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This week Kelly and JJ discuss digging deep and finding the will to continue with NaNoWriMo. Also, real talk: we talk about bipolar disorder and depression, and the difference between I Don’t Want To and I Can’t.
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Here’s the thing, y’all: NaNoWriMo is great for getting words on the page, but also remember to be kind to yourself.
Sometimes, terrible things happen to characters. It’s just a fact of fiction.
But as authors, sometimes we want pull back before things get too awful for our sweet, precious characters. Sometimes we want to make things easy because we love them.
My dear writer friends, that is not how our characters grow. Like mama birds shoving their chicks out of the nest to make them fly, we must make everything just awful so their true potential can shine.
Here are a few ways I like to shove my character birdies out of the nest:
Take away something they love.
Give them something they want. Take it away.
Make it impossible for them to have something they want because of their own action/inaction.
Do the opposite of what they want. If they want to go right, force them left.
Make someone else want the thing your character wants so they have to race for it.
Give someone else the thing your character wants.
Use one goal against another in a battle of What’s Most Important?
Destroy the thing they want so that no one can have it. (Cackling encouraged.)
Okay, lots of my ways to ruin lives involve waving what they want in front of them—then snatching it away. That sounds really, really mean, but believe me, properly motivated characters are characters willing to take action. And the closer they get to what they want, the harder they work.
And if the thing they want is gone/impossible to get, the character might have to reach higher for a new goal— something they didn’t know they wanted until everything else was stripped away. Maybe they couldn’t see it before. Maybe their focus was divided.
Don’t limit their goals to one thing, though! Give them a few things to desire, even if they mostly take action toward one thing. Keeping loved ones safe is always a good goal. Going after their personal dreams is another good one. Family and dreams can be good at conflicting with one another. (Sometimes families want characters to be a blacksmith, but the character wants to be a candlemaker! And sometimes characters have to choose between saving the blacksmith family from a tragic goat stampede . . . and going to the chandler convention in the next town over.)
And heck, definitely use combinations of the above list. Don’t limit yourself to one trick. Push until those little character birdies fly.
How else do you like to ruin your characters’ lives motivate your characters to take action?
I’m working with a client on a Synopsis Overhaul right now. Quick plug: If you haven’t checked out my freelance editorial website in a while, I have added this new service, as well as Reader Reports. I won’t bulk up this post by describing them here, but they’re two great options for getting feedback on your novel’s development as or before you write it (in the case of the Synopsis Overhaul) or getting my eyes on your entire manuscript, along with comprehensive notes, but without the investment of a Full Manuscript Edit. Check them out!
There’s a proposed scene in my client’s outline that doesn’t quiiiite work. Of course, she is free to write it and see if she can make it work as she develops her draft, but I had a reservation about it. Basically, her protagonist, let’s call him Sam, does something illogical. The issue is, he has been planning this illogical move for a while. He’s a smart kid in a heavily guarded environment, and, for a smart kid in a heavily guarded environment, the plan makes no sense because he should know better, and he would get caught immediately.
But in the manuscript she’s planning, he completely ignores common sense and does his plan anyway. I told her in the synopsis edit that I didn’t buy it. The plan is so foolhardy and out of character, and so improbable in his environment, that I really would struggle believing its feasible. I called it the Improbable Thing.
In writing fiction, we create the fictive dream, right? We create a world and a character and a set of circumstances and actions that function with a certain logic. There’s enough logic there that the reader can suspend disbelief and “go there” with the story. Here, I was having trouble “going there” because my own logic kept calling out that this was too far out to believe.
My client is really attached to this plot point, and she doesn’t want to remove it from the story, which I completely understand. First of all, I’m not going to tell her to axe it at this early juncture. When I work with clients on developing a novel outline, I don’t rule anything out. They are free to write a draft of the novel as they wish, and see if it works. It’s tough to work with just an outline, because I don’t get to really see the manuscript in question. I just get to see its bones. Who knows how the final version could flesh out? But that’s what makes synopsis work exciting! It’s all about possibilities and tweaking things so that the actual manuscript comes into sharper focus.
So, if it’s not fair to say, “Yeah, cut it, it’s a disaster” at this point, then what? How do you work around a plot point or character development that seems improbable? In writing her back about whether or not to axe her beloved plot point, I had a great idea for this post.
If you’re faced with an instance in your story that people aren’t “buying” (or you’re worried they won’t buy), it’s time to think about the context. The present may still be good, but what if you put it in a different wrapper? A brilliant potential solution.
What if, in this case, Sam doesn’t plot the Improbable Thing in advance? He wants to accomplish XYZ, but he doesn’t think that it’s possible. Then, he is in the right place at the right time, and the opportunity to do an Improbable Thing comes up. He only has an instant to think, and so he thinks, “What if this is crazy enough to work?” This could be just the new context my client needs. It accomplishes two things:
First, it adds a layer of impulsiveness to the Improbable Thing. It wouldn’t have worked as a plan, because it makes no sense as a plan (too many holes). But it could totally be sold as a last-ditch, impulsive, emotional effort, and I’d buy it because if Sam is being impulsive, then he’s not thinking clearly.
Second, if Sam is right there saying, “This is too crazy to work, but I have no other choice,” then the reader feels reassured. We see him questioning it, right as we’re questioning it, so the reader and protagonist are on the exact same page! We’re a team! Nobody thinks this could work, which opens up the possibility that…well…maybe it could! It’s that leap that will help the reader suspend disbelief. And then I’m “going there” with Sam instead of rejecting the Improbable Thing.
If there are moments in your manuscript that you’re really struggling to sell, if you think they’re too far out there to make sense with plot or character, but you like or need them, think about context. By changing the wrapper, you can still give the reader the present, it will just be surrounded by a different situation or motivation or expectation. It’s up to you to create that experience and make it believable.
Of course, some things are just not going to be a good fit, no matter how hard you try. But others might just be, well, crazy enough to work, as long as you frame them right.
