A Confidence Carol: One Year Later

A year ago today, I released my second ebook, A Confidence Carol, on Amazon. Amongst fanfare limited to mostly friends and social media (although this tweet still makes my life), the book quietly rose to the 12,298 spot on Amazon’s sales rankings before purchases sputtered and ACC became exiled to the isle of misfit ebooks (or, where most ebooks live).

While I am still patiently waiting for the phone call about the movie rights, from start to finish I still consider the project one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things I have ever done. And of course the experience didn’t come without a takeaway or two about book writing, amongst other things:

1. Hire An Editor

Truthfully, as I was writing the first draft, I wasn’t quite sure if I would actually need to hire an editor or not. I mean, I wrote and edited HTGAJISPR just fine by myself and amazingly sold 20 copies. “Why would this be any different?” I thought.

And then I gave the manuscript to my editor for a free trial hour of editing.

When I received the first 10 redlined pages back from Marilyn, my wonderful editor, she had already uncovered major plot holes, character inconsistencies, and grammar problems that I probably would have otherwise overlooked. While some of my cultural references went over her head or just otherwise confused her, without her polish I never would have felt comfortable enough to…

2. Share With Friends

I can only speak to writing, but I imagine this applies to all forms of art. Sharing your shit is freaky. Never mind that it is an open invitation for criticism; moreso I just felt pretty damn selfish asking six friends to not only read 30,000 words of unknown quality, but to then give me their honest feedback and opinions, no matter how harsh it seemed. And you know what? They were more than happy to do it, and it helped me more than I could begin to express.

My favorite comment (compliment?) came from my friend and reviewer, Dana (who told my brother who told me): “You know, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but this is actually pretty good.” While ebook reviewers can sometimes be soul-crushingly blunt, friends being blunt with you provides value that no anonymous reader can ever give.

3. Fruition

On February 14, 2013, I went to the Starbucks next to my apartment to write the initial plot outline and character descriptions for ACC. Almost exactly 10 months later, I took a day off work to camp out in a Starbucks on the other side of town, solely so I could publish the book and compulsively check sales without having to feign doing work at my office job.

And I have never told anyone this—but in the few weeks leading up to release day, I slacked off. Bad. I let myself become distracted with some other things going on in my life, and the flame for my little-big project—my baby, if you will—dwindled, and I almost feel apologetic for not sticking around with it until the very end. I let up, and in a way I feel like I let it (and myself) down. ACC required a seasonal release given its subject matter and source material, but for future projects (if possible) I plan on getting much more of the legwork done long before even thinking about a release date.

It was nothing with the story itself but more finer details, such the formatting and layout within the .ePub file that would have made the whole thing slightly more professional looking. Which is especially disappointing considering I refused to settle on other aspects, like the cover, which went through many revisions:

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Again, the story became what I envisioned it to be, but those few weeks leading up to the release left a sour taste in my mouth that I hope to never experience again. However, that all taught me another lesson…

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Outsource

Sure, there is nobility in DIY and all that I guess, but I’ll be damned if I ever code another ebook again. The plan for the next book is do print-on-demand or just go the traditional publishing route, but I have made a promise blood pact to myself that if I do ever write another ebook, I am hiring out for the coding work.

Another thing I plan to outsource is the marketing. The promotion I did do was limited, partly from a lack of time due to working on everything else involved with the book, partly because of those aforementioned distractions, but a main reason is just because I am…me.

Yes, every job and every freekin’ thing you do in life is “sales” in some manner of speaking. However, this is not a strong suit of mine, nor something I think I will ever enjoy. I don’t think I’ll have any qualms in the future about having someone else do this particular part of the trade that makes me feel irrationally dirty. I did some teaser posts on my blog and social media, and gave away the first chapter for free, but beyond that…not much else. I am starting to feel like the ebook “bubble” has burst anyway, unless you are a great series writer and/or a marketing genius (this is probably a limiting belief somewhat, but others have made this observation, too).

