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In Defense of Saying "No"Have you ever worked with your Wrong Person?

It’s not a phrase we use often — we’re more focused on the positive here, the Right Person ideal client who you really want to do business with, day after day.

It’s a very different experience with the not-so-ideal client.

There’s a mindset in certain circles of business that’s focused on getting as many sales as possible. Don’t say anything too “out there” or you might scare off clients. Try to mimic the voices of the big names; it’s working for them. Appeal to as many people as possible. Hustle. Promote. Sell sell sell.

But here’s the thing: when you dilute yourself to appeal to everyone, you’re going to miss out on the people who would love your weird little quirks. And you’re going to attract people who are looking for…well, whatever it is you’re pretending to be.

Your Right Person comes to you because she believes you can do the job better than others in your market. Sure, it might take some convincing — samples, testimonials, great sales copy, even an exploratory intro session if that’s your thing — but by the time she signs on that dotted line, she trusts that you know what you’re doing. This isn’t blind trust, and it’s probably not boundless, but generally speaking, she hired you for being good at what you do, and she believes you’re going to do it well for her.

Your not-so-right person? They question you every step of the way.

Do you really need to follow this process? Can’t we do it my way?

I know you said you needed this, but I thought maybe you could work around it.

I was talking to my partner’s sister’s neighbor’s friend, and she knew someone who did work like this once, and she said…

It’s exhausting.

It’s not that they’re bad people, or even bad clients — they’re just not your clients.

See, that’s the thing about the Wrong Person.

It doesn’t mean they’re wrong, just wrong for you.

Someone else is already following your Wrong Person’s process. They totally agree with the partner’s sister’s neighbor’s friend’s acquaintance. All those areas of friction that keep you stalled and sluggish? Like buttah.

Your Wrong Person is their Right Person. And yet, here you are…

They’ll fill up your schedule. They’ll take all of your energy. Six weeks into a two-week project, you’ll glance back at your scope in the rear view mirror as you fly into double-overtime with no end in sight. You’ll work nights. Weekends. Your daughter’s birthday. You could be hit by a bus, and you’ll be pecking out an email on your phone with two broken thumbs, responding to the 8,654th “I know it’s a bad time, but…”

You remember how you were so excited to make the sale? You’re spending twice as long on a project that doesn’t bring you half as much joy. Too many of these, and you’ll find yourself questioning if following your dream is really worth it.

(It is. But not like this.)

Working with your Wrong Person takes a lot out of you. They expect you to work outside of your comfort zone, because they don’t understand where that is for you. It’s not their fault; they probably don’t know any better.

So here’s the thing. You do know better. And you know what else?

It’s okay to say no.

I’m not talking about after they’ve signed on, though, you know, feel free to have someone without two broken arms shoot them a message to that effect if you have a run-in with a Greyhound. I mean, at the beginning.

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I’m a fit for your needs.”

Boom. It’s that simple.

(It’s not. It never is. But it’s a start.)

Of course, some people will take it personally. It’s not. You just see what they need and know what you have to offer, and you understand that there’s a disconnect. So help them see where that disconnect is. Keep it simple but straightforward. You want X, I do Y. You don’t owe them a thesis, but be kind; they’re lost and don’t realize they haven’t found their solution. Try to have a plan for how you’re going to approach this in advance, because, if you’re anything like me, rejecting someone  — even for all the right reasons — is going to give you all kinds of anxiety, and having a script to fall back on takes some of that pressure off of you.

If you know of someone who’s a better fit to support them, make a referral. I know, it sounds totally crazy to pass a potential client on to someone else. But think of it this way: if you’re a dog-walker and someone comes to you looking for a birthday cake, you’re going to send them to someone who bakes birthday cakes. This isn’t really any different, just a little more specialized.

When we live in our own zone of genius, we tend to do our best work. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stretch yourself and try to learn more, but you understand what you’re all about, and you probably know, in your gut, when a potential client is asking for something different. Don’t fill your schedule with the Wrong People and then find you have no room when the Right People come calling.

So how do we avoid attracting the Wrong People?

Some of it is probably unavoidable. You’re going to get the occasional rogue inquiry, whether from a random web search or just someone who likes your philosophy but doesn’t really understand your process. Learn how to say no to them gently and with kindness. Make sure they understand that you simply don’t offer the experience they’re seeking, and steer them in the right direction if you can.

