Friday, October 28, 2011

Making progress

Today I headed out to the city to visit Jen, another long-time friend, former housemate and partner-in-crazy-adventures, who was staying with our mutual friend Monika and only in town for a day. I fought rush-hour traffic so I could squeeze in a morning run with Monika, who is training for a couple of half marathons. Her training plan called for six miles today, which sounded easy, but then we hit the streets of San Francisco. Our mainly road run (this photo shows trail but it was all of a half mile through a park) fluctuated between quad-crushing steep climbs and ouch-my-knees concrete descents, literally rippling through city blocks. On top of that it was 80 degrees and neither of us brought any water. So much for "easy." Nothing a slice of Indian curry pizza and three hours of reminiscing can't cure.

Driving home, I felt more than a little guilty about all of the hours of "work" I've been cutting recently. The readers of this blog (and most of my family and friends) probably think I spend all day running and riding my bike, posting photos on the Web, and traveling to other places where I can run and ride my bike. Okay, this is sometimes true, but it is not *always* true. I wrapped up most of my pre-assigned freelance work early this month, so my latest efforts have involved (admittedly half-hearted) attempts to seek more freelance work, shopping out editing and design services to other independent authors (while acknowledging I really can't take on any big projects until after the holidays), outlining a few nonfiction book concepts, and working on one memoir.

The memoir is what I consider the big project right now, and also the most frustrating. Just to make a clarification — a memoir isn't necessarily a life story. Usually the genre describes a piece of one's life, written as an autobiography. I've written two already, but these fell more into the genre of adventure journalism. This one is a true memoir, and that's what makes it so challenging.

Basically, I am writing about the first winter I lived in Alaska. The project allows me to: a) share funny stories about a cheechako (that's an Alaska-ism for newbie) living in the quirky town of Homer, Alaska; b) share funny stories about life as a small-town journalist; c) explore in greater depth how and why someone who was essentially an occasional recreational weekend warrior suddenly decided to become an aspiring athlete in an extreme endurance sport, randomly and almost overnight; and d) delve into a concept I once scraped the broad surface of in my "Modern Romance" posts during winter 2009-2010: falling in love with a place, and the effects of these unexpectedly strong emotions.

If this all sounds convoluted and/or uninteresting, I guess that's my challenge, to prove that snapshots of my early experiences in Alaska can fit together in a unique and engaging story. It could also be a huge disaster and a waste of time. I have good days in which I'll work a solid six hours without even coming up for air, and emerge on the other side of the tunnel mentally exhausted, more spent than I would be after a six-hour run. Then I'll have days like Monday, when, after realizing that I had veered in a wrong direction, I decided to scrap nearly 10,000 words that I had worked so hard to mine from the depths of that tunnel. Bad days.

And I realize that the hope of making something like this actually become financially viable is almost laughable. Book sales and freelance projects have kept me in the positive thus far, but that will dry up if I don't generate new work soon. And regardless of what blog readers (and probably friends and family) might believe, I do want and need to maintain some level of financial independence. Thus I maintain more realistic side projects. But it's been a struggle to put real time into these efforts, because I've gotten my heart invested in this memoir. Some days — okay, many days — it's easier to just put the computer away and go out for a ride.

This post certainly isn't meant as any kind of complaint – just an explanation about what I've been doing. I'm thrilled I have the opportunity to do this right now, and I love all the time I have to "work," (as opposed to the days when I was working 50 hours a week at the Juneau Empire and writing "Be Brave, Be Strong" on the side. There was much too little actual fun in those days.) I just need to accept that, for me, writing is incredibly rewarding but genuinely difficult work, and if I want to make real progress, I need to invest more sweat equity. It isn't all going to fall into place just because I have more time and freedom.

Sometimes I feel frustrated, but it's nothing a two-and-a-half-hour evening mountain bike ride can't cure. (Maybe I do get out too much.)


  1. You've come a long way Jill! Several years ago I am sure you would never have guessed that you'd be living in Silicon Valley now. But if you had described your dream scenario in terms of work, adventure and love, I bet it would be quite descriptive of your life today. Keep balancing of course, but I hope you don’t allow your self-imposed goals and ambitions to curtail your salad days basking.

  2. Don't work too hard. The rest of us reading are just frustrated cyclists with full-time jobs, mortgages and kids living vicarously through your crazy endurance adventures. Irresponsible, maybe. Fun to read definitely.

    We all dream about ditching our "responsibilities" and doing what you do. Thanks to the internet we can just log on and see what it would be like. No one will want to read anymore if you turn into one of us:-)

    Granny gear

    PS Responsibility is overrated. Living up to others expectations of "responsibility" only leads to uninspired drudgery. Only you know what brings you joy, keep doing it.

