A post on filters and putting your feet up.
Hi all. This year has been incredible for 404 Ink, but for this blog we wanted to be as transparent as we can be, flip the filter the other way around and talk about some things a little less incredible and a little more down to earth. We want to talk about self-care and how we suck at it and have to change that.
Like everyone with any kind of social media presence, we post through a filter. We post the good stuff because it is, obviously, good – we want to celebrate our hard work and luck; it’s also a way to distract from the things that are a bit more of a struggle for us.
This is the first thing we want to touch on, and talk about why we think it’s important to acknowledge. We have both been in that place where we are having a hard time and other people’s successes (or curated posts of successes) can really get to you, knock your confidence and impact your mental health. Everyone else is doing well, why not me? We are aware that there’s a risk of this happening to others and wanted to give a glimpse behind the curtain as it were to show that the 404 camp isn't always amazing, even if we make it look like it is. Behind the scenes of 404, we are often frantic, frazzled and balancing deadlines in ways that would make most companies scream, and ultimately, we are learning.
We want to be transparent and straight up say: personally, we have both had quite a terrible year, and we want to give you an overview to underline that everyone is posting through filters and to know that no matter how brilliant or successful they may appear from the outside, there is more going on that you will likely never know about.
Sometimes we offer a glimpse behind the scenes to hint that we may need people to slightly lay off on the emails and chasing us up, on giving us time to get through work but have never really laid out exactly some of the personal challenges we’ve been up against in 2017 that made keeping 404 afloat a minor miracle at some points.
So, to give you the grim low-down:
A couple of days before our debut book Nasty Women was launched at Glasgow in March, Laura was caught up in a fire in her building that landed her and her other half in hospital. She was a bit ambitious in literally running through fire to escape it and it obviously caused a bit of shock. Chairing the Nasty Women event while probably still in shock was a challenge to say the least and remnants of that fire remained until Laura moved out of that building on the very day this blog is being written.
We have both been impacted heavily by deaths in the immediate family, having both lost grandparents in 2017.
Jobs. Oh, jobs. 404 Ink doesn’t pay our rent or bills. We need other jobs. We have no solid income, and it is pretty exhausting. We’re in a difficult limbo between wanting to make 404 a more full time job but needing part time work to support us in doing that. 9-5 publishing is not compatible with this so we’ve been learning the hard way. We’re still trying, though.
Mental health-wise, 2017 saw Heather’s toughest slip back into depression, full-on debilitating at times, and panic attacks resurfaced with a bloody vengeance. Days of sitting there with the weight of a boulder on the chest and a workload that just won’t quit.
Add on to those the passing of a cat from childhood, other ill pets, moving house, dying computers, assorted family difficulties, we were never short of things to complain about but we tried our very best keep that behind the scenes and power on.
One of the largest issues of running our own company is that when these difficulties crop up, a day off for mental health or just simply sleep still isn’t really on the cards. We want to learn to be able to do that, and we think we might know how now, but it took a year of thinking we needed to keep the 404 shenanigans constantly afoot on days we really didn’t want to, to realise that yup, we gotta look after ourselves better.
...and the professional.
We have little to no doubt that you’ll have noticed some pretty epic errors within our books. Ask us about them next time you see us, there are some pretty wild stories behind them. The jist is, we’ve been going too hard too fast to make everything run smoothly from the outside, at least. This is absolutely not how we want to work. Project management – we need to get better at it. That’s been a tough learning curve: at the same time as all that personal joy in publishing such wonderful authors, you can imagine we beat ourselves up incessantly for everything little thing we catch later.
For better or worse, we have that fake it ‘til you make it mentality: we are both socially awkward and never much liked public speaking. We have overcome that by forcing ourselves into the situations that we do on the reg today – it’s fine now, but at the start of the year, it was a difficult adjustment. That’s why we are sarcastic all. the. time. It’s the easiest way to cope with the nerves and anxieties of public speaking and social situations.
We know that even with all that said, we still have it very good. This isn’t a woe-is-me post (we swear that isn’t the point!). We couldn’t have imagined 404 doing anything near what it has achieved, and we are incredibly proud, but we never want the way 404 presents it(our)self online to impact anyone negatively. We’ve spent years looking at other people’s filtered lives, and allowing ourselves to be impacted by that – now we’re starting to come out the other side of that and find our feet.
