Monday, December 5, 2016

One Thing No One Told Me About Being My Own Boss

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

Most people are smart enough to know that if you work for yourself, you need to be self-motivated and disciplined. Even when you have an agent or editor, there's nobody telling you to write your book instead of binge watching Gilmore Girls. For better and worse, you are your own boss.

My husband is a boss in the corporate world. He's in charge of a team of 16 people. While on the surface his job is to keep an eye on what the engineers are designing, help problem solve, and make sure everyone has what they need, one of his biggest responsibilities is to care for the mental state of his team.

If you've ever had a boss, you've likely experienced firsthand how their attitude impacts the mood of the entire staff. A good boss nudges employees when he or she knows they can do better, but offers grace at the right moments too. A good boss may need to push a team through a season of hard work, but then knows to offer rest on the other side. A good boss knows how to reward and recognize employees in a way that's meaningful to them.

And as I thought about that, it struck me:

When you are your own boss, you are in charge of your own morale. 

Yes, I need to be self-motivated, disciplined, organized, and all those other things that are important when you are self-employed. But I'm also in charge of my emotional and mental conditions.

And if you're like memeaning nobody asks you to write, but you do it because you love it and want to get better at itthen you are also your own boss of your writing, and you also will thrive if you learn how to keep your morale high.

Here are 5 things I do to keep myself mentally healthy and happy:

1. I reward myself for milestones.

There are precious few really big moments in a book's life. You can only get The Call from an agent or raving feedback from a critique partner so many times, right? So it's up to me to recognize that I've made progress.

For me it's been as dorkily simple as noting how many words I wrote that day. I do this in a spreadsheet because I'm cool like that, and it gives me the same boost as when I mark an item off my to-do list.

My spreadsheet looks like this:

If you want other ideas for how to reward yourself for hitting milestones, I'll be compiling a list to go out with the next edition of Go Teen Writers Notes.

2. I connect with my peers.

You know how when you struggle through a situationtaking an awful class, babysitting a difficult child, can instantly bond with someone else who has done the same thing? That feeling is why my writing friends are so important to me.

Connecting with them energizes me. Not just when we help each other through plot troubles (though I need that too!) but when I'm feeling bummed out about a story or missed opportunity. They're amazing about saying, "Hey, I've been there too. It's tough. You'll get through it."

3. I value rest time.

Sometimes when people work from home, they struggle with frittering away time because there's no one holding you accountable.

But many struggle with the opposite issue. Sometimes my inner boss has a hard time granting me vacation.

Like last Thursday night. I often work at night, but by the time I got the kids in bed and the house somewhat picked up, I was tired. So instead of answering a few emails or finishing that scene I started earlier in the day, I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.

And then I spent the rest of the night feeling horribly guilty over my choice to rest instead of work. That's not okay. Having time away from work is a really healthy thing, even when you love what you do.

I've also noticed how much more creative and happy I feel when I'm getting 8 hours of sleep at night. I know lots of people cut sleep when they need to get things done, but that's just not a good long term solution for me.

4. I own my priorities.

If you don't take the time to set your priorities, somebody else will.

I become a very frustrated writer on days when I accidentally let others influence my priorities too much.

Mostly my priorities get attacked in my email inbox. I have one sitting in there right now that is an email from a writer I don't know, and the subject line is "Please Read And Respond!!!!" Inside the email is a lot of lingo about getting back to them ASAP. I care about this email and this writer, but it isn't as high on my priority list as they want it to be.

There have been times when I've let somebody else's urgency dictate how I spend my time, but I'm getting a lot better at standing by the priorities I've set.

5. I only take responsibility for what actually is my responsibility.

There are lots of things that I have control over. Writing the best story I possibly can. Creating the most interesting blog posts or social media updates that I'm capable of.

But I can't control if somebody chooses to buy my book or RT my post, right? I can do my best to influence it, of course, but I can't make them do it.

When I'm obsessing over something (why were there not more likes? how come they got a contract, and I didn't?) I have to ask myself if this is something I can control, something I can influence, or something that's completely out of my hands. Identifying which category it belongs in often brings peace to the situation.

What do you do to keep yourself happy and healthy in times of stress?