In 2009, I started researching and experimenting with ways to work less and earn more with my writing. I started out by vowing to work only two days per week.
It worked — and I’ll tell you how in a bit.
Since 2009, my schedule has settled to 30 hours per week or less; more than before because now my son is in school all day, and I really do love what I do and find it hard to keep myself from writing. These days, I generally work from 9-2:30 daily, and often take Fridays off if I can.
And during it all, my freelancing income has gone up by 30%.
Want to know how I did it? Let’s start in 2009.
How I Cut My Work Hours & Still Kept Earning
My goal, when I started the two-day workweek in 2009, was to spend more time with my one-year-old son, have more fun, and do more volunteering. On my days off I would check e-mail just to make sure nothing came up, and if a source could schedule an interview only on one of my days off, I’d do it. But most weeks, I sat down at my desk and worked two days per week.
The first thing I did to cut my hours was quit a time-suck writer’s forum. I could spend hours on there every day because there were so many members that every time I clicked, there was a new message. One day I posted a question about freelancing, and was treated to snarky responses about how I should already know the answer.
Right then, I decided to quit. I had my husband change my password and promise not to reveal it to me. For a couple of days my fingers kept twitching towards the keys that would bring up the forum, but then the urge subsided.
Then, on a roll, I found a free site-blocker app and blocked the other sites I spent a lot of time on, like iCanHasCheezburger.com and Failblog.
Suddenly, I had a ton of free time.
I soon came to realize that a lot of what we freelancers do is busy work. For example, I was in the habit of sending out e-mails to sources or editors in the morning, and then spending the rest of the day alternately clicking on “check e-mail” and surfing the web. Then, at 5, I felt that I’d put in a full day’s work, even though I really only worked for a few minutes and then spent the rest of the day waiting for people to get back to me.
So I stopped doing that. If I sent out e-mails and couldn’t take action until I got a response, I would shut my laptop, go off and do what I wanted to do, and come back later to check. Exact same results, but much less time “working.”
One week I felt stressed about all I had to do: I had several writing assignments on the go and was insistent on working three days that week at the most to get it all done. I asked my life coach for tips, and she said that many of her clients feel they have too much to do, but then when they sit down and actually calculate the hours — or actually do the work — they realize it’s not so much after all. They had just built it up in their minds.
So my goal buddy and I set up what we called a “boot camp” day on one of my work days that week. On boot camp days, my Jennifer and I called each other every hour on the hour to tell each other what we did in the last hour and what we planned to do in the next hour. There were no repercussions if we don’t get the work done, but there’s something about telling someone else what you plan to do that lights a fire under your butt.
And guess what? That day, I got all the work I had been worrying about done in four hours. I didn’t even have to work that third day.
You CAN Set Your Own Hours
Those were some very, very valuable lessons, and after so many years of freelancing, I’ve really realized the full power of the freelance lifestyle — the power to set your own hours and be the master of your own time.
The eight-hour workday is so ingrained in us that it’s hard to envision working less and still earning the same income — but as Tim Ferriss said in The Four-Hour Workweek, isn’t it amazing that all over the world, no matter what job they do, every person needs exactly eight hours a day to get their work done?
We freelancers are not in jobs where we have to be present all the time, like in retail. We can “disappear” and, using the power of technology, still be reachable if a client has an emergency (which they rarely do).
Granted, when I started cutting my hours in 2009 I had already been freelancing for 12 years, so I was past the stage where I had to spend hours each week formulating ideas and pitching. I was in many magazines’ “stables” of writers, so it was easier for me to cut down my hours than it would be for someone just starting out.
But even new writers can probably use their time more efficiently. C’mon, fess up — when you should be writing a query or building your website or working on a book chapter, are you 100% focused on that task or are you taking frequent web-surfing breaks? Do you bang out that pitch or do you procrastinate, yet still feel “busy” because you’re sitting in front of your computer?
Do MORE of What You Love
So what did I do with all this extra time in 2009? Well, I started a local parents’ group that ended up with over 100 members, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with other parents and their babies. I read — a lot. I upped my weight training from two days per week to three. And I did more volunteering for animal welfare causes.
Isn’t that why so many of us decide to go freelance — so we can control our workloads and our hours, and have more time to spend on our families, hobbies, and causes?
Every day I have to pinch myself — I can’t believe that so many years later, I’m still working reduced hours and earning more than ever. I keep thinking that one day, my husband is going to say, “Uh, Linda…we’re broke.” But it hasn’t happened. I’m going to keep up this schedule as long as I can…and the more I do it, the easier it gets.
Your challenge today: Want to work less and earn more as a freelance writer? Find your top five time-wasting activities and find ways to ditch or delegate them.
This post originally ran in 2010 and has been updated to be more helpful to you.
We talk about a lot of things on Pub Crawl – writing craft, the submission process, the editorial process, the industry, and lots of stuff in between. We like to encourage writing by hopefully imparting insight and advice. Lots of people do; bloggers, writers, editors, agents. And at one time or another, you’ve likely seen this advice: Write Every Day. There are no excuses. Do it or you’ll never get better. Practice makes perfect – so practice every single day.
But for many of us, this advice can actually be detrimental to the process because we are going through a different kind of process: Healing. And sometimes, healing means not writing every day, or at all, for a long time. And the biggest key to this is understanding that it’s okay. That your pace may different. That even your writing routine may change. This does not make you less of a writer, nor does it mean you won’t still improve.
Full disclosure: I lost my father in March of this year. I say this not to garner sympathy, but to give some context. It was shocking in many ways, and completely unsurprising in others. But the thing I didn’t expect? How grief really felt, and still feels. How it comes out at strange times, making the rest of your day difficult to get through. It’s a daily struggle, and I am only just beginning to understand that it will be for a long time yet.
The worst of it was, I lost my will to write. For many years, I posted poetry and flash fiction on my blog a couple of times a month. In addition, I did write nearly every day, or revised finished projects, or dashed off a few lines here, a few lines there. A random scene. A conversation between characters. For a long time, I was lucky enough to be full of inspiration.
