It’s Not a Pie!

Whether it’s a strawberry rhubarb dessert or a deep dish sausage delight, both cause the same problem.

At some point, there’s only one slice left. Everyone sits around the table, trying not to ogle that last piece, trying not to drool, and trying to pretend they want someone else to eat it.

Too often, we view life like that limited pie. There’s only so much to go around, so we better get some while the gettin’s good. And, while pie can be delicious (at least fruit pies are – I’ll take a pass on those custard creations), viewing life like a pie leads to unhealthy thoughts and emotions.

Fear: “There’s not enough! I’m going to miss out!”

Envy: “She got a piece of pie. It should have been mine.”

Selfishness: “There’s only so much to go around, and I’m gonna have my piece, no matter who has to go hungry.”

Gluttony: “I better scarf it all down now, before it’s gone or spoiled.”

Judgment: “He took TWO slices?!? What a pig.”

Most often, we get hung up on the fear and envy pieces. We get so concerned that others have what we want or what we think we deserve. We find that we aren’t able to rejoice with others in their successes. Why? Because we think their success has removed another slice, leaving less for us. If they’re enjoying dessert, we might not get to.

 

 

We’re so off base.

Life. Is. Not. A. Pie.

This is such good news! It’s not a pie!

Then…what is it?

It’s a library.

That’s right – the place with volumes and volumes of texts. Do you know why life is a reader’s haven instead of a baker’s pastry?

It’s because God didn’t bake up one big pie that we all have to share. Instead, He set up a library, where He constantly adds new stories.

We don’t have to worry about a limited amount to go around. If someone else has a success story, we can have one too. Every life is its own book, and this library has limitless shelf space.

As we experience life, we are adding to it, not taking away. 

Once we realize this, we can rest. We can stop the scrambling for that last piece of pie. We can cease the envy and the fear. We can celebrate others’ stories. We can sit back and marvel at all God has done and continues to do.

We can take the focus off the pie and turn our attention to something more important:

What will our story say?

Samaritan

Outstretched fingers beg for what I can spare.

Hurting eyes beg for someone to sit and listen for a while.

Stranded feet beg for assistance on their journey.

A neglected child’s heart begs for attention.

The tired widow’s back begs for support.

Lost souls beg for the truth that would set them free.

 

But…

What if I someday need what I spare?

What if I lack the time to finish my tasks?

What if I feel like a fool?

What if I get used?

Get irritated?

Get embarrassed?

Get lost?

Get rejected?

Get hurt?

What will happen to me if my hand reaches out?

 

Oh, selfish wretch that I am.

My questions – so distorted, so wicked.

“What will happen to me?”

This pondering – so trivial.

The full weight of the decision – fully unbalanced.

My heart needs a shift – a major realignment,

to see the true issue at hand.

 

The crux of the matter is not,

What will happen to me if I do?

But

What will happen to them if I don’t?

Book 3 Now Available!

The third installment of my 24 Ways book series is waiting for you on Amazon!

Available now: 24 Ways To Meditate Through Your Day

Here’s the scoop on this new release:

Joshua 1:8 instructs readers of Scripture to: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Does this sound impossible? Your brain is buzzing with day-to-day tasks. Where’s the time and space for meditating on God’s Word? How can you find a quiet place to sit and meditate at all, much less “day and night?”

Here’s the answer: meditate through your day. Not around it. Not instead of it. Through it. Incorporate this practice into everything you do. Infuse it into daily activities so that it becomes part of your life – day and night.

How? 24 Ways to Meditate Through Your Day answers this question. Learn two dozen practical ways to integrate God’s Word into your daily habits. By putting these into practice, you’ll be brought back to the truths of God’s Word – every hour of every day.

Book 3 of 4

24 Ways to Meditate Through Your Day is one installment of a four-part series designed to help you live out the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

On these pages, you’ll find tips to train your brain to meditate on God’s Word day and night – to love Him with all your mind.

Read more about the series.

Get your copy for just $6.99 on Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com

SPECIAL OFFER

Are you a follower of the Nenn Pen blog? If so, I have a special FREE BOOK offer for you! Here’s how it works.

  1. Get your copy of 24 Ways To Meditate Through Your Day – paperback or e-book.
  2. Send me confirmation of your purchase.
  3. Receive a free electronic copy of either 24 Ways To Serve Through Your Day or 24 Ways To Pray Through Your Day (your choice – just let me know when you send your confirmation which one you prefer).

