Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What To Do When You Are In Over Your Head

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, InstagramTwitterPinterest, on her author website, or on her writing website You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Ever taken on a project only to discover it was WAY HARDER than you expected? Either you're feeling insecure that you are qualified or skilled enough to lead, or you're feeling overwhelmed because you said yes to too many things, or you thought you could do it but the learning curve was a little beyond your skill set.

Me too.

I do this to myself often, actually. You'd think I would learn . . .

I've always been both an idea factory and a people pleaser. This ties in to the "lie I believe" deep down, which tells me my worth in this world is a direct result of my actions. (Not true!!) But changing such habits and deeply woven beliefs in real life is a bit harder than it is to write such a change for your character in a novel.

All that to say, I confess that I have bitten off a wee bit more than I can chew with my latest project. For years I've been wanting to do writing craft videos on YouTube. I did some a few years back and really enjoyed it, and people seemed to find them valuable. So this little dream percolated in my head for years as I waited to have time to try.

There's never enough time to do all the things, is there?

But I finished my EPIC REWRITE and decided the time was now. But (because I'm Jill) I didn't just start making new YouTube videos. No . . . I decided to make a website that would list the episodes in a clear way. Then I also decided to make a podcast version, because I thought I could just make an audio version of the videos and put the information on two platforms.

See how my ideas snowball?

Still, I thought, "I can do this. It's a simple website. I've done a podcast before. Videos are easy to record. I've edited them before. And the rest is a blog and linking everything together. How hard can it be?"

I've said those words before, and they always cause me trouble. Let's go over my troubles one at a time, but first, a little bit about my new project, Storyworld Shorts, which I created, in part, for you.

WEBSITE: I've been making Wordpress websites for years. I know how to do them fairly well. But four years have gone by since I last created a new Wordpress website. So, of course, things have changed some, template-wise. The template I chose had a child theme over it, which is meant to protect the site from people who don't know what they're doing so that they don't accidentally break things. Well, it drove me nuts because I couldn't just go into the dashboard and copy and paste code. I wasted hours trying to figure out how to navigate all of that. And the theme I chose is relatively new and glitches sometimes. I'll hit "save changes," and then there are no changes saved on the page. It took me several times before I stared copying and pasting my content into Word just in case the website glitched so I wouldn't have to retype everything. This helped, but I didn't always remember to do it.

PODCAST SETUP: This had changed too. Thankfully, my husband (pen name Casey Oswald) had started his Corner of Hollywood & Broadway podcast this past summer, so he was able to help me a little. But this took me most of a day to install the plugin, configure everything, then apply to iTunes.

VIDEO RECORDING: I decided that I would record five videos at a time. My dream goal was that I would take one day a month to record and edit all the videos I needed for that month, then I could schedule them out. I recorded the videos on my iPhone. I got the lighting right and the sound too--both of which I'd messed up in the past, so I thought I was doing good. It took me about three hours to set up, record them, do wardrobe changes, and clean up.

I edited the videos with Windows Live Movie Maker, knowing I'd have to upload them to my son's computer eventually to add images over the video in places, since Windows Live Movie Maker doesn't have that option. But I thought it would save time to edit down the files beforehand. First problem? Windows Live crashes on me all the time. Second? Video clips randomly get corrupted, to no logical understanding. Third? These files wouldn't open in Adobe Premiere. I had to download a video converter. And when I finally got them on my son's computer, they were tiny, with a huge black border around them. Enlarging the video made it blurry. My son helped me, but we couldn't figure out how to fix it short of me starting over by opening my original video files in Premiere. Thankfully, we figured out that the video converter had a setting that changed the video size. Once we fixed that, all was well. Whew! But, like, another whole day lost to technology.

VIDEO EDITING: I don't know how to use Premiere. It's not terribly difficult, but when I got stuck, I had to Google the answers or wait for my son to come home from school. I was making good time, then I remembered the whole reason I was using Premiere--slides. Slides I had yet to create. Oops. So I had to make a list of all the slides I wanted to appear in my video, then go back to my computer and make those images in Photoshop. Easy, peasy, but fairly time consuming. Time I hadn't factored into my deadline. Another three hours or so here.

PODCAST EDITING: Once I finished the first video (on like, day three), I discovered I couldn't import a video into Audacity (my audio editing program). So I had to export the audio from the video--something else to learn. Not difficult, but time-consuming. When I finally did open the file in Audacity and I had to add an intro and an ending. I ended up doing the first one three times. Any change I made to the video, I had to make to the podcast.

LINKING EVERYTHING: I already had a YouTube channel, so I only needed to create a new header. I had to set up my email newsletter and subscribe page and the automatic email that sends out my freebie for subscribing. Time, time, more time. ;-)  I managed to set up my social media icons and the blog subscription, but I still don't know why iTunes isn't showing up on my podcast subscription area. I am simply clueless at this point.

