Short Story: The Cellar

Last week wasn’t a great week, especially for writing fiction. Pretty much every authoring or book marketing thing I’d planned to do past last Monday got devoured by runaway freelance projects . . . and this week is shaping up to be more of the same (actually this week’s getting off to a really rocky start thanks to eating something that didn’t agree with me during last night’s big sportsball game. Yay Broncos? Bleah).

In related news, I’ve gone and reactivated my Patreon page. By now you’ve no doubt heard of Patreon and have at least a vague idea of what it is and how it works, but in case you need the prompt, basically it’s a place where I will post exclusive fiction and other content on a regular basis and you can subscribe to read all of it for only one dollar per month, or however much your heart directs you to pledge. The purpose of this is to allow me to do more of what I was made to do — write fiction — and still be able to help pay the bills while doing it. If eventually enough people pledge to become patrons of my work, I’ll be able to cut back on freelancing (or possibly eliminate it altogether) and work full-time writing books and stories and creating content y’all want to read (while I’m sure some of you are absolutely riveted by articles like this and would love to see me spend many hours each week researching, writing and revising them instead of writing fiction, I kinda hope you guys are in the minority on that).

Currently the plan is to start posting every piece of fiction I write from here on out to my Patreon page for patrons to read. This will include beta (i.e., rough and unedited) versions of my novels, and exclusive short stories. Everyone who pledges will get to read that stuff, and provide feedback if you so choose. Higher levels of patronage will get extra perks, like discounts on books, signed copies and other goodies.

To kick things off, I’ve posted in its entirety the short story I wrote last fall entitled THE CELLAR (the same story I was calling “Cellar Witch” here on the blog while I was working on it) (oh, and the last time I tried to run a Patreon campaign I posted my short story SPOOKED, which is included in my collection MIDNIGHT SNACKS. It’s still there, so that’s actually two stories you’ll get to read if you sign up. And I’ll begin posting chapters of my current WIP later this week). Here’s a preview of that story. Hope you enjoy it.

***

THE CELLAR

by Jean Marie Bauhaus

 

“There’s a witch buried in the cellar.”

 

I looked over at the doors in the ground that opened into the storm cellar, then back at Randall. I’d only known him for about three days, but already I had figured out he was often full of bull. “Nuh-uh.”

 

“No, really,” he said, his face earnest. “You can ask my dad if you don’t believe me. He’ll tell you.”

 

I hadn’t met Randall’s dad yet; just his mom when she’d brought us a basket of cookies on the day we moved in. I had no idea whether Randall’s dad was as prone to making stuff up as Randall, but this was the first time he’d suggested that I verify one of his stories with an adult, so he must’ve been serious.

 

We were parked at the end of my parents’ driveway, straddling our bikes and munching on leftover welcome cookies. The cellar sat in the middle of the big, grassy yard, about fifty yards from the double-wide my parents and I now called home. It looked innocent enough, surrounded by puffy white dandelions, the metal doors gleaming in the late spring sunshine. My mom had been relieved when she’d seen it. This was tornado country, and she hadn’t been thrilled about the prospect of living in a mobile home, even though it was only supposed to be temporary, until our real house was built. The cellar promised us safety.

 

“How’d she get there?” I egged him on, eager to hear what kind of wild story he’d come up with this time. A wiry, freckled kid, tall for his age, Randall was the first kid my own age I’d met there, and with summer vacation just starting I figured it’d be three more months before I had a chance to make more friends. I’d decided it was better to go along with his stories rather than risk being friendless all summer.

 

His face lit up at the question. He gobbled the rest of his cookie and wiped his fingers on his shorts, then scooted his bike closer to mine and leaned forward, resting his arms on the handlebars. “There used to be a house here,” he said in hushed tones. “A two-story farmhouse, built there, over the cellar.” He jerked his chin toward the cellar doors.

 

“What happened to it?”