If you’re not currently following my blog, sign up to follow it. Then complete steps 1 and 2 to get your free book!

To get more offers and free content in the future, subscribe to Nenn Pen News. You’ll receive a brief newsletter once a month or so (no daily onslaught of spammy content – I promise!)

 

I pray this series blesses you beyond measure!

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 8: GET ORGANIZED

I love restoring order from chaos. I don’t enjoy the chaos part, but I like to organize. It’s what helped me keep my toy department neat during my brief Kmart career, and I think it’s why I don’t mind cleaning up the kitchen after a party or dinner. I’m a big believer in “a place for everything and everything in its place” – and I enjoy putting those things in their places. 

I believe this trait has been an asset for Nenn Pen, Ink. My need for order and my ability to organize have helped as I set up my writing business. After all, it requires more than a little organization to stay on top of assignments and requests from multiple clients, meet various deadlines and work with a fluctuating income. (This variety is what I was looking for when I started, though, and I enjoy the process.)

– If this sounds less fun for you than it does for me…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– If you’re not scared off by a bit of organizational effort, then you should be ok pursuing this career. (Or, maybe you can afford to hire an assistant – but that requires some organization, too!)

– If you don’t mind a little work (or a lot, if you’re not naturally organized), you should be fine.

This aspect of the job simply comes easier for some than others. For those of you who don’t naturally color-code your sock drawer, I’ve put together the following tips. These four areas cover the basics you need to get your business organized.

Deadlines

Let’s start this section with a confession. I had originally planned to write this post weeks ago.

I’ll give you a minute to stew in the irony…

Ok – moving on to what we can learn from this…

I’m typically very dedicated to meeting deadlines. The problem with this one was two-fold: I had no accountability, and I had no income riding on it (which is actually another aspect of accountability).

If you’re setting your own deadlines (to publish a blog, release a book, etc.), it helps immensely to have accountability. If you’re trying to finish paid projects, this helps as well. There are three main types of accountability to consider for your business and writing goals.

 

  • Individual accountability: Put the deadline on your calendar. Yes, it’s self-imposed, but it’s still a deadline. If you put it in writing, it carries more weight. Plan a reward for yourself when you make the deadline.
  • Personal accountability: Choose a person or some people in your life (up to four) that can help hold you accountable to your personal deadlines. These are good friends who will ask you how things are going and encourage you to meet your goals. You know they’re going to ask you this weekend if you entered that writing contest or worked on your new book. This spurs you on to make the effort so you can say, “Yes, I did!”
  • Professional accountability: This naturally occurs when you have a deadline to meet for a client. Let them know when you will complete the work, then deliver the finished product on time (early is even better).  If you miss your deadline, you have an unhappy client, you might not get paid, and you lose future business. Hopefully, this is motivating enough to keep you on track with client deadlines.

Once you get some accountability in place, you also need a system to stay organized. As with personalizing other aspects of your business, myriad options exist for a deadline system. I simply use a couple of Excel spreadsheets. One is titled “Open Projects.” It lists current projects and their deadlines. The second is my weekly calendar, on which I assign myself work each day based on what is due when.

I am sure there are hundreds of apps out there to organize a calendar, so you simply need to find one that works for you. The important thing is to get in the habit of scheduling your days and weeks so you complete each task on time. Break down large projects into manageable chunks and schedule a realistic amount of work for each day.

Remember, your deadline for a client is likely one in a domino-set of deadlines for their own projects and clients, so missing it causes fallout all the way down the line.

Hint: It’s much less stressful if you avoid both procrastination and overbooking – and your work will generally be better quality.

Follow-up

How often have you contacted someone, and they failed to get back to you? Or, maybe they did get back to you, but it was days or weeks later. How did you feel? Did you want to contact that person again? Did you wait around for them, or did you take your business elsewhere?

Get back to people ASAP. Don’t keep people waiting. Remember, if someone contacts you about a job, they may be contacting several other potential sources, too. Be the first to get back to them so you get the business. Let them know they are important to you.

Hint: Set boundaries as you start. Being responsive doesn’t mean you have to answer emails at 2 am or work through the Sabbath. Either post your hours and stick to them, or let people know what to expect when you start working with them. (For example, if you receive an email on Friday after 6 pm, clients know you will respond first thing Monday morning – not before.)

