looking back and looking ahead in preparation for 2023

My plan for 2023 is to develop a healthy mindset as an author-entrepreneur and build my writing and publishing business on this robust foundation.

looking back and looking ahead in preparation for 2023
looking back and looking ahead in preparation for 2023; Photo by Bart Kerswell on Unsplash

It's half past two in the night/morning and a nasty cough has kept me from sleeping since shortly after midnight.

I'd have normally lamented 'Woe is me,' but the truth is those two hours of sleep I've enjoyed so far this night indicate an improvement in my health this week.

What began as a simple viral infection blew up into an eye infection and a chest infection to boot. Although the cough lingers, I'm not wheezing and breathless like I was two days ago, so things are definitely on the upward trajectory.

So what better use of my time at 2:30 a.m. than sitting here, thoughts in my head, fingers on the keyboard, and dreams and plans and ambitions swirling in my brain, the stillness of the night allowing immense possibilities to emerge, making way for ideas and potential that are sometimes lost in the din and hubbub of daytime?

For the last few days, I've been taking stock of how my author-entrepreneur career/business has fared so far in 2022 and where I want to go with it in 2023.

I've certainly covered a new lot of ground in 2022.

  • Started the Monthly Missives from the Dream Pedlar newsletter in April, and have been sending it out every month since.
  • Relaunched Tales for Dreamers as a weekly paid subscription service and it's even got a number of paying subscribers who've shown faith in my work by signing up for yearly subscriptions. Thank you!
  • In addition to releasing two new books, A Benevolent Goddess and Erased from Existence, I participated in two promotional opportunities and learnt how to navigate the logistics of doing so.
  • Explored publication of A Benevolent Goddess as an AI-narrated audiobook on Google Play.
  • Became more familiar and comfortable with my own writing process. Took Becca Syme's Write Better-Faster 101 course and made peace with the fact that discovery writing is what works best for me especially when it comes to long fiction, given that Strategic is one of my Top 5 Clifton Strengths, whereas when it comes to non-fiction (such as the newsletter and blog posts) or even short fiction (Tales for Dreamers), I usually have it all formed in my head and then it's a matter of putting words on screen, while meandering as the muse dictates, if that's what she wants.
  • I've also gotten better at cutting out distractions and getting to the manuscript more often and spending a chunk of uninterrupted time writing each day.
  • I set out on a social media experiment at the beginning of the year, posting short poems to Instagram and FaceBook everyday. That one ended up being a disaster, because I pretty much ended up spending the whole day repeatedly checking IG and FB to see how many likes or follows I was getting. I ditched the project four weeks in and it turned out to be the right decision for me and my mental health.

So all in all, when I look back at 2022, I feel good about how far I've come on the writing front. I'm no stranger now to trying out new things and testing and seeing what's working and what isn't.

The one main factor that derailed me for most of 2022 — it led me to burnout and killed all joy that I used to find in making up stories — was my mindset.

Financial anxiety

I made the mistake that causes most start-ups to shut down within the first year or two. I ran out of money.

Sometime in 2021, I ditched my freelance editing work in order to focus solely on writing and publishing fiction.

The editing work had begun to pay less than before, and it seemed a better proposition to invest my time building more writing and publishing assets.

But as my savings dwindled, and my books were finding fewer and fewer readers, the ensuing anxiety paralyzed me and left me unable to write.

I'd wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, caught in the throes of a panic attack, wondering if I should just call it quits and go back to looking for a job.

It's fortunate that KrA has a reasonably good job and although our standard of living is nowhere near what members of a two-income household would enjoy, we've noticed that we can live satisfactorily within our means.

But something about not being able to earn an income ate away at me a lot this year. I too wish to provide for my family in a material way, in a way that is essential and inevitable in this material world, and not being able to do so, especially in these very uncertain times, ratcheted up my anxiety multifold.

I spent a considerable amount of time applying for jobs, but even while doing so, I was caught in the throes of confusion. While filling out a job application, a voice inside me would nag that I was giving up too soon and that I ought to give this writing journey more time.

While writing a story, that same voice would tell me that it could take me years to earn a livelihood from writing, and it would pester me to spend that time applying for jobs instead.

It was very discouraging to be caught between these two alternatives, not really knowing which way to go.

A month or so ago, I threw in the towel and said to KrA that I don't wish to write again, not at least until I've got a steady paycheck and then I can tell my stories as a hobby writer. What's wrong with that?

In one of her Quitcast videos, Becca Syme lays it out like no one else does.

She says we all wish the publishing industry was run by Captain America, who'd reward you for your hard work and talent. But the truth is it is run by Loki, an embodiment of the whims and caprices of each and every one of the 8 billion people in this world.
Success is not guaranteed. It could take a very, very long time to come. And certainly, the market has grown far more saturated and mature these past few years, and the initial gold rush era is long over.
So to come in, expecting to be rewarded fairly and justly for hard work, talent, consistency, and persistence, is only going to set us up for disappointment.
Essentially, the 'do your work and the rewards will follow' attitude could completely backfire and that too, for no fault of ours.