Other times, it’s just a matter of keeping your content authentic. This is especially true if you’re selling a physical product — you can’t exactly stop someone from pressing that “Add to Cart” button, but you may find yourself disputing their bad reviews and processing their returns for a product they just didn’t really understand (because, um, it wasn’t meant for them).

Remember that warning about scaring people off? Try to reframe your thinking. So you geek out over systems, or you cry at ASPCA commercials, or you take one week off every month to re-center on a desert meditation retreat. So your throw pillows are designed to suit a funky witchy-goth-boho vibe, or your hand-thrown ceramic mugs are intentionally a little bit wobbly. The kind of person who is going to love working with you is going to love that about you. They’re going to see you in all your quirks and think, “Finally, I have found my people.” And you’re going to have an awesome time working with them. But not if your schedule is already full.

So don’t be afraid to say “no.” It just frees you up to say “yes” to the Right Person — and it gives your Wrong Person a chance to find the place where they’re all Right.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Have you been approached by your Wrong Person? Did you end up working with them, or did you pass? How did it go?

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We recently had to replace our front door.

Our old door (a classic, ‘50s-style wooden panel door, with a half-round arch window, a mail slot, and an old-fashioned metal twist doorbell that perpetually infuriated our chihuahua) had finally succumbed to the carpenter ants cheerily gnawing away at its insides. One hefty shove might’ve sent us flying through the now-hollow shell of paint, dumping us unceremoniously on the dining room floor. Hey, honey, welcome home.

As we spent — let’s be honest — way too much time scouring the internet and every hardware store in a 50-mile radius for the perfect replacement, I was reminded of the blog post Abby wrote nearly four years ago on writing your Home Page like a great front porch. It’s still one of our most popular posts, and it’s packed with great info. (Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.)

In it, Abby highlights a few key points on creating a cohesive, welcoming, uncluttered Home Page, tying in the “front porch” metaphor throughout. But there’s one point I’d like to add:

Not every front porch is welcoming to the same people.

 

When we were door shopping, we saw a lot of options. Gorgeous doors with lots of glass (too see-through, since our living area is within view of the front door). Extra-large doors to make a grand entrance (too big for the space). Craftsman-style doors (beautiful, but not really the style of our house). Intricately carved wooden doors (an all-you-can-eat buffet for carpenter ants). Hefty, hurricane-resistant metal doors with no window at all (too institutional).

We have a cute little slate blue front porch, with lime green beams supporting the overhang, and a classic 1950s Florida house. We needed something a little bit traditional, a little bit interesting, and with just enough window to let in the light without letting out the little naked toddler butts that tend to run by there half a dozen times a day. We wanted it to be welcoming to our guests, without overpowering the simple style of our house with something ostentatious. And, well, we needed something we could paint lime green without it looking ridiculous.

In the same way, you need to consider your guests as you’re building your website’s Home Page. Let’s say your website is throwing a party. What kind would it be? Are you rolling out the kegs? Hosting a book club? Afternoon tea? A Gatsby-esque black-tie soirée? Who is reading your site?

In Abby’s post, she discourages use of the word “Welcome” on your Home Page, because it reads as a lazy cliché. Simply put, your readers are going to gloss right over it, and you need something that will catch their attention. You only get one front door. Don’t waste it on something generic. So how do you welcome visitors? Well, as always, I like to turn to the Voice Values to guide me.

Each Voice Value has its own particular style, and you’ll find that knowing what kind of party you’re throwing (that is, what your blend of Voice Values says about your business) will help you decide just what kind of front porch you’re using to welcome in your guests.

Here are a few ideas for each of the Voice Values. Feel free to pick and choose, and blend the ideas that apply to your top mix of Voice Values. (Not sure what your Voice Values are? You can sign up for our free assessment here.)

Accuracy

These readers want to know specifically what they’re here for. Keep it short and to the point: we offer these services. No cutesy names, no gimmicks, no “I mean, technically…” If this is what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place. This front porch leads you straight to the door.

Audacity

Ah, this is the lime green paint on the door of your website. Greet your readers like the badasses they are. Make a bold statement about your business or about your reader. If they see a generic, beige Welcome mat, they’re going to run screaming.

Clarity

Much like Accuracy, those with a high Clarity value want to know what you do right off the bat. Simple and elegant, no hiding behind clever phrasing or overgrown shrubbery. What you see is what you get.

