I've been on a bunch of great podcasts lately! Literary pod Lit Up with my dear friend Angela Ledgerwood, comedy pod Who You Were with my former improv teammate Patrick Noth, and storytelling pod Losing It with Generation Women alum, Nelsie Spencer. Treat your earbuds to some Georgie! And invite me on your amazing podcast!
Last month I had the incredible good fortune of being invited to the inaugural Rowland Writers Retreat in Aurora, NY. For ten glorious days, I holed up in the luxurious and cosy Rowland House (top left) for an intensive week of work on my new novel. The residency was fully funded, and all meals were provided, meaning I got to focus exclusively on my new project, in sisterhood with a small group of other women writers. It. Was. Heaven. The food was off-the-chain (I actually put on four pounds, I really went for it), we were treated like queens, and I felt so incredibly grateful to be connected to these talented authors.
My mission for the week was an intense one. Remember how last newsletter I told you I'd sold my new novel to Simon & Schuster? After we sold it, off a 25,000 word partial, I had meetings with agent, Allison, and editor, Emily, for feedback on what I had so far. They both agreed the story was reading as a little "spiky", and needed more heart and joy. I came to agree that my original intention with the tone wasn't working, and decided to reimagine the story as five interconnecting love stories that flow around the central premise of a pair of mismatched wedding planners, with the love stories being about the planners themselves, and the vendors who work the weddings. At the residency, I sketched out each love story and braided them together around five weddings that the company works on (bottom left), and started drafting anew. I "recast" one of the two main characters, changing her name from Jude to Liv, to better help me know her as someone less prickly than her first incarnation.
What was it like throwing out 25,000 words that'd taken me a year to write, polish and sell? Not great. I know that this is part of the process, and it's really not as if those words were wasted, but it is hard to decide to start again on something, which basically means more work. But I have faith in my agents and editor's opinions, and I do think this book is going to be better for it. We still don't have a name: stay tuned on that. My aim is to complete a first draft by Falls and to submit in-house to Emily by January 2020. I have about 30,000 of the new draft so far, since starting at the residency. Onwards!
As a full-time creative, I tend to work a lot for free. Working for free, or asking people to work for free, is generally frowned upon but for better or worse, it's a fact of life for the artistic and ambitious. Here's when I work for free.
1. It's part of the process for selling work. Probably the number one reason why I have worked for free in my career. Debut novelists must write a book before selling it. New TV writers must write sample scripts before being hired. Copywriters pitch on jobs, and so on. These are the facts of the industry and there are no shortcuts.
2. You're helping out colleagues who work for free for you. Yesterday I read another writers' pitch and talked through a pilot script idea, because she had done the same for me. Giving notes and feedback is work, but I will always do it for writers who do it for me.
3. It's fun. I've worked on many many projects for free, for fun! Fun (or "for a good cause") is a good enough reason to do anything. But it is also not an essential reason to work for free, and creatives do have to think about whether working on the project is purely pleasurable or noble, or a distraction from more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, work.
4. There are other tangible benefits. Money is important but it is not the sole reason to work. Doing a little work for free to receive legitimate benefit such as a relationship with someone you want to know, getting experience you wouldn't otherwise get, real exposure, swag you actually want (etc), can be worth it.
Here's when to really think about working for free.
1. You're entering a competition. In the past I used to apply to a lot of writers' residences, which are a form of competition. I once spent months of work and thousands of dollars making an entry for an MTV competition I was certain I was going to win. The reality is, most of the time, you won't win, and you have wasted your time. Competitions are alluring: they seem to offer a shortcut to money, power, access and opportunity. But like I said, there are no shortcuts, and often, these are a distraction and a waste of energy. Calculate the time needed to complete an entry. Anything more than an hour or two should be considered carefully.
2. "Exposure". Exposure on, say, a national stage or at a huge conference, could be good exposure. But "exposure" is a very tricky, intangible benefit and may not be worth the time. Get really clear on what you hope this will offer and be as transparent as you can with the person in charge about it. If you're too scared to ask if it's actually going to lead anywhere, this is not a supportive environment and probably won't lead anywhere. Beware of vagary and false hope (especially your own). Do your own research. If you're being asked to, say, write for a website for free for exposure, research their traffic and make sure it's win/win.
3. Other people are being paid, and you're not. If no one is being paid for an opportunity, then the choice is yours. If some people (at or around your experience level) are, and you are not, do not work. Request payment.
