Working For Yourself: Month Three (Letting Go)

I’ve been talking a lot about entrepreneurship and APW the last week, so I’m going to keep this month’s Working For Myself brief. But first, can I just say, Month THREE? When I went to write this post, I was sure I was supposed to title it Month Four, at least. Time has been flying by, and it’s been wonderful (if maybe a tiny bit stressful and crazed). So, what happened to me this month?

I finished writing the APW book, just about.

I’m saving writing the last chapter as my final act before I finish the book, but other than that, the words are on paper. I’m not done, mind you, I have some heavy editing and some serious deadlines ahead of me (May 1 for the first half, and June 1 for the second half), but hey, words on paper! For those of you keeping track, that means I wrote a 60,000 word book in 12 weeks. I’m not sure what I have to say about that, other than, you write a book by just showing up and doing the work… at least every other day.

David gave me a funny backhanded compliment the other day. We were talking about the editing process, and about how, unlike 99% of the known universe, my husband included, I actually kind of like when people edit my work (I actually hired a local friend to help me edit my book as I was writing it, so yes, I actually paid cash for extra editing). So David said, “Well, for some really strange reason, you don’t think of yourself as a wonderful writer, so you’re really enthusiastic about people helping to make your work better.” And I said, “Of course I don’t think of myself as a wonderful writer, why would I think of myself as a wonderful writer?” And he looked at me like I was the dullest person in the world, and said, “You write for a living. And not technical writing either.” Of course I started grinning, because my husband had just back-handedly called me a wonderful writer.

But he nailed it. That’s exactly what I think. I never thought writing was an option for me, even though I’ve written a thousand words a day since I was 14 years old. But I’m dyslexic, I can’t spell, I can’t edit for punctuation, and I’m generally a little word blind. So it literally never occurred to me that writing was an option, or even really something I did (if you write without spelling things properly, do you really write?). So when it came to self-expression, I went into acting (even though I ended up doing the kind of performance that involves writing, but… details). And then I started a blog. And now I’m writing a book.

But somewhere along the way, I failed to self-identify as a writer, which has made writing the book… easier? Because I just sit down and write what I think, and try not to spend too much of my energy worrying about the fact that I’m not Judith Martin.

I let go (at least a little).

I worry less now about if I’m working during the time period of 9-5. I worry less about replicating the same schedule every week. I worry (a little) less when I have a not-so-productive day. I worry (a little) less about not being able to keep up with every comment, my blog reader, and my email.

And this weekend I unplugged for a whole weekend, and read a novel. It was amazing how much more ready I was to get back to work on Monday.

And with that…

I’m off to New Orleans tomorrow for the Mom 2.0 blogging conference. I keep thinking that this would be a hilarious way to announce to the internet that I’m pregnant, but I’m totally not pregnant (I mean, thank god. I’ve got some Abita’s and mint juleps to drink in NOLA.) I’m just off to talk about the business of blogging, and hang out with a whole lot of smart women that I love a whole lot. As a non-mom.

I’ll report back. Probably tipsy.

Oh, and New Orleans ladies? Anyone who wants to consider meeting me for an early Magazine Street breakfast on Saturday, meet me in the comments. If we have a quorum, we’ll consider it. (It’s a quick trip, so, sorry about that being the only time I’ve got.)

Featured Sponsored Content

  • sorrelle

    Did you like Freedom. I really love the way Franzen writes. I enjoyed the heck ot of that book.

    • sorrelle

      Time to read, just another benefit of working for yourself.

      • Yes! And, honestly, I would add “time to read APW & all of the comments” as another benefit of working for myself.

    • meg

      Loved it. Though I’m 25 pages from being done. And yes, agreed.

  • I’d love to meet up with you! Funnily enough, I don’t live there, but will be in town for a different blogging get together!

    • Maria

      I’d love to meet up with you!!! When & where?

      • Caroline

        I’d love to meet for breakfast Satuday (as long as “early” doesn’t mean pre-7:00 am). Hope you enjoy New Olreans!

      • Rebecca

        So, Meg. Where? When? And what time? I’d love to meet up with you and just…..I’ll try not to go fangirl on you.

    • A-L

      Aaagh! I’d love to meet with Meg, but unfortunately I have to work. I’ll be working from 7:15 until noon on Saturday. Just long enough to miss breakfast with Meg. Unless you do a pre-700 breakfast. In which case, I’ll get my butt out of bed super early.

  • LPC

    But what great photos! (yeah, yeah, famous, yeah, yeah, productive, yeah, yeah, life’s work, damn you look great. ha.)

