Real Talk: Is it time to go back to the real world?

I’ve been struggling with this thought for the past few weeks (yes, before I published The Queen).  And let’s go ahead and say, I’m WELL aware of the privilege in this post.  We are a household that can comfortably exist on one income — I understand this is not the case for everyone and that I am super fortunate to have even had the chance to my little experiment.

In case you weren’t aware, intentionally, I’ve been out of the traditional job force for the past year and a half.  In that time I’ve managed some successes — published a book, finished a trilogy, traveled, volunteered with K9 Friends, kept the house mainly in order, and did fairly well with food writing stuff.  Honestly, that’s about the sum total of my efforts.  For the above, as you might well imagine, I’ve been paid roughly less than a pittance.  Sure, a few bucks for some articles and not having to pay for meals while in Dubai has been great, but those things don’t actually contribute to the overall earnings of a household.  This is magnified by knowing others who I deeply respect and are in similar positions to mine and have managed to, you know, actually get paid.  And just so we’re clear, this is entirely my opinion — I have felt zero pressure from my wonderful husband for any of this, throughout the past 18 months.  He’s never once asked, “So, when are you going to start making money?”

As much as I dislike being around people (thank you, misophonia), I do enjoy making money (and, of course, spending it, especially in this political climate).  Essentially, I think the practical and rational side of myself is telling me, “You had a good try, but when can you admit that you’re not going to earn a living from writing?”  Man, that was a tough sentence to write.  The flip side of this coin is that I am actually good at work.  I leave organizations better than I found them.  I have a better than average work ethic, work longer hours than I’m ever paid for, and have put up with my fair share of shit over the years.  Spoiler alert, that’s everyone, I know.  Still, I have stellar recommendations.

So, I decided that the end of this year was my cut off before I started looking for work (although, knowing me, it will be sooner).

I am never going to give up writing, however, even as I get compliments on my work, these kind thoughts aren’t going to pay the bills.  I am part of numerous author groups and see the successes — goals that seem forever out of reach for me.  Maybe if the Amazon clusterfuck hadn’t happened, I might be in a different situation.  Maybe if I had planned a better release calendar for The Queen, or kept after Joe, I might have a bigger audience.  Maybe if I published more novels in a year (and yes, I have those books to publish).  Maybe if I hustled more.  Or maybe, my audience is never going to be large enough to support me.  Maybe I don’t write books for the masses.  Maybe I’ll just have this little side vanity project for my whole life and that will have to be enough.

It’s tough because anyone who knows me understands how much I hate to waste time.  Thus, what has this time ‘off’ been?  I was always going to write the books, so, it’s not as if they only came into existence because I wasn’t tied to a desk.  I suppose learning that you’re not meant to do the thing you thought your whole life was intended to be isn’t a waste of time, but it certainly doesn’t feel all that great.  Or maybe 18 months isn’t long enough to determine that fact.

Let’s see what the universe holds next for me.  As always, maybe ‘author’ is just one of the things that define me.  While I wanted it to be one of the main things, perhaps there is something else.

On the topic of abandoning books.

abandoning a book

This infographic stuck out to me recently.  For the longest time, I felt the responsibility (for lack of a better word) to finish any book I started (no matter how bad it was).  And then, in the last year, with a few exceptions, I sort of changed my outlook.  While I haven’t had the luxury of a library in close to ten years, I have been able to source free books through NetGalley, or daily Kindle deals.  (I’ll also admit that I’m a bit of a moody reader, and sometimes need to be in the right frame of mind to start and connect with a book).

Now, I tend to follow a pattern of giving a book at least 20% and if I’m more or less ‘checking out,’ then I pop over to Goodreads to see what others think.  I’m not sure why I seek out opinions, but for the most part, I usually find a reviewer who has the same impression I do (and then decide if I’m going to finish the book or skim it, or straight up ‘hate read’ — much like a ‘hate watch’).

So, are you a finisher?  Do you complete any book you start?  If not, what makes you put a book down?  For me, my biggest turn off is a lack of connection with the main character.  If I’m not engaged or straight up don’t care about their story, I just won’t read on.  Similarly, if a trope is played too hard, I also find that fairly off-putting.

