Just Keep Swimming

I swam my 1500 today.  That’s a challenge still, and took me about 45 minutes1.  But that’s okay.  Come June, I don’t think that’ll be a challenge any more!

I’m even using a cute widdle fishie ticker.  Ain’t that sweet?  I note, however, that the progress bar is hardly to scale.

Apparently an aquafitness class counts as 2,000 yards.   I think they’re figuring a certain fitness level2 takes about an hour to swim 2000, so that’s how it’s figured.   Fair enough.  Plenty of people find lap swimming mind-numbing.  I don’t, but that’s because that’s my time to work out plots for stories, plan how to pitch projects or plan classes.

In fact, I spent most of today’s workout working up a proposal to try to teach a bento class that the gym where I work.  It’s a community/rec center more than a classical gym, even if the exercise equipment is really good.  They have all sorts of fun classes, so if I can figure out a structure for it and pitch it right, they might let me.   I was figuring an end of summer-type deal where I have the class and give away to each student a cheap bento box (you can get ’em for a buck through Ichibankan), a colorful bandana and some cute chopsticks as well as a few lessons on how to make and arrange some basic bento food.  I’d have a handout with some basics, a list of local stores that sell good Asian food and some places where people can buy bento boxes.

For the local gym, the pitch would have to be the “healthy lunch for your kids” thing, I think.   There’s also the frugality hook.  But I’m going to have to figure out a way to pitch it as not particularly time-consuming.  The way I do it, it really isn’t, but you can go overboard with the cute.

I’ve had the idea for this class in the back of my mind since I started bein’ a bum, but it’s fleshed out a lot more in my mind lately, and I have a considerably better idea of who to talk to for getting this class on the program as well as how the class really ought to be structured.

1Go ahead, competitive swimmers. Laugh it up.

2Hmm, close to my own, now that I do the math.

How to Make a Living From Home: a free course

You see a lot of scams about how to make a fortune while working from home.  The truth is that millions of people really do make a living as their own boss while working from home.  The sad truth is also that you’ll never be able to do this by taking a $250.00 seminar meant to get you excited and fired up.

So, because I’m a generous soul, I’ll tell you how to do it, and I’m going to tell you for free.  Why?  Because scams get on my nerves.  I’m not selling anything here.  This is my personal blog.  I’m writing it mostly because cheesy sales techniques and promises of riches get on my damn nerves.  I believe in real, so real is what you’re going to get here.

I am confident that if you follow these rules faithfully for a year, you will make a living.  You might or might not get rich.  But you’ll make a moderate living.  I’m not going to promise you the world with this.  I’m not going to wave as a success story all the people who made millions working from home.  Yes, they exist.  They’re also rare.

What’s not so rare, and is quite possible, is to be able to be self-employed and make an adequate living from it.   This course will not tell you how to do taxes, get you to decide on a business form or any of that stuff.  It’s important, yes.  Crucial, in fact.   But most of the books on self-employment out there talk about it.  I’ll be listing books I think are useful.  But for this piece it would be like having a cookbook that tells you to make a grocery list.   What you need to understand are the principles behind making self-employment work before you start trying to set things up.

I know whereof I speak with this.  Almost 20 years ago, I wrote my first (and for about a decade and a half, my only) professional piece for a client.  It was a book on how to open a mailing and packaging business.  It was a fun project, not only because I was writing something, but because I was researching how to open a small business and learning a whole lot from a small business owner.  It was great!

A few years later, I started a business with three other people.  We were very focused on incorporating, setting up the tax stuff and all that.  Now, that wasn’t wrong.  But the problem was that we got so into the administrivia that we didn’t spend nearly enough time on the parts of the business that would make the tax stuff relevant.  We were nerds and found structure cool.  What can I say?  It made enough money to pay for the toys of a household of geeks and wound up being a pretty good tax shelter, which was nice. But it was never a way to support the family as we had been hoping.

We were not thinking like entrepreneurs and we were not focused on why we’d started the business in the first place.

Some years later, after having spent about six or seven years as an administrative assistant, I realized I have about as much talent for being an admin as a rock does, but that I enjoyed it less.   My living situation had changed and I was in a position to take a bit of a risk.  So I spoke to my housemate and said, “You know I don’t want to be supported by you, but if I have to face another day of being an admin, I am going to go bonkers.”

