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August Writer’s Life: New gig, letting go & mental health [#yearofwriting]

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I don’t know how to say this other than to say it: August has been a very, very difficult month for me. It’s not because I didn’t have any work and was suffering financially (thank goodness) but because there were some changes and adjustments at Romper that seriously affected my mental health.

Without going into too many details and completely acknowledging that it is nobody’s fault, my life became extremely stressful this month. Not only was Romper completely overwhelming me, but there were other things in my life that were weighing heavily on me and seriously impacting my work. Not only was my workload basically unmanageable, but my health began to suffer too.

What I am finding out is that my mental health suffers greatly when I am feeling overwhelmed by work and it leaves my general health in shambles. Whenever I am stressing out, the first thing I reach for is soda and candy… so there was a LOT of unhealthy eating this month. After much deliberation, reconnecting with my therapist and support from Adam, I decided to let go of my PT writing gig at Romper (for now?).

What was published: 

Romper, specifically: 

Clearly, I still enjoyed writing for Romper. There were so many fun articles that I got to do this month, so quitting was a difficult decision. But, as I had predicted, the minute that I did, I felt a huge relief off of my shoulders. Romper was great for my career and I loved my time there… But, ultimately, it’s important to do what’s best for me and what is best for my mental health. I’m proud of this decision.

How much I wrote: 24,237 words

How much I made: $1,545

Because I was so overwhelmed with my Romper work this month, I didn’t freelance much and I basically didn’t pitch… Except one.

Pitches sent out in August: 1*
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 0
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 0

*This editor received 8 pitches, accepted them all, and then asked me to write for them regularly, so…. Pretty good start, I think!

In other MUCH more exciting news, I managed to send one pitch out this month (or, rather, eight pitches to one editor), they were ALL accepted and I am now going to start being a regular contributor to the site in question: HipLatina!

I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled about this, to be honest. I have really missed writing personal essays during my time at Romper and I have also missed doing more cultural identity pieces, both of which are going to be very welcome at HipLatina. Hopefully, you’ve already seen some of my first pieces above—but get ready for more.

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July Writer’s Life: Why I write about alcoholism recovery [#yearofwriting]

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Well, after a very successful first six months of the year in terms of pitching, I am flailing a little bit (as you will see later). Predictably, most of my time these days is taken up by my food editor job and my PT writing gig at Romper. It’s been great the past few months, but I find myself with less and less time to do other work.

However, what made me proudest this past month is the publication of a personal essay that I wrote for Headspace. In case you haven’t heard or read my previous piece about them, Headspace is a mindful meditation app and part of the current trend in that space. Not only have I been a fan of theirs for a while, but I have also been a fan of their blog and hoping to break in there soon. And I have!

My piece on meditation and alcoholism recovery went live this month, though I actually pitched it back in March and turned it in a month later. And it’s FINALLY UP! It was a really special piece to write, and I hope you will read it. As I continue along this journey of recovery, it is important for me to share what works and what doesn’t, plus the daily struggles and the successes, with the ultimate goal of inspiring others who may be dealing with some of these issues.

Anyway, without further ado, here is what I did this month.

What was published: 

Romper, specifically: 

As I mentioned above, my month was pretty filled with Romper writing. And that was really fun and great for my word count. Just take a look…

How much I wrote: 33,350 words

How much I made: $2,071

I wrote a lot, and that was phenomenal. But as it turns out, spending all of my days on editing and writing wasn’t good for my pitching game.

Pitches sent out in July: 3*
Pitch rejections: 2
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 0
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 0
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 0

*1 editor received 3 pitches, 1 editor received 4 pitches and 1 editor received 13 pitches… so this could also be 20 instead.

Although you could sort-of say that I send out 20 pitches, the truth is that working with the same editors all the time can be both good and bad. On the one hand, it’s great for my confidence because it (hopefully) means that I am pleasant to work with and that the editor enjoys my writing. On the other hand, it doesn’t fulfill my desire to pitch new publications and get bylines in bigger places. So, you know, both good and bad.

This month wasn’t so great for pitching, but I am hoping that things at Romper will continue to stabilize and that I will be able to make more time next month. Until then, happy writing!

