Author Pep Talks

Motivation & Inspiration

2020 has been absolutely apocalyptic, making writing and being creative even harder. But I’ve written through tragedy before. I wrote my first novel as a teenager in my father’s hospice room.

Back then, writing was the thread between me & this immense pain and grief and what was on the other side–my future, my dreams. I wrote my way to them, one word at a time.

That doesn’t mean writing on deadline or drafting new projects this year was a breeze. But I found myself using many of the survival tactics & coping mechanisms I’ve become all too familiar with over the years & was grateful that I’d cultivated those skills before the pandemic hit, my mother-in-law lost her battle to cancer, and my grandfather was re-diagnosed.

This podcast is for any writer who’s struggled this year, who’s been scared. The writers I’m interviewing know hardship. But most importantly, they know how to write through it.

Through biweekly interviews, exclusive pep talks from their hearts to yours, they’ll be telling us how they do it. And by finding inspiration in their stories and taking their advice, it’s my hope that we can learn how to write through this hellscape too.

Check out the introduction here.

Like and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or check out the homepage on Anchor.

There’s also an Author Pep Talks website! Check it out to find more information about the authors, as well as links to any resources mentioned in the episode.

And there’s even a form for you to submit your own pep talk. So if you’re an author who has experience maintaining a creative practice through difficult times, please fill it out so I can get in touch for an interview. Some of the topics we’ve covered so far include chronic pain and other health issues, anxiety, depression, difficult family dynamics, and multi-generational trauma.

These conversations have been so nourishing for me personally & I really hope that they feed your creative spirit the same way. I care so deeply for all of my fellow authors and I have desperately wanted to hug each and every one of you during this devastating season of pain and loss. So consider this that hug.

I love you. I made this for you. And I hope that knowing you’re not alone in this–in the grief and the doubt and the fear–makes your writing journey just a little bit easier.

Here are those links again



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Financial Safety Nets

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration


Let’s talk money.

It’s a topic writers tend to be extremely vague about and while I understand (to an extent) why you might want to keep some information private, it’s not exactly helpful, especially to writers from marginalized communities who could really use that information to plan, strategize, negotiate, etc.

When I received my first two advance checks, I blogged about them here and here because I want to be as transparent as possible about how I’m putting that money to work and making it last. Things change, so these posts also contain unexpected life updates that affected how the money was spent.

These life changes that come out of nowhere and have a big impact on our finances are exactly what I want to talk about today. In the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession that has left many of us unemployed, with shortened hours, contemplating a career change, or even considering finally going after that pie in the sky dream that we’ve been putting off for years, I want to detail how I made the leap to writing full time and the financial safety nets I have in place that made it possible.

If you try to search for answers to the question: “How to be a full time writer?” you’ll likely find a bunch of advice related to productivity, time management, and even craft. You’ll find information about taxes and LLCs—conversations that skirt the topic of money but never actually address the specifics, like: How much money should you have in an emergency fund before you transition? How much should you spend on health insurance? Where can you find health insurance? Should you have sinking funds? What items belong on your budget? Should it be bare bones? How much comfortability and miscellaneous expenses are too much? Should I expect to live out the stereotype of a starving artist? What if I don’t want to?

When I was first considering this transition, years ago, all I wanted was for someone to tell me how much money I would need to save to make it happen. The topic is much more nuanced than that and every situation is different BUT it would have been incredibly helpful if someone out there had been brave enough to show their financial situation sans filter.

So here’s mine:

Monthly expenses = $4,600

*Keep in mind I live in a very expensive city and my mortgage is ridiculous!

**Also, I live with my partner (currently unemployed due to the pandemic) and our dog (who has IBS and is always sick, which means lots of trips to the vet $$$!)

