Monday, August 26, 2019

Branding: At Least I'm Not a Cowboy

For one thing, it's hard to come up with an abstract logo - people still ask me what the owl griffin is - and for another, there's all these rules that seem kind of like a pain in the butt. Recently I read a book about a woman who thought she had a lazy M, but it wasn't because it was on its side in the wrong direction, and someone else had the "real" thing. To think that people had to do all this research before the internet too. I guess we writers have it easier. I mean, I could always take my granddad's if I wanted to get into the cattle life, but I have my doubts any of them would listen to me. And even that wouldn't be easy because you got to figure out all of the inheritance laws and fight with some cousin who decided she wanted it more.

That being said, good amount of artists cringe when using the word brand. I don't blame them. There is this weird sort of commercial, fake connotation to it. Authors don't like being limited on the best of days, and even the request of "Come up with a genre so we don't overwhelm our shoppers with options" can lead to a New Orleans amount of sweat.

We could call branding by many names. Style, voice, name recognition, theme, tone. It's all one in the same, really. Branding is about having a (seemingly) genuine consistency that tells you who that company/author really is. It's about being familiar to your readers in a way that makes you trustworthy. It's about being recognized when you produce something completely new. It's about utilizing the reward of a good reputation.

Which you absolutely don't have to do. But, in some ways, if you really are expressing yourself, you're going to have some sort of recognition in those who liked it. For most of us, branding is already there, we just have to emphasize it.

I've been thinking a lot about my brand in the past. Talked about it quite a bit too. I struggled with certain aspects, like who my target demographic is, or the fact that my skills as a painter aren't high enough to repeat styles.

Funny enough, a part of my problem was what I would call the "Bronie Effect," and the secret lovers of so many genres who you're not exactly allowed to write for.

My Little Pony, for those of you who have never met a little girl, is an ongoing brand of toys and T.V. shows that created a highly successful cartoon in relatively recent years. The strange thing about the show was not why it was popular, but who it was popular with. Yes, little girls, but also adult males. Some of their interest grew to obsessive degrees, changing from simple fan art to actually petitioning to marry a stuffed doll. Or so the Reddit rumors grow.

What's noticeable about this, however, is that once you decide to market for a certain demographic, it tells you it is only for that demographic. Commercially, this can be problematic because networks have canceled shows like Firefly and Invader Zim partially due to the viewers being outside of their target. Women rated Firefly much higher than they expected, men lower, while Zim was a cartoon on Nickelodeon that interested adults.

What I'm more concerned about is the fact that stating your book is young adult almost banks on the idea that it's major audience will be teens, probably girls, even though in my research I've found that the audiences of stories that are similar to mine are actually 60% male ranging from 20-35. As we all know, the shame that falls around someone doing something intended for children, and men enjoying something meant for women is pretty intense.

As I write what I'm looking for, I'm, at least partially, writing for 30 year old women who just want a little more bite out of young adult novels, and NOT the misanthropic, isolated pessimism of the majority of adult fantasy. Yet, I've heard adult women be embarrassed to be seen in that section.

So what made me change my mind?

Well, I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference with pages from my new working manuscript, Making the Horizon, and as I spoke to an agent, he felt the story would be pretty marketable to teens. He also agreed with me that teenagers do not need dumbed down language or struggle with complex stories, a criticism that made me hesitant in the past.

As he said it, I reflected on the students I'd been working with and the fact that I tend to like young people better, that they understand me (and my word choice) far more often than anyone else. Then, when I taught mapmaking camp, the kids and I, in our freetime, played around with liquid watercolor and made a map of Sandbysk to help me develop the cultures better. As I told them about each place, they grew more and more intent on my words, and three begged me to give them the book. They became quickly invested in the characters, each having someone they routed for and wanting to know all about them.

It was time to accept who I was, and that is someone who likes the younger generation.

Does that mean that I am going to turn into Cassandra Clare or Sarah J. Maas? No. Of course not. That's what it means to be you.

Sure, the decision to promote my books as young adult means some changes - two of the twelve characters have become teenagers, and the swearing was watered down - but I connect with them because I didn't write down to them. I didn't have simplistic language or spell it out for them. They responded to what I had already done.

