Book People Are My Favorite People

When you move as frequently as we do, finding your tribe in each new location isn't always easy. And making friends as a childless adult often means putting yourself out there in a way that isn't exactly...organic.  And that's exactly the type of behavior that led to the creation of my first book club. 

For starters, it's important to know that I have tried to start a book club in the last THREE places I've lived. We're talking Craigslist ads, randomly asking semi-strangers if they like to read, and not-so-casually reading in public places to see if anyone wants to randomly strike up a conversation about our mutual love of books. Even when I've lived in places where I actually knew a fair amount of other people, a book club was something occasionally talked about, but never materialized. 

When we moved to Buckhannon in September, it finally seemed like I could make this happen: small college town, dozens of Little Free Libraries, and not a crazy amount of social opportunities already available. I began frequenting this cute little coffee shop/music store up the street from my house for the sole purpose of making the owner my friend (although, it's worth saying that the coffee is also fantastic). Heather was always super friendly and seemed to know a lot of people around town, so finally I just went for it. I asked her if she liked to read. 

Within a few days, Heather had drummed up some interest on Facebook and we had a meeting at her coffee shop to discuss how to proceed. We picked our first book and then officially met a month later for John Irving, tacos, and margaritas. 

(apologies for the teensy Instagram picture) 

(apologies for the teensy Instagram picture) 

We've now been meeting for the past six months and it is routinely the best part of my month. There's always way too much food and, as we've gotten to know each other better, the amount of time we spend actually discussing the book seems to get shorter and shorter, but it's still the best.  Once, there was fondue. Occasionally, (always) there's moonshine. 

Medieval Meat/Cheese Feast for The Relic Master 

Medieval Meat/Cheese Feast for The Relic Master 

(My first pick: Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland + cheese and chocolate fondue) 

(My first pick: Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland + cheese and chocolate fondue) 

All the dips and What She Left Behind 

All the dips and What She Left Behind 

The Nightingale, when we decided we really only wanted to eat cheese 

The Nightingale, when we decided we really only wanted to eat cheese 

As we've continued, the core four who were there on that first meeting has nearly doubled in membership. We don't all have the same reading tastes. Some of us kindle, some of us audible. Our age range spans a few decades. We arrived in Buckhannon from all over the country. But we're all book people (also: cheese people). And book people are my favorite people. 

New Things That Aren't Exactly New Anymore

This update has been a long time coming and, because of that, many of the "new things" included...well...they aren't that new anymore. It's been a busy spring full of travel and work, so I apologize for neglecting this space. I actually hadn't even realized how long it had been since my last post until I visited my sweet grandmother last weekend. She keeps my blog open as a tab on her computer so she doesn't miss a post, but we all know that hasn't been a problem lately. (Hi, Grandma!) 

So, what's new? 

Publications
I've had a couple of new bylined marketing posts published in the last few months. Since most of my work is ghostwritten, it's always exciting to see my name on a post. 

I also had the great pleasure of publishing a non-fiction essay in Paprika Southern's Spring 2016 issue called, "We're Just So Glad You're Here: The Healing Power of Small Town Kindness." That issue is currently out of stock online, but I'd highly recommend subscribing to future issues. It's a gorgeous mag and I was so happy to be part of it. 

Pinball
Also in new-and-exciting news: I joined the Pinball staff! Pinball is a literary magazine that several of my grad school friends started a few years ago. Since I was moving away shortly after graduation, I decided not to get involved when they first launched, but jealously watched from afar these past few years as they put out great issue after great issue. Now, I'm happy to be joining the staff as their new social media strategist. You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or read our latest (amazing) issue here

Other things
I still owe you a recap post of my time at Hambidge, but since being back I've been working on some short fiction and - yep - a NEW NOVEL. It's in the very, very early stages, but so far I'm really excited about it. I've officially put revisions to bed on my last novel and have tentatively started the process of shopping it around for representation. I'm sure I'll write a post about that (completely intimidating and utterly confusing) process soon. 

Now it's off to enjoy the first day of full sunshine we've had in almost two weeks! 