Community

This is one instance where “Welcome” fits (though don’t lead with it — it’s still a lazy intro). Your readers want to know they’re being brought into the fold when they arrive. Invite them to join you. This door is always open.

Depth

Don’t try small talk on these readers; they don’t have time for that sort of shallow junk. Go deep — you’re not happy to meet them, you’re happy to know them. Skip the “Hey, there” or the “Welcome” and dive right into the statement you’re trying to make. This isn’t the place for a wide porch — they want to get inside.

Enthusiasm

Roll out the welcome mat — these readers are so glad to be here! Match their energy. You want to keep the excitement going! (Exclamation points help.)

Excellence

These readers would never set foot in a doorway with an ant-ridden door. (Sorry.) When Excellence is a top Voice Value, it’s worth it to spend the extra time and energy perfecting that portal — they should feel like they’re arriving when they reach your Home Page. Hand them a (virtual) glass of champagne. Take their coat. Usher them in with class. Click here to view our Services menu, madame.

Helpfulness

If you have a high Helpfulness value, you’re probably already trying to think of ways to make your Home Page more useful. Keep it accessible. Don’t go overboard with copy or links or promises, but do let your readers know you’re available. Take their coat, not because you want them to feel like they’re arriving at a swanky party but because you can see that their hands are full, and you know it’s warm inside.

Innovation

Oh, Innovation. I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for a door with a gadget. (Bluetooth keyless entry locks, what??) But you don’t have to roll out the big, flashy gizmos right away. Just show readers you do things a little differently — maybe it’s the way you lay out your Home Page, or how you spell out what you do that’s different from other people in your field. These readers want to know that there’s something new and unique about you. It doesn’t need to be weird, just different.

Intimacy

This is the classic front porch. Think Pinterest — big, wicker chairs, a swing bench, a sweating glass pitcher of lemonade. Readers who react to a high Intimacy value don’t want to arrive for a party, they want to come by some afternoon for a one-on-one. Speak directly to them, first-person, singular. Show (don’t tell) them that they’re welcome. Make them feel at home.

Legacy

You’re probably horrified we got rid of that old twist doorbell, aren’t you? (I didn’t throw it away, I promise.) This is a Home Page that should be timeless. Don’t bother with the gizmos and gadgets and trendy new themes here — your readers want to know they’re part of a tradition with some history to back it up.

Love

You know those houses where the owners rush out with a hug even before you’ve rung the doorbell? That’s what a high-Love page feels like. Let your readers know you’ve been waiting for them, that they’re loved, that you’ve already put the kettle on for them and you picked up some of that tea you know they like.

Playfulness

It’s all fun and games on this porch. Think a smattering of pink flamingos and a cheeky sign about solicitors. Your readers know that anything on the other side of that door is sure to be a good time. Greet them with a joke or a nickname, and keep the whimsy coming.

Power

This is the door of someone who knows what they’re doing — solid, capable, probably with some serious-looking brass fixtures you can’t find at your local chain hardware store. Let your readers know you’ve got it all under control — and that you can empower them, too. They’ve come to the right place.

Security

How many deadbolts does one door need? And a security fence? If you have a high Security value…well, maybe a lot. Your readers want to feel safe with you. Let them know that this is a sanctuary — that, on the other side of that door, they can let down their guard because you, unequivocally, have their backs.

Transparency

These readers love the open glass door — the more of your home (er, business) they can see from the street, the better. Lay it all out there for them, no ambiguity and no holding back. Explain your process, show the math, trust them to take it all in.

 

There are so many different kinds of front doors, and so many different ways to greet your readers. A generic “Welcome” just isn’t enough to stand out. There are a lot of houses on your street. How can you make sure your guests find yours?

P.S. Don’t forget, our Summer School Special is coming to a close soon. If you’re looking for more guidance on how to put your Voice Values to work for you, writing effective and authentic copy designed for your particular Right Person, you don’t want to miss out.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

How do you make sure your Home Page welcomes in the right type of guests? What kind of party is your website hosting?

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Running a business is hard work.

I’ve been pretty busy behind the scenes for quite some time, so it’s not as if I didn’t know there was a lot to do here at The Voice Bureau. But before I took over as owner, Abby was running the show and had me to help her. When I took over…I had me, full stop. And I knew that wouldn’t work for very long.

The problem is, I’ve always had trouble delegating. I was the one in school taking the group project home over the weekend to polish and reformat. I don’t ask for help, as a rule. I just like things to be done right, and it’s been easier most of my life for me to do them myself. But if you want to build a strong business — not to mention one that’s growing — delegation is a required skill.

