A Retrospective of the Fiscal Year and Dubious Freelancing/Artist Advice

Who’s excited for the end of the financial year? Who wants it to be 6th April already so they can relish a clean slate and make 2016/17 the year they go up an income threshold? Who sometimes wishes they had someone else to make tough decisions regarding business card expenditure?

Yep.

Since we are nearly at the end of this fiscal calendar, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learnt since 6th April 2015, as a writer, shopkeeper and digital marketing freelancer and share some of my pearls of wisdom.

  • It’s genuinely really hard to invest in necessities like business cards and packaging when you have no capital. Use some savings (or visit one of those bank things or find some investors) to get you off the ground. It will cause less stomachaches.
  • Speaking of packaging, it’s completely okay to reuse bubble envelopes if they aren’t scummy.
  • You might think you can predict what will sell, but you can’t. You just learn to guess what your customer wants, and even then they will probably surprise you.
  • If a product isn’t working, photograph it better. Or replace it with a better product.
  • Photographs.
  • Photographs.
  • Photographs.
  • 80% of your time is spent marketing and organising, 10% is spent corresponding, 5% researching and developing and perfecting, and 5% making the art you sell.
  • Look after yourself, mentally, physically and financially, because freelancers don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, pension schemes or sympathy when they’re ill.
  • Always try to correspond with clients or customers in the same way your teachers wrote home to your parents: politely, firmly and with the spellchecker on.
  • As a freelancer, you make your own motivation and set your own timetable. I’ve learnt that my motivation is my desire to spite the people who think I should get a ‘real’ job, and nothing sets a timetable like knowing you have 8 hours to complete 12 hours worth of work.
  • If you’re not busy, clean your desk and do your accounts because when you are busy, you will come downstairs and realise you work in a pigsty with no recollection of where your money went. Oh and if you’re not busy, you probably need to improve your marketing.
  • Taking a step back from this blog last summer was one of the best decisions I made all year.
  • My readers and my customers are the strangest, most eccentric and most generous people. (I already knew that. You’re welcome for the reminder.)
  • Social media marketing is about being social. Not copy and pasting the high five/praying emoji onto  twelve Instagram posts alongside the phrase ‘keep up the good work!’.
  • Marketing.
  • Marketing.
  • Marketing. Work out who your customer is. Work out where they are and what they want. Go to them with the thing(s) they want.
Artemis was right, Greek mythology poster postcard by Francesca Burke
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was a hit with the asexual and aromantic bloggers of Tumblr.
  • #GIRLBOSS the shit out of your life, because no one else will do it for you.
  • Read #GIRLBOSS. Even if you are a guy, non-binary or allergic to hashtags.
#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, girlboss.com
from girlboss.com
  • Nothing is more isolating than being the only person you know who does what you do and working from home while you do it. Find other people who do something similar and meet for coffee, follow their blogs and write your own, or join an Etsy team. Or all of those things.
  • A wise man in a World War II film I saw recently said something along the lines of ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person. People with all the time in the world never get anything done’. TL;DR: if you really want to make art or write a book or start a business, you will make the time to do it.
  • Paying yourself with meagre wages, knowing you can account for earning every single pound, makes up for being perceived as unemployed by your nearest and dearest, explaining that you post to the Internet for a living but no, you can’t wire up a wifi connection, and working on a Saturday night because you can’t afford to go out, move out or use up the bubble bath.

Most of the time.

Now bring it, 2016/17, I want to win at this game.

Existential Crises on a Friday Afternoon

Long time no speak. It’s actually been about a week, but it feels longer because I’ve been busy, so I’m going to let myself think that it’s been a long time to make myself feel better about prioritising.

