Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere...

Now that I think about it, I could probably use David Bowie lyrics for every single one of my blog titles.

But I won't.

You may have noticed that my blog has a new look! A new look means new adventures: I am officially going to Amsterdam. In a little less than two weeks, as a matter of fact. I may be taking a whopping four flights to get there, but consider this: my ticket wasn't even $400. Thanks, Kiwi.com.

Once I'm there, I'll be babysitting my ridiculously adorable cousins, freelancing, and--of course--working on my novel. That's the whole point of this adventure--well, aside from the fact that I'm obsessed with traveling in general. I managed to write nearly the entire first draft of the novel while I was in France, probably because I had few other obligations--no teaching, no classes--and because I hardly knew anyone, so my social life consisted mostly of me taking myself to various cultural landmarks. I'm hoping my trip to Amsterdam will provide me with the time and space to revise my novel until it's ready to be sent to agents.

I imagine my life in the Netherlands will be busier than my life in France--three boys under 6 tend to be time-consuming--but I still think I'll be able to get significantly more work done on the novel than if I stayed here and got a full-time job. And besides, if I don't have enough time in the Netherlands, I'll almost certainly have enough time when I head to New Zealand after that (fingers crossed!).

So that's the plan: live the jet setter life while revising my novel, and have it ready for agents by the end of next summer. I feel like I owe this to myself, the opportunity to take my writing career seriously. I can always do the boring, gainfully-employed adult thing later.

When I graduated from the MFA program, I experienced some angst over what to do with this blog. Normally I try to keep my blogs limited to certain time periods; when I studied abroad as an undergraduate, for instance, I had a separate travel blog that ended once I returned to the States. However, I feel like this particular journey isn't yet over, despite the fact that I have my degree. I'm still coming into my own as a writer, and while I completed a draft of my novel for my thesis, it's just a draft. My work is still very much in progress, and it seems too abrupt to stop the record here, or even to change blogs--it's not a separate story.

I hope Viva Las Becky continues to be a compelling story for you, and that you'll keep reading. I'll feel a lot better adventuring knowing that you're adventuring with me, albeit virtually. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Passion Planner: Pulling My Life Together with Pen and Paper

A few weeks ago, I visited my dear friend Meg while they were in the midst of cleaning their apartment. I noticed that as they completed each task, they crossed the item off a handwritten list in a large black book. "What's that?" I asked, as I oh-so-helpfully stood aside and distracted them from their chores. Meg raved that it was their Passion Planner, an organizational tool so life-changing that they had convinced half the people in their office to buy one as well. Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about. I ordered my Passion Planner the next day.

Passion Planner Limited Edition Blue
I'm into bright colors, so I went with this limited edition version rather than the traditional black.

I've tried planners before, with little success. I always start out strong, but my engagement peters off within a few weeks--or even days. For the past several years I've been using a combination of my iPhone's default calendar app and the ultra-snarky Carrot to-do list app to stay on top of things, but both of those keep me on my phone more than I would like. My work requires me to stare at screens most of the time, so I've been trying to find ways to stare at them less. And now that I'm moving into freelance writing, it's crucial that I organize my schedule well. This change, along with Meg's enthusiastic review, convinced me that I ought to give paper planners another chance.

The Passion Planner is designed with engagement in mind. It was created by Angelia Trinidad, an artist who, like most of us, felt a little lost after college. Instead of wallowing in despair and confusion, she created and Kickstarted a planner that would serve as a compass to help people find their way in life. All Passion Planners begin with a mapping exercise that allows you to determine your future goals. After you've named your objectives, the exercise forces you to break down the concrete steps it will take to achieve those objectives, which you then add into your calendar as tasks. It's somewhat overwhelming to see all those steps in map form, but once you write them down over many months, they seem more manageable. 

From there, the planner gets more traditional--but only slightly more traditional. There's a series of month overview pages, then a much heftier series of week overview pages, followed by extra blank paper and graph paper. But there are all sorts of unique features as well. Each month is followed by a set of review questions, which help you determine what habits you need to change to be more efficient next month. There are separate to-do lists for personal tasks and work tasks, along with a not-to-do list. There are boxes where you can write all the good things that happened to you each week. There's a "Space of Infinite Possibility," which is for whatever you damn well please. 