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I’m going to read 101 audiobooks in 1001 days

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Anyone who knows me also likely knows that I love almost nothing more than signing up for challenges. They thrill me, really.

Last year, I did a pescatarian Whole30 (and I quit early), a “writing every day” challenge for the month of July (and I quit that early too), and earlier this year signed up for the #52esssays2017 challenge. Although I haven’t officially quit the latter yet, I haven’t really been doing much for it lately either. In fact, it’s been out of sight, out of mind lately.

So when I told a friend recently that I was thinking of giving myself a new challenge, he said: “When is the blog post of ‘why I’m glad I quit early’ coming?” And he’s not wrong. It’s just what I do.

I think the reason that I love signing up for challenges so much is that it gives me something new to focus on. I love learning something new, trying something new, just really anything new.

And then I get bored.

I get bored really easily, and really fast. It’s a weird almost curse, really, because it’s a skill that has really helped me in my career as a journalist. That ability to move on from story to story and project to project quickly gets my creative juices flowing. It allows me to go from one thing to the other quite easily, and I am never for a lack of ideas.

In fact, that same friend has often wondered just how I can fit so many ideas in my head. Well, I can. It’s just one of those things that comes naturally to me. My brain doesn’t shut up with the new ideas, ever.

And that can be a really good thing as a journalist and writer. But that hasn’t really served me well as an aspiring author, because there just hasn’t been a book that I have been able to finish due to this inability to stay still. I’m still working on my memoir, Moscow Chica, but I am also constantly thinking about the next book or whether I should pause to work on my YA novel instead. It’s a pain!

But I keep going, I keep trying, and I keep signing up for new challenges.

Today’s new challenge is this: I am promising to read 101 audiobooks in the next 1001 days (roughly 33 months, or just over 2.7 years).

There’s actually a few reasons why I am signing myself up for this self-imposed challenge as someone who sucks at keeping up with her own challenges.

Basically, I absolutely LOVE books. As an aspiring author, I own probably somewhere close to 200 books on my Kindle and another 200 on my physical bookshelf. I have another 50 in my Amazon Wish List and, if I counted up all of the books that I’ve ever owned (many of which I donated after a while because I just didn’t have time to read them), the number would probably be at least four thousand. What can I say? I love books!

The problem with loving books, other than the money spent on them, is that I recently realized that I just don’t have time to read books. What’s more, I get bored reading books. It’s not that I don’t love the subject matter or I’m not intrigued by the story, but I’m an extrovert who already spends way too much time at home due to the nature of my job. So when it comes to laying on the couch on a Sunday to read for hours… Well, I just can’t do it.

Luckily, in my confession of being a writer who doesn’t read, I discovered something else, something that I have been resisting for years (ever since that same friend I mentioned earlier started this habit): I love audiobooks!

No, seriously… I absofuckinlutely LOVE audiobooks.

I honestly don’t know why I have resisted them for so long. I guess, in some strange way, as someone who enjoys putting words on paper, I felt that the only “right” way to read was to physically read those same words off of paper. But I just don’t have the patience or attention span for it so, after experimenting with audiobooks and podcasts in May, I have finally come to terms with my newfound love.

And the great thing? Audiobooks are awesome. They have allowed me to read no less than four books in the past month. With a nice little start to my Must Read List, I decided that tackling 101 books would be the next smart thing to do.

In fact, I have created a separate page on this site for the challenge. Check it out here: 101 (Audio) Books in 1001 Days.

On that page is all the basics. When I started (6/28/2017), when I hope to finish (March 2020) and how many books I have read so far (4, though I am close to finishing book #5 at the moment).

I am also going to include a thorough list of everything I have read on that page. Honestly, I just want to see how many books I have read and it’s a nice way to keep records of my thoughts about each book without doing an actual book review (because I am not good at critiques).

On that page, you’ll also find an extensive list of my upcoming books. They’re listed in no particular order but basically include books I already own on Audible, books that I own on my Kindle that I have instead found in my local library’s audio app (because, let’s face it, that Kindle reading is never happening), and some books that are on that Amazon Wish List.