To be honest, I haven’t felt much like talking. I’ve been making a conscious effort recently  to write blogs that have a beginning, middle and end – as opposed to me cackling over nothing and a badly formatted GIF – and so far I have two or three drafts that need editing before they can dazzle you all with wit and insight. A* to Francesca for planning ahead! I do like to come here and cackle over nothing occasionally though, so I’m aiming for a balance between Organised and Obsessed With Spreadsheets. (In a parallel world there’s a me obsessed with spreadsheets. In this world I’m trying to pretend I’m fun.) But this week I’ve felt more gloomy than fun and no one likes 500 words of grumpiness so I thought ‘leave the blog alone’. I do want to be honest here though, so I thought I’d ask: how often do take stock of your life and question it? I’ve cleared out some clothes and books in the last few weeks, and sorting through things I’ve owned for 10-plus years invariably got me thinking about the past and life goals and ambitions, etc. I hate thinking about that stuff, because usually I’m quite happy plodding along in a hopefully forward direction, and once I start thinking about where I want to be in the future I question every decision I’ve made since 2005. Did I make the right choice not to go to university? Did I pick the right job to do instead? Am I creatively fulfilled seven days a week? Can I afford to put petrol in my car? How willing am I to swap creative fulfilment for fuel? I know the answer to one of those things.

I will probably have a bath, watch Sport Relief and/or get some sleep and wake up feeling normal again (or until I clear out the next lot of crap I’ve been hoarding since I was 12). In the mean time, let me know what you do when you’re plagued by indecision or questioning your existence. In an ideal world I would probably go on holiday to Machu Picchu or somewhere and spend hours meditating in the sunset, but you know, shit’s got to get done so I’m open to suggestions that will fit in around emails and craft fair plans. Chocolate consumption ideal but not compulsory. 

50 Blog Challenge #2: Antipodean Crossing

I feel I should start this with a mini-disclaimer: I have known this blogger since the age of 11 when she owned a pet rock named Jamie. I think  I would enjoy her blog even if I didn’t know that.

My friend Sarah’s in her second year at Cambridge studying history. This summer she’s going to New Zealand to research and volunteer at places like the Auckland War Memorial Museum, to learn more about military history and soak up the colonial vibes (I do not know why I am surprised. She is the youngest Dad’s Army fan I know and she’s spent many a weekday evening at cadets). She’s going by herself for three whole months, travelling across NZ with a stopoff at Hobbiton, so what else was there to do but start a blog chronicling her journey?

from antipodeancrossing.wordpress.com
from antipodeancrossing.wordpress.com

You can read her plans, adventures and New Zealand news stories compilations here (see comments sections for me begging to stow away in her suitcase). Gems include cartoons of kiwis and a page dedicated to the shit she needs to get done. I am considering adding something similar here to keep track of new swearwords.

Frivolous Fridays from anitpodeancrossing.com
from anitpodeancrossing.com

Basically, if you like travel, indie blogs or cartoons on indie travel blogs, you know where you should spend your time from now on.

In Which My Dog Cleans His Teeth

Today I learnt that in the three-and-a-half years they’ve been open, my WordAds adverts have earned me a total of $14.74. I feel this is representative of my career as an artist.

As you may have noticed if you’re reading this onsite instead of in the email inbox (does anyone still do that?), I’ve made the banner slightly brighter. It’s now the same shade as roughly one-fifth of my hair on a good day. I’ve also added a little cookies info banner for visitors when you first arrive, because it’s an EU law thing and although my instinct is telling me to vote stay, it’s also telling me that we’ll go and I want to get my money’s worth of widgets before 23rd June. Stay tuned for a couple of other little changes; I have been thinking about my ideal blog and right now, the colour pink and more widgets are on my to-do list. I kind of want a blog personifying this:

Top 10 Gay Bars in Los Angeles/My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way Made Me a Better Person
laweekly.com

 

But that’s enough about me. On Sunday I went to clean my teeth and noticed a small daddy long legs nestled on the handle part of my toothbrush. Had it just wandered in from the bathroom window? Was it the first of a scouting party? Was there a nest of baby daddy long legs ready to move into the sink area? Could I remove it from the room before it got to the tooth-brushing part of the toothbrush?

