If you’re in the Portland area this weekend and want something to do on Saturday afternoon, come pick up a paperback copy of my new novel,Â Skull and Sidecar. It’s historical fiction about women anthropologists set in 1926. There’s a man in a black hat, and a Harley-Davidson with a sidecar, and a trip across the state of Oregon. It’s fun.
The party will be at Two Stroke Coffee on Lombard Street in North Portland, and there will be a popup shop for Beefcake Swimwear. We’ll be there from 2 to 5 p.m., hanging out and selling stuff. I’ll probably bring copies ofÂ Take the Wheel, too, so if you want one of those, come on by. And have a cup of coffee.
I’ve been freelance writing and editing since 2006, and it’s gone pretty well. I’ve had lots of happy clients, one unhappy one, and a reasonably steady income from an ever-evolving roster of publications. I’m pretty good at the whole freelancing thing.
But every once in a while, I need to have a basic lesson pounded into my brain for the second, or third, or hundredth time. Last week, it was a life lesson as well as a freelance lesson: honesty is the best policy.
I have a client that I’m writing blog posts for. The topic is new to me, and they’re new to hiring people to write blog posts, so we figured we’d work it out as we went along. There was a lengthy onboarding process, which is fine, and then we set out a schedule for me to turn in the posts.
The problem was that my default writing style and assumptions for the project were a hair off from what the client wanted. So I took their feedback and tried again. And again. This was not the only thing on either of our plates, so getting that first post right took weeks of back and forth via email and phone. I had other book projects due during that time, and I attended a conference for a week. When I took the gig, I thought we’d have the kinks worked out by that point and I’d be able to squeeze in writing the posts on cross-country flights. Not so.
I had the latest round of suggestions and changes from my client sitting in my inbox on my last cross-country flight. I had a weeks-long vacation looming. I had other deadlines. I started to think of excuses (fine, they were straight-up lies), like, “Sorry, your emails keep ending up in my trash folder.” Or the more modern, “Your messages got sorted into Promotions.”
The client didn’t deserve lies. They were being very nice; they just didn’t know how to articulate what they wanted their blog posts to convey, and I wasn’t asking the right questions to get us to perfect. So I told the truth. I made the latest revisions they requested and sent a note saying the blog post project had clashed with some previously scheduled deadlines and travel, and I had a vacation coming up.
The world did not end. A pit did not open up under my backyard office and swallow me and my dog. I did not have to pack up my freelance business, put on a suit, and head to a cubicle somewhere.
My contact said they had a vacation coming up too. They said to invoice them for the first blog post. They said we’d get back at it with more clarity and direction for next three posts when we’d both returned to our offices next month.
The outcome was, in truth, ideal. I really do think the client and I will both have a better handle on what’s required to make these blog posts work after some time away.
So the lesson, fellow freelancers, is that sometimes being the professional that you are means being honestâ€”but politeâ€”about what isn’t working.
You may think that headline is clickbait-y, but I did indeed improve my productivity this week in two easy steps. One of the steps was free, and one was not. The free one, actually, was harder. Here they are, in numbered list form so you can follow along:
I got a robot vacuum. Believe me when I tell you that I do not spend an hour every day vacuuming or sweeping my house. But writers, hear me out. You know how clean your kitchen is when you have a deadline? Or how much laundry gets done when you don’t know how to start the next article or story? Or how the floors sparkle when your other choice of activity is revision? Well. This little guy (an EcoVacs N79, if you’re wondering) runs every morning while I work and removes a chore from my list of procrastination tools. The side effect is a floor that is free of cat and dog hair, even in spring, also known as shedding season. I come in at lunchtime with a writing task complete and no fur sticking to my bare feet. It’s delightful.
I deleted Two Dots. You probably have your own game like Two Dots on your phone; if it’s not Two Dots in particular, I bet it’s 2048. I deleted that one too. I was really good at Two Dots. I had completed hundreds of levels. But I was neither writing what I wanted nor reading what I wanted, so it had to go.
What have I completed this week? I turned in an article on a hair-band mystery and a roundup of auto financing deals for the month of June, and I completed a very long outline for a 10,000-word article due in a couple of weeks. I also finished a line edit of another author’s book and sent it to the proofreader then wrote this little blog post for y’all.
