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

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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.

Unplugged: 24 Blissful Hours without My Beloved Phone

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The time spent on my phone has officially become unsustainable. It’s often my closest companion all day, never more than an arm’s length away. Like so many bad habits, I don’t even realize what’s happening . . . and then I can only cringe when I see those stark weekly usage reports.

then and now

Digital detox

I did a “digital detox” a couple months back. I’d just finished reading How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, which culminates in a challenge to give up your phone (or, better, all screens or internet-enabled devices) for 24 hours and had convinced (coerced?) my husband to participate with me. We did a puzzle instead of watching TV and both read more than we might have otherwise.

I could sense that I had benefited from the exercise, but I was also practically counting down the minutes until time was up and I could get my hands back on my phone.

This time, I was participating in the National Day of Unplugging. Inspired by the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest beginning at sunset on Friday, the day encourages participants to engage in life beyond their devices for 24 hours.

Stop relying on the TV

I turned off my phone around 6:30 on Friday, just before my mother-in-law came over. We usually visit over or around the TV: she shares our interest in true crime, and that always sparks interesting conversation related to whatever series or docuseries we’re following.

But this time, we (gasp!) left the TV off. A chat about how everyone’s week was going turned into funny anecdotes from the workplace; mentions of recently read books sparked the retelling of childhood memories. With tea in hand and candles lit, it felt very hygge. We turned toward each other instead of arranging ourselves around the television. And it was lovely!

The rest of my unplugged time felt just as wonderful: listening to vinyl records with Ali; attending a workshop without fear of my phone ringing (or temptation to check it under the table); running my errands on foot, spending the time outside feeling untethered to any schedule or route; reading a book on the couch in silence.

I actually found myself a little reluctant to re-engage, to open myself back up to the inbox, to dinging notifications, to the compulsion to scroll through feeds.

Baby steps

While I don’t think I’m ready to be unplugged a full day every week, I’m setting a goal to try it for an hour each day. I often spend that much or more reading, but still find myself reacting to each vibration or choosing to pick up my phone to look up a word . . . and then losing track of time or purpose as I get sucked into one app or another.

It’s kind of unnerving to realize how reliant we’ve become on having a tiny powerful computer in our pocket. But I appreciate the resistance I’m seeing in so many circles: setting aside time away from phones, being less reactive and more proactive in how technology is used, not being so afraid to just unplug for a bit.

Have you tried a digital detox? Is unplugging part of your regular routine? Tell me what’s working for you!

One Helpful Trick for Preventing Writer’s Block

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I started this post intending to say that when you write a lot, you start to write better. Words come more easily, you develop a kind of muscle memory that helps keep you going.

And do you know what happened? Writer’s block.

Proving, if nothing else, that the universe has a sense of humor.

Finding the thread

Writing can be a tricky business. Sometimes I sit down to write and feel like my fingers just cannot type fast enough to keep up. Other times I’ve made myself dizzy spinning in my office chair, hoping to catch any thread of anything to say something at all interesting or valuable.

ink pen and open notebook that only reads "Ummmm..."

Practice does help. As I started building my freelance business, that’s one of the greatest things I noticed: as I transitioned out of a 9-to-5 job that only required me to write in email form—and started writing more long-form content—it became easier to write well. I was more likely to have the speed-typing problem than the chair-spinning problem.

But like so many things in life, a plateau is inevitable. You get into a groove and then it becomes a rut.

Morning pages

One tool I’ve been using to stave off such a rut is the Morning Pages practice from Julia Cameron. I haven’t actually read The Artist’s Way (or at least not past the introduction; curse you, shopping ban) but I’d seen Julia’s name in enough acknowledgements sections to be familiar with the gist of this practice that so many artists swear by: three pages of longhand, stream-of-conscious writing every single morning.

There are no rules to Morning Pages. You just have to keep doing them.