I’m currently at 71 books on my list, but I am sure that I will be adding more through the next couple of years. There’s always something new to read, and I can’t even guarantee that the books currently on my Must Read List will necessarily stay there.

What I can guarantee, however, is that I am excited by this new challenge.

Sure, that might just be because it’s a new challenge and I love anything new. That’s certainly a factor. But I think the real thing I love about this challenge is that it’s a natural manifestation of what I already love: Reading.

I am definitely one of those people (and I know there are many of us) who feels that they don’t read enough. Well, you know what? Some of my favorite days these past few months have been days where I have devoted almost all of my Sunday to “reading” while I do my weekly chores (like buying groceries, cooking lunch for the week, and laundry) and trying some new hobbies.

Plus, there’s nothing quite as fun as starting my day by showering while “reading” and making my breakfast while “reading” every morning.

It’s been thrilling to try podcasts, which I hope to also still have time for, but actively engaging with books and reading has reawakened something in me this past month. And I hope to keep going.

After all, #irinadoesntread… But she does listen to audiobooks!

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June Writer’s Life: My GLAMOUR piece and Q2/YTD totals [#yearofwriting]

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So it’s officially been 6 months since I started my #yearofwriting challenge. It’s been a really interesting road since then. At the beginning, I hired a writing coach to reach the next level of my career and ended up spending a lot of time pitching new stories. In fact, one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve achieved is that I have already been published in 17 publications this year (which was one of my top writing goals for 2017). So woo hoo!

In June in particular, I have FINALLY been published in one of my dream publications: GLAMOUR! That’s been a really huge accomplishment, really, and it’s a piece that I absolutely love (about how I got engaged with a $35 engagement ring and basically about the new trend to go away from diamonds in creative ways). Other than that, I also wanted to share my Quarter 2 totals as well as the 6-month check-in of how my writing has gone this year. It’s fun to track, so check it out below.

What was published: 

Romper, specifically: 

Look at all of that! I didn’t have quite as many freelance pieces published this month as in the past, but my Romper writing has officially increased to 3 pieces a day (3 times a week) and that’s pretty intense. I really love everything that I am writing so far, but am especially proud of the “My Body, My Choice” piece for Ravishly. It’s something that I feel very strongly about, that needed to be said, and that I have had a lot of positive feedback on.

How much I wrote: 39,077 words

How much I made: $2302

Well, and I am sure that this is because I have been doing more for Romper this month, my word count definitely increased this month. So exciting! However, I had less of an income because I didn’t put myself out there that much (in terms of pitches) in the month of May, so I had less to write this month.

Pitches sent out in June: 5*
Pitch rejections: 2
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 0
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 0
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 0

*1 editor received 4 pitches, 1 editor received 5 pitches and 1 editor received 8 pitches… so this could also be 19 instead.

Here’s the thing about pitches this month and last month, which subsequently made me make less money this month: I am okay with it. My writing coach actually warned me about this, how if I slack off on pitches one month, it is likely to affect my income the next month.

It’s true, yes, that I have had a lot less pitches going out since I started writing for Romper. It’s also true that I have made less money from those particular pieces… BUT I am also really happy with having regular work (and thus regular income) from Romper every single week. It’s now a huge chunk of my overall monthly freelance writing income, along with a little bit still from Mom.me and MamásLatinas.

In the coming months, I’d like to strike a little bit more of a balance and have some more pitches going out… but for now, I am happy to be writing tons for Romper, Mom.me, and MamásLatinas and less for other publications. After all, I already accomplished my BIG goal of having a byline in at least 17 publications this year, so that’s a huge win for the year.

That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to slack off on my pitches, but it does mean that I can take it a little easier and give myself a break because the reality is that I wouldn’t even have the time to take on too many new freelance pieces even if I tried.

Quarter 2 totals: 

How much I wrote: 91,014 words
How much I made: $6,860
Pitches sent out: 12
Pitch acceptances: 4

6-month totals: 

How much I wrote: 138,508 words
How much I made: $10,410
Pitches sent out: 78
Pitch acceptances: 14

So in looking at these Q2 totals and my YTD totals (aka the 6-month check-in), I am astounded by the fact that I have written basically two novel’s worth of work. That’s seriously CRAZY to me!