After March, I still tried to write. But I was dissatisfied with the words, with the content. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure who I was as a writer. What did I even enjoy writing? What stories did I have to tell? Everything was colored by this new way I viewed the world, however slight the difference might have been. I would begin a story, short or long, and see it through to 5,000 words before deciding I wasn’t into it. I’d sit down to dash off a line here, a line there, and end up staring at a blank screen instead.
I read advice that told me to keep writing, to keep doing, to keep practicing OR ELSE. So over and over again I attempted it, and more and more the anxiety over that command made it impossible. And you know what? It wasn’t until I finally allowed myself a break, some time away from the page to actually breathe, that writing finally started to be of interest again several months later. Now, I’m using NaNoWriMo to encourage that interest – but I’m not punishing myself when I don’t hit the word count.
This is not to say I am not still struggling. Every word is harder to write than it used to be, because I’m fighting to understand who I am now versus who I was then. This is the same for those struggling with depression, or even with physical illness. Sometimes the idea that a true writer is one who writes every day, despite the struggle, despite the emotional hardship, is more detrimental to a struggling writer than the idea that we are allowed some time off, or we are allowed to adhere to a schedule that works for us – even if it means not writing daily. We are allowed to back away for a little while, to regroup, to think, to fight.
There is only one “right” way to write, and that is whichever way empowers you as an individual. If the idea of writing is giving you anxiety, remember that it’s okay to take a break if you need one. Writing isn’t going anywhere – it’ll still be there when you’re ready.
I’m certain I’m not alone in this – if you’ve found a way to write through emotional hardships, tell me about it! I’d love to know what you’ve done, or are doing, to find writing in your life again.
I just did a rough count, and what I have to tell you isn’t pretty:
Between 1996 and 2015 I sent out over 200 magazine queries — each one to multiple publications — and sold somewhere around 60 ideas. That’s a 30% success rate — or a 70% rejection rate. If I sent each query to four magazines, that means I received 480 rejections. (And that’s not even counting the untold number of informal ideas I sent to my editors via email once I became more established that were rejected, or the letters of introduction I sent to trade magazine editors that went nowhere.)
So how was it that I’ve been able to write for around 150 magazines, with most of them giving me multiple assignments over the years? Top magazines like Redbook, Health, USA Weekend, Parenting, and Writer’s Digest? How was I able to make a living—a good living—mainly writing for magazines?
It’s because I was too stubborn to give up.
Even when I was failing most of the time, I kept pitching. And every time I made a sale, I wowed the editor so she would give me more work.
So how can you get over the idea of rejection? Here’s the thing:
Rejection isn’t about you.
If your idea or writing are rejected by a prospect or editor, it’s a simple business decision: Your offering was not right for the prospect at this time.
When you’re approached by a salesperson at the supermarket asking if you want to sample a new brand of pita chips and you say No thanks, does that mean the salesperson personally sucks? Is it a judgment call on the actual person handing out the chips? Or even on the quality of the product? No. Your rejection of the offer means you’re full because you just had lunch, or you can’t eat gluten, or you’re not in the mood for a snack, or you’re a vegan and the chips have cheese powder on them.
The product doesn’t suck, and neither does the salesperson. It has nothing to do with them.
It’s the same with writing. If a prospect says no, it can mean anything from “We don’t need a freelance writer right now” to “I had a fight with my spouse this morning and I’m in a foul mood.”
If you let the mere thought of rejection keep you from writing, then you’ve already failed. You’ve pre-rejected yourself!
The best thing you can do when you’re starting your career as a writer is to develop a thick skin to rejection. The good news is that the more you pitch, the more immune to rejection you become. Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true: When you have one magazine query out there, it’s your baby and a rejection can crush you. When you have 50 magazine queries and LOIs out there, a rejection on one of them means you still have 49 more chances.
Now…get out there and pitch today.
This post originally ran in August 2013, and I updated it to make it more useful to you.
Authentic characters are usually modeled after real people. I don’t mean pulling traits and quirks from those we know (say, taking Aunt Judy’s laughter and blending it with the overly-smiley bus driver who takes us to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Rather, I’m talking about mirroring the human experience in the fictional world, giving readers a character who has desires they can relate to, and who struggles, fails or succeeds all in turn.
Human experience is also about the push for self-discovery, finding meaning, and achieving worthy goals. Just like real people do, our characters should seek to improve themselves in some way—at work, in personal relationships, spiritually, or through self-growth.
In fiction, the road to what one desires is never easy. Authors want to create a window into this internal life struggle that we all know so well. To do so, we write characters who have flaws–negative qualities that surface at the worst of times, sabotaging their efforts, blocking them from gaining what they want both on a conscious and subconscious level. It’s ironic, really; who they are and what they want are often at odds, making it difficult for them to achieve success.
As you can imagine, choosing the right flaws for a character is really important as they will directly affect character arc and how the story plays out for readers. So let’s look at why flaws become part of who someone is, and where they come from.
Digging Up Backstory: Negative Influencers & Experiences
In real life, who we are now is a direct result of our own past, and so in fiction, we need to look at who our story’s cast were before they stepped onto the doorstep of our novel. Many factors play a part in determining who our characters become, including the way they were raised, their role models, environment, and genetics. And if the character’s world is anything like ours, it’s filled with flawed people because life isn’t a perfect, well-balanced nirvana. And when it comes to the negative experiences or influences, each impart a lesson, and usually not a healthy one.
For example, specific events and long-term exposure to unhealthy ideas, behavioral patterns, and relationships can hamstring a character. An ignorant character, for instance, may be ignorant due to years of poor teaching, or from being sheltered in a way that limited his ability to connect or get along with others. This history of not being taught the whole truth creates a deficiency in his personality that undermines his ability to reach his full potential. An evasive character, on the other hand, may be this way as a result of seeing someone he cared about be taken advantage of by others because they spoke the truth, or they were overly trusting when they should have been on their guard.
