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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Here’s what happens when a writer has too many ideas

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So if you’ve spent any amount of time around me in real life, then you probably know one thing about me: I get easily excited.

I don’t know if I would consider myself a super impulsive person, but I’m not not an impulsive person. I think my life partner Adam would probably disagree with that statement, actually, as he’s mentioned my impulsivity a few times here and there (and by “few” I mean… maybe many).

What I consider myself, actually, is an ideas person.

I get ideas all the damn time, about any variety of subjects. My chosen career of writer and editor is actually pretty perfect for someone who has too many ideas too much of the time, but it can also be harmful. The problem with having too many ideas is that I can easily jump from one to the other, and still see the value in all of them.

Here’s a perfect example: About a year after I graduated college, I decided that I wanted to write a book.

No, let me rephrase that… For as long as I could remember, I’ve been one of those writers who felt like having a book published, as in something I can hold in my hands with my name on the cover and available in every Barnes & Noble, was the ultimate accomplishment. So I always knew that I would write a book someday, and sometime in 2008 I decided to try my hand at it.

Maybe it’s because I have always done well in school or because my best form of learning is in the classroom (as in, though lectures), but I signed myself up for a chick lit writing class. Chick lit, as in contemporary women’s fiction, was my primary reading at the time so this seemed fitting. I had a story in mind, and I worked on it during the class.

The only problem? Well… in a writing exercise that asked us to switch our voice either to very young or very old, I discovered that I absolutely LOVED writing young adult fiction. Shortly after, I took a YA writing class instead. In fact, I took three of them in a row in the year of 2009.

And here’s where the real problem of my life comes in: TOO. MANY. IDEAS.

When I sat down to focus on the chick-lit-turned-YA-novel story, I got another great YA idea that I became utterly obsessed with. I loooooved this new idea, and ultimately drove myself crazy going back and forth between the two. Eventually, life got busy due to a new job and a new blog (several blogs ago now) and I dropped the book.

A few years went by and I decided to write a memoir. The problem? Yup, you guessed it: Too many ideas! Because at the time I was blogging about my weight loss journey, I wanted to write a memoir about growing up overweight, going through a gastric bypass and what has happened since. But then I also had this other idea about writing a memoir about my upbringing, because I am half-Russian and half-Cuban and people’s reactions to hearing that is always “OH! How did THAT happen?!”, and make that into the next great American immigrant story.

Well… I haven’t gotten any further on either of those ideas than I did with my two big YA novel ideas.

Part of the reason for that is because life is busy and I haven’t made the time to focus on any personal writing outside of occasional blogging (that first weight loss blog led to a food blog and led to my portfolio site, which I wanted to write more on last year… and kinda sorta maybe did but didn’t). And now I’m here.

But where is here, anyway?

In a few weeks, it will be the one year anniversary of me moving out of New York City and moving back to Southwest Florida, where I grew up (more on this soon!). One of my goals when moving down here was to a) take my freelance writing career further and b) finally start working on that book again.

The only problem is I wasn’t totally sure which book. Eventually, I decided to work on Moscow Chica, my memoir and now similarly-named Medium publication and the theme of my newsletter.

But you know what happened in my mind when I finally decided to focus on this? MORE DAMN IDEAS!

I went back-and-forth for a while on whether Moscow Chica is the memoir I should focus on, or if I should still do the weight loss one first. I occasionally entertained the idea of going back to one of my YA novels and, finally after the election, I felt that the immigration story is the important one to tell at this point in history.

And I was totally happy with my choice for a while… a short while.

Then came more ideas. Last year, I tried to blog on my portfolio siteabout a project I called Map Your 30s, which was essentially a bit of what I am doing here but more focused on my age… in that I had just turned 30 and wanted to talk about all of the changes that are still happening in my life… because nothing should be “settled” by a certain age. That was a fun idea but I didn’t actually sustain it for very long, unfortunately. Again, I blame the life changes and a little bit my excitement to start (but not finish) things (more on that later too, I’m sure).

Here is where everything comes full circle.

This year, I decided that this was my #YearOfWriting and I was going to focus it on ALL THE THINGS. I planned to freelance more than ever, put a book proposal together for my memoir and so much more.

One of my biggest goals, actually, was to write for 17 different publications and I’m almost there. So far this year, I have been published on 10 (online) publications and have 5 more in the works. I’ve even got tentative pieces with two others… which would soon enough get me to my goal. So YAY for that.

This whole “too many ideas” thing is definitely good when it comes to my freelance writing career, and I think it’s one of the things that has made me a good (and successful) journalist. But the problem comes in whenever I try to do pretty much any kind of writing in my personal life.

You’ve already heard about the two YA novels and the two memoirs, but there’s more. Honestly, so much more. A few weeks ago, I wrote the beginning pages of another YA novel that a few friends saw and loved. And I also started this new blog…

That’s right, after ALL of my failed attempts at keeping up a blog (Healthy Latin Food being the most memorable), I somehow decided that it was a good idea to try one more more time and last week launched this here The Cookie Dough Life.