***But luckily, I no longer have a car loan or student loans because I paid them off with advance check #2.

I worked with a financial advisor for about six months to help me master budgeting, put my first advance checks to good use, and increase my savings rate. My first advance check paid for these services and it was definitely money well spent. If you’re able to work with a financial advisor to help you make this transition, I highly recommend it. There are also many nonprofits that offer these kinds of financial planning services for free to freelancers and new business owners and I would encourage you to do a search in your area to see if you qualify for their help.

The next crucial step to this process is figuring out how risk averse you are. If you feel comfortable swinging for the fences and taking big risks then you may not require as big of a financial safety net before quitting your day job. If just the thought of taking big risks makes you want to puke (like me) then you probably need a much bigger safety net.

In other words your financial safety net serves two functions: to help you meet your basic needs such as housing, food, etc., as well as to help you meet your emotional needs of safety, security, and comfort.

But also keep in mind that you are considering these things within the context of publishing, which is a very slow and unpredictable industry. So think about how long it takes you to start and finish a project. Then factor in how long you may be out on submission with that project. After you receive an offer from a publisher there is yet more waiting to be paid (sometimes up to 6 months and sometimes even longer).

Here’s an example of this scenario:

Drafting & Revising a New Project: 8-12 months

Submission: 1-12 months

Time between Offer & First Payment: 2-8 months

Total Time between Drafting & First Payment: 11-32 months

It’s essential that your financial safety net allows you to keep paying your bills during this limbo period in which you have very little control over the situation except to continue working on another project. This is why I’m always working on more than one project at a time because it basically increases my odds of selling something and buying myself even more time.

When I sat down the first time to make my “Escape Plan” these were the things I wanted to have in place before transitioning to writing full time:

1-year Expenses Fund: $65,000 (Because of the math I mentioned above, I wanted to give myself a 12-month cushion plus some)

Emergency Fund: $20,000 (4 months worth of expenses)

Sinking Funds: $3,700

*This includes separate funds for things like:

Home: $2,100 (10% of our total mortgage)

Auto: $500

Pet: $600 (Because this is the cost of an average Vet ER visit)

Medical: $500

To some people, this may seem excessive. But let me explain.

Because of past experiences, I associate money, first and foremost, with safety and security. I like having a big financial safety net because it makes me feel like I’m in control. It means I can take care of myself and not burden others. And it gives me a long runway in case I need to pivot or make changes. In other words, it gives me time to plan, which I appreciate.

However, what I couldn’t have planned for was a global pandemic that would force me to choose between my own personal safety or returning to work. There’s a part of me that’s still a little shocked that teachers were put in this position. But on the other hand, it falls right in line with all of the other sacrifices we’re asked to make. Teachers have always been undervalued and treated as expendable. Only this time the consequences of allowing myself to be taken advantage of were life or death.

I chose life.

But it meant leaving teaching before I had originally planned to and it meant doing it without reaching some of the financial milestones I’d set for myself.

The day I quit teaching, here is where my financial safety net stood:

1-year Expenses Fund: $535/$65,000

Emergency Fund: $16,400/$20,000 (4 months worth of expenses)

Sinking Funds: $3,700/$3,700

Only a quarter of the way to my original goal.

But then there was some good news. I got a new deal (not yet announced) which would shorten the distance between my last teaching paycheck and my next big advance check due in March 2021 with another to follow in April.

So the money was there to cover my basic physical needs. I just had to decide if there was enough of it to also cover my emotional needs.

It was no contest. The fear I felt about having to teach in person during a pandemic was so much stronger than my fears of running out of money.

This month I received my last teaching paycheck and in September I’ll start drawing from my advance checks to cover my monthly expenses, including private insurance from the marketplace for about $300 a month.

I won’t need to tap into my emergency fund until January and I’ll be able to replenish what I borrowed using my advance check in March. That plus my advance check in April will carry me all the way through September of 2021.

12 months.

I can do a lot in 12 months and I plan to.

I’m finishing up revisions on the first in a new middle grade series and I have a partially drafted novel in verse that I hope to finish by the end of the year. In between revisions I hope to start and finish a few new projects in 2021. All potential book deals. All potential income.

