What Comes Next? Planning for 2016


Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of those “new year, new me” type posts (yes…people still do them). This is more about the shifts I’ve noticed in my priorities and goals over the course of this past year. There’s been a lot.

This was the year that…

  • I started off being unemployed after graduating from college
  • I got a full-time job (#hallelujah)
  • I appeared on a national talk show
  • 3 vacations were taken (Mexico, Los Angeles/San Francisco, and The Bahamas/Florida)
  • I turned 21 (not really something I had to work to do, but still fun to mention!)
  • I connected with great people in the writing, entrepreneurship, and blogging industries

With all the things that happened this year, I still think about how much things have changed as I go into 2016. This year something weird happened. I got really into writing and personal finance. Personal finance, you know, the thing most people think is boring. Yeah, that.

It started when I was researching tips on moving to New York City. I stumbled across the article “How I moved to NYC with only $300” located on L. Bee and the Money Tree, a personal finance blog. After that, I was hooked. I found other personal finance sites and started reading them. Everything about them was so inspiring. Many of the bloggers had lots of debt and were able to pay it off quickly, lots of them talked about how their blogs helped them in other parts of their life. Self-employment became a reality for many of them. Some of the posts I loved the most are below:

Like many great things, I go back and reread these articles time after time. These people came from having low-paying jobs, being unemployed, having huge amounts of debt, and a host of other dire circumstances to having blogs that boosted them towards their goals.

I love the personal finance community. I love the writing community. Both of these have been areas of great growth this year.

So….what does this all mean?

I want to focus more on these areas going into the new year. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that. I know I want this blog to have a more precise focus on a group of topics rather than being scatterbrained. I know I want to make more in the new year (more books, more opportunities, more money).

There’s a lot of planning going about what I want for this website. The color picking, blog post brainstorming, and design scheme type planning. Look out for it in January!

Have you noticed anything that changed about yourself this past year? What plans do you have for the year ahead?


No More Half-Measures

If you’re going to invest your time into something that you really want to do, do it with full force. No more half measures.

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Break out the tools and get started

Many people are guilty of this. Heck, I’m guilty of it. You want to pursue something but you’re so worried in the process of doing it that you don’t give it your all. You’re so caught up in hanging out with friends, looking busy, and focusing on menial things that you never get around to actually doing the thing you want to do.

Let’s say you want to keep a blog. You write a few posts but you never really promote it or comment on other blogs to build an audience. Writing a book may be on your bucket list. Although you never get around to doing it. The common excuse for putting it off is “Oh, I don’t have any time.”

Is there a reason for this? Why do people give an okay performance to something they’re passionate about doing? Why do people put off something they’re passionate about doing?

Example time. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, a lot of people talk about writing a novel. They start, get 5,000 or 15,000 words, then stop. They don’t intentionally stop. It just sort of happens. They’re self critic is so loud, it drowns out the voice that got them starting in the first place.

I was guilty of this for so long as I wrote my novel. I would be writing, get a lot done, then think “Oh, this is crap, why am I doing this?” or “People have already written a book similar to this, so why am I even trying?”.

Last year I discovered a year-long project a recent college graduate was doing called A Year of Productivity. I loved the site because of how much he put into it. Productivity experiments have been doing countless times by people, yet the content he provided on his site was so refreshing. You know why? Because he was putting his perspective on it, looking at the subject from a new light, and most importantly, putting his own voice into the website.

This year I read a book called The Quarter Life Breakthough. It discusses the topic of millennials who might be having a quarter-life crisis and are on the search for meaningful work. The content of the book was thought-provoking and made me question the priorities I have in life. I loved the discussion points the author made and the exercises he gave.

In the book the author points out how he doubted writing the book because others told him “it’s already been written about a million times”. He didn’t give in to their opinions and continued writing. Since it’s release, the book has been pre-ordered in 38 countries and been featured on Fast Company, Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Under 30 CEO, and The Washington Post. He’s been speaking on various college campuses and bookstores across the country.

If he had given into what people said about how the type of book had “already been written a million times” then none of the press and coverage would have happened. If you have something you’re really passionate about starting and doing, do it, and don’t give in to the noise of others. Don’t stop because of the outcome people might predict you will have.

Also, if you’re keen on doing something, then try to do it whenever you have free time. If you want to play guitar, learn how to do photography, knitting, riding a unicycle, or whatever, then invest as much time as you can into doing it. You see, many people that are crazy passionate about doing something don’t read a ton of productivity articles, or schedule exactly 30 minutes to their passion project. They work on it as much as they can.

Ksenia Anske, a self-published author, finished a draft of her new book Corners in 20 days (20 days!!). That’s dedication. Now you don’t need to do exactly what she did, but understand her work ethic.

breaking-branding-22-638If you’re going to start on something, do it with full force. If you only put a fraction of your dedication into it, people will notice. No more half-measures. Mike Ehrmantraut (from TV show Breaking Bad) would agree. Now go forth and invest large in what you want to do. A few things to get you going:

—Next time you procrastinate and put off what you’re thinking about doing, write a journal to yourself. In the journal, write about why you decided not to get started, what you can do better, and what you plan to do to improve.