  1. This is really good... I'm more of the strict, rigid boss that doesn't feel vacations or rewards are necessary as long as the goal is yet to be achieved. ;b lol... but then I do need breaks. Haha. So, pretty good.. especially the part about not feeling guilty when resting. Like it :D

    1. I'm glad it resonated, Keturah! Letting myself rest while there are still things on my to-do list (which there always are) is something I re-learn over and over.

    2. I definitely struggle with the same thing, Keturah. Especially with the combination of working a day job full-time. My be-your-own-boss to-do list piles up, and I feel bad about it, despite my lack of time. Letting myself rest is one of the #1 struggles I deal with. But it's so, so important.

  2. What an interesting thought, Steph. I am terrible at this, probably because I'm so hard on myself. Number two is my favorite, but I need to work more on numbers three and five.

    1. I'm such a work-in-progress on all of these, Jill. It's interesting to me that the stuff you need to succeed as your own boss - determination, the ability to self-motivate, tenacity, etc. - is also the same stuff that can cause me to push myself too hard and burn out.

  3. This is excellent, Stephanie. I've subconsciously realized the same thing, but you put it into words very well, which I appreciate. Being your own boss is tough, and taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally is a huge part of that.

    I also think it's important to make others aware of your mental/emotional needs, so that your support group can help you meet them. This is something I really struggle with, to be honest. I don't want to seem needy. But after sharing this struggle with my husband, it's proven to be very rewarding, because now I have someone who can say, "Hey, babe. Stop working and do something fun." Or, "Do you want to talk about that blog post you're writing so you can get it done faster?" He's great at recognizing where I'm at and being an encouragement when I get run down or distracted.

    Having others around you who are aware of what you need to function creatively is a major plus. 10/10 recommend. And if you aren't married, maybe find a sibling or a close friend to share with. Just make sure to be honest and open about how your creative flow works, so that they can do their best to help you.

    Anyway, long comment. :P I'm definitely sharing this post. It was fantastic.

    1. YES. Those are great thoughts, Emily. I'm working on talking to my husband and my writing friends BEFORE I work myself into a frenzy. This has taken a surprising amount of practice, but I can now tell when my thoughts are starting to spiral downward and reach out for help before I get too far.

      Thank you for sharing! That means a lot. (And I saw on your blog you're from KC too!)

  4. So many great thoughts here. And truth too. It's not easy being your own boss--especially if you actually WANT to be the kind of worker who gets stuff done. As my own boss, I come back time and time again to that old question, "What kind of writer do I want to be?" The image of that, the goal, keeps me keeping on.

    1. Shan, that question has been so meaningful to me. I am so grateful for our time in the car where you first brought it up!

  5. This is amazing, and just what I needed to hear. I'm typically a pretty rigid boss, but lately due to outside circumstances, I've been floundering, searching for motivation and finding none. I think it is time I stop "resting" and get back to writing.

    Thank you!

    1. I think we all go through seasons like that, Elizabeth! Good luck getting back to work :)

    2. I think you and I are in the same boat, Elizabeth. Being creative just hasn't been easy for me lately, but I'm trying to make it a priority again. Good luck to you! I hope you got the step back you needed to figure things out and get into writing again.

  6. As an Indie Author, I have no one to answer to for my writing, outside of my audience, so, yes, the struggle is real. I'm not that great at it, either. Thanks for this post. I should probably copy your points down and post them on my wall as a reminder. But I've found having peers to talk to is invaluable, especially since I'm social writer. Indeed, I've found being able to send writing to Alpha and Beta readers to be one of my best forms of self-motivation. Okay, yes, it'll be months, if not years before I can publish a book that I'm working on, but if I can just get through five chapters, one part, ect, I can send it to my Alphas or Betas and I'll feel successful.

    1. Kendra, that's a great point. Those mini deadlines of getting something sent to a reader can really help break up a project.

  7. I have the hardest time with taking rests and vacations from writing. It's hard working for yourself because then you always wonder if there was something more you could have done. Something else that would have made things go faster, you know? As for keeping happy and healthy during times of stress - I'm afraid it's always going to be a work in progress. Though, lately, I've noticed going outside somewhere I won't get disturbed and praying helps a whole lot. Even taking out a pad and pen and just writing at random calms me down inside.

  8. Oh my gosh, thank you for this post! I have such an impossibly difficult time giving myself a break and then either feeling really guilty about it or giving myself too long of a break and not getting anything done. I really need to work on finding a balance and this post was the kick I needed. Thank you! <3