This is my strategy in a nutshell: 1) Build myself a long enough financial runway that I can wait out the lengthy submission process 2) Have multiple projects at various stages of development so that if one doesn’t sell I’m not up a creek 3) Develop & sell a series to ensure income for the next several years 4) Keep saving each month even if it’s minimal 5) Check in with my mental health regularly to make sure my safety nets are still providing the peace of mind I need to be creative and if not, adjust.

By September of 2021, it’s possible I’ll have sold nothing and need to get another day job. If the pandemic has subsided by then I might easily be able to transition back into teaching.

But whether I’m able to extend my financial runway or not, it is clear that every time I sit down to create my monthly budget, I’m also going to have to be looking ahead and making adjustments based on how my income ins fluctuating. Because it will fluctuate. Which means I’m going to have to be flexible and creative and also willing to take on part-time or full-time work to fill in the gaps between contracts if needed.

So even though I’ve made the transition to writing full time, that doesn’t mean this will be my reality for the rest of my life. The work might not always be steady enough to sustain me financially. There will be emergencies and tragedies and maybe some unexpected joys too, all of them affecting my bottom line in even more unexpected ways. But with a long enough runway, at least I’ll be able to see them coming.

18 Months

Motivation & Inspiration


For the past month I have been a nervous wreck. Guidance from local health officials, state government, and the Texas Education Agency in regards to safely reopening schools during the pandemic changed almost daily.

First they said schools must reopen in the fall or risk losing funding. Then they said local health officials could mandate school closures and as long as schools were still providing virtual instruction they would still get the money they need. Last week they took it all back and said health officials could not close schools and we were back at square one.

As a natural worrier I consumed every bit of news I possibly could about the situation, waiting for my fate to be decided by angry government officials who called teachers leeches, angry parents who said dying in the line of duty is what we signed up for, and other desperate community members who were abandoned by our federal government and were now looking to schools to solve issues of food scarcity, child abuse, homelessness, lack of medical insurance, lack of childcare, etc.

Things that schools and all of the services they provide have been able to help with in the past. But now the stakes are so much higher. Because in order for kids to be able to return to school buildings and receive these essential services, teachers and other staff must show up too. They must return to school buildings with aged air conditioning systems with no filtration, windows that are painted shut, kids who spread the flu and strep and the common cold like wildfire during a normal school year, and with only whatever PPE we can FIND and PAY FOR ourselves.

Basically, we’re doomed. I knew it. Even as I waited week after week for our school board meetings to reveal a loophole, a dramatic change of heart on behalf of the community, an actual data-driven response from our state or federal government.

I waited, holding out hope that I wouldn’t have to risk my life returning to work I loved.

I waited for someone to save us.

But they never came. And when our education agency took local health officials completely out of the equation, making it impossible to return to schools safely, the realization hit me that I had to stop expecting someone else to step in. I had to stop hoping for a hero in all of this. I had to stop waiting to be saved.

So I quit and made the decision to save myself.

It was agonizing and I felt sick for days. But now that I’m on the other side of all of those stressful correspondences related to my resignation, I can actually breathe. And I know in my gut that it was the right thing to do.

Because I have value. Because I am in control.

I know that not everyone is able to make this decision. I’m incredibly lucky that I have a book deal and recently secured another one (TBA). I’m incredibly lucky to be leaving one profession I love for another one I’m just as passionate about.

I did not expect that before the end of 2020 I would actually be living out this dream of writing full time. But the truth is, I shouldn’t actually be surprised.

See, back in December of 2018, I wrote this blog post about being too afraid to leap the last time I was faced with the choice of pursuing writing full time or playing it safe. Then in January, I blogged about creating an 18-month Escape Plan to make all of my dreams come true.

18 months.

