Why this is finally the year that I learn to focus

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Last year, I wrote about my #yearofwriting and even determined new writing goals for 2018. Although I am continuing my #yearofwriting adventures this year, mostly because it is a good way for me to track all of my writing and my income, I also want to do something a little different this year.

And so, after a lot of thinking, I decided that 2018 is my Year of Focus. As with last year, my word of the year is primarily meant to help me in my writing career. Although last year it was all about taking my writing career to the next level (which I did, being published in over 17 places, writing 277,889 words and earning $62,381 for the year), this year is about actually focusing on very particular goals.


That’s what I really need this year, which is why I only really have three writing goals this year. Sure, there are still other things that I want to accomplish (like being published in a print magazine instead of just its website), but the point of the #yearoffocus is that I make decisions based on what is going to best help me accomplish those goals.

That’s also why I kept my goal list pretty short this year, too, so that I could truly FOCUS on: 1. diversifying my freelance writing and earning an income of $5,000 a month, 2. finishing the memoir book proposal and getting an agent, 3. paying off credit card debt and saving to move to Los Angeles.

Basically, this year is about making more money. Yes, that might seem selfish because we writers are often seen as creative types who shouldn’t worry about things like money and just focus on the creative but, well, that’s just freaking unrealistic.

Like anyone else, I have bills to pay and things that I want to do in my life which require copious amounts of money (like moving cross-country). But I also wanted to include a creative goal in there, too, because I think it’s really important for writers to balance between for-money work and for-creative-love work. Luckily, even most of my for money-work is pretty fulfilling, since I write a lot about Latinx issues (a particular passion of mine) or personal essays.

But focusing this year means that I am going to try my damnedest to not let other things distract me… Like ideas to start a podcast, write a YA novel, and travel to Japan. Yes, those are still big lifetime goals of mine but I am not going to let them distract me from my ACTUAL goals for 2018. And that’s, honestly, kind of a breakthrough for me.

You see, I’m the kind of person who sometimes has too many ideas for her own good. I am constantly thinking up something new and trying it, then quitting. And while I never regret the trying something new or the quitting (typically), I need to not allow myself to let that get out of control this year. Hence, welcome to the #yearoffocus!

I know it’s not going to be easy because, honestly, I consider my ability to generate a ton of ideas a positive attribute. But sometimes I get obsessive about them and absolutely HAVE to do something that isn’t necessarily in line with what I previously said I was going to do. I am hoping that by focusing on, well, focusing this year, I will be able to let go of some of that energy and instead channel it into my other goals.

If I get an idea to start a new blog or write a new book or even start a podcast, I can instead figure out a way to make that into a story that I can pitch and accomplish goal #1 (diversify freelance and earn more income). In fact, I am starting a pitching challenge in March that I am hoping will seriously help with this goal… More on that in the future.

In the meantime, here’s to recognizing that, sometimes, focusing is the best thing you can do for yourself, even when it’s difficult. Hopefully my #yearoffocus will go just as well as last year!

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(Image via Stefan Cosma/Unsplash)

Why being fired as a freelancer is way better than being fired from a “real” job

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The last time I wrote here on my little blog + portfolio site, I talked excitedly about my 2018 writing goals.

I had set big ones for myself in 2017 and accomplished half of them early, so I revised my goals for 2017 and accomplish most of those too. It felt great. In fact, I felt REALLY GOOD going into 2018. The biggest thing is that I got married at the end of 2017 to the man who has proven, time and again, to be my #1 fan. The second thing is that, after a year of posting about my #yearofwriting, I tallied up the numbers and discovered that I wrote 277,889 words and made $62,381 during 2017.

Again, that all felt GREAT. I was psyched and ready to tackle my 2018 goals. Primarily, those were to: write regularly for Latinx publications, save all of my freelance income for 2018, get an agent and sell my memoir.