One Year On: Some Lessons.

So, it’s been a year since I left the corporate world and entered whatever world I am in now (which is weird and strange, but mostly awesome).  In the past 365 days (give or take), I’ve accomplished quite a bit, but not without some frustrations and realizations along the way.

So, here, in no particular order, are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

  • Be open to new friendships.  With leaving a traditional office environment (and the various friends that came with it), other than Elena, I didn’t really have someone who was in the same ‘space’ that I was.  Fortunately, in early April, I connected with Zoe, and haven’t looked back.  We both tell each other (constantly) how different our lives would have been had our paths not crossed.  It’s funny the impact one person can make in your life.  (Of course, I’m still super bummed that potential friends Lindsey and Nate left before we could really spend time with them).  There are plenty of other new pals, of course, and I never know where the next relationship is going to start.
  • Keep up with old friends!  Fortunately for me, covering new restaurants has allowed me a great excuse to take friends out to eat in Abu Dhabi.  Not only that, the trip home last summer allowed me to catch up with some old friends.  In today’s uncertain times, I value seeing others in my life who have many of the same values that I do, and are willing to stand up for them.
  • Value time off.  Honestly, it could be my inner introvert, but (usually) my most favorite days of the week are the ones where I don’t have any reason to leave the house, set the alarm, or put on makeup.  It’s days like these when I get the most work done and I feel a bit stressed if I don’t include at least one ‘at home’ day during the week to keep up, catch up, and look ahead.
  • There are going to be down times.  I’ve gone through periods where I was in a reading slump, or an exercise slump (aka, not doing any), as well as a ‘why is everyone doing things and getting invited places but me’ slump.  For the most part they didn’t last long, or I was able to just power through them.  However, I recognize I can’t be firing on all cylinders all the time. Some days require a bit of mental health or self-care and that’s totes okay.
  • Routines can be a good thing.  For the most part, my week starts by doing food prep over the weekends with Hubs (so there’s at least some healthy food in the house), on Sundays, I’m off volunteering at K9 Friends.  Mondays are usually my at home day and then I filter in reviews and appointments accordingly.
  • Achievements are great, but not the only thing.  While I have completed a book, I’m still not ready for it to be out in the world.  Late in 2016, this fact was super bumming me out.  I felt like I had let my past self down — the one who had all these ideas and thought she was going to be a bestseller by now — the one who hasn’t published a book since the summer of 2015.  While it’s still a work in progress, every day I make peace with the fact that I’m at least moving forward on projects and that is enough for now.
  • Always be hustling.  While I had times where it felt like nothing was moving, I’ve been trying to get in the habit of researching and pitching restaurants and other venues I want to visit.  Sometimes they pay off, and some never get a response.  I’m hoping to translate some of this energy back to the Queen, once she comes along.
  • Always drink water before going to bed (I really need to get on that train, especially when coming home in the 2AM hour).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to what lessons the next year will yield.  I also need to figure out how to get paid more regularly…

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One Year Later.

So, in November 2015, I wrote a list of goals for my ‘sabbatical’ year in 2016 (yup, that’s just how Type A I am).  Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that a year ago was my last day at NYUAD.  I thought it would be fun to dust off the original post and see what I had accomplished and where things were different.

  1. Edit 1st draft The Queen of England: Coronation
    1. Complete!
  2. Edit final draft The Queen of England: Coronation (to be complete at 75-80k)
    1. Complete!
  3. Publish The Queen of England: Coronation (and all that goes with it!)
    1. Nope.  Because of a number of reasons, I’m sticking to the fact that the book is nearly in its final form, but not completely there.  I have also not done nearly enough to support the book for marketing and promotion,
  4. Complete rough draft The Queen of England: Grand Tour (60K minimum, 15K complete).
    1. Complete!
  5. Edit 1st draft Lucky Penny (35-40k)
    1. Lol.  I didn’t even open the project once.
  6. Complete 1st draft The Queen of England: Grand Tour (pending time, energy and motivation)
    1. By December I was at least 100 pages into the first draft and as of now, am closing in on the completed first draft.
  7. Start rough draft A.U. (pending time, energy and motivation)
    1. Another lol — how much writing was I going to do exactly?  This will most likely be a project I get to later this year.
  8. Update all YA projects with back material
    1. Complete!
  9. Update Room 702/Life After Joe with back material
    1. Complete!
  10. Finish the pilot of DINKs (25-30 pages, screenplay)
    1. Lol, j/k.  Another one not opened.
  11. Drabbles for the Queen trilogy (January 2016).
    1. Complete!
  12. Maybe come up with a new cover for The Line (celebrating 10 years in February!).
    1. Realized the book is actually celebrating ten years THIS year and have not done anything.
  13. Follow up on the 94176128391 websites, articles and posts I have tagged to follow up as research, etc.
    1. Mostly, yes.