While these past situations are important, the most crippling factor—the one that authors should always strive to unearth from their characters’ pasts—is emotional trauma. Old hurts can have a huge impact on our characters, influencing their current behavior. Emotionally painful events like these are called wounds and are profoundly powerful. This defining emotional experience from a character’s past is so debilitating that he’ll do anything to avoid suffering the same kind of pain again. It colors how he views the world and alters what he believes about himself and others. This traumatic experience instills a deep fear that the same hurt will happen again if the character doesn’t protect himself against it.
Physical defects with a lasting psychological effect, such as a crippling illness or disfigurement, can have the same result. In both cases, the mistaken belief that the character must harden himself in order to be emotionally safe is what allows negative traits to emerge.
The Character’s Wound
Wounds are often kept secret from others because embedded within them is the lie—an untruth that the character believes about himself (or a skewed belief about the world). He may think that he deserved what happened to him, that he’s unworthy of love or affection or happiness, etc. Self-blame and feelings of shame are usually deeply embedded within the lie and it generates fears that compel him to change his behavior in order to keep from being hurt again.
For example, if a man believes he is unworthy of love (the lie) because he was unable to stop his fiancee from being shot during a robbery (the wound), he may adopt attitudes, habits, and negative traits that make him undesirable to other women. If he does grow close to someone, he might sabotage the relationship before it can become too serious. He may also avoid situations in which he is responsible for others, believing that he will only fail them in the end.
To use a less dramatic scenario, consider a daughter growing up with a father whose work was more important than his family (the wound). This girl may become a workaholic adult due to her belief that the only way to gain the attention and acceptance of others is through career achievement (the lie). Although she wants a family of her own, she may sacrifice that desire so she can dedicate herself to work. Her health declines, friends become marginalized, and her life revolves only around activities that promote her career, leaving her successful at work but unfulfilled in her heart.
The lie plaguing your character should center on one of five basic human needs:
1) To secure one’s biological and physiological needs
RELATED LIE: I’m not capable of providing for myself or anyone else
2) To keep oneself and one’s family safe
RELATED LIE: I don’t deserve to feel safe
3) To feel connected to and loved by others
RELATED LIE: I am not worthy of love or affection
4) To gain esteem, both from others and from oneself
RELATED LIE: I can’t do anything right
5) To realize one’s full potential
RELATED LIE: I’ll never be a good ____ (parent, employee, friend, etc.)
Many secondary flaws result organically from one’s upbringing or environment rather than birthing violently from a traumatic wound, but a character’s major flaw should always be traced back to a defining hurtful experience. This flaw will compromise his path to achieving his dreams and prevent him from reaching his full potential. It is this weakness that the character will eventually have to overcome by revisiting the past and coming to terms with his old wound.
Wounds are powerful, both in real life and in fiction. Taking the time to probe you’re character’s past to find their emotional pain will help you better understand what motivates them and how they will behave when crises arise and choices must be made. One tool to help with understanding a character’s past, motivation, emotional sensitivities and more is the Reverse Backstory Tool. Full guidelines are in the Negative Trait Thesaurus, and a downloadable chart can be found HERE. Also, the Emotional Wound Thesaurus is a treasure trove of ideas for wounds, and serve as great examples for how much a wound will alter you’re character’s behavior.
Does your hero have a wound? What fear does it mask? What lie does the character believe about himself as a result? Let me know in the comments!
Before you go…
Today is the last day to get your hands on free One Stop For Writers passes. Imagine having One Stop at your side during NaNoWrimo…you would be unstoppable, a demon with a keyboard!
So why not try to win 10 passes for your NaNoWriMo Group, and be the Superhero of November? 100 passes are up for grabs and all the details are right here…good luck!
Did you know that talking to yourself can be really helpful? It’s true! Researchers have long known that positive self-talk can be an incredibly helpful tool. The power of positive self-talk is something that… Continue reading →
It’s NaNoWriMo Season, and that means a ton of writers are planning their novels. Or, at the very least (in the case of you pantsers) thinking about their novel.
Whether you plot or pants, if you don’t want to end up in No Man’s Land halfway to 50K, it is often helpful to have a solid foundation of ideas about your book. So, let’s look at the biggie of a novel: Character Arc. If you plot, make some notes, copious notes! If you pants, spend some time mulling these over in the shower leading up to November 1st. Your characters will thank you for it!
Are you excited? I hope so. You’re about to create a new reality!
Can you imagine it, that fresh page that’s full of potential? Your main character is going to…um, do things…in your novel. A great many things! Exciting things. Dangerous things. There might even be a giant penguin with lasers shooting out of its eyes, who knows?
But here’s a fact, my writing friend…if you don’t know WHY your protagonist is doing what he’s doing, readers may not care enough to read beyond a chapter or two.
The M word…Motivation
It doesn’t matter what cool and trippy things a protagonist does in a story. If readers don’t understand the WHY behind a character’s actions, they won’t connect to him. We’re talking about Motivation, something that wields a lot of power in any story. It is the thread that weaves through a protagonist’s every thought, decision, choice and action. It propels him forward in every scene.
Because of this, the question, What does my character want? should always be in the front of your mind as you write. More importantly, as the author, you should always know the answer.
Outer Motivation – THE BIG GOAL (What does your character want?)
Your character must have a goal of some kind, something they are aiming to achieve. It might be to win a prestigious award, to save one’s daughter from kidnappers, or to leave an abusive husband and start a new life. Whatever goal you choose, it should be WORTHY. The reader should understand why this goal is important to the hero or heroine, and believe they deserve to achieve it.
Inner Motivation – UNFULFILLED NEEDS (Why does the protagonist want to achieve this particular goal?)
Fiction should be a mirror of real life, and in the real world, HUMAN NEEDS DRIVE BEHAVIOR. Yes, for you psychology majors, I am talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. Physical needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization are all part of what it is to be human.