Appointments

Depending on what types of writing projects you complete, you may need to set phone or in-person appointments. You may interview a source, gather information for a project, or conference-call with a client team. Part of staying organized means making these appointments.

Set reminders, then make the calls or meetings on time. Make it a habit to be reliable when it comes to scheduling and follow-up. This quality is rarer than you might think. It will make you stand out above the competition. On the flip side, missing appointments will sink your business.

Use your calendar, phone reminders, or whatever system works for you (just be sure to have a system). Do what it takes to ensure you never miss an appointment and are always on time.

Finances

We’ve already discussed the challenges of living on a variable income. The aspect I’d like to cover here is the logistics of your finances. Here’s what I recommend as you start your writing business.

Keep ‘em separated: You’ll get this same advice from just about every business professional. You need a separate financial account for your writing income. Create a checking account for your business. Deposit all payments you receive for writing here. The only funds that go in this account are ones you earn from writing jobs. Any expenses you incur related to your writing business come out of this account, and only expenses related to writing are taken from here.

Schedule payday: Pay yourself regularly from your business account. Budgeting is easier if you space this out as if you worked a “normal” job. Pick a pay period you like and stick to it. Maybe you pay yourself every Friday or every other Thursday. When payday arrives, simply transfer the money you have earned since the previous payday into your regular (non-business) account. This is your earnings to spend on bills, a date night, or a new toy for your cat.

Don’t forget S.E.T.: It might be tempting to transfer all your earnings on payday. Don’t do it. When tax time comes, you’ll be one unhappy writer. Set aside a portion of your income to pay taxes when they are due. The amount varies depending on your tax bracket and your state of residence, but 25% of your earnings is a good figure to use for federal taxes. This covers regular taxes plus your self-employment tax (S.E.T.). In Illinois, you’ll need another 3.75% for state income tax.

That means, on payday, you’ll only transfer 75% of that pay period’s earnings into your checking account (or 71.25% – whatever the total is with your state tax added in). The rest will remain in your business account to use for quarterly estimated tax payments. Don’t forget to put these tax due dates on your calendar and set reminders to pay them. They are typically April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.

Ready…Set…Organize!

Are you feeling empowered to organize your efforts for a successful writing career? If “overwhelmed” is a better description, don’t despair. Keep in mind, you’re free to try different systems of organization until you find one that matches your personality and needs. Don’t give up. If you “whiff” on a deadline or a phone call, that’s not cause to call it quits. Learn from the situation and add to your organizational system for the next time.

That brings us to the next question: When should you call it quits? Is there ever a time to say no? Watch for answers in the next post…

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 9: KNOW WHEN TO FIRE A CLIENT (AND HOW)

The Train

Running…

running…

It’s moving so fast…

How will I ever catch it?

I’ve been running so long…

I don’t remember…

when I left the station.

Was there a station?

It seems…

it’s always been…

Me…

the train…

the landscape.

Everything rushing by.

Tracks running through the open country…

going on forever…

and me…

running…

never able to catch it.

Keeping pace…

but never catching up.

Always alongside…

never close enough to jump aboard.

Always running…

just to maintain.

 

Once…

I tripped.

I fell.

My falter…

so ill-timed!

It was at that moment

the train

came to a halt.

Scrambling…

scraping…

running to get up and on,

I felt my heart sink

as it started up again…

and pulled away…

just as I got going again.

So close…

but still…

running.

 

Other times,

it slowed…

but…

I stumbled…

and was…

unable to catch it,

even then.

 

Still running…

Can I keep this up…

forever?

So exhausting…

So monotonous…

So…

 

I fall again.

This time…

I can’t get up.

Frustrated…

failed…

fallen.

Beating the ground with my fists,

I lift tear-filled eyes

to watch the train

pull forever out of reach.

But…

it’s there.

It has stopped.

 

I dare not move.

I dare not hope.

Rising to my feet

will only make it start up again…

start the running again.

I lay there.

I look.

I wait.

I wonder.

 

In my stillness…

I see a figure…

like that of a man…

fill the door frame of the nearest car.

His wave

beckons me come.

I stand.

No energy to run…

I stumble…

broken and tired…

to the train.

I reach the figure,

who is holding out his hand.

I look,

and finally recognize his face.