A Poem for Your Monday

I've been back from Hambidge for over a week now. The transition back to the "real world" has been WAY more of a struggle than I could have possibly anticipated. I have so much to share from my time there - and I plan to write about it in the very near future - but for now, here is a poem sent to me by a dear friend that is singing to my soul on this Monday: 

Morning Poem
by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created. 
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches— 
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies. 
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere. 
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead— 
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging—

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly, 
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy, 
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Thoughts Before Leaving for Hambidge

Tomorrow I will make the seven-hour drive to Rabun Gap, Georgia for a two-week creative writing residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts. I am nervous and excited and anxious - the good kind, like when you can't wait for something - but, above all, I am mostly just relieved. I honestly feel like it's just going to be a big relief to be there. To be present. To be creative and only interrupted when I choose to be.  

It's been funny to talk about this residency with the various people in my life and hear their reactions. The writers have almost all expressed jealously and shared how much they would love to do something similar. They know, like I do, that extra time is the biggest gift for those of us who are always searching for it. The non-writers, on the other hand, have mostly been pretty confused. You're going away for two weeks just to write? But can't you do that at home? Aren't you going to be bored? What are you going to do with all that time? 

Truth be told, I am a little worried about having so much time at my disposal. It's certainly not something I'm used to. I'm also not used to having nothing and no one else to take care of. So, this is what I think I'm going to do: 

I'm going to sleep late and go to bed early. I'm going to do yoga every day, even though I'm terrible at it. I'm going to drink lots of coffee and tea and wine. I'm going to go on long walks. I'm going to finish those three essays I've started over the last couple of months and I'm going to write my first new short story in over a year. I'm going to put together a puzzle. I'm going to read as many books as I can. I'm going to sit around a dinner table and break bread with other artists and hear their stories and learn about their work. I'm going to start my next novel, which has been burning a hole inside me for the past year. 

And I'm going to do it all over the next two weeks. Here we go. 

 

 

How My Number 1 Rule as a Freelancer Has Changed

For the past several years, I've had one main rule as a freelance writer: never say no.

I've said yes to work that I had absolutely no interest in doing. I've said yes to work that I really didn't have time to do, but made time for anyway. I've said yes to work that I wasn't actually qualified to do. I've said yes to work that I was probably pretty overqualified to do. And I've said yes to work when the client couldn't pay me what I thought I deserved to be paid. 

In general, following this rule has served me well. I've developed great relationships with valuable clients who know they can always reach out to me for an assignment, even if the turnaround time is really tight. Building these relationships over the past four years has allowed me to also grow my rates alongside my level of experience. For the most part, I've been lucky enough to work with great people who value my work. 

But lately I've started thinking about that "no" word and what it means to me professionally. When you never know for sure where your next assignment (or paycheck) is coming from, turning down work can feel completely counterintuitive - especially if taking work that may not be ideal could lead to a new client relationship and better work down the line. However, I've also learned one very important lesson about working for myself: if you don't value your own work, no one else ever will. 

Recently, I was approached by a potential new client who sent me an assignment for a 2,000 word blog post that needed X amount of links and X amount of images...and, oh yeah, it needed to be finished ASAP. Even though I was a little put off by the approach, I decided to bite. I wrote back with a few questions and included a quote for what I would need to complete that amount of work in that amount of time. (It's important to note here that a year or so ago, I would have written back and asked what the client was willing to pay. Naming my own prices has been a difficult, but necessary part of my development as a freelancer.)

When I heard back, this potential new client was flabbergasted by what, in my opinion, was a completely reasonable rate. He (very graciously) told me that he couldn't afford to pay even a third of what I was asking and admitted we probably weren't a great fit to work together. There was a big part of me that wanted to write back, "But wait! Please don't walk away! I'll do it!" Instead I just thanked him for thinking of me and wished him well. 

It was only the second time in my nearly four years as a freelancer that I turned down work. And while I am still likely to say yes far more than I say no, I've learned that my number one rule now comes with a caveat. As long as there is work available, I'm still going to take on more than I have time for and I still won't bat an eye when a client asks for a tight turnaround. But I'm seeking work that values me as a writer and as a professional - and I won't hesitate to say no if that isn't the case. 

