As we say goodbye to summer and prepare to settle back into our normal routines, I thought it might be time to dust off one of my favorite articles from the archive: my guide to building a home office that you love.
Not gonna lie, I’m damn proud of my home office. It’s beautiful, it encourages productivity, and most importantly, it’s perfect for me. You might already be happy with the space you’ve put together, but if you feel like you’re missing that extra pizzazz, check out these tips to bring your office-away-from-office to the next level.
Bonus, putting together your office is a great way to ease your way back into work mode without doing real work yet. Call it “work-adjacent.” It’s a little tough to shift gears from summer to fall so suddenly, so this could be a nice project to start that process without giving yourself whiplash.
For those of us with self-directed jobs and side projects, summer can be a productivity nightmare…but does it have to be?
I recently had a conversation with a writer friend in which I lamented how little “real” work I’ve been getting done post-Independence Day. Sure, I’m meeting deadlines for already established projects, but I’m slacking off when it comes to moving bigger internal projects forward.
Could it really be that *gasp* I don’t want to spend these beautiful summer months staring at Quickbooks?!
The guilt I feel for not being as productive as I normally am is very real. So real, in fact, that I’ve been finding myself overdoing it on iced coffees in an effort to force an eight-hour day to bear fruit, which then makes me stay up all night, which then makes me drink more iced coffee, which then...you get the picture.
My friend, a full time freelance writer, has been having the same experience. Everyone feels a lag during the summer months, but I think that those of us with self-directed jobs (or side projects) feel especially guilty about that drop in productivity. Here we are with a few months to dig deep into our projects and then...that motivation just isn’t there.
The truth is that the summer months are meant to crawl by at a snail’s pace. Everything from people to work to motivation are supposed to be in slow motion. And it’s sad for those of us with self-led projects, but true; we’re just not at our most productive during the summer.
So why not embrace it?
I think the natural instinct is to push back hard against the summer slump--we have entire days ahead of us and we’re just supposed to let them just float by like that?--but a recent article from the W/W Club kind of made me feel better, or at least less guilty about the whole thing. The idea is that you can adopt the pace of summer as your own and let that leisurely energy carry your efforts through until fall. Use the summer months to refuel and set yourself up for when we start to snap out of the lull in September.
The trick to pulling off a seamless summer-to-fall transition without turning into a human potato is to know the difference between “not doing” and “non-doing.”
Writing in the Age of Cancel Culture
Representation in publishing is more important than ever.
How can authors keep up?
As of late, the publishing world has placed significant attention on the importance of representation in both the authors of stories and in the stories themselves. We want to see richness, variety in the worlds we read about, and if that diversity comes from diverse writers, all the better! But diversity alone isn’t enough today. I’ve come across a handful of stories in the news lately about diverse authors of diverse stories who faced backlash over insensitive conduct, either in their writing or in their day-to-day life.
Natasha Tynes, a Jordanian-American author, had her book cancelled after going on Twitter to call out a D.C. metro worker -- a black woman -- for eating on the job. Her publisher characterized her tweet as “policing [a] black woman’s body.” Tynes apologized, mentioning that she was not native to the United States and wasn’t aware of the implications of her tweet, but the damage was done. Since then, Tynes has faced a barrage of racially charged attacks and is suing her publisher for defamation. She remains unpublished.
Y.A. author Amélie Wen Zhao was all set for her debut novel, Blood Heir, to be published, but withdrew the work just months before publication after critics who read the book pre-release called her depiction of slavery blatantly racist. Like Tynes, Zhao acknowledged her non-nativity to the US and by extension, her lack of awareness of the weight of slavery here, as reasons for why she wrote what she did. Six months later, Zhao’s three book contract sits in limbo as her work undergoes revision. She remains unpublished.
Kosoko Jackson, a black and queer author, withdrew the publication of his book A Place for Wolves after criticism of his portrayal of Muslims and his treatment of war in the novel. The story centered on two American boys falling in love during the Kosovo War, and had initially received loads of good press for Jackson’s tasteful handling of the subject matter, but one critical Goodreads review triggered an avalanche of negative attention on Twitter. He remains unpublished.
Clearly, the sociocultural landscape of publishing is not insulated from the goings on of the world at large. Here, just as in film or music or any other artistic arena, creators and consumers of the products of publishing are not only molded by, but evaluated by the standards of the greater context in which they operate.