Well… Today is it only a month and a half after I set those goals and I have to change them ASAP. Here’s why:

After what I thought was a great start to the year, my main gig (Freelance Editor at Brit+Co) got eliminated due to budgeting issues at the end of January. Beyond that, another freelance relationship (contributor at MamásLatinas) ended too. You could say that I found myself, all of a sudden, up shit’s creek without a paddle. What was I going to do without TWO of my regular three sources of income gone?

Well… It turns out that having two jobs fall through all at once, when you’re a freelancer, isn’t quite the same as it happening when you’re a full-time employee. Want to know why? Because, as a freelancer, you typically have several sources of income. And although that sounds a bit stressful and the reason for it is that you are unsure of payments happening on time, assignments coming through, etc, the truth is also that you diversify because you want to and you have to. But the thing with diversifying your income is that, even when losing something (and even when losing the gig that is 70% of your income), you aren’t FULLY shit out of luck.

The thing about being freelance is that I won’t be going on unemployment because of this loss, since I’m not an employee anyway. Although that may seem as a big loss to some, I’m actually excited because I still have a few places I can depend on to earn me the money I need to survive.

Does that sound like a silver lining? I sure think so.

I don’t have to spend the next few months applying every for any job I see. All I have to do is rework my schedule a bit, possibly write more for one of my favorite gigs (Contributor at Hip Latina), find a couple other steady writing jobs (which isn’t easy, I admit), and otherwise start pitching like mad.

Although the “pitching like mad” might be a little bit scary, and it is, the truth is that it’s something I can actively do every single day to set myself up for success.

When you’re a full-time employee and you lose a job, you have fewer options.

I should know, since that’s basically what happened to me when I lost my dream job back in April 2015. Hey, I’m not proud of that (a lot of it had to do with my alcoholism at the time, which I am thankfully now in recovery for) but it put me on the path to getting help AND to becoming a full-time freelancer. Now, almost three years since that dark time and two years since I moved out of NYC and became a full-time writer and editor, things are different for me.

Not only am I happily married, successful at not drinking, and pretty gosh darn thrilled with my life, I’m also successful in what I do. I earned a bit more in 2017 (my first year of fully freelancing) than I had as a staff editor. And although I sometimes miss going into an office due to my extroverted tendencies, I also recognize that working from home has been absolutely phenomenal for my mental health. And maybe even for my wallet?

Look, here’s the thing: I don’t want to paint all of this as if it is sunshine and roses.

Losing my main source of income, along with another smaller one, is likely going to mean taking a hit on my finances this year. In fact, the writing goals I had so carefully constructed for 2018 are going to have to change a bit.

I’m a bit stressed about making money, too, and accomplishing the big goal of paying off my credit cards in the beginning half of this year. But I also know that I can do it because I know that I did so much last year. I will find new places to write for, I will do more with my time, I will get up at 6 in the morning (something which I usually HATE) in order to blog because I think it’ll keep me sane and give me a little bit of added joy every day.

So, as I finish up my first 6am post and hope to do plenty more in the future, here’s what I learned about being let go of a job as a freelancer versus being let go of a job when you’re on staff: It is a hell of a lot easier to bounce back when you have more than one income stream than when your entire livelihood depends on one company being successful and not having to go through layoffs.

The media landscape isn’t pretty right now. Time Inc was bought by Meredith (both places where I used to work early in my career) and Rodale was bought by Hearst (I’ve written for Rodale and interned at Hearst). Facebook’s most recent algorithm changes are going to make it difficult for publishers to get their content out on that platform and companies might suffer drops in audience size (which is never good for business).

But as for me? I’m doing okay, despite losing two jobs in the past month. I’m still writing for my favorite Latinx website, actively looking for other writing/editing gigs, and have two VERY exciting writing assignments. All in all, things could be looking worse… but because I’m a freelance writer and editor, I have plenty of flexibility as to what I do next. And that, let me tell you, has been invaluable encouragement for both my mental health AND my wallet.

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My writing goals for 2018 and the
future of #yearofwriting

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Well, it’s a new year so HAPPY NEW YEAR and all of that!