 

He held up a finger. “I’m gettin’ to that part. So anyway, this lady lived here, all by herself. This was a long time ago, before we were even born. Way back in, like, the ‘Eighties. Her name was Juanita Crabtree. People would come to her for herbal remedies and stuff. They didn’t have Whole Foods or places like that back then. My dad says she probably also sold pot.”

 

“So she was a hippie drug dealer,” I said, and shrugged. “That doesn’t make her a witch.”

 

“No,” Randall agreed, leaning even closer, “but then one year animals started dying. Cats and dogs at first, showing up all mutilated, and then cows. People got real scared, thinking there was a satanic cult around here doing animal sacrifices. And then a little kid went missing, and people really freaked out.”

 

A chill ran down my back, and I was suddenly glad we were in broad daylight, and not sitting by a campfire where this story would’ve been more appropriate. Randall might be full of it, but at least his stories were entertaining. “Did they find the kid?” I asked.

 

He shook his head. “He’s still missing. But around the same time, a bunch of other kids got sick with some mystery illness they couldn’t identify. A couple of babies died. And then someone found the missing kid’s shirt down there by the creek.” He nodded in the direction of the creek bed that edged our property. “It was all caked with blood.”

 

“That’s when her customers started coming forward, talking about stuff they’d seen in her house–pentagrams, black candles, tarot cards, that kind of stuff. This one lady said Juanita had offered to pray with her for her bad back, but the prayer wasn’t like any kind of prayer she’d ever heard. The lady got scared and left and never went back there again.”

 

My baloney detector was still going off, but I was too into the story to care. “So what’d they do?”

 

“The sheriff’s department got a warrant and brought dogs out to search her property. They found some weird stuff. Bird skeletons, cat skulls, jars full of cow’s blood. And that’s not even the scary part.”

 

“What is?” I realized I’d leaned closer.

 

Randall looked around, as if to make sure we weren’t being watched. Seemingly satisfied, he leaned back in. “They found a bunch of dolls, tied up all weird, with these little bags around their necks, filled with teeth, bones, hair . . . that kind of stuff.”

 

I shivered, and glanced uneasily over at the cellar. “Did they arrest her?”

 

“Yeah, but they had to let her go ‘cause they didn’t have enough evidence. So the people decided to do what the sheriff couldn’t.”

 

He stopped, then leaned back and stretched his arms. I got the feeling he was telling this story the same way he’d heard it told, pausing to let the drama sink in. When he didn’t start talking again right away, I took the bait. “What did they do?”

 

“A lynch mob came after her. They were gonna hang her–from that tree over there.” He pointed to the tall oak towering over the double-wide, where my dad had told me we could build a tree house later that summer.

 

“Did they?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the tree, trying to guess which limb had been used for the deed.

 

“No,” he said, and I let out the breath I’d been holding. “When they came, about forty people all together, she met them on the front porch and told them she could control the weather. She said if they didn’t leave, she’d call down a tornado to carry them all to hell.”

 

“What did they do?”

 

“They didn’t leave. Instead they dragged her off the porch and over to the tree. She was kicking and screaming the whole way, calling out words in some weird language nobody could understand. But that wasn’t all. As they strung her up, she called out a curse on the property so that nobody else would build here. She said, ‘A child must die so the house may stand.’” He repeated this last part in an ominous, creaky old-lady voice.

 

“Then a storm hit,” he continued, “and baseball-size hail started to fall, hitting people and knocking them out. They tried to gag her and finish hanging her, but she got away and tried to run for the cellar. Then somebody shot her.

 

“That’s when the tornado hit.”

 

He paused again for effect, and I leaned back on my bike and regarded him with skepticism. “You’re making this up,” I said. Despite the risks to my social life, I couldn’t let such a fantastic whopper go without comment.

 

“I’m not,” he said, his eyes wide and sincere. He raised his right hand. “I swear. You can look it up online. It was in all the papers, how a freak storm hit without any warning and a tornado only destroyed one house.” He pointed over at the cellar. “That house.”

 

“Yeah, right,” I said, but all the bravado had gone out of my voice.