—I’ve seen this is in a post by The Muse, ask yourself these six questions everyday:

  1. Did I work towards my goals today?
  2. What bad habits do I need to stop?
  3. What motivated me today?
  4. Have I been the kind of person I want to be?
  5. What mistakes did I make today, and what can I learn from them?
  6. What am I grateful for today? (three things)

Your answers to the questions doing have to be super long, they can just be two or three sentences. The point is to do it so you become more aware of yourself and the time you use. Now get started on the the think you want to do!



Image credit

Why I’m Self-Publishing


Before the days of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform and paperback distributors like Createspace, the way the self-publish your novel meant going to a small indie press, they would make a few dozen of your books and you would hand them out to friends, family, and maybe put an ad in the classifieds sections of newspapers.

Things have come a long way. Self-publishing has exploded in popularity due to easy access tools like Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and many more. The industry has gained notoreity due to smash hit self-publishing successes like Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, Brenna Aubrey, and E.L James.

Although there are many indie author success stories and self-publishing being tagged with the often touted benefit of having full creative freedom over your work, these were not major reasons as to why I chose self-publishing. Below are some of the reasons why I chose the self-publishing route.

I’m not about that publishing business mindset

When you go the traditionally published route, they whip your novel into shape, promote it, do some release day publicity and then…it’s a matter of being hopeful. Hopeful that readers will buy the book, connect with it, and recommend it to others. What happens if you don’t bring in a desired amount of money? You’re cut. It’s harsh but it something that happens in the traditional publishing industry a lot. I don’t see too much of a problem with it because at the end of the day publishing companies are still businesses. They need/want to hit a certain amount and if you don’t bring in the desired amount of money, you’re cut.

I’m in a tricky, emerging and not yet fully understood genre market

New Adult fiction. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. St. Martin’s Press coined the term in 2009. A genre sometimes labeled as “older YA”, focusing on characters, age 18-25 leaving home, navigating college and career and coming into adulthood. Self-publishing had been driving the genre into popularity.  Despite the growing number of New Adult novels, traditional publishers as well as others still don’t know what to think of the genre. Stereotypes such as it being a genre for reckless behavior, lacking responsibilities and casual sex have circulated.

My novel doesn’t involve any of those things, it just focuses on a woman, recently graduated from college, trying to determine her next direction in life. It has themes of courage, hustle, tenacity, and creating one’s own legacy. Publishing companies probably wouldn’t understand my novel and where it would fit in the book market. I want to be the one to drive readers to my book and show them the struggles so many millennials face when coming into new found adulthood. I understand my brand and novel better than some publishing company would.

Money & Pricing

If I went the traditional publishing route, my book would probably sell for $9.99 for the e-book and $15.00 for the paperback. Even with a publishing company to back me and several marketing and promotional efforts, I still think not as many people would buy the book at these prices as opposed to the lower prices indie titles are at (usually $2.99 or $3.99)

I’m selling my book at a lower price to attract more readers and engage with more readers. Word of mouth and awareness for my novel is far more important than money.

You have a longer window of opportunity with self-publishing 

With traditional publishing, they release your book, do a few book signings, interviews, and after a few weeks, or months, if you can’t bring in a certain amount of money, they pull it from book stores and minimize publicity and marketing. Many traditional published authors have talked about how a lot of the book marketing falls on them after releasing and they get little help from the publishing company.

With self-publishing you months and years on end to reach readers. Maroon 5’s beloved first album, Songs About Jane, was a slow burning success and took over two years to start getting recognition. While this isn’t a self publishing story, it is a good example of how sometimes it takes a while for things to catch on and have the so called “hitting it big”. Self-publishing allows a much longer period of exposure than traditionally publishing books.


Even with the list of reasons why I’m self-publishing, there are some not so sunny sides to it. Many like to romanticize self-publishing. There are things to note when going the indie route. For one, self-publishing (depending on the way you look at it) can get expensive. Developmental editing, copyediting, cover design, formatting, copyrights, and more can add up. Self-publishers spend an average of $2,300 for each book they release. You can spend a lot lower or a lot higher, regardless of the price, you will have to spend a pretty (but not soo pretty) penny to yield a quality book that people would want to buy.

Even though you’re self-publishing, some tradition publishing rules still apply: put together a media kit, figure out target audience, get a good editor, get a good cover design and make a welcoming author website.

Self-publishing has it’s advantages, disadvantages and is a lot of work but I’m embracing it. I can’t wait till I have that feeling of holding my own book in my hands and being able to connect with readers.

Image by Alice Hampton

21 Things


21 things learned at age 21

“Are you excited?!?” People would ask me over and over leading up to this very day.

21. I turn 21 years old last Monday. It’s one of those “big” birthdays where I’m supposed to feel different and like a new person. In some ways I do and in some ways I feel just the same (still madly into watching Parks and Recreation episodes on Netflix)

It’s been a good but bumpy year since June 2014 when I turned the big 2-0 (aka the most awkward age…not a teenage yet still not able to legally drink, check-in at a hotel, make reservations on some things, etc.)

Things are good though. I’ve accomplished a lot and have been reflecting these past few weeks about what I’ve learned so far. This was the year I became a full fledging adult, the year I started my first post-grad job. Good stuff. Below, are some 21 things I’ve learned so far.

