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Keep Calm and… Oh, Hell, Go Ahead and Panic !

The British are well known for their stoicism in the face of adversity. That’s what they called German bombs dropping all hours of the night whilst they huddled in bomb shelters or in their cellars and hoped for the best – adversity. When we were stationed there in the late sixties (I was a child. I’m not that old! Yet!) my mother’s best friend was the lady who lived next door. She told the story of sitting at the dinner table one evening and hearing the roar of airplanes overhead and the sounds of destruction as those planes dropped their payload onto the little village where they lived. Her parents looked up for a moment, listened, and then immediately went back to their meal. Finally, this lady, who was a young girl herself at the time, asked the question.

“What’s that noise, Mummy?”

Her mother’s reply?  “Bombs, dear. Elbows off the table.”

I cannot begin to imagine the courage it took, the tenacity, the stoicism it took to remain calm in such a dire situation.

Talk about grace under fire!

That’s where the poster, much adapted these days, came from – those dark days of World War II in Britain.

 

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

 

I repeat those words to myself quite frequently these days. Doesn’t always work, but it is worth a shot. My World War II came in the form of walking away from my job of nearly fourteen years, my regular paycheck, my health, life, dental and vision insurance. No bombs or bloodshed involved, but it was a close call. There is one manager there who still has no idea how close he came to being on the six o’ clock news that night or as my costar in the latest episode of SNAPPED. I will admit I was in something of a state of euphoria once I walked out and even the next day I was happy with my decision. That could have been the chocolate binge followed by twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. After a few days, however, I began to seriously consider what I had done. And I may have been a trifle concerned. Lets get real. I ran out into the back yard and screamed :

 

WHAT THE HELL WERE YOUR THINKING????

 

I did that fairly frequently in those first weeks. I still do it every now and then. Lets face it, we were all raised to believe we needed a steady job working for other people with a steady paycheck coming in every two weeks in order to survive. Lets not even talk about the benefits of having a company foot even half of your insurance costs. When I was singing professionally I sang for a state opera company in Austria. I did what I loved, drew a steady paycheck, had every kind of health insurance imaginable paid in full by the company, and I had a clothing and shoe allowance. Anyone who knows me knows I would have worked for the shoe allowance alone. I am not certain if the state opera companies in Europe pay like this now. Their economies are tanking faster than my basset hound, Boudreaux, eats biscuits and gravy. (He eats like a Roomba on steroids. trust me.)

 

So here I sit, determined to make my other true love – writing historical romance – my profession and source of income. Well, that and proofing and editing for other writers. I do love going over a manuscript with a fine toothed comb. Must be a throwback to my teaching days. I have gone from working for Walmart to simultaneously setting up two businesses owned and operated by me, of all people. No steady paycheck. No insurance. And about six months before my nest egg becomes eggshell compost in the garden of life. What’s a writer to do?

 

First of all  –  TAKE A DEEP BREATH and REALIZE EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.

Life is a journey. There will be rough roads, wrong turns, obstacles, and doubts all along the way. Sort of like Black Friday shopping at Walmart. Watch out for the little old ladies in pursuit of cheap sheets and towels. They will take you down and walk over your body to get to what they want. Once you realize you are on a journey, everything that happens becomes a part of that journey. And 99.9% of the time you are exactly where you are supposed to be. And best of all, you don’t have to stay in one place unless you want to. Getting up and moving on or moving up or building where you are is completely up to you.

 

Second of all  –  MAKE A PLAN FOR YOUR BUSINESS AND ACT ON IT !

Deciding to work for yourself is the bravest and craziest thing you will ever do. Plan for it. Even a crazy plan is better than no plan at all. Once you make your plan, act on it. And here is the important part. If any segment of your plan doesn’t work, or doesn’t seem to fit no matter how well you implement it – take it out of the plan. Plans are written on paper or on a computer. You are not Moses. You don’t have to write it down in stone. Even Moses didn’t get it right the first time. What do you think that whole destruction of the tablets was after the big party with the idol? REWRITES !! You want to come up with a detailed plan, with ideas for every contingency, but you also want to be flexible. It is a plan for your business, not your life. If something goes wrong, back up and try again.

 

Third of all  –  I HATE TO TELL YOU THIS, BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO GET UP AND GO TO WORK !

This was the tough part for me. In the first weeks AW (After Walmart) I had a tough time going to bed on time and getting up on time because there was no Walmart Villain with a whip saying “Get up, bitch! You have to put on those ugly clothes and go back to work!” I quickly reverted to my opera days schedule. Got to bed around sometime between 2 and 4 AM, sleep until 10 AM. I thought that meant I was doomed to failure. However, I have come to realize that sleeping at night and working during the day is better, but as long as I work a consistent schedule and put in the hours I am getting the job done. And that means writing for a certain number of hours, taking care of the other aspects of publishing for a certain number of hours, and working for my proofing/editing clients a certain number of hours. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. They say it takes 30 days to create a permanent habit. Please! Even after thirty days I can drop a habit quicker than Taylor Swift can drop a boyfriend. When I find out how many days I have to stay on schedule to make certain I don’t fall off the wagon, I’ll let you know. Until then, I am doing this every day until I get it all right.