 

“I told you, look it up! Anyway,” he went on, dismissing my unbelief, “most of the people were killed, but a couple of survivors managed to make it into the cellar right before the tornado hit. One of them was a friend of my dad’s uncle. They never found her body, and he told the sheriff that the storm must’ve carried her off, or maybe she’d survived and got out of town. But it was him that shot her, and then they buried her down there.”

 

I sat back and gripped my handlebars, taking a deep breath and letting it all sink in. “That’s a hell of a story, Randall.”

 

“I know,” he said, “but that’s not even the freakiest part.”

 

I steeled myself and asked, “Then what is?”

 

“People have tried to rebuild on this property three times since then, on top of the old foundation. Every time, as soon as the house was finished and the families moved in, a tornado would hit and tear it all down.

 

“The first time, it was a retired couple, and they were both killed. Then a young family built another house here, but not long after one of the kids died of some mystery illness. They moved soon after that, and another childless couple bought the place. Guess what happened after that?”

 

I didn’t answer; the question seemed rhetorical anyway, ‘cause Randall went on without pausing. “After that another family put a house here, this time with teenagers. Another tornado hit, and only the dad survived. He tore up the old foundation so that nobody would build on it again.”

 

I looked over by the cellar, at the area where the foundation must’ve been laid. The whole reason my parents had bought this property was that they planned to build there eventually. “So you’re basically telling me I’m gonna die.”

 

His eyes went wide, as if that thought hadn’t even occurred to him. Then he waved his hand as if to dismiss everything. “Nah,” he said. “I’m sure it’s all a coincidence. I mean, I don’t really believe in witches or anything like that. Do you?”

 

“Of course not,” I told him, but that didn’t ease the queasiness I suddenly felt.

 

“Anyway, I’m thirsty,” he said, changing the subject. “Wanna ride down to the gas station and get some pop?”

 

“Yeah, okay,” I said, grateful for something to take my mind off of the cellar. “Let me go ask my mom.”

 

***

 

The weather forecast predicted severe weather later in the week, so my dad decided not to waste any more time getting the storm shelter ready. After supper, we drove twenty miles to the nearest Walmart to stock up on supplies.

 

I hadn’t given Randall’s story another thought the rest of that day, but as we drove back home, it was starting to get dark, and I knew my dad was going to make me help him put everything away in the cellar. My heart sped up as I remembered everything Randall had said, and suddenly I really didn’t want to go down there, especially at night.

 

I didn’t dare tell my dad that, though. He’d just stopped treating me like a little kid that year, and I didn’t want him to start again. Instead I reminded myself that in just three short days Randall already had a track record of making stuff up. I told myself that tornadoes are way scarier than some old dead lady anyway, witch or no witch, and the cellar would keep us safe.

 

But when my dad parked the truck in the driveway and told me to grab a case of water and follow him to the cellar, I froze. I was still sitting there, trying to slow my heart and untie the knots in my stomach, when he startled me by pounding on my window. “Let’s go, sport!” he called, Walmart bags gripped in one fist and a cot in the other.

 

I took a deep breath, then opened the door and got out. I took my time getting the water from the back of the truck and crossing the yard to the cellar doors. By the time I got there, light flooded out of the open doors, and I could hear my dad humming an old Metallica song. Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I descended the steps and set the water on the dirt floor. As I stood back up, I couldn’t help wondering if that was the spot where she was buried.

 

“Sport!” Dad called. When I looked up I got the feeling he’d had to call out to me more than once. His face was covered with concern. “You okay, son?”

 

I shrugged. “I’m fine.”

 

He studied me a minute, then said, “You sure about that?”

 

I opened my mouth to say yes, but something made me hesitate. If Randall’s story was true, wouldn’t my parents have known about it before they bought the place and moved us here? I decided I needed to ask, but I had to do it in a way that wouldn’t make me sound like a ‘fraidy baby. So I just said, “Randall says there’s a witch buried down here.”

 

He laughed. “Randall. Isn’t that the kid who told you his dog is thirty years old? In human years?”