1. If you’re going to do something, give it 100% or don’t do it at all. Taking a risk is scary. Taking a big risk, not knowing the exact outcome, is super scary. So what. That’s what you’re going to have to deal with if you want something really bad. I see so many people who want to:

-Get into photography/graphic design/consulting

-Start a successful and nicely designed blog attracting thousands of visitors each month

-write a novel

-etc. etc. etc.

So many people start things without fully knowing why they want to do it. Sometimes they only want do to something because they see others similar to them doing it so they think they should do it too.

Whatever you decide to do, figure out why you want to do it. What is the burning desire and motivation behind it? Once you figure it out, spend several hours a week doing it. When you are unable to do (commuting in the morning, grocery shopping, and so forth) continue to think about it.

2. You most likely do have time. As a recent college graduate, I’ve noticed something lately. When people start working full-time after graduation, they suddenly are always busy and never have time to do the goals they want to achieve.

Many of them come home from their full-time jobs exhausted, and instead of focusing on a project or activity they want to do, all they do for the entire evening is watch TV and make some dinner. It only starts with one episode…

Most who say they don’t have time to do the things they want probably do have time. Monitor your time and figure out how to maximize. Could you go to the bank at a different time to avoid the long line? Could you wake up earlier to go to the gym? It’s all about priorities.

3. Make exercise a priority. Exercise is obviously very important yet a lot of people don’t have it high on their list (or even on their list). Exercise makes you feel better, sleep better, and think more throughly.

Do it. You have time for it. Whether you have to wake up an hour earlier in the morning or skip watching an hour of TV in the afternoon, make time for exercising.

4. Get water at restaurants. Seriously, it’s cheaper, and better for you to drink water rather than soda. Bring those water enhancer packets if you want something more flavorful.

5. If you really want something, dedicate your time to work towards it. Even during times when you can’t work on it (commuting, down times at work, etc) at least think about it. So many people are afraid of diving into doing something because they don’t know the exact outcome. The common fear is:

“What if this is all just a big waste of time?”

Well, you’ll never know if you don’t try. Experience is experience. Trying and failing will help you sleep at night. Not trying at all will keep you up, wondering what could have been.

6. People can be really nice and helpful to you. Spring 2014, I applied to a NYC start-up PR agency and didn’t get the internship. Feeling super down, I decided to send an email to the agency’s CEO. Why not right? I didn’t thing he would respond…but he actually did. He set up a call with me and gave me great insight into starting his agency. Later on in the summer while in New York City, I got to visit the agency!

I’m sure he was helpful to me, in part, because of the personalized email I sent to him rather than some generic template email. Remember, people can and do want to help you. You just have to know how to reach out to them and ask. Lindsay Shoemake mentioned in a That Working Girl post of how she set up office visits with agencies and even got to work on some stuff! All by simply reaching out and asking.

7. People give empty promises & flake. just mentioned how people can help if you reach out to them. Well, people can also completely ignore you, give you an empty promise or just not deliver on what they said.

I experienced this last year when an article of mine went viral. Several people reached out to me and said they wanted to help me. They were going to help me find jobs, connect me with senior industry professionals, and so forth.

One of them I remember well. A news reporter from a well known station contacted me to get quotes for a feature story. She contacted me several times and said she had a flexible schedule and could talk to me whenever time opened up in my schedule. During the phone conversation, she mentioned how inspired she was by me and how if I needed any assistance in finding my first post-grad job, she would help. Things changed after the she had gotten her quotes and the story ran. When I contacted her with some questions, she responded days later saying she was busy and to just send the questions over in email.


The news reporter wasn’t the only one who backed out after saying she help me. Several of the other people who “had job offers” for me and “knew people” dried up and weren’t as responsive after the the fanfare of my article died down.

Point being, never rely too much on someone when they say they can assist you with something.

8. Don’t censor yourself. It’s something I’ve done for years and years. When I was in high school, I would talk about investing and design trends. In college, when discussing the types of jobs after graduation, I would always mention 401(k) retirement, building savings, web design lingo, indie film stuff and so forth. The people around me would always have weird looks on their faces. To them, all that mattered at the moment was drinking, partying, and trying to get through the semester with no D’s.

Don’t censor yourself. Don’t feel like you have to dumb yourself down when around people.

9. You are who you surround yourself with. It’s taken years for this to finally get nailed into my head. I found I was most productive and ambitious when I was around people who were smarter than me, and were working towards goals in the same vein as mine. Right now, I’m around people who are ambitious and have big plans. In the online world, I’ve connected with like-minded creatives through Twitter chats like Kayla Hollatz’s #createlounge.

10. Keep a journal. And write in it every day. Even if it’s just one sentence. Do it. I’ve keep a journal for the past three years and it’s so freaking awesome to see how much my perspectives on things have changed. Days aren’t lost. I get to know what did last February.  Write in detail about your day or just write a few sentences about the purpose of the day and what you did.

Time moves fast. It’s fun to reminisce every once in a while.

11. Traveling doesn’t have to be super expensive or time-consuming. Why is it when people think of traveling, they automatically think of prancing through Paris, backpacking through Europe, or visiting the “cool” places (I’m looking at you Italy, England, France, and Germany).