I’m starting off 2018 in a pretty exciting way, to be honest, by spending most of the beginning of the year by celebrating my new marriage to the love of my life and the most supportive partner I could ask for. After getting married a few days ago, Adam and I are off on a honeymoon cruise to Cuba tomorrow… But, in the meantime, I am taking some time today to think about how 2017 went and my plans for 2018.

All in all, 2017 went really well. Although 2016 was a rocky year for most of the nation but a very happy year for me, 2017 is my first full year of being a full-time freelance writer and editor and I had some hefty writing goals for myself. Towards the end of the year, after I accomplished most of them, I revised my writing goals and set about accomplishing them.

As you can see by my final #yearofwriting report for December, I did! I even did the math on how much I wrote (277,899 words), how much I made ($62,381) and how much I pitched (92 sent out and 16 accepted for a 17% acceptance rate). So, all in all, my #yearofwriting went well… But now what?

Well, I thought long and hard about this during the last month of 2017, but I’ve come up with some new writing goals for 2018. Here they are:

1. Write regularly for Latinx publications: At the end of 2017, I had started to write a lot for HipLatina and really enjoying everything that I was doing there (from the newsy posts every day to the personal essays to the well-researched pieces). I also am continuing my work with MamásLatinas and seeking out new opportunities to write in this space. Although I will continue to freelance for other publications, too, this is going to be my major focus for my writing in 2018.

2. Save all freelance income for L.A.: One of the BIG things that my (new) husband Adam and I want to do in the long run is move to Los Angeles. We’re not yet sure when that will happen but another goal for me this year is to FIRST pay off all of our current credit card bills (with my freelance income) and then put all of that same money towards saving money for the move. Even though I’m not sure when I will officially be a West Coaster, I’m excited to start taking real steps to making it happen someday.

3. Get an agent and sell my memoir: Last year, my goal was to finish writing my book proposal. And I did it! I still have to do some editing on the thing, and get a professional editor to take a look too, but after that… I am going to be going out to agents hard. Basically, this means that I think Moscow Chica: How Growing Up In Russia And Cuba Made Me An American is soon going to be ready to see the light of day—and so I am making this a huge focus too. Get ready for 2018, cause my memoir is coming!

To be honest, I actually decided on most of these goals a few weeks ago. As the year was ending and I was reflecting on everything that is going on, I knew just what I wanted to make happen in 2018. As Adam and I talked about our marriage and what we wanted our mutual goals to be, I knew that I wanted some of that reflected in my writing goals for 2018 too (such as the L.A. savings). And, most importantly, I wanted my goals to reflect a certain kind of focus that they didn’t have the previous year.

Having just three writing goals for 2018, I think, will make some things a lot easier for me. I know that if I begin to go off of any of these goals, it will be easy to spot. I know that if I start to look at other forms of income that, say, aren’t Latinx publications, I need to make sure that they’re not taking attention away from my main focus. And I know that I need to put some serious time into doing whatever needs to be done for my baby, my memoir Moscow Chica, and to make sure that I keep my promise to myself about getting the thing edited and in tip-top shape to send to agents.

As for the #yearofwriting… Well, I want to continue documenting my progress in my freelance career, so you can expect to see more of that here. Although they won’t be quite as extensive as they were in 2017, I will still be tracking what I wrote every month and how I am doing on my writing goals. There’s a lot more to say here but for now, let me end it with: 2018, here I come!

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Why you should treat blogging like going to the gym

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As a full-time writer and editor, there is something that I am constantly struggling with: Should I write a blog?

Back in the day when blogging first started, it was great for any and all aspiring writers. It gave any person the chance to become a writer through the power of the internet. Anyone could do it and, so, it seemed as if everyone did do it.

Eventually, we got to the place we are today: There are tons of people we know who are famous and popular bloggers, those who have made their living reporting on the news, writing about their anxiety, talking about their parenting woes, or posting their latest food creations online. Most of the people I know who are “popular” and making a living with blogging have been doing it for over five years.