And as a caveat, make certain your friends and family and anyone else who makes a practice of getting you off track or taking advantage of you knows THIS IS YOUR JOB NOW! It is not a hobby. It is not that cute little thing you do to keep yourself busy because you’re so well off you don’t have to work and make money for little luxuries like food, electricity, water, and keeping your credit card companies happy. If that is the case then CONGRATULATIONS, and stay away from me. I can’t afford bail money if I accidentally smack you in the back of the head with some biscuits and gravy. (I do, however, know someone who will clean it up most efficiently, so long as you don’t mind a little dog slobber.) With my family I threatened to move in with them, dogs and all, once I run out of money. They pretty much leave me alone.

 

Fourth (and finally)  –  OH, HELL, GO AHEAD AND PANIC !!

At least once a day, I do. I panic. Once a day I consider looking for a “real” job. Once a day I might even look at the want ads. Once a day, especially when I look at my bank account, I think this is just a six months vacation and I’d better enjoy it while I can. I wonder how on earth I will ever make it in the current publishing market. I wonder how many books I can get out there and how long it will take for them to make enough money for me to survive. I am not looking to get rich. Or even comfortable. I am looking to live the same way I did when I was working at Walmart – paycheck to paycheck. Not a great way to live, but I did it. And if I can do it doing the thing I love most in the world, good God, it is worth it. Living paycheck to paycheck working at Walmart was like walking through the zombie apocalypse. I made it through, but bits and pieces of me were falling off along the way. Eventually, even with a steady paycheck there wouldn’t have been much of me left to enjoy it. Working as a full-time writer and editor/proofer right now is like walking through a piranha pond wearing fish food sunblock. I might get nibbled on, but I stand a pretty good chance of making it to the other side intact. Every book I put out there and every client I take on, my sunblock gets stronger and stronger. If I work hard enough pretty soon I won’t taste good to those fish at all.

 

So good ahead and panic. Do it up right. Stand in the back yard and scream. (Not if you live close to your neighbors. I am pretty certain they will eventually come and cart you away. Unless you live in one of those Housewives neighborhoods. Those women scream more than Jamie Lee Curtis in a horror movie.) Cry. Jump up and down. And be afraid. It is perfectly okay to panic. Then take a deep breath, put on your big writer’s drawers and your fish food sunblock, and do the thing you were put on this earth to do – WRITE !! Write through the fear, and the doubts, and the panic. Just WRITE !

25 responses to “Keep Calm and… Oh, Hell, Go Ahead and Panic !”

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey, Louisa. I have felt the zombie analogy you used, too. Working for someone or someplace that you don’t enjoy sucks the life from you, makes you bitter. There is a bit of panic and even guilt walking away from that steady paycheck, the job you did well, and friends/coworkers. But how much happier and healthier we are when we really let go. I wish you continued success. I love the dinner table story, too. How powerful the simple message!

    Wonderful post!
    Jenn!

    2+
    • Thanks, Jenn! I think we have all worked at least one ZA job. The smart thing is to get out before you are a walking corpse in ragged clothes.

      And the health benefits to leaving Walmart have been amazing. My blood pressure is 85/67. It hasn’t been that low in ten years! My feet and back don’t hurt. I rarely have headaches. SO worth it!

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  2. Beth Trissel says:

    Oh Louisa, I feel for you and I love, love, love, the way you write. You tell, I mean show, an awesome story. Whatever it is. I would read grocery lists written by you. I remember being a judge for some contest years ago and how amazing your entry was. You have tons of talent. I’m also panic prone. So I hear you there. ((Hugs))

    3+
  3. What a talented woman you are. You need to hear that and tell that to yourself every day, several times a day.

    Leaving behind secure in search of a dream, is terribly stressful but also so exciting. You’re right that a plan and determination is required. Without them, most of us would be speaking other languages as our fore-fathers would’ve never made it to the Americas. Best wishes for success in your small businesses.

    Great post!

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    • Autumn, you are SO right about our Founding Fathers. Their level of crazy is way higher than mine. And their level changed the world. All I want to do is change my world. Thanks so much for the kind words. They mean the world coming from someone as talented and tenacious as you!

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  4. Liz Talley says:

    What an honest look into what it is to put all your chips down on yourself. Let ’em ride, right?

    It’s scary and not for the faint of heart.

    Half the time I feel like all of us are crabs in a bucket, crawling over each other in our bid to reach the top, only to be pulled down time and again. We all just blink and start climbing again. Sigh. But I think about what life is and what it is not. I’m blessed because I don’t HAVE to make the money for the bills. At least not this year. But next year, I may have to get a “real” job. I always scoff at that title because writing is a real job (though many don’t think that). It’s a hard job, thankless in many ways.