4. You're doing someone a favor. If one day you can confidently call that favor back, sure. But helping someone out for something that isn't joyful or offering a real tangible benefit must be considered. Your time might be better spent helping yourself out. It can be easy to get caught up in someone else's passion and focus. But never lose sight of your own ambition. Your time and energy is very valuable. Think carefully before giving it away.
Early this month, I sold my third novel to Emily Bestler Books/Simon & Schuster. I had actually gone on submission with a 25,000 word partial (the first quarter of the book) at the end of November, but poor Emily had the flu in December so we had to wait over the holidays to see if we'd get an offer. Luckily for me, we did! The working title for this book is Better Wed Than Dead, and is about a practical Brooklyn mom, Jude, who is forced to revive her failing wedding planning business with her dead ex-husband's one-time girlfriend, a bubbly Southern girl called Savannah. It's a warm-hearted comedy centered around an unlikely odd couple that'll make you believe in love all over again. It'll also feature a lot of weddings because hey, who doesn't love weddings?! It'll be out in Spring 2021 -- I could've pushed for a Summer 2020 release but pubbing close to an election is no joke.
I was especially grateful and excited to get this deal because fiction sales have not been great across the industry these past two years. Readers have been distracted by the news, and are buying non-fiction books about politics, or just not reading at all. It's more important than ever to support your favorite author!
When I first moved to New York, I had no friends, no relationship, no job, and I was working on one thing. Ten years later, I've founded a monthly storytelling night (one show in New York, one in Sydney), am co-writing a TV pilot, am promoting a novel and writing another novel, and that's just the things I can tell you about (yes, there are more fun secret things I can hopefully announce v.soon)! I've had to learn how to manage having multiple, demanding ventures. Here are my tips.
1. Before you say yes, take stock. It can be exhilarating or feel necessary to say yes to everything. Before you do, get clear on the time and energy required and what you're getting back. I have worked on many, many things that took up a ton of my time for very little reward or outcome. I've largely stopped applying for grants and residencies, and entering competitions, for that reason. The outcome does not need to be monetary: it can be a brand lift, forge an important relationship, or just plain fun. But if it's not lucrative and it's tiring, really think through whether it's a good opportunity, or whether your time and energy is spent better elsewhere, even if that means saying no or letting someone down.
2. Prioritize. If it is a project worth adding to your busy schedule, be clear on its place in the pecking order. For me, my number one priority right now is the pilot script. I'm being paid for it and it offers the most potential for me professionally. So that work happens before anything else. Don't prioritize based on what's easiest or most enjoyable: hard things are hard, and you must favor what is most important.
3. Understand your own rhythms. I'm the most focused and clear-headed in the morning, and I slowly lose focus over the day, burning out by about 7p. I leave what's least important and doesn't require as much brain activity till the end of the day.
4. Set generous deadlines, for yourself and others. If you can, underpromise and overdeliver. Give yourself a bit more time than you think you'll need, and be clear on what that time is. You're only human: know your limits and don't expect to burn the midnight oil every damn day.
5. Rest. I'm an introvert, so I require a lot of deeply restful alone time. For me, nothing is more relaxing than catching up on my shows (with a big glass of wine, of course). I build this into my schedule. It's as important as exercise, and time with friends and my girlfriend.
I've been so touched by all the positive reader feedback for The Bucket List, from women of all ages (cue, adorable shot of Miss Evie). Thank you so much for your kind Instagrams, emails, tweets, and reviews. It's still very hard to sell novels in this distracted day and age, so telling your community about what you're reading really does help authors like me. If you haven't bought your copy yet, what are you waiting for?! Buy on Amazon now!
Well, we done did it, gang. The Bucket List is officially out of my hands and into yours! It's been such a thrill to receive all the positive reader feedback to Lacey's story, from all around the States and beyond. Thank you to everyone who bought a copy, posted a pic, wrote a tweet, attended an event, gave me a hug or told a friend about this book. Your support is invaluable, and I am humbled by every moment of it. Please continue to share and shout it from the rooftops: word of mouth is powerful, and your personal recommendations really matter. On that note, if you have a minute, please do review on Amazon using the link below. Five stars is great, but I'll take what I can get! And if you're book clubbing The Bucket List, know that I can Skype in, or attend in person in NYC.