The tales of an unapologetic nerd
For me, the milestone was my 30th. I had set two major goals for myself: weight and career. All I wanted was to feel healthy and fulfilled, and these were measurable, simple ways to achieve that. With all the health problems my family has experienced over the years (and that definitely run in my genes) and my own myriad chronic conditions, I wanted to push myself to get into better shape and head off the issues before they become truly debilitating. Now, before you get touchy about it, I know weight is not the only indication of health. For me, however, it's the most consistently tangible guidepost. So let's move past that.
Since my knee injury two years ago, I've gained more than 20 pounds. The goal, I decided, was to hit 130 by my 30th. Catchy, right? 130 by 30? Well, I thought so ... anyway, I started myself on a diet plan and started working out more, but progress was incredibly slow. And painful. My body does not enjoy working out, and it was mad at me for about three months ...
The second goal was to finish my third book, Wayfinder. For my own progress as an indie author, it is important to me to try and release a book a quarter. That's four books in a year, and I already missed the first two. As much as I love my performing jobs, the aforementioned health issues have made continuing in them for much longer an impossibility, and I'd love to finally commit full-time to writing. So, I set out to push through this next installment of my series, and dedicated every free moment to finishing on time. I took time away from my D&D company and streaming with them, which broke my heart. I spent hours in front of the computer, making great strides and churning out more chapters in a short amount of time than I would originally have thought possible.
But it wasn't enough. Not on either count. I hit my birthday 10 pounds shy of my weight goal, and only sixteen chapters into my book. And, I was depressed about it. What more could I have done? Could I have worked harder? Should I have worked harder? Sleep isn't a thing people need, right? For days I beat myself up over my failures. I felt terrible for not making my goals, and all I wanted was to feel like I'd made something of myself by the time I was 30. I wanted to feel comfortable in my skin again.
And then, slowly but surely, I started realizing the truth behind my birthday goals: I may not have hit them, but what I did do was set myself up for long-lasting, future success. I didn't just try and push through to make an arbitrary date, I actively spent three months developing new habits. I didn't starve myself in an attempt to lose weight, I made conscious decisions to eat better and work out more, both of which have stuck around past the goal date. I also developed a new writing regiment, one that makes me think I'll actually be able to make my publishing goals next year, without compromising the quality of my work.
But the self-imposed deadline made me address some things about myself as a writer that I'd never dealt with on my own, and I think I'm stronger now for it. I still hope and pray and believe that he'll recover enough to start reading again (not just selfishly for me, but because he genuinely enjoys my stories and my world ... and, ya know, so he can BE HEALTHY) however, my career as a writer has to be strong enough to survive these setbacks. My desperation and desire to push through, even without my cheerleader, has been one of the hardest times in my writing journey so far. Now, however, I'm equipped to deal with the times when he can't be there to read alongside me. As painful as that is, it was an important lesson to learn. I found a new support group in my sister and my friends, and a new faith in my own work that has carried me further in the past few months than in years before. Diving into self-publishing a year ago was terrifying enough ... finding out who I am in this new phase of life, without that safety net? Even more so.
Believe in yourself. Whatever version of you that may be, right at this moment. Because, I promise, you are amazing. And you are worth believing in.
Recently, a question floated my way: What is the hardest part of being a self-published author? The manuscript or the marketing? For a moment, I was all set to say "MARKETING! Hands down!" Until I realized ... the answer, for me, is neither of them. The HARDEST part of being a brand new self-published author is treating it like a job.
My life has always been extremely hectic. I have had multiple jobs at once since I entered the work force at 16. If you read my first post, you'll remember that my work schedule is INSANE, and mostly self-inflicted. In the last little while, however, I have managed to being paring down my jobs to only the most necessary gigs. Things that get me health insurance, and help pay my rent. I wouldn't call them "survival jobs," as I enjoy doing them. The plan was always to be an actor and a writer, and the acting/performing side of my life is solid and fulfilling.
That being said, I'd always imagined I would get a contract with an established publisher, and be able to live off an advance while working on my next book. I could take only the acting jobs I really wanted, just to stay busy and keep one foot in the business, and the rest of my time could be spent writing. With the choice to self-publish instead, my lifestyle and day-to-day schedule has been thrown into chaos. Let's break it all down, shall we?
