Linda Formichelli is a longtime advocate for writers — and she has a new book out to help all of us get a lot more great stuff into our lives.
Over at Copyblogger, we’ve been fans of Linda Formichelli for a long time, for her tireless work helping writers to get paid what they’re worth.
Today, Sonia chats with Linda about her new book, How to Do It All: the Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out with a Sharpie.
In this 28-minute episode, Sonia talks with Linda about:
- Why it can be a great idea to accept the right kind (and amount) of stress
- How to make “doing it all” a life enhancer, instead of an overwhelming obligation
- Linda’s thoughts on putting together a “side hustle” even if you don’t think you have the time
- Some ways to get outside perspective on a big project
- The painful (and expensive) self-publishing lesson she learned with this book
The Show Notes
Note: Linda no longer participates in social media (she explains why in the book), so the best way to get more from her is on her blog, The Renegade Writer (link below).
- Learn more about our Certified Content Marketer program (re-opening soon)
- Pick up a sample of Linda’s book here: How to Do It All (sample chapter)
- Pick the book up on Amazon here: How to Do It All: A Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out with a Sharpie
- Linda’s Copyblogger post on How to Earn $250 an Hour as a Freelance Writer
- Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It
- James Altucher’s Copyblogger post on Professional Self-Publishing
- The Renegade Writer blog (with more than 1000 posts for professional writers)
- The Renegade Writer’s shop of books for writers, as well as checklists, guided meditations for writers, and other neat things
- Ask me a question or follow me on Twitter @soniasimone!
Self-Publishing, Side Hustles, and Doing It All: A Conversation with Linda Formichelli
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Sonia Simone: Hi there, it is so good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger Blog.
In this show, I think we’re going to have quite a wealth of free resources and additional material and show notes, as well as the complete archive for the show. Just head over to Copyblogger.FM in your browser, and you’ll get magically whisked over to the show notes.
With all that, I want to give a big, warm welcome to Linda Formichelli. Linda, it is so great to have you here.
Linda Formichelli: Thank you for having me, I’m excited.
Sonia Simone: This is really, really fun. For those of you who haven’t met Linda yet — I know a lot of you do know Linda — she has written for us, for Copyblogger, numerous times, including killer posts like How to Earn $250 Per Hour as a Freelance Writer. Everybody loves that. She’s very well known, and she’s really made a name for herself, not only as a writer herself, but also as someone who’s helped so many writers make a better living.
That’s awesome, but she has a new book out called How to Do it All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life – While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie. So love that title. I was fortunate enough to see a preview version of the book that Linda sent me, and I thought it was awesome. I’m really, really excited that we’re able to do this podcast. So welcome.
Linda Formichelli: Thank you, thank you.
Why It Can Be a Great Idea to Accept the Right Kind (and Amount) of Stress
Sonia Simone: I want to dive into the book. We’re going to cover a lot of ground today. The first thing that struck me about the book: there are a lot of books about how to do more things that we want to do, productivity books. This one has a point of view that I almost never see. In fact, I’ve only seen it in one other thing that I’ve come across. And that is the idea that trying to have a life with no stress is a terrible idea.
If we’re going to have rich and fascinating lives, there’s going to be stress, and that is totally fine. There’s a great quote, “Isn’t there a middle way between zoning out on a mountain top and being hospitalized with a nervous breakdown?” Hello, yes. So I thought that really encapsulated it really well. I was wondering if you had seen Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Upside of Stress.
Linda Formichelli: No, and now I must get it.
Sonia Simone: Oh, you’re going to love it, yeah.
Linda Formichelli: Just the title sounds perfect.
Sonia Simone: Yeah. It’s actually very much backed by the science. That there are different kinds of stress, and the kind of stress that we put ourselves through doing all these crazy, meaningful things is not always comfortable, but it’s not harmful. It’s actually really beneficial, even to our health. Maybe you want to talk a little bit about how did you come to this crazy conclusion when everything else in the culture’s like, “Oh, we have to get rid of stress, stress is hurting us.”