In this past year, I’ve visited South by Southwest Festival in Austin, TX; New Orleans, LA; Chicago, IL; NYC 3 times (!!!); San Francisco; Los Angeles; and Cozumel.

Instead of jetting off to some foreign country for a week, why not visit some great sites in your home country. There are tons of great sites to explore in the US (assuming you live in the US). Embrace weekend adventures. Take Friday off of work and have a three-day adventure in Washington State, Napa Valley, The Grand Canyon, NYC, and so forth.

During my travels, I either stayed in hostel-type AirBnB rentals with other travelers or with friends. I looked for discounts on flights. Managed on when to eat out a nice restaurant or not, took lots of pictures instead of buying souvenirs, and so on.

Traveling doesn’t have to be this huge expense. The most important thing it takes is having an adventurous mindset.

12. “Dream jobs” take years of hard work. It’s the reality of working. The millenial generation was brought up on the mindset to “follow your passion”, “pursue your bliss” and so forth. We thought that by taking a career assessment, scoring high on marketing/fashion/PR/etc, and getting a few internships under our belt meant we would get our dream jobs right after college.

Not so quite.

Dream jobs take time. Just because you aren’t in yours yet doesn’t mean your a failure. Keep your head up, keep working, and don’t give up. Don’t stop searching and exploring.

13. Multiple sources of income are a must. I don’t want to just rely on a full-time job to provide me with income. I never want to be completely at the mercy of a job to provide me with the income I need to pay bills, rent, and life expenses.

Within the coming months, I’m going to start building up ways to make passive money to pad my monthly income.

14.Entrepreneurship is in the corner of my eye. I never thought I would want to own and operate my own business. After seeing the crazy commuting times people go through, the layers of bureaucracy corporate america has, and overall nature of many employers not treating employees well, entrepreneurship was become more attractive to me. I’m ramping up my web and graphic design skills at the moment. Within the near future, I hope to either have my own full-time business or be able to run a successful side business.

Nectar Collective had a great post on the grit and curious heart she had when building up her own design business.

15. Be very aware of your time. Since starting my full-time job, there has been some adjustments. I try to be more strategic with the time I have. Creating a routine has become vital. Here’s the loose one I’ve been following:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday: 4:00 a.m (Wake up)

4:00 a.m-5:00am (Shower/breakfast)

7:00 am-4:00pm (work)

4:00pm-5:30pm (commuting)

8:00pm (bedtime)

Tuesday/Thursday: Exercise days

3:00 a.m (Wake up)

3:30 a.m-4:15am (gym time)

4:30am-5:00am (shower/breakfast)

7:00 am-4:00pm (work)

4:00pm-5:30pm (commuting)

8:00pm (bedtime)

Saturday/Sunday: Exercise days

I make sure to hit the gym 4x per week. Doing it before work is a challenge since I have to be super alert on monitoring my time (I take only 5 minute showers on Tuesdays/Thursdays). I would rather just press the snooze button on waking up but going early in the morning is a lot better than the crowded evening time.

16. I love graphic and web design. I want to learn more about them. I want to go to a three month coding intensive bootcamp school.

17. Know the deep inner reason of why you want to pursue something before going after it. I want to start a design side business and finish my novel. Why do I want to start a design side business? I want to do it because reflect on the anxiety I had when being in between jobs, having to deal with bad work conditions, and struggling to make ends meet. I want to start a design side business so I can work on projects that fulfill and excite me and give me the opportunity to not be so reliant on a full-time job for a source of income.

I want to write my novel because I’ve always had a love of words. I want to prove my creative writing professor from college, who said short story wasn’t good despite the rest of the class loving it, wrong.

18. When in peril, watch Netflix or one of your favorite movies. At times, I get so consumed with all that I want to do. Burnout sets in. Watching some of my favorite inspiring movies can sometimes help me feel recharged and inspired again.

Remember though, good things are better in moderation. Don’t spend all day on Netflix watching Friends! No matter how tempting it is!

19. Your 20’s are for living below your means. After getting their first post-grad jobs, so many people start buying lots of things they may not need. Having a paycheck (and not as many bills as older adults) excites them and they go out and buy a new car, deluxe cable package (because they just have to watch Scandal), eat out a lot instead of packing their lunch at work and endlessly spend money on many things when they could just save.

Buy generic/store brands

Learn to cook at home. Plan your meals ahead of time

Hold on to your old car as long as possible and when it is time to buy another car, get a gently used pre-owned vehicle rather than a new vehicle.

Don’t worry about staying in some flashy, upscale apartment

Save. Save. Save. I’m saying you be super frugal and never go out. No way. By all means, hang out with friends and treat yourself every once in a while. There’s a balance to be struck. A balance between living in the moment while still planning for the future. Find it.

20. Having a dedicated workspace is crucial. For 12 months, I basically lived out of a suitcase. Bouncing between place to place with coffee shop visits sprinkled in. I carried my laptop, chargers, and external hard drive with me in a backpack for a portable workstation.

While it was great (I got to write my novel in several different locations across many states!) it was also distracting at times. Just last month, I finally settled into a place of living and have a desk and area where I go when I want to work on this blog, do graphic design stuff, write my novel, and so forth.