Which brings us to...
We are tired. We are so fucking tired. 404 Ink is our proudest achievement, and we absolutely love the work we are able to do, the magnificent people we are lucky to work with, and the opportunities that have been afforded to us. But we still work. Did we mention we’re (available for hire) freelancers? We need to work to continue funding 404 – add that to actual 404 work, the terrible scheduling and chaos behind the scenes of our first year (and most hands-on learning curve for year 2), and we are burning out.
This year has taught us a lot. It’s taught us our limits. It’s taught us that we can (and need to!) take time off even if that’s a day a week. It’s taught us that sending books to print a week before deadline (it’s cute that we thought our previous record of two weeks was stressful until our November/December titles) is absolutely unmanageable. It’s taught us that if we’re travelling we can’t continue the same workloads as when we’re at home. It’s taught us a lot of admin stuff that is too boring to list even in this rambling post. It’s taught us that when someone asks how you’re doing, if every single time you kind of go wide-eyed and go “I am tired / am frazzled / cannot wait for ‘X thing’ to be done / insert burnout quote here” then that is not good, or healthy.
We find ourselves increasingly frustrated that we don’t have time or the mental capacity to read books outside our own like we used to. We can never find the energy (or often, time) to travel for book launches, or gigs, or events that aren’t our own – we often find ourselves championing our friends and amazing creative folks from our respective couches wrapped in a duvet because it’s the first time we’ve got off the laptop that week, and then we end up talking to each other about how much it sucks that we don’t actually do any of the stuff we used to love doing any more. We find the volume of emails crushing sometimes – it’s difficult not to reply to someone who emails you three times in one day to say “Hey, we’re two people… please just give us time.”
For the thousand+ submissions we read a year, we reply to everyone everyone with an outcome so no one is left with an infinite silence. It’s important to us that we do that, but frequently, “We’re trying to get through things as quickly as possible” is a reminder to us that we’re falling behind, and it doesn’t feel good enough. We’re still working on balancing the workload, and we hope people can bear with us on this learning curve. We will nail this at some point.
Why did we want to post this blog? Self-care really does matter, and it’s not just telling others to look after themselves (but seriously, do look after yourselves!!) but being honest on the limits on your own time and lives. There are people important to us in our personal lives who have also seen the tougher times and have kept us going who deserve to be given more attention that is repeatedly given to 404. They’ve probably found there’s a burden to being an other half of 404 (being ignored in favour of deadlines, being roped in to pack and carry books, having to calm the fires of tantrums over things going wrong, antisocial hours, etc etc) and we’ve learned that we need to fix our work/life balance for more than just ourselves.
So here is our pledge.
- We will give ourselves a day off a week. If you see us, ask us when our next day off is. If we don’t have one planned, tell us off, but be nice as we are delicate and sleepy.
- We will find time to read again. We will find time for non-404 events again. We will keep yelling about wonderful talented people, but try to show face a lot more. We will SEE YOU THERE.
- We will still not be posting our shitty personal stuff online, but we still want to make sure that you know that if the ridiculous happenings of 404 impact you personally, whether it’s self-confidence, mental-wellbeing or anything similar, then we don’t mind you unfollowing us or filtering us out. Your mental health is more important than our follower numbers, and we won’t take it personally.
- If you want to unfollow 404 for other reasons such as finding us annoying (valid), then we also don’t mind, but we will absolutely take it personally and how dare you. (Just kidding.)
- 2018 will be streamlined af. We won’t bore you with the backend details but oh my god the organisation of 404 is going to be beautiful. We’re also going to revive our email newsletter with updates that are more personal and keep our updates on a more manageable level. Side note: you can subscribe here, and we hope that you do.
On that note, cheers again to all who have bigged 404 up, awarded us actual real proper awards, looked after us, supported us either through sales or just through a hug, it’s always more than appreciated, even if we may look like it isn’t. We’re not very good at open emotions, you might have guessed.
Here is a photo of office dog Luna to end this long and rambling post. Dogs make everything better.
Cheerier posts to wrap up 2017 will come. Thank you to everyone for bearing with, as always.