 

 

On Living a Creative Life

I recently finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and have been thinking a lot about what it means to me to live a creative life. I furiously underlined at least half of it, but there was one particular line that read like a punch to the gut: 

"It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind)."

I have never thought of my own creativity in this way. In fact, for the past several years, every time I would sit down to work on my creative work, it felt like a battle. It felt like waging a war with what I thought I was "supposed" to do because I "wanted" to be a writer. Because I had this novel draft just collecting dust and this master's degree that was supposed to mean something in the real world. I talked the talk and pretended I was walking the walk - when really, writing was making me pretty miserable. 

I rationalized it in a thousand ways. I was a newlywed. I was moving again. My husband's job situation was too stressful. I was spending all day writing freelance blog posts and couldn't spend another minute at my computer. I still had two seasons left in my Gilmore Girls re-watching. My house wasn't clean. I was too unhappy to write. 

When I was younger, I would spend hours sprawled out on my bed with my looseleaf notebooks, writing page after page of character descriptions and dialogue scenes. I kept list of all the stories I wanted to write because I had more ideas than I could possibly remember. I loved when it was cold outside, because that meant I could zip my notebook up inside my coat and hide in the slide during recess, just writing. I loved it. It was my favorite thing to do. 

Somewhere along the line, I lost the enjoyment for making up characters and stories and worlds. Writing became something I studied and pursued, not something I loved. Having a creative life felt like a charade I had to keep up because I had a degree and student loans constantly reminding me that I was supposed to live up to expectations - both mine and others. 

But the whole point of Big Magic is that your creative life shouldn't come with any expectations except for one: to live a "life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear." It's about creating for the sake of creating because you're a creator who wants to create. It's not about getting published or gaining recognition. It's just about doing what fills you up. Honestly, this was a little scary to read. Most of the creative work I've done in the last few years had done the opposite - leaving me drained, frustrated, and questioning. 

So, okay. I decided it was time to figure out once and for all what kind of writer I was. I decided that for one week I would try waking up two hours earlier than normal and work creatively for at least 90 minutes. I set very little boundaries for what this would mean: I could write in my journal, I could work on my novel revisions, I could write something new - but I couldn't work on any freelance work, check my email, or browse social media. Mainly, I just wanted to know if it was possible to like writing again. 

The first day was honestly so startlingly amazing that I surprised even myself. I had more energy, my work day was more productive, I was in a better mood. Hell, I even ate more nutritiously and spent an hour cleaning my house, just because (subtext: and not because we had company coming over). I wish I had a better word for it, but honestly the only way I can describe it was invigorating. 

I'm now on Day 15 of writing every day and I look forward to that quiet morning time more than I look forward to any other part of my day. The novel revisions I have dragged out for almost four years now are shockingly close to being...done? I feel genuinely happier and more like *me* than I have in ages. And it turns out creativity is possibly a little infectious. Two of my dearest writing friends have been meeting me for Skype "check-ins" as we report our progress. Another friend (who has been generously reading my revised pages) told me she's been more productive with her own writing than she has in months. We're living creative lives and we're doing it together and it feels wonderful. 

Maybe something will come from these morning hours spent with my novel. Maybe it won't. But at least now I know for sure: I am happier doing the work than I am not doing it. 

IMG_1779.JPG

"Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you." - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Hello, again!

Well, that was an unintended and lengthy disappearance! Apologies for the silence - I'll blame it on the holidays, the start of basketball season, and the birth of my new niece. 

But here I am! We're 11 days into 2016 and already time feels like it's moving too fast. And while I may be super late with this kind of post, I wanted to share some goals for the new year for both my professional and creative writing. I'll keep it short since it's a Monday and you're likely still burned out from reading goal-oriented blog posts after the onslaught published two weeks ago. 