My own Morning Pages practice is still very new. But while there was some horror in showing up on day two and feeling like I’d already run out of things to think (and then write), it’s making a great addition to my day. Usually part brain dump, panic over to-do lists and deadlines, and trying to remember whether or not I’ve already fed the cat, it’s also showing me patterns in my thinking, releasing mental clutter, and giving me the opportunity to play with language that I otherwise might have thought but not written down.

It’s also a chance to engage both my inner critic and my inner mentor, to practice my real-live handwriting, and to reform that callous on my right ring finger that I’ve hated since I was a kid.

If one of the most important ingredients of good writing is just to keep doing it, Morning Pages is creating an invaluable daily space to do just that—writer’s block, be damned.

On Writing Rituals and Routines

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I had a professor in college who said he had a dedicated laptop for writing. It had never been (would never be) connected to the internet. He only wrote on that computer, standing up at a podium.

Seeking a routine

I often find myself trying to create a specific writing ritual, but I haven’t found anything in particular that’s stuck. Sometimes I write at my desk on a standard desktop PC. Sometimes it’s on my laptop (at my coworking space, at the library, on my couch, in bed) or even on my phone. I write at 8 a.m., at 8 p.m. Occasionally at 2 a.m. I write in silence or with music, with coffee or without.

I’m learning that it really doesn’t matter as long as I keep going. Stephen King wrote in On Writing that “the sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate – four to six hours a day, every day – will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them.”

Even as a bookworm and a professional writer, that can be a tough benchmark to hit consistently.

Setting priorities

There’s always extra stuff on the to-do list, things to be tempted by: getting trapped in my inbox, worrying about my personal brand, doing chores around the house, trying to exercise more than once a year, not shopping, binge-watching Game of Thrones with my husband.

But it feels great to make the time.

This morning I spent a couple hours on my bookkeeping and on client work, and then I spent the afternoon reading a novel from cover to cover before sitting down to write. It felt like such a luxury!

And a rejuvenation. It turns out that writing after a few hours of reading a book (especially when you’re reading for recreational purposes and not out of obligation or requirement) feels a little less harried than after a big chunk of time in front of a screen . . . or several.

Maybe one day I will have an eccentric or very specific writing routine. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging away whenever—and however—I can.

What about you? Do you have a setting, time of day, or tools that you always use to write?

Closing Loopholes: Sticking with the Shopping Ban

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I’ve been requesting books almost compulsively from the library, and they’re coming in faster than I can read them.

I told myself that it wouldn’t be too difficult to give up buying books as part of our 2019 shopping ban because I’ve become such good friends with my local library branch. And that’s mostly been true. Mostly. Because some books are designed to be kept or journaled in or referred to again and again.

No renewals allowed

six library books on a shelf

I was on the waiting list for Julia Cameron’s seminal The Artist’s Way for weeks before a copy was available. And though I was delighted to get it and start reading, I soon realized that her process is intended to be followed over 12 weeks. I only got to keep the library’s copy for three weeks and—because it’s wonderful and lots of other people are waiting for it—no renewals allowed. Unless I wanted to fork over 30 cents a day for three months (and irk plenty of library employees and patrons in the meantime), I would have to give it up before I finished it.

The search for a loophole began.

Essential to my work

This could ostensibly be considered a work-related purchase! Exploring creative processes and improving my writing are essential to my work! I told myself when we started the shopping ban that things needed for the continued operation of my business would be allowed. Plus, it’s just one book. And I think I really do need it!

But I had already convinced myself not to buy new file folders last month just because they were pretty and had stopped myself from buying new wall art just to fill up blank space. I don’t need this book. If we’re being honest, I probably don’t even have time in the next 12 weeks to fully commit to the process. It’s okay to wait.

So with only a little bit of grumpiness I added it to my “for later” book list and moved on. I’ve got plenty to read—including Cameron’s The Right to Write, which is its own delight, and Notes from a Public Typewriter, pictured above and my favorite book of 2019 so far—and more than enough to do until I’m ready to dig into The Artist’s Way with the time it deserves.