I needed a Virtual Concierge. And that’s where Sara LeHoullier came in.

As a long-time member of our talented copywriting coterie, Sara had already proven herself a formidable wordsmith. I knew I could trust her to handle client communications with warmth, tact, and finesse. She understands digital marketing, appreciates our processes, and is a quick study. I also just happen to really like her — a quality that’s key for someone I’ll be working closely with on just about every project, both internally and for our clients. Over the past few months, she’s been an irreplaceable asset to our team, easing the transition in ownership and keeping us humming along at full speed, supporting our copywriting clients and repackaging every single Voice Bureau course as part of our Summer School special.

And so, without further ado, it’s time I finally got around to introducing you to Sara. If you’re a current client — or are considering becoming one — there’s a very good chance you’ll be speaking with her soon.

Sara LeHoullier, Virtual Concierge at The Voice Bureau

MY TOP 3-5 VOICE VALUES ARE:Sara LeHoullier, The Voice Bureau's Virtual Concierge

Helpfulness, Playfulness, and Transparency

[Katie’s Note: Discover your own Voice Values when you subscribe to The Voice Bureau’s Insider Stuff e-letter.

Enter your best email address below and click Go to get started.]


 

I DO THE WORK I DO BECAUSE:

I love the neatness of a fully checked-off to-do list. [Katie’s Note: Me, too! I’ll even add small items to my list just for the satisfaction of checking them off.] I adore crafting emails and writing pretty much anything – and working with passionate, beautiful minds really floats my boat.

OFF THE CLOCK:

I live in the tiny wooded hamlet of Olalla, WA, with my husband, two stepchildren (boys aged 6 and 8 – it’s a wild ride!), and our plott hound, Lucy.

COOLEST/BEST/MOST SATISFYING THING ABOUT WORKING WITH THE VOICE BUREAU (SO FAR) IS:

This: since I met Abby and Katie and started following TVB, I have marveled at their way with words – in every context. Not just in terms of copy written for clients, but every communication I received was so thoughtful, so lovingly written, that I felt hugged. I always wanted to be a part of an organization that appreciated the importance of kindness as well as expertise. I think that goes a long way in attracting lovely clients as well, which is always a joy!

FAVORITE THING I NOTICE ABOUT VOICE BUREAU CLIENTS IS:

They truly love what they do, and believe in making the world a better place.

20 YEARS FROM NOW, I WANT TO BE ABLE TO SAY I’VE:

Loved fully and lived joyfully.

THE iPHONE/ANDROID APP I WOULDN’T WANT TO LIVE WITHOUT IS:

Waze – I literally never know where I’m going. And I like that I can change my lil’ costumes.

DIGITAL TREND/MOVEMENT/PASTIME I’M POSITIVELY ADDICTED TO:

Binge-watching good (and bad) television shows.

FAVORITE BOOKS/MOVIES/MUSIC/ARTISTS:

The Sun Also Rises, anything by Saligner, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Out of Africa (the book AND the film), 30 Rock, Portlandia

PERSONALITY TYPING? WHY, YES. I’M:

Enneagram Type 2 (The Helper) with 7 (The Enthusiast) coming in close second. My Myers-Briggs is ENFP (The Campaigner) [Katie’s Note: Nearly the perfect complement to my INTJ!], and my Clifton Strengths are Positivity, Empathy, Woo, Activator, Developer.

MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW THAT I:

Have written two travel guides for Madagascar (I lived and traveled there for a number of years, and I speak Malagasy fluently). [Katie’s Note: So cool! It doesn’t surprise me at all that you have a knack for language.]

SECRET FANTASY CAREER/OCCUPATION:

Travel guide

I’M FAIRLY INSATIABLE WHEN IT COMES TO:

Cooking shows!

MY BRAND IS ALL ABOUT:

Being yourself.

In the comments, we’d love for you to:

Say hello to Sara and welcome her to The Voice Bureau!

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Sales vs Salesy BlogI’ve heard it at least a hundred times.

“There’s nothing I hate more than copy that sounds ‘sales-y.’”

“What language to avoid? Anything that sounds…sales-y.”

“I don’t want it to sound like I’m selling to people.”

“I can’t stand a website that’s too sales-y.”

These are business websites. You know, ones where people…sell things. So what’s the hangup about letting readers know it?

