Closing Down Shop & Relocating

Hello to all – I am writing to day with the sad news that I’ll be shutting this blog down shortly… but not to end my blogging career (even though it’s been almost a year since my last post) but rather to combine this blog (or the best of this blog anyway) with my official website blog. I’m still in the process of developing the direction and format and whatnot for that site, but as it stands, any new posts I make will be available there… not here. Here is scheduled for demolition.

Which makes me kind of said, because it’s my “whisper”… the first voice I had online (officially… since Facebook and Hotmail site things don’t really count in my books).

I may change my mind. If I do, I will delete this post and continue as if this post never existed. But, for right now, in this moment, at 3:40am on a Tuesday night (or Wednesday morning, depending on how you look at things), this is the beginning of the end.

Thank you all for reading my whispers! I hope you will continue to enjoy the semi-ranting, semi-informative and hopefully-entertaining ramblings that I call mine over on my website.

Oh, my website is: lisahoekstra.com

(you’ll notice I haven’t posted much there recently either… don’t worry – I intend to fix that). 

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UPDATE: My Life in a Nut Shell

Well, looks like I left everyone on a bit of a cliffhanger way back in November. Oops. My bad guys!

I “won” NaNoWriMo, in the sense that I wrote 50K in 30 days. In fact, I wrote 26K of that in the last three days of the month, but that’s neither here nor there.

SO MUCH MORE HAS HAPPENED!

Remember in September when I told you about my Part-Time status? And back in March when I talked about how I was trying to keep myself organized while working full time and completing freelance projects on the side?? Well, this update is an extension of those posts. It’s a step forward. A movement in the “right” direction. It’s a scary, exciting, tumultuous and frightening time in my life, because my friends…

I’ve gone full freelance.

*does happy dance*

In the month and a bit since I started, I’ve picked up two little nuggets of wisdom that I’d like to share with everyone, especially anyone who’s trying to change their life in a drastic way:

Take it One Thing At A Time

The first week of my full freelance status, I was freaking out. I kept thinking of the infinite amount of things I hadn’t sorted out before I went full freelance, and all of the things I’d said I’d do when I was full freelance. In no specific order, the things I stressed about the first week were:

  • Health Insurance
  • The unfinished projects at my previous job
  • Adding workouts to my morning routine
  • Adding “work on my NaNo Novel” to my daily schedule
  • Adding more clients to my client list
  • Going for coffee with friends I haven’t seen in ages
  • Having evenings and weekends to myself again for the first time in years

Here’s what I actually did that week:

  • Sorted out my freelance status with my previous job
  • Slept in
  • Stressed
  • Played Minecraft (oh yeah, I do that now…)

By the second week, the above stresses were calmed, but they were followed immediately by the financial freakout and guilt that I hadn’t done any of the things I’d said I wanted to do. By the third week, I’d found a nice schedule that wasn’t perfect, but would work as a building block. Now, on week five (six?), my goal is to keep to that less-than-perfect schedule, then gradually add more… ease myself into this new life.

So, if you’re planning a big life change, don’t expect to make everything you want to happen, happen at once. You’ve got to ease into it. Get yourself adjusted to the big change, then add one new, smaller change to your schedule. Then another. Eventually you’ll get there – after all, “there” is where you want to be!

Financial Security is not the same thing as Success

I said the above to a friend of mine (who has been freelance for a year) because:

  1. It’s true and
  2. I needed to hear it, too.

Financial Security and Success generally go hand in hand, which is why a lot of people consider them one and the same thing. But frankly, they’re not.

Success = the favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
Financial Security = having the resources to support a standard of living now and in the foreseeable future

My ultimate goal is to become a freelance writer and editor. I’m there. I have succeeded. Being a successful writer is not going to make me rich. It might not even give me the resources to support a standard of living now and in the foreseeable future. This is something I’ll deal with when I run out of money (which hopefully won’t be soon… hopefully *crosses fingers*).

The biggest problem that I think I’ll run into, that other freelancers I’ve spoken to have mentioned, is that “others” will try to tell me that I should get a job of some sort to cover the bills. They’ll worry about my finances for me. But, here’s the kicker: for the first time in my life, I can honestly say I am in the career that I love, and I love doing what I do.

I also have contingency plans …. seriously, I’ve thought all of this out more than you could ever know. I’ve totally got this!

Choose your own adventure… Plot Problems

Current Word Count: 17,419
Today’s “Goal”: 25,000

It’s November 15th and that means I am half-way through NaNoWriMo. Last week I’d hit a major snag – my characters had all decided to do things I didn’t plan for.