These are all tasks I’d have to do for my job anyway. But getting rid of two big procrastination tools meant I did these things with less foot-dragging, sighing, and generally fucking around. I just did what I needed to do, and then I read the London Review of Books. Which I am behind on. Because of Two Dots.
To see my cats encountering the robot vacuum for the first time, check out my Instagram @kristen_hg. (The video was too big to embed here. Sorry.)
When I was a kid, probably about eight years old, I got my first hardcover journal. I think it was for my birthday, though it could have come in an Easter basket. We were a gift-giving family, so sometimes after decades have passed, I donâ€™t remember precisely what holiday was the occasion for a gift. But I do remember that the notebook was the same size as the one Iâ€™m writing in right now, one very like the one youâ€™re writing in now because itâ€™s both big enough and portable enough. Itâ€™s also a pretty standard size for journals. And I still have it; itâ€™s in a trunk in my closet. Itâ€™s easy to remember when you can just go look at a thing. It has an illustration on the front of a generic Teddy bear-type wearing overalls. It wasnâ€™t Corduroy, the storybook bear I loved for his love of pockets, but he was close enough. Outside this bearâ€™s rectangular frame is a pattern of little pink flowers. As a kid, I loved it.
I started in immediately, in ink of many colors. I wrote one- and two-paragraph short stories. I would now try to elevate these by calling them flash fiction. I wrote rhyming couplets and odes to every animal that passed through our yard. I wrote haiku about every object my gaze fell across, including two-liter pop bottles. Over the next few days, I wrote like a tiny little motherfucker. I had pages to fill in a hardcover notebook.
Then my mom, a big supporter of my writing habit then and now, and the purchaser of the bear notebook, told me to slow down. I didnâ€™t have to fill it so fast. I could ponder. Savor. Commit only the best, most meaningful thoughts to the bound pages. I think it was the haiku about pop bottles that made her think maybe I wasnâ€™t being judicious in my use of the journal.
Of course, she didnâ€™t say anything like that at all. She probably tossed off some very Mom phrase, like, â€œDonâ€™t use it up all at once.â€ She meant donâ€™t be wasteful. I grade-school brain heard that what I wrote had to countâ€”every word.
And so for most of my life I have balanced two truths: I love notebooks. I never use the notebooks I have. If a project wonâ€™t fill it, neatly and completely and brilliantly, then why sully its pages with shitty attempts and half-formed ideas? A hardbound notebook should be like a handwritten novel, start to finish, precious and correct. No false starts, no half-formed ideas, no haiku about Orange Crush because it happens to be whatâ€™s in front of you when you have a pen and a notebook in your hands while you sit on the floor of the kitchen for some weird kid reason.
I did not realize the depth of my belief in the unified theory of journals until I started a Bullet Journal in October 2016. Desperate for a new way to capture everything from ideas to schedules to notes at trade shows, I did what I had never done before. In the middle of a Moleskine I was using as a half-assed journal, I changed the format. I started bullet journaling instead. I watched creator Ryder Carroll’s video and read the tutorials for how to start a Bullet Journal. I dove in very messily, ready to abandon the system at the first whiff of bullshit.
I have not missed a week in a year and a half. I have blown through, used up, raced through, and filled up two journals, and Iâ€™m seventy-five pages into my third. One I bought new for this purpose. One I bought as a vacation souvenir but then didnâ€™t use because it was too lovely. One had dots. Two had lines. One had a soft cover, and I learned that prefer hard covers that lie flat, though I am not religious about this or any other bullet journal detail. I have filled them. Am filling them. Will fill them.
My Bullet Journals are not pretty. No calendar stamps. Some halfhearted attempts at color and washi tape. No illustrated monthly introduction pages. Lots of to-do lists, goals, and simple calendars. Lots of project idea caches. Lots of quotes and thoughts from books Iâ€™m readingâ€”a commonplace. Lots of notes for books and essays Iâ€™m incubating. Lots of notes for roleplaying games Iâ€™m running.
A draft of this very essay in longhand over several pages, as seen at the top of this post.
My momâ€”my biggest fanâ€”meant nothing by her comment. In that way of grade school minds, I heard mountains more, and that mountain followed me for thirty-five years. Bullet journals turned that fixation on only worthy words in only the most beautiful journals into the ridiculous molehill it should have been all along.
I change layouts constantly. I fill pages. I abandon pages. I never save blank pages for a rainy day. I live in Portland, Oregon, where it rains all the time. I tear right through these journals like a bear in a blueberry patch. (Another favorite childhood book: Blueberries for Sal.) I gobble up pages and let the ink run down my chin.