If you take one of these needs away, once the lack is felt strongly enough, a person will be DRIVEN to gain it back. The need becomes so acute it can no longer be ignored–it is a hole that must be filled.
If someone was threatening your family (safety and security) what might you do to keep loved ones safe? If each day you went to a workplace where you were treated poorly by your boss (esteem), how long until you decide to look for a new job? These needs are real for us, and so they should be real for our characters. Ask yourself what is missing from your character’s life. Why do they feel incomplete? The story becomes their journey to fill this lack.
Outer Conflict – THE WHO or WHAT (that stands in the way of your hero achieving his goal)
If your story has an antagonist or villain, you want to spend some solid time thinking about who they are, why they’re standing in the hero’s way, and what motivates them to do what they do.
The reason is simple…the stronger your antagonist is, the harder your hero must work to defeat him. This also means the desire of achieving the goal must outweigh any hardship you throw at your hero, otherwise he’ll give up. Quit. And if he does, you’ll have a Tragedy on your hands, not the most popular ending.
Our job as authors is to challenge our heroes, and create stakes high enough that quitting isn’t an option. Often this means personalizing the stakes, because few people willingly put their head in an oven. So make failure not an option. Give failure a steep price.
The problem is that with most stories, to fight and win, your character must change. And change is hard. Change is something most people avoid, and why? Because it means taking an honest look within and seeing one’s own flaws. It means feeling vulnerable…something most of us seek to avoid. This leads us to one of the biggest cornerstones of Character Arc.
Inner Conflict – The STRUGGLE OVER CHANGE (an internal battle between fear and desire, of staying chained to the past or to seek the future)
To achieve a big goal, it makes sense that a person has to apply themselves and attack it from a place of strength, right? Getting to that high position is never easy, not in real life, or in the fictional world. In a novel, the protagonist has to see himself objectively, and then be willing to do a bit of housecleaning.
What do I mean by that?
Characters, like people, bury pain. Emotional wounds, fears, and vulnerability are all shoved down deep, and emotional armor donned. No one wants to feel weak, and when someone takes an emotional hit after a negative experience, this is exactly what happens. They feel WEAK. Vulnerable.
The Birth of Flaws
What is emotional armor? Character Flaws. Behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that a character adopts as a result of a wounding event. Why does this happen? Because flaws minimize expectations and keep people (and therefore their ability to cause further hurt) at a distance. But in doing so, flaws create dysfunction, damage the protagonist’s relationships and prevent his personal growth. And due to their negative nature, flaws also tend to get in the way, tripping the character up and prevent him from success.
Facing Down Fear
Fear, a deeply rooted one, is at the heart of any flaw. The character believes that the same painful experience (a wound or wounds) will happen again if unchecked. This belief is a deeply embedded fear that blinds them to all else, including what is holding them back from achievement and happiness.
To move forward, the protagonist must see his flaws for what they are: negative traits that harm, not help. He must choose to shed his flaws and face his fears. By doing this, he gains perspective, and views the past in a new light. Wounds no longer hold power. False beliefs are seen for the untruths they are. The character achieves insight, internal growth, and fortified by this new set of beliefs, is able to see what must be done to move forward. They finally are free from their fear, and are ready to make the changes necessary to achieve their goal.
Why Does Character Arc Hold Such Power Over Readers?
This evolution from “something missing” to “feeling complete” is known as achieving personal growth in real life, which is why readers find Character Arc so compelling to read about. As people, we are all on a path to becoming someone better, someone more whole and complete, but it is a journey of a million steps. Watching a character achieve the very thing we all hope to is very rewarding, don’t you think?
Need a bit more help with some of the pieces of Character Arc? Try these:
Welcome to One Stop For Writers’ launch week. Have you entered to WIN one of seven 1-Year Subscriptions to One Stop For Writers, or the Pay-it-forward Education Gift for a workshop seat in writing coach Jami Gold’s terrific online class (ending today)?
Also, don’t forget to snag a special Launch week code giving you 50% off ANY PLAN at One Stop For Writers.
As you can imagine with an online library, there are many nooks and crannies to explore. One of my favorite places is up in The Stacks where we keep our Templates and Worksheets. (click to enlarge)
Pictured above is the Character Fears Template. By following the prompts, you brainstorm a character’s secrets, failures, greatest mistakes, relationship issues, wounding events, situations he avoids, the lies he believes, etc. so it uncovers the thing he fears most…which, in Character Arc, is the very thing he must face and defeat to become whole and achieve his objective or goal.
Templates are easy to use. You can fill them out right at One Stop and the information transforms into a helpful “wheel” showing how everything ties together. This is terrific for planning and plotting, and will also help keep you focused on your character’s motivation in each scene. Once a Template is created, you can save and access it onsite, or export it to your computer for printing. Try creating one for each character in your book!
(We’re also building new ones as we go, so if you have an idea for a template or worksheet that you’d really like to see, make sure to submit your Wishlist Idea through the CONNECT button at One Stop.)
If you aren’t a member yet, don’t worry! You can register at any time for free and poke around. Go check out the Templates and Worksheets for yourself, and see what you think!
I was so happy to be able to talk with Lori Deschene. As the founder of Tiny Buddha, she’s helped more than 1,200 people (including me!) share their stories and lessons with more than 60 million readers (as of June, 2015). She’s the author of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions, Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, and her newest release: Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges.
Lori, I know you’ve written for girls’ magazines, and many of The Renegade Writer’s readers want to write for magazines themselves. How did you get into that?
I found my first magazine writing opportunity on Craigslist in the gigs section—something that doesn’t happen all that often! I didn’t actually have much professional writing experience at that time, but I did have the right experience.
The magazine was a new middle grade publication, for girls aged eight to twelve, and they were looking for witty, upbeat articles on friendship, self-esteem, and surviving embarrassing moments.