5. A Strange Kind of Love

The project and all it entailed—the 6AM wakeups (a habit that has stuck), the late nights at coffee shops, the compulsive email-checking for messages from my editor—was only something I could describe as a weird kind of…love. Not romantic love of course, but love of some variety nonetheless. I rose early with the project, went to sleep with it on my mind, and saw all of its ugly flaws and appreciated it anyway.

And when I finally let it go, I experienced some sort of weird postartum depression I had often read about but never experienced myself. During the winter I typically feel a little down as it is, and while I enjoyed the relief that came with finally setting free this project that was frankly, a pain-in-the-ass at times, there was still a small void in me that never really started to fill again until recently, when I started writing the next book.

6. Free That Idea

They say everyone has a book in them and/or one million dollar idea. I don’t know if either is true, but I do know just about everyone has that idea in them. That one idea, whether it’s a book or a screenplay or a Rube Goldberg concept that won’t leave them alone, that pops into consciousness at the weirdest times, continually, for months and even years.

I’m trying to do less rah-rah motivational writing than I was prone to in the past—frankly I think that shit is overrated and I am a subscriber to this lifehack more than anything else these days—but if you have one of those ideas…it’s worth it. Even if you have no idea how the hell you’ll accomplish it or if there’s no clear ‘point’ to it…just do one small thing toward it every day. You will thank yourself later.

I look back on A Confidence Carol—something that just popped into my head one night as I was going to bed—and I feel an unparalleled sense of fulfillment and…relief, knowing that I put that particular idea that I would probably still otherwise be thinking about, to rest.

And the thing is, setting free just one of those ideas makes every idea that follows seem more and more realistic.

The Idea Honeymoon

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“People don’t have a good intuitive sense of how to weigh new information in light of what they already know. They tend to overrate it.”

–Nate Silver

We’ve all experienced it.

A new set of information is learned and  all we viewed as indisputable fact is turned on its head. Our brains feel expanded; our minds enlightened. Suddenly, everything gets molded to fit into our new paradigm.

This is the Idea Honeymoon

I can’t remember where I first heard the term, but I could instantly relate to the phenomenon being described.

When I was 22, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan, The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall over the course of a few months, undoubtedly making me the most self-righteous kid on the block.

Briefly, the basic idea of all four is applying an evolutionary framework to things humans have done for thousands of years (e.g., eating and running), then pin-pointing when society started to do things vastly different (1950s for eating; 1970s for footwear/running). The conclusion of these books and schools of thought is that it’s generally healthier if we do things as we did prior to the last 50-60 years.

I still consider these books to be among the most influential I have ever read. And while I do think more of society’s common maladies are related to poor diet than most might give credit for, eating or exercising ‘improperly’ became the root of all problems in my mind.

Never mind if someone was complaining about a legitimate health issue that was beyond my understanding (or actually did have nothing to do with food), whatever it was I had no doubt it was because they weren’t eating the same way I was. Because if I saw all these benefits from eating this and not that, then these ideas must be universally applicable and give the same exact results to everyone, regardless of their genetics or medical history.

I was on my own personal honeymoon with this new knowledge, and basically a zealot. I spread (or at least attempted to) this new and exciting information to anyone that would listen.

As usually happens, this fire eventually mellowed out. Even though I still apply most of the same basic ideas from those books to my daily eating habits, they’ve become like any other personal belief of mine; something spoken about only when explicitly asked.

Despite being a regular reader and general information junkie, my idea honeymoons are fewer and further in between than they were even a few years ago. I chalk this up to age and (possibly) a maturity thing; observing this phenomenon in others, I see that older people are (generally) able look at new information more objectively and not become blindly consumed by it.

Parallels can be made to the honeymoon period of a new relationship. Everything is exciting and wonderfully anew in the beginning, likely altering or even enhancing how we view the world in certain ways. If the relationship lasts, that flame eventually gives way to something more grounded and solid. This is probably the reason old couples don’t brag about or advertise their relationship the way young ones are prone to do.

The same idea can be said for new passions or ‘kicks’. How many times have you thought you’ve discovered ‘it’; what you were going to devote the rest of your life to doing, only to have your interest wane and fizzle a few months later?