I blogged diligently for the first part of 2019, tracking my manifesting progress, setting goals, and holding myself accountable. Then things started rolling. I revised SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER & SWEET. I participated in #DVPit and found my agent. I got my book deal a month later. And I sort of forgot about my blog and all of the plans I had made. I wasn’t counting the days. I wasn’t really paying any attention at all to how all of these things were deeply connected.

18 months.

I wrote that blog post on Tuesday, January 1st, 2019.

I quit my job on Thursday, July 30th.

The time in between? 19 months.

But the school year technically ended in May and I’ve been writing full-time since then. So if we do the math again, the day this really all began was June 1st, 2020.

18 months.

I asked the Universe to help me make this happen and even when I lost track of my north star, even when I lost track of time, it never did.

Whatever You Are Doing, It Is Enough.

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration


Needless to say, things are weird. And stressful and scary and if you are even checking your email these days, you are winning. If you are getting out of bed most days, if you are feeding yourself, if you are trying in any way, shape or form, you are winning.

March has been bananas, this year’s theme of ridiculous highs followed by devastating lows continuing, despite my pleas for it to stop, stop, just please STOP!

Moving to virtual teaching has been chaos. Becoming the sole breadwinner for my family has been terrifying. Trying to make progress on my novel-in-verse (and hopefully, the second book on my contract with Little Brown) has been impossible.

But there have been some bright spots. I saw the final version of my cover and it is beautiful. The colors are so indicative of the Southwest and my main characters are stunning. Obviously, I can’t spill all the details but I hope you’ll enjoy these clues until the cover is finally revealed!


I also got feedback on my marketing wishlist and I think some really cool things are in store! I’m hoping this week will also bring some good news regarding a picture book I wrote, as well as confirmation that the novel-in-verse has officially been accepted as book two.

Things are still happening, despite the fact that the rest of life seems to be standing still. What has helped though is trying to keep all things in perspective and to remember how lucky I am that I still have my job, that I can work from home, and that I can self-quarantine without fear of losing said job.

Working from my kitchen table while overlooking my pecan tree as it begins to sprout leaves is a privilege. Ordering my groceries to be delivered and tipping the driver as much as possible is a privilege. Being warm and dry inside my cozy home is a privilege. But even though I am feeling immense gratitude, I am also feeling a million other things, some I can’t even really put into words.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to struggle with this new normal.

What’s not okay is expecting yourself to be as productive as you usually are and then shaming yourself when you’re not. Most of us writers are so used to creating in the cracks. We wake up early to write before work. We scribble in a notebook during our lunch breaks. We add to our word count late into the night when everyone else is sleeping. We are used to seeing a hole in our daily agenda and instantly filling it up with more work.

A lot of us like to track this progress with word counters or stickers or coloring in blocks in a bullet journal. When we meet our goal for the day, it feels euphoric, and when we fail to get there, it feels like the end of the world. Now every day feels like the end of the world and not just because we’re not writing. But because it literally feels like the end of the world (book of revelation style).

This is new territory; next-level trauma on a global scale. If you can create with all of that background noise, God bless you. But if you can’t, seriously, God bless you. Because this is hard and if watching other people tout their achievements online is making you crazy, save yourself and look away. This is not the time for ramping up productivity. This is the time for cozy socks, for cheesecake, for re-runs of Community. This is the time for virtual hugs, not virtual pissing contests.

Whatever you are doing, it is enough.

You are enough.

How I’m Spending My Book Advance

Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

Twitter was on fire this week in response to an article about a YA author who mismanaged her advance money and ended up with basically nothing. This is not a critique on the author or the article.

What I will say in regards to my personal reaction to the piece is that like many people who read it, I was struck with a gut-punch of anxiety. See, I have a complicated relationship with money. It wasn’t something I was really aware of when I was a kid but when my father passed away during my teen years, money, or more specifically, the lack of money, was like this big scary monster that followed my mother and I everywhere.

I won’t get into the specifics but the compounding trauma of being broke while also grieving (and all of the scary stressful events that went along with that) solidified in my psyche that money = safety and security and that no money = danger and chaos.