PROFESSIONAL WRITING
- Get an actual sustainable system in place for tracking income/taxes/expenses. (Oof. The bane of my freelancer existence.) 
- Maintain relationships with existing clients. (While I always welcome new inquiries, 2016 will hopefully be more about "maintaining" than "seeking out.")
- Update blog more regularly (see! I'm already doing it!) 
 

CREATIVE WRITING
- embrace a more sustainable and consistent writing practice for my creative work (as opposed to the current hot and cold periods I've had for the past two years)
- finish my novel revisions once and for all (So. Close.) 
- Query? Maybe? (I know this is something I need to figure out and embrace soon. Having a continual work-in-progress is just so much less stressful.) 
- submit more short stories (I really let this practice slip in the last few years) 
- attempt to write and publish more non-fiction (I have an essay forthcoming in Paprika Southern, so the ball is already rolling on this one.) 
- start something new at Hambidge! (Something has been bursting around in my head for several months now, so I'm excited to have the space to explore it.) 

I think that's the gist of it for now. It's going to be a good writing year! 

Happy News

Popping in for a quick blog post on a busy Monday to officially share some of the happiest news I've gotten in awhile: I was accepted for a two week residency at The Hambidge Center this March! 

I found out that I was accepted just over a week ago, but now that the dates are booked (March 8th through 20th) and I'm filling out forms, I'm finally letting myself believe it is real. I'll get two weeks (TWO WEEKS) to do nothing but work on my fiction in a creative environment surrounded by other artists. As much as I love working from home, the absence of creative people in my life has been the hardest transition from graduate school. I can't wait. 

As for what I'll be working on? Well, assuming I can actually follow through on my intentions to finally finish tinkering with my existing novel draft (currently in its...4th? 7th? 12th? iteration) by the end of the year, I hope to start a new project I've had brewing for awhile. After spending YEARS (way too many years) in revision mode, creating something new sounds so appealing. 

Now for the hardest part: waiting. All I want to do is make packing lists and outlines, but the world won't stop while I'm counting down. (Which I am definitely doing: 127 more days.) 

What It Was Like Being Back at My Alma Mater for a Career Conference

Just over a week ago, I spent a day surrounded by the electric energy of smart, confident women at my favorite place in the entire world. And I haven't been able to stop thinking about the experience ever since. 

You see, I went to college in a magical place. And you could tell me you feel the same way about your college, but I wouldn't believe you. I'm convinced Hollins University is special in a way that is wholly unique and - yes - magical. I'm not entirely sure how to describe it to outsiders except to say that this place is my exhale. It is where I am not only most myself, but where I'm also my best self. The second I drive onto campus, I begin thinking clearer. When I am there, I am simultaneously more energized and relaxed. Tension leaves my shoulders. Everything I haven't done or wished I could do suddenly seems completely possible. 

So, when I was asked to return to campus as a featured alum for a career conference, I think it took me all of 30 seconds to accept. A day talking to successful career women and driven, doe-eyed students? Sign me up.  

Of course, there's nothing like being back at one of the most formative locations of your younger days to bring about a little reflection. 

When I graduated college in 2009, I didn't even know that my current profession existed. Well, obviously I knew being a freelance writer existed, but content marketing? Nope. It wasn't even remotely on my radar. I had spent most of my life telling people that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but really had no concept of what that would look like. But now I'm doing it. I'm making a living as a writer. Box checked. 

And yet. During one of the "speed connection" sessions (think speed dating, but with alums and students networking instead), I found myself feeling incredibly...small? These young women, these students, these dreamers - they kept coming up to my table and sitting across from me and telling me all of the big things they hoped to do with their life. They had pie-in-the-sky dreams. They had make-a-difference dreams. Didn't I used to be just like that? So hopeful, so inspired, so sure I would be who I wanted to be?

Because yes: I am making a living writing. But 2009 Cortney wanted to be a writer with a capital Creative. She wanted to write novels and short stories and essays that people would read and think, "Yes, I feel this exact same way sometimes. Thank you." And it's not that I've given up on those goals, because I haven't. I'm still taking small steps to pursue them, but they are just that: small. Somehow, bafflingly, six and a half years have passed. I can do more. 