Just in my twenties thus far I have been absolutely convinced that I was put on this earth to become a CrossFit trainer, life coach, sports information director, and brewpub manager, to name a few. I am grateful I went through all of these infatuations, as I have always viewed figuring out what I like most as a process of elimination.

And again, like dating, honeymoon periods are necessary (for many) to find that true, grounded love.

Figuring out what to do for the rest of your life is another post entirely, and probably not something I am even qualified to speak on. But throughout all of those professional interests, my love of writing was the one constant. I think this is how I knew, and how I still know that it’s what I need to pursue most.

But it’s always felt like a different kind of love—whereas the others were hot and all-consuming flames that I think deep down (at least in retrospect) I knew might not go the distance, I knew that writing would always be there in my corner, ready for me whenever I decided to settle down. I knew it wasn’t going anywhere, and it didn’t even mind that I went and played the field for a while.

A life of writing for me has more than lasted the idea honeymoon; you could even say we just had our silver anniversary together.

What have you had (possibly annoying) idea honeymoons with?

Open for Business: Elsass Editing

Over the past year I have taken on a great deal of copy editing work, both inside and outside of my office job, and discovered it’s something that I have a knack for and also really enjoy doing.

So much in fact, that I considered this a green light to myself for launching my first ‘real’ business venture: Elsass Editing.

While I have made some money off of my books, this kind of freelance work is refreshingly enjoyable, as the interaction with customers is much more personal. The feedback is immediate and I get to plainly hear what my clients like and what I can do better.

I of course love writing and will do so until the day I die, but I recently had the epiphany that I more enjoy contributing to others’ successes as opposed to being in the limelight for myself. In youth soccer, defense was my position of choice, I played a low brass instrument in band, and now, I take pride in improving other people’s writing.

Taking someone’s draft and getting to mold it into something they are proud to turn in or show off gives me the best feeling in the world, and I genuinely love doing it. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, as I was the kid in college that would volunteer to look at my roommate’s essays.

Currently my focus is going to be on articles, blog posts, research papers, resumes, and cover letters. My skills as a practiced researcher are also for hire. And for now, the first thirty minutes of work on any kind of project will be absolutely free, just to make sure my input is deemed helpful.

In addition to my corporate experience with the craft, I am also currently completing the Poynter University/American Society of Copy Editors Certificate in Editing.

I have also done a few odd copy writing jobs, which have also been great experiences and something I might take on more of in the future, but for now my focus is going to be on growing the editing side of the business. Eventually I will probably brand Elsass Editing into its own thing outside of this site, but for now it will all live on the landing page here.

So if you or anyone you know needs something they’ve written polished up, pass my name along–the family and friends discount is considerable.

My Favorite Word

Every writer has to have to have one, right?

My favorite word in the English language is esoteric. Enlighten us, Webster:

es•o•ter•ic (esəˈterik): designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone

requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group; limited to a small circle 

I first read this word (or at least wondered what it meant) on a trip down the YouTube rabbit hole several years ago. For some reason, I ended up looking at covers of “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind, a 90s classic and karaoke favorite of mine.

I stumbled across a clip of a group of friends in a darkened living room all standing in a huddle, jumping, singing, and completely losing themselves in the song. For whatever reason, I was moved enough to leave a comment, probably just something along the lines of “that looked like a ton of fun”.

The video’s uploader replied a few days later saying, “Thanks- it was a very esoteric moment for all of us :)”

I don’t know if the video was documenting a group of friends after high school graduation, a college spring break trip, or a home-for-the-holidays reunion, but after looking up “esoteric” it was clear this was the perfect word to describe their moment.

The clip has since been taken down, but the video and the word have stuck with me. As I write more and more, I have realized that it has always been my goal (whether conscious or not) to write things that have a kind of esoteric appeal. Things that people in my generation will relate with, things they possibly thought only they experienced.

Despite how much research I do, I will never be able to fully describe what it was like to live through American prohibition, San Francisco in the 60s, or the London punk scene in the 1970s as well someone who was there.

However, I can describe in great detail what it was like to grow up with the internet, the energy of a mid-2000s underground pop punk show, and the enjoyment of a night drive with your best friends through a sea of developing suburbs.