 

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I know he’s full of sh–crap,” I corrected myself as my Dad raised an eyebrow at me. “But he swore that we could look this stuff up. He said she cursed a bunch of kids and made them sick before a lynch mob finally killed her.”

 

Dad paused from arranging candles and batteries on a shelf and looked at me. “When was this supposed to be?”

 

“Back in the 1980s.”

 

“Ah.” He nodded knowingly as he took out his pocket knife to cut the zip ties that held the cots closed. “When you’re a little older, remind me to tell you about a little something called the Satanic Panic.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

He pointed the knife at me, along with a stern look. “When you’re older.”

 

Great. He was already talking to me like a little kid again. Still, I pressed on. Keeping my voice light, like I thought it was all a big stupid joke, I relayed the rest of Randall’s story.

 

“So did you look it up?” He asked as he arranged the cots along one wall.

 

“Nah,” I said, trying to sound like I didn’t believe it was worth the bother. I left out the part about my mom being on the computer doing her homework all day, even though that would’ve been an excellent opportunity to drop a hint about getting my own laptop for my birthday.

 

With everything apparently arranged to his satisfaction, my dad sliced open the shrink wrap on a case of water, took out a couple of bottles and handed one to me. He sat on the end of the middle cot and scanned the dirt floor. “So where do you think she’s buried?” He looked down at his own feet and stomped a boot on the floor. “Here?”

 

I stared at his boot and swallowed, hard. Then I did my best to laugh it off. “Nah,” I said again. “Like I said, Randall’s full of crap.”

 

Dad nodded, a look of approval on his face. Then he pointed at me with the hand that held the cap. “You remember that before you come and wake me up asking me to check your closet tonight,” he said, then took a drink.

 

“Dad, I’m not a baby.”

 

He grinned, and stood up. “I know. I don’t always like it, but I know.” He ruffled my hair, then jerked his head toward the stairs. “Come on. We’ve got time for a round of Sorry before bed.” Before I knew it, he was headed up the stairs in front of me. “Get the light,” he called over his shoulder.

 

I should’ve been right behind him, but my feet froze to the ground the second I realized he was leaving me down there on my own. I looked around, and suddenly the same cellar that had seemed innocuous and even kind of cozy while my dad was there looked sinister and unwelcoming, with stark shadows cast at creepy angles by the naked light bulb overhead. The area underneath each of the cots was dark, and I imagined (didn’t I?) something moving under there, deep in the shadowy space.

 

My heart sped up and suddenly my feet were all too eager to move. I reached up and yanked the light chain even as the rest of me was already moving toward the stairs. I thought I could feel something on my heels as I shot up out of the ground, but it was only my paranoia. When I turned to close the doors, nothing was there. Just a gaping, dark, empty hole.

 

I closed the doors, strung the chain through the door handles, and forced myself to walk at a calm pace as I headed back to the house.
***

Read the rest right now on Patreon!

Weekend Recap, Tea & Creativity, and Goals for February 16-21

Today is a snow day. Although work-at-home types like me don’t really get to take snow days, do we? If we did, instead of writing this in my office I’d be camped out on the couch with my crochet/knitting bag marathoning Gilmore Girls on Netflix… which is pretty much how I spent yesterday, come to think of it.

What’s weird (well, not “weird” so much as “typical for whacked-out Oklahoma weather patterns”) is that just two days ago it got up to 70 degrees and my husband and I spent the better part of Valentine’s day enjoying our backyard. We finally fired up our new fire pit (acquired a couple of weeks ago; before we could use it we had to obtain sand to line the bottom, a useful bit of info that they don’t bother to print on the box to save you a return trip to Home Depot) and enjoyed the sun for a good long while before heading inside for homemade pizza and a movie (we had talked about possibly checking out a new (to us) Thai place, but we were both so tired we decided to take a rain-check on that).

And then less than 48 hours later… Bam! Winter, biznatch!

It actually arrived shortly before we turned in last night, and I kept getting woken up throughout the night by the sound of ice and sleet hitting the windows (and, at one point, thunder). So I’m really having to push hard today to get past the urge to wrap myself up like a burrito and do what’s necessary to lay the foundation for a productive week.