I have a space where I can go and get into “work mode”. It’s done wonders for my productivity.

21. I am going to be a published author

My novel. Oh, my dear little novel. I love it so much. I’ve been working on it on and off for two years. Lately I’ve made good progress on the editing of it. This year I will publish it. In the coming months, I’ll start to release more information on it. Get ready!

Mosquitoland (2015): Book Review

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A thing’s not a thing until you say it out loud.

That’s one of the chapter titles from Mosquitoland, a road-trip coming of age novel covering new territory in a familiar and oversaturated genre. Mental health is a big component to in the novel. The one-sentence first chapter is I am Mary Iris Malone and I am not okay.

And she isn’t okay. Her mother was sent off to a mental hospital and hasn’t been seen for months. Her left eye can’t see very well and her stepmom (a Denny’s waitress no less) is getting on her nerves. Mary needs out and she does just that by hopping on a Greyhound, looking at a 1,000+ journey to finally reunite with her mom again. Oh, and she doesn’t like to be called Mary. Mim, okay?

A number of characters are encountered during the trip. All of them deal with their own problems and goals. There’s a big lady with a canister full of mystery, a poncho man who keeps stalking Mim, bus toilet with hard to follow instructions, and more. This is definitely more of a character driven book than a plot driven book. And that’s what makes it so good.

Mim is the atypical quirky girl who thinks abstract thoughts, has big plans, and is wise beyond her years. She’s the type of character you might see in a John Green novel…but better, more fleshed out, and someone who has hipster is tendencies but is actually normal and cool overall. The novel is told in first person present tense in Mim’s point of view. Words and thoughts stream together seamlessly. David Arnold is an exceptional writer.

Different sorts of lively characters make each chapter pack a punch. There’s normal adults, snotty kids, ex-convicts, and bad toothed smiling people. Sayings, interactions, and thoughts become so poetic. I found myself underlining and highlighting in the book NUMEROUS times (I think I have at least three dozen underlines, ha!).

I’d go out on a limb and say Mosquitoland is one of this year’s best YA novels. The different settings and characters make it a great read for anyone. It touches on subjects like mental health and soul-searching in such poetically touching ways. Even some non-corny non-cliché romance is thrown in. A

Great Indie Films to Check Out on VOD

There’s usually a time of year when not that many movies are coming out in theaters that excite me. I lied, this is all-year long. I’ve seen The Avengers (really good) and currently waiting for Pitch Perfect 2 to come out (the Bellas are back!)

Many people voice their concern about the unoriginality of Hollywood. Sequels, big budget action flicks, and dystopian young adult conquer a lot of the movies heavily promoted and released in theaters.

Enter video on demand (VOD). A bunch of great films get released on iTunes, Amazon, and other VOD platforms. Films released on DVD don’t make up all of the VOD market. Independent films have gotten a big boost thanks to VOD.

Below are some recently released films worth checking out (Kristen Wiig in a swan boat?! Terminator in a zombie film? Heck yeah!):


maggie film review

Abigail Breslin stars as the title character who is affected by a virus that makes her into a zombie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is her dad, and is searching for her. Several reviews have commented on the great cinematography and acting in the film and called it one of Schwarzenegger’s best roles. Read more of the review here.  and the trailer here.


Ride movie review

Road-trip, coming-of-age, searching for passion movie! I’m not sure how I feel about it…These types of movies have been done over and over. It has reached the top 20 on iTunes movie downloads. Helen Hunt wrote and directed this film. Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) plays her college-bound son who goes to New York University, realizes he doesn’t like it, and moves to LA to pursue his passion for surfing. Helen Hunt finds out about this and goes after him, finding love (oh boy), renewed sense of purpose, and reconnecting with her son. Good coming to terms film situated in the middle of the mind-numbing big budget Hollywood movie season. Watch the trailer here.

Welcome to Me

welcome to me movie review


Kristen Wiig. Enough said. Okay, I’ll say more. The film is a touching that explores a subject not covered often in film, not talked about much, and not understand all that well: mental health. Wiig’s character has borderline personality disorder and is obsessed with Oprah. One day she wins the $86 million dollar jackpot and uses part of it to pay for her own talk show at a TV network. She doesn’t talk about current events or interview guests on the two hour show, she just talks about herself and her experiences…for two hours.

Kristen Wiig has been knocking it out of the part in exploring new territory outside of Saturday Night Live. She’s been doing a lot of indie dramas like Hateship Loveship, The Skeleton Twins, and now this film. And she excels in all three. You the bomb Kristen Wiig!

Watch the trailer here.

Saving Big on My College Education

Saving big on college degree

College is expensive.

Most people know that but it bears repeating due to the constant horror stories about student loans, underemployment, parents getting their paychecks seized for parent plus loans and so forth.

I always knew college was going to be a huge financial burden for me. Mainly because I fell into the turmoil many middle-class families with college-bound kids experience. I was too poor for college but too rich for FAFSA. They paid for a fraction of what my college education cost.

Back track to spring of 2010 when I was 15 years old and a high school sophomore. While in web design class one day, my teacher presented the class with brochures about the early college start (ESC) program the high school had in partnership with Austin Community College.