While some of those may (currently) not be the most glamorized tropes in pop culture, when they are described correctly, they are no less meaningful to those who were there. And if written well enough, they can become almost as meaningful to someone who wasn’t.

Inside jokes, the funny memories and one-liners that will forever be tied to a particular friend, the songs that are anchored to a specific time in your life. . .all esoteric experiences, unique to the select few who were around. To me, the best art bridges this esotericism and makes the reader feel like they were there in that moment, even when they weren’t.

Ever try enthusiastically describing a special moment to someone not involved, only to find that they aren’t even remotely as amused or interested as you are? What do you say to save face?

“You just had to be there.”

What is your favorite word, and why?

6 Random Pieces Of Online Writing That Have Stuck With Me

How often do you read an online article or blog post to the very end? Moreover, how long do you actually remember what you read?

Recent research shows that we rarely read online articles in their entirety. And while the old adage of “you only remember 20% of what you read” has been debunked, the true percentage is probably nowhere near 100% for the non-rainmen of us.

We are a world of skimmers, which makes that small amount of material we read through to the end–and actually remember–even more special. Great writing never truly leaves us, even years down the road. Instead we internalize it, possibly changing forever the way we think about the world.

Here are six favorites I wanted to share that have never strayed too far from my mind:

A Special Graduation Message to the Class of 2012
By Drew Magary for Deadspin
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“Your life is going to be monumental regardless of what happens after you graduate. Life writes a story for everyone and that story is filled with big, dramatic things like death and disease and love and addiction and despair. From the richest man to the poorest man, we all go through triumph and misery. No one makes it out alive.”

I wish the speech at my graduation had been even half this straight-shooting and inspiring. Instead, my school hosted John Boehner, and all I can remember is him making a boner joke (seriously).

Poignant and perhaps brutally honest in spots (in what I’ve seen to be true with the world so far), there are certain passages from this piece that pop into my head whenever I find myself in certain situations:

“When you drive alone at night and you don’t have the radio on, you feel like you’ve entered some kind of void in the universe.There’s no one to talk to. There’s no one to listen to. It’s just you, the pavement, and a scattering of other white and red lights around you. You enter an endless dark dream state; it’s what an atheist imagines death is like.”

Or whenever I am lacking motivation and am feeling woefully existential, wondering what the point of anything is:

“The point isn’t to do great things. The point is to just do things. The point is to experiment with the world around you and see how you can best use it to better serve your own little universe. And the more you use the world, the more it opens up for you. The seemingly unrelated shit you do has a way of eventually connecting. You’ll read a book and then bring it up spontaneously in some job interview and make a connection with your future boss. You’ll go out to get shitfaced one night and bump into your future wife. I’m not saying it’s all gonna fit together perfectly like you’re in Slumdog Millionaire, but certain things will fall into place. Life is a cumulative experience, and the more random shit you do and the more people you interact with, the more the world can be of service to you.”

If someone were to ever ask about my basic outlook or philosophy on life, I’d probably just forward them this piece.

Truthfully, my only goal when I write is to create something that has the kind of staying power with the reader that this piece has had with me.

How We Judge Others is How We Judge Ourselves
By Mark Manson for MarkManson.net

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“If you measure your life by how much you’ve traveled and experienced, then you will measure other people by the same standard – how worldly they’ve become. If they prefer to stay home and enjoy the comforts of routine, then you will judge them as incurious, ignorant, unambitious, regardless of what their aspirations really are.”

This post really hit home for a multitude of reasons and made me realize just how much value I put in travel. Unconsciously for most of my adult life, I had been holding people who were well-traveled in very high esteem because I looked down upon myself for having never traveled abroad (yet).

And this idea holds true (for me) across all different areas of life–I used to be obsessed with my body image and would work out purely for aesthetic reasons. At the same time–and not always realizing it–I would also be constantly judging others for their physique.

Now that I have a much more positive and healthier attitude about fitness, not only do I rarely (if ever) critique my own body, it no longer even crosses my mind to assign value to others based on their physical conditioning. The same goes for the having routine in one’s life. After all, “The yardstick we use for ourselves is the yardstick we use for the world.”