Which lets me have my cake and eat it too.

I will still showcase the more serious side of things along with the beauty, I will still fight to challenge my readers just enough, and I will still talk about human issues that aren't limited to coming of age. Yet, I will acknowledge the fact that I like the youth of the fantasy community.

You will see some changes around my sites. The branding goes far beyond the demographic. I am looking to gain consistency and a style that people will recognize even out of context. Some of the drawings will not be as beautiful as the ones there now, but I am hoping, with time, I can come up with something that really tells people who I am and what I care about without too many words.





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Monday, August 19, 2019

Where Expressing Yourself and Flipping Your Lid Diverge

"Just be yourself," they told me.

My concerns were growing by the minute. I couldn't get one laugh during a three hour social interaction. I didn't try. Nothing even occurred to me. My impulses were buried deep in the ground, farther than the shallow grave my grandfather was plopped in. It wasn't that I felt fear or restricted; I felt nothing. No inspiration, no compulsions, no personality. I wasn't me. Depression made me not me.

"Okay," I said, hands on my knees. I looked around. "Nothing's happening."

Because the truth is that many of us don't wear masks, rather hormones, experiences, and circumstance shape who we are. Those things constantly change, even moment to moment. I claim over and over that if you get me in a room filled with people, I'm going to be paying attention to them. Their needs. How am I coming across? Whose feelings am I hurting? Are they okay? Is there something I can do? What would be interesting to them? What's the guy in the corner going to do? Oh, please God don't come over here. What is he doing with his hand? Oh, a handshake. Right. That's a thing normal people do.

You can rightfully chalk it up to social anxiety, but that's somewhat my point. Your personality changes because of fear - or any mood you're experiencing at that time. Even if you have a pretty healthy relationship with the external world, the stimuli you witness is going to change your reaction. It doesn't matter if that reaction is an excited share of energy or fear induced chills. You get into a room by yourself and you may, like me, change your thoughts from the people around you to, "How do I paint things to be shinier? Do I need a gloss? Or do I just need to paint better." Or you might say, "Remember that time in fifth grade I made Julie Burgess cry?"

People's thoughts change based on their location, even if there's not a considerable difference in population. Pay any attention and it just seems obvious it would. Colors, ambiance, food, lack of food, entertainment, noise, etc. we all seek out new environments because of how they change our inner life.

To say that we hide who we are assumes that we know who we are, we are always able to act in a consistent manner regardless of fatigue or mood, and, finally, that we know how to express ourselves.

I'm not much for emoting. It drives people nuts, to be sure, and drives me nuts in multiple ways. Not only do I find living my own life in my introverted, socially anxious way can come off as rejection to those who I don't know, but communication becomes extremely difficult. As an adult, I've learned to feign facial expressions and tones because my default reads as angry. Yes, great skills to grow, but it requires me to think through most of my reactions. How can they be the real me?

"Nothing's happening," is not just a reference to how my instinctive thoughts lost their sense of humor in my darkest hour, but that if I were to behave how I wanted to, I wouldn't be communicating anything at all. Words are hard. Body language is hard. Tone is hard. If I were being me, I wouldn't have forced myself to go out in public. Best case scenario, I'd be home with my imaginary friends, talking to myself in the guise of writing. More likely, I'd be succumbing to the void that is mental illness and not forcing myself to get out of bed at all. Instead of my impulses telling me to say or do a thing, they're telling me DON'T DO ANYTHING EVER.

Over the past year, I've been doing a lot to overcome this chronic weight of apathy, and I'm thrilled to say that it seems to be succeeding. Not necessarily at first - never does, does it? - yet now I'm in the best shape I've been since I was 23 (Almost seven years ago.) One thing I must do, especially when I am in the throes of it, is to try and control my emotions. I'm afraid, I admit, of the disfunctional side of me who comes out every so often. I believe that if I am not on the top of my game at all times, everything goes to hell. A prime example is how easily the results of self-advertising disappear. Gone for a few months, geez, a few unreliable posting, and you lose many of your constants. As someone with a chronic illness, it is terrifying how easy it is to lose momentum and reputation because you are too exhausted to even watch T.V.