BLOG POSTS: I had to write a blog post in order to post the video and blog post on my new website.

SOCIAL MEDIA: On launch day, I had to create memes to share and write posts for my author blog and social media and post in all those places.

TIME SPENT: What I hoped would take me a day or two, actually took me eight days, so far. (I predict two more days are needed.) I did manage to launch my first video on time, and while I have videos two, four, and five done, I don't have the audio versions made yet, and video three is ten minutes long (when I promised five minutes or less)!

I'm exhausted. And I'm now wallowing in the "What was I thinking!?" phase. I know it will be easier next time around. My website is done. Everything is set up and working. I learned better ways to record and edit the videos--streamlined my process. I'll get better on screen over time--less rambling that needs edited out. Still . . . I now know I need to allocate two or three days a month to do this, not one.

All that to say, I learned a lot this past week. I now have a better idea of what I've created and the time it's going to take me to continue with the project. If you've ever found yourself in a situation like this, here are some tips to help you.

1. Stop and breathe

I noticed several times last week that my adrenaline was pumping hard! Yes, I was excited about my endeavor, but it was the swiftly approaching deadline that had kicked my body into high gear. I should have stopped to rest the moment I felt that. Instead, I kept going. And when I crashed, I crashed hard.

If you feel hyper, take a break. Get a snack and go sit in a corner of your house or out in the yard. Somewhere to quiet your mind and remember that this thing you're working on is only a thing. Sure, it might be important, but in the scheme of life, things like this will come and go. Once you're calm, you can get back to work, but in my experience, working while frantic is a great way to make mistakes. It's far better to conserve your energy so your brain has the best chance to help you.

2. Get organized, prioritize, and let some things go.

You might have planned ahead and think you are organized, but once you feel yourself being drowned by a project it's time to press pause and regroup. Clean your desk. Make a list of all you have to do, then prioritize that list. If your deadline is closing in, you might have to let go of a few things. It could be that you could do those things later, or there might be some that you let go for good. You are only human--one human--and while you are mighty, you can't do everything. You just can't. And that's okay. So choose the items that are necessary and leave the rest behind to pick up later or forever abandon.

3. Admit the truth to yourself and others, if need be, and ask for help.

At this point, you have a really good idea if you're going to succeed or fail. It might be that you simply need more time than you had originally anticipated. This happens. The first thing you must do is admit this to yourself. (It might help to return to your quiet spot as you contemplate this.) Remind yourself that you are only one person and can only do so much. Then, depending on the situation, you might have to have an honest conversation with someone. It could be your boss, a parent, a friend, or a client who hired you to do a job.

Be honest. Tell them the project turned out to be much more complicated than you thought. Tell them the facts and ask how you should proceed. It could be that you can ask for help. You might need another employee to help you get the job done. Or you might need to hire out part of the project to someone more qualified. Whatever it is, know your own limitations as to skill and time, and do what you need to do. There is no shame in this. In fact, the opposite is true, despite how others might treat you. It's always the right choice to stand up for yourself. You help no one by pressing on to do something you aren't qualified for (you won't turn in a quality project). And you only hurt yourself when you get over-stressed and work overtime. (Respect yourself. You deserve to treat yourself better.)

4. Know when to quit.

Sometimes you need to give up. Now, I'm a firm believer in never giving up on your dreams, so this particular point is a difficult one for someone like me. At this time, I have no intention at all of quitting Storyworld Shorts. I do realize that I might not be able to keep up. I just so happen to be between edits at the moment. But once I'm busy on a book again, I might not have three workdays a month to spare on this project. So I might need to skip a week or perhaps scale back to posting videos every two weeks. And if I can't streamline my process, there may come a point when I have to go to one video a month or scrap the project altogether. I hope not. But I do know that not all ideas work out.

The only thing I need to strive at in life is keeping a good balance between work and everything else. I'm the kind of person who could work 18-hour days. That doesn't mean I should. So I have to fight for my off time. I need to "check out" and the end of each day. I need to know when to say, "That's enough for today" or "I can't do this anymore." It's one of the hardest things for me to do, but it is so important. My health, my family, my sanity are at risk if I don't choose wisely how to spend my time.

Have you ever been in over your head? It could be a special project or a season in life that is dealing you a major blow.

When this happens, what do you do? How do you handle the situation? Share your tips below. I still have lots to learn!


  1. Oh wow, this got me good! I needed to hear your pointers. It's hard sometimes to let yourself take more time than you planned, but it's still okay. Sometimes we need to be patient with ourselves. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome, Sarah! So true that it's hard to be patient with ourselves. :-)

  2. Hahahaha, I definitely needed this. I'm.... really bad at taking breaks. If I don't take a break, I waste a bunch of time on the internet, and then I'm more behind than ever.