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, I came up with the idea for the book because I was doing a review of my past year, and for some reason, I decided to write down all the things that I had done. So I just made this big list, and afterwards I took a look at it, and I was like “Holy moly, I can’t believe I did so much.” People are always asking, “How do you get so much done without freaking out?” I’m like, “Well, duh, I freak out. I freak out all the time.”
Sonia Simone: Right, right.
How to Make “Doing It All” a Life Enhancer, Instead of an Overwhelming Obligation
Linda Formichelli: But, the freaking out is in service of doing all the things I love to do. There are a lot of things I don’t want to say no to. There are a lot of things I do want to accomplish, and sometimes that is going to lead to stress. And like you were saying, stress isn’t all that bad.
If you read the women’s media especially, we’re always being told we need to cut down and simplify and not take on too much because, “Oh, no! Otherwise you’ll feel stressed, and that’ll give you heart disease and cancer.” But what the media doesn’t tell you is that stress is bad if it’s chronic and unrelenting, like if you’re in a refugee camp or you’re caring for a terminally ill family member.
There’s also a kind of stress that’s positive, and I’ll bet Kelly McGonigal talks about it in her book. It’s called ‘you’ stress, it’s like positive stress.
Sonia Simone: Yes.
Linda Formichelli: Okay, and it gets you jazzed up and it helps you perform better, and it’s even been shown to boost your immune system. So you’re about to do something that’s kind of freaking you out and you feel stressed and you do the thing and then the stress goes away, and that’s completely normal. It’s the kind of stress you feel when you’re doing a job interview or performing on stage, speaking in front of a group, about to launch your new business.
These are all positive things, and the stress is just telling us that we are pushing out of our comfort zone, pushing our boundaries, doing something that’s really important to us. In How to Do It All, I talk about all of this, but also how to keep the stress from becoming severe and chronic. Because I think even if it is positive stress, ‘you’ stress, if it becomes too much, it’s going to turn into anxiety. And that can make you ill, so I have a lot of advice on how to keep it from getting to that point.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I also think that’s one of the distinctions you make right up front, and I think it’s very important. And I think it’s an especially tricky issue for professional women and women in general. There’s wanting to do it all because you have to live up to so many people’s expectations and then there’s wanting to do it all because ‘it all’ is awesome.
These are things that you want to do to make your life great, and there’s such a difference. I think especially women’s media is about people who are doing all kinds of things that they’re not enjoying and that they don’t really get jazzed about because it’s really to make somebody else happy. That is not the message of your book at all.
Linda Formichelli: No.
Sonia Simone: It’s quite the opposite.
Linda Formichelli: Yes, that is the opposite of the message. I’ve written for a ton of women’s magazines, and I read a lot of women’s magazines and all the other women’s media blogs, and everything. The cultural narrative is “Oh, you poor thing, stop feeling like you have to do so much. Simplify, cut back, say no to things you don’t want to do.” The undertone is that we’re doing it all for someone else and that we need to just step down and take care of ourselves.
It’s assumed that, for example, if we want to have a really nice home, a beautiful place to live, it’s to impress the neighbors or because otherwise we’ll be embarrassed when the UPS guy drops by. If we volunteer, it’s out of a sense of guilt, and we’re doing it out of obligation and not out of love or something that we feel passionate about.
More pertinent to Copyblogger, if we want to start a side business, it’s to support someone else or because for some other reason, we feel like we have to. Not because we want to feel accomplished and abundant and make our mark on the world and provide a service.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I’m glad you mentioned that because you are known for helping professional writers make a living. You’ve written numerous times for Copyblogger. We’ve got another post coming from you soon about that.
You have 12 areas of focus in the book, 12 things that you can do, projects that you can do, to have more awesome, good things in your life. One of those is starting a side hustle. And a side hustle, of course, being like, you’ve got your regular nine to five, or whatever your hours are, and then you have something that you would do on the side.
