READING DIARY: MARCH 2020

Books During a Crisis

Well, when the month started, I was ready to relax into some books. I had a week of house sitting ahead of me, my work had hit a slight lull, and the idea of social distancing was surfacing. It seemed like the perfect time to hibernate with some reading.

But once COVID-19 reached official pandemic status (and there were outright orders to stay at home) my anxiety became a force to be reckoned with. I found myself rereading the same page over and over, and I just couldn’t make much progress. Still, I managed to stay on track by knocking out some shorter books from my TBR pile—and I’m hoping to do the same in April.

Stay safe out there, friends! And don’t feel guilty if you’re not “taking advantage” of the extra time you might have. Just surviving is enough!

March 2020 reading summary: number of books read (13), number of pages read (3,087), longest book (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder), shortest book (SCUM Manifesto), favorite book (Spiritual Rebel)

How to Be a Mindful Drinker: Cut Down, Stop for a Bit, or Quit by The Club Soda Community (Laura Willoughby, Jussi Tolvi, Dru Jaeger)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been on the sober-curious bandwagon for a little while, which is what led me to this title. It was another great look at our culture of mindless drinking and a window into a community of nondrinkers (Club Soda).

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The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

This was our March book club pick and I think we will be returning to the true crime genre! This was a very detailed look at the 1892 murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, Lizzie’s father and stepmother, and the ensuing trial.

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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A title that’s both YA and a crime story? Yes, please. Loved this fictional after-the-fact investigation of a small-town murder. It’s got friendship, betrayal, and plenty of plot twists!

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The Art of Flaneuring: How to Wander with Intention and Discover a Better Life by Erika Owen

Perhaps more relevant now than ever, a quick guide to taking the path a little less traveled and to exploring a new place (or your own neighborhood) through aimless wandering and a little mindfulness.

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Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There by Sylvia Boorstein

I’ve been considering a mindfulness/meditation/silent retreat for at least a couple of years, but of course there are always plenty of reasons not to commit. Which is why I was extra grateful to discover this little book: a DIY mindfulness retreat you can even set up at home.

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This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life by Annie Grace

Another in the category of sober living! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m still drinking—but I still appreciate the chance to reexamine the habit and be more mindful of my imbibing. (Especially that we’re all self-isolating now!)

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Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

I read this over several weeks: It’s a pretty dense read and is a fascinating look at the things that, well, spark joy. From circles to rainbows to surprise, why do some things make everyone feel giddy no matter their age, ethnicity, or gender? Warning: This book will make you want to redecorate.

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Storied & Scandalous Kansas City: A History of Corruption, Mischief and a Whole Lot of Booze by Karla Deel

I always enjoy reading books about Kansas City, my hometown, and this one was no different. Not only known as the Paris of the Plains but also home to the Wettest Block in the World, KC was (is?) one hell of a party town.

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Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective and Higher Purpose by Sarah Bowen

With three weeks of daily readings, Spiritual Rebel considers ancient wisdom, modern religion, and pop culture to explore what helps us connect with our spiritual side and our life purpose.

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Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers by Faith G. Harper

I picked this one up because a local bookstore was planning an event with the author. That was, of course, canceled along with the rest of April. But I still enjoyed reading this little book on why your brain works the way it does and how to be okay anyway.

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Cures for Love by Stendhal

Did I buy this in college and only just now read it? Yes, I did. Will I read this collection of 150-year-old maxims about love again? Unlikely.

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Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

A clever and delightful novel about a protagonist who only sees himself as “Generic Asian Man”—and his quest to become “Kung Fu Guy”—in the black-and-white world of Hollywood.

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SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas

I think I will let Michelle Tea’s foreword sum up the brilliance of this 1967 critique/satire/call to action:

“To see the SCUM Manifesto’s humor, to let it crack you up page after page, is not to read it as a joke. It’s not. … The truth of the world as seen through Valerie’s eyes is patently absurd, a cosmic joke. The hilarity in the Manifesto strikes me as fighting fire with fire.”

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What did you read—and love—in March? What are you looking forward to in April? I’d love to hear from you!

Reading Diary: February 2020

Right on Track

I read nine books in February (or, more accurately, I finished nine books; Little Women took me awhile). And this month I was very fortunate to read several titles I wanted to review with five stars!

