forward at all…. Maybe freelancing’s not for you.

And that’s OK.

If you’re stuck on the idea that quitting your day job to follow your passion is romantic, then, yes, Janelle’s article is depressing. For me, though, I found it honest.

Freelancing is difficult, and it’s not for everybody. But the same could be said of any profession.

You have to follow your passion, yes, but you also have to find the life that’s right for you.

Whatever you do, just go into it with your eyes open and don’t let yourself get sold by flowery language. You’re smarter than that.

Starfall –> An Excerpt

I’m ridiculously excited to share this novella with you. In fact, I’ve been trying to reread it all afternoon in order to proof it for typos – but I keep finding myself caught up in the story and skipping ahead. (Even though I know what happened – I wrote the damn thing.)

Starfall is the story of a deaf teen girl who’s whole life has just been turned on its head. After her home was destroyed in an Alliance attack, Starla Dusai finds herself held in an ill-famed prison on a wretched desert planet. Her parents – infamous space pirates – may be dead, but Starla’s unable to glean even the most basic information from the civilian interpreter brought in to speak with her.

Meanwhile, notorious crime lord Willem Jaantzen is about to end a fearsome vendetta – and most probably his life. When he learns his goddaughter has been captured by the Alliance, will he be able to save her? And her, him?

If your interest is piqued, read on for the first chapter. Or, dive straight in and buy it here.

Oh – and if you want to read the whole thing for free, no problemo.

Happy reading!

Starfall cover


STARFALL [Chapter 1]

Gravity here is crushing.

Starla Dusai switches gingerly from side to back to sitting, the terrible mass of this planet making it hard to breathe, making her joints and bones ache, her heart race at the slightest movement.

Not that she has much opportunity to move.

The cell she’s in is about two paces wide and just long enough for the cot — which is not long enough for Starla. At fifteen, she’s already shot past her Indira-born parents by a full head, growth spurts set free by the low gravity of Silk Station.

She’s tried to sleep the last three nights with legs crooked up and spine curled forward, but the ache in her knees wakes her, the ache in whichever side is being rammed by this planet’s gravity through the thin mattress.

The ache in her heart of not knowing if anyone else is still alive.

Cot, sink, toilet. Harsh yellow overhead lights that call out sickly undertones in her pale-colored skin. The walls are featureless but for what looks like a speaker and a camera in the ceiling opposite the cot, where she can’t reach. Useless to her, anyway.

Food is dispensed automatically through a slot at what seems like regular times. The lights dim and rise. A cleaning bot scurries through every afternoon and then slips back into its pocket door. On the second day, Starla tried to catch it, but it shocked her so badly the muscles in her hands twitched for what felt like an hour. She lets it do its job in peace now.

The air smells sharp and scorched, like a recycler system gone over-hot and baking its seals. The temperature is uncomfortably warm.

It’s what she’s always imagined desert-hot New Sarjun would smell like.

Because she’s on New Sarjun.

She has to be.

She’s in an Alliance prison colony on New Sarjun.

There’s no place else she could possibly be.

* * *

At the end of the third day, guards.

A man and a woman, wearing the same uniform as the Alliance soldiers who’d transported her from Silk Station. They slip through the door, come at her with outstretched hands and careful quiet steps like they’re trying to corner a wild animal and they’re not sure it won’t bite. The man says something to his partner, his pudgy lips mashing the words into meaningless shapes.

They don’t bother trying to speak to her.

Starla pushes herself into the corner of the cot, feet digging into the mattress. She’s snarling as they pounce, drag her to her feet — she’s panting with the effort of moving on this stupid, stupid planet — and wrench her arms backwards into cuffs. They push her through the door. She’s barefoot.

Starla tries to stay calm, but for as badly as she has wanted to leave the cell over the last three days, now the metallic, vibrating hallways and branching corridors close in on her. She cranes her neck to see down the corridors they pass and is rewarded with a shove between the shoulder blades.

The two wrestle her through hallways, keying regularly through double-thickness glass doors to enter less secure — or more secure? Starla doesn’t know — areas of the prison. Into a dingy metal room, bigger than her cell, a single metal table bolted to the floor, a bench on one side, a chair on the other. They fold her kicking and struggling and panting onto the bench, uncuff her, and slam her hands into new restraints on the table before she even realizes she had a brief moment of freedom.