I think, in order to unpack this, we need to take a step back and look at our overall business philosophies. How many times have you apologized for or made excuses about the “business” side of your business?

“I’m sending over the invoice, but there’s no rush.”

It’s not that I don’t trust you, but the contract makes sure we’re on the same page.”

I’m really sorry, but because you missed our deadline by six months, I’m going to need an extra week to rearrange my schedule.”

(No judgement here. I may or may not have pulled these statements from my own emails.)

I think there’s a tendency to hide from the details. We want to serve, to share, to guide…but yes, we need to get paid, too. It’s difficult because so many of us have chosen this road because it has such heart, because it allows us to connect and serve and build relationships in ways that our corporate jobs never did. But if we want to keep doing this work we love, we need to make it sustainable.

We’re doing ourselves a disservice as business owners if we pretend we’re ashamed to be in business. I have to remind myself at least twice a week that I don’t need to apologize for doing the things that keep my bills paid and a roof over my head.

There is no shame in sending out an invoice. There is no shame in discussing terms. There is no shame in writing up a contract. There is no shame in selling a product or service.

So how do we run a business — with all the messy, distasteful, transactional details — without feeling like we’re putting a price tag on the relationships we cultivate? When the idea of hustling for the next sale doesn’t jive with our business philosophy, how do we build a profitable business? And, to bring this back around to my original point, how can you write a Sales Page that sells without feeling “sales-y”?

The key is remembering why you’re here, and why your clients are here.

You are providing a product or service that fills a need they have — whether that need is for a therapist to guide them through some trauma in their lives or for a gorgeous throw pillow that perfectly complements their new couch. What you do, they need. Your passion, your specialty, your specific knowledge is what is missing from their life. They want to hire you. So, rather than focusing on the sale, focus on the need.

A Sales Page starts sounding sales-y when you say, “Buy now — this offer won’t last!” instead of “Let’s start now — you could see a change immediately.” (Okay, maybe don’t imply you’re going to change their lives if you’re selling a throw pillow, but you get the point. And actually, a really great throw pillow can make a room, so don’t underestimate yourself either.)

Your Sales Page should have very little to do with you — aside from explaining why you are uniquely qualified to fill this need — and everything to do with how you can help your client. What is the problem you solve? What do they need that you can provide? Create urgency by showing them how much better you can make things for them — and why should they wait to have that? — rather than by arbitrarily forcing some deadline.

The other way that Sales Pages become sales-y is when you talk at rather than with your prospective client. This is a conversation, not a pitch. Your job (or ours) in writing a Sales Page is to connect their need with your product. So start from the beginning: recognize their need. Show them that you understand the problem they have. And then show them how you can help.

Okay, so they need a throw pillow. Yours has a really cool design — it’ll really pop in their room. The colors are super saturated but won’t fade or rub off on other fabric. The material is polished but soft — you can take a nap on it, but it’s not a lumpy mess. The quality of the craftsmanship mean that it’ll last them, even if their dog decides to curl up with it every once in a while. How will they feel with it on their sofa? Can you make them imagine it in their space?

Once you’ve made your case, back off. No “But wait, there’s more!” No “This offer won’t last!” Share your facts, try to connect with your reader emotionally, and then make it easy for her to say “yes.”

I think “sales-y” is really just another word for “disingenuous,” when it comes down to it. We’re in business. Selling things is what we do. But it’s when we become disconnected from that desire to serve that we lose the authenticity of our copy. It’s when we focus on making the sale rather than improving the lives of our clients that we start sounding “sales-y.”

Selling doesn’t need to be cynical. Yes, you want a Sales Page to convert. You want it to bring in, well, sales. But it doesn’t need to be about gimmicks and hard sells and forcing a certain narrative. When you’re creating an emotional connection between your product and your potential client, you aren’t doing it to deceive her, you’re doing it so that she can envision it in her life. This isn’t a calculated move to pull at her heartstrings, it’s an attempt to share the relevant information to help her make the decision that she came here to make. You can provide something to improve her life — your job isn’t to “sell her” on it, it’s to show her how you’ll make things better for her.

Convincing people to purchase what we have to offer gives them something they need, but it also keeps us in business — which means we’re here another day to fill another need for another client. Don’t be embarrassed to sound like you have something to sell, but don’t feel like you need to over-sell it, either. Your Right Person is already on your site because she thinks she might want to purchase something from you. You just need to help her see that she’s in the right place.