I’m a firm believer that almost everybody who reads Copyblogger regularly is going to have some set of skills and ideas that they’re going to be able to turn into a side hustle. As you just mentioned, not just for the extra revenue — and extra revenue is really nice, it can really take the pressure off — but just because it’s cool. It’s cool to have a business that does something and makes a mark.
It’s a very thorough process, and I won’t ask you to go through the whole thing here, but maybe you could just highlight a few of these ideas, the do-it-all ideas from the book and just how they would apply to somebody who would like to start a side business, a side hustle. What are some of the ways your book would teach people to approach that?
Linda’s Thoughts on Putting Together A “Side Hustle,” Even If You Don’t Think You Have the Time
Linda Formichelli: Sure, so yeah, of course, with the Copyblogger audience, I’m sure everybody, if they don’t want to do this sort of thing as a full-time thing, they do want to start a side business. I think most pertinent to the book is that the main reason people say, “Oh, I really want to become a freelance writer or a content marketer,” or whatever, and then they don’t do it, is because they say they lack the time.
That is a huge part of the book. I go into great depth on the topic of making and managing time. Notice I said making time and not finding time. Some of the ways are first of all to realize that you probably do have the time. But either you don’t know it and don’t recognize it, or it’s scattered throughout the day, in like 15 to 30 minute blocks so that you feel you can’t get anything really done.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, yeah.
Linda Formichelli: It’s really important if this is what’s stopping you from starting the side hustle to track your time, maybe for a week or two. Just every half hour, write down what you’re doing, and you will come to realize, “Okay, I probably don’t work as much as I think I do. I don’t do as much child care and housework as I think I do. I’m sleeping more than I think I am.”
These are all things, by the way, that have been studied, and it’s been shown that people tend to underestimate how much they sleep and overestimate how much they work and do housework. Just having that motivation will help you realize, “Okay, I do have some time, but how do I make it work for me?”
A couple of things I’d like to suggest is one, that you start batching things in order to make big blocks of time. If you have 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, it can add up to several hours. But it’s hard to make use of that time because you really need to get into a flow state. You really need more time that’s in a big block.
So start batching your invoicing and batching your phone calls and batching your chores and your errands and everything you can. Then take a hard look at your schedule, analyze it, and then rearrange things in such a way that you do have big blocks of time.
The other thing is, and I know this is really controversial, but if you can do it, sleep less. I know that you always hear you need eight or nine hours of sleep, and if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s just really bad for you. But first of all, not everybody needs that much sleep. There are a subset of people called short sleepers who do very well on maybe five or six hours of sleep.
Second of all, a recent study showed that people who sleep between 5.5 and 7.5 hours a day are more productive and they watch less TV than people who sleep less or more. I think the ‘watching less TV’ part is really revealing because I originally wrote a blog post where I mentioned this, and people were all over me, like, “Oh, they’re probably more productive because they had more hours in the day.”
But the study also showed that they watch less TV, and also, I forgot to mention, they socialize more. It’s not just that you have more hours in the day, but there’s something that — I think they don’t know what it is — that just makes you more productive on that amount of sleep. So if you are forcing yourself to stay in bed eight or nine hours just because you’ve been reading that that is the ideal amount of time to get, maybe rethink that, do some experimenting, and see if you could start getting up a little bit earlier every day and make those really important morning hours work for you in terms of starting your side business.
Sonia Simone: I’ve known so many different people who put these things together differently. I love your book because it opens up so many possibilities and options. You can try this or you can try that and you can try something else. It’s a very abundant mindset
Linda Formichelli: Thank you, yeah.
Some Ways to Get Outside Perspective on a Big Project
Sonia Simone: I’m going to switch gears a tiny bit, because one of the things that we talked about when we were setting this up is that it’s not your first rodeo with self-publishing. But I believe this is the first time that you launched a book on a self-published basis, that you hadn’t gone traditional first.