    But I’m betting on you and me, Louisa. We’re tough broads and I think I can, I think I can. And on some level I know I can. Proud of you for stamping down the panic and moving forward. Go get ’em, Louisa!

    2+
    • I love the analogy, Liz! We are definitely putting all of our chips down on ourselves. Which is the toughest thing to do! And yes, the crabs in the bucket can drag you down if you let them. But if we keep climbing we might manage to drag ourselves and maybe a few of our fellow writers out with us!

      Lets hear it for tough broads who don’t give up!

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  5. Fantastic post, Louisa, and something I seem to need to hear daily lately. I especially love your analogy with the zombie walking through the apocalypse and pieces falling off of him/her. I can relate. That’s been me during 2016. Hoping to get back on track, and you’re right—committing to writing daily is the best way to do that.

    1+
  6. Rita Henuber says:

    O. My. Don’t know if laughed or cried more reading this. I firmly believe the most difficult thing for a human to do is change. I must say I think you’ve done it brilliantly. And yes bottom line is…just write.

    1+
    • LOL Thanks, Rita! You are definitely onto something there. It is hard as hell for humans to change once they become inured to what their life has become. Because I am an Air Force brat I have been forced to change far more than I ever wanted to do. As a result I can do change, but I am NEVER happy or thrilled about it. A blessing and a curse. But I have to believe leaving Walmart was definitely a change for the better!

      1+
  7. 2016 has definitely been the year from hell for many of us. In the publishing world things have taken a couple of side-steps and I think we are all scrambling to catch up. The trick is to keep scrambling and hanging on and paying attention. And to keep believing this is where we are supposed to be. Here is to 2017 being the year we catch up and race ahead!

    3+
  8. Terri Osburn says:

    Dec 13th will be three years since I quit my day job. Still don’t have a routine. Sigh. I love following your story on Facebook. So proud of you. And thanks for airing the stuff that runs through my head pretty much daily.

    0
    • Thanks so much, Terri! Glad to know I am not the only one who teeters between insane optimism and complete and utter panic! LOL We will make it. And sometimes no routine IS a routine! Whatever works!

      0
  9. Kate Parker says:

    Loved the story about the bombs, Louisa. And I know you’re going to make it. Desperation does help us not only to leap into the abyss, but to land safely on the other side.

    0
  10. Brave and bold is what you are, Louisa! You’re absolutely right about letting everyone know that writing is your JOB. Family and friends don’t seem to understand how you can be WORKING if you’re home. They all think_________is home, we can get her to do it. She has lots of spare time on her hands.

    Don’t let them do it!!!

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    • Thank you, Laurie! You hit the nail on the head. Working from home seems to make them thing you are available to drop everything and do what they want. It has been tough, but my brothers are learning!

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  11. Loved your post, Louisa. Protecting writing time is one of the hardest things to do, especially with family.

    0
    • Thank you, Bev! Protecting is the right word. Writing time is precious whether you are a full-time writer or someone who has to get their writing done after the day job, husband, children, and other responsibilities are done.

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  12. Oh, to have a routine that works!!!

    Thank you, Lousia, for sharing your uniquely hilarious take on the writing life. Oh, how I love your voice!!! I can hear it ringing through your words as clear as a country church bell.

    I’ve been writing full time for almost eight years now, and I still struggle to keep to a productive routine! Life always seems to interfere with plumbers and puppies and mothers-in-law and gardens. 🙂

    But as long as I write, or revise, or outline every single day, I’m still doing it right. I’m still marching forward.

    The financial stuff is harder, and I’ve gone a few years scrambling to make it all work, but every time I think of quitting, those voices in my head just start talking louder and more insistently.

    So listen to them. Keep writing!!!!

    0
    • Thank you, EE! Yes, life does tend to rear its head from time to time. I cannot imagine doing all of this with a spouse, children, and all of their accoutrements to go with it.So long as you are doing something writerly every day you are still in the game!

      1+
  13. Andrea Stein says:

    Weezy – YOU are my hero, er heroine. I fall off the daily routine potato wagon on a regular basis, make enough money to (occasionally) take my hubby to dinner, and have walked through so many alligator-infested fields, I haven’t owned a pair of pantyhose or tights in years. Don’t listen to the voices in your head, let alone the real voices out there telling you to STOP and get a real job. Tell them what I once told some worried parents of a ski patroller – Folks, this IS a real job. Romance writers may not save lives, but we make them a helluva lot more enjoyable.

    0
    • Thanks, Roomie! You are so right! We write our stories and send them out there and never really know how many people read them because they need them to get through the day.Its one of the major reasons I keep at it. And your are my heroine too! You have shown me it is possible to get your work out there without a publisher and that there is an audience for all sorts of historical romance!

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