I work Full Time for Universal Studios Orlando. That's 32 hours a week spent performing in their theme parks. 40 if I pick up an extra day, but for the sake of argument let's call it 32.
I also run an entertainment company, which takes up at least six hours a day. On the nights we don't stream, it's slightly less, but on the nights we DO stream it is slightly more, so we're going to average that out to 42 hours a week. That still puts my current time spent "working" at 74 hours per week. Okay, still manageable. Not GREAT, but still a functional, if busy, schedule.
But wait ... I still have to write. If I ONLY spend 1 hour a day (which is less than ideal) writing, that gets me to 81 hours a week with the extra 7 hours of writing time. And that would put my next book release at ... I don't want to THINK about how far away. Suffice it to say, it's not the best writing schedule.
Then there's brand management. Even if I combine marketing and social media for the company AND my book, that is a giant time commitment in and of itself. Say I only dedicate one hour a day to the marketing side of things -- 88 hours total of my week are WORK. And I haven't even calculated in miscellaneous issues, like setting aside time to record my audio books, commuting, or the time spent auditioning (which is PART of my job as a performer.) So let's call that 2 hours per week, on average, bringing us up to a nice spicy 90 HOUR WORK WEEK.
And I am only GUARANTEED a paycheck from 32 OF THOSE HOURS.
In the midst of all of this, I've also got regular human functionality to contend with. I either have to schedule in time to meal prep, or get used to ordering in. My health problems make finding time to work out a medical necessity, oh, and did I mention the ever-present anxiety and depression? There are days when it is genuinely impossible for me to find the energy to give a damn about ANY of it. We've got writer's block in the mix, and physical/mental issues that cause me to oversleep. I'd LIKE to spend any time ever with my boyfriend, or support my friends in their shows and events and baby showers. Oh, and I very much enjoy dedicating time to personal hygiene.
For those of you with mental health and physical concerns of your own, you're probably sitting there wholeheartedly understanding this dilemma. For those of you that don't, trust me when I say: I WISH I DID NOT HAVE THEM. I wish my body and brain would just let me charge through life without stopping. But even then, this work schedule would be INSANE. And finding the motivation to power through it all, and believe in myself enough to justify the schedule, is a job of its own.
I am THRILLED that I have enough passion in my life to fill it with things that keep me going. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. I am constantly working to find better ways to structure my time, and better ways to market myself so that, one day, writing WILL be my full time job. But I know it never will be if I don't treat it like it already is. So, to answer your question, THAT is the hardest part of self-publishing. Hard work, with no promise of payout for your efforts. It is every entrepreneur's struggle, and I raise a well-earned glass to every one of you out there, fighting alongside me to bring your passions to life. Here's to the 90-Hour Work Week. May we all conquer and tame it.
I have a PARALYZING fear of dialing wrong numbers. I don’t know where it comes from, or why. Nobody ever cursed me out for accidentally calling them. I never summoned a demon by accidentally dialing “666.” Just something inside of me starts shrieking like a banshee when an unfamiliar voice answers the phone. And I just hang up. Automatically. No “hi, sorry, wrong number!” Just BANG! Phone down. Run out of the room.
My name is Kaitlin. I am an avid gamer, unapologetic bookworm, Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, proud Gryffindor, multi-faceted performer, and a gigantic anxiety-laden mess.
In theory, anxiety may seem quirky and potentially adorable. But in reality, most of the time it’s just annoying. Sure, you could argue that EVERYONE lays awake at night, re-living past embarrassments and hoping to every deity that the people who witnessed your shame never remember it. That is, I’ve discovered, just a big part of being human. But there’s a fine line between “laying awake re-living past awkward horrors” and “Laying awake thinking How much would it cost to make a national television commercial in which I justify and explain myself to everyone I’ve ever been awkward to?”