This was the message I needed to hear. Every time I sent out a job application, I felt as if I was letting my writer self down. But after listening to this video, a huge burden lifted from my chest.

I was reminded of something Elizabeth Gilbert had said, either in one of her books or in her TED talk, about how she had promised her creativity that she'd never burden it with the responsibility of earning her a livelihood.

On the contrary, she promised her creativity that she'd support it monetarily so that it could play freely without being stifled by any terms and conditions.

I went back to the job board with greater determination than before — I'm still only eyeing freelance or part-time roles because I don't wish to sacrifice time with little D either.

And because I had stopped pressuring my fiction writing, in the time I had between job applications I found myself going back to my manuscripts and playing there with much joy and delight.

I haven't found a job yet, but one decision I have made is that I will be applying for and taking up a freelance/part-time writing/copyediting role.

My plan of action is to compose and send out two job applications every weekend, while I spend the weekdays continuing to focus on writing and spending time with D and KrA.

This way, since I now have dedicated times to write and to apply for jobs, I know I won't be spending my writing sessions fretting about the lack of income, knowing that I am taking the steps to get an income.

Being a multi-passionate creator

Back in the day when I was an aspiring writer, I used to think that if only I didn't have a job and had all the time in the world, I'd spend my entire day writing fiction.

But over the years I've come to realize that I like writing fiction as well as other works like this blog post, like the newsletter. I love writing about the incredible books I read, not reviews in terms of analyzing their plot and structure and characters but as paeans of praise to the authors who weave beautiful words and stories into something ethereal, something otherworldly altogether.

One of the happiest times I remember was when I worked as a journalist based in Singapore, covering the Indian steel and iron ore markets. For the first time, my life trajectory made sense to me. Given my degree in engineering coupled with my passion for writing, I saw and loved the beauty in both steel and storytelling.

It was during that time, back in 2011, that I wrote the first post under the moniker The Dream Pedlar and started writing many short tales on the blog. I remember one particular Sunday; I spent the whole day writing a tale, and it was such a delightful endeavour.

But when other weekends rolled along, I only wanted to travel, see the world outside, looking as I was back then for something on the outside that would plug the hole in my heart.

My stories did that for me, I'm sure, but I was also the kind of person back then who wanted to stay in the seeking mode. I didn't really want that hole to be plugged because if it was, I'd no longer be a seeker-of-heart-hole-pluggers, and then who would I be?

And so I only ended up making more holes in my heart, by ditching my biweekly tales even though the audience loved them. I self-sabotaged to ensure that I'd have a lifetime supply of holes in my heart, enough to keep me busy, seeking and plugging, seeking and plugging, an endless task that will never be crossed off the checklist as 'done'.

Anyway, I digress. What I want to say is that I've come to realize that I love writing both from analytical and creative angles. I don't have to choose one at the expense of the other. I can juggle both, and in fact, working on one seems to boost my output in the other.

Now, the dilemma.

Skillset gap

Other than the freelance academic copyediting work I undertook during 2017—2020 and a summer internship at a pharma company in the summer of 2015, the last I had held a job was in 2014. Eight years ago.

Much has changed since then. Although I primarily wrote for the digital medium, the jobs that I see these days call for digital content marketing using SEO techniques.

Although I have a passing knowledge of SEO, I'd certainly not call myself skilled in it. I started to look up courses and trainings on SEO and — I think this is where the problem lies — everytime I come across attempts to slot this giant randomness of the Universe (or the Internet) into some sort of pattern or formula, I resist.

I'm sure there must be some credibility to it because digital marketers do use these techniques to boost their website rankings and visibility. Yet, it feels like more people trying to do the same things and I don't have first-hand evidence on how well it works.

This is akin to the countless courses on writing that have flooded the market. So many story outlines, so many types of plot outlines. From what I've seen, there's no guarantee that if you were to follow a particular outline, your story would amass a fan following.

But isn't it true that reading a story is a subjective experience? A tale that I may love could very well fall flat for you. It has happened so often that a story I thought sucked ended up being much loved by readers. Who's to say which one will click and which one won't? Heck, sometimes it takes me months to feel interested in a book, but the instant I pick it up, I end up tearing through it. There are so many factors that influence the writer and each reader at any given point in time.

So a lot of these questions crop up in my head, and I don't have much clarity. But I find that I've grappled with these very questions for much of 2022, and I don't have any answers.

And I'm done lingering in this colosseum of confusion. I've spent most of 2022 doing exactly that but sitting on the fence is rarely a good strategy.

Creating a job that doesn't exist

I was searching for my resume in my gmail account when among the search results was an article from creative coach, author and poet, Mark McGuinness. The email was titled Lesson #9 Do You Really Need a Resume? It is part of his 21st Century Creative Foundation course, which is free and full of insights!

In that lesson, Mark uses various examples to show how our work can (and really ought to) speak for ourselves, whereas resumes just become reasons for organizations to point out what's missing in terms of standard qualifications and experiences and reject applicants.

That lesson included several examples of creatives who've gone on to do the work without waiting for a job offer to start doing it.

When I re-read that lesson, I looked at all the jobs I was applying to and asked myself: Would I do that job by myself even if no one paid me to do it?