I’m sure that was an amazing journey and one that definitely interests me. We talked about a couple of things. The first was, when we do self-publish, then what we don’t have is the thing that, frankly, you actually often don’t get with a traditional publisher either, which is true outside perspective, the true, outside editorial eye that helps you see what you’re too close to it to see.
I thought maybe you could talk about how to get out of your own head when you’re writing your book, how can you get some outside perspective to make the book stronger, and what kinds of experiences you had with that.
Linda Formichelli: Sure, sure, because at least with traditional publishing, you’re going to have somebody else looking at your book. They’ll usually have an editor on board who will ask you to make changes and let you know what they think and so on.
With self-publishing, a lot of people think, “Oh, it’s so great that I don’t have to listen to anybody else and I can just do what I want and throw it up on Amazon.” But I think something that’s really shocking to all of us is that most of us are not as good of writers as we think.
When I wrote my first draft, I thought it was amazing. I’m like, “This is so good. I’m just going to do this.” And I sent it to my business partner at Renegade Writer Press, Diana. And I was like, “This is so amazing,” and she tried to let me down easy. She had a ton of comments, and she even told me, “I don’t get the same excited feeling when I read this book as I did when I read your last personal development book,” which is called Commit. She said, “It’s just not doing it for me,” and she gave me a lot of advice and things that she thought were wrong, and I completely rewrote the book.
I also had beta readers, which I think is a really great idea for self-published authors. With beta readers, you go out either among your mailing list if you have one or your Facebook group. Or you can even go on Goodreads and look for beta readers. Those are people who will read the book in exchange for a free copy when it’s done, and they will let you know what they think.
I did that, and the first time I used beta readers, I just sent them a file and had them go at it. That, I think, was a little bit of a waste of time for them because they would change things like in the formatting, things that were not going to be the same way when it was published.
I actually wrote a questionnaire, and I had them fill out the questionnaire about what they liked about it, what they didn’t like, if they saw any egregious grammatical errors, because that’s another thing. I hired an editor later in the process, so I didn’t need people to be correcting my grammar or my spelling or typos or anything like that.
I got 20 forms back and took notes on all of them and then incorporated almost everything into the new draft. I had my husband take a look at it after that, and he went through it with a red pen. I was literally printing it out, by the way. I printed out this 250-some, odd-page book five times and would go over it with a red pen and have my husband go over it with a red pen, because he’s a professional writer as well. Then I finally hired what was supposed to be a professional proofreader, and he ended up being more of a developmental editor.
Sonia Simone: Oh, interesting, okay.
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, it was really interesting, because he had really great ideas on rearranging the chapters and how I should do the headers and “Maybe you don’t want say this, this is a little risky,” and so on. I ended up making so many changes to the book. What was really important was that I toned down the attitude and the lame jokes.
Sonia Simone: Interesting.
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, I tend to write in this really edgy style, and I like to swear a little bit and have jokes. People really did not respond well to that, and I discovered I was using it as kind of a crutch. Maybe I was afraid of being an expert — you know what I mean — and giving people advice. It’s a big responsibility, so maybe I was using that as a crutch to tone it down a little bit. But people didn’t like that, so I took out a lot of that. I think it came across a lot more authoritative, but still without losing my voice and my style. That came across still.
The editor that I hired mentioned that I had something like 150 parenthetical asides, just little things in dashes or parentheses that I thought were really cute or funny. I took out almost all of them. I changed the order of chapters, combined chapters, created an appendix with a list of every worksheet plus the questions and prompts on them. So if you didn’t want to go download the worksheets, you could do it right there or you could journal it or whatever. At the end, I feel like I wrote the book in four weeks and then it took six weeks to edit it.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, yeah.
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, and then it ended up being so much stronger that when I look back at the first draft, it makes me cringe.
Sonia Simone: It’s so funny that you say that because I was reading it and I was like, “This book is hilarious.”
Linda Formichelli: Thank you.
Sonia Simone: I think you kept the good ones. Yeah, you turned out the lame ones and kept the good ones.