Passion Planner Weekly Schedule
My color-coding skills are on point.

If you're thinking that this sounds like a lot of work--it is! Especially when you're getting used to the Passion Planner's many quirks. It takes time to plan each day in such minute detail. And much of the fun of it is supposed to come in customization--their Instagram features Passion Planners that have been turned into gorgeous works of art. Mine will always be ugly in comparison. 

That said, I've already noticed some improvements to my life. For one thing, I'm following my schedules religiously. Seeing each task physically blocked out in my day is enormously helpful--I procrastinate less, which means I actually get to relax in the evenings because I'm not playing catch-up. And since I made the schedules in the first place, I don't feel too guilty if I have to switch something around. The other positive change is that I am definitely spending less time on my phone. Since I'm crossing off my daily tasks instead of swiping them on an app, I don't get distracted by Facebook and Twitter notifications. This is a big deal for me, as I consider myself a social media addict. 

I suspect the biggest challenge for me will be learning to trust my Passion Planner. As regular readers of my blog know all too well, I'm an extremely anxious individual, so I'm prone to constantly dwelling on--no, dwelling is too mild a term. I'm prone to constantly stressing about everything I have to get done, keeping an ever-growing list of chores in the front of my mind. But if I can learn to trust that I've already written the list down, that it exists in a safe place where I can refer to it whenever I need to, I can hopefully learn to clear that stressful list from my mind. What a wonderful thing that would be. 

I haven't been using my Passion Planner for long, but it's easily the most useful planner I've ever encountered. If you're looking to up your organization game, Passion Planner is a safe bet. Plus, for each planner they sell, they give one away to someone who can't otherwise afford it. Good karma! Can't go wrong with that. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What's Going On

Now you have 4 Non Blondes' seminal 90's hit "What's Up" stuck in your head, don't you? If it's any consolation, so do I.

Thought I ought to check in. It's been a while.

The bad news: I did not get the full-time, salaried job at American Soup.*

The good news: American Soup did ask me to freelance for them. So I started working on some of that today. If all goes well, you'll eventually be able to see my engaging copy on soup can labels nationwide. If all goes really well, I'll get my foot in the door for a full-time job in the future.

I'm thinking freelancing may be the route to go for a while. Why, you ask?

1) I love writing, and freelancing would allow me to write in exchange for cold hard cash. Or checks. Whatever.

2) I can do it from anywhere, including The Netherlands, if I go there to nanny for my cousin, or New Zealand, if I obtain a working holiday visa. I just renewed my passport, so I'm going somewhere, dammit. I rarely feel as competent as I do when I'm traveling. I travel well--it puts me in my element. It's not that I don't miss you all, but I love exploring, too. And besides, you can only get a working holiday visa until you're 30 years old, and 30 isn't too far away. I don't know if I could forgive myself for squandering such an opportunity!

3) I still work part-time and remotely for super-secret-second-job-that-no-longer-has-to-be-secret, so I will continue to have a regular base income each month. And no gap in my resume, for that matter. And a decent amount of savings from when SSSJTNLHTBS was full-time, on top of that.

4) I would be able to spend time editing my novel, so that I can get it ready to send to agents. I've been working hard on it lately. It's getting closer. I can feel it.

5) Because adventure. Sometimes you have to take risks to do the things you love, right? That's how this whole life thing works?

Here's the part where I ask for your help: darling friends who have freelanced before/are freelancing now (writing or otherwise), can you spare some advice? Anything at all would be useful, but I'm especially interested in how you handle things like taxes (I've heard freelancers should pay them quarterly?) and health insurance (Obamacare?). Also, how do you feel about sites like Upwork? What about budgeting? I keep reading about Mint and You Need A Budget--anyone use those? Non-freelancers can help with that last one as well, obviously. Any tips/reviews/anecdotes/warnings/encouragements would be greatly appreciated.

Let's end this entry on a recap of all the awesome things that have happened lately: I've seen SO MUCH of Gena and Felipe and Meg and my dogs and I went to Ben's birthday party and I got a family tattoo and I saw Austin when he was in town and I went on Meg's boat and there was a national holiday and I ate too much food.

Such loveliness.

*Again, not actually a soup company.