Which brings me to this week’s goals:

Writing/Publishing

  • Write on the novel every day.

(I’m not attaching a daily quota. At this point, any words that get added are big progress.)

(I finally started reading this last night. Hopefully I can get through it all this week, but it’s pretty info-packed, so we’ll see).

Freelancing

  • Catch up on my editing queue so I don’t have to tell would-be clients that there’s a two-week waiting list.

Home/Health/Other

  • Complete various financial paperwork that needs to get done
  • Stick to my low GI/GF/DF diet all week long
  • Do our taxes
  • Keep up with Tea & Creativity

This last thing, Tea & Creativity, is something I started doing last week — taking a break in the afternoon to get off the computer, brew some tea, and spend the time it takes to drink my tea before it gets cold making art. So far, because I’ve always wanted to learn to draw, this has involved doodling (see below), but it’s by no means limited to that. I expect at some point there will be haiku or song lyrics or other types of verse, and possibly also dusting off the various musical instruments I never have time to practice anymore.

Coffee & creativity. #doodling while husband shops at Gardner’s.

A photo posted by Jean Bauhaus (@jmbauhaus) on Feb 13, 2015 at 9:16am PST

Although the point of this is just to have fun and relax and not worry about who will see it, I’m posting the results of my sessions on Instagram, and you’re welcome to join me there. If you do, let me know — we’ll start a hashtag.

Note that I left off exercise and cleaning goals. Trying to keep it simple this week. The house is just too cold to get motivated for either, plus the editing and taxes are going to keep me so busy that trying to fit in workouts and housework will just add unnecessary stress. I expect that once this cold spell is over, though, the weather will stabilize enough for me to start a regular walking routine, and hopefully also get motivated to do some spring cleaning.

Check back on Friday to see how it all goes this week. In the meantime, do you have any goals to tackle this week, big or small? Any words of encouragement to help me meet mine? I’d LOVE to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Plan Follow-up: February 9-13, 2015

bullet-journalI’m still liking my bullet journal. I wasn’t able to experiment with it this week like I wanted to, but in its basic form, it got the job done.

I didn’t meet all my goals this week, but it seems I never really do. Let’s look at how I did.

Writing/Publishing

  • Write at least 250 words per day on Ghost

HA HA! No. I think I managed a little over 300 words on Monday and over 400 on Tuesday, and nothing after that.

Nope, but I did finally finish Stephen King’s Dark Tower series last night. So I guess I’ll read LGD before I start in on another novel.

Freelancing

I got the big things that were making me twitchy crossed off my list, and I can take the whole weekend off with a clear conscious, so mission accomplished. Hallelujah.

Home/Health/Other

  • Stretch/work out at least 3 times this week (one down, two to go)
  • Vacuum the house
  • Wipe down sinks and maintenance clean 15 minutes/day

Ha ha ha ha!

  • Look into whether we can afford to get me health insurance before the deadline
  • Complete various financial paperwork that needs to get done

Nope.

  • Finish my crochet bunting (pieces are blocked — just need to assemble)
  • Stick to my low GI/GF/DF diet all week long
  • Vote in Tuesday’s local election

In my defense, I didn’t sleep that great this week, either. Also, Matt found reasons to go run errands every morning this week, save Monday, and all that going has left me worn out. Morning errands also make it really difficult for me to get focused and find my groove the rest of the day, too. If I had my way, we’d go do that stuff in the afternoons/early evenings after all the work is done, but he likes to get to places as soon as they open and beat the morning rush. And to be fair, traffic in the afternoons/evenings is a biznatch (don’t tell Tucco we said that) (oh yeah we also found time to watch Better Call Saul and so far it’s great).

How did your week go?

I think I’m having a thought. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a thought. Now I’m having a plan…

This has been a terribly off week. Despite a lovely, restful, craft-filled weekend, on Monday I woke up with a stomach ache and barely any energy, and my condition didn’t improve much throughout the day. Yesterday I felt better, but we needed to make a Target run in the morning, which threw off my routine, and by 4 PM my wrist was throbbing from tendonitis and I had to log off to let it rest.