Yet, what happens? A friend pulls me aside to give me some "kindly advice" on how he doesn't like me anymore. All because I'm feeling more vocal. All because I'm looking to actually connect with and entertain people rather than just existing alongside them. Obviously, what he didn't like was how I wasn't as submissive to his ideas (as I didn't care about anything), which was disturbing to me.

I got into more drama over these last few months than I ever had before. In each case, I expressed my concerns and solutions as much as I could until something sent me over the edge. And the two times I've blown up in 2019, no one could understand why such a nice, level-headed girl could get so angry... there must be something going on with me.

Which there is, but there always is. And it begs the question, why am I always the one who has to control my emotions?

The answer is (and here's the rub), I don't. Truth is, the ones who don't control their emotions, the ones who have blown up at those around them over and over again until someone lashes back do face the ramifications. They lose jobs left and right, their names being shot down for opportunities they didn't even know they'd been suggested for. They alienate their friends, they have a bad reputation, get fired or chased out, and they create their own ceiling in both social and professional circles. It's actually hard to remember that the low expectations others have for these provokers is actually undesirable. Thinking something must be going on with me in order to break me... Pretty fair to me, actually, even if I don't feel like they're on my side.

My reactions are understandable, damn it!

I struggle with this self-expression on many levels. Not trusting others to find my tastes interesting, not trusting myself to be interesting on my own accord, not knowing what other people prioritize, not knowing how something comes off? Plus, the added bonus we all have to face is that negativity sells. That obnoxious blowhards are interesting. That mean-spirited jokes are ballsy. That a strong opinion is going to contradict someone else's, and that fights are an excellent form of entertainment. Ask any inciting incident.

But, I've gotten better. What I've learned from this experience, I think can tie into everyone else's inability to feel heard: You can't always flip your lid and expect people to respond well, but you can't keep your mouth shut because they won't. Yes, you're going to have to control your emotions. Even the hot-tempered rant that sells needs a cool-minded edit. But you write because you want to bond with others, and you will never do that if you don't indulge who you truly are. It may not come naturally, so take advantage when it does.