No.

Out went the spider. Out came my travel toothbrush. Out came my grumblings that I only bough the old toothbrush a fortnight ago this is why I’m an atheist. Yesterday evening I bought a new one.

Yesterday evening Donnie got bored or hungry waiting for us to come home from the supermarket so he raided the bathroom bin. I found very chewed half of a toothbrush on the bathroom floor. Presumably he heard me bemoaning his disgusting teeth (he’s not allowed those teeth-cleaning bones because of his kidney problems, and he does not understand the point of chewing rubber tooth-cleaning dog toys. Ironically my toothbrush was made of the same material they use in those rubber toys) This morning Mum found bristle-filled dog vomit on the floor.

Donnie’s teeth are as grim as they were yesterday morning. Our carpet is a little grimmer. The only thing any of us have learnt is that it’s high time we bought a dog-proof bin.

I am prepared to bet the spider has snuck back in.

Stories From the Bathroom Floor

In my notes about what I could potentially discuss on Indifferent Ignorance is a bullet pointed list called ‘food/exercise’. It’s purple. I think I wrote it last summer. It’s part of a bigger list and it includes the phrase ‘shit no one explains’. It’s a lil in joke with future me, because I’m referring to IBS. I’ve never really talked about it before because nobody wants to read about other people’s digestion issues. I don’t even like to read about my own, and I have kept many a food-related diary over the years. But one of the reasons I haven’t posted this week is that I’ve been dying having a lot of baths and grinding my teeth about a stomachache that won’t fucking go away and when I thought about it, I’ve learnt a lot about IBS and if there’s one thing that distracts me from being unwell, it’s talking about myself under the pretence of helping others. So here is an anecdotal piece of maybe-advice about Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

On Tuesday I ate a salad. It was a really great salad. I am usually a garnish-and-vegan-mayo kind of person whenever someone serves lettuce but I was in a farm shop and salad was the only thing on the menu I could digest anyway, so I ate the lot plain. Because it was fresh from a farm shop and there was cheese with it, I was happy (heads up: I’m not lactose intolerant. My gut has aligned with my tastebuds’ love of smoky cheese.) Within half an hour I was less happy. In fact I was lying on my bed asking God for an implement with which I could remove my stomach. This was because, while dazzled by the farm shop’s cute whitewashed walls and organic produce, I ate the onion that came with the salad and one of those schmancy totally locally-produced apple juices. Which brings me to IBS Lesson Number One:

A large part of living with Irritable Bowl is learning about your trigger foods. Two of mine – wheat and eggs – were helpfully discovered by a pharmacist via a blood test when I was 16 and thought I was a Ceoliac (that is a story for another time). I discover the others by a process of trial, error and vomiting. On Tuesday, ravenous and feeling guilty about the two toffees I ate in the hairdresser’s, I forgot that the reason I leave raw onions on the plate every time I’m served them, and the reason I never drink fruit juice, is that they both give me varying degrees of stomachaches. So I’ve spent the rest of the week taking medicine before I eat, cooking porridge even more than usual and updating my list of stupid things I’ve done in 2016.

woman-lying-bathroom-floor-pain
How did you get into my bathroom??? from ibtimes.com

In the spirit of honesty, I should probably add that ‘stomachaches’ can include but aren’t limited to: stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation, puking, flatulence, shaking, excessive sweating, belching and acid reflux. If you’re really lucky, you get more than one in one go!

There is TV to watch and Etsy to attend to, so I will leave this here. Maybe next time I will tell you all about how I spent Super Saturday with my head down a toilet (see above photo for reference) or share a graphic description of the sweats. Do other IBS sufferers get the sweats? Do non-IBS sufferers get the sweats? Is there a technical term for the sweats?!

Let me know.

Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is a spoiler-free review except for the bits you can guess from the title.