 

There’s much more to writing a great Sales Page, obviously. If you need one and want to try writing it yourself, our Writing the Conversational Sales Page course might help. It’s seriously packed with directly applicable, easy to implement info on writing an effective sales page — one that connects with your reader, that makes your case, and that doesn’t leave you feeling…well, sales-y. We’ll be re-releasing it very soon for self-paced study, as part of our upcoming Summer School special. Make sure you’re on our mailing list so you’re the first to know when it’s available.

 

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you struggle with coming across as “sales-y” in your web copy? Or do you overcompensate so it’s hard to know you’re even selling anything?

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Nurturing Creative Practice - Blog

I’ve been writing a novel for almost six years.

(What a cliche, right?)

It’s meant to be the first in a series of seven, so at this rate, I expect I’ll be dictating book seven from my death bed, while being interviewed by a local news crew for the secrets to my longevity.

So what can I possibly have to teach about maintaining a creative practice?

Well. In the past six years, in addition to writing (and editing…and editing…and editing…) just north of 50,000 words of that neverending novel, I’ve also:

  • Had two kids
  • Launched a business
  • Worked full-time for nine months while also running my business full-time while also pregnant
  • Taken over as Creative Director and owner of The Voice Bureau
  • Served more clients than I’d care to count, on more projects than I think I can remember
  • Been a full-time at-home mom while running my business (think 19-hour days, seven days a week, for nearly four years now)
  • Maintained some level of sanity and a baseline non-hoarder level of home cleanliness
  • Been a wife/daughter/mother/sister/friend, with varying levels of success

I mean, if I’m being gentle with myself, I have to admit that it’s been a busy six years. I might be able to fit a novel into there, but it’s kind of understandable that I haven’t finished it yet…right?

Whether you’re working on a novel of your own, journaling, writing poetry, painting, or doing some other form of creative self-expression, making time to regularly sit down and do it can be really hard. Even just writing blog posts for your business can be tough when you can’t get the head-space to be creative! But self-care (and yes, a creative practice is self-care, even if it’s also deeply personal work or even a career to which you aspire) is critical, especially to those of us who are self-employed. Self-employment is hard, yo. It’s lonely and all-consuming and exhausting, and if you let it, it will take over your life and leave you a shell of your former self, blearily pecking out emails on your phone as you lie in bed, watching the sun rise yet again.

But a creative practice? Oh, to regularly set aside a space in your life just to make something that brings you joy! To create something in this world that is for you, just because you want it to exist! It’s important. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s “good” (whatever that means) or if anyone else ever even sees it — a creative practice is saying to yourself, over and over, that your expression matters. That you matter, beyond what others need or ask or demand from you.

So what happens when life gets in the way and your creative practice becomes “that hour I get to sleep” or “my show on Netflix, because I don’t have the energy to think right now”?

Well, the usual advice applies.

Try spending 15-20 minutes creating at the beginning of your work time, because our work does tend to expand to fit the time we give it, and there’s a good chance you won’t even notice a few lost minutes. Or maybe you can get someone to take things off your plate — a VA to handle the admin work that sucks up way too much time, or a housekeeper to mop your floors, or a caregiver to watch your kids for an hour or two, or a delivery service to handle your grocery shopping. Ask for help. Let yourself be selfish. If you force yourself to schedule some time every single day that is just for you, and you prioritize it above everything else, you can make it fit. Maybe skip the occasional shower. Bail on a couple social gatherings.

But it’s not always that easy, is it? I often sit down to work at 5 or 6am after being up most of the night with my girls, and every minute I spend working after I put them to bed is a minute that I’m not sleeping — and for someone who averages 2-3 hours a night, telling me to schedule an hour to be creative is a cruel joke. I mean, I’m sure those sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations would make for some excellent novel fuel, but I’m not writing the sequel to Naked Lunch.

I don’t think we can talk about making time for a creative practice — or, truly, any kind of self-care — without talking a bit about gendered expectations. Because they’re real, and they’re hard to overcome, though a bit less so when you acknowledge them.

(Down with the patriarchy! Smash the hegemonic systems of oppression! Other catchphrases from my Feminist Political Theory class!)