Linda Formichelli: I had jokes about Fight Club and Wayne’s World, The Lego Movie, and everybody’s like, “Not every woman in the age range that this is aimed for has seen these movies, so you might want to remove those.”
The Painful (and Expensive) Self-Publishing Lesson Linda Learned With This Book
Sonia Simone: I think it just turned out great. I want to talk a little more about the editing process. You mentioned you had this great proofreader, and I think I’ll probably tap you on the shoulder and ask for his name. It wasn’t like a whole ‘rainbows and unicorns’ kind of thing. You had your ups, you had your downs, and I know that you had a difficult and expensive bump in the road on this.
And I just wondered if you wanted to let us know a little bit about that. You hired somebody who wasn’t a good fit, and that ended up being a real issue for you. Any lessons that you learned from that experience?
Linda Formichelli: Yes, big lessons. I have this terrible weakness where being a small business owner myself, I never want to question or haggle with other small business owners. When I hire people, I don’t really do my due diligence and ask them the hard questions and talk about exactly what I’m getting for the money that I’m spending.
So when I was looking for a launch team, I hired somebody who I had happened to interview for the Renegade Writer Blog a couple of months before, and I liked him. And he had mentioned that he launches books, so he put together a little video for me, and I was like, “Oh, this is cool.” I wasn’t really clear on exactly what he was going to be doing, but I hired him.
I agreed to pay $7,500, and as the process went along — I think I hired him in maybe January and then the launch was in mid-April — there were all these red flags that kept popping up. But I kept sending him checks because I didn’t want to question him. One of the red flags was that the launch guy charged an extra fee for PayPal or credit card payments, which was why I was sending checks all the time.
Another example is at one point, I wrote and said, “Can you tell me what you guys are doing? I’m not really seeing much happening on your end.” And he got very defensive and basically told me to mind my own business. They were doing what they do, and I would find out later. I backed down because that’s the way I am, “Oh, another small business person who knows what he’s doing.” I always assume they’re going to be ethical and competent like myself.
On the day of launch, I was really excited. This is where the rubber hits the road, this is where we’re going to have the proof of all this work. And I did not hear from the person I hired or the team at all. Maybe I was expecting too much, flowers and music and, “Oh my God, we’re selling this much and we did this,” and “Oh my God, you made this many sales.” But I did not hear anything.
I sent a couple of emails, and did not hear back. That day, I think we sold 30 to 40 books, and I had already paid $6,500 at that point. The next day, I sent an email and I said, “I’m going to cancel the contract and take this over myself.” And, of course, I got an email 18 minutes later.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, right.
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, after not hearing from him for days to, “Oh, this was when the good stuff was about to happen.” And I’m thinking, “Shouldn’t launch day be the day when all the good things happen?” I demanded a timesheet, and I discovered that they were doing things like posting the book in Facebook groups where authors would go in and drop their links like ‘Pimp My Book’ and things like that. There would just be all these self-published romance authors just dropping in their links, no comments, no hits, no nothing, things like that.
I’ve been fighting to get my money back. I don’t think it’s going to happen, so it was a huge loss for me. I really learned my lesson to be more of a hard ass. When it comes to your business and your money, you deserve to know what exactly you are getting, what the person’s qualifications are, what exactly they’re doing and when they are doing it, and what they expect the ROI to be for you. I talked to a business coach after that, and he said it was a cheap lesson, because, as he said, “Imagine that you had gone into this for a lot more money.” $6,500 in the grand scheme of things is not that much.
Sonia Simone: That sucks.
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, it still sucks.
Sonia Simone: It still sucks.
Linda Formichelli: I ended up hiring a virtual assistant who was recommended to me, and I did ask her questions. She is doing an amazing job of reaching out to the right type of people for this book, whereas the launch person was reaching out for some reason to business podcasts and things like that when this is really a women’s personal development book. So we will be getting a lot of really good attention that is hopefully going to come to fruition pretty soon.
Sonia Simone: Well, good. Well, excellent, good luck for that. Did you promote it to your own list? Did you promote it to your Renegade Writer’s list?