I’m really excited by the prospect of this blog, actually. It’s basically for me to have a fun place to talk about whatever I want… from relationships to career stuff to health and life and basically anything else I want to talk (or write) about. And that’s how we got here.

Last week, when it first launched, I explained exactly what the whole “cookie dough” life thing means. And since then I’ve stayed silent. Partially, it is because I have been afraid and unsure of what I wanted to say next. The big “Hooray I Have A New Project!” excitement wore off a little, and I am now faced with an empty blog and no content and, of course, a million ideas.

Sometimes when I have a million ideas, I jump right in. And other times, I freeze. That’s what has been happening to me for the past week, so I thought… What better way to really start this blog than by admitting to all of that mess in my head?

Since career is something that I actively plan to talk about on CDL, here it is: I’m a writer and I have too many ideas.

That’s often very frustrating, I know. Well, maybe you don’t know… but I sure do. Yet despite all of that, the only way forward is to just keep going forward. To be honest, today I don’t know what that means. I am not sure if I am going to go back to focusing on Moscow Chica or one of the YA novels or something else entirely.

I’m not even sure if this blog is going to be The One I Keep Up With Finally, or whether these are all words going into the void that will be erased from the internet in a year (in so much that anyone can ever truly erase anything from the internet, anyway).

But the one thing I know is that I have too many ideas, and I can’t wait to share them all here.

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January 2017 Writer’s Life: Published pieces, money talk, pitches & more [#yearofwriting]

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At the start of the year, I wrote about the 7 fearless things I am doing for my career in 2017 and exactly why I am signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge. I also committed to making 2017 my #yearofwriting… my theme for the year, if you will.

I’ve had a few small successes here and there: Mainly that I am now officially a contributor at Mom.me (yay!) and am getting serious about working on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Cuban and Russian Made Me an American.

But I also wanted to talk about what a writer’s life is really like… Mainly, I wanted to talk about the solid numbers.

So here’s the deal: Starting this month, I am going to get real and tell the truth about how my freelancing has gone this month. I’ll talk about what went well, what didn’t and what it all meant. So here goes!

What was published: 

Some of these pieces were written before this month, and some were written more recently. Obviously, all of my Mom.me work is news stories and the repeal of “wet foot, dry foot” was recent too. But all in all, I also wanted to show what freelancing I did. Other than my part-time food editor job at Brit.co, here are the solid numbers:

How much I wrote: 16,475 words

How much I made: $1725*

*I am including two pieces that were accepted on spec (meaning that the editor wanted to see a full draft before they could finally say “yes”) that have been submitted but I haven’t officially heard back on. Also: This ONLY includes my freelance writing income.

Besides that, there’s also pitching… It’s what us writer have to do in order to write, yes? This month has been by FAR my most successful month of pitching and reaching out to new editors. To be honest, in 2016 I was feeling pretty cushy with my PT food editor gig and my contributing writer roles, and never looked to expand my resume.

Well, one of the things that I am doing for my writing career in 2017 is that I hired a writing coach. Her name is Mridu Khullar Relph and she runs TheInternationalFreelancer.com, and is basically FANTASTIC. The truth is that I needed a big kick to get my career to the next level, which is precisely why I hired her. It’s gone incredibly well so far! Here’s all of the numbers:

Pitches sent out in January: 27
Pitch rejections: 9
Pitch non-replies: 12
Pitch acceptances: 4
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 5
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

I admit: The 27 pitches isn’t an exact number, primarily because one pitch went out on 6 simultaneous submissions and a couple of editors received more than one pitch from me in one email. But that’s basically it.

To be honest, considering that this is the FIRST month of my #yearofwriting and also the first year that I have been seriously going out there and pitching editors, I am feeling pretty good.

The one lesson I learned, for sure, is that there comes a time when you just have to get out there and do it. And I’m happy that I’m finally doing that!

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7 Fearless things I’m doing for my writing career in 2017 [#yearofwriting]

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It’s the start of a new year and, as always, that has me (and everyone else in the world I suppose) thinking about what this year will bring.

It’s no stretch to say that 2016 wasn’t everyone’s favorite year. Despite some personal successes, I know that I still have a long ways to go. And despite what will be happening in this country and around the world when President-Elect Cheeto Dumpster Fire (#sorrynotsorry for calling him that for the next four years) takes office, I’m fairly optimistic.

In fact, as I look a head to the coming year… I am feeling optimistic for the first time since the morning of November 8th. With so much going on, I’m particularly feeling good about where my freelance writing career is going. Right now, I am looking to strike a better balance between some of my regular work as the food editor at Brit+Co as well as my regular contributor gigs at Mom.me, Dose and other personal projects.

