Shadow My Day as a Writer at MehtaFor in Portland, Oregon

 

Jessica Tyner Mehta | mehtafor.com | getitohm.com
Jessica is the author of five books including one Pulitzer Prize nominated collection of poems, a novel, and the business book "100 Ways to Make $100k with Your English Degree." She founded MehtaFor: Writing and Editing in 2012, the Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund for Native American graduate students in 2013, and the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga and strength movement in 2013. A member of the Cherokee Nation, she is a popular keynote speaker and writing workshop leader at various events around the country.

 

5:00 am Rise and Lift! — Every morning starts around 5-6 am (when I wake up naturally— I haven’t used an alarm in years!) and I immediately drink warm lemon water to kickstart my metabolism followed by an hour of weightlifting or immediate cardio on alternating days. Green tea and protein comes directly after my workouts, and is my precursor to diving into work by 6 or 7 am I like to play OPB in the morning, but Alexa (the Amazon personal assistant) often can’t understand my hoarse morning voice so sometimes she likes to play random Kanye songs instead.

Promotional photo for my karmic yoga movement, Get it Ohm!

Promotional photo for my karmic yoga movement, Get it Ohm!

6:00 am Vitamins, Face Washing, Green Tea and Protein — I often start consuming protein before my lifting gloves are even off (usually in the form of a bar or whey powder mix to start). Next up are vitamins, face washing with my ungodly expensive acnes cream (come oh, I’m 35 years old!), all while my green tea steeps. I practice intermittent fasting and have a very strict diet—I only eat once per day, and it’s always at this time.

6:10 am Work Begins  I’m a writer. Not a writer-teacher, a writer-barista, writer-retail manager or writer-white shark wrangler (though that last one would be really badass). Every last cent of my income is earned from writing. 

At the moment, I’m creating two blogs per day for an HVAC client, one blog per day for a salsa dance studio, a social media post for a dentist, six posts per day for an international hotel chain, and an article for a different hotel. I’m also sending these documents to my editors, who send them back (within the deadline frame) at random times. That means I’m simultaneously saving and uploading those edited documents. 

I keep a roster of a) long-term clients/projects and b) short-term projects. An even mix of both keeps from driving me batty and also ensures that I never go long without a comfortable income. If one project gets dropped, I have many others. Having a variety of clients in industries ranging from roofers to yoga studios keeps things interesting, but it also demands that my brain switches functions quickly. I also work from home, which suits my super Type-A work ethic well. I have no troubles with distractions or procrastination. 

My home office work desk.

My home office work desk.

For the most part, I try to stick to a Monday-Friday work schedule with Fridays ideally being optional or half-days. Since I now have a full roster with mapped out deadlines and rarely accept on-call, immediate assignments, I tackle one client at a time. Honestly, I start with the least interesting or more time consuming ones. I have a team of editors, all remote, that copy edit my work. I’m a strong believer that no writer can edit their own work. Plus, giving an editor 25 percent of “my cut” lets me write more, faster, without worrying over typos. (I’m a sucker for writing “See you son” instead of “See you soon,” and just can’t manage to pull off the kind of coolness necessary to pretend like that isn’t a typo).

Some clients require uploading documents to a variety of platforms such as WordPress, Zoho, Basecamp or Google Drive. Some require complementary copyright-free images. Some want posts scheduled for certain times and documents tagged with key categories. My perfect day is when I can get all my MehtaFor-related work done before my late-morning or noon spin or yoga class. That frees up the rest of the day for my “other” writing projects.

8:50 am Drive to Spin Class — I give myself 20 minutes and use that commute time to think up blog topics for my own yoga blog or think of poems or plot lines for manuscripts.

9:10 am Spin Class — Please, Angela, no power intervals today.

10:20 am Work at Fred Meyer Across the Street from the Gym — It’s like my clients know when I’m not near my phone for an hour. Special requests are often sent while I’m in the saddle, or I can finish up a smaller piece while at Fred Meyer. Their Wi-Fi is a lot better than Starbucks’.

11:00 am  Yoga Class — It’s yoga back at the gym!

12:30 pm Work at Home — If I’m not completed with MehtaFor work for the day, I finish it up now. If I am, now is the time to work on my own manuscripts, to update my yoga blog, and to look for new projects. I look every weekday for new projects no matter how full my plate is. You never know when a great, high-paying client will pop up.