Calling out racism, sexism, and prejudice is the right and important thing to do, and I’m so happy that it’s becoming the standard, but you have to accept that the aim isn’t always on the right target. With the world the way it is today, and with the massive, sometimes unpredictable shifts we’re seeing toward a more enlightened progressive social consciousness, how can writers protect themselves from charges of insensitivity without sacrificing their artistic liberty? What’s a writer to do?
Letters from the Editor: On the opportunity in revision, the state of diversity in publishing, and more
Instead of Starting Over, Try Starting Fresh
The last thing any writer wants to think about when they're halfway through their novel is going back to the beginning.
I recently had a coaching call with a writer from which the main takeway was that there was quite a bit of development to be done, from plot to character and beyond. He was stalling out and couldn't really make any forward movement without addressing the issues in the ground he'd already covered. So, the advice I gave (which I'm sure was dreadful to hear) was that he should take some time to work on that development, fix the bones of his story, and then...start at the beginning. Scary, right?
I was expecting at least a little drama after delivering the news to this writer, but I was surprised by his reaction. Instead of being pessimistic, he was excited, invigorated by the thought of beginning anew. He viewed it as an opportunity not to start over, but to start fresh, and that made all the difference.
Letters from the Editor: On big things coming (I need to hear from you!), short-lived spelling bee dreams, and more
What Does the Word "Platform" Mean to You?
If I had to name the #1 thing writers ask me about aside from their manuscripts, it would be their platforms. There seems to be nothing else that strikes such fear in the hearts of anyone trying to get published in 2019; we all hear the stories of writers not getting picked up by agents or publishers because their platform isn't big enough. Yet there is also a lot of misinformation out in the world about what platform really means, how a writer can build theirs in a way to attract a publisher or sell their book, or how relevant it actually is in publishing.
Summer is for Building Momentum
There's no denying it: summer is here. Three months of longer days means more time to think, plan, do, make progress...but what are you focused on? What are you driving toward?
As serious writers know, so much of getting published is about persistence (case in point: Julia Phillips, featured in the Books on Your Radar this issue, who queried 100 agents before striking gold). It's no small feat to become a published author, and the wall I've seen many a talented writer run into is losing that momentum, that drive that ends in success, before they're anywhere near where they want to be.
Letters from the Edtior: On knowing your book is ready, the textbook publisher merger from hell, and more
When is Your Book Ready to be Published?
I had a lot of really great questions come out of the AMA I ran a bit ago on Reddit, and a few of those questions sparked some reflection on my end. One question that stuck with me in particular was asking how you can know if your book is ready for publishing, and as I've been turning that over in my head lately, I wanted to share some thoughts with you all.
It's May at last! Summer is just around the corner, and with the energy that comes with warmer weather, I have no doubt people are getting ready to put all sorts of big plans into action -- both personal and professional.
I'd like to take this opportunity to caution us all against a rising trend I've noticed in the entrepreneur world of "you can sell anything."
Why you should write now, and think about publishing later
Without fail, one of the first things writers bring up on their initial call with me is how they'd like to be published. This of course makes sense; you want to know where you're going to end a marathon before you start, after all.
There's a problem when you start to focus too much on that end goal, though; you chip away at the simple beauty of creation. You begin contemplating rejection by agents and publishers, then you're thinking about sales and statistics, and suddenly you're feeling the pressure of getting published before you even get a running start.
When you think too much about your publishing goals when you're still writing your book, you enter a headspace filled with logistics instead of ideas.
I'll give you the same advice I give my authors: Think about how you might share your story for a limited time (half an hour of research every now and then, for example), and then give yourself over to the writing completely. Enjoy the creative process, the quiet solitude of writing before needing to present yourself to the world as an author, the simple joy of bringing your story to life.
Because being informed about the publishing process doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to write a better first draft, but it might mean that your first draft never makes it to the page.
FYI, you're a bit different than the rest when you're a writer.
The other day I ran across a post from marketing guru Seth Godin that really spoke to me. He said:
"Remarkable work is usually accomplished by people who have non-typical priorities."
He was speaking in a broad-based sense, but of course I thought of you all, the people who choose to write books. Anyone in today's modern world could have a million priorities that would be considered typical; getting your taxes done, buying groceries, or focusing on work that pays the bills all come to mind.
But someone who chooses to write a book is making a deliberate choice to make writing a priority. Writing a book isn't an immediate obligation like taxes, it doesn't feed you like groceries, and it doesn't provide like day-to-day paid work (at least, not at the beginning). You choose to do it because you're someone with non-typical priorities, who values things beyond what immediately feeds you. You're looking ahead, at what you can contribute to the world, at the legacy you'll leave for years to come.
And that, I think, is something worth celebrating. Here's to creating remarkable work!