And yes, I realize how weird that sounds.

I have a plot, which I’d spent a significant time in October ironing out. For all the non-writers, this process means that you think of different scenes and twists to get you from Point A to Point Z. In order to make it a good story, each scene needs to serve a specific purpose, from getting your Main Character (MC) out of bed and into the kitchen, to revealing that the MC’s nemesis is really his father (Luke *p-sssshhh* I am your Father). This takes time and no little creativity because, honestly, some of the scenes are just plain boring (she walked down the street). And writers have to think of a way to make it INTERESTING.

ANYWAY, my characters had literally (haha, funny… cuz.. literature) taken my story in a different direction and so far all of my plans have had to be changed (which is why flexibility is a valuable asset in any writer). Which is when I had a revelation:

Writing is very much like a choose your own adventure book, except that if you pick the wrong one, when you flip to the designated page… it’s blank.

Here’s why:

  1. You know the beginning of your book – the setting, the characters, the purpose. So you can write that much.
  2. Then your MC gets to a crossroads – one you planned for maybe or one you didn’t. At this point you have gotten to know your MC a bit better and maybe, just maybe, the original plan you had for them doesn’t fit in their personality.
    For me, it was that my MC wasn’t as immune to panic and fear as I had originally planned (ie. I realized that no sane person would watch her fiance get mauled and kidnapped by giant monsters and then CHASE after the monsters without first having a massive panic attack and getting help).
  3. So you pick the choice that fits with your MC’s personality. It may or may not have been the one that you’d originally planned.
    • If it IS, then the “page” you turn to has text on it that you get to fill out and make your own;
    • If it ISN’T then, more often then not, the “page” you turn to has a vague idea of where you want to go… but nothing more helpful than that.

The blank page comes when you’ve picked “the path less travelled” three or four times in a row… then you’re stuck trying to re-imagine the whole story. And while that would be fine in normal circumstances, when you HAVE to write 1,667 words a day but have a blank page looming in front of you, it’s less than awesome.

For me, it was the fact that my MC wasn’t a heroine in a fantasy tale, which is sort of how I’d pictured her – strong, capable, competent, selfless and courageous. I realized at around scene 4 that my MC is actually just a regular woman – strong in some ways but physically weak and a bit stubborn, capable and competent in her chosen field but subject to panic attacks in social situations, selfish (because who isn’t?) and a complete and utter scaredy-cat. Also, I realized she had to crack before I could move forward with my story. So that’s where I am, cracking my MC like an egg and seeing what kind of omelet I can make. Nom nom nom. 

NaNoWriMo Begins Again

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

Today marks the start of a new NaNoWriMo. It’s an exciting day, filled with anticipation, wonder and the need to do everything but write the novel I’m supposed to be writing. I won’t bore anyone with my strategy or try to make it through another month of blogging-while-writing, because I’ve already done all of that – you can read all of my previous posts on NaNoWriMo here.

Instead, this year I’m going to try to take my own advice my previous years. I mean, I gave some pretty good advice, so I’d be a bit of a moron not to heed it.

Today is also my mom’s birthday. I have exactly 20 minutes before I need to stop writing and start celebrating my mom’s birth. Therefore, I will stop wasting words on my blog and get back to my story.

Current Word Count: 397
Today’s Goal: 1,000 

Part-Time & Lovin’ It

Salut tout le monde!

It’s September…. and I realize I’m about 15 days late on that announcement, sorry about that. But really, if you’re relying on me to tell you what month it is, maybe you should invest in a calendar.

I’m writing for two reasons: 1) because I can and 2) to give an update on that whole “hectic life” blog I’d last posted in March (holy cow batman, was that ever a long time ago).

Freelance continued being busy, busy enough that I requested a change to part-time status at my work so that I could “really” pursue this Freelance thing. And I got it…. part-time that is. On August 1st, I went from working five days a week in the office (with evenings and weekends spent on Freelance/soccer/social life) to working three days in the office with Mondays, Fridays, evenings and weekends for Freelance/soccer/social life… in that order.