I’m exactly on track to hit my 2020 goal of 120 books, though somehow my to-be-read pile only seems to be growing instead of shrinking.

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

I love reading essays about life—and all the messy, complicated feelings it involves. This book genuinely made me both laugh and cry; I read a copy from the library but expect it’ll join my permanent library as soon as it’s in paperback.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade novel about a girl who can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead. I was so glad to discover when I got to the end that the next installment was already available!

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This is a beautiful novel and a moving depiction of the lives of several, sometimes interconnected, women. Sometimes award winners can disappoint, but it’s deserving of the hype.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker

I’ve been in a “sober curious” place for a little while, feeling like drinking has become a habit that might not be where I want to spend my time/money/energy/health. This was a great examination of drinking culture and recovery programming—and specifically the impact it has on women.

Tunnel of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

The follow-up to City of Ghosts, I read this in a single sitting. The third installment comes out later this year and, in the meantime, I plan to check out another of her series, Shades of Magic.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library, which destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 volumes. Also part examination of libraries and part history of the LAPL, it was a fascinating read.

What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond by Yael Shy

Meditation is becoming an increasingly important part of my regular routine, and I really enjoyed this quick little read about its value—especially for young adults.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This was actually my book club’s November pick, so I’m really behind in finishing it. But I’m so glad I didn’t abandon it because, of course, it is a complete delight. Certainly a classic for a reason!

What five-star books have you read recently?

Home Office: Creating the Perfect Work Space

Since I began building my business in earnest about two years ago (and made the leap to full-time solopreneurship almost two years ago), my home office has undergone approximately 67 iterations.

As a serial furniture rearranger and someone with packrat tendencies, I know it will never be a static environment, but I’ve finally settled into something that’s working—and a desk space that I love.

Tech

Last summer I finally invested in a computer that I can rely on without worrying about sudden restarts or having to wait forever just for a new Word doc to open. I stuck with a laptop so I can stay mobile—for those days that I’d rather spend in a coffee shop or the library—but added a dock so I can use extra screens. And then I bought two 27-inch monitors that allow me to easily write, edit, and proofread without straining my eyes (see, Ali, I hear you!).

And because my work is nearly exclusively performed on a computer, I try to prioritize ergonomics: a split keyboard, an ergonomic mouse, and a clamp to keep my monitors at eyelevel will (hopefully) help keep discomfort and problems like carpal tunnel at bay.

And for focus, I’ve found that wearing headphones can help, even if I’m only listening to white noise or not actually listening to anything at all, and these noise-cancelling wireless cans are perfect for the job.

Furniture

It seems like I slogged through about a million pages of desks and tables before I found a cheap white table that’s large enough to accommodate all three screens (and the miscellaneous stuff that inevitably accumulates wherever I’m sitting for hours at a time) while still leaving some room for a notebook or a microwaved quesadilla. Plus, I just got this sweet chair that lets me sit cross-legged without risking weird leg cramps.

I of course need plenty of space to store books, whether they’re my most reliable resources or my novel-of-the-moment or reflection journals. Ali and I have several large bookshelves that hold the majority of our library, but I also use some floating shelves above my desk, a rolling metal cart, and a TV tray to keep certain titles close by.

Stuff

My favorite analog office supplies are the narrow spiral-at-the-top reporter’s notebooks, tiny Post-it Notes, and Pilot P-700 pens. I usually have at least two of each nearby! I often write things down first—notes from calls, random thoughts, to-do lists and reminders, even first drafts—and then transfer them to my digital calendars and tools. (Not efficient, I guess, but that’s the system.)

Winter would be much harder to get through without a “happy light,” one of those ultra-bright desk lamps designed to help you through the perils of seasonal affective disorder with light therapy. Light has generally become an important element of my office; I often have small lamps, string lights, or candles to keep the space filled with warm light. Not missing the fluorescent office lights here!

What favorite tools do you always keep at your desk?

Reading Diary: January 2020

11 books down, 109 to go

I’ve been extremely lucky the last couple of years to increase my reading. (It helps to not have a regular job . . . and to have a husband who is often happy to make dinner.)

After crushing my 100-books-in-2019 challenge, I’ve bumped up my goal to read 120 books in 2020. And that, of course, starts with January. Here’s what I read last month.