I went to bed early last night, hoping for a good night’s sleep that would let me hit the ground running today and make up for the lost productivity of the last two days, but then I woke up around three o’clock this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep until almost six, only to be woken up again shortly after seven by my dog, who didn’t care about my sleep deprivation nearly as much as he cared about being fed and let out to pee.

So I’m a little on the zombified side today, and will most certainly require a nap before I even attempt any of my freelance work. Needless to say, it hasn’t been a good week for making progress on my fiction, although I did at least add quite a bit to the PANIC outline on Saturday.

One good thing, though — after I shut everything down yesterday afternoon, I decided to go for a walk. That isn’t the good part, although I did need the exercise.

I had a lot more written here about my freelancing journey over the years, but I was getting into overshare and way too much thinking out loud, so here’s the TL;DR version: I’ve been doing some soul-searching about what I really want to be doing for a day job (until my writing can become my day job), as opposed to basing my whole business model on “what can I do that people will give me money for?”

At the end of the day, the answer to that is that I want to take all of the knowledge and experience in writing and editing, web & graphic design, social media, marketing and branding, etc. that I’ve accumulated over the last several years and focus it all on helping other self-published authors succeed.

So the good thing that happened is that during yesterday’s walk I came up with some good ideas on how to go about doing that, as well as some inspiration for branding and promoting this new venture. So that’s going to add a whole lot of stuff to my To Do list that will probably take a while to bring to fruition, but even so, it’s nice to have a goal and a direction for my freelance biz beyond “what can I get people to pay me to do for them this week?”

And that, to me, is very exciting. Or at least it will be after I have my nap.

Why finding time to write isn’t the same as finding time to type words.

I’m late to the party by several years, but I just discovered the Writing Excuses podcast. This morning I listened to the very first episode, Brainstorming, whilst folding towels [insert snarky comment here re: the glamorous life of the writer], and it drove home something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Namely, the fact that working at home and freelancing are really not conducive to writing fiction.

This is the exact opposite of what I believed back in my days as a cubicle-dweller. I used to go to my job and sit at my desk and daydream about all the scads of free time I’d have if I could just freelance from home and create my own schedule.

I’ll just pause here a moment to let any freelancers who are reading this get done laughing.

See, back when I used to work at a “real job,” I had a 45 minute commute each way, I took long “wake-me-up” showers every morning, and I had a lot of busy-work at my job that didn’t require a lot of concentration. These times, strangely enough, are when most of my writing got done. Not the actual typing, mind you, but all of the parts of writing that result in having something to type up.

These days, I only leave the house to run errands, usually within a five mile radius, and my husband usually drives, so there are no long drives or time stuck in traffic to let my mind wander. My client work requires complete concentration, and the less said about the showering habits of the freelance writer, the better, methinks.

To compound the problem, as a Christian, I do my best to devote the quiet moments in each day to meditating on scripture and talking things out with my Maker. A lot of fiction writers advocate going on long walks to generate story ideas, but my morning walks are dedicated to prayer time.

So where does that leave me as a fiction writer? For now, I’m making it a point to schedule quiet time every now and then for brainstorming, but I’m finding it really hard to force it. This is why all of my novel WIPs are, well, still WIPs, and why I’m having a really difficult time filling in the middle bits of the new novel’s outline. I’ve managed to carve out time in the late morning for writing, but really, that time is for the typing. The magic part of fiction writing needs sufficient time to happen in between the typing bits, and right now I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do about it.

Ah, well. Maybe this task of reclaiming the cat room is just what I need. I’ve been spending that time listening to podcasts or music, but today I’ll try cleaning in silence and see if that jogs anything loose in the story plotting centers of my brain.