I went back to Hollins expecting to inspire current students to pursue their goals. I didn't quite expect that they would instead have the same effect on me. That I would feel more inspired than I have in months. That I would want to act, want to do, want to be...better. 

And really, I should have known. If there's any place that can reconnect me with who I am and who I want to be, it's Hollins. It's a good reminder to my fellow sisters: if you're feeling lost, if you aren't quite sure you're on track, or if you just need to remember how it felt - go back. Step on to campus. Take a deep breath. Exhale. 

 

My 13 Favorite Ways to Avoid a Deadline

First, let me say that I live and die by my deadlines. This isn't about missing deadlines. This is about taking entirely too long to meet them along the way. 

If I could write straight through without getting blocked and without procrastinating, I could probably manage to work about 10 hours a week. However, that would also mean I was a wizard. So instead, I work many more hours and break up the struggle to get words on the page in a number of creative ways. Here are my 13 favorite. 

  1. Social media. Obviously, right? Really, just the Internet in general. There's just so much there. It's an ever ending supply of entertainment. 
     
  2. Podcasts. Man, I love podcasts. I know that is a completely unoriginal thing to say these days, but I really do. And, in case you were wondering, no matter how much you convince yourself that you can write an article while listening to a podcast in the background, you absolutely cannot. (Current obsession: The Black Tapes Podcast)
     
  3. Looking for more work. This is completely counterintuitive - why am I looking for more work while avoiding the work I already have? - but it is also one of my main methods of procrastination, probably because I still feel productive when I do it. 
     
  4. Calling my best friend. My best friend and I talk on the phone every day around 2:30. She has a much more adult schedule than I do, so I usually wait for her to call me, but I get impatient if she doesn't and then I call her. I count on this interruption to break up my work day, no matter how busy I may be. 
     
  5. Doing the dishes. One thing no one told me about working from home was how many more dishes it would create. You wouldn't think eating just one more meal in my house would make such a difference, but it really does. Rare is the time of day when I don't have at least a few dishes I could do and it's often a good reason to get up from my desk. 
     
  6. Budgeting. I probably do and redo our budget at least twice a week. Or I go over my freelance taxes spreadsheet or check the due dates on our bills or plan out the next month of spending. Sometimes it calms me. Sometimes it does the opposite. 
     
  7. Reading. I like to tell myself that this doesn't count as avoiding work because reading makes me a better writer, so really it's just like taking a training course. 
     
  8. Walking my dog. Some days, when I'm really feeling stuck, he gets a walk every hour on the hour.  It makes us both happy. 
     
  9. Meal planning/Grocery list making. I am someone who LOVES grocery shopping. I like looking at recipes, planning out what ingredients I need, and then organizing my shopping list by the aisles in the grocery store. 
     
  10. Online window shopping. My wardrobe has become considerably minimized since I started working from home. I just can't justify buying many clothes, but I still like to look.
     
  11. Journaling. I keep a couple different types of journals for various purposes. Taking a break to do some stream of conscious writing that only I will ever see often does the trick to get my head back in the game.
     
  12. Eating. If I'm already trying to take my lunch break at 11:00, I know it's going to be a long day. 
     
  13. Blogging. Can you tell? 

Next time a client ask why I prefer not to bill hourly for specific article assignments, I think I'll just refer them to this list. It's in both of our best interests, trust me. 

Kindness and Optimism

I don't remember learning to read. I remember the books I loved, I remember checking out my first "chapter book" from the library (The Boxcar Children, naturally), and I remember hiding a book inside my jacket so I could read during recess without my teachers knowing. 

All of this is to say that reading is both a past time and a skill that I have seemingly always had. Obviously that isn't actually true - I'm sure I owe a debt of gratitude to the combination of parents/teachers/grandparents who actually taught me - but I don't remember the specifics. I don't remember sounding out words or learning the difference between short and long vowel sounds. Reading has just always been, well, mine. And until recently, I didn't really think of it in any other way. 

As someone who works from home and already has some natural hermit tendencies, I have to be proactive in finding reasons to leave the house and meet people. So, when I stumbled across the website for The Literacy Volunteers of Upshur County after Googling "volunteer opportunities in Buckhannon," I was intrigued. It seemed like a good way for me to get involved in our new small community. 