  3. is that glen canyon in your picture? one of my favorite city getaways, conveniently on my way home from work. that plus indian pizza (zantes?) sounds like a good day in the city.

  4. The steepness of the trail in first picture made me itch. Need to go to Staircase soon! As another one said, we live through your adventures. Jealous? You betcha! But not in a way to not want you do some more of that stuff:) After all, when we go on our (more rare) outings, we inspire and yet make jealous somebody else:))
    p.s. looking forward to another book. Go write already!

  5. I covet the flexibility your work affords you but would never get a damned thing done if I had that flexibility. I am sometimes jealous of you and Meghan and other freelance writers but then remember that my life doesn't exactly suck.

    It sounds like you're self conscious about your sweet set up but that's our problem not yours.

  6. Leah — yup, Glen Canyon. Monika lives in the Noe Valley so we ran from her house, around a bunch of neighborhoods near Twin Peaks, and finished up with Zantes. San Fran is such a cool city. I would still love to meet up with you sometime for a bike ride. November is absolutely crazy for my schedule but perhaps later this winter?

    Aucilla, Olga, Danni — good points. One one side, I have this Homer family work ethic that is deeply ingrained in my sense of self worth. On the other, I believe that all things are fleeting, career success is only as meaningful as the quality of your life and the lives of the people you love, and what really matters to me is that I live my life fully and richly every single day.

    So, in short, I'd love to stumble across the success of selling a million books, but I could also live just as happily if I only had a bicycle and some panniers to my name (and of course the company of Beat), and spent the rest of our days traveling as far and wide as our legs could take us. Writing and cycling are equally enriching for me. Making money has never been a priority, but of course I appreciate the freedom and opportunities it can provide.

  7. While I'm not generally a fan of ads on blogs, in some cases the blog owner definitely deserves some sort of monetary recognition for the entertainment and inspiration they provide.

    Have you ever considered putting ads on Jill Outside? I don't know how many readers you have, but it seems like it would be enough to make a little sumpin' sumpin' based on the insane blog earnings I've been hearing about on the internets lately. I would gladly click through ads to keep you in your adventuring lifestyle. :)

  8. Thanks Ingunn! I looked into Google ads a few years back and concluded that the sell-out would only net me a few dollars a week. Didn't seem worth it.

    Creating Internet content for profit is a puzzle not even the New York Times has figured out. Google makes billions on its ads off the pennies produced by billions of blogs and Web sites. And these content providers, most of whom have no financial agenda (raises hand) are happy with the scraps. It's a brilliant business model, but it doesn't provide much financial opportunity for content providers. Even very popular blogs (as in the top 1 percent) usually can't generate a living wage, at least not with ads alone.

    Right now, I am experimenting with the possibility of making a living off of content creation. I think eBooks are my best shot, although convincing people to purchase any content, given all the free stuff on the Internet, is an uphill battle. We'll see. Sadly, the skills I have to fall back on, such as newspaper copy editing, are also locked in a dying industry. At least I have past work experience baking bagels. As I see it, people will always need bagels.

  9. Hi Jill,

    I love reading your blog. It inspires me to get outside and train hard too. Personally I think that I am also reaping rewards from your increased "free" time because you're going on more adventures, I get to read about more exciting adventures and then I go on more adventures of my own! Win-win as far as I'm concerned.

    I'm glad your heart is set on your new memoir project because that is something I'd love to read! I grew up in Juneau (and still live here) and I really enjoy reading about your experiences in parts of Alaska that I haven't visited myself. Even more than that your transition from weekend warrior to endurance junkie is endlessly fascinating to me. I hope you don't take this the wrong way but you make it sound like something anyone could achieve if they want it badly enough and I find that kind of story really inspiring (maybe I can be an endurance junkie someday too!). All this just to say I'm glad to have something to look forward to reading from you and I think it's a great concept for a book.

    In the meantime I'll be purchasing your other books again (ebook format this time) so I'll have something to read while I'm waiting for the new one.

    Have fun at Frog Hollow!

  10. I admire what you're doing. Freelancing is not easy and it takes a ton of self-motivation. But you're making it work, and you're having amazing adventures at the same time. I guess my attitude is, Do it now. Before my husband and I had our son, we traveled a lot for fun and often put work on the back burner. I don't regret any of it. It was all so worth it. We can't get that time back and I'm glad we made the most of it.

  11. Maybe you could at least add a 'buy me a coffee'(or whatever your poison is) button, like Alastair Humphreys has on his site:
    (scroll down, it is on the right hand side near the bottom).

  12. sounds good, jill. I decided to go for it with cyclocross this year so that is right around the end of the season. perfect time to get back into adventure rides!

  13. Jill, the new memoir sounds worth writing, worth reading. I think I'm a sucker for stories of beginnings. Take good mental notes over the next few weeks, even if you don't have a writing tool at hand.


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