And while it’s certainly open to debate, the line “Everyone is either trying to prove or disprove who they were in high school” is gold and something to think about.

How to Live Without Irony
By Christy Wampole for the New York Times Opinionator 

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“But Y2K came and went without disaster. We were hopeful throughout the ’90s, but hope is such a vulnerable emotion; we needed a self-defense mechanism, for every generation has one. For Gen Xers, it was a kind of diligent apathy. We actively did not care. Our archetype was the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood.” 

It’d be hard to describe a hipster (which I have been called more than once) to someone without using the word ironic. However, point by point, Wampole makes a great argument that the hipster subculture is just the flagship of a mass irony-movement that has bled into every corner of today’s society, from advertising to social media.

While admitting her own shortcomings with ironic living, she also identifies the irony-movement as a kind of defense mechanism, a reflection of a bigger issue with our generation having difficulty being honest and direct about who we are and what we want. The piece is far from an empty critique or rant–Wampole concludes with offering actionable-advice intended to raise our self-awareness of our own ironic tendencies:

“Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?”

It’s almost enough to make me stop saying YOLO sarcastically. Almost.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators
By Megan McArdle for The Atlantic

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“Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible.”

This fear of turning in nothing has gotten me through more assignments and projects than I could ever begin to count. McArdle weaves this idea into a theory about why writers are such terrible procrastinators; essentially, she argues, it’s because they were good at English class.

“Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.”

Guilty and guilty. Even though I enjoyed it, I gave no serious thought to incorporating writing into my career or even as a side-pursuit until after college. I honestly feel that a big reason for this was that writing always came so natural to me–how could anything so easy give me success in life? What was the big deal?

The rare times I did try and sit down to write creatively I would hit a block shortly after beginning. Because I had never really struggled in any capacity with school-assigned writing, it was easier just to chalk the shortcoming up to not being talented enough. I was good at writing, but not that good:

 “The kids who race ahead in the readers without much supervision get praised for being smart,” says Dweck. “What are they learning? They’re learning that being smart is not about overcoming tough challenges. It’s about finding work easy. When they get to college or graduate school and it starts being hard, they don’t necessarily know how to deal with that.”

Our 21-Day Journey Into Minimalism
By Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus for The Minimalists

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“Everything we buy has extra costs associated with them, not just the price on the price tag.”

While I’ll probably never come close to being able to make one of those ‘look at everything I own‘ posts (I love my books and pint glasses too much), this series of 21 mini-posts by ‘The Minimalists’ introduced me to the idea of minimalism and forever changed the way I look at possessions.

I used to be a pack rat, convincing myself to keep all kinds of junk in the event that I ‘might need it someday’ or assigning some sort of sentimental value to it.

Some of the posts are a little extreme (e.g., getting rid of your car, selling your house) but going through the series post-by-post had me paring down the amount of junk in my life, and it felt good. Even today, be it from my computer desktop to my closet, I am constantly trying to keep things restrained to that which I actually use. I truly believe your possessions end up owning you, and getting rid of the noise has allowed me to focus on the things that are more important to me (e.g., writing) than managing and organizing items.

20-Year-Old Hunter S. Thompson’s Superb Advice on How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life
By Maria Popova (and Hunter S. Thompson) for Brain Pickings
From Letters of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher
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“Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.”

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in myself over the past two years is that I am much more hesitant to give ‘advice.’ As I mused about in a recent post, I’ve tried to stop thinking about there being a ‘best’ or ‘right’ way to do things, or that I would even know what that might be. Even when talking to people now, I use a lot more qualifiers (too many according to some) and try to make it clear that I am speaking only from my own anecdotal evidence.

Remarkably insightful for a 20 year old, Hunter sums up my new disdain for a lot of self-development material nicely in a letter to a friend:

“To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.”

I have also recently realized the importance of being more process than goal-oriented (to the point where I have thought about getting rid of my bucket list). Over several paragraphs the late journalist opines about why this is important:

“To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.”

And if you’ve made it this far, thanks for skimming.

What random online reading has stuck with you?