“Come aboard,”

he tells me,

“I’ve been waiting for you a while.”

 

“Waiting?” I ask,

“But…

all the running…

I’ve been trying to get here…

for so long.

If you wanted me aboard,

why didn’t you…

stop the train?

Why didn’t you…

wait for me?”

“Ah, yes…

the running,”

was his reply,

“I am so glad you stopped.

All this time,

the train has been keeping pace…

with you.

The faster you ran…

the faster it went.

I’ve been trying to keep up…

with you.

I wasn’t willing…

to let you get away.

I had hoped the obstacles

I put in your path

would make you slow down.

You did stumble.

Once you even fell.

But, you simply got back up…

and started running again.

Now…

you’ve stopped.

So…

the train has stopped.

 

My Father is conducting,

and he is simply waiting

for you to climb aboard,

and he will take us on.

He knows exactly where we should stop

and when.

He has prepared for us…

a magnificent adventure.

So…

Come aboard…

and feast with me in the dining car.

Come aboard…

and delight with me in the scenery.

Come aboard…

and share with me in this journey.

Come aboard…

and stop running.”

He saw the hope in my eyes…

and I felt it

fill my heart,

as I stuttered my next words to ask…

“You mean…”

His strong but gentle hand

guided me onto the train…

and I collapsed in his arms

as he offered the word

my soul

was desperate to hear…

“Yes, my child…

rest.”

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 7: LEARN TO LIVE ON A VARIABLE INCOME

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve started earning income as a freelance writer.

Now what?

If you’ve received paychecks for more than 30 days, you’ve probably noticed that the bottom line is not the same every month. In fact, it might feel a bit like feast or famine. One week you’re scrambling to keep up with all the writing assignments. The next, you can hear crickets in your inbox.

How are you supposed to function on such a variable income?

By living on a variable budget.

So…what does that look like?

It probably looks slightly different for each person, but I’ll give you the run-down of the Nenn Pen, Ink version, and you can take it from there. Following is the method my husband and I use for budgeting with an income that changes each month. Make whatever adjustments you need to make it work for you.

1. Create Your Budget

Literally, write or type out a budget on a piece of paper (or in an app if ya wanna get all fancy). If you’ll be working on the budget with a spouse, a printed version can be easier to look at and make notes on together.

401kcalculator.org

At the top of the page, list your income for the month. Add up everything you earned to create a grand total (after taxes). This is your net income or take-home pay.

Subtract 10% for your tithe.

The remaining funds are what you must allocate to your various expenses for the month. As Dave Ramsey would say, you’re giving every dollar a name. I say, you’re telling it where to go.

To work with my fluctuating income, my husband and I have broken down our budget into three main categories. My husband, (the talented financial whiz who devised our budget) even color-coded these tiers.

Tier 1: Needs

Tier 2: Wants 

Tier 3: Wishes 

Under the needs category, list all your essentials. These are the bills that you must pay to survive. Most of them cost you nearly the same amount every month. They might include mortgage payments/rent, utilities, groceries/supplies, transportation, and communications. (The most variable item here is groceries, since you can choose steak or Ramen each night, but the fact is that you have to eat something, so it goes in this “tier one” category.)

The second tier includes items that you don’t need to survive…but life is better with them in it. Here is where we list items like AAA membership fees, life insurance premiums and haircuts. The biggest variable in this tier is “Mad Money.” No, it’s not angry. Some call it “fun money.” Others call it their entertainment budget. It’s the amount you allow yourself to spend on apple turnovers from Arby’s and overpriced popcorn at AMC. Since this amount is pretty much entirely up to you, you can easily make this line-item realistic for your income.

The final tier includes all your dreams that you dare to dream. It’s basically a breakdown of things you want to save for in the future. Once you’ve allocated dollars to fulfill all the items in tiers one and two, you put the leftovers here. This includes long-term savings for retirement as well as short-term savings for the grill you want to buy this summer. Our categories cover things like retirement, vacation, cars (for repairs and eventual replacement), house (decorations and remodeling), gifts (a benevolence fund for b-days and opportunities for generosity), and Christmas.

Important Note: If you are in debt (other than your mortgage), you probably shouldn’t have a tier 3 yet. Anything left over after your essentials should get thrown at your debt. We used the debt snowball method to get rid of our car payments and student loan debt. (I don’t recommend taking on either of those debts to begin with, by the way.)