January 2020 reading stats: Number of Books Read: 11 Number of Pages Read: 3,379 Longest Book: The Starless Sea (512 pages) Shortest Book: On Tyranny (126 pages) Highest Rated: Unfollow (5 stars) Lowest Rated: Emma (2 stars)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This was one of those books that I kept seeing on best-of and must-read lists, but actually knew very little about when I started. It turned out to be a very engaging read and a clever story.

Twenty-one Truths about Love by Matthew Dicks

As a lifelong list-maker myself, a novel written in lists was immediately intriguing. And it didn’t disappoint! This was a sweet and funny book about love, among other things.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is magical and so is her writing. This one seemed to wander a little too far afield at times, but I appreciated the chance to get lost in another of her beautiful worlds.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

An exploration of the silencing and the doubting of women, many of her anecdotes felt very familiar and it made me sad to think about how often this is still happening in our world.

Indistractable: How to Control Your Awareness and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

I appreciate any opportunity to read more thoughts on the attention economy . . . and how to ensure that we are mindful, both when we’re consuming and when we’re producing.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

History does seem to repeat itself, and this was a fascinating and horrifying reminder of the past—and the dangers of authoritarianism.

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan

I’ve been going through (another) true crime phase, mostly spurred by a slew of Netflix docuseries and my recent discovery of the My Favorite Murder podcast. I’d never heard of Israel Keyes before, but I won’t forget that name now.

Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper

Westboro is only about 60 miles from where I live, so I have long been familiar with their picketing and hate speech—and with the tweeting of Megan Phelps-Roper. I found her memoir both beautiful and heartbreaking, a captivating look into the WBC and the necessity of questioning our own beliefs.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

This graphic novel has been on my to-be-read list for years, and I’m so glad to have finally gotten to it. A memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, it made me both laugh and cry—and it made me want to read more.

The Conference of the Birds: The Fifth Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I have loved this entire series, but admit that I haven’t found this second trilogy quite as engaging as the first. Still, I’m looking forward to the conclusion in the sixth book about Miss P and peculiardom!

Emma by Jane Austen

This was my book club’s pick for January and while I appreciate the brilliance of Jane Austen and the character of Emma, this was not my favorite book to read. If it weren’t for peer pressure, I likely would’ve marked it as did-not-finish and moved on.

109 books to go! What have you read recently that you loved?

Happiness Is… Asking for Help

I’m really bad at asking for help.

Several years ago, my sister and I were wandering around Target—I don’t remember what we were looking for, but we couldn’t find it. At some point, a store employee walked by and asked if they could help us find anything. We both immediately responded, “No, we’re fine,” before realizing that yes, actually, we could use some help.

Yes, actually

I feel so used to saying, “Thank you, but I can do this on my own,” that it’s become a knee-jerk reaction even when I would love a helping hand.

That same response sometimes caused problems at my last 9-to-5 job. The team had a rule of thumb we were supposed to follow: if you’ve spent 15 minutes trying to figure something out on your own, it’s time to ask someone for help. So many of us felt determined to make it work by ourselves, embarrassed to need assistance, or just too stubborn to call for reinforcements.

I notice that when I’m struggling with the terrors of formatting in Microsoft Word or trying to find a display setting that I just know is buried somewhere in my WordPress dashboard. It’s sometimes alarming how much time I waste when the answer is a quick web search or text to a friend away.

Phone a friend

But I’m taking a cue from how good it feels when I do ask for help and get to move on from a minor problem without (metaphorically) pulling my hair out. And also from the joy I feel when I get to help someone else when I’m the one they reach out to.

Last weekend an old friend called just to chat about the apostrophe in “let’s” vs. “lets” and I was delighted to be his phone-a-friend resource.

That’s why I’ve started creating a few resources for just those kinds of situations—check out my new LinkedIn checklist, word count tracker, and basic copy checklist! And in the spirit of all of us asking for more help, I’d love to know what other checklists or templates or guides I can support you with.

Tell me in the comments or send me a message!

Top 3 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year of Business

Today is my first anniversary of life as a solopreneur and it’s been a crazy and wonderful twelve months of self-employment.

Keep up with your bookkeeping

When I was in college, my mom bought me a shirt that said “English Major: You Do the Math.” While I won’t say that I’m totally inept when it comes to numbers, my strong suit is definitely words.