Considering that this time last year, I was writing here and there and basically haphazardly (while working full-time as an editor), this is a huge turn-around for me. I’m still working mostly as an editor, but finding the time to exercise my writing skills has really been amazing these past six months.

As you can clearly see, I definitely made more money and have written a lot more in Q2 and that’s mostly due to Romper. However, with this new job and reaching the 6-month mark of my #yearofwriting, I have decided to take a look at my writing goals for 2017 and I may be editing them some. Stay tuned…

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Confession: My biggest shame in life is that I’m a writer who doesn’t read

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This is my absolute deepest, most secret shame… I don’t read.

I know that might be a funny or surprising thing to say considering that I am in recovery and could probably shock even the closest of friends with some of my worst drinking stories (only my partner Adam knows them all), but it’s true.

You see, I love books.

No, seriously, I love love LOVE books. I love the way they smell, I love the way they look, I love holding them, I love collecting them, I love the way they decorate my bookcase, I love that buying them supports another writer, and I love owning them. Seriously, I *love* books!

So what the heck is wrong with me that I don’t read?

I can tell you right now that I have probably owned at least a thousand books in my lifetime. Working as a journalist has allowed me to buy books for cheap, to give them away when I was done with them, to get books for free even, and so much more. When I was really into cooking, I would buy every cookbook I could find (often for $1), and eventually donated them. The same happened when I was really into writing chick lit and YA, books which I eventually gave to my friend who is a teacher.

These days I have stopped buying physical books, and instead switched to ebooks. I thought this was a great switch for me, and even loved it for quite a while. But now I own at least 200 books on my Kindle, most of which I have not actually read.

In fact, as I was doing my taxes last year, I discovered that I spent $1,500 on books. Thanks goodness it’s a tax write-off!

Do you know how many of those books that I bought last year I actually read?

None.

That’s right. Last year, I bought a shitton of books and read absolutely none of them from start to finish… And I feel absolutely horrible about that. I feel guilty, like a loser, like a failed writer, and like a fake.

A common piece of advice that we writers get is that we should be READING ALL THE TIME. It’s a well-known way to learn “the craft” of writing, by simply reading what others do, learning from those that came before you, absorbing their stories and their prose and their sentence structure and… Yeah, all of that.

I don’t disagree with this piece of advice. It’s just I don’t exactly follow it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t get why I don’t follow it considering just how much I truly, truly love books. I love learning about people’s stories, I love fiction and non-fiction and absorbing things about other’s lives. I’ve fallen in love with memoir, and I try to read as much of it as I can while also working on my own memoir, Moscow Chica.

Or at least I want to, in theory. But I don’t read.

Instead, I buy books and then feel guilty because they stay sitting on my shelf, lying on my nightstand, or waiting on my Kindle.

In fact, even my Kindle is a brand-new purchase. Last year, in hopes of reading more, I switched from an iPad to a Kindle. I bought it around the Thanksgiving Day sale on Amazon for a cool $50. I almost bought a fancier, pricier version in hopes that would motivate me further (but I’m really glad I didn’t, because it hasn’t).

I spent hours setting up my Kindle and making it perfect.

All of my books are now in categories, and that makes me SO happy. All of the books I have ever bought in digital form are just happily waiting for me to finally open them, and yet I never do it.

Why is that? What the hell is wrong with me, a writer for the entirety of my 10+ year career and beforehand, that I don’t actually read?

I think I have finally figured it out, actually. The reason behind my oh-so-secret shame as a writer is that I am an extrovert.

Yes, that’s what I said: I am an extrovert and that is why I, a writer who absolutely LOVES books, doesn’t read.

Here’s what typically happens when I sit down to read a book: I read a chapter or two, sometimes more, and then I get antsy and bored. The last time I read a good chunk of my current bookclub book (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, a writer I love and follow), I got through to the next section and then decided to go get a manicure and pedicure.