    • meg

      New camera. It was my birthday present. Go us.

  • Nobody could be Judith Martin. And I think I like things that way.

    I think you’re a great writer. And while I’m not dyslexic, I feel you on the punctuation thing. I have my husband edit everything I write, for work or for play, because he is so good at it. He was forced as a small child to copy edit his father’s screen plays and punctuation rules were drilled into his head. Child labor paid off for me!

  • I was just reading that Cindy Sherman (one of my fav photographic inspirations), never considered herself to be a photographer. Maybe we’re most true to ourselves and our expression without labels? In the elves forum there was a discussion about identifying as a photographer and how to some of us it came slowly. For myriad reasons I too took slowly to the title of “photographer”. In fact, to this day when people ask what I do I don’t say “I’m a photographer” I say “I photograph people”. :)

    • I totally agree. I think the self-identifiers that I’m most proud of are the ones that I use the least. Wife. Sister. Photographer. Writer. Because those are the things that I DO, not necessarily who I am trying to BE. But in doing, I guess I am.

      Or, as Batman says:

      It’s not who we are, but what we do that defines us.

      Thanks, Christian Bale.

      • I think that people put to much pressure on what we “do” as in a “job” and not what we “do” as in wake up in the morning and be a wife, mom, sister, daughter, cook, reader, perpetual 1000 word mis-speller, etc.

        And I completely identify with what you said here:
        “So it literally never occurred to me that writing was an option, or even really something I did (if you write without spelling things properly, do you really write?).”
        I have a degree in creative writing, but I still never identify myself as a writer, because the second I do, I feel too much pressure to be Judith Martin or Nabokov, I can’t just be me and I completely freeze up. It becomes more than writers block, it becomes stifling avoidance.

        The act of writing makes you a writer, spelling mistakes and all. Also, with the daily demands of a blog, I there is always the stopping point where you aren’t allowed to edit it anymore, you just have to post, let go and move on to the next one.

      • Zan

        I totally agree too! Also strangely enough @thisisrachelle and I were just talking about this idea this very morning. The idea that if I want to write, if I love to write, if I want people to take me seriously as I writer I have to be willing to call myself one first.

        It’s a slow process, a bit by bit process, but I’m getting there.

        • meg

          I donno. I don’t really call myself a writer…. other than at cocktail parties, and only because the discussions turn so ugly so quickly when you say blogger, which is what I mean to say. Anyway, I don’t call myself a writer and I got a pretty good book deal, and get quoted in the press. I did call myself an actor, and the weight of it nearly sunk me.

          I would, however, call myself a business woman. And probably an artist (but not an artist out loud, because that just sounds pretentious. I call myself an artist to myself.)

          So I don’t know that you have to call yourself a writer. You just have to write, is all.

          • Zan

            Well, you don’t *have* to, but for me the fake-it-till-you-make-it-and-own-the-thing-you-aspire-to strategy seems like a good one (like Rachelle said).

            For me at least if I say I’m a writer then I get to define what that means for myself. Y’know? Anyway, have fun in New Orleans! I’ve never been, but I hear only good things.

        • I do think sometimes you have to “fake it til you make it” (not that you’re a fake writer, Zan!). For some people, thinking the word and saying the word and owning the word helps them build their confidence when maybe they don’t have a lot there yet to back it up.

  • Class of 1980

    Well, you must be some kind of a writer. How else to explain why I stumbled on an interesting wedding blog and forgot to leave? ;)

    • meg

      SOME kind of writer. Now that’s a title I can get behind.

      It’s kind of like, “that is a baby.” Says just enough.

      • Class of 1980


        Meg Keene
        Some Kind Of Writer

        • meg


  • As a writer myself (publication does not a writer make), I found the actual act of writing was 100 times easier when I didn’t identify myself as such. Or when I knew nothing about the industry. Or developed an irrational fear of cheery, pretty agents. Then again – I write fiction. So the stories tend to get muddled.

    Either way, I understand what it’s like. And you are probably correct – that mentality got you here! (EEEE! CONGRATS CONGRATS CONGRATS! There is NO. BETTER. FEELING. than finishing a book. It’s up there, anyway ;) )

    Enjoy your well deserved break :) I hope to be in your shoes one day!!!!

    • KMA(C)

      OK, so this is not about writing, but it is *exactly* what happened to me with “lawyer.” I loved the law (learning and practicing) in school, but suddenly being an official Esq. seemed to make it 100 times harder and scarier to do anything. The more I think about it, the more it does seem to be the label that is a stumbling block. Must think more on remedies…

      • I think it’s a fairly common fear – from failure more than anything else. Once you own the title, little gnats start cropping up: “What if you are terrible? Everyone will know you as the [Title] Failure!”