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first dropped by to fill out a volunteer application - I just knew I missed teaching and felt like my mental health would benefit from giving back. What I found was a little house behind a church full of the type of kindness and optimism that has been sorely lacking in my everyday interactions. I was hugged by strangers and told over and over again, "We're so glad you're here." Within a week, they'd found me a student and wanted me to get started right away. 

Since then, I've run the spectrum of emotions from feeling over my head and panicked, to feeling capable and effective. I've never taught an adult to read before. Until recently, I'd never even knowingly met an adult who couldn't read. But I am in this. It regularly feels like the most important thing I do with my week.

Some days there are visible improvements and I see lights coming on and it is the absolute best thing you could imagine. Other times, it's not as simple and progress isn't as clear. I feel frustrated when I can't explain something that I just inherently know and my student feels frustrated for thousands of other reasons I can't even begin to comprehend. Regardless of what type of day it is, we have agreed on one key thing: we're both going to keep showing up. 

Typically, after our lessons, I'll come home and sit on my porch with whatever book I'm reading and I'll look at the pages and wonder about my own very privileged education. I think about how different my relationship to books could have been if I grew up in some other place, with some other family. I think about how many things I read per day and take completely for granted - a text message from my sisters, food labels, my Twitter feed, street signs. I think about the ways I can be a better tutor, how I can better explain certain concepts, and whether my student will ever know what it is like to sit in a rocking chair as the sun goes down and read a really good book. 

I don't know. But I am optimistic. 

 

Gone Walkin'

"Writing is one way of making the world our own...and walking is another." - Geoff Nicholson

Our new town is very accessible on foot. Yesterday, I walked to the post office and a coffee shop. Today I walked to my husband's office. Soon, I'll get to walk to a dentist appointment, a hair salon, and my dog's vet.  

In addition to this intentional walking, I've also been taking walks just for the sake of taking walks. There's a river trail that goes through the town with a great path, lovely views, benches, swings, and even a Little Free Library. These walks don't take me too long - the loop that starts and ends at our home clocks in around two miles, according to my iPhone. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook or podcast. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I just walk. 

As someone who sits and stares at a computer screen for a living, these walks have already become a necessary and desired little ritual. I've found that simply getting up, heading outside, and moving my legs for 30 minutes has made my writing and thought process much more even-keeled and clearheaded. In the past few days, I've done some of my best work with my sneakers on and without a computer or pen in sight. But, of course, this probably shouldn't surprise me as much as it does. 

Plenty has been written and discussed about writers who walk. It helps us think, according to The New YorkerI've known this. I've heard about many famous writers who started their work day with a long walk. I just haven't tried it until now. And I can already feel it changing my process. 

So, here's to savoring the first few crisp days of fall, to writing in my head, and to getting out from behind the computer screen. 

 

 

On Routines

When I first transitioned to being a full-time freelance writer, I had this ideal routine in my mind. It went a little something like this: 

- Wake up around 5:30, feeling refreshed and well-rested from a peaceful night of uninterrupted sleep. 
- Get in a quick hour of some form of exercise that makes me feel invigorated and not at all exhausted. 
- Shower and put on the kind of outfit that won't make the UPS man think I'm home sick from a "real" job when he inevitably comes to the door needing a signature. 
- Fill a mug of coffee and enjoy a few minutes journaling or reading a book while I eat a healthy and balanced breakfast.
- Spend the first few hours of my work day on my creative writing pursuits. (In the daydream of this ideal routine, I'm definitely not still revising my novel nearly four years after finishing it, so I assume I'm working on a draft of my second or third book, while simultaneously responding to acceptance letters from all the literary journals that want to publish my stories.) 
- Break for lunch and a long, leisurely walk with my dog. Again, this exercise is invigorating and not exhausting, while my lunch is healthy, balanced, and leaves me fully satisfied. 
- Spend the second half of my work day completing my client work for the day. Since I am never distracted by social media or online shopping, I meet my deadlines well ahead of schedule. 
- I finish up work with plenty of energy and motivation to cook an elaborate dinner and spend quality time with my husband.