And if you’re one of those people saying “well get over it sweetheart! That’s life!” then this blog is most assuredly not for you. There are plenty of us out there who can’t just GET over it, as much as we would like to. To those fellow panic-ridden weirdos like me, WELCOME. This blog IS for you. And that’s why I do this. It is entirely against my nature to put my own unscripted thoughts and feelings out into the world outside of some sort of stage or performance venue, and I CERTAINLY don't write normal blog posts anymore. My freelance work and my novel have taken over my life in quite a big way, and I have a hard time believing that people will want to read something of mine that isn't an article, or a fantastical tale. But if this reaches even one person who gets panic attacks when they have to send food back, can’t make phone calls, or makes up elaborate excuses instead of just saying “whoops, my bad!”, then I’ve done my job. And know that you are NOT alone. One day, I hope to turn these ramblings into some sort of podcast or webseries perhaps. In the meantime, however, I am happy to have you along for the ride.
So, before we really get started, let me tell you a little about myself! I grew up in North Carolina, child number three of four. I went to a tiny liberal arts college in Shenendoah Valley, up in Virginia. Then, almost seven years ago, I moved down to Orlando as part of the Disney College Program. And I never left. Since then, I have worked or currently work in almost all of the major theme parks in the area. I have lived gig-to-gig for the longest time, and I like staying busy! This year, I will be receiving 13 separate W2s or 1099s, just to give you an idea of just HOW busy I like to keep my life. I am an actor, puppeteer, voice actor, writer, and collector of hobbies.
And I’ve always been this way. I have been high energy and high strung since birth. I was diagnosed as borderline ADD but never technically on the spectrum in school, although several teachers tried to get me on Ridlin just so they didn’t have to deal with me. My mom never agreed to this, and instead I found other ways to channel my energy and learn to focus, for which I am extremely grateful. For me, even as child, panic attacks and anxiety attacks were pretty routine. We just didn’t know what they were. They blended so well with my normal frenetic personality and self-made high-stress life that we all just assumed they were part of the Kaitlin package.
And then, when I was 16, the summer before my senior year of high school, I was rushed to the emergency room. Unable to breathe, unable to swallow, with agonizing chest pains. After they quickly ruled out heart attack, I was diagnosed with Chronic Costochondritis. It is an inflamation of the cartilage in the sternum, and it has been compared to the pain of a heart attack, only without the lasting damage. For some people, Costochondritis is brought on by strain or trauma, or even an infection. For me, the doctors informed me, it is brought on by stress. And it will be for the rest of my life. It was my body’s way of trying to get me to slow down. I had pushed myself too hard that summer, never settling down, dangerously busy even for me. I was prescribed panic medications and painkillers.
In the years that followed, I would also be diagnosed with a hormone imbalance, and a chronic pain disorder. All three of these conditions feed off of each other, and they are all lifelong. But I ALSO discovered that slowing down doesn’t necessarily help. For 8 straight years, I had to go to the emergency room about once a year for one or all of my issues, even when I was trying to stay relaxed. Slowing down didn’t help. At least not for long. So now, I’m learning every day how to function with all of them, and still live the life that I love and work so hard for.
And here I am, to shed some light on living with the realities of high-functioning anxiety and chronic pain. I'll be sharing some stories, and hoping that some of you can relate and find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
I can’t promise you deep meaningful realizations about life. I can’t even promise you’ll be entertained. My dad thinks I’m funny, but he made me so I’m pretty sure he’s obligated. What I CAN promise you is that I won't hold anything back. I am an open book. And if you're not reading my ACTUAL book, this has the potential to be a solidly unique alternative. And, hopefully, this blog will include a few stories that will make you say “THANK GOD I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES THAT!”
I will also, of course, be sprinkling in a hearty helping of my life. Thoughts on nerd culture, and writing advice. Updates on my journey through self-publishing and making it as a freelancer. General rants on public bathrooms. You know, normal blog stuff.
So, until next time, keep it real, nerds. Or, uh ... keep it nerdy? Keep it awkward? WHY ARE SIGN-OFF PHRASES SO CRIPPLINGLY HARD!
Kaitlin Bellamy is a freelance actor, indie author, and all-around nerd. Welcome to her world, adventurer. It's gonna get weird.