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Monday, August 5, 2019

What Eight-Year-Olds Have Taught Me about Not Working


"Go away, I'm writing!" we shout as we fall deeper into the rabbit hole that is someone's political post.
For the readers who have been paying attention to me for the last few years now - hell, computer users who can take a glance at the dates of my posting - have recognized the impact of chronic illness (both mental and physical.) Those in my life, even those who have experienced similar things, (even myself for that matter) can't always understand what sickness does to a person.
I suppose the hardest part of the last few years was not feeling funny. As in, I didn't amuse myself Jokes didn't come to mind, even the ones that I was deadly serious about causing people to laugh at me. I felt drained of who I was, chronically tired, burned out, uninspired, a disbeliever of love, and a generally empty person. I often described to my compatriots that I knew I was missing something; I just had no idea what.
For many people, 2019 seems to be a year of Great Change. Many of my friends are getting into good relationships or taking the next step of marriage. Many are finding jobs in the field they've always wanted. Many (way too many) are moving. Going to grad school, just doing something big for themselves.
Personally, I got fired. It was the best thing to happen to me. I swear to God I was never going to punch him. And I suspect my manager wanted me to defend myself when she gave me the call and say so. But the reason I blew up at that lazy asshole was BECAUSE my blood pressure hiked over a job supposed to be temporary, and I was glad when it was over.
I couldn't quit and leave my coworkers in the lurch. I liked the money coming in. I liked being useful. And the job was never boring. But since January 2018 and that fateful 22-hour shift, I kept questioning why I was spending energy on a business that wasn't personal to me? So much of my life went to serving overpriced microwave dinners to private jets - and I don't even like food. I tried to quit, to cut down on my hours, to switch my position there, but ultimately, the place wasn't set up for me to have a life outside of it.
As of today, I've committed to the goal that caused me to move back from New York in 2017. As much as I tried to keep up with everything - including this blog - I just wasn't capable in that headspace. But now I have time to write, to create merchandise, to advertise, and to think about my career actively. I got into a supportive relationship to help me brainstorm and advise on the business side of things, and I'm teaching way more art.
That being said, my eight-year-old students are the worst little mirrors you could find. All of a sudden, I'm more engrossed and committed to the buggers, and I've begun to learn a great deal about being an artist.
See, kids are simpler and more upfront when it comes to their moods. They have a harder time describing what's going on with them, but that's sort of the point. Being much worse at understanding themselves and how they're perceived, they're also much worse at obscuring things. Older people are more likely to shut down when you start to poke at their walls. When you call a kid out on their "artistic license" as being "just lazy," children tend to find your honesty funny. They notice they're not in trouble and tend to be surprised that you understood them so well. Adults, well, they are more in tune with what happens if they get caught in bullshitting you, so they're less likely to admit that the slew of typos aren't actually their "voice," but them not wanting to clean it up.
Most importantly, I've found myself being more and more hypocritical these days. I'm very attentive to the old wounds and aim to give kids good experiences when I sense anxiety. While ordering them to introduce themselves, make eye contact, shake hands, and show off their work, I'm hiding from my boss when she's looking for someone to talk to the other teachers about our end performance. I tease one girl about not finishing her work or trying new mediums because she's afraid of ruining it. In fact, the vast majority of kids I must demand they color their drawings for that very same reason. Yet, at the same time, I only recently bought faux silver leaf, a medium I've been wanting to use for several years now, because I was afraid of screwing it up.
And it was because of my conversations with these kids that I started to understand why I'm not working. The true reason, outside of the burnout and exhaustion: My fear of doing something poorly made me do nothing at all. I've been wanting to make magnets and stickers, cards and bookmarks, baby quilts and publish books, yet I didn't want to spend money and mess it up. I didn't want to draw something that wasn't going to work or get my product to realize how terrible it looked.
Look, to make an omelet, you're going to have to burn your mother's pans. Just clean it up, chalk it up to life, and move on. And maybe don't tell anyone about it.
I'll say it before, and I'll probably say it again: 2019 will be the year I return to my hopeful youth. I've already started making progress, and I am returning to be a reliable poster. As much as I would love to have a teacher sit me down, tell me to suck it up, and then show me how to do the project I've been interested in for years, I don't have the money to pay for that. I'm going to have to do it myself.
So! What you can expect from me, loyal readers, is the following:

  • My newsletter will come out on the first of the month. It includes an extra comic about writing as well as information about giveaways and new shop items.
  • This blog will post regularly every Monday. (I've even gotten a few back-ups written.)
  • I make no promises that Stories of the Wyrd will post every month, but that's the aim of the game.
  • My brand spanking new Patreon page will be posting new projects and concept art, among anything else I can think of.
  • My Facebook announces new information, including when I've put up any online material, such as the comics or original stories.
  • My Etsy shop is slowly growing to include more merchandise. Keep checking it out as I'm adding new stuff almost every week!
  • Instagram is also a great way to see new concept art, projects, and new projects reveals!

I've done it before, and I can do it again.
I'm fairly excited guys, I have to admit. The style is coming in, I've been developing a marketing strategy, and working on books left to write. Follow along with me, and if you have anything holding you back, I can teach you like an eight-year-old and slap you around verbally a bit. Just contact me through any of my social media or email.

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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ernest Hemingway Quilt Giveaway!

UPDATE: The winner of this June's giveaway is Ben from Seattle! Thanks, Ben! Come back again this December!


RUNNING JUNE 1-30, 2019

Quilt giveaways are back!



Now finished with the lapse in my sanity of 2018, I am continuing the quilt giveaways this year, but with a little change. All comments posted on my author page in the month of June will be entered to win. July 1st, I will select my favorite to receive this handmade, 100% cotton baby quilt featuring Ernest Hemingway. You may comment as many times as you wish!

Please help support me by taking a moment to view my page, like a few things, and give yourself a chance to be gifted a quilt valued at $200.





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Monday, May 20, 2019

Why are Australians Lime Green? (Selling to the Niche)

Erasing the Color


I lived in Australia for six months, returning my dysfunctional boyfriend back to the arms of his home country. In a sloppy, emotional manner, of course. Australia, I found, was very American-adjacent, sharing reasonable facsimiles of food and clothing and television. It was surreal, the differences just subtle enough to not fully accept the country as reality.