Speaking of the cat room, I’m going to have to stop calling it that soon, because it’s slowly starting to resemble a craft room once again. Yesterday I ran into a lot more brown recluses than on day one, and I’m proud of myself for only screaming once. I’ll only get to spend half an hour a day in there — if that — during the week, so progress will go quite a bit more slowly now, but the holiday weekend sure gave me a good start.

Links: What’s Steampunk, Sleepy Hollow preview, and more

I didn’t get all of my freelance work done before the weekend, so I’m having to work today. It’s mostly my own fault for not managing my time as well as I could have, but then again this was a pretty hectic week that involved more errands and more reasons to leave the house than usual (including a second trip to Bixby to pick up Pete’s meds from the vet because she didn’t have them stocked when we were there on Wednesday. Let me tell you, that is quite a long way to drive for such a simple errand), so I’ll go ahead and cut myself some slack.

The plan is to get this last article written before lunch, then I’ll be free the rest of the weekend. Except I also have a couple of short things I need to write for a Fiverr client by Monday evening. I’m still dithering on whether to buckle down and get those done today so I can take Labor Day off, or just wait and do them Monday so I can enjoy most of my Saturday. Considering that “enjoying” my Saturday involves laundry and vacuuming the house, I’ll probably hold off on the extra work until Monday.

Also on today’s agenda: trimming my unruly hair (still debating whether to give myself straight bangs or keep them longish and side swept, even though I usually regret straight bangs because they never lay down like I want them to, and yet I never seem to learn), fiddling with the outline for the new novel, and pulling my horror short story collection together for beta readers.

And now I’ll leave you with some links that are open in my browser that might be of interest to you:

Why writers need to blog. And a sad puppy.

There’s a reason I’ve always been so inconsistent with keeping up this blog. It’s because taking time to blog here makes me feel guilty. It’s not something I get paid to do, and it’s time I’m not spending working on my fiction. So in the hierarchy of things I spend my writing time/energy on, blogging always comes dead last, after paying work and fiction projects. Of course, once those priorities are out of the way, I often don’t have any time or energy left for writing a blog post (and when I do, my content marketing blog usually wins, since it exists to attract potential paying clients).

But what about building my author platform, building my audience and selling books? This week, Kristen Lamb’s Blog had a great post about the importance of blogging, which makes some excellent points, not the least of which is the importance of a well-kept blog in building your platform and connecting with your readers. She also talks about how blogging consistently helps train you to write through distractions, overcome perfectionism, and meet deadlines.

But the point that convinced me to stop putting my blog last is a truth that I knew already but had forgotten: blogging (at least, for me) serves as a fantastic writing warm-up to loosen the creative gears and get me into the necessary frame of mind. So instead of keeping on doing what I’ve been doing, which is sitting down to work on freelance writing and not allowing myself to blog until it’s done, and then continuing to sit for more than an hour and stare at the screen between checking Facebook while trying to psych myself up to actually write something, I’m going to try to start out my non-fiction writing sessions with a blog post to warm up. At least then I’ll actually be doing something productive with that time.

In other news, we took our Chihuahua, Pete, to the vet this week. He’s had six seizures this month (that we’re aware of), and he was due for blood work to check his thyroid. Because of the seizures, she (the vet) went ahead and did a full panel, and discovered that his liver enzymes are extremely elevated, which she things may be responsible for the seizures. So we’re treating that (poor dog’s taking more pills now than Matt and I combined) and hoping it will put a stop to the seizures, or at least slow them down.

Was he happy about going to the vet? Not at all:

Poor little guy. But at least he hasn’t had any seizures in the last few days.

Freelance Writing and Fiverr: A Match Made in the Good Place

If you’ve followed me online for very long, then you probably know that I’ve spent the last couple of years doing a lot of writing for Demand Studios to help pay the bills (and you probably also know that it hasn’t been my favorite, but at least it was fairly reliable and steady pay). Well, we ran into a bit of a rough patch earlier this year when the assignment queue there started to dwindle down to nothing, which was followed by an announcement that they were shutting down for “a couple of months” to re-tool — which basically meant that they were temporarily laying off their entire freelance writing staff.