Pages are not precious. Ideas are too important to worry about their worth before they even get out of my head. I need to see them and turn them over like a hunk of rock. Worth polishing into a jewel? Today? Tomorrow? Worth chomping through the pages, one after another, to make this happen yet? Worth starting a collection to outline the steps to make this idea a reality? Worth putting it in the six-month planner? Worth sketching the idea for the website over a two-page spread?
The bullet journal is the incubatorâ€”inkubatorâ€”for all those messy thoughts and the lists that give them structure.
Using up a journal doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™m done. It means exactly the opposite: Iâ€™ve got more. Always more. So much more.
I have not been happy with my previous attempt at a logo. It had too many words because I am a word person, so that’s what I added. It was two shades of gray, light and dark, because that seemed trustworthy and professional. It was boring and looked like this:
I am trustworthy and professional, but I am also way more fun than that logo would lead you to believe. I have purple hair, I have a ridiculous dog and three even more ridiculous cats, my favorite roleplaying character of mine is a kender named Astolata!, and I will talk about the importance of Beyonce on every level for as long as you would like. I tried making a new logo that was text-based, and I raised it up the flagpole as a banner on my Twitter profile. I didn’t like it either. I’m not even going to put it up here because it’s not worth resizing to make WordPress happy.
Then this morning, Adobe Spark sent a newsletter out with some logo-making inspiration and templates. Within a half an hour of playing around and clicking things, I had a whole new logo that I would never have had the skill to make all by myself. (Adobe Spark is free and I don’t get anything for typing their name in this post.) Here is this cool thing:
Fewer words! More colors! A pen nib! And it actually picks up on the theme of the business cards I’ve had and loved ever since I started freelancing in 2006, which is ridiculous and fantastic.
If you’re in need of a logo, give Adobe Spark a whirl while you’re binge watchingÂ Lost in SpaceÂ on Netflix.
I originally posted this on Medium January 20, 2018, but the humble advice here works any time you want to make a political difference, especially a feminist one, even if you aren’t totally cool with crowds. You too can #resist, bookish nerds! – KHG
I went to the Womenâ€™s March in 2017, and it was amazing and powerful and meaningful. I expect the 2018 anniversary marches across the country to be much the same in that way, but I wonâ€™t be there.
As a bookish nerd, I also found the thousands upon thousands of people to be anxiety-producing and even sometimes a little scary. I was with a group of very close friends in 2017, and even with that supportive buffer, it was a lot to handle.
So this year, I want to wish everyone marching the best of luck, the best of weather, and the best of outcomes. I am totally behind you every step of the way. But Iâ€™m really far behind you. Like, at my house.
Thereâ€™s still plenty for us bookish nerds to do this weekend, even from home. I started my morning with Resistbot, which lets you send messages to your representative in the House, your senators, and your governor. I chose my DC congresspeople and sent them a thank you note for their strong stance on DACA and CHIP.
My next move is to go to a meeting of my Hood to Coast race team. I know a couple of people on the team, but not many. Itâ€™s a more manageable size for me than a march of thousands. Itâ€™s my first time running this 200-mile relay, and Iâ€™m glad to be part of a team of women and men whoâ€™ll train together and support each other. And share a couple of stinky vans during the race.
I also did some research this morning to find contact info for organizations Iâ€™d like to volunteer with. Iâ€™m a writer and editor, so Iâ€™d like to use those skills to help others who struggle with writing or reading. Iâ€™ve got the emails in my pocket to send off Monday morning, when people are more likely to be in their offices.
A Few Suggestions for Crowd-Free Resistance
Thatâ€™s my plan for Womenâ€™s March Weekend, but there are lots of other things bookish nerds can do if crowds give them the howling fantods. Here are a few ideas:
Start a small politically minded reading group. You can read books together or discuss long-form journalism from sources like the New Yorker or the Atlantic. No hot takes, no tweets. Bonus points for encouraging and seeking out diversity in the groupâ€™s members and the authors you choose to read.
Start an all-woman (and those who identify as such) role playing group. Play an adventure that allows for lots of cooperative baddassery.
Use technology for good. Resistbot and Flippable are pretty great, but there are lots that have established themselves in the past year to effect real change, especially in the 2018 elections.
