The other day, I had a meeting with my lovely friend Antoinette. I say “meeting” because while I’ve known her (off and on) since second grade and I consider her my friend, this was not just coffee talk. Antoinette is a business coach, and I had booked an hour of her time.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of myself as being “in business.” Most of my efforts on The Sensitive, Bookish Type–blog, brand, Etsy shop–fizzled out a couple of years ago, when my motivation was high but my focus was low and after investing a chunk of money in craft supplies and video equipment, I realized I didn’t know what SBT was supposed to be. It was wild and unfocused, part comic strip, part silly videos, part craft corner–part everything. It kept me busy and happy for a while. And then it didn’t.
The Sensitive, Bookish Type was a back-up plan I’d pushed to the front row. It was a substitute for writing, or at least writing fiction. It gave me a sense of purpose and accomplishment, a series of completed tasks. I was willing to push past my inherent distaste for sales and selling to put myself out there in whatever form would give me some worldly sense of “success.” Something to tell people when they asked, “What do you do?”
I felt like I was getting there. I began to make plans to become another version of Out of Print or Uncommon Goods crossed with a bookshop, selling literary gifts, used and indie-published books, and more. I was fairly proud of this plan, though it wasn’t as dear to me as writing had been. It was something. And at that point, it felt like writing was nothing.
Around the time my online retail idea had crystallized, I went home for the holidays. My grandma and grandpa came to visit. We sat in a circle, chatting. After my grandpa quizzed my brother for a good half-hour about his teaching job, my grandma asked me what I had been up to. I felt like, for the first time, I had something interesting to say. Something that might interest my grandfather, even: a feat I had never managed.
Thirty seconds later, my grandfather was talking over me, asking my brother the same battery of questions he’d just finished asking. Anything, it seemed, to avoid listening to what I had to say.
That was not what made me quit. It was an important moment, one that replays in my brain with some frequency, but it was not defeat. If anything, it was acceptance. Not by my grandfather, obviously, but within myself. Acceptance of non-acceptance. Resignation, perhaps, but not in the sense that means quitting. Acknowledgement that no matter what I do, I will never be enough for certain people, even those who are meant to be loved ones. An understanding that working to impress others, to achieve “success” by someone else’s standard, is a psychological money pit.
So I reassessed. Did I want to take business courses and deal with finances? No. Did I want to focus my artistic endeavors down to what would be most profitable? No.
So what did I want? I wanted to make money, as I had always been encouraged to do.
“There was this lady,” my family had told me ten million times. “Who published one story on Amazon and made a million dollars.” An urban legend, most likely. An aberration, if true. “You should do that,” they said. Or, “You should write a romance novel. People love romance novels.”
But I couldn’t do it. Just like I couldn’t bring myself to apply to the many editing, proofreading, and/or copywriting jobs I found on LinkedIn. I was a stay-at-home mom to two small children and I couldn’t fathom working outside my home, but I needed something more than playdates and lunchboxes. Then a job came along, helping my kids’ Kindermusik teacher market her small company. Work I could do from home, and a boss who needed me. I got a nice job title and something to say for myself. And so The Sensitive, Bookish Type, as a business, mostly came to an end.
I’ve spent the last few days, as I process my business coaching session with Antoinette, gathering these thoughts. They hadn’t seemed so pertinent as I prepared for the meeting because the meeting was not about The Sensitive, Bookish Type, but as I process our conversation, I’m starting to realize how much my current situation is a continuation of that story.
In the wake of my SBT experience, I lost a lot of confidence. I floundered. I failed. I tried to fit into the Kindermusik company and didn’t. I brought my wares to a craft fair, made some videos, painted some pictures, posted quite a few tax returns with the click of one square: no business to report. I finally closed even my online bookshop, with Covid keeping me away from the estate sales where I’d purchased my wares, and shut down my business license as well.
When I logged into my business coaching session, I was about as far from being in business as I could possibly be. The business plan I needed help creating wasn’t for a business in the traditional sense. I had come to Antoinette for help with the business that was always my first choice: the business of writing.
How, I wanted to know, can I take my writing more seriously? How can I break through my crisis of confidence and pursue the goal that I know, deep down, I am meant to pursue? How can I stop self-sabotaging, self-undermining, self-stalling? How can I move my writing from the fringes of my existence toward the center? How can I treat my writing more like I would treat a business?
We talked for an hour. She was super-professional and I was a mess. I babbled about time management and my kids and tried not to make excuses. She made quite a few helpful suggestions but the biggest, most important one: I need to get my work out in the world. I need to start getting feedback.
I can do this in a variety of ways. I can find a writing group. I can enroll in a workshop. I can submit the few short stories I’ve been working on to journals. But writing is a long process, especially since my primary project at the moment is a novel, which won’t be finished for quite some time. It’s lonely work, and not the type that’s easily shared before completion. I’ve gone over my options quite a few times in the last few days and I’ve come to an unexpected conclusion: I need to resurrect The Sensitive, Bookish Type.
Not as a business. Not as a shop. Simply as an outlet. A place to offer up insight and personal essays, to build my courage and confidence in sharing my work with the world. To give myself a few more tangible goals and, publicly, meet them.
I know I’ve set goals here in the past without following through. My version of Inktober, the recipe marathon that was to be 30 Days of Apples. Each one has helped me realize my own limits as a blogger, the depth of my perfectionism and over-achievement. I have sought personal definition and affirmation on this website, rarely finding it. I don’t expect this next attempt to be anything spectacular, and for that reason I think I’m more likely to succeed, by my own definition this time.
If you’re looking for help with your business, I highly recommend reaching out to Antoinette Chanel. She is a great listener with a sharp mind and a lot of understanding. Learn more at MsAntoinette.net.