“And this is a change how?” he asked.

I shrugged.  “Okay, fair enough. But I’m not happy.  I just figured out how much money I’m committed to bringing into the household and I don’t think there’s really a chance in hell I’d fail to do so.  I wanna quit my job and make my living being a bum.”

“Okay,” he said.  “If you’re willing to take the risk, I have faith in you.”

Two years later, I’m still making a living as a bum[1].

This information isn’t really new, though.  You’re going to read a lot of it and go, “But that’s just common sense.”

If you say “Yes, but I can’t do it that way because I’ve got a Special Problem” to more than one of the major lessons of this piece and are not already making the living you want from home, you might wanna examine why this might be the case.

If you’re already making a living from home and making enough to suit yourself what the hell are you wasting your time on this for?  Go back to your success and enjoy it, dewd.  I’m not trying to preach to the choir here!  Congratulations on making it work in your own way.

The next lesson is going to be, “Have the sK1lZ.”

As a prep exercise, think of 20 things you’re good at.  Not just the big exciting stuff.  Write down the little, dumb stuff, too.

The next lesson will be next Wednesday!

[1] My children scold me when I call myself a bum.   “Mama, you work,” they protest.  Kids…

Mini Laptops

I was checking out the mini laptops when a friend of mine from online was reporting on her new one with squeeing positivity.

Now, I have a laptop.  It’s my only computer.  I don’t use a desktop at all, and don’t really need one.   But the idea of a lighter, more portable laptop sounds good to me and I’ve been thinking about a mini laptop for my next computer.

There are those who would say, “What about computing power?”

What about it?  There are mini laptops that have as much as my present laptop does.  That’s not my complaint about the laptop I have.  I use a low-end Inpiron.  Lousy battery power and a propensity for overheating so bad I have to use a notebook cooler if I use the machine for any length of time.  Also, I figured that 40GB would be PLENTY of disc space.  (Not for my music collection, it’s not!)   There are mini laptops with much larger hard drives than mine.

I don’t play interactive online games.  The most complex tasks I do on a laptop mostly involve text.  I could almost do my job on a smartphone,  though would hate to have to.  The smartphone versions of Office do have irritating limitations.  I do sometimes watch movies on my laptop and have a pretty decent collection of Doctor Who on my external hard drive.

What I actually use a computer for is to write, bid on jobs and do research.    I also travel as much as I can manage.  Something I can slip into a purse, feel comfortable opening on an airplane that has lots of battery power and won’t overheat sounds like bliss to me!  Firefox with a lot of tabs open is a far worse resource drain than any actual program I run to do Real Work.   I was looking at the Asus EEE 1000HD recently. (And by the way, Mom, if you’re reading this, you might wanna check it out. The screen and keyboard are small, but this has about the same power as my machine, is a lot cheaper!)

I’m not buying one right away, mind.  For all its limitations my present laptop is plenty useful for what I do and there’s no need to blow money away on a Nifty Gadget.  But when I need to replace this one?  Yep, I might consider going small.

Leechblock and Time Analysis

Yesterday, I commented that I’d been told about a blocking add-in for Firefox called Leechblock. You enter the sites you think you shouldn’t visit and when (or for how long). I mentioned that I was going to do an experiment and see what happens.

I’m gonna be honest, I’ve only been doing it for a morning and the results are already embarrassing. I’ve discovered that for a woman in my profession, I permit myself to context switch far, far too often! See, context switching kills concentration, and what does a writer do most of all, boys and girls? Right.

While I didn’t get a whole day’s worth of work done in a quarter of the time, I certainly did get a lot more done than I ordinarily would if I were hanging out on LJ, Tribe, Twitter, and Facebook all day – jumping online between paragraphs. I’ll probably finish up the day a little early, but I’ve got a project that’s been hanging fire for weeks that I’m going to get to, anyway. It’s not paying work, but might turn into paying work, and if I’m gonna set myself strict office hours, I suppose I’m allowed to work on projects when I’m done with my paying work, right?

I have also been using Rescuetime to analyze my computer usage and have discovered that what they call time-wasters are actually often genuine research for me. I’ve also found that I’m spending considerably less time on email than I’d estimated – less than an hour a day. That shocked me, but I realized I won’t have a clear picture until someone starts a heated discussion on PolyFamilies again!