Many Australians asked me the main change from the United States in attempts to pry small talk out of me.

“How is America?” they wanted to know.

“Gray.”

I’ve talked about it before, but it sticks with me. The strangest thing I realized about my home country is how dull our colors are. Look around when you drive through town and see the white and black and gray cars. Sure, there’ll be a couple of reds and blues here or there, but they too tend to be on the duller, darker side. Dark colored clothing, grayish blue buildings, why is it that many of our possessions lack passion, personality, and just vibrancy?

And the answer is obvious.

It’s the same reason why it’s so hard to find shorter chained necklaces. The same reason tall, short, fat, and thin people struggle to get clothes that fit from a mall; if you want to sell well, you want to create something that will work for most people. In a way, you don't really want to stand out. Simple and well made encompasses a lot of successful business modules. Because, despite being known for our vanity, Americans these days tend to think of beauty as impractical, unnecessary, and lacking intelligence. We build perfunctory, cookie cutter houses in mass so they can be cheaper, creative heavy homeowners’ rules to protect ourselves from eyesores. We love Lululemon and Walmart where you have generic designs with a few variations. We move into white apartments with unsheeted, white mattresses on the floor, keep all our photos in the hard drive, and just generally focus on the grindstone of life instead of taking a moment to stop and make some roses.

How does this affect the writer?

We all can bitch about the common denominator movies which don’t push your mind or emotions too far, with the same story formula and actors who are probably all related, but the truth is, selling something with personality is difficult.

It’s not impossible, of course. If you note what does extremely well, whether that be bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey or cult classics like Edgar Allan Poe, they tend to be specific. There’s some weirdness in there, a risk that hasn't worked before, that makes it iconic, specific, and touch people right in the right place at the right time. They take a—if only a little—chance that doesn't fall in line with expectation.

This year, I finally escaped from my job as a caterer. With the decrease in stress, having more time and focus, and just being generally healthier, I started to really become determined in answer to a question that had plagued me since the graduation from college: Do I try to be a writer on the side, or risk poverty and aim to do it full time?

Of course, for a while, I had the sensible answer of you need a day job. Yet, based on my experiences and current situation, I thought, “This is prime time to not have a job!” I put so much energy into work that I didn’t feel to be important, if I could find a way to be that productive in a area I had personal investment…

Plus, more personal control over the success means having more mental stimulation. Not trapped by the priorities of people above me, I felt I could utilize my tendency to solve problems to make better decisions. Like ways to make my life easier, for one thing. 

So I began to research. Those people who get their word out there? What do they do differently?

Unfortunately, I learned some things that I didn't want to admit.

Self-publishers have often posted polls about naming their stories, series, or other things, and I’ve found that the one I liked best was… ignored. And the one that I hated? Adored! You look at those who become successful through great online campaigns, Instagram posts, blogs, and other strictly internet tacks and you’ll notice what society has been pushing all along: They’re pretty generic, comparable with each other, minimalist and focused one change.

To look professional, the best way seems to be to do the most minimal.

There are exceptions. Youtubers are typically noticed for their content and not the super-high quality. People connect with some things that, regardless of the context in which it appeared to them, they just fall in love. Love, is in fact, blind.

I guess the real trouble is that when you don’t have that “something,” you need to just not alienate everyone, and to do that by having . Which seems obvious, now that I’ve spent this time thinking about it, and frustrating because what the hell is that something? It’s definitely being genuine. It’s definitely having personality and doing something different. But if your personality and tastes don’t compensate for skills, don’t fall in line with expectation and lack the love, then people push you off with a little bit of disgust.

Or that’s how it feels.

As I try to come up with my style, a familiar vibe each time someone sees my work, I struggle with the business I like and the minimalism that appeals to many others. I struggle with the differences I see rather than the similarities others recognize. I (and this is the important part), imagine that each time someone looks at something I’ve created this whole storyline of how much I’m doing wrong, at the reason they don’t care. But while I do feel I have a long way to go in hooking in my audience, it’s important to pay attention to the facts.