Many — though not all — of our clients are women, and I don’t think any of us would dispute that showing up as a woman in this world is different than showing up as a man. The expectations are different. In some cases, this means working even harder for the same level of recognition. In others, it means carrying the emotional work that’s so often discounted but is not only time-consuming but costly to your own health and sanity. In others, it might mean that expectations are lowered, but then so are the rewards. We’re passed over for promotions. Talked over in meetings. And, of course, there are the implications of having a family…

Whether or not you have children, there’s a good chance that somewhere out there, someone is wondering if they’re on your agenda. And once you’ve had one, it’s, “Well, you have to try for a boy/girl now, so you have one of each!” or, “When’s number three coming?” But here’s the thing: kids take it all out of you. Including (especially?) the time and energy you might have had for a fulfilling creative practice.

So. Not to go off on a huge tangent, but you know how famous male authors have these wild life stories of alcoholism and failed marriage after failed marriage and kids born when they’re in their 70s, while female authors have life stories of spinsterism and seclusion? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.

I know that, with what I have on my plate, I can’t commit to writing my novel every day, or even every week. I have kids and clients, and I really do need to sleep at least a couple hours a day. But that doesn’t mean my novel isn’t progressing, even as my Scrivener file gathers dust.

So here’s my creative practice, right now:

I’m a sponge.

I read those clickbait-y lifestyle articles on Facebook — you know, the ones with the headlines like: “She opens the fridge. But what happens next will amaze you.” I watch TV — good and bad. I read books while I’m up in the night with the kids (thank god for that backlit screen on the Kindle, amirite?). I learn about strange things out there in the world. I take notes.

And, in every spare quiet moment — few and far between though they may be — I’m spinning the stories that will eventually be tapped out on my keyboard and become the novel series I can’t wait to write. I extrapolate possibilities, spin off variations on characters and plot twists. I sketch out the ending of book seven in my head, knowing it’ll probably change 50 more times before I get there. Eventually, the ideas tend to boil over, and when I sit down to write, thousands of words just fall out of my head without me even stopping to take a breath. Because they’re already written — in the shower, in bed at night, spacing out in the car on the way home from Target. They just needed to finally have the space to be born into the world. And I do eventually find that space — late at night, early in the morning, when the kids at the store with my husband, or when client work slows down just a bit (which it does, in the same sort of cycles every year).

So what can you learn from my overbooked schedule?

Sometimes, we need to accept that our lives look a little different than we might like. You may have an idealized picture of how you’ll light some candles, pour a glass of wine, put on some ambient music, and sit down at your vintage keyboard to tap out the next best-seller. You’re probably wearing a cozy sweater and poring over a hand-written storyboard detailing all the key plot points. But it may be that your writing happens in the car as you’re waiting to pick the kids up from practice, or on your phone when you sneak off to use the bathroom for 15 minutes, or for a couple minutes every morning until you can’t put off those client emails any longer. It doesn’t make you less of a writer. It doesn’t make your work any less valid than those professional types who crank out a new novel every year or two. They aren’t better or more deserving just because their lives are more conducive to long stretches of creation.

Physically creating isn’t the only way to create. We can learn and grow and plan, even in our busiest times. There’s a lot of background and organizing and research that goes into writing a great novel — or, even, a great poem, or painting a great painting — and taking the time to really do that work is a completely valid form of creative practice, even if it doesn’t feel quite so intentional as sitting down with that typewriter and your scented candles. You aren’t behind schedule just because you’re working on the foundation.

There is no schedule. It’s hard to feel like you’re making progress when it takes you six years (er, or more) to write a novel. Believe me, I know. But I also know that the experiences I’m having are making my stories richer — even as they, ironically, keep me away from actually writing them down. But if we take the time to absorb and process and think through our creations, in those little moments we can sneak in, they’ll pour out of us. When they’re ready.

What if you’re not really interested in developing a creative practice? Well, kudos for getting this far, anyway. This general philosophy is something I apply to my work, too. I know I can’t write copy or blog posts or even social media all the time. It’s not just a matter of finding the time; if I tried to create on that scale, I’d burn out almost immediately. No, I need some time when I can just stare at the TV and handle my admin work. Or listen to some music and review analytics. Or have a snack and reply to emails. I know that my overall workload includes tasks that require all different mindsets from me, and I plan accordingly, knowing that every task has its place. And, even when it doesn’t feel like I’m getting any work done, I know I am.

Anyway, don’t hold your breath for my debut novel — it may be a bit before I finally wrap up those last 30,000 words or so. But do save a spot on your bookshelf, because it is coming. Eventually.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you have a regular creative practice? How do you make time in your schedule?

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