Working at Home and Self-Discipline

I’ve had people comment from time to time that they don’t have the self-discipline to work from home or be self-employed.

Ironically, it’s not unusual for me to get this comment from people I consider more self-disciplined than I am1.

I think that it has a lot to do with one’s view of  “should” v. “want to”.  I like working from home and having the freedom that I do a whole lot.  I might be a good writer, but to explain how much I like it would be difficult. I don’t know, necessarily, how much self-discipline it takes to do what you passionately want.  In fact, I’d say it doesn’t take all that much discipline, really.

That’s something I think we often miss in our lives.  We don’t separate out what we think we should be doing or should want from what we passionately want with all our hearts and souls.

Does this mean we should necessarily make our livings from our passions?  No, not really.  When you can, it’s really cool.  I’m not gonna lie about that.  Thing is, it looks a lot more virtuous than it is.  When you wake up excited about doing something, and that something is your job, you look all focused and motivated and virtuous and disciplined.  Friends, going into a toy store and grabbing everything in sight is about as far from disciplined as you can get!

I’m going to be taking a trip down to visit my family soon.  I’m taking the train at least in part so I can work on the way down.   I love being able to do that.  It’s hard to describe the kick I get out of it.   The kick I get out of sitting here in my writin’ chair listening to Dire Straits (playing Money for Nothing, ironically enough), and working on a project for a client feels so very good.  I used to dream of being able to do exactly this when I was a kid.  I’d read science fiction stories about people with hand computers (and remember these were written when computers were as big as a bedroom!) able to access datanets anywhere, write stuff, do work and go anywhere while they were doing it.

I wanted that so badly.  It’s part of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.  When I was a kid, it was the only portable profession I knew about.  Being a computer professional wasn’t yet all that portable — as  I well knew when I watched my father leave the house as I got up to get ready for school.  But I’d take my notebook into the woods behind my friend Mindy’s house, write, and fantasize about the day when I’d be making a living doing that.

When you want something that badly, when you dream about something so much that it stops being a dream but just an internalized part of you waking and sleeping, discipline isn’t the issue any more.  It’s just… what you do.

1 I actually consider myself pretty undisciplined, really. I’m just pig-headed.

Learn to Sell

I was talking about writing recently and had someone comment that she wanted to be a writer because she “hated sales”.


Free advice to aspiring professional writers:

First, you must learn to write well.  The way to do this is really simple.  You sit down and write every single day without exception.  Write something every single day.  It doesn’t have to be great.  It doesn’t have to be profound.  But you must practice your craft every single day with no exceptions at all.  If you’ve never read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, do.  That’ll give you the general idea.  Get used to getting your thoughts out in text form.  Get used to trying to get the rhythm of your thoughts across in words.  Get used to plot, get used to pacing.  For heaven’s sake, learn appropriate spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Second, you must learn to sell.  I know a lot of you are thinking that’s what an agent is for.  That’s not entirely the truth.  Yes, indeed, if you get a book contract, you want someone to help you out and make sure you’re not getting screwed.  Chances are almost nil that the book contract will happen without knowing how to sell.  Oh, the publicity articles about the Cinderella stories never mention it.  It makes a poor story.  It’s much more exciting to read about luck than hard work.

Learning to sell isn’t about learning to be Leisure Suit Larry.  We have a skeezy image of sales and marketing these days that doesn’t really fit with the reality of making it work.  It’s about finding out what a potential client needs, then giving them that.  It’s about making contacts, meeting people, hanging out and just getting to know what people need.  If it becomes about putting one over on someone, you’re really doing it wrong.   You have to have something of genuine value to deliver.

Neil Gaiman is a good example of what I’m talking about. I cannot imagine someone less like Leisure Suit Larry and the general salesman stereotype.  He’s astoundingly successful, and that’s amazing.  He started by learning to write really well.  Holy mackerel, can that man tell a story!  He’s just plain an excellent writer.

If you take a look at his career, however, you’ll notice he didn’t hole himself up, just write and then leave it at that.  No, he got out and met people, he made contacts, he made friends.  Anyone I’ve talked to that has met him at a con or signing has nothing but nice things to say about him.   When I talk about learning to sell, that’s what I mean.  You can be cyncial about it, but you know, you don’t have to be.  And sometimes it really works better if you’re not.