Oh look, something else I originally saw on Tumblr, probably courtesy of feistiest. You know how they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all do? With this, the cover – by  Chloë Foglia -made me want to get the book. Look at that typography and those colours and those illustrations this is going to be a beautiful novel.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from Wikipedia.org
I couldn’t find a cover that wasn’t covered in award stickers. This is from Wikipedia. Look at that night sky.

It is a beautiful novel.

Like the best books, the action starts from the very first sentence, so I can’t tell you too much background information without spoiling the story, but the title pretty much implies the premise: a guy called Aristotle meets a guy called Dante and together they discover the secrets of the universe/survive their teenage years. Set in El Paso, Texas, across a couple of years in the 1980s, the novel is a lot like The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it could have been set last week and will be devoured by teenage readers for decades to come (it was actually published in 2012).

I had never heard of Benjamin Alire Sáenz before I read this – and I am definitely pronouncing his name terribly wrong – but I think he is a writer I would like to read more of, because Aristotle and Dante, and Aristotle and Dante, are wonderfully written. Some topics are quite hard to cover without sounding like a textbook or news story – again, I can’t really tell you what they are without wrecking the plot – but it’s funny, occasionally irreverent and often slightly uncomfortable. The whole book is just like seeing inside someone’s head, which is so hard to achieve as a writer and so satisfying for the reader.

It also won a handful of awards, which is nice because it’s quite rare to find a critically acclaimed novel that’s also fun – I finished it in an evening. If you liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, if you’re interested in what it was like to live in Texas in the 1980s (I wasn’t but now I am), if you’re interested in Mexican culture, if you like scruffy dogs (it is not a spoiler to tell you there is a scruffy dog), if you like boys with long names and books with pretty covers, go find a copy and curl up for an evening with Ari and Dante and watch them discover the secrets of the universe.

None of them are about the science of life on earth, by the way. I did originally wonder if it was a story about physicists.


My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.

Harry vs Voldemort and the Art of Waiting

For someone who loathes Valentine’s and all it represents, I have been making an awful lot of Valentine’s-related stationery lately. Buy now to make your friends laugh! Buy now for an alternative Valentine’s gift! Buy now so I don’t have to get another job!

I have spent the last week or so trying to focus on my work in that self-help book kind of way. You know: focus on a task until it’s done, prioritise your goals, live in the moment. Finish those Valentine’s designsTurns out talking to you fuckers hasn’t been a priority. Generally, it works. I can sleep at night knowing I gave my best performance. Except I actually sleep at night beneath three blankets and the weight of no discernible progress, so there’s a chapter missing in those books. ‘What to Do When You’ve Started Implementing Your Plans But the Stats Aren’t In Yet’. I have found that binge reading the work of Maggie Stiefvater helps. So does listening to MCR songs you’d forgotten you’d forgotten.

One of my new year’s intentions was to chill the fuck out, so let’s all be patient, remember that we are only three weeks into 2016 and keep in mind that life could be worse – we could be that bloke they based The Revenant on.

And yet.

Catching up with Blogging 101 tasks, I’m having a bash at writing to a prompt, and one of the Waiting Room ones was ‘“Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?’ As a freelancer I am my own boss, with absolutely no Monthly Targets or Quarterly Team Goals or Bullshit Exercises To Stop Employees Quitting. One of the reasons I didn’t want to work in an office was the likelihood of Bullshit Exercises – they make me feel the same way as grey suit trousers and nude lipstick does. I have goals with my marketing clients, of course: ‘make them money’, usually narrowed down into ‘build Instagram’, then trimmed to ‘write five snappy posts’, then ‘turn on the computer to write five snappy posts’, then ‘get out of bed because the computer is downstairs’. At the end of all that, the client should have visibility and therefore money, and I should continue my tenure as the Instagram person, and I should therefore have money.

All because I got out of bed, and without a grey trouser suit in sight.