As a professional writer, I’ve heard the question “How do I start a blog?” from many friends over the years. I would usually send them to the countless free resources they can find online and encourage them to sign up with the free WordPress.com service. If it was a closer friend, I would give them more advice on how to make their blog great, how to take good photos and what to do if they want to share their content with others. All great advice (at least I think so) but I have rarely taken it for myself.

Why? Because I consider myself a writer, not a blogger.

My career began began before the blogger boom. I went to journalism school, had six internships before graduating and promptly started working in women’s magazines. Since then, I hopped from one women’s publication to another in order to grow my career and, most recently, became a full-time freelance writer and editor.

Of course, I wasn’t immune to blogging either. When I was bored at my first job and seriously job hunting in 2009, I experimented with many blogs. I think at one point I had somewhere like six blogs… Not a good idea, clearly. I couldn’t keep up with any of them, though I did learn a lot and it led to me transitioning from print publications to digital.

After that, I had a single healthy living blog, then a Tumblr blog and finally a food blog called Healthy Latin Food. Every single time I started a new one, I thought I had found THE ONE. But I didn’t. I always changed my mind, let it go, said I didn’t have the time… Which is true, due to a heavy workload, and not true, due to me not being good about keeping up with my own personal projects.

But anyway, the point is: I’ve always been interested in blogging and have appreciated the people I know who do it, but I wasn’t one of those people.

Blogging seemed like a very serious commitment and not one that I was able to invest my time in. Plus, now, as a full-time freelancer, time is money and I didn’t feel as if I have the time to do it… especially when most of my time is taken up by paid assignments (like my PT food editor gig at Brit+Co or my contributor role at HipLatina) or looking for paid assignments (as in, pitching other publications). At the end of the day, it feels as if investing time into blogging, when it is unlikely to bring in any money, is a bad idea.

And then I realized: Maybe blogging for money isn’t the point.

Recently, my friend BJ Mendelson posted about why you should blog more.

We had recently had a conversation about this topic and he made one of the best points that I had never thought about: You should be treating your blogging like going to the gym.

To him, going to the gym is just the necessary maintenance of being a human. It’s one of those things that you may not always enjoy doing but that is important to do in order to keep your muscles flexible and strong. So when it comes to blogging, he takes the same approach: It keeps your (writing) muscles flexible and strong.

After chatting with him, he advised me to do one major thing: Delete Google Analytics from my website.

The reason that all writers should be blogging, according to him, isn’t because you might earn money with it or because it may make you famous, but because blogging is simply a good way to practice some of your writing ideas. It gives you a chance to let your personality shine, talk about some of your projects and give readers (and potential editors/publishers who want to hire you) an insight into your work.

Treating blogging like the gym, meaning that it’s simply there to flex your writing muscles, is a great idea.

To be honest, it would have never occurred to me to think of it this way—probably because I absolutely hate going to the gym. You can ask my fiancé and partner Adam: He’s been trying to get me to join him at the gym pretty much ever since we met. Although I have gone on occasion, in general, I don’t enjoy working out. It’s something that I continue to struggle with in terms of my weight loss maintenance. But anyway…

If you want to start a blog and you are a professional writer, you should do it because it is a fun way to do more writing.

I realize now that blogging isn’t about statistics, fame or money. It’s good for me simply for what it is: Blogging is a way to do some more writing because I enjoy the act of writing. As I have recently joked to Adam, writing is both my job AND my hobby—which means that it is something that I am basically thinking about 24/7. I don’t really have many other hobbies or the ones that I do (such as reading audiobooks) are very much tied to my writing, too.

So when it comes to blogging, I need to do it more.

Per BJ’s advice, I have deleted GA from this here website and plan to go to the gym more… I mean, I plan to blog more.

I don’t want blogging to get in the way of my other writing and editing, but I do want to enjoy it. I don’t want blogging to be too stressful, but I do want it to be fun. And, last but not least, I don’t want blogging to be adding an unrealistic expectation to my plate.

But I am very much hoping that it won’t be that. Instead, I want to treat blogging like going to the gym: Something that I want to do because keeping my (writing) muscles flexible and strong is important to me.

Now if only I could get myself to the real gym…

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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?


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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