Random Thoughts on Wanting It Enough

In a Facebook group I’m a member of, a member recently posted about how guilty they feel because they have the chance to write full-time and yet they don’t.

I’m currently in that boat. I’ve chosen not to pursue any new consulting work and to just focus on writing and, since I have no real life other than hanging with the puppy and spending time with family, I could technically being writing ALL THE TIME.

I could write for ten hours a day!

I could write seven days a week!

But I don’t.

Because, you know what?  I’ve been there, done that.  When I was working full-time I routinely worked sixty-hour weeks and hit eighty hours a week more than once. And when I was younger and in college I had summers where between all my jobs I worked a hundred hours a week. And those last two years of college when I was working full-time and taking a full course load it seems like all I ever did was work or study.

I benefited from all of that work. It did let me earn good money and get ahead in my career.  But I spent years of my life in a working-all-the-time auto-pilot.

And I just don’t want to do that anymore. I want to sit outside after lunch and read a good book while the pup snores under a tree. Or sit on my butt on the couch at night and enjoy someone else’s artistic work. Or go to my 88-year-old grandma’s house for lunch and stay for a couple hours talking to her without stressing over how many words I could be writing instead.

In short, I want to enjoy my life now instead of putting it off to some other day. I don’t want to live to ninety if all of those days between now and then are full of work.  Even creative work like writing.

And, yeah, that may mean I “fail” at this writing thing. Fail meaning having to go back to some other source of paying income. And that will be ironic.  That I didn’t work full-time at my “passion” so had to go back to working full time at something that’s “just a job.”

But if that happens?

Oh well. I’ll have enjoyed the years in between. Skydiving, living in New Zealand and Prague, truly spending time with my puppy and my family and my friends, writing whatever the hell I felt like, sleeping as much as I wanted every day, hiking, reading…I’d rather say I did all those things than that I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Random Thoughts on Ethics and Regulations

So my day job, the one that actually pays bills, involves regulations. I used to enforce those rules and now I consult for companies that need to comply with them.

I’m in an industry that has high barriers to entry. Anyone who wants to start a company in this field has to go through a months’-long review process and prove themselves to be qualified and without known criminal issues.  Anyone who wants to work for a company in this field in customer-facing sales roles also has to prove a certain amount of knowledge about the product as well as about the rules.

Which is not to say that the industry is without its ethical lapses.  I brought more than one case against individuals who out and out engaged in horrible activity involving vulnerable people and then sat there and lied to me about it to my face while on the record.  People with zero conscience.

Those people definitely existed and are attracted to industries like mine because of the amount of money involved.

But far more common were the ones in the middle.  The ones who would never set out to do something blatantly against the rules, but who end up doing so anyway either out of ignorance or greed.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard over the years, “But X person does it and they’ve never gotten into trouble” or “But we’ve been doing it this way for years.”  Which was true in some instances.  One of the biggest investigations I was part of involved thousands of companies who had been doing something wrong for years that cost their customers millions if not billions of dollars.

But you know what?  When that was finally discovered, it didn’t matter that everyone had been doing it that way for years.  Perhaps it did influence how the situation was handled, but it didn’t keep it from being handled. And once it was discovered and people were adequately informed of the issue, they were expected to comply.

The problem with regulation is you can never list everything people shouldn’t do. But if you try to use a principles-based approach you will soon find that your idea of “fair dealing” or “best efforts” or “good customer experience” are not the same as someone else’s. What seems obvious to you is not obvious to them.

You can be damned sure that there will always be people in every industry trying to find the cracks, to get that little advantage that will let them “win”.  These aren’t the ones who flat out ignore the rules (there are always those as well).  These are the ones who push right up against the edge or find the one place where you haven’t been clear enough or aren’t looking close enough and exploit it for all it’s worth.

Right now I spend most of my time dealing with an industry with absolutely no barriers to entry–self-publishing. And there you see this play out every single day.  Someone will say, “Well no one told me I couldn’t scrape content off the internet and package it as my own and then click-bot my book up the ranks and get a hundred fake reviews on it so that Mary Sue in Idaho thought it was a legitimate book…”

No, they didn’t.  Because they thought it should be obvious that that was a shitty thing to do.

The problem with self-publishing is that bad techniques spread like wildfire, and that the big enforcer, Amazon, is slow to act. So by the time something spins out of control there are hundreds or thousands of people, some who just didn’t know better, engaging in it who then get slapped hard by losing their accounts or having their books pulled.

Having seen a number of these conversations happen, I don’t know how you even teach people to see what’s “right”.  A lot of these scenarios that have cropped up (like offering Book A for sale for two weeks and then changing the content out so it’s hardly the same but keeping the reviews from Book A), seem pretty obvious things you shouldn’t do.  But each time one of these scenarios crops up I find myself amazed by the number of people defending it. Either as perfectly legitimate or what they have to do to stay competitive.

And it’s just…Sigh.  More than I can discuss in one blog post.

So let me try to sum something up here:

Regulations and rules are annoying. And some are poorly written. But they exist because at some point someone did something that made them necessary. And if you don’t want there to be more regulations or ridiculous requirements or costs to what you do, the best thing to do is to always step back and ask not “Do the rules allow me to do this?” but instead “Does this pass the smell test? If I had to sit across the table from someone like a judge and tell them exactly what I’ve done without providing justifications or excuses, would they agree with what I did?”  If the answer is no, don’t do it.

Random Thoughts on Pen Name Bios

I spent part of today loading files to the Nook platform.  This was for books that I’d originally published via D2D but I’d recently updated the covers and figured it was a good opportunity to move them direct to Nook.  (I signed up for an account there sometime in 2015 but hadn’t bothered to list any titles with them until May of this year…)

Anyway. As part of that process, I had to input my author bio for each name.

The most recent one I’ve been using for M.L. Humphrey with respect to my financial advice titles is:

M.L. Humphrey is a former stockbroker with a degree in Economics from Stanford and an MBA from Wharton who believes anyone can learn to manage their finances if given the right tools.

Which is true. I was a registered stockbroker when I was 20 (and then spent close to a decade regulating brokerage firms) and one of my undergrad degrees from Stanford is in Economics and I do have an MBA from Wharton.  All of which are facts that lend credibility to my telling people how to manage their finances.

But of course, that’s not all I am.

My Cassie Leigh bio usually reads something like this:

Cassie Leigh likes to write about the things she knows, which it would seem are online dating, puppies, and cooking for one.

Also true. Those are the things I’ve written about under that pen name.  And they do seem to be the topics that interest me since I’ve chosen to write about them.  And the slightly humorous tone fits the tone of those books, which are all somewhat flippant.

Of course neither bio is completely me and they almost seem contradictory when you put them side-by-side.

You’ll note, too, that the M.L. Humphrey bio doesn’t specify a gender, which means a lot of times reviewers or commenters default to assuming M.L. Humphrey is male even though I never represent myself as male.  (Although I do self-censor my examples sometimes.  So I might refrain from mentioning that I’d crocheted a baby blanket but would freely mention that I’d gone sea kayak fishing.)

Personally, I would never feel comfortable having a bio that wasn’t factual. When people think you’re one thing but then find out your something entirely different it’s a bit of a betrayal.  And you never know which pen name is going to take off to the point that that becomes an issue.

Of course, as I’ve just shown with my two bios up above, a short bio still leaves enough gaps for people to assume something that isn’t true even when all you’ve done is tell them the truth…

It’s all fiction at some level I guess.  We’re always applying our assumptions and defaults to the people we meet and filling in what little we do know about them with all the things we think we know about people like them and it’s so often not true…

Anyway.  My sort of deep thoughts for the day.