Yes, my dark and busy style contradicts the successful blogs of Jeff Goins and The Bloggess, yes, I’m busier than most, and yes, I don’t want professionalism to mean simplicity, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not on the right path.

I can sell my hot pink and lime green cars to a world of beige, and even though there’s a reason most don’t, it doesn’t mean it won’t ever be exactly what someone else is looking for.

My focus is to do something I like, something I respect. And yes, gathering the skills to do that requires me to identify what others are doing “right,” but it doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to sell myself by toning me down.





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Friday, May 17, 2019

Professionalism and the Chamber of Poor Definition




Give me a lazy kid over a perfectionist any day of the week.

It’s not to say I don’t love me my little neurotics, because they definitely have personality, their projects are pretty awesome, and having arguments with them is certainly stimulating. But that’s just it; a lazy kid knows they’re wrong when a perfection is sure they’re right.

To win a fight with someone trying to do the minimal, mostly you just have to laugh and call them out on their bullshit. Children, at least, will be amused, their arguments growing more and more ridiculous as you insist, “You didn’t want that part of the painting white; you got bored and quit.”

But trying telling the perfectionist that their work is pretty damn good and please, please for the love of God, do not erase another one. That’s an argument you can’t win. Possibly because they want the praise, but typically because they truly believe that it’s Just. Not. Good. Enough.

When one of my most high-strung students drew a nearly perfect cartoon circle, she complained she didn’t like it.

“What do you not like about it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It’s just bad.”

A typical answer. Completely useless too.

“Be more specific.”

“I just want it to be more professional.”

“Well, it’s a sketch. Professionalism has more to do with the medium; once you paint it and ink it…”

“I mean, I want it to be more realistic.”

Ah.”

I’d had a similar argument earlier this year. When two creative partners had a (we’ll put it politely) difference of opinion, they both criticized the other for not being professional, to which I realized, I didn’t believe any of us actually agreed on the definition of professional. One thought professionalism was inflexibility—having it planned out and sticking to it. Another thought professionalism was creative merit. Personally, I thought professionalism was credibility and reputation, which we seemed to be hemorrhaging from intergroup fighting.

These days it just seems to be an umbrella term for “good.” More often than not, it’s just an easy insult. There’s an, “I’ll know it when I see it,” sort of vibe.

For clarity, the real definition of “professional” is simply if you’ve been paid for the job. Many professional authors aren’t that professional looking, even half-assed self-published works making more than the painstaking story still hidden deep in your computer.

But what is it? What is it really?

The important thing is to be specific when trying to communicate, and remember that this word means different things to different people. Mostly though, the underlying definition is the difference between “someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” and “someone who does.”

So, this is the question for today: What makes an author look like they know what they’re doing?

Once you find the answer to that, you’ll be better at finding satisfaction with your work.





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Monday, April 29, 2019

How to Separate Work and Home


(When No Ones Paying You Jack)



“Oh good. You’re not doing anything…”

It’s hard to get it. Do they believe that writing isn’t actual work? I’m not surprised it doesn’t occur to them that we have to make sacrifices to create time for writing. Including turning down actual paying jobs. (Or, rather, jobs with guaranteed fruition.)

We skip parties, T.V., cut out video games, develop discipline without a boss or coach, turn down time/mentally consuming careers, and, most importantly, we sacrifice friendships by saying, I can’t do that, I have to work.

Why is writing not considered a real job? Many suggest because it’s not hard or it’s supposed to be fun, so it’s not respected. But I’d actually say it’s a matter of flexibility. The deadlines are self-imposed, you’re not on the clock, and you can easily move things around to fit more in. People respect having a hardass boss and bureaucratic set of policies, but not when those are self-imposed. My unpopular opinion (contradicting what I’d like to say) is there’s some truth to it; the benefit of working at home is that you can change what you’re doing to help someone else, and in some cases, you should. I’d go so far to say that the benefit of working from home is being able to be there for your friends. (I’m writing this from someone’s couch waiting for her internet guy while she’s participating in “real” work.) The problem isn’t that it must be treated like an on-the-clock, 9-5 job, but that discipline and elasticity are like oil and water, and it takes a lot of extra work to get those bastards to mix.