Prior to finding this opportunity, I’d worked in mobile marketing, taking promotional campaigns from city to city. My last tour was a walk across the country to promote a variety of health and fitness-related products. As the tour’s dog walker, I wrote a “dog blog” that chronicled my canine companion’s adventure.
These were all light, funny posts that fit the exact tone the magazine was looking for. They loved my writing samples and hired me to write an article for the first issue, which led to more than a dozen more.
Eventually, I submitted some of those articles to a bigger, more established middle-grade magazine and went on to contribute over fifty articles and quizzes.
I also wrote for a real estate magazine briefly that, once again, I found on Craigslist. It was also a new magazine, and I don’t actually know much about real estate. But I was looking to build a body of work, and I was open to any opportunities I could find!
In retrospect, I realize I could have been more proactive and targeted. I could have identified more magazines that I wanted to write for instead of taking any writing gig I could find on Craigslist (including a job writing travel guides for $6/hour).
But I think there’s something to be said for being hungry, and being willing to take whatever you can get to hone your craft and build your resume.
Then you started the Tiny Buddha site. What inspired you to do that?
Prior to starting the site, I’d spent more than a decade struggling with depression, bulimia, shame, and self-loathing. For years I felt alone with my challenges—like no one knew me, and no one would love me if they did.
After making tremendous progress with my personal struggles, I wanted to create a place where people could share what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned, to help themselves and others.
My hope was that this would help readers feel less alone with their challenges and more empowered to overcome them. And though I didn’t realize this at the time, I eventually recognized that starting Tiny Buddha was a big part of my own healing journey.
There’s something cathartic about leveraging your pain for something useful and valuable—and there’s little more valuable than making a positive difference in someone else’s life.
How has the Tiny Buddha blog helped your career? Do you earn money from the blog through ads, selling books…?
I earn money from a combination of:
I’m also planning to launch some products soon, including journals, gratitude journals, and calendars.
I launched my first eBook roughly a year after the site launched, and it sold regularly, but I was still working another full-time online writing job. I also dabbled with blog coaching and blog review reports—something I didn’t really love and only did briefly.
It really wasn’t until the three-year mark that I felt comfortable depending solely on Tiny Buddha for my livelihood. In retrospect, I’m glad I never felt pressure to earn a specific amount from the site. If I had felt that pressure, I may have said yes to opportunities that didn’t feel right for me.
There are a lot of ways to make money online, or to leverage your online presence to make money. Not all are good for each of us individually — or for our brands.
I also see you have a forum, a widget that lets people post quotes from the site on their websites, and much more. You accept guest posts, do blog tours… that all sounds like a lot of work! How difficult is it really to start and run a successful blog? I think so many writers believe they can just start a WordPress site and start posting their thoughts, and the readers (and money) will come flying in.
It is a lot of work! And I’ve been feeling that a lot more lately, as I don’t have an assistant or any employees. That being said, it wasn’t always a lot of work.
When I first got started, I devoted just a few hours each day to running the site. At the time, it was just a quote and blog feed, and I wrote very short posts (some of which, I now realize, weren’t all that compelling).
If I’d thought to myself back then, “I have to build a site with forums, daily guest contributors, a fun & inspiring section, multiple books, a widget, an eCourse…” I likely would have felt too overwhelmed to start. But I’ve added layers to the site over time.
I think the most important thing is that you show up each day and do something. You remain consistent and keep learning.
This guarantees that you’ll keep growing, slowly, bit by bit, over time.
Writers are always asking me, “I want to start a blog, but I don’t know what to write about.” I think you’re living proof that you don’t decide to start a blog and then cast about for a topic…you have something burning in you that you want to share so much that it can sustain thousands of posts and years of work. Do you agree?
Yes, absolutely! This comes back to what I wrote before, about having a mission. You have to have a compelling “why” behind your blog—some reason you have to explore this topic. Otherwise, you likely won’t have a reason to stick with it if and when progress seems slow. And you’re absolutely right—you likely won’t be able to write for years on the topic.
Every now and then, someone submits a post to Tiny Buddha starting with “I wasn’t sure what to write about this week…” Those are usually the least compelling posts because it’s clear the writer was looking for something to say, as opposed to having something to say.
If you don’t have something you have to say, readers won’t feel compelled to listen.
What are your top three tips for writers on how to build a successful blog?
I believe you need all three to build and maintain an audience—you need to deliver with consistency, solve problems readers are facing, and reveal your own humanity in doing so.
2. Foster a sense of community.
We all want to be part of something larger than ourselves, and we want to be where other people are congregating and connecting.
The first step in building a community is to have a compelling reason for its existence. People can “hang out” on any site—why yours specifically? What’s the movement they’re joining?
Is it a group of people committed to changing the world through meaningful work? Is it a group committed to sharing themselves vulnerably and learning from each other? When you have a strong mission for your site, community engagement becomes more than comments on isolated posts. It becomes about people supporting each other in working toward a common goal.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to end posts with questions. And if you can involve the community in a post in any way, that always helps.
Formerly, I asked questions on Facebook (such as “How do you help people who won’t help themselves?”) and then incorporated the responses into posts. I’ve also asked readers to submit pictures and videos for different purposes. An involved community is an engaged community!
3. Focus on building relationships.
Behind the most popular blogs you’ll find people who weren’t afraid to reach out to more established bloggers to learn from them, and to other new bloggers to work with them.
This might mean asking to guest post on a larger site to introduce new readers to your blog. It might mean working on a product with another blogger to launch to both of your communities simultaneously. It might mean building a blog support network with lots of bloggers in the same niche.
The more people you connect with, the greater the odds your blog will grow. And the more people you help, the more people will want to help you.
And you’re the author of three traditionally published books too! How did you get into writing books? Did you find an agent, or were you approached by one? Did you have to write a proposal?
I first started working on a proposal a year after I launched the site, and I sent that to an agent who’d reached out to me. He wasn’t thrilled with my idea, but he gave me some feedback that helped me come up with a new one. Shortly after, a small publisher contacted me after seeing me speak at a conference.