It’s been a big mindset shift to not just be a writer and an editor, but to also be the chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and chief financial officer. And because it’s easy to put off categorizing all my revenue and expenses “until I have more time,” suddenly I’m faced with reconciling the last four months of financial data.

Fortunately, I’ve only had a couple of days that I’ve ended up having to dedicate to digging myself out of a financial reporting hole. And I’m glad that’s a lesson I learned early!

Take advantage of networking

Every personality test or analysis I’ve ever taken has confirmed what I’ve known since a young age: I’m an introvert. And not just an introvert but a shy introvert, which can make large groups of people and social situations a little uncomfortable.

But the truth is that networking is awesome. Local events, industry events, and freelancer events have all been an enormous support for finding a community, getting writing and editorial help, being my own boss, and finding great clients to work with.

Even when I feel butterflies about putting on a nametag and taking a deep breath before chatting with strangers about who I am and what I do, I almost always feel like it was time and energy well spent.

Turn off your computer

One of the joys of being self-employed is that you can truly work whenever you want. But one of the pitfalls is that you can truly work whenever.

Whether trying to meet an upcoming deadline, working to get ahead of schedule, or just tackling the never-ending to-do list of administrative work, it can be easy to start working as soon as I’m awake—and to keep working until it’s time to go to bed.

Being okay with shutting things down (even when there’s more to do), turning off excessive notifications on my phone, and setting boundaries to prevent me from becoming an actual workaholic are all essential to taking advantage of the fact that I can set my own schedule.

Are you a seasoned solopreneur? What have your most important lessons been?

Peg Legs and Embracing Imperfections

My suitcase has a peg leg and it reminds me that imperfections are beautiful.

It’s the biggest suitcase I own, and it doesn’t get much use since most of the trips I take are quick weekend getaways. But when I pulled it out of the closet for a big trip last month, I was pleased to see that its wooden leg was still intact.

Books are heavy

What happened is that I have long had a problem with owning too many books. I buy them faster than I can read, hold onto them long after I’ve finished them, and like to use them as temporary and portable furniture (end tables, laptop platforms, shelves for other books).

I also don’t have a great special awareness of things like size and weight.

So when it was time for me to leave college, I took my big suitcase and loaded it full of books. I figured since it had wheels, the only real challenge would be lifting it into the trunk. One trip over the curb and one of the suitcase’s sturdy plastic feet broke clean off.

I was completely stunned! Not to mention embarrassed about my packing skills and mad about my new suitcase being broken.

But my dad got a block of wood, shaped it to match the other foot, painted it black, and screwed it into the base of the suitcase. It stabilized the suitcase and blended right in.

bottom of large red suitcase with one plastic foot and one wooden foot
That’s a suitcase with a peg leg.

And that’s not all

Ten years later, it’s still holding up just fine. And more than that, it makes me smile every time I see it—especially when I spot it at the baggage claim and know immediately that that red suitcase, out of all the others that look just like it, is mine.

It’s so easy to see memes with messages like “imperfections make things/life/you beautiful” or “no one is perfect but everyone is enough” and feel the sentiment go in one ear and out the other. Of course, no one is perfect. But then we keep trying to be perfect.

It’s not just that the wooden leg on my suitcase makes it useable. It makes me love it.

And when I realize that, I start to notice other imperfections that I don’t just tolerate but actively appreciate.

That I own more books than I can realistically read.

That I usually need about 15 minutes of spinning absentmindedly in my chair before I can get down to writing.

The weird crimp in my bangs that shows up whether I straighten, curl, or shave my hair.

It’s all good!

The One with My First Business Trip

I’m taking my very first business trip this week. I’ve never had a job that required any kind of travel, and I’m very excited that I get to create this opportunity for myself.

I know, I know: if you have to travel for work regularly, it can be a major pain in the ass. The time, the hassle, the sheer volume of germs encountered on so much public transportation.

ACES, here I come

But in spite of all that, I’m absolutely thrilled to be taking myself to the ACES: The Society for Editing annual national conference in fabulous Providence, Rhode Island. ACES is an international organization of editing professionals across industries and in a variety of media, and I’ve been a member since founding my business.

This trip is exciting because it’s a big first for Mallory Herrmann Editorial Services LLC, but also because it’s chock-full of opportunities to learn, network, and check out the local doughnut scene.

