How I Check My Email to Be a Better Writer

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I aspire to be a person who goes to sleep with zero unread emails every day.

It doesn’t always happen that way, because I’ll end up saving something as a to-do and then before you know it, that little red bubble on my phone says I’m slowly piling up emails again.

But I need these.

These are my Medium digests, with important information I need to be a better writer.

These are emails from workshops, coaches, and courses I’m in, with important information I need to be a better writer.

These are fourteen thousand emails from Shaunta Grimes.

These are business expense receipts, submission deadlines, and form submissions from my website.

These are, okay, that one is just a reminder that I need to skip this month’s MeUndies order.

Getting started

I set myself a timer and decided I wouldn’t check my phone or Facebook until the timer went off. Until then, it was just me and my inbox.

I powered through about 80 emails in 40 minutes and that little red notification bubble has (temporarily) gone back to hell where it came from.

To get started, I opened the following tabs in my browser:

I ended up opening a budget spreadsheet and WordPress as well, which I explain below.

I just started at the top of the email list and went through one at a time. And I took an action with each email.

  • Medium Digests: I opened each article that I wanted to read later and saved it to my reading list within Medium, then deleted the digest email
  • Mailing Lists: I unsubscribed if no longer relevant or simply marked as read if I wanted to stay on the list
  • Bills: I paid them, opened my Google Sheet where I track bills, and recorded the payment
  • Submission Calls: I put a card in my Shiny Object List describing the submission along with the deadline and link to submit — if I have time for shiny objects, I’ll submit during my next Shiny Week
  • Guest Posts: I get inquiries to submit guest posts to my website, so I responded to these with a no thanks or a tell me more
  • Account Confirmations: If I needed to click a button to confirm my email or reset a password, I took care of it in a few seconds and moved onto the next email
  • Valuable Emails: Emails that I want to keep handy but don’t have the focus to deal with right now got a label applied in Gmail so I can find them easily later

I also realized that I received a guest post inquiry through my coaching client inquiry form, so I hopped over to WordPress to adjust the verbiage and hopefully make it clearer what each form is for.

Building the new email habit

My goal is to handle my unread emails in this manner once or twice a day, but I’m not hung up on the zero as a marker of my success. What I want to get from this habit, however “successful” I am at keeping my inbox at zero, is a more intentional approach to my email inboxes and professional development.

It does me no good to be on mailing lists for writers and saving articles about writing if I’m not taking the time to read them, learn, and implement what they teach me.

Handling my email inbox is the first tiny step toward building the habit of improving my writing.

The 9 Books That Defined My 2019

Part of being a good writer is being a good reader

After what can only be described as voracious reading of fiction and fantasy as a child, I lost reading for pleasure as an adult and switched only to “productive” reading. Self help. Motivation. Business building. Personal development.

After several years, I let myself read fiction again. I read Outlander for a book club and consumed the rest of the series, my childhood appetite for fantasy rushing back.

I switch back and forth now in a relatively 50/50 split between stuff to make my brain smarter and stuff to make my brain relax and have fun.

They’re both necessary for me to be the best writer I can.

These are the books that defined my 2019

  1. The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner 

This book was the single most important book of the year for me, and honestly for every single person in the world. Go read this book. Caroline’s work changed me. I finally stopped hurting myself in the name of weight loss and thinness. I understood fatphobia and diet culture in a way I never had before. This book may have literally saved my life.

The F*ck It Diet provided the paradigm shift I needed to see the truth about my body and the fact that it’s okay to exist in it.

2. Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Ph.D.

Before and after TFID arrived at my doorstep, I decided to read up on other body positive books. Health at Every Size helped solidify what Caroline Dooner had already begun to teach me: my body isn’t inherently unhealthy because it’s fat. I remember calling my sister in a rage while I was listening to it, angry at the lies that had been told to me as fact about my body for 30 years. Everyone should read this book.

3. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I heard about Dietland on the Unladylike podcast and felt compelled to read it right away. This fiction novel follows the life of Plum, a lifelong dieter who is saving up for weight loss surgery. She goes on a whirlwind adventure and makes a bunch of new feminist friends, while the narrative weaves back and forth between Plum and a series of murders that appear to implicate a new friend. It was a delightful read (even with the murdery bits) that has stuck with me all year. Highly recommend.

4. Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.

Like TFID helped me see the ways I was stuck in diet culture self-talk, Getting Past Your Past helped me see the ways my trauma manifests in repeated patterns linked through a lifetime of unprocessed memories. Francine Shapiro, who died in June this year, developed the EMDR method of trauma processing therapy. Just reading the book helped me start viewing my trauma in a new light, and entering EMDR therapy has helped me process my eating disorder, my abusive marriage, and traumatic memories from childhood emotional abuse.

5. The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation by Caitlin Fisher 

In 2016, I wrote a blog post about an idea I couldn’t get out of my head: The idea that millennials as a whole were being systematically gaslit by older generations and the capitalist systems at play in our country. In 2019, I published my debut book of the same title. Each chapter highlights an aspect of society that our generation has supposedly undermined and destroyed, with advice on how to keep killin’ it on a regular basis.

Maybe some parts of society suck and deserve to be dismantled.

6. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk 

Shockingly, this book is also about trauma processing. In The Body Keeps the Score, the author discusses the physical ways that trauma manifests in the body as chronic pain and illness. It turns out that neglect, emotional abuse, and other traumas can have lasting effects not only on the brain but on the entire human body. It was eye opening to learn about and helped me get a diagnosis for my fibromyalgia this year when I acknowledged the physical pain I had been ignoring in my body.

7. Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey 

When I was married, I read the first three books of a great sci-fi series, The Expanse. And then I didn’t read any books or watch any television that I had ever associated with him for eighteen months. No Expanse. No superhero shows. Not even the shows I had enjoyed by myself when I was with him. I was on media lockdown.

But in 2019 I met a friend who also loved The Expanse and he encouraged me to get back into the series. Reading Cibola Burn, the fourth novel in the series, was my first contact with husband-related media in a year and a half, and despite my fears it felt safe. I’ve continued to work through the rest of the books in the series this year and I’m all caught up on the TV adaptation as well.

8. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I have a list of things I’m going to do with my life, and they are: foster kids, rescue dogs, buy a house, and hug Brené Brown. Her work on vulnerability and shame helped me realize that I’m worthy of love and belonging right now. Brené Brown also taught me to play and have fun (which helps me read fiction and schedule socializing with friends). Whatever way you can get your hands on any of her content, you should do so immediately.

9. The Animorphs Series by K. A. Applegate 

Re-reading this series that I adored as a child is doing some kind of healing in me that I don’t fully understand. I am amazed that I still remember major plot points and even lines of dialogue decades after reading them once or twice each in elementary school between fourth and sixth grade.

As an added bonus, reading them has strengthened my resolve to start a young adult science fiction series. I’ve allowed myself to return to the parts of YA sci-fi that I loved as a kid, and my brain just tossed a fully formed idea at me in the shower, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

My 2020 reading list

Looking over my 2019 list, I realize that I need to start branching out. Last year was about survival, this year was about laying the groundwork to heal, and next year is about becoming an improved version of myself. This will mean some of the same type of reading (and writing!) as 2019, but I also feel a deep need to read from more diverse authors.

I want to help all people, not just people who look like me and have similar experiences. And I am aware that I haven’t always examined my privilege closely and critically. In 2020 I want to open myself up to listen to the experiences of others so that I can be more aware.

Simply put: It’s time for me to stop focusing on reading work from white people.

Rather than continue to ask people of color to educate us about how we can better understand their experiences and be allies, we have to do our own work. Here are some excellent titles I’ve started researching that are on my 2020 reading list for a start:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

How do you measure a year?

In books, in words, in reconnecting with characters you thought you left behind a long time ago.

How to be a blogger

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Well, this is embarrassing,  you guys.

I haven’t written a post in four months.