The most helpful advice I got when writing my first proposal was to ask myself, “Why would readers buy this book from me specifically?” My first idea was something anyone could have written, and I didn’t have anything in my background that would have positioned me as an authority on this topic.
Each of my three books makes sense from me specifically, because they’re all extensions of Tiny Buddha, including both my own personal experience and insights from the community.
So you’ve written for magazines, and you run a blog AND write books. Do you find there’s some value for writers in diversifying? If so, what is it?
I’ve enjoyed the variety because I find it more stimulating—and challenging. Whereas I could write a blog post in a couple hours, a book is clearly a long-term project. And it’s something that’s far more involved, especially when you’re working with dozens of contributors, like I do.
There’s also a certain level of satisfaction that comes from stretching yourself and trying to do something new. Especially if you’re writing about the same topic every day or every other day, it can help tremendously to mix things up.
What are your top two tips for writers who would like to write traditionally published books?
Aside from answering the question “Why me for this book?”:
Get an agent with success in your niche.
While you could send your proposal to smaller publishers without representation, an agent knows what makes a strong proposal, and which publishers would be best for your book. As I mentioned before, I’ve gotten a book deal with and without one, and the latter was a far superior experience, on every level, and totally worth the money.
Create a solid marketing plan for your proposal.
Publishers are looking to work with authors who can sell books. If you have an established platform, great! If not, do you know any other high-profile bloggers who will help promote your book? Are you willing to invest your money in a book trailer, a blog tour, or a publicist? Do you have any ideas for creative social media campaigns?
Since the Tiny Buddha blog is all about topics like happiness, motivation, inspiration, and letting go…I’d like to talk about two emotions writers feel a lot — fear and stress. Do you have any advice for writers on getting over their fears of rejection, failure, and even success so they can start pitching and writing?
As someone who’s pursued both theater and writing—two incredibly competitive industries—I know all about rejection! Three things that have helped me are:
Not taking rejection personally.
It can be tough to do this when you put your heart into your writing. But agents and publishers aren’t rejecting you. They’re rejecting the idea—and at that specific time.
There are plenty of times when contributors submit posts to Tiny Buddha and they’re very similar to posts I’ve recently accepted. That actually means they’re strong posts, but my job as a site editor is to offer variety and look for varied themes and perspectives.
I always encourage writers to submit again. Not all editors do this, but submit again anyways.
Think of it as a numbers game.
When I worked as a telemarketer, I knew that every twenty calls would likely lead to one sale. Knowing this made it easier to face those nineteen rejections because I knew I was getting closer to closing a deal.
It’s not quite the same with writing, but it can help tremendously to think of every “no” as one step closer to a “yes.” Challenge the belief that “no” is proof you’re not good enough. If you need a reason to believe you can still succeed, despite rejection, check out this article or this one or this one.
Realize you have far more options now than writers once did.
If you have something to say, you can find a way to put it out there. You can start a blog. You can write an eBook. You can self-publish a print book. And if you do self-publish a print book, you could then leverage that to get a deal with a traditional publisher. (I know several authors who’ve done this!)
We’re fortunate to have so many options available us writers today. Knowing this somehow takes the sting out of rejection because you know that no isolated rejection can crush your dream, or prevent you from honing your craft and getting your work out there.
I absolutely hate sending rejection emails because I’m both sensitive and empathetic, and I never want anyone to think I don’t admire and respect both them and their work. If I’ve rejected posts from the same writer a few times, I might offer extra feedback and end the email with “I hope I’m not discouraging you!”
Not too long ago, a writer responded, “No worries—you’re not! I have a whole list of sites I submit to, so I’ll just submit this to one of them.”
It’s something I’ll remember next time I’m feeling rejected. There are other sites. There are other magazines. There are lots of other ways to get my work out there.
And stress…we writers feel that a lot! We’re running our butts off pitching, interviewing, networking, writing. We have tons of deadlines, client demands, and other stressors. How can writers become more calm and centered so they can work more productively?
The best advice I can offer any writer is to get out of your head. There were many times in the past when I sat at my computer for ten+ hours, when on a deadline, with only short breaks to eat or use the restroom. This was a surefire path to stress and burnout!
I used to think taking a break for a walk or a quick meditation was wasting time, but I’ve since learned than fifteen to thirty rejuvenating minutes are actually huge time savers. I come back to my work refreshed, recharged—and in some cases, particularly if I’ve been in nature, inspired.
Then I have much calmer, and much more positive energy, to bring to my work.
Doing something childlike, like hopping on a swing
Dancing to your favorite music and releasing pent up energy
Tell us about your latest book, Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges. What inspired you to write it, and where can readers buy the book?
As someone who’s felt alone at various points in my life, I understand the value of strong relationships. I also know we’re living in an increasingly disconnected world, despite being more connected than ever.
We all need to feel seen, valued, appreciated, and loved. We’re social creatures, and we need to feel like we belong, like people get us and will be there for us. We also need to know people trust us and depend on us to be there for them.
Of course, these things are far more easily said than done. Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges can help.
The book offers a year’s worth of simple daily challenges to help people give more love in their relationships, treat themselves more lovingly, and put more love into the world.
Some of the challenges are active, some are reflective, some involve having conversations with other people, and some are writing exercises.
Each month has a different theme, including:
Kindness and Thoughtfulness
Compassion and Understanding
Authenticity and Vulnerability
Releasing Anger and Forgiving
Attention and Listening
Honesty and Trust
Kindness and Thoughtfulness
Acceptance and Non-Judgment
Releasing Comparisons and Competition
Support and Encouragement
Admiration and Appreciation
Giving and Receiving
And every week starts with a relevant story or two from members of the Tiny Buddha community, illustrating the power of applying these principles in daily life.
The challenges are all little things, and some might seem simple, but the simplest things are often the hardest to do consistently—like putting your phone down and giving someone your full attention, or looking a stranger in the eye and smiling.