Overall, I think I was realistic in what I could accomplish.  While I didn’t start some projects, I did begin another manuscript that’s not even on the list (The Queen of England: Rogue Nation) and made it 20K in.  This is of course not including the thousands of words I dedicated to my food blog, A to Za’atar.  November 2015 Courtney just didn’t really know how things were going to go, and that’s totally fine.  While I won’t make specific predictions for this year, I predict finishing Queen #3 and starting A.U. (something I’m really looking forward to).  I also could make some progress on an unpublished (but complete) novel I co-wrote with a friend (Take One! at Mulholland High).  I’d like to continue my food and travel writing and work on getting paid more.  Let’s see!

  1. 60kgs and under – my new permanent weight class.
    1. LOL.  I’ve definitely not been keeping it tight.  Part of it is dining out so often, and part of it is sheer laziness.  Although I have been going to Flywheel, there is definitely more that I can do.  The struggle continues.
  2. Move and set up of our new place in Dubai.
    1. Complete!  (Even if we just recently finalized everything, it’s still before the year mark).
  3. Household maintenance (as a stay at home wife/author, I completely accept this responsibility.  My inner feminist is a bit hesitant about not having a regular paycheck, but as a partner, I accept that this is a good balance – one only made possible by Hubs working full time.)
    1. Easier than I thought.  Honestly, we’re still making lunches and dinners, and I’m happy to coordinate most of the traditionally ‘female’ endeavors in our life.  It’s worked well for us, so I’m still not in any hurry to go back to a regular job (I like my current situation just fine and am super privileged and lucky to have the choice).
  4. Online course, better website management, and other social media type skills (analytics, SEO and other terminology I shouldn’t be scared of).
    1. Still gun shy on this one.  I usually make some small amount of progress, only to get beat down by some frustratingly difficult thing that I keep not understanding (and everyone else seems to have no trouble with).
  5. 20% increase in ‘new’ traffic and followers across all social media (Pinterest, Twitter, blog, Tumblr).
    1. Maybe?  I’m not sure why I made this a priority.  Yes, things are tipping up, and that has got to be enough.
  6. Regular flossing.
    1. Uh… Next question.
  7. Beating insomnia once and for all.
    1. Sort of?  I have significantly limited how often I take any OTC (or any other) sleep aid.  Do I still have nights where it takes me 2+ hours to fall asleep?  You bet.  More days are a ‘win’ than not, but I still wish it was easier for me to pass out every night.
  8. Do something with the boutique villa hotel idea thing.
    1. A non-starter, but hey, it’s still fun to get a crazy idea with friends now and then…
  9. New hobby or skill (I’m thinking guitar lessons or getting back into fencing or salsa dancing).
    1. While technically not a skill, the past year was very positive for two reasons I would categorize here: K9 Friends (where I volunteer once a week in the office) and a new best friend (Zoe).  I’ve also done my best to maintain many friendships from my NYU days (let’s face it, when we get older, some things are just easier not to put effort into, and I think it’s easy to get lazy with friends).  Hopefully, some new skill is on the horizon, but with everything above, it’s all about finding the right balance.

If I look back at the last year, there was a lot of positive things happening — trips, books, friends, new endeavors.  I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t publish the Queen in 2016 (which weighs on me more than I wish it did).  And yet, 2017 already shows a ton of promise.  I’m still diligently working on my books, and the food blogging thing is bringing in all sorts of unique opportunities (that I get to share with Hubs and friends).  Other than Trump destroying a country I once knew and respected, I’d say things look great.

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