Inner Hippie

Since I’ve got the wood stove going, I’m making black bean soup on it.  I’ve also got an old camping teakettle on the stove warming up to have perpetual hot water for my tea.   God, that’s so nice.

I’d been keeping the house at 60F with the oil heat.  I’m going to have to say the difference between 60F and 65F is an amazing one for physical comfort.  I have a fan in the window between the jungle room where the wood stove is and the living area of the house.  I thought I was going to want to be working in the jungle room while heating with the wood stove, but the air transfer means that the living room with my writin’ chair is perfectly comfortable.

I love heating with wood, cooking over fire, all that smack.  Don’t get me wrong, not having the option of a gas or electric range, or heat that didn’t depend on so much work would be a big, fat pain in the ass.  I like the option of modern conveniences very much!  Still, on days like today when I’m working at home, tending the fire when I take a break, and getting up to stir the beans soaking, or pouring myself a cup of tea from the kettle sitting on the wood stove is immensely satisfying.  The smell of wood smoke has always meant comfort and home to me.  Yes, yes, I grew up in surburbia.  Still, we heated with wood.

My mother made the occasional soup on our wood stove when I was growing up, but I think didn’t do it as often as she might because my brother and I were not particularly soup fans at the time (Sorry, Mom!).  I suspect I’ll be doing a lot more of that because my son is nowhere near the jerk my brother and I were and finds homemade soup a perfectly fine dinner.  I’m using the pork bones from last night’s ribs to make a stock.  I have the beans soaking on the stove right now.  So, when the stock is ready later this afternoon, I’ll drain the beans, transfer them to the stock and add some veggies and spices, maybe toss in a little bacon.   Then it can just sit there till dinner time.  I love stuff like that.  I think it’s really the only time I let my inner hippie come out to play.

Freelancing, Parkour and a Tu'penny Upright

I just plain did not feel like swimming today.  Not sure why, but since the goal is to do cardio on Tuesdays, I just did something else that I think I am going to start referring to as my Tu’penny Upright Cardio[1]: 20 minutes on the elliptical.  Anything to keep myself amused and motivated.  I wanted to share this with the gym, but since I work there I figured I’d be a little more professional about it.  With my luck, someone there reads this and I’m gonna hear it next time I’m there.

I’m beginning to feel like a dork for driving to work when I work in the gym.  I live a half a mile from the place.  Thing is, I go there at 0-my-god-it’s-early and I’m not sure that walking there in the dark is exactly being Ms. Safety – even if I do live in a small and not too terribly crime-ridden town.  Still, driving a half a mile that I’m physically capable of walking quite comfortably offends my sensibilities.  Besides, I kinda like getting in that little extra bit of walking.  God knows why, but I’ll walk to get somewhere and rather like doing it, but rarely just “take a walk”.  When the snow starts getting nasty here, I probably will start walking to the gym cause I hate driving in snow, the sidewalks are safe, I have good boots and I figure that people tend not to be arsed to get out in bad weather to commit crimes.  I should probably look up that last and see if there’s any stats on it rather than bet my safety on idle speculation, huh?

I have some work to finish today, which is good.  I also really need to sit my butt down and make a specific reading plan for my school.  While I love a self-directed study, it is self-directed, which means I have to plan what I’m doing.  I’m just not at home to doing it frantically right before the deadline.  I could throw something adequate together and it’d probably look better than a lot of what my advisor gets.  There are advantages to studying and writing for a living!  But, the idea is to turn in stuff that’s as good as anything I’d hand a client.  ‘Cause, well, you know… The whole Proud as Lucifer thing.

In the interests of trying to start leaning Parkour[2] I’ve been making a point to jump more often.  You know, down a minimal amount of steps, over small obstacles.   Mostly at this point I really am trying to get my courage back about my knee.  Two years out of ACL repair surgery is plenty.  The knee is as strong as it is ever going to get, I lift weights, so the supporting muscles are fine.  I jumped off the stepstool we use at the gym because our files are too high for the short people.  It’s goofy.  It’s small.  But I’m starting from nothing.  Goofy and small works.  Also been practicing my rolls, but that’s just fun.   I did forget to ask if the gym stocked mats for the third floor where the basketball courts and stuff are.  The aerobics room has ‘em, but I’ll want room.  I suppose I can always drag ‘em upstairs.