        It’s uh… debilitating sometimes. You just have to push through it.

        In November of 2009, I wrote a 57,000 word rough draft for a novel in a month. Clearly, I can make words happen. Mind over matter is just difficult, sometimes, when your Mind decides reputation matters.

      • And sometimes using a self-given label and owning it has power. I know that, for me anyways, I felt a big difference in the degree of professionalism of my career at the point where I stopped expressing that I “wanted to do theatre” and decided to just define myself as a “director.” I think it doesn’t really matter what the exact title is- “writer,” “sharer of stories,” “director of new work,” “community builder,” or whatever- it just matters that the individual captures what they feel is most essential about what they do in the words they choose to define themselves. For me, actually defining myself as a director gave me more courage to take risks to make my dreams happen. :) Maybe because it was a little scary to say it out loud, so then it motivated me to action?

      • How interesting! Insecurity about my abilities and intelligence debiliated me in law school, but now that I’m licensed I feel like the Queen of Effing Everything. The title’s been empowering for me. I’ve felt the same thing with writing. I always called myself an apsiring writer, and then one day I realized, hell, I write every day. I am A Writer. And since then, the words have poured forth.

  • I”m listening to Freedom right now! I really dig it so far. Though there are moments that I’m unsure as of yet how to feel about.

    Also as a fellow person who is dyslexic, can’t spell for shit, can’t punctuate and is generally very word blind, I salute you.

  • Joanna

    Good on you, Meg! Get tipsy, and also indulge in all of that delicious New Orleans fare. The APW book is a big deal, so you should celebrate any chance you get. (Pretty good rule, right?)

    Well, being really good at editing has pretty much made me bad at writing. Or at least, I think about how I’m saying something (in a way that hinders my creativity). This makes it really tricky for me to write interesting, VOICE-y posts on my own blog. I wish everything I type could sound true and uncontrived, so I’m kinda working on that myself.

    • I have this same problem! I am a technical editor by trade, and used to write news stories. Somewhere in all that, writing creatively with a “voice” has become hard. I get too hung up on the idiosyncrasies of the grammar, style, etc. It makes me a little sad. I use my blog to try to get over that somewhat – just come up with an idea, run with it, and hit publish, dangit!

  • I don’t remember if I listed these as some of my favorite posts on APW when I filled out my survey, but I’m starting to think that these posts are right up there with reclaiming wife for me.

    • Lauren

      Um, can I just say how excited I am that my favorite enviro/eco-blogger reads and comments at my favorite wedding blog. If you guys are looking for smart commentary on environmental issues, read Ruchi/Arduous’ archives!

      • Aww, thanks Lauren. *blushing*

  • Anna

    Go to Slim Goodies. Good greasy food, colorful atmosphere and it was the first restaurant open after the storm. Bring cash, don’t get the grits

  • april

    Damn, you’re cute and totally photogenic.

    Oh, yeah – awesome writer finishing rad book – that’s pretty rockin’ too. :-) Have fun in the Big Easy, girlfriend!

  • Meg you’re so pretty! Has anyone told you that you look like Jenna Fischer from The Office?

    • meg

      In high school it was Fiona Apple. In college it was Denise Richards (25 times a day). This Jenna Fisher thing is new, within the last six months. I don’t know what to think about it. Hum.

    • meg

      Ok. In retrospect, that second picture makes me looks more like Jenna Fisher than is accurate. And thank you for calling me pretty. YOU’RE pretty. And those shoes are adorable.

  • A giant congrats to you! How exciting! And I wish you all the best in the next steps of the book.

  • Mallory

    I don’t know if it’s quite in season yet but if the Strawberry Abita is out, TRY IT! Coming from a total beer snob that usually dislikes fruit beers, this one is actually good, in kind of a weird way… but worth a try at least.

  • Edelweiss

    Congrats on finishing getting the words on paper! THAT IS HUGE.

    I have two requests for you (totally acknowledging that I have no right to request things):

    1. The (beautiful) shot of you with your laptop on the couch makes me furrow my brow. I was lucky enough to have a job where I could work from home for a year and half and I did almost all my work in PJs on my couch because – how aweome! My back hated me for it. HATED. I’m young and spry and it still had unhealthy consequences. I hope you sit upon a chair for at least a few hours a day.