And other than a big post-it note that says “YOU BETTER SAVE FOR TAXES ACCURATELY THIS YEAR!” above my fancy new desk, there are a few major things that I am going to be doing in 2017 in order to advance my career. If you’re a writer or otherwise creative, read ahead for a few useful tips on how you can do it too.

1. Creating a business plan: This is probably the scariest thing I can imagine because, well, I’m not exactly very business-minded. What writer truly is? We write because we have thoughts and ideas fluttering in our brains, not because we want to deal with numbers and taxes and complicated terms that I don’t care to learn. But that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore. Inspired by a four-part business plan writing series on Virginia Sole-Smith’s blog on freelance life, I actually think I have a pretty good handle of this one now. And, GULP, I might even know what I’m doing now? If you’re interested, check out part 1, part 2, a handy chart and the finale here.

2. Hiring a writing coach: This one was even more difficult than the above, because it required me admitting that I need help. I am not someone who enjoys admitting it, because I fancy myself Wonder Woman (clearly). But I’m not. Nobody is, right? Toward the end of the year, I was feeling so frustrated by some of the issues I was having with writing (primarily the fact that I wasn’t doing more than the bare minimum) that I finally broke down and decided I could use some guidance. By PURE coincidence, the day after I had this tough conversation with my boyfriend, Mridu Khullar Relph’s newsletter revealed that she would be taking on clients on January 2, 2017. And the rest, as they say, is history…

3. Committing to a #yearofwriting: I just posted about this on Instagram, but this year I got Gretchen Rubin’s A Happier 2017 daily calendar. I’ve been a huge fan of daily calendars for the past few years, but this is my first time getting one that wasn’t just filled with my own Instagram photos (which I still think is a cool idea, if you’re interested). Today, her suggestion is to pick a word to focus on. I’ve seen friends do this in the past but last year I focused on three words (which have subsequently become really important to me): creative + passionate + fearless. Well, taking those two ideas and combining them, I decided that this is the #yearofwriting and I want to do more of that kind of writing. Writing that ignites my creativity, that helps me pursue my passions and that’s ultimately fearless.

4. Launching a newsletter: Speaking of those three words that made my 2016 pretty special, I’ve decided that I want to launch a newsletter that focuses on living a creative + passionate + fearless life. I don’t yet know what it will look like or exactly what I hope to accomplish with it, but this is something I really want to do. I’m going to give myself a couple months to fully research what’s already out there and how I want to do it, but I want to focus on how I am accomplishing those goals myself and also feature interviews with other people who embody those ideals. I’ll write more on what those words mean to me, but let’s just say… You’ll be hearing about them more in the future.

5. Writing 52 essays in 2017: Yes, this one’s a little crazier. In fact, I’m still not fully sure that I will be able to do this whole #52essays2017 thing because I admittedly suck at challenges… but I want to try. In terms of being more creative and writing more, it’s important to me to have something to push myself. I’m not great at pushing myself on my own, though, so I am hoping that having a community of other writers behind me doing the same thing will help. Plus, I figure, what’s the worst that will happen? I’ll have an hour or two a week where I just write about whatever I want. It’s not about earning money, it’s about just letting my creative juices flow. Cliche as that may be, sometimes my best writing comes out when I don’t plan anything. So let’s see what happens if I do that for a whole year!

6. Finding an accountability buddy: Since I am not good at finishing my own challenges and Linda Gonzalez, a writing coach I met back in October during BinderCon in NYC, even mentioned that an “accountability buddy” may be a good strategy for me, I think it’s time that I do it. I have plenty of other writer friends and people that I can talk to about my career. In fact, my (poor) boyfriend Adam often hears more than he probably cares to and he’s always there to listen and be supportive. But finding someone who can be supportive and also hold me accountable to some of my goals (you know, those outlined in my business plan) will be truly wonderful too. And so I am on the lookout for someone who has a similar career trajectory to mine and wants to work together to help each other out. It’s sort of like with the writing coach: Hard to admit that I need some help in this area, but really glad that I’m doing it anyway.

7. Better organizing my clips: This is kind of less complicated than the ones above, but I want to make this website better. Not necessarily because I expect a whole lot of people to come and read my thoughts or writings (though, you know, if you’re here, WELCOME!) but because I want to be better organized in my writing in general. And so there will be some updates throughout the year and the biggest of that will be how I publish and talk about my clips. Right now you’ll see that I just do monthly roundups by publication, but I am going to be switching this up. It’ll likely be a monthly roundup still, but this time I’ll do one post with all of my writing. I’ll probably also divide it either by publication or by category. This might be much smaller than the things above, but I’m hoping that getting super organized with my work will encourage me to do more of it. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Anyway, that’s it for now. Happy 2017, everyone! And I hope your year will be as productive, successful and awesome as I am hoping mine will be.

As my good friend (and fellow writer) Amanda Farah said to me in a text this morning, “Make this the year you kick all the ass.”

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