Job done. The two leave.

Starla twists, cranes her neck to see the door they left through, trying to learn anything she can about this new prison.

Brushed aluminum walls and a floor scuffed with shoe rubber — some of the marks scraping high up the wall as though someone had been testing the strength of it, or kicking out in anger. The walls are battered, with dents and dings that catch the harsh light and pool it into tiny craters. The room stinks of something acrid, a mix of cleaning solvent and welding fumes that seems to be cycling through the air vents.

Starla coughs.

She’s waiting only a moment before two women enter. One’s short, even for planetborn, with a blunt gray bob and glasses, wearing a plain purple dress suit. The other’s tall and thin, with a square jaw and thick black hair cut close to her scalp. She wears an Indiran Alliance uniform. They remind her of something, a split second of recognition that fades the more Starla tries to grasp at it.

The short woman wrinkles her nose and says something to the tall one, too fast for Starla to catch.

“Hi Starla,” the short woman says then, speaking and signing. “My name is Hali.” She spells it out, then makes her hand into an H and taps it against her left shoulder. “This is Lieutenant Mahr.” Mahr doesn’t get a name sign.

Starla lifts her chin a touch, but makes no show that she’s understood. The short woman, Hali, frowns at her.

“She’s a child,” Hali says to the Alliance woman, Mahr. She’s speaking more clearly now than when she first entered the room. Starla stares at her lips, greedy for information. “You can’t keep her like this. There are laws.”

The lieutenant shrugs. “Figure out what she knows,” she says — or, Starla thinks she says. The lieutenant’s lips barely move, her scowl permanently carved into her dry, angry mouth.

Hali turns back to Starla, speaking and signing again. “Have they treated you well?”

Starla frowns. What is she supposed to answer to that? Everything’s fine, thanks for asking? The amenities could be a bit more posh, but they’re serviceable?

She raises a hand to sign something rude, but she’s cuffed to the table.

Her hand comes up short with a jerk.

“We can’t communicate if she’s restrained,” Hali says to Mahr.

If Mahr replies, Starla can’t tell. The lieutenant turns to knock on the door, looks like she shouts something through it, and one of the original guards returns with leg restraints, locking Starla to the crossbar of the bench before releasing her hands. “Thank you,” Hali tells him. He ignores her.

Hali sits in the chair across from Starla; Mahr leans against the wall with arms crossed, one hand resting on the stunner in her hip holster. Hali sees this and frowns. “She’s a child,” she says again. Mahr just raises an eyebrow.

Starla sits with hands folded. Trying to look like a child, whatever children look like on Indira. She’s heard her entire life, from newcomers to Silk Station, from people born on either planet — Indira or New Sarjun — that she and her asteroid-born cousins look years ahead of their age because of their height. On some, like Mona, it looks graceful. On Starla it just looks boyish and scrappy. One of the uncles told her that once. She thinks he meant it as a compliment.

A stab of panic pierces Starla’s heart.

She tries not to worry about her cousins. About Mona. About Auntie Faye. About her parents. She saw escape pods, shooting like torpedoes; she saw ships peeling away from docking bays and flashing out of view before the Alliance missiles tore through the station and set Starla’s home blazing bright as Durga herself.

1, 4, 9, 16, 25 . . .

Starla forces herself through multiplications to redirect her thoughts.

She’s missed something: Hali signing to her. Starla furrows her brow, and Hali repeats herself. “I’m here to decide what to do with you. Do you understand?”

Starla finally nods. She’s found that if she refuses to respond at all, some people write off communication for good. This might be her only chance to get answers.

“Good.” The woman’s still speaking aloud while her hands dance, probably for Mahr’s benefit. “Do you know where you are?”

Starla considers. Is the woman gauging her knowledge of geography, or her intelligence in general? Probably both. Prison, Starla signs. New Sarjun.

Hali frowns at that last sign, and Starla fingerspells it. She can’t remember the standard USL sign for New Sarjun — she and Mona had their own slang for so many things.

“Yes,” says Hali. “That’s right. You’re under Alliance protection.”