    2. Please post something about what you eat in New Orleans, even if it’s just 1 favorite meal. We’re going there at the end of April and we obsessively menu plan our vacations.

    • meg

      Oh, I don’t work from the couch. I was working after work, as I do. And by 6pm, when that was taken, I usually am on the couch.

      NOLA, we shall see. I’ve done this city before, so I have a pretty good idea that fried chicken, mint juleps, and pralines are in my future.

      • Yum, yum, and yum. Mint juleps > hurricanes, IMHO. The hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s WAS fun to drink, though. :)

        I <3 NOLA!

    • @Edelweiss, my husband is a self-professed foodie, and his favorite food town is NOLA. Feel free to drop me a note ( irisira [at] gmail [dot] com ) and I can help with this. :)

  • meredythbyrd

    I teach writing for a living at a community college and I plan to use your example of how someone who doesn’t think of herself as a writer is a writer I read daily (as well as some other smart ladies you have on this site and elsewhere. GirlsGoneChild is how I found myself here).

    I like that you, as someone who doesn’t spell well, or punctuate properly every time has made a career of writing because it really emphasizes that it’s not about being a lyrical, poetic *artiste* but about having something to say and putting it in ways that people identify with. So many of my students come to the college with the mindset that they can’t be a writer because our culture has this mindblock about what being a writer is (I admit, I have it too) and then it’s like they’re setting themselves up to fail. But being a writer is much like being any other sort of professional. 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration (thank you Edison!) There is hard work involved but the end result is fantastic and anyone willing to put in the work will have results they can be proud of, regardless of their spelling and grammar at the beginning of the process. I have students with ESL challenges and those who suffer from a lack of preparation in high school or earlier, and I have students with the same challenges you had and I think you will be a great example for them and for me as I start focusing on being a writer and less on being a teacher in my own personal life.

    • meg

      Ooooh. I love that. I’m honored.

  • Dana


    Congratulations Meg!

  • Abita Strawberry Harvest – mmmmm… :)

    Congrats on finishing the book! Can’t wait to read it.

  • Okay, first of all, that second picture TOTALLY makes you look like Jenna Fischer and it’s totally adorable. But I agree, I think you do have a JF-way about you (although I’ve never met you in person but whatevs.)

    Secondly, I’m hoping since you like being edited you won’t hate me for mentioning–but technically I don’t think that was a back-handed compliment. Because those are disguised insults. Like, “Your blue eyes take all the attention from your big ears.” Right? Maybe his was a…front-handed insult? I’m so confused now. Either way, he was technically being nice, so I need to shut up about it.

    Thirdly, you rock. Keep on chugging, because I can’t WAIT to buy the book.

    • meg

      Front handed insult. Ha. He was being nice, but he was being sneaky. He didn’t just come out and say something nice ;)

  • Erika

    Just back from NOLA yesterday! It was 86 degrees! I’m sunburned! Now back in rainy New York. If you’re looking for brunch recommendations, try Surrey’s on Magazine near Terpsichore!

  • Meg, as someone who used to write for a living, I LOVE it when people edit my work. I love red ink. Now, granted, my life as a writer was as a journalist, so that may have something to do with it. Good writers know there’s ALWAYS room for improvement, so I would say that means you DO have faith in your work. :)

  • Sarah

    As someone who has just spent DAYS and DAYS writing one paragraph, you’ve officially kicked by butt into gear… words on paper… words on paper… words on paper.

  • I just wanted to say I REALLY appreciate your posts about working for yourself/entrepreneurship. I’m planning on starting a business this year, and the idea of it is TERRIFYING, but also feels completely right. Your posts about being self-employed make me feel less of the former and more of the latter. Which in turn makes me feel less overwhelmed and more able to attack my to-do list. So thaaaaaanks!

  • Sara

    I think one of the marks of a professional in any field is the ability to capitalize on strengths and graciously accept assistance in weaker areas, which you always do. We can all agree that it is the content and the style that make the writer, and by those criteria you are without question a wonderful writer. The caveat is that spelling and grammar errors can detract from an important message, and I know all the grammar nerds out there agree with me. Your recognition that extra editing benefits both your book and your blog is laudable. I hope you will accept my sincere congratulations on your successes, and my encouragement to keep up the outstanding work.

    • This grammar nerd wishes there was an Editz button on every web site. Meg & staff are very smart to recognize that!