There are challenges though. TONS of challenges. The first and foremost being that it’s easy to get lost in the feeling that I have just a long weekend every weekend. I don’t. I shouldn’t. But the temptation is there to just…. chill. The second challenge is that my couch is SUPER comfy (my office chair is an old swivel chair that has lost all padding… I currently have a pillow under my butt in an effort to make it more comfortable… it’s only sort of working). Working from my couch is only a good idea if I cut all power to the TV…. because – that’s challenge number three – reminding myself that, though Netflix can run continuously in the background… it shouldn’t. Challenge number four – not becoming a hermit. Spending four days at home consecutively sounds like a great idea (and it is) but the fifth day, when I have to leave to go to the office, becomes that much more torturous. Natural light is very bright my friends. Very bright. *insert vampire-like hiss here*

But with all those challenges, there are successes – I’ve caught up on my work, I’m finally developing a solid schedule/pattern so that I can continue getting my work done. And I’m hoping that by the end of September I’ll be ready to take on more work.

I’m also really looking forward to November – I’m going to rock the socks off of NANOWRIMO.

Well, that is all for now. More blog posts to come in the coming weeks!! Providing I can turn Netflix off.

Spider Solitaire is Life

One initial layout in the game of Spider.

One initial layout in the game of Spider. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you guys remember spider solitaire?

Is that a stupid question?

I remember spider solitaire fondly from elementary school computer class (that may or may not have “dated” me a little bit) – it was one of the first versions of windows (ok, if that first comment didn’t date me, this one sure did. It took me out for dinner and even bought me dessert. Strawberry cheesecake. My favourite. Yum….)

Mooooving on. I discovered that Spider Solitaire does still exist (I don’t know why I thought it didn’t. Guess I just stopped having time for computerized card games at some point between elementary school and now). I downloaded an app on my phone and it’s my go-to game for transit and waiting rooms.

But none of this is the point of my post.

Spider Solitaire has made me realize a few things about life… in the sense that spider solitaire is like life. Here’s why…

You need to come at things sideways sometimes.

So I’m stuck… I have one empty slot and every other pile is a mess of reds and blacks in varying permutations. I’ve tried all of the straightforward approaches (at least twice) and nothing is getting sorted out. What do I do? Turn my phone sideways. Well, not really. I have to look for the more convoluted solutions – the ones where you move two cards here, then switch them with those other two cards and then move the group of cards and THEN fill the blank spot and hope for the best.

This… this is like life. We all keep trying to use the straightforward answers to our problems. The one-step, quick-fix type solutions. But what life really needs are the multi-stepped, long term solutions. Stuck in your career? Come at it sideways – make a move you don’t think will work but will lead you to a place you think will then be a stepping stone to the place you want to be.

I’m not 100% certain any of that made any sense.

No matter how good you think you are….

…. you will never go up to four suits unless you really really really like a challenge. Or pain. 

I’ve never, ever completed a game of four suits. Occasionally I try, just to see if I can. But I usually can’t. So I go back to two suits. It’s like I plateaued at some point and just decided I could never leave my comfort zone (do you guys see where I’m going here?)

The idea of the comfort zone, of staying in the place you know, is so strong in the real world that I see it everywhere. It’s not a bad thing – not by any stretch of the imagination – but it always makes me wonder… how do you know you’re doing your best… that you’re being everything you could possibly be, if you don’t take a chance at the four suits? You never know… you might succeed. And, in my humble opinion, succeeding at four suits would be amazing.

…. there is no guarantee you will win every game without restarting at least once.

Honestly… I can go weeks not restarting a game and then BAM! I’m stuck and at the end of my refresh pile (or whatever the technical term is). Eventually I realize you can only undo for so long… so I restart. And you know what? That’s usually the best thing I can do for that particular game.

No matter how good you are at something, you can get stuck in the middle of it that you can’t see the way out. Sometimes all it takes is just scrapping everything you’ve done (ouch) and starting again. All is not lost! The thing about starting from scratch is that you never really do. You still have all of the information and knowledge you’ve acquired from your first go-around floating around in your brain. And that will help you formulate new ways to approach the problem. The trick is to remember that you’re not infallible nor are you perfect (no one is. And who would want to be?), and your work is a reflection of you…

…. you will probably still give up on some of the games. 

I usually feel bad when I select “New Game” instead of “Restart Game”. I can get very persistent in my need to complete the game. But sometimes you just have to admit defeat. Not every battle is worth fighting.

I’m serious here – not every battle is worth fighting. Not every game is worth winning. Decide for yourself, but you may find that when you let go of something that’s causing you heartache, stress and distraction, your life will significantly improve. It’s really, really hard to give up though – at least it is for me. When I get my mind on success, I hold onto it with everything I’ve got. But that’s not healthy either. I should only strive to succeed at things that are actually important to me, and let any other losses be lessons and laughter to help me with my ultimate goal….