When I found out how much my publisher was going to pay me for my book, one of my first thoughts was–this is more money than my parents ever had. I don’t actually know anyone who has this amount of money. And that’s scary.

As much of a blessing as this is, it’s also scary venturing into this great unknown where no one in my family has been before. It’s scary to think that with the right choices, I could elevate us all and it’s even scarier to think that with the wrong choices, I could destroy everything.

I don’t actually believe that I’m going to choose ignorance, that I’m going to make terrible decisions, or that I’m incapable of controlling this part of my life. I’m a teacher, which means I’m teaching myself new things constantly.

In fact, the first thing I did after getting my deal was begin working with a financial advisor. I also have an accountant who I’ve been working with for several years and who I’ll be meeting with next month to discuss how much I should set aside from this first check for taxes. I recently worked hard to pay off one of my student loans.

I’m doing the right things. And yet, there is still a part of me that worries something will happen, something horrible and catastrophic, and all of the money will suddenly disappear–just like it did when my father got sick–and my life will once again devolve into chaos.

This fear is unlikely to come to fruition but it is not entirely irrational. I suspect that other creatives who’ve had negative experiences involving money might feel the same anxiety upon receiving that first check. What has helped me though, is getting crystal clear about what I value in life so that I can see how my money does or does not honor those things.

In case you’re curious how I’m applying my first royalty check to those values, here’s a breakdown of how I plan to allocate these funds:

1. Financial Planning

Financial planning isn’t free. If someone tries to tell you that it is, making promises that they won’t charge you a cent until your investments with them turn a profit, be wary. Instead, you want to work with a fee-only fiduciary because they actually have ethical standards they must adhere to and instead of selling you investment products, they sell you professional education and advice.

Try to find a CFP who specializes in or is familiar with variable income (bonus points if they’re used to working with creatives like my financial advisors at The Art of Finance in Austin, TX). FYI, the Art of Finance works with clients via Skype as well, so if you’re not able to find someone in your area, feel free to check them out.

6-months of coaching: $1,525 ; 3.5% of 1st advance check

2. Taxes

It’s recommended that after securing your deal that you incorporate ASAP. Establishing an LLC through which to process your earnings can help protect you in the case that you’re ever sued, as well as open up your options when it comes to filing your taxes. This can be done by a lawyer (usually for a very expensive fee–I previously paid about $1,800 for this service) or there are online DIY options for much cheaper.

When you meet with your accountant, ask them if filing as an S-Corp may be right for you. This option softens the blow of that 30% self-employment tax by allowing you to designate some of your earnings as dividends, which are not taxed, as opposed to claiming it all as salary. If this isn’t a good option for you, make sure your accountant is at least familiar with all of the deductions available to writers.

Because I’ll be filing as an S-corp this year, my accountant has advised me to set aside $10,000 of my 1st advance check, which is about 24% of the total amount, with the caveat that not all of this will actually go to the IRS. But better safe than sorry, especially since I’m still earning royalties from my self-published books and don’t know how much that’ll total to by the end of the year.

Accounting Services: $1,000-$1,200 ; 3% of 1st advance check
2019 Taxes: $10,000 ; 24% of 1st advance check

3. Student Loans

You better believe I am getting rid of this thing with my very first advance check. If one of my values is financial freedom, being debt-free is a crucial part of that. It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about paying off loans or credit card debt. Having debt delays so many important financial milestones: saving for retirement, investing in your business, buying a home (if that’s a goal of yours because it totally doesn’t have to be).

I worked hard to pay off one of my loans this past spring and I’m definitely going to celebrate once I finally knock out the other two because it means that money can now go towards reaching other, more important, goals.

Student Loans: $8,600 ; 20% of 1st advance check

4. Roth IRA

Putting some money towards retirement might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you get your first advance check. But it should be. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful and scary and you don’t want to still be stuck in that cycle when you’re finally at retirement age.