2. Stick to Your Budget

This may seem obvious, but many don’t do it. Devise a system that will help you stick to the spending amounts you’ve indicated on your budget.

Some find cash envelope systems helpful. (Once you spend all the cash from your “grocery” envelope for the month, you’re done buying groceries!) We don’t like to carry cash, so we use an app (shocker, I know – coming from the anti-tech gal). We record each trip to the store in the grocery category, every restaurant meal in the Mad Money category, and so on. We use parts of the Every Dollar app, but I’m sure there are others. Pen and paper work, too.

The goal of your system is to remain aware of how much you are spending and know when you reach the limit. When you do, STOP spending. If there’s nothing left in the Mad Money category, don’t go bowling or order a latte. You’re done with these things until next month. Got it?

3. Review and Renew Your Budget

At the end of every month, sit down with your budget and repeat the process. Write down your actual spending next to the amount you planned to spend in each category. Hopefully the numbers match. (If you did really well, your actual spending will be less than the budgeted number!)

If necessary, make changes for the next month’s budget. Add new line items (such as new “wishes”) or remove old ones (such as debt you paid off – yeah!) Maybe you need to change the rent line-item because your landlord wants more money (sad), or change the insurance line-item because your premium went down (happy).

Again, when you complete tiers one and two, if there is anything left over, decide where you want to put it.

Remember, this “leftover” is what makes your budget variable. By working through tiers one and two, you’ve stabilized your budget to create a fairly steady or predictable system from a somewhat unpredictable income. As your pay changes each month, you’ll have more or less to put into the third tier. Allocate portions of this leftover amount to various categories in tier three until you have zero dollars left. (If it was a slow month in the writing biz, this part of the budgeting won’t take very long!)

Ummm….what?

Is all that as clear as mud? Perhaps a visual will help. Here’s the budget form we use each month. (Minus all our personal stuff, since you don’t really need to know how much we fork over to AT&T and Xfinity.) Your specific categories will obviously vary from ours, but this will give you a general idea of where to start.

The figures in parentheses are the same each month. They represent what you expect to spend in that category (tiers one and two), or what you hope to save for that category (tier 3).

Tip #1: For your utilities, use an average amount based on bills from the past year.

Tip #2: For bills you pay once each year, include 1/12 of the amount in each monthly budget. These fraction amounts will stay in your checking account until the bill is due, then the funds will be there to pay the full amount.

Tip #3: If you’re having trouble covering tier one, it’s time to go back to puttin’ on the blitz to start earning more money. You may also need to make adjustments in the categories which you can control – like Mad Money.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or simply want to vent to a fellow freelancer about your budgeting frustrations, feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Need more help getting organized as the workflow picks up? Watch for the next post:

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 8: GET ORGANIZED

A Rat Toy for Valentine’s Day?

I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day. No, my husband did not surprise me with a rat toy this morning. In honor of this day of love, I wanted to share a thought that’s been tumbling around in my heart a lot lately. It has, in fact, been changing my heart since I first heard it this past fall from Barb Wilson.

The thought is this: I’m living in a hamster ball.

Not a hamster wheel, a hamster ball. If you pictured the wheel first, I can understand. I often get confused and think it’s a wheel that I’m in, but it’s actually the fully-encompassing sphere.

The difference is so immense it’s nearly indescribable.

On the wheel, I’d run and run and never get anywhere. I’d grind away the days in joyless scrambling. I’d also be exposed to anything that comes along (like my cat, Rusty).

So, it’s a good thing I’m in the ball instead. Inside this enclosure, I am completely surrounded. I can’t escape it, and nothing outside of it can harm me. I may take a spill down the stairs or get pushed around by a feline. In either case, I may get jostled around a bit, but, in the end, I’m ok.

I can roll for miles and miles, free to roam wherever I please, and, wherever I go, I’m still inside this ball. A glance in any direction reveals its surrounding presence. It’s inescapable.

But that’s ok. I don’t want to escape it. The sphere that holds me safely inside is a picture of God’s love.

His love surrounds me, carries me, and protects me. Everywhere I look, it’s there. Everywhere I go, it’s there. No matter what I do, it’s there.

I pray you know God and can enjoy your own hamster ball. There’s truly nothing else like being wrapped in his indestructible, unending, unconditional love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

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