[1] My usual cardio is lying down, for longer duration and at a slightly slower pace.  Do I really have to draw you guys a picture?

[2] And you kids in the peanut gallery can stop laughing at a fat old lady even attempting it!

Starting the Day with Iron and Electrons

I’ve got more work than I know what to do with… Well, okay, that’s not quite fair.  I have a lot of work, but I know what to do with it.  Finish it on time.  See, not that complex!

When I quit working for an employer, I had several income streams figured out, and I approached it with the idea I’d do most anything legal and reasonable to bring in some cash.   Clean houses, babysit, be a Virtual Assistant, have a phone advice line, temp… I didn’t care as long as I was working for myself.  As wonderful as the job I left was (and I really did work with some great people in a fantastic environment), I Just Don’t Like Office Work.  I didn’t leave to flee the Job from Hell, but because I needed a change and needed to be working for myself.

I am actually a little surprised that writing has become a big enough part of my income (most of it, these days) that I’m not thinking so much in terms of finding multiple income streams doing radically different things as I am thinking in terms of being a full-time freelance writer.   Not all of my income is from writing.  I teach computer applications, too.  But, I’m almost at the point where I could quit that if I wanted to and only write.

Here’s the cool part.  The teaching?  I’m doing that because it’s fun.  How cool is that?  I wouldn’t give it up. If I had a J.K. Rowling-style success at fiction (and none of my income comes from fiction), I’d still want to teach.  I don’t think I’d love it full time like I do writing nearly full time.  I’d burn out.  But a few classes a month? Bring it on!

I’m feeling slow today.  I can’t believe I got my lazy butt to the gym this morning.  You know those workouts when you’re having a great time, the blood is pumping and you feel like a God?  Yeah, well, today wasn’t one of ’em.  The best I can say is that I did what I planned I would do.   I saw a woman in the gym today that was monster strong.  I saw her at the squat rack with an empty bar and though, “No way did she get muscle development on her legs like that squatting 45lbs!”

I was right.  That was her warmup set.  She was doing pyramids and when I left she was squatting something like 155lbs. (She was teeny, too.  ‘Bout my height, but with very little body fat).  I commented to a trainer there, “Someday.”

“Yeah, she’s really strong,” quoth he.

It made me feel good, because he knew immediately I was envying the strength more than anything.   You have no idea how much I enjoy being in a gym where strength and fitness in women is considered a great goal without pushing skinny, skinny, skinny all the time.

What's Your Rhythm?

I’m up between 4:30 and 5:15 most weekday mornings.  No, not claiming some early morning virtue here.  I do that for three reasons.  A couple of mornings a week, I open the local gym before my workout.  The rest of the time, I figure I might as well have my body used to getting up that early.  Since I’m up, it’s easiest just to get that workout out of the way then so I don’t have it hanging over my head all day.

The biggest reason is sheer laziness.  Yep, laziness.  If I have an article to write for a client, it takes me about a quarter of the time if I do it before noon that it would take me if I tried to do it after noon.  It’s weird that the difference in how well my brain works and when is so dramatic, but it is.

Since I work to the job instead of by the hour, getting up and getting going right away is the most cost-effective way for me to work.

Not everyone is a morning person, of course.  There are people whose brains simply do not turn on until late afternoon.

The question I have is:  Do you know when your brain is sharpest and do you schedule your life in harmony with that?  Do you know what environmental factors help this?

For instance, my brain is sharpest after a really hard workout.  Yet, I used to date a guy who found that heavy physical labor sapped his mental capacity, so he rarely chose to exercise anywhere near time to do work requiring clear thought.

This isn’t just for self-employed people by the way.  When I used to work in an office, I tried to schedule the “brain” tasks for before lunch and routine stuff for after lunch.  I also learned that coming home from an office to try to do webdev type work after dinner Just Wasn’t Going to Happen.  I think that one of the reasons that the freelance writing profession is overwhelmingly represented by night owls has a lot to do with the fact that it was the night owls who were able to work a day job and work at night until they were established as writers.  That this happened to ole up-with-the-chickens Noël is a bit of luck and a whole bunch of audacity.

Do you know your own rhythm?