    1. Ha ha. Well, take a break right now! ;-)

  3. I needed this reminder. I just got off some "mental blocks" and a week or so in oral surgery recovery, so I've been pushing myself harder than ever to make up for lost time. Things are getting done, but it's super stressful -- these tips should definitely help. :)

    1. Oh, Josie. Be sure to give yourself lots of grace if you need it. Sometimes the season of life forces us to take a break. And it's important to be kind to our bodies. The best thing you can do in times like that is to take the time you need to rest and heal. I'm not the type of person to ever ask my publisher for an extension, but extenuating circumstances in my life forced me to ask for one once. They were extremely understanding and kind. People understand that life happens because it happens to all of us. So be sure to pace yourself and come back to full force gradually. <3

  4. I have chronic fatigue so I need to pick and choose what can be done. Not great with schedules so I try to go through a few things each day. Rest when I can in between so I'm not paying the price tomorrow. Great tips and discussion Jill. Not overworking yourself is essential to keeping healthy and staying sane.

    1. You're very wise, Sheena-kay. It's taken me a looonnggg time to learn that lesson. :-)

  5. Thank you for posting about this today, it was exactly what I needed to hear! I really hope Storyworld Shorts ends up working out, I'm excited for it, you can do this!
    "Once you're calm, you can get back to work, but in my experience, working while frantic is a great way to make mistakes. It's far better to conserve your energy so your brain has the best chance to help you." I think this was especially something I needed to hear. I often work myself to exhaustion then crash hard and beat myself up for not being able to get back up right away and keep working. Thank you for the reminder: it's okay to take a break!

    1. *Hugs Megan* Yes! Breaks are so important! We are often terrible taskmasters to our poor bodies. But we only have one body, and we need to be kind to it so it lasts a good long while. Don't get me wrong, the body is resilient, and if you're in the habit of working to exhaustion, that might feel natural for you. Re-train yourself to react to sense that exhaustion coming ahead of time and taking those breaks. <3

  6. Ah, I so needed this right now. Between high school, dance, theater, signing activities, and trying to write a blog, things have been hectic. Thank you for this, Jill!

    1. <3 I'm glad it was helpful. It's so easy to take on too much and so hard to pull back from that and take the rest we need. Fight for that rest, Charis! It's important. :-)

  7. Hi Jill!

    I really relate to this post. I've been juggling tons of writing lately, which is awesome, but also leads me to get easily burned out. When I see writing opportunities spring up, I want to grab them all because I know how important it is to actively work on building a writing career.

    And, as of yesterday, I doubled the number of websites I manage from two to four: my author blog and jewelry business website, which already existed, and now a professional online portfolio and a cosplay blog as well. I absolutely love doing websites but it's definitely a lot to juggle.

    As far as your technical difficulties, I'm currently taking a Digital Video course and had never edited video before, so I feel your pain! A week ago I was going crazy trying to figure out how to make an assignment work without spending a ton of money on video software. I did discover a free editing program called Lightworks that you can download (there is a free version and professional ones), and it's pretty good (and has tutorial videos!), although it tends to run slowly.

    Fun fact, you can also use Powerpoint to edit videos. It's not designed for that per se, but for my project, I posted each video clip full-screen on a separate slide and set the timing so each slide advanced automatically - voila, video! You can export a Powerpoint as a video file too. The only issue I had is that there was a second of freeze-frame between each slide, but it seemed to disappear when I saved the presentation as a video. Just to be safe, I put the video in Lightworks afterward and cut out the bits between each slide so it played smoothly. I don't know if this helps, but using Powerpoint could be an easy way to add those slides into your video. :)

    Thanks again for the post! God bless <3

    1. Thanks for the tips, Caitlyn! I will have to look into that. As to your blog commitments, give them some time, but at some point you might need to re-evaluate your time commitments if you're feeling yourself stretched too thin. We can dig one hole or lots of holes. If we pour our energy into one, it will be by far the deepest. But if we stretch ourselves over many, we can't do as much with each. At some point you might need to narrow down which writing activity helps you reach your goals and pour all your time into that one. (Easier said than done for those of us who are interested in so many things. *grin*)

  8. Yup, this was timely for me too! This year is the second time in a row that I've reluctantly come to grips with the fact that writing has been bumped down the list of priorities for this season of life (college). It's sad, but I know that two years will fly by. And in the meantime, I have summers, some evenings, and most weekends.

    I might be getting better at taking breaks (finally, lol!) because this week, I haven't written a single thing, even though I'm on a deadline. Instead, I've been reading a great novel in the evenings once I check homework off my list. Hopefully filling my creativity tank in that way will make this weekend productive writing-wise. :D

    I'm glad your videos worked out just in time! They sound amazing!

  9. I can relate to this so much. I'm one of those 18-hour day people, too, and it's so hard.

    Also, I sympathize with your technological difficulties. It seems like every single time I try something new on the computer, I find myself lost in an endless labyrinth.