Of course, this is not quite how my days usually go. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never had a day like that. 

More often than not, I go un-showered until late into the afternoon and am almost always wearing something that would embarrass me in front of the UPS man. I routinely get too distracted by the state of my house or the happenings of the Internet during the day and end up working well into the evening. My balance of creative work and work-work isn't nearly as motivated or well-established as it needs to be. (Because yes, I am still revising that novel four years after finishing the first draft.) 

And yet. I know how important a writing routine is to the success of my business, to my credibility as a freelancer, and to pursuing all of the writing goals - both big and small, both professional and creative - that I have for myself. I know I'm a happier person when I keep normal adult hours, instead of working from 9pm to 3am like a college kid who just discovered Red Bull for the first time. I know that having a good routine is about more than just getting my work done on time (and don't get it twisted: I live and die by my deadlines) - it's about getting my work done in a way that allows me to also have the life I want to have. 

Perhaps it's because I'm living in a new house, in a new town, but I feel more inspired than ever to build a livable, sustainable routine that transcends deadlines and leaves me feeling accomplished and fulfilled by the end of the day. Of course, I'm not looking to completely reinvent the wheel. I love my flexibility. I don't think I will ever be someone who enjoys doing the same thing, in the same order, day in and day out. And I don't think I'll ever live up to that ideal routine I thought I would just magically fall into once I started freelancing full-time. However, i do think I can hold myself to a more consistent standard as a creator, as a professional...and as someone who only has to answer to herself. 

So, we'll see. I'm going to experiment with different routines to see what makes me the most productive. To see what makes me the happiest. But for now? Well, for now, it's Friday. It's after 10am and I'm still wearing my pajamas. Time to meet some deadlines. 

 

 

Where I Never Thought I'd Be

Three weeks ago, if you'd told me I'd be living in a tiny, old house in Buckhannon, West Virginia...I would have thought you were crazy. 

But here we are. 

Within the span of just over a week, my husband was approached about a job, accepted that job, and started work. Despite it all happening so quickly, I have a feeling that I haven't had in years - that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 

Buckhannon is like no other place I have ever lived.

  • I can walk to two different coffee shops, a library, a micro-theater, a couple of bakeries, and an antique store.
     
  • Nearly every single person I have interacted with has called me hon, and it doesn't even feel patronizing.
     
  • When I scheduled a four hour block appointment with the cable company, they not only actually showed up during that four hour block, they showed up at the beginning of the block.
     
  • Our landlords found out we stayed in a hotel our first night here because we didn't have air conditioning yet...and they were so upset we didn't call them to stay with them instead.

So far, everything is charming and everyone is kind. While there may not be a lot of digital marketing opportunities, (Exhibit A: when we were looking for a place to live, the large majority of the apartment complexes didn't have websites...) and we're less than a week into this new adventure, I feel remarkably comfortable here. I feel safe. I feel at ease.

And perhaps most importantly? I feel like I can do some really good writing here. 

 

My 8 Favorite Things About Being a Freelance Writer

There are a lot of great things about being a freelance writer, but these are the eight things I'm most grateful for - even on those few-and-far-between tough days: 

1. The Uniform. As you may have gathered from my website heading, I am a big fan of sweatpants. Really, I'm a big fan of any pants of the elastic waistband variety. While I do sometimes miss picking out an outfit every day, most days I am eternally grateful to go to work in my pajamas. 

2. The Commute. You really can't beat rolling out of bed and taking 12 steps down the hallway. I try my best to do the majority of my work actually in my office sitting at my desk, but there's also something to be said about working from the couch every now and then. 

3. The Schedule. The grocery store is significantly less crowded at 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon and it's much easier to get a dentist appointment when you can tell the receptionist that you can be available "whenever." While managing deadlines isn't always easy, my hours are whatever I want them to be and I love the flexibility. 