I’ll be attending sessions on writing about distressing content, how words get made, using style guides—and, yes, comma usage. I expect there to be much nerdery! There will also be opportunities to learn about process and workflow, social media, diversity and inclusion, and succeeding as an editor.

Ready to learn

I’ve got a brand-new notebook and a stock of pens for all the notetaking I expect to be doing over the three-day conference. I can’t wait to soak up as much as I can in order to both add value to the work I provide for my clients and to create improvements in my business as a whole.

Because being an editor isn’t just about knowing the rules and then following them; it’s an evolution. I’m always learning new rules, new exceptions, new best practices—and that’s a very good thing.

I can’t wait to share some of my takeaways from the conference here and on social media. Follow me over on Facebook and Instagram for live updates from Li’l Rhody this week!

22 Hours and Counting: An Outside Project Update

When I started working toward being outside a total of 150 hours this year, it was all about the walking. Mostly because it was the middle of winter, which is not really lounge-on-the-patio weather. If you’re going to be outside in January in Kansas City, you’ll want to keep moving.

Getting out of the house

I found that I really didn’t mind bundling up that much if it meant getting out of the house for a little bit.

But then February and all its snow, ice, and thunderstorms happened. The only time I left the house was to dig out my car so I could refuel on caffeine and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Any extra progress I’d made in January to the goal of 150 years was lost in the cold, black hole of February.

After many days of not spending any time outdoors, these last few weeks have literally been a breath of fresh air. It’s been lots of walks to the library, to the grocery store, to the coffee shop, around the small lake down the street. Each outing has been diligently added to my tracker, building up my time.

Being vs. doing

But it didn’t occur to me until today that being outside doesn’t mean that I have to be active. Walking is great and I need more of that, not less. Still, I’m learning this year that there is much to be said for just being instead of always doing.

I’m looking forward to a lovely spring season of adding meditating, reading, and eating al fresco to my routine. Bonus points if there are also happy hours on the patio.

What are your favorite out-of-doors activities? Do you like to stay active out there or are you more likely to just hang out under the sky?

Turn Off Notifications, Take Back Your Time

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

I’m a sucker for productivity hacks. I love the idea that one little tweak to my daily habits or routines can save time, boost efficiency, or make me feel like more of a pro.

No more badge icons

Admittedly, few of these helpful hints get so ingrained that they’re actually useful in the long run. But one of the biggest game-changers for me recently has been turning off notifications on my phone. Several weeks ago, I read this guide from Coach Tony that advocates, in part, for never seeing another badge icon again. While it’s a year and a half old, the recommendations have never felt more relevant for my phone/life balance.

In an ideal world, I’d remove social media apps altogether and keep my phone on airplane mode for regular intervals and never check my email while watching TV with my husband. But an ideal world this is not. And so what I’m striving for is “better” instead of “perfect.”

iphone with screen turned off sitting on a table in a ray of sunlight

Turning off notifications has been like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I still check my phone too much and spend too much time doing the scroll, but I no longer react to every new email, social, or file-upload alert. None of my apps display badges anymore, so I don’t feel that constant nagging to open something back up or guilt over not having addressed something yet, especially in the evenings or over the weekend when I’m trying to be off the clock. I know that I’m still spending plenty of time in my inbox—it’s not going to go ignored for too long.

Someone told me recently that as a workforce, we’ve quickly adapted to checking our email on a Saturday—but that we wouldn’t dare going to see a movie on a Monday afternoon. Part of the joy and reward in being my own boss is that I get to make those decisions about when I’m working and when I’m not (and choosing, sometimes, to go to a weekday matinee).

On the clock, off the clock

But with one phone to manage all things, those lines are just too hard to define sometimes. Engaging on Facebook as Mallory Herrmann is off-the-clock time but engaging as Mallory Herrmann Editorial Services LLC is not. How do I split those hairs when I’m glancing through social media while in line at the grocery store?

Changing how reactive I am to my phone doesn’t solve those problems, but it has made it easier to be more intentional about how I spend that time. When I open up the email app, it’s because I’m ready to read some email or to follow-up on something specific, and not just because my phone has been dinging at me all morning. When I’m ready for the weekend, I can discourage myself from opening Asana or Dropbox or Dubsado to check a project’s status—I can look at each and every one of those notifications when I’m ready to do the work on Monday.