That’s about the time I decided “I’m going to get serious about writing and really be a blogger.” I decided to live my dream. The process has been looking a little bit like this:

  • Should I make my own website or continue using WordPress as my website?
  • Can I write about non-minimalist stuff on my “Born Again Minimalist” blog?
  • Is “Born Again” too religiousy, causing me to miss out on target audience?
  • What’s my brand?
  • Do I need a logo?
  • Is the lotus thing overdone?
  • Should I offer additional services or products to people?
  • I should write a book, or a free PDF report, or something, to offer people.
  • I need a podcast or newsletter to stay in touch with people.
  • How many blogs per week should I be writing?
  • What is my MISSION for blogging?
  • How can I turn my blog into a business?
  • What’s my goal for blogging?

I was overwhelmed. That is a lot to think about.

In the process of asking all these questions, I became paralyzed with the fear of not doing things right. Of not doing things perfectly. Four months and a lot of personal development books later, I realized a couple things:

  1. Some is better than none.
  2. Done is better than perfect.

In realizing this, I have come up with the million dollar idea! A simple two-step process to being a blogger. I am going to rock your world with this, are you ready?

The two simple steps to being a blogger are just below…

  1. Write a blog post.
  2. Publish it on the internet.

I know, right? How am I not a millionaire with this kind of imaginative, creative, think-outside-the-box type advice? I’m on fire today.

That said, there really are more things to think about when it comes to being a successful blogger. First of all, what defines success for you? How will you measure it?

Success can be measured in all sorts of ways, depending on your goals for your blog or website.

  • Number of newsletter subscribers (I will be successful when I have 1,000 subscribers)
  • Number of blog subscribers (I will be successful when I have 100 blog followers)
  • Number of people who purchase a product or service (I will be successful when I help 50 people with my service)
  • Number of Facebook Likes, Shares, and Comments (I will be successful when 50% or more of my audience engages with my posts)
  • Number of posts per week (I will be successful when I consistently publish two blog posts per week)

Those are some examples. My current success metric will be consistently posting to this blog at least once per week. At the same time, I will be actively working on answering all those other questions posed above, in my overwhelm. But in the meantime, I can’t say I’m a blogger if I’m not actually blogging.

In conclusion: I apologize for my absence! I have really missed engaging with my regular readers and I feel like I have been neglecting you all.

If you’re on Facebook, you can check out my new “Like” page – Happy Fit Soul – Caitlin Reed, Coach!

My end game will be to provide services and tools for various aspects of life “fitness,” including health and nutrition, personal finance, personal relationships and communication, and careers, among other topics as I see fit.

(Ha! Get it? See fit? Because… fitness?)

I totally still got it.

See you guys again real soon!

Careers and cookies

I wrote before about quitting, and how it can be a freeing and incredible experience.  It’s very tempting to leave behind the daily grind and step outside the box, whether that box is a job, a relationship, a location, a booked calendar, or anything else.  It’s freeing to quit and do something that brings us more passion.

The reason this is relevant to me today is because I recently found myself on a call with a freelance client, for whom I write posts for several blogs and content for several websites.  And during this call, we talked about my ability to pick up some more hours of writing.  Because, according to the words that tumbled forth from my mouth, “I’d like to be writing full time.”

OH WOULD I?

Yes.  Yes I would.

We talked about hours and about my timeline (I imagine I would be at my current full-time place of employment for at least another year, but who knows?) and about my goals.

I had a real conversation about a very real career change.

When I have conversations about writing, picking up more hours, getting increased responsibilities, or even brainstorming new things to write about, I feel charged with energy.  I love to write.  I never thought I would be a writer.  But I never thought I would be a purchaser for a chemical manufacturer, an administrative assistant for a real estate company, or a career counselor either, and I have done all of those things.

I try not to get too caught up in goals, but this doesn’t feel like a goal.  This feels like a need.  At the very least, this is a strong desire that I think will bring me joy and passion and satisfaction.

Some of the articles I write for this client are about work-at-home parents, and the more I research and write about the topic, the more interested I am in becoming one of these work-at-home parents. I have recently been thinking very hard about my parenting desires (though, admittedly, children are not on my immediate to-do list) and I have realized that, by the time I have children, I would like to have enough income from my freelance work that I don’t have to return to the workforce outside the home.

I’d also like to point your attention to the two fortunes wrapped into one cookie that I opened recently when I treated myself to Chinese food for dinner:

Seriously.