4. The Portability. As long as I have my computer and an Internet connection, I can work anywhere. This is an especially big benefit for my family - we've moved three times in the last four years for my husband's job and, aside from updating my address on my invoices, my work stays the same. 

5. The Co-Worker. Yes, working at home can get pretty lonely at times, but my anxiety-riddled dog loves the all-day company. All I have to say is, "Samson, it's time for work!" and he runs into my office to curl up in the dog bed next to my desk. 

6. The Fancy Lunches. Not having to worry about packing a lunch every day means I have my entire kitchen at my disposal. If I want to cook something fancy for lunch, I can cook something fancy for lunch. 

7. The People. While I haven't met the majority of my clients in person, I feel so lucky to get to work with such smart, flexible, and encouraging editors and account managers. There are countless freelance horror stories out there, but I've been lucky to work with some really great agencies and organizations. 

8. The Work. Even though content marketing wasn't something I ever planned on doing, I love being able to write for a living. 

And with that, this writer is going to shuffle into the kitchen in her slippers and make some fancy lunch. Happy Thursday! 

How I Became a Freelance Content Writer

Here's a secret: I never really meant to be a content writer. 

I actually sort of fell into it by accident. In fact, just over three years ago, I didn't even know what content marketing was, much less how I would go on to make it my career. I knew more and more businesses were beginning to write blogs and publish informative content, but I never really stopped to think just who was writing it all. 

Enter: my fairy godmother. I met Stephanie Kapera Hawkins while we were both grad students at N.C. State. We took a memoir class together (with the lovely Dr. Elaine Neil Orr) and, while we both enjoyed the other's work, we didn't really get to know each other very well. It wasn't until after graduation that Stephanie sent me a message asking if I would be interested in doing some writing for a content marketing agency she was starting. I believe my response was something along the lines of, "...sure, why not?" 

I couldn't have possibly known at the time that what Stephanie was actually giving me was the opportunity to make a living doing something I loved. From there, my journey into content marketing just kind of snowballed. As Stephanie moved on to a larger marketing firm, she brought me on as a writer. I acquired a few more clients through her contacts and even snagged a few accounts all on my own. I said "yes" to everything that came my way and built relationships with marketing agencies in four different states. By May 2014 - two years after Stephanie sent that fateful message - I was ready to make freelancing my full-time job. 

Now it's over a year later and I couldn't be happier to do what I do. It hasn't always been easy (Exhibit A: health insurance. Exhibit B: taxes), but it is, without a doubt, worth it. So, this one goes out to my fairy godmother, who, quite literally, pointed me in the direction of my dream job. Steph, thank you for your guidance, support and, most of all, your friendship. Thanks to you, whenever someone asks what I do, I get to answer in the best possible way: "I'm a writer." 

Want to chat more with Cortney about her life as a content writer? Email her at cortney@upallnightcreative.com. 

New Look

Well, this new site has been a long time coming. Sometime last year, I deleted all of the content on my old website/blog in a fit of shame over realizing that I wasn't practicing what I preach. I spend most of the hours in my days helping other companies utilize effective content marketing techniques and build their brands, but wasn't following my own advice. My blog was a disjointed space that didn't really represent me as a professional, as a writer, or as a person in general. However, rather than deleting in a fit of shame and then recreating a site that better suited me...I let a solid eight months go by before doing anything. 

But here I am: back and with an online space that feels much more me as I currently am in my writing life. I'm still struggling to figure out my writing routine and still fighting to get my creative work published, but I'm also making a living doing what I love. I still have a novel draft that seems constantly in need of revisions and a bunch of short stories that keep racking up rejection letters, but I'm supporting myself with my words and my words alone - which is pretty awesome. 

As for this blog-space? Well, I'm not quite sure what it will end up being. I'm interested in writing about my changing relationship with writing now that it isn't just a creative outlet. I'd like to be more candid and open as to how I make my living as a working writer, because I know firsthand (and am still learning) just how difficult the freelance life can be. And, as always, I'm looking for that camaraderie that comes from belonging to a writing community, so don't hesitate to reach out if you're a writer who is looking for the same. 

Regardless of why you found me, I'm glad you're here.