Linda Formichelli: I did, I promoted it to my list. I also had a separate list of people who were specifically interested in that book, and I had a Facebook group just for the book, and I promoted it to all of them. I had a little earlier sale just for them where it was a little bit cheaper, so I sold a little bit more on that day. I was expecting launch day was going to be, “Boom, oh my God, look at that spike,” but no.
Sonia Simone: Hopefully, we’ll see a slow and steady rise.
Linda Formichelli: That’s what I’m thinking is going to happen.
Sonia Simone: All right, I want to wrap us up here. We have a lot for you guys, so we have a lot more from Linda. I do want to just reiterate that I think the book is very solid. I read a lot of this kind of material. Most of it’s not very good. I thought, I really did, I was impressed by it, and I really think it’s going to resonate with the kind of people who read Copyblogger, because it’s that combination of the practical and the creative that I think is so, so potent.
What’s the best place and where would you love folks to pick up the book?
Sonia Simone: Do you have a preference? Does one serve you better than the other?
Linda Formichelli: It all leads to Amazon in the end anyway, so if people want more information and they want to just see more about the book, they can go to HowToDoItAllBook.com. There’s a free chapter download on there and media mentions and things like that. If you just want to buy the book right now because it sounds so awesome, you can just go right to Amazon.
Sonia Simone: I strongly recommend it.
Linda Formichelli: Thank you.
Sonia Simone: All right, and as I mentioned, you produce so much valuable information for writers. I have lots of links, so I really want to encourage people who are listening, if you go to Copyblogger.FM, you’ll find the show notes for this session. I’m going to just dump a lot of links in there. Is there one resource for writers and specifically for writers who want to make a better income that you would recommend?
Linda Formichelli: Yeah, the Renegade Writer Blog at TheRenegadeWriter.com/Blog has over 1,000 posts. This is actually the 10-year anniversary of the blog.
Sonia Simone: Oh, cool.
Linda Formichelli: It is mostly about magazine writing, but you’ll also find information in there about copywriting, self-publishing, and so on. Then at TheRenegadeWriter.com/Store is where we have all of our books for writers, including The Renegade Writer, which is what the blog is named after. It came out over 10 years ago and is still selling. We have a meditation for writers, we have checklists, all different books, so it’s a lot of stuff.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, you guys … I love what you do.
Linda Formichelli: Thank you.
Sonia Simone: I want to let folks who are listening know to keep an eye out or an ear out as the case may be on Copyblogger and on this podcast. Over the next month or so, we’re going to be talking a lot about freelance writers, about freelance professionals, and freelance content professionals, and also people who work for a team as content professionals, because in the upcoming weeks, we’re going to be accepting a new group of writers into our content marketing certification program.
That’s actually where you take a course with us, and the editorial team at Copyblogger looks at your writing and says ‘yes or no — we will vouch for this person, this is a solid writer.’ Not everybody who applies to the program does pass, which is good news for you because it means it’s really a meaningful certification.
If you go to Copyblogger.com and then go to the products menu and look at certified writers, you can learn all about that. You’ll be able to see the list of the writers we’ve certified so far, and I’ll give you a link as I always do in the show notes at Copyblogger.FM. I will include lots and lots of things from Linda. She has done so much great work for us and so I’ll give you lots of good stuff there.
Linda, thanks. It’s fun. It’s funny, because in the intro to your book, you talk about somebody saying, “I want to know what you’re on and how I can get some, so I can get some of this done.” And I have very much that same response. It’s like I think I do a lot of things and then I look and I’m like, “Wow, holy cow, there’s some room there.” It’s very cool, and I love your attitude, I love what a positive spirit that you bring to it all, and I think it’s really going to help people.
So congratulations on the book and good luck with it. I do encourage everybody to pick it up.
Linda Formichelli: Thank you so much, it was great being here. I appreciate it.
Sonia Simone: Super. Take care, everybody, and we will see you next week.