Do you want to be a fulltime writer? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the finances that stand in your way the most. It’s having the personality to be the bad guy. But then the good guy—and knowing when to be which.

Split your identity. Maybe with hats.

If you become a self-published author, or sell your own merchandise, or basically get your money directly from your customers, this becomes even more important. You need to think of yourself as both boss and employee so you have a better concept of a healthy work environment.

An example of this is when freelance authors don’t pay themselves for their work.

It’s easy to say, “Oh! I could do that cheaper!” forgetting the reason is basic slave labor. You not only have to make enough money to 1) pay the initial costs 2) invest in the company’s growth but 3) live off of. A good way to do this is to act like you’re an employee; would you consume your life for free if it wasn’t your project?

But even if you aren’t an entrepreneur—planning on traditional publication—if you’re going to work from home, treating yourself as both boss and employee can help you keep your home life and work life separate while still enjoying the flexible benefits of being in charge.

HOW TO BE A GOOD BOSS

Okay, yes, keep the employees on track.

So the obvious job as manager is to make sure lazy assholes do what they’re getting paid for. The thing is, in a healthy work environment, this is not their main goal. Instead, good bosses will know…

All work and no play makes employees go postal.                                              
When you have a loyal employee with a good work ethic, especially someone who cares a lot about the project, it’s very possible they’ll run themselves into the ground. Even if they don’t flip out, the quality of their work will decrease along with their ability to handle stress. It is important to always make sure that employees are making wise decisions—not just in being productive, but in self care.

-Give yourself breaks and honor them. A lunch break should be lunch only. Give your mind time to collect itself without feeling guilty. You can work through lunch once in a while, but it should not be a constant.

-Be reasonable about how much can be done in a day. Know how long things take, what problems might arise, and be sympathetic when shit hits the fan. Don’t overbook or admonish yourself when something took longer than you expected, or you had an unrealistic timeframe.

-On that note, try not to schedule yourself for too much overtime. Make sure you have days off. Even if writing is something you do on that scheduled day off because it’s fun, it’s important to have time to breathe, hang out with friends, and do nothing without feeling shame. As a small business owner, yeah, it’s likely you’ll work overtime, but if you have to do it constantly, it’s best to look for some changes, whether that be upgrading tools, hiring out, or cutting back somewhere.

-When you’re self-employed, it can be difficult to know if it’s okay to “call in sick.” Sometimes literally if a cold is bad enough to stay in bed? Or is it acceptable to make a vet appointment during usual work hours? Can you take that personal call? Go on vacation? Be a sympathetic boss. Simply look at things like expected output, deadlines, and whether or not you actually needed to get something done today. Think about patterns of behavior, and what will happen if you push back the deadline.

If you are more of a slacker, why-don’t-I-ever-finish-anything, type, you may need to become more of a hardass on yourself. It’s still important that you, as your boss, recognize you are a human with a life; just think about what you would expect from someone who you’ve hired and hold yourself to those standards.

For instance, if you get shit done, then putting a ban on personal calls during “workhours” is silly. But if you tend to not be very productive, you might establish strict policies for yourself, like you might in a work place.

It’s helpful to write out some expectations for yourself and your “company.”

-What MUST be done daily?

Schedule a routine so these things get done first.

-Weekly?

Plan which day you will do it on. Make sure to give yourself enough time.

-Monthly?

Do it on the same date that’s easy to remember.

-Once, at some point?

Find a slow day to devote to it in advance. Don’t schedule anything else.

-Make a list of things you’d like to do and try to find time for one each day.

Respect your schedule like it was made by someone who could fire you.

Keep in mind who you are. A good manager knows who they’re dealing with.

Do you have set work hours? Do you have a list of jobs and you’re done when you’re done? This depends on your attention span, how you’re motivated, and what other aspects of life you have to fit in.

Do you have set tasks during certain work hours? This depends on your organization skills and how to keep things under control and stimulating.

Are you allowed to text during work hours? Be on Facebook? Answer a call from your mother?

Can you schedule personal appointments during work hours?

What are the rules on breaks? Bathroom, coffee, smoking, playing with your dog, etc.

Is it acceptable to work on household tasks during work hours? Doing laundry while writing?