Speaking of which, register to vote or make sure your registration is up to date, and then vote! Iâ€™m Gen X; there are something like 300 people in my generation. Millennials, thoughâ€Šâ€”â€Šthere are a ton of you guys! Please save us with your votes.
If youâ€™re thinking of volunteering but donâ€™t want to attend meetings all the time, I get it. Me neither. What skills could you offer? Do you know how to wrangle a database into useful shape? Can you proofread flyers and newsletters? Can you design postcards? Lots of organizations, especially the new ones that have popped up in the wake of the 2016 election, could use your help. Bonus points for offering these skills to small, local organizations that likely have fewer funds for staff.
Visibility and numbers are important, so if you can march, do! But if the thought makes your stomach turn, get your Spotify feminist playlist of choice fired up this weekend and make change happen from home. Letâ€™s do it, bookish nerds.
or, a study in forced metaphors andÂ The Great British Baking Show
For a little less than a year and a half, I contracted with TechCrunch to write nearly a dozen posts a month on automotive technology. As of July 31, 2017, that contract came to an end. This is how things work in the freelance writing world. No hard feelings.
There did seem to be a misunderstanding, though, on the part of PR firms and startup companies who often thought that I worked for TechCrunch as a regular employee. That’s not true. I’ve always written for other publications at the same time as I wrote for TechCrunch, including US News and World Report, Popular Science, How Stuff Works, and B2B work that most people never saw. I also edit books, mostly nonfiction, and I’m starting my own publishing and production company. TechCrunch was a fun piece of the pie, but it was never the whole pie. I didn’t even live in the same city as the TechCrunch pie; the office is in the Bay Area, and I’m in Oregon.
Now I have time to bake a new pie.
I’m still an expert on automotive technology, from electric cars to autonomous vehicles to smart cities. I’ll be pitching interesting ideas to editors (and accepting assignments, if you’ve got one in need of a journalist on the automotive tech beat), but I’ll also still be doing all the other things I do. Today, for example, I’m doing some research for a ghostwriting project, I finished the last round of revisions on my first novel, I’m writing a blog post for my site Carsplaining, and I’ll be prepping for a talk on the past, present, and future of electric vehicles that I’m giving on Monday.
My work is still a pretty big pie with a lot of layers. Because I’m binge watchingÂ The Great British Baking ShowÂ on Netflix, I’m obsessed with layered foods. I’m also obsessed with trying new things and experimenting with freelance flavors, which is why I work the way I do. I’ve been at it since 2006, and I cannot imagine doing anything else.
If you’re a freelancer who’s still perfecting your pie’s lovely layers, click Contact and ask me questions. I’ll do my best to help out.
The revised edition of Take the Wheel: A Woman’s Guide to Buying a Car Her Own Damn Self will be out in November! Here’s a quick tour of the changes:
The booklet Alternative Fueliverse has been updated and included in the text of Take the Wheel. If an electric car or plug-in hybrid is on your shopping list, you’ll find the most useful information for making that decision all in one book.
All makes and models have been updated, so there aren’t any mentions of cars that aren’t built anymore.
The financial and insurance sections have been updated to include special cases like ride hailing and car sharing. There’s information on these uses for your new car throughout the book, but you’ll see the most impact — and run into the most pitfalls — when it comes to financing and insuring your new car.
There’s basic information included on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and the coming of autonomous technology.
All told, the changes and updates add a couple dozen pages to the book. And it’ll be getting fresh, fly cover! And a new, lower price!Â It’ll still be available in both paperback and ebook formats.
There are a couple points of bad news. The first is that in order to create the new edition, I had to take down the old edition. So the 2013 first edition is no longer available. You can make it.
The second point of less than great news is that I wanted to include a myriad of voices from women who have bought cars. I put out the call, I boosted posts, I asked in person, and I got two lukewarm offers of stories. Meh. So I had to let that dream go and merely update the information to make it more timely and relevant for today’s car shoppers. If you want to tell me your car shopping story, though, I’d still love to hear it! Click Contact toÂ send me a message.
If ADAS and autonomous cars are something you’re interested in, a published book is not ever going to keep up with that noise — um, I mean, news. To separate the news from the noise and find out how to use the new technologies in your new car, head over to Carsplaining.com.
I’ll be traveling tons over the summer! You can find me at all kinds of events that explore the future of automotive and transportation issues. Three of these events explore the possibilities and pitfalls of these issues; the other two tackle them on the ground with actual cars you can buy or watch race right now.