    • I had a teaching composition professor who says those sentence level errors are like spinach in the teeth. No matter how awesome what you’re saying is, if you have a lot of errors I get distracted by them and can’t focus on your great ideas (while wondering why you don’t look in a mirror). My students immediately understand the analogy.
      Sometimes when a paper is riddled with them this professor would stop reading and just write that “I stopped here because there is too much spinach”.
      I admit, Meg’s grammar had the nerd in me come out a few times, but as her ideas and passion were so evident, and there weren’t errors that interfered with understanding the meaning I could let it slide. I do like that she readily admits her weaknesses and is working on improving them. I tend to think that glaring errors are unprofessional, but at the same time, a blog has different standards. Now if it were my students’ papers I’d be marking it. But improving is a process and I see improvement here. Plus I just like the writing style way more than I hate seeing errors.

      Now to get my students to write so intelligently and passionately about ANYTHING they care about nearly as much as Meg (and all of us) care about the content on this site…

  • Holy crap, Meg! You’re dyslexic? And you still put out this freakin much perfect-looking content? On top of everything else? I’m blown away.

    • meg

      Yes. I’m not super dyslexic, I’m mildly dyslexic. I used to write all my letters backwards because I couldn’t tell the difference, and I can’t spell, and it’s really hard for me to see errors. But I’m a CRACK reader. I couldn’t learn to read till the third grade, and then I was reading Little Women, and now I read 600 page novels in a weekend. So yes, it’s strange. But it isn’t easy… though it makes writing easier, I suppose, since I can’t be a perfectionist?

      • Class of 1980

        It’s harder for most people to see their own errors even if they’re not dyslexic. It’s much easier to proofread other people’s work. I’m not sure why that is.

        • I can tell if there are two spaces between words when editing my partner’s emails, but sometimes fail to notice big things like using the wrong verb tense in my own writing! I think since your brain already knows what you’re trying to say, it often just skims right over the part with the error in it and understands the concept. When you read other people’s writing you’re paying more attention so you can capture the meaning behind the words; when you’re editing or proofreading, you’re obviously being even more critical.

      • Danielle

        Ooh, good point, Meg. Perfectionism is a KILLER (of creativity, etc).

  • Emily

    Can someone help an Australian out? What’s NOLA? I’m guessing the first two letters are New Orleans but then I’m stumped. Help!

    • Paranoid Libra

      NOLA= New Orleans, Louisiana. The LA is the abreviation for Louisiana, the US state it’s in.

      I love NOLA…and I desperately want to go Down Under.

      Go further down Bourbon Street to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shoppe. They even make a virgin hurricane for nondrinkers like myself so I still had hurricanes in NOLA and didn’t get trashed on Bourbon St. I was told that their hurricanes were actually better than Pat O’briens. So much magic in that city seriously need to go back noooowwwwww. Hell I’d love to live there.

      • Me too, Libra, me too. My husband and I actually have seriously discussed moving there at some point. We’re happy where we are now, but it’s in the back of our minds …

        I’m afraid if I go back I won’t want to leave!

      • meg

        Trust me, Pat O’Briens and I do not mix, except under duress. That place is the TGI Friday’s of the south, if you ask me. I’m not a huge fan of the quarter, if we’re being honest, excepting Preservation Hall. Magazine Street though? Uptown? Yess…

  • Loved this post. Despite your humbleness towards this, it has “accomplishment” written all over it…

    You are a (wonderful) writer, dear Meg! You really are.

    And I love the pictures too. But? I know it’s in April but did you have a b-day already? Did I miss your birthday? :-(

    • meg

      No, no. Monday. But I got the camera a little early for NOLA.

  • Jessica

    Meg, you have the most adorable smile!

  • Midwest Lantern

    Good writing is not about punctuation. A fair share of it is about bravery. And you’ve got that. :)

    • Not only does she have that, it’s in her marriage mission statement!

  • Oh hey! I’m dislexic and can’t punctuate or spell for anything but studied writing like a lunatic. Way to be. (:

  • After reading this, I’ve decided that as a graduate student I’m working for myself. Thinking about it that way makes what I’m doing feel a little bit better in my mind.

  • I realize that this had a lot of juicy and exciting news [holy cow, the book is almost done!?], but I’m so jealous you get to spend some time, even for a few days, in NOLA! Have a blast! :)

  • Meg, these make me warm and fuzzy.

    Thanks for sharing your struggles and breakthroughs.

  • Congratulations on churning out all of those pages!

    I’ve just recently begun to self-identify as a writer and grapple with “what is it that makes me a bona-fide writer” question. Have you read Artists’ Way? I’m halfway through it, and Julia Cameron identifies many of the objections you listed. It’s been very powerful for me in owning the title.