When I say I’m a writer, I mean it every which way. I’ve had four books published via traditional print presses (I’m a traditionalist myself and just can’t quite embrace the whole self-publishing and e-book trend). They include the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book of poetry The Last Exotic Petting Zoo, the poetry collection What Makes an Always, the business book 100 Ways to Make $100k with Your English Degree, and the forthcoming novel The Wrong Kind of Indian as well as the forthcoming third poetry collection You Look Something.

Here’s the thing about writing books: Unless you’re Stephen King or (heaven forbid) E.L. James, you’re not getting any advances to write your next book. It’s a sheer passion project that takes everything out of you. For me, writing poetry was relatively easy. I indulged and wrote when I felt inspired, often inconveniently on an 18-mile run or in the middle of the night when I was half asleep. Writing novels and business books, however, is another story.

I really needed to map them out. For my first novel, I researched the average novel length, chose an arbitrary number of chapters, then committed to writing those 3,000-4,000 words per day, five days per week, until it was done. It was like labor, and then it was like birth. It was hard.

And those royalty checks? I think they’ve bought me a few nice dinners, but certainly not enough to live off. That’s what MehtaFor is for.

3:00 pm Teach Yoga/Lifting or Take Part in a Short-term Writing-Related Festival, Event, or Program — Oh, did I mention that I also teach yoga and weightlifting? I’m the founder of Get it Ohm!, a karmic yoga movement I founded which offers free classes to groups that don’t have access to traditional studios or don’t feel comfortable in such settings. I also established the Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund in 2013, the only scholarship exclusively for Native American students pursuing an advanced degree in writing. These may not be writing related or part of my income, but they are a big part of my life. No matter what your industry, a healthy, endorphin-packing, giving worker doles out much higher quality work than an unhealthy one. 

Reading at the Writers in the Schools Oregon Literary Arts Council final exhibition.

Reading at the Writers in the Schools Oregon Literary Arts Council final exhibition.

I also try to keep at least one writing-related residency, event, festival or schedule on deck in my schedule. The writing world is a very small one. Everyone knows everyone, especially when you focus on the local community. However, it’s imperative that writers establish themselves—and you need more than your words and publications to do that. You need to know people in the literary world. That’s how you win the awards, the prestigious artists-in-residency placements, and become a contender to be considered a “real writer” by your peers. I’m consistently seeking out new fellowships, residencies, placements and so on to strengthen my reputation as a writer.

Reading at Wordstock at the Portland Art Museum.

Reading at Wordstock at the Portland Art Museum.

In 2015-16, I was selected as a Writer in the Schools (WITS) by the Oregon Literary Arts Council, which is by far the most established and renowned literary organization in the region. The program places writers (me) in local Portland public high schools to teach a writing course to students, in collaboration with their teacher, once a week for nine weeks. I was the first writer to teach a course on “How to Make Money as a Writer.” Since it was my first time, I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I think I got really lucky with my co-teacher. She’s amazing, and we formed a friendship that has surpassed the WITS residency. I used my business book as the basis for the curriculum, and the residency also helped me prep for a summer workshop I’m teaching in July.

July takes me to Philadelphia where I’ll be leading a three-day workshop on “Crafting a Lucrative Career in Writing” for the International Women’s Writing Guild. The week-long event culminates in a book fair where all of my books will be available for purchase. It’s also one hell of a networking opportunity.

In the past year, I’ve also read my work at Wordstock (Portland’s biggest literary event), was a keynote speaker discussing “Being a Native American Writer” at the Mt. Hood Cherokee Summit, spoke at the Wilson High School Literary Diversity days about being a Cherokee writer, and led two workshops for the Oregon Writing Festival.

4:30 pm Free Time — (Okay, it’s reading if I’m lucky or yard work if I’m motivated) This window of time is largely up in the air. Sometimes I meet up with a friend, sometimes I keep working, sometimes I read a book, and sometimes I buckle down with yard work. Since my husband and I had a home custom built in April, we’ve learned just how much attention actual land needs. It’s a lot!

7:00 pm Lounge Time — My husband gets home around seven, and we usually have “lazy nights” on Tuesdays. We custom built a home a few months ago on the outskirts of what’s now a very bustling suburb (home to Intel and Nike headquarters), but what used to be farmland. We have no neighbors in back and every night raccoons and a skunk (we’ve named them all) stop by the glass doors leading from the great room to the patio and hand out for awhile.