Sometimes, I start reading and decide that I have to take care of the dishes RIGHT NOW, or that I should be cleaning out the litter box, or that I want to draw, or that I want to catch up with Facebook, or whatever. There’s just always something. Something else I want to be doing that isn’t sitting there and reading. A lot of the times I want to be doing something else that involves other people, which is why I often run off to get a mani-pedi or even put in a movie instead.

In a weird way, reading is too isolating to me.

And I know what you’re going to say: Reading is all about using your imagination! You live in the world of the books! You’re involved with those characters!

Hey, I get that, and I don’t disagree. But at the same time, I am realizing that what reading is missing for me is a more personal connection. When I read, I just hear my own voice in my head and somehow… that’s boring.

I don’t know what to make of this, but I just am not good at reading books.

Here’s the other thing I realized, though: I actually do read. I read constantly. I am also an editor, so I am always reading other people’s writing. And because I am a journalist, I am constantly reading other people’s published articles. I am in a few Facebook groups, where people post their most recent stories, and I am often either saving them to read later (sorry, must be more of the not reading issues) because they’re too long for me at the moment or I’m reading them right then and there.

I am constantly consuming media, really, because I am also always either watching television or listening to Spotify or, my newest thing, listening to podcasts.

I talked about it briefly recently when I confessed that I had some middle-of-the-night issues as a writer, but I have fallen in love HARD with podcasts.

Currently, I’m listening primarily to Dear Sugar Radio (that’s Cheryl Strayed’s podcast), Happier with Gretchen Rubin (another writer I love), Modern Love, Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (ditto as Cheryl and Gretchen), Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain (learning something about my partner, Adam, who is an introvert), and many more.

What I’m finding out as I learn more about myself as a writer and as a person in general is that I need to connect with others in order to “recharge”. That’s the whole extrovert thing. And I guess that reading just isn’t recharging enough for me, but somehow watching television or listening to a podcast is recharging.

Even though in those cases I’m not actually spending time with people, I’m still somehow around people in a weird way. If I’m watching a television show or movie that I like, I’m still learning something or feeling close to someone else (even if they’re a fictional character). And with podcasts… Well, even better!

The reason why I’ve fallen in love with podcasts is because one of the reasons I enjoy reading (and do read a lot of articles, honestly) is to learn things, and podcasts are a great way for me to learn.

I also realized that I enjoy audiobooks, after many, many, MANY years of poking fun at one of my best friends (who also happens to be a journalist) who doesn’t read but instead has been listening to audiobooks for years now. I used to think it was kind of funny that he didn’t read (I even gave him the hashtag #jessedoesntread), but now I realize that audiobooks are AWESOME.

I discovered those a couple of months ago, during my April book club, when I listened to Jurassic Park. Then in May, I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, in June, I am struggling through reading Wild (because I don’t have the audiobook), and it shows.

Perhaps the other reason I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks and podcasts is because I love multi-tasking, and simply “listening” to something (while learning or absorbing whatever it is that I am hearing) is fulfilling… because I can also be doing something else.

I absolutely loved listening to Jurassic Park all day on a Sunday, for instance, while organizing the second bedroom of my house (which has long been on my To Do List). Lately, I’ve been listening to various podcasts while doing laundry and cooking for the week on Sundays. It helps me pass the time and makes me less bored, honestly.

As I grow and mature as a writer and as a person, I am trying to let go of the expectations that I have for myself and the things that make me needlessly guilty.

So today I am confessing that I am a writer who doesn’t read… Or rather, a writer who has found that sitting down and reading a book for hours just isn’t for me because I need more activity and movement and noise in my life. So instead, I am a writer who loves to read… audiobooks and podcasts and articles that don’t take me too long.

I think that this new realization about myself will actually make me a better writer because I will spend less time obsessing or feeling bad that I’m not reading something, and instead do more “reading” with my audiobooks.

I can’t even begin to tell you how great it feels to wake up, turn on my podcasts (or Audible app), and take my shower while “reading”… Maybe more serious writers will completely judge me for this and tell me that I’m not a real writer if I’m not reading at least a book a week, but that just isn’t me. And I’m tired of living up to the expectations of what a writer should be, and instead am just going to be myself. #irinadoesntread

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