Here are the dates:
June 13-15, 2017: MovinOn conference, Montreal
June 21-22, 2017: Drive Revolution, Portland, OR
June 28-July 1, 2017: Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen, CO
July 13-16, 2017: Formula E, Brooklyn
August 6-9, 2017: National Electric Co-op Statewide Editors Association Conference, Whitefish, MT
If you’d like to meet up at an event, contact me. If you’d like me to write a story for your outlet about any of these events, contact me. If you have questions about the future of transportation, contact me. Basically, just get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
Mr. HG had both had long, stressful workweeks, and a non-rainy Sunday was in the forecast. A couple hours under the trees with the dog would be the mind-cleansing, soul-restoring excursion we needed.
It was true — our minds were cleansed by exhaustion and our souls were restored by surviving. It was a far harder hike than the map let on.
We’d done most of the easy trail loops at the nearest state park, and they hardly justified the drive. But the last time I’d been there with our ever-game mixed-breed dingo-looking dog, I’d taken a closer look at the map. There was another loop! It was about five miles, which sounded perfect.
We parked and hung our state parks pass in the window, then headed out onto the trail. It was muddy, but not horrible. It had been a really hard winter of rain, snow, more rain, and mudslides. So a muddy trail was whatever.
It went up and down for a while, and we saw mule deer and their tracks and their pellety poop. We’d gone a couple miles when we saw the sign for the loop proper, the 2.5-mile lollipop at the far end of the trail. It had been a more challenging hike than we expected, so I checked in with Mr. HG and the dog. They were game. So we went on.
It wasn’t long before we were hiking along what is usually a lovely little stream but in these conditions was a very full, fast little river. The water table was so high at the bottom of this valley that the trail was an unavoidable 4 inches of water. Over the tops of hiking shoes, up to the 65-pound dog’s knees. Or his ankles. You know where I mean. The water was deep and there was no going around.
This was the first time my shitty mantra popped into my mind that day: What are you gonna do, stop?
Like I do every time this not friendly version of my very own voice pipes up to ask this question, I imagined stopping. In this case, it meant standing, sitting, and/or eventually lying down in a shallow swamp. I would likely become like those dead people trapped in the swamp that Frodo reaches out to in Lord of the Rings. I would wait there for the mule deer to nudge my pale, bloated body. So no, I was not going to stop.
After that, we rose out of the valley. And dipped back down. And up. And up. And down. And up. It was a lot more elevation gain and loss than we anticipated. We took a lot of breaks. I was glad I’d overprepared and brought water and snacks for what was supposed to be a pleasant little Sunday hike.
On one of the long, steep uphills, my shitty mantra piped up again: What are you gonna do, stop?
Well, no, but I can pause. I can catch my breath. I can pet the dog and make sure he’s doing okay. I can stretch my calves and appreciate the trees instead of staring at the muddy trail in exhausted frustration.
I don’t only hear my shitty mantra on hikes. I hear it on long runs too, where I imagine stopping a couple miles from home. Maybe calling for a ride. Maybe crying on the curb. Maybe wishing I’d brought money so I could buy a restorative scone at the coffee shop.
I also hear it when I have the kind of overbooked, deadline-filled week of writing and editing that I’d had before we hiked what turned out to be a black-diamond-rated trail, the only one in the park. As my eyes are about to fall out of my head and my brain wants to shut off with the help of much, much whiskey, I hear my shitty mantra:
What are you gonna do, stop?
And just like on the trail, just like on a long run, but maybe even more than either of those, the answer is no. I imagine what stopping would mean: abandoning my writing studio, getting a real job with hours and expectations that aren’t my own, buying business casual clothing. Oh, hell no.
But maybe I can pause. Maybe I can pet the dog, who keeps a bed in my studio, and make sure he’s doing okay. (In truth, he checks in with me to see if I’m doing okay far more often. He’s a good dog.) Maybe I can take a day off. Ha ha ha! I’m a freelance writer and editor who’s establishing a publishing business. Day off. No fucking way. How about just taking enough time to rewatch Rogue One? Maybe we can try that?
So it’s not a positive, Instagram-ready mantra. I’m not doing it while laughing and eating salad and wearing yoga pants. It’s not even very kind. It’s a pretty shitty mantra, really. But it has kept me going through rough spots for years, so what am I gonna do, stop?