The program let students who have completed sophomore year/declared a junior, take two college classes per semester free of charge. The student just had to pay for the class textbooks and any necessary supplies.

FREE college classes? Heck yes.

I signed up for the info session, took the ASSET test, and signed up for two college classes to begin at the start of the summer after completing sophomore year. Determined to save as much as possible, I keep signing up semester after semester. By the time I graduated high school, I had accumulated 44 college credit hours and had completed most of my basic required courses.

Since graduating with my bachelor’s degree in December 2014, I’ve been wondering how much I saved by doing so many free college classes while in high school.

If I had gone to community college for 1.5 years after high school:

I say 1.5 years instead of the usual 2 years because I completed 44 ECS hours rather than the 60 that would be common with doing 2 years full time.

Cost for one credit hour course with ACC was about $83 in 2012 (when I graduated high school). Considering the cost, this is how much I saved:

  • $83 x 44 credit hours=$3,642
  • $30 for three semesters of parking permit

So I saved $3,672 dollars in tuition by taking 44 credit hours while in high school rather than waiting to take them at community college after I graduated high school. The amount does not include textbooks and any class supply fees as I still had to pay those even when I was in early college start.

If I had gone to a university state college for 1.5 years after high school:

After I graduated from high school with the early college start credits, I enrolled at Texas State University. I went to a university straight out of high school because as I had mentioned before, most of my basic requirement classes (classes you usually take at CC) were already completed and to stay on track to graduate, I needed to go to university right away to begin taking upper level courses that went towards my major.

Cost for one credit hour with Texas State University was about $300 in 2012. Considering the cost, this is how much I saved by taking the ECS classes instead of spending the additional 1.5 years at university:

  • $300 x 44 credit hours=$13,200

Room & Board costs:

  • Dorm room: $7,200 for three semesters in a traditional dorm room at Texas State
  • Meal Plan: $3,600 for three semesters of the 250 meals per semester meal plan at Texas State.
  • Cost of required green resident parking permit: $285–$105 of commuter permit I bought=$180

$24,180, that’s what I saved by taking 44 ECS credit hours in high school versus not doing ECS and spending the extra 1.5 years at university.


Wow. The community college number is a good chunk of change but the university one is a BIG chunk of change I saved. It makes me think about all of the high school students who, despite knowing how crazy expensive college is, still decide to go straight to university after high school instead of doing two years at a community college.

If students stayed at home and did community college, instead of heading off to university, they could save a lot of money. So why aren’t more students doing this?

There’s a stigma.

Community college is seen as something less than ideal and not able to provide “the full college experience”. I experienced backlash myself for deciding to do early college start. While in high school, so many of my fellow students (and even some teachers!) would say that I should how I should just focus on full time on getting a “well rounded” high school experience to look good on college applications and get into university.

Students would turn up their nose and say that I was studying too much and “not enjoying my teen years” while in high school (never mind the fact that I was president of my theatre troupe, part of student council, several clubs, and held a part-time job in addition to my seven high school classes and two college classes).

Most of all, their was a badge of honor people got to wear when they told people they had gotten accepted and were going to attend a university. There was excitement and celebration when finding out you got into university. The students that chose the community college route were often dismissed with a simple “Oh, that’s good”.

I didn’t mind.

I graduated college in December 2014, with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations-Mass Communication, having completed my degree in just 2.5 years at the age of 20 years old.

I still have a good amount of student loans to pay off but not as much as what I hear a lot of other people have. I’m glad of my choices.

What did you do to manage student debt while in college? How much did you graduate with and how are you managing it? Let me know!

Image credit: Unsplash (Joshua Earle)

The Icky Nature of Self-Promotion as an Author

self promotion for authors

People like other people who are genuine. People like being told a story. People like to feel part of something and be wow’ed. You know what they don’t like? They don’t like it when they follow someone on Twitter and then instantly get an auto direct message telling them to visit the person’s website and/or buy their product. *clicks unfollow*

Self-promotion, marketing, it’s a tricky business. You want to get coverage for your book, you want more people to come to your site, but you’re just not sure how to break through the noise.

I kind of dislike the indie author community sometimes. Here’s why:  A lot of people don’t know the intricate and diverse nature of marketing and promotion and since they don’t, they start to result to spammy tactics in hopes of selling their book.

Here’s some things that have been irking me as well as other writers and readers:

1. Auto DM’s on Twitter

I’m on Twitter posting something or commenting on something and then start to interact with some other authors. They post an interesting tweet, link to a great article, talk with me and may follow me. So I follow back. Almost instantly I get a buzz notification to my phone. Direct Message. I open it.

Hey! Do you like #paranormal #romance with a twist of #suspense! My new #novel out now on Amazon! $2.99 or free with #kindleunlimited! 

I don’t buy the book, click unfollow, and go about my day. The direct message was impersonal and I barely even know you, so why the heck would I #buyyourbook? Auto-DM’s need to stop.

2. Giveaways usually don’t work

I see so many people do giveaways. To be honest, I’m not really sure on the effectiveness of them. Yeah you get a lot of exposure and people to sign up but many only sign up cause they want a free book. I get tired of constantly seeing authors tweet out multiple times a day saying Have you entered my giveaway for my #newbook about #scifi #romance?