And the answer was a clear resounding No.

I write novels and short stories without any promise of monetary reward. But I don't think I wish to write articles on technology or the financial markets unless I were doing it for the money. And we know how sustainable that kind of attitude is.

So this made me wonder then, what would I do as a passion project that I could possibly execute for an external organization but that would also be something I'd be motivated enough to do by myself even if no one hired me to do it, if only to learn something new, to build a portfolio of work?
The answer was simple: building a healthy mindset as an author-entrepreneur.

I love growth. I love growing as a human being. A year ago, I realized that my journey as an author-entrepreneur was as much about me growing into the best version of myself as it was about me writing and publishing and selling books.

It is all a homecoming. How I rise to every challenge I face. Whether and how I dare to persevere despite setbacks. Do I allow crises and failures to make me bitter? Or can I look at them as learning experiences?

As mindset was the main factor that kept derailing me from my writing and publishing projects for most of 2022, I had already decided that developing a healthy mindset has to be my main focus going into 2023. That has to be the foundation of everything I do.

When I am in the right frame of mind, life feels easy and delightful. No goal seems impossible to attain. And I feel OK with what is. I love working towards my goals but my joy comes from the work, not from any anticipated result.

But when I am in the doldrums, I can only see my life and the world through a very negative lens, one that I find myself unable to take off! And this fear and anxiety, this hopelessness and despair seeps into everything – work, family, relationships. Everything starts to look sucky and ugly, and it's really a terrible state to be in.

And this is so important to me that it's a no-brainer that I wish to delve deep into this and share my journey with everyone.

Word of Wisdom for the Week

Change begins with intention. If I want to build a healthy mindset, I'll have to work on it.

I can read all the self-help books on earth and while they do provide a new perspective, a temporary jolt of enlightenment, real change happens in the moments when I'm not holding a book in my hand but when I'm in the thick of a situation that's calling me to be kind and compassionate and empathetic, not stark-raving mad and willing the situation or the people or this very life to go away so I won't have to face it.

It occurred to me that every Sunday evening, I could set an intention for the week ahead. A word of wisdom. A theme. An inspirational thought.

Something to guide my week, so that when I find myself falling off the wagon during the week, this word or concept or theme could be something I can use to bring myself back to what matters, to give myself that staying power, to remind myself of the reasons I love being on this path even if I have temporarily forgotten them.

So this is what I intend to do. Set an intention for the week and post a short blog about it on the site on Sunday evenings. I'm also thinking of doing a mid-week check-in on Wednesdays, because it seems to take so little these days for us to fall off the wagon.

And, the clincher is this. I will learn and adopt SEO best practices to write and promote my works, and this exercise will prove to me that I can do so without compromising on my creativity.

This will help me accomplish a number of things: build a digital content portfolio, filled with writings on a theme that is close to my heart, that will help me grow and share my learnings with you to inspire you on your journey too.

For now, I'll post these on the site. Once I establish a weekly routine, I'll open it up to subscribers. This will remain free. Because I know just as you'll find hope and inspiration from my words, I too will find courage and power knowing that you are along for the ride.

So this is my plan for 2023: to develop a healthy mindset as an author-entrepreneur and build my writing and publishing business on the robust foundation of confidence in my life force and abilities, and faith in the mysterious ways of the Universe.

I don't intend to wait until 1 January to embark on this. I'll put up the first Word of Wisdom for the Week* this coming Sunday. Reckon I'll have to come up with a shorter, punchier title before Sunday. Any suggestions? Please let me know using the comment form below this post, and you will have my endless gratitude.

I'm so excited to embark on this and see how this unfurls. At the very least, it will instill in me the habit of approaching each week with intention.

I've been letting stray winds toss me about for far too long, and it feels very empowering to know that if nothing else, I can still control the way I respond to life. With kindness. Respect. Courage. Reverence. And faithful surrender.

Image Attribution: Photo by Bart Kerswell on Unsplash

*Edited to add: Ever since I wrote this down, more and more ideas have been coming to me on this front, and so I've decided to not make an immediate start but I'm laying the groundwork for something new to begin in mid-to-late January. Stay tuned!

*Edited to add on 1 January 2023: Now that I've had more time to mull over this, I've realized that this is yet another ploy I've come up with to distract myself from writing fiction. My stories and novels are my greatest priority. I will continue to write about things that move me in this creative journey, as I've always done, perhaps 1–2 posts a month at most, if at all, but now I don't intend to turn this into a weekly or fortnightly or any such periodic endeavour. Anything that takes away my time and effort from writing fiction has no place in 2023 for me.

*Edited to add on 10 January 2023: I just wrote and published a post on procrastination and the fears that keep us from showing up to do our most important work. I think I will publish one such post a month, typically around mid-month, as I write a pretty thought-provoking and insightful newsletter around similar themes pertaining to creativity on the last Sunday of every month. I'll tag these posts as 'The Creative Life' to specify that these pertain to explorations on how I can develop a healthy mindset around my creative work this year. That is my one and only priority this year. Come take a look at the first post.

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