Sometimes creative risks are only possible once you’ve mitigated your financial risks. In other words, you’ll be able to work longer in the creative industry of your choosing if you don’t have to choose between your art and a corporate 401k. Look out for you now by setting money aside for your future self.

I recommend stashing that money in a Roth IRA because it grows tax free (you pay taxes in the present to avoid paying them in the future), which means you’ll have more buying power later even after inflation. Also, if you’re an investment newbie, stick to index funds that are tried and true like the S&P 500 through Vanguard (they have super reasonable fees).

*If you’re not sure what I’m even talking about, ask your financial advisor.

Roth IRA: $6,000 (this is the maximum contribution you can make per year) ; 14% of 1st advance check

5. Emergency Fund

Having an Emergency Fund has saved me a few times in my life and I recommend starting one ASAP! In case you’re not sure what an Emergency Fund is, here’s what it is and here’s what it isn’t.

To summarize, an Emergency Fund is not for “true expenses” or the things we pay regularly but not frequently enough to show up on our monthly budget and therefore have a tendency to slip our minds (i.e. semi-annual vet bills, scheduled car maintenance, annual doctor’s visits, etc.). The Emergency Fund is for just that, emergencies (i.e. layoffs, trips to the emergency room, roof replacement after a hail storm).

Some people advise starting with a 1-month Emergency Fund. Others advise 3 to 6 months. I already have a 1-month Emergency Fund built up and my goal is 12 (my risk tolerance is low and since it takes me about 8 months to write a book, I want to have plenty of cushion built in to develop something and go on sub with it). With this first check, I’m contributing what I can while also leaving some room for writing-related expenses and a few *fun* things (see below).

3-Month Emergency Fund: $8,500 ; 20% of 1st advance check

6. Writing Expenses

I know some people actually warn against paying to attend conferences and writing retreats because the cost can be ridiculously high but next year AWP will be in San Antonio, which makes it much more accessible to me this time around than probably any other. I can drive instead of fly and split hotel or Airbnb accommodations with family. Being a debut, I’m pretty certain I’ll find value in so many of the sessions offered and I look forward to learning as much as I possibly can about the industry.

AWP Registration: $250
Lodging: $425

7. What’s Left

After all of the above expenses, I’ll have $6,000 left, which will be deposited into my checking account in $800 intervals over the course of nine months. Month to month, I’ll decide how much of this to put towards the following: my HSA account, a vacation fund, self-care activities, clothing, and household remodeling/repairs.

These are technically low priority items because they’re not necessities. Are they important to some degree? Yes and I’m grateful that I will have some extra money to prioritize them in a way I haven’t been able to pretty much…ever. I’m especially looking forward to how some of these things will help me stay healthy and balanced while writing under contract for the first time. But if I was in a pinch and that money needed to be used elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Also, those four months will bring me pretty close to my second advance check (I hope) so if I need to make adjustments at that point, I can.

Miscellaneous: $6,000 ; 14% of 1st advance check

Please keep in mind that I am not a CFP and I don’t have a degree in finance. Everything I know about handling finances as a freelancer I learned through self-publishing, which is just as unpredictable as traditional publishing, if not more so. There were some months when I made close to $7,000 and some months when I barely made $20.

When I first started making consistent money, I absolutely made some rookie mistakes but I also did some smart things too. This time around, I’m grateful that those hard lessons are behind me and that I have an opportunity to make even more smart choices that will hopefully allow me to create a sustainable career in this industry.

The categories above are by no means an exact template for you to follow. You have to think about your values and what’s right for you and your family. But if you’re feeling any anxiety or apprehension about what to do with your advance, I hope my examples and explanations above are helpful in some way. Maybe they’ll help you realize that some of those things are your values too. Or maybe they’ll help you realize that you value something totally different and that’s okay.

The most important thing is that you take the time to really listen to yourself so that you can make the kinds of decisions that will safeguard your creative life rather than put it at risk.

*Stay tuned for what I’m prioritizing with advance check #2!