3. Cool it with the #hashtags

Let me ask you something. Have you ever actually looked up a #romance #bookboost #thriller #indieauthor #whatever hashtag, looked at the tweet and bought the book? I haven’t and I don’t know anyone that has.

Look below at this image from a Buffer article detailing the scientific guide to hashtags. Two hashtags, that’s the most you should use. Incorporating the hashtags into the tweet (rather than having them at the end) is also better in boosting engagement. Lesson: Use hashtags sparingly and effectively. Narrow it down and use more niche hashtags. Rather than saying #writer, try putting #fantasywriter and so on. Use your best judgment.

self-promotion for indie authors


4. Spamming on Instagram

Don’t be that person that comments on someone’s photo saying #buymybook my new #contemporary #newadult #novel is now on sale for only $0.99 cents. 

5. Opt-in’s

Do you ever go to a site and before you can even read much, a pop-up comes up asking you to enter your name and email and subscribe. Pushy much? It doesn’t even let a reader see your site and find out more about you. It also is really hard for a reader to close out of when they are on mobile.

Aggresive opt-in’s: don’t do them. Have one on the sidebar or on the top of the page and leave it at that.


This post was inspired by a blog post I read on Delilah Dawson’s site discussing how self-promotion as an author doesn’t work (and a follow up post about some self-promotion things that do work).

A few things to add to Delilah’s posts. First and foremost, make it easy for people to discover who you are, what you write and how you are as a person. Spruce up your website’s about page, make it more than just a stale block of text. Put images of places you’ve travelled, fill out and have a consistent bio across all social media platforms. Know how to introduce yourself in a tweet, 70 words, 150 words, and so forth.

Interact with other writers and readers and ask about what they’re working on, how they’re doing, and so forth. Give, give, give. Once you do that, people will start to give back and be more open to helping promote you and buy your stuff.

Be a human, be personal, doing that is what leads to better engagement


Image credit



Why I want to build a Tiny House

tiny house movement

Being in the midst of job hunting, I’ve had a good deal of time on my hands, even outside of doing applications and interviews (they weren’t lying when they said finding a job is a full time job). For the past few months I’ve been thinking about what I’ve really wanted in life, not just in career, but in life in general.

Like most college students, I graduated from university with student loan debt. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of college graduates/young professionals buying lots of things once they get a full-time job and have a steady paycheck. Even though they have student loans and a million other bills to pay, they choose to add more debt to the equation by getting a new car, overspending on clothes, buying frivolous accessories, and so forth.

Our society is so materialistic and we keep fueling it.

Having a gigantic house is a sign of having made it and being successful. Driving a slick new sports car gives people the perception that you’re well off and doing good. Bigger is considered better. Did you know the size of an average american house today is 1,000 square feet larger than homes in 1973. People buy houses and never use certain rooms Or worse, they buy houses and buy more things to fill it up.

I don’t get it.

Growing up, my mom was obsessed with having the big grand house she always imagined. Under the direction of my dad, my siblings and I would help build and renovate over a dozen additions to the the house we lived in and two other rent houses my parents owned. As an 11-year-old, my Friday night plans consisted of going to an auction house, located next to a strip club, and seeing my parents buy dressers, furniture, and decorations. My dad would haul all of the stuff in a trailer back to the house and the next Friday the cycle would continue. The majority of the stuff my parents bought ended up just sitting in storage and not being used.

I didn’t understand the need to have so much stuff. At age 16, dissatisfied with my large bedroom, I moved into my closet (no, seriously). In my 6.5 ft by 6.5 ft closet, I fit my twin sized mattress and a night stand. It was all I needed and I was happy. This was the moment when I started wondering about building a tiny house.

Fast forward a few years to 2015 and I have now become super interested in it. I want to build a tiny house on wheels. I started looking at trailers and decided on building the house on an 8x20ft trailer. It’s still a few years before I start building the house, but I’ve already gotten an idea of how I want it structured.

tiny house movement (Above) This is sort of how I want the outside to look. The house is built on a 20ft trailer just like I want to build mine on. Instead of the little porch, I want to bring the door out to the end of the trailer like the walls are and have a 2ft overhang (where the circle window is) to provide a shield when it rains and you’re trying to get in the door.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 4.20.40 AM (Above) In the first photo, you saw dormers on the roof. I want dormers on my tiny house because, as you can see, it provides more room in the loft when sleeping/moving around. Also, in this photo you see the house has a second loft used for storage. With the extra overhang on the outside, I hope to have a bigger second loft to use as storage or for an extra mattress. Twin size mattresses are 3’3 wide and 6’3 long. Accounting for wall thickness, the loft will be 6’8 across, big enough to fit a twin mattress length wise. I want the loft to be about 4ft long, enough to fit a twin mattress width wise and have a little extra few inches for having knick knacks.

tiny house nation tiny house movement

(Above) I’m thinking a workstation near the front of the house like the picture above would be great. The wood paneling is awesome.

tiny house movement


(Above) The white in this house from Tiny House Nation is awesome! The layout is very nice in the house and the ladder to the loft is creative.