Sometimes Instagram does not build quickly. Sometimes my posts are not good. Sometimes people are tight and refuse to part with their cash despite enjoying a pretty and well-tagged Instagram picture twice a day. These people are dicks.

Back to waiting for good things: with the exception of new Stiefvater novels, I am not content to simply wait. I must be doing something to, at the very least, pass the time. Ideally I must be implementing a scheme to make the good thing happen so that it happens more quickly, more efficiently, and with less time to moan about waiting. It might still take five years, but if I hadn’t made an effort then it might have taken ten. It might not have been as good. Here is a list of good things that came with waiting:

  • I left school (I waited 13 fucking years)
  • The conclusion to Harry vs Voldemort (six years)
  • Danger Days plus Conventional Weapons (four years)

I did very little to hurry those along except exist and bide my time. Probably could have entertained myself more in retrospect. Here is a list of good things in my life that came because I made them happen:

  • I can write without a wrist brace (three years, physio, sheer force of will)
  • A large portion of my hair is pink (a few months, some savings)
  • Doors on my cupboards (a week, a screwdriver, lack of patience to wait for someone else with a screwdriver to do it, especially when that someone is a man)

Here is a list of good things I will also get if I a) wait and b) find a screwdriver:

  • A healthy return on my investment of Valentine’s designs
  • The ability to type on a regular keyboard with a regular mouse, without my fingers and wrists turning numb
  • Money to travel more and move out of my mother’s house and eat well without selling a kidney on the Internet, engaging in prostitution and/or getting that other job.

The question is, how long am I willing to wait. 10 years? Six months? Until my pink hair has grown out? It could take me longer to leave home than it has for Richard Gansey III to find the dead Welsh dude, and I don’t have a Camaro or Blue Sargent to soothe my frustration.*

So, if you are in a commenting mood, let me know: how long is it reasonable to wait for something you want? How long have you waited in the past for something? Are you still waiting? Let’s wait together.

*That is not a spoiler.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution by a Qualified Expert (part of this title is a lie)

Evening. To continue with the new year’s intentions theme, I feel like we should talk about the importance of fucking up within the first week. A personal NY intention, for example, was to use my new hula hoop until I got abs or it broke. Although I’ve learnt that I can use it indoors (trying to keep the hoop from hitting the couch is actually a really good way of testing my currently small stomach muscles) I have so far missed two days. Yesterday didn’t really count because I did some impromptu Pilates in my pyjamas and exercise is exercise even if it’s five minutes before breakfast in your jammies, amirite. Today I got up so late that my main exercise was pulling on a jumper faster than usual… so now I am aware that it’s 7pm and if I don’t do something soon I am in danger of FAILING.

Except that’s bollocks, really, and I refuse to beat myself up for it. Because:

  • I already exercised today when I walked the dogs and around town (and I dropped massive effing books back in to the library which let’s face it is free weightlifting)
  • There is no way in hell I will exercise ‘officially’ every day for the rest of my life and I may as well get used to that now
  • I actually bruised my hip the other day from the weights in the hoop so missing a day or two during the week while I’m learning is probably smart in case I accidentally overdo it and pass out from overexertion or something (unlikely, since I can’t currently keep the hoop going for more than thirty seconds).

So 2016 is not ruined. I keep sleeping through my alarm so I have no idea if I’ll get up in time to do it tomorrow, or if I’ll make time in the evening, but the hoop isn’t going anywhere. Neither’s my skipping rope, which I can’t really bring in the house and don’t want to use in the rain in case I slip and crack my head, nor my Pilates mat, which I can actually use whenever the fancy takes me, providing I remove denim clothing first.

I will exercise again this year. Hopefully tomorrow. Maybe today. And if not, well…

So if you’ve already missed a day of your new serious homework schedule or your timetabled revision or your new year’s housework routine, chill. You survived 2015 without your new habits, and missing a  couple of days won’t form bad ones. That being said, if anyone has any tips on not sleeping through their alarm, please do share. I do not enjoy rushing through my morning shower.