So that kinda sucked, especially since they were the only steady client we had going for us. But then again, I was also relieved to get a break, and it seemed like the kick in the butt I needed to finally get myself off of the content mill hamster wheel and start doing freelance writing on my own terms. Initially, this meant that I was going to start querying online and print publications and pitching articles. But it turns out that the article query process is about as slow as the book query process, and I needed to get paid last week.

Enter Fiverr.com. Based on a tip from Freelance Writers Online, I decided to set up a writing gig there to start building non-content-mill writing samples and collecting testimonials. The plan, originally, was to get enough of both to get off to a good start and post them on my freelance writing CV website. I figured that I’d set a word-count limit that was not completely unreasonable for $5 while remaining competitive, and only accept assignments that interested me from people who were more concerned about quality than cheap and fast.

Granted, I figured this was a long-shot. But my goal was to get good samples, not to make money — something I didn’t really think would be possible on a site where everything costs $5.

Except, I quickly discovered that everything doesn’t cost $5 on Fiverr — at least, not anymore. I originally set up my account on there a few years ago, when they were still new and everything did, in fact, cost a mere five bucks. But it turns out that Fiverr has grown up a lot since then, and once you prove yourself as a reputable seller, you unlock additional benefits, including the ability to add on “gig extras” and start charging more for your work.

Another thing I quickly discovered — there are, in fact, plenty of people who are happy to pay for quality over quantity. It turns out that my gig — 250 words from a veteran writer and blogger with over a decade of experience and a strong publishing record — stood out amidst a sea of gigs offering higher word counts from writers for whom English is clearly not their first language. I started getting work almost immediately — and it was work I actually enjoyed, about topics I found interesting.

After the first 30 days, I had enough sales and positive reviews racked up to earn my Level 1 Seller badge and unlock gig extras — including the ability for buyers to order multiples of your gig, which meant people could hire me to write lengthier articles. Just a week later I had already advanced to Level 2 and was able to add even more gig extras at higher prices. I was a bit worried at first that the pricier stuff might scare off the clientele I had built up, but so far they’ve been happy to pay for the extras.

Long story short (…too late!), in about six weeks Fiverr has gone from a means of jump starting my flagging freelance biz to not only reviving it but forming its backbone. I’ve got a few steady writing clients there, and also a number of editing and novel critique clients. I’ve got several graphic design and self-publishing related gigs on offer, too, because I can do all those things and I thrive on variety, but so far my most popular gig by far is the writing gig, followed by the novel critique one. Between those two, my queue stays busy enough that I’ve had to recruit my husband, who’s also got some good writing chops, to help me stay on top of it. We’re working on expanding it and making him an official part of the team, as soon as we can find the time to rewrite the profile description.

We’re not 100% up to being able to cover all the bills with our Fiverr gigs yet. Demand Studios is slowly starting to release new titles into their assignment queue, so I’m going to have to stick with them a little longer to fill in the gaps. But I’m optimistic that Fiverr will be able to close those gaps for us before too much longer and we’ll be able to bid adieu to content mills forever.

This was ostensibly meant to be a post about how to get started selling on Fiverr, which has been much requested of me on Facebook. But I felt like I needed to give my testimony first, and I didn’t think it would run quite so long. So I hereby promise to do a follow-up post later in the week with some best practices for getting your Fiverr business up and running. In the mean time… is there anything I can help you with for five bucks?

Nanowri-NOPE!

A few things…

  • Nanowrimo’s not happening for me. There’s just too much on my plate right now for me to be able to make it a priority.
  • Relatedly, I think I need to take a semi-hiatus from this blog until things settle down and I figure out exactly what I want to be doing with it. I’ll still post if there’s news, but for the time being I won’t be posting just for the sake of putting content out there.
  • Since my freelance writing resume page imploded, I FINALLY made time to reconstruct it. Except instead of a page on this blog I set up a whole website for it. If you happen to know anyone who could use a freelance writer or content development coach, you can point them to my credentials here: Jean Marie Bauhaus – Writer for Hire

  • I am really, really glad it’s Friday.