I’m strongly committed to building a tiny house. I love the aspect of it and could see using it for years to come. When I start building on it within the next few years, I want to keep costs under $15,000 to make the 160 square foot house on wheels. Interesting to know how I’m in the minority demographic when it comes to tiny home dwellers. A lot of the people building them are married couples or women, not many single men seem to be building tiny houses.

I’m keeping tabs on supplies I want and hope to make this a reality within the next few years. Sometimes bigger is not always better! I want to be part of the tiny house movement.

The photo below explains the differences between a tiny house and “just buying an RV or camper trailer”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.39.31 AM

Mark Duplass’ SXSW 2015 Keynote

mark duplass sxsw keynote

I really like mumblecore film (i.e. microbudget, no-budget film). If you go the archives from years past, you can see I’ve done some film reviews, usually of independent films. Of the independent films I watch, Mark Duplass is a stand out I like. He’s gotten sorta huge in the past few years. Currently he has a TV show he writes and produces on FX called The League, HBO show Togetherness that he writes and produces, and has a guest-starring role on Fox’s The Mindy Project, all while still managing to have a movie career outside of all of those other projects. Busy guy!

He wasn’t always this way.

He used to be just like the rest of us: working a day job, living in a crappy apartment in South Austin, TX, and wanting to have a career as a filmmaker but having no connections to the industry. This wasn’t the typical tale of some twenty-something guy who passionately wrote a screenplay, happened to know someone who worked in the Warner Brothers mail room, and the script ended up at the studio heads who loved it and immediately produced it. That usually only happens in lofty dreams/hollywood movies.

Duplass didn’t know anyone who worked in the mail room at a studio. He didn’t know anyone in connection with Hollywood film, for that matter. He just knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. So set out to do that by making a no-budget short film with his brother, Jay Duplass, that cost them only $3 bucks. According to him the film was poorly shot and not that good. Despite the production quality, the taste and vision was there.

He worked at his day job, diligently saving money, and continued to make short films almost every weekend. He and his brother started to build a community of people they collaborated with, acted with, wrote with, and edited with.

Big piece of advice? Don’t go to film school. He says to minor in film and major in something that can get you a good paying job (since you’ll need to save money). When a guy in the audience asked a question about if he should go even go to college and film school, Duplass told him to think hard about it and maybe even skip college due to how expensive it is.

Duplass had some incredibly great, fresh, advice on up and coming filmmakers trying to break into the industry further. He talked about his experiences going from a guy having no connections to honing in on his craft, building a community, and moving up in the industry. There were eight tips he touched on.

1. The $3 Short Film

When you’re just starting out, find out the resources and locations you can work with and build the short film around that. Duplass said he and his brother spent $65,000 on a film called “Vince Del Rio”, it was their first film and it turned out horribly bad and him and his brother got depressed and almost gave up. They didn’t. They persevered and made another low/no-budget film and submitted it to a bunch of festivals.

“It doesn’t matter what your film looks like as long as it has a distinct quality and unique aspect to it”

2. Make a Feature for Under $1,000

Again, figure out all the resources, locations, and people that can help you and make a super low-budget film. Go make the movie on your own, with your own team.

3. Show Your Movie to Notable Stars

Even better, notable stars who are frustrated by the lack of choice in roles they get. Let them see your $1,000 movie at a festival and tell them you will build a movie character based on what they want. A lot of them won’t respond, but some will.

4. Make Another Cheap Movie–But With Notable Star

The cheap movie with the notable star will have the power to get distribution to video on demand services (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc).

5. VOD is the indie film’s savior

“This is where I think VOD is an amazing thing to have for independent film” Duplass says

The cheap movie made with notable star will get some attention on VOD, unlike it would if it played in just a few theaters, and agents and other people will start to notice you.

6. Next Stop: TV

At the beginning of the keynote, Duplass mentioned how much of middle class film is dead. There aren’t that many $5 million to $10 million dollar budget films that are produced unless they have a notable star in them. TV is the replacement. TV is the new age medium indie filmmakers can go to.

You pitch a show to a network, it will probably get denied, and so you independently produce a few episodes of the show and sell it to a network looking for fresh, inexpensive programming.

7. Raise Your Friends and Help Them Out

Now that you are in a better place, help out your lower level friends produce their projects. All about building a community of people.

8. Crossroads

People will be offering you directing, writing, and producing jobs. They will be tempting to take. A lot of the offers will fall through. It’s okay though. You have built yourself up. You won’t be rich but you’ll have a solid reputation, people will see you as a filmmaker. You will be able to show your kids your movies and say that was 100% no compromise, your movie. Some studio doesn’t own it, you do.


The speech ends at around the 25:00 minute mark. The floor is open for questions. One that stood out was about moving to Los Angeles. A person wondered about if, when they should move. Duplass answered by saying a filmmaker should keep making films where they are, where they know lots of people that can help them (with locations, props, crew,etc) and can get to know themselves. A filmmaker just starting out can’t do that kind of thing in LA.

Two pieces of great advice (don’t move to LA until you find your style/voice and don’t major in film) and eight tips on success in the film industry.

Watch the keynote for yourself. It’s a great viewing with lots of original and fresh bits of advice and anecdotes.