To become a superhero.

Freelance… and Life

You remember how I started that freelance business way back when and then nothing really seemed to happen?

Well… something happened. And it’s been glorious for the last four months. Busy, but glorious. My dreams seem to be paying off and now it’s the sweat, tears and hard work phase.

Here’s what that phase looks like:

I work 9 – 5, come home, take a “short” break (short sometimes translates to none…… or long) and then work some more. I’m averaging about 3 hours of work every night, give or take. With about 4 or 5 hours on the weekend, total. I try to give myself Saturday off. Or Sunday. Or Friday night. Or two of those. But no more than two. If I go for three, I’ll miss a deadline.

If my math is correct – and it’s not usually – that’s about 20 hours of freelance a week. Which is AWESOME, because hello – I have enough freelance work for it to be considered a part-time job.

Go me!

How did I do it? Well, if you’re here because you’re a stranger and you’re looking for advice… here are my tips:

1. Sign up for at least one decent online networking/freelance site.

I know. It’s a bit scary and everyone is skeptical about them. Those sites have hidden fees and no one is offering decent work and etc. etc. etc. All of those things COULD be true. But they could ALSO be false. You won’t know until you try.

The site I use is oDesk.com and honestly (no really, I’m being completely honest) – I had to lower my rates from what I wanted to what I think would get me a contract. Once I had completed two contracts at that lower rate and had two stellar reviews, I started getting invitations to interview. I get about 2 a week (though this week I’ve already received 2 and it’s only Wednesday).

My point – I’ve been using oDesk for about 6 months and I’ve already raised my rates up to almost where I want them. I also have two steady clients through the website and both of them are amazing.

If you’re a freelance anything and you need help kick-starting your business – join oDesk. Be awesome. Make money.

2. Network like a champ.

Know someone in your field or in a similar field that might have contacts? Tell them you’re available. Make it so that you’re the first person they think of when someone mentions, even just off-hand, that they’re looking for someone with your skill set. Let me clarify:

a. you tell your friend/colleague/coworker/the girl who makes your coffee at Tim Hortons  – let’s call her “Ali” – “I’ve got this business and I do X and Y… if you need X or Y, or if you know anyone who needs X or Y, give me a shout!” (hand her a business card)

b. she goes about her day thinking, “gee, that girl. She’s so cool, starting her own X and Y business…”

c. a customer talks to her later in the day about this project he’s working on, but they’ve hit a snag… he really “wishes that the X of his project was completed in a more timely fashion (or something to that effect)”

d. Ali remembers you and says “hey, I know someone who’s awesome and tips really well…”

Networking is great. It’s even better if you have business cards and gave one to Ali when you spoke to her. Business cards are great too.

3. Schedule the crap out of your life.

Start this early, my friends. I didn’t. I still haven’t actually. I’m working on it on a week by week thing… I’m kind of waiting until soccer starts before I solidify my schedule (so I say… that’s really just my uber-awesome procrastination skills at work). Anyway – set a dedicated freelance time aside for yourself. Sit down and work during that time. Follow this religiously. It’s still a job even if you do it on your own time and at your own pace and in your pajamas (mine are plaid.) A job means that you show up (relatively) on time and complete a set amount of work for a specific due date.

If you don’t have work yet, use the time you’ve set aside to find new clients, network, write blogs about things you do/want to do. Get your name out there. (side note: I didn’t do this part. Well. I did it once… or twice… every three months… and THIS is why it took two years for my Freelance business to take off. Learn from the error of my ways!)

4. Join groups of like-minded Freelancers and follow people in your industry on Twitter/Facebook/Linked In.

Yes, they may be your competition or your idols or people you think you can never be like… but they are also just like you. They’re looking for clients, they’re facing the same road blocks that you are, be it the market flooding with contractors willing to work for $1 an hour, or clients who have outrageous requirements and deadlines, but “very tight budgets.”

They will have possible solutions to the issues you face, can suggest sites for you to look at and, if you are outgoing and initiate actual conversation with them, could become great friends or mentors.

Groups/clubs/associations are also really helpful. I recently joined  PWAC (Professional Writers’ Association of Canada). I haven’t been able to use their resources to the fullest, but I didn’t browse through them and hope to (one day) get elbow deep in that. It’s worth it. So totally worth it.

Anyway, those are my four tips.

Have any other pieces of advice or tips for budding freelancers? Share them with the class!