What happened to my parents? Starla leaves the last sign hanging in the air a moment before resting her hands back on the table.

Hali looks at Mahr, who’s apparently said something to her — Starla sees only the last few syllables slicing out of Mahr’s sneering lips. “She’s asking about her parents,” Hali says. Mahr just shakes her head.

“We’ll get to that,” Hali says and signs to Starla. “But for now I have some questions. Can you tell me about life on Silk Station? Were you taken care of there?”

Starla wrinkles her nose. It was home, she signs, confused. Was she taken care of there? What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“Who raised you?”

Starla glances from Hali to Mahr, who is watching her coldly. What are these questions?

My parents raised me, Starla signs. Where are they?

Hali ignores her question. “I’m confused. Did your parents take you with them on their raids? On the Nanshe?”

Of course not, Starla signs. She’d wanted to go for years, but they hadn’t let her. Not until this year, until her fifteenth birthday, when they’d finally agreed she could start training as crew. If not for that, she wouldn’t have been on the Nanshe when the Alliance attacked Silk Station. Wouldn’t have —

Hali is waving to get her attention. “Then who raised you when they were gone?”

Starla shrugs. What, did this woman want a list? Any number of aunts, uncles, older cousins, station mechanics, and cooks had done the job.

Starla and the other children had stalked Silk Station, hurtling through the corridors as if propelled by rockets, chasing after older cousins in the peculiar game they played in the figure-eight hallway near the bioregenerative gardens, screaming and reversing directions on a toe, arms flinging out to correct over-exuberant spins in the low gravity. They were legion, underfoot, existing continuously on the verge between play and being snatched up by one of the station crew and given a chore.

Dinners were the same chaos, a gaggle of children descending on the commissary at any hour, whenever they were hungry. School was TUTOR, an AI that came preloaded with courses from Hypatia Educational Facilities Corporation that students could work through at will, with full knowledge that their progress data was being reported to the aunts and uncles. Curfew was a word from the novels she downloaded from TUTOR.

Who had raised her?

Whoever was around, Starla signs.

“Whoever was around,” Hali says, and she and Mahr share a look full of meaning that Starla can’t decipher. “You’re very thin,” she says and signs to Starla. “Did they feed you well?”

What the hell did that mean?

Starla glares at her. Where are my parents?

“We’re just trying to understand your life,” Hali says, hands fluid and defensive. “You’re on the edge of what the Alliance considers a child. Your parents chose to become criminals, but you had no choice. You’ve had a hard life. Do you understand?”

Starla feels a chill. Raj and Lasadi Dusai chose to live life on the fringes, managing their glorious and infamous empire from an asteroid station hidden deep in the debris of Durga’s Belt. Starla Dusai, on the other hand, could tell a sob story about being beaten and neglected and starved at the hands of her horrible pirate parents, and win a free ticket into the open arms of the Indiran Alliance. A free ticket into the society her parents had fled years ago.

Where are my parents? Starla snarls the words on stiff, angry fingers.

Hali looks sad. “I don’t think she’s ready to talk yet,” she says to Mahr.

Mahr knocks on the door and the two guards come back in, hands and stunners raised to subdue her.

Where are —

Starla gets only those words out before her hands are grabbed, her arms cuffed, her ribs slammed into the hard metal edge of the table.

They drag her back to her cell.


Interest piqued? Read STARFALL for free here.

A Little Creative Inspiration

I’ve been quite busy the past few months. Between working on some really fascinating projects for clients, I’ve also been cooking up some new stories to share with you all.

You may have seen hints of Starfall, a new novella set in the Durga System if you’re on my email list or following me on social media. That’s with my editor for the final cleanup round, and is scheduled to be published later this month.

I also just turned in a draft of the novel based on the short story Bikes to New Sarjun to Elly Blue at Microcosm — that’ll be on its way to you in 2017.

With those two projects (and one large client project) off my plate, I’m hoping to be around here a bit more to write about productivity and creativity. But if you’re looking for a little inspiration in the meantime, I’ve written several articles for other sites you might find helpful.

The second one – about discovering and protecting your most creative times – seems to have been especially inspiring to people based on the number of social media shares I’ve seen it get.

Happy creating!