Make sure these are judicious. Do not make demands on yourself you can’t possibly fill. More importantly, understand your strengths and weaknesses. A good boss knows that everyone is different and sets up the situation to be the most productive. If you feel happy with your productivity while chatting on messenger and taking several breaks to do dishes, go for it. If you can’t pull away from Facebook, treat yourself like a lazy employee who will get fired if they don’t knock it off.

-Know when to hire out work.

The worst mistake a company can make is understaffing. And like any business, the likelihood of you doing so is because you don’t have the money. Yet, when you do have an extra pair of hands stress levels and productivity increase drastically; you simply have more time to do it right, even when your person isn’t half as experienced as you.

Times to hire people:

1) When you’re inexperienced in an important aspect for your work, such as graphic design. Of course, you may hire a graphic designer, or you may hire a teacher to train you faster. Self-teaching is also a great option, but you must be critical on yourself, and it takes much longer than if you have someone who has already gone through it helping you.

2) When you have too many necessary responsibilities to do within a healthy timeframe. If you are working 15 hour days and no days off, you need to start delegating your work. This may be as simple as say, having a company make your bookmarks instead of printing and cutting them yourself. It might be hiring an editor, a graphic designer, or a marketing company. It might be getting your husband or mother to come in and just do a little here and there.

3) The money saved isn’t always worth the time spent. (And homemade isn’t always cheaper.)

Before wasting your life dealing with a frustrating color printer, do your research. Sometimes companies can do it way cheaper than you think. In some cases, working for minimum wage and using that money to hire out actually is more profitable than doing it yourself.

Remember your time is worth something. Yes, slave labor is cheaper than actual labor, but cheap isn’t always savvy. If you’re really strapped on cash, there are many options to get more hands for a creative person: trade services, ask family and friends, find new talent trying to get their foot in the door, even just buying better tools can save you money in the long term.

HOW TO BE A GOOD EMPLOYEE

-It’s not about what you can get away with.

Unfortunately, sometimes we learn that “good work ethic” is “don’t piss the boss off.” Meaning that we know not to text while on the clock is because someone will get mad at us. Once you start working for yourself, however, you’re suddenly exposed to an entirely new dynamic.

A lot of businesses work on this weird sort of passive-aggressiveness. The company sets up tight boundaries that are much stricter than they need to be so when you get those boundary pushers on your team, they won’t actually be pushing them too far. Meanwhile, the employee does things in secret, only behaving enough to not get caught.

In a healthy environment, however, everyone is more communicative and upfront, honest about what is actually necessary. So it’s partially the boss’s job to make sure the employee works when he’s supposed to and not when he isn’t, but really a good employee is very self-aware and loyal to the project. Meaning that the employee does recognize when it’s okay to take a break and when it’s important that they get shit done.

The employee’s job is to take responsibility for the work. Especially for someone self-employed, the quality and progress on the project falls predominantly on the employee’s shoulders. It is YOUR name on the line. The boss acts as a support system, sort of a double check to make sure that good decisions are being made, but a good employee doesn’t need very much supervision.

-Decide on your own standards and needs, and stand up for them.

While some people struggle motivating themselves without a boss, others struggle to take care of themselves. Yes, it is important that, while working, you focus on making the project the best it can be, make good decisions, and don’t waste time, but it is also important to have a balanced life, recognize what’s going on with you internally, and be fair to your needs. Just like you would do if you had an actual boss, if something about the workplace isn’t effective, the employee needs to communicate that. He’s the one most impacted, he’s the one who will see the problem first. We might be tempted to shame ourselves for being lazy or not investing enough into our business, to treat ourselves as a skeptical, pissy manager who doesn’t understand why you can’t work today when your kids are sick, yet that’s the benefit of being self-employed—when you can figure out your needs, you have a good boss who will be willing to work with you.

If you want to be self-employed, sometimes the first step is to examine why workplaces function the way they do.

You might end up deciding that your instincts are dead on, and you’re happiest without a company motto, a checklist, and a hat breathing down your ass every time Facebook calls, but I find that utilizing common managerial methods can do wonders for your decision making and being firm about your boundaries.






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