Relationships have never been my strong suit, but I feel much closer to people, and much better equipped to give them the love they deserve, since incorporating these tiny actions into my daily life.
Happy Friday, everyone! To go along with Stacey’s post about submissions, this is a repost from my blog, a silly little song filk I hope some of you—especially those submerged in the submission swamp—might enjoy.
Last summer, when I was on submission with my novel to publishers, I remember being in complete and utter agony with the not knowing and not being in control. There’s a lot written about the query trenches throughout the blogosphere, but not a lot of space is given over to being on submission.
Part of that is because unlike querying, the experience of being on submission varies widely from individual to individual, so it’s hard to generalize. Another part is that being of sub is pretty much entirely out of your hands. Once your manuscript is on the desk of an editor, there is literally NOTHING you can do to influence the outcome. It doesn’t make for easy, digestible blog posts. Query tips are relatively easy to give, but there is no advice you can give to someone on sub, save Patience, young Skywalker.
And that advice sucks.
Being on sub is a bit like being the awkward middle schooler at a junior high school dance. Pick me, pick me! Sometimes you’re the first on the dance floor. Sometimes you’re left the self-conscious wallflower. Junior high—and publishing—can sometimes be cold and capricious.
I find the best thing to do in these sorts of situations is laugh them off. It’s either laugh, or cry, right? I’d rather a good chuckle than anguished sobs, so in order to distract myself, I rewrote the lyrics to “Agony” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.1
If you aren’t familiar with the song:
Did I confuse them
With my rabid, insane,
Don’t I amuse them
With my witty, urbane,
Beyond power of speech!
When the contract you want
Is the only thing out of your reach.
Here in my tower,
I sit by the hour
Awaiting the Call.
The one that will save me
And soon validate me
In the eyes of them all:
All those agents are jerks!
Low esteem, insecurity
Are affecting my work!
Oh the torment, the stress!
Why can’t they just buy me—
How could they deny me—
They don’t know what is best!
Am I not lyrical,
Ahead of my time?
I am everything agents could wish for!
Then why no—
Then why no—
They all must be mad!
You know nothing of madness
Till you’re tearing your hair.
As you open email,
Yes, refreshing it,
Always refreshing it,
Though it’s different for each.
Always ten trends behind—
Always telling you no—
And the dream is just out of your reach.
I must have a book deal!
Okay, so I went ahead and decide to record the cover for funsies. Apologies for inflicting my voice on y’all. This song is not in my range.
At the point I had written this, the Disney movie version hadn’t come out yet. I have…Thoughts about it, but the “Agony” scene with Billy Magnussen and Chris Pine is definitely the best—and maybe the only worthwhile—scene in the entire film. ↩
P.S. All the e-books for writers in the Renegade Writer Store (except one) are Pay What You Want until Friday…this is an experiment, and if we like the way it goes, we’ll make this a permanent change. That means, at least for right now, YOU choose how much you’d like to pay for each book (with a minimum of $1 each). SO far we’ve had about 300 orders, most containing multiple books. Some writers are picking up EVERY book at $1 each, some are buying just a couple at a higher price, and some are in between. Have fun!
Are You a Writing Fangirl…Or a REAL Writer? 7 Ways to Tell
We writers can spend hours every day thinking, dreaming, talking, and ruminating about writing. We love what we do!
But when we use these activities (and I’m loathe to even call them “activities”) as substitutes for actually writing…that’s a problem. We leave the realm of serious writer and enter the realm of — fanfolk.
And it’s a sneaky problem, because geeking out over all things writing feels like we’re being productive. We call it brainstorming, networking, getting motivated, whatever. But what it is not, is WRITING. Oh yeah, and MARKETING. And otherwise getting off our butts and going after, and completing, paying writing assignments.
(Caveat: I’m not saying we’re not allowed to have fun, kill time, and kibitz on writers’ forums. It’s when these time-wasters placate us into feeling productive — or we’re more interested in the trappings of a writer than in writing itself — that there’s a problem. )
Seven Signs You’re a Writing Fanboy/Girl:
1. You wear your Grammar Police badge with pride.
Writing forums, email discussion boards for writers, and blog comments are full of posts like these:
My client just sent me an email where he used ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’! *headdesk*
Look at the typo in this newspaper headline! What is journalism coming to these days?
Hey, blogger…you call yourself a writer? There’s a word missing in the second paragraph.
Pointing out/kvetching about other writers’ grammar mistakes make you FEEL good because hey, you don’t make mistakes like that so clearly you’re a superior writer. But is it getting you more gigs? Is it getting more writing out of you? Or is it simply wasting energy you could be using to get more assignments?
The person who made the typo is writing. What are YOU doing?
I have a guest post on the MakeaLivingWriting.com blog that goes into much, much more details on why you want to pit away your Grammar Police badge. (With 177 comments…clearly a hot button topic!)
2. You give a crap that The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play. (And you know that it has 1,787 words.)
Look on almost any writers’ forum and you’ll see long threads where writers discuss their favorite pen (who writes in pen anymore?), post interesting factoids about Shakespeare, share motivational quotes from Hemingway, and hash out the details of the latest plagiarism/book banning/angry-author-screwed-by-publisher case.
I call these “fanboy writer posts.” These writer trivia posts show you’re a big fan of all things writing…but do they actually count as writing?
3. You’re a member of 10 writing organizations.
Here’s your email sig line:
Jane Smith, Wordsmith Extraordinaire
National Writers Union
Science Writers of America
Mystery Writers Association
Medial Journalists’ Society
East Podunk Stitch & Bitch Writing Club
Romance Writers of America
[Add five more here]
Guess what? Editors and potential clients do not look at this list and say, “Wow. She must be a serious writer. Let’s hire her!”
Being a member of (most) writers’ associations does not prove that you are a writer. If you shell out your $150, you can get in. Even if you’ve never written a word in your life!
Join the organizations that pertain to the exact type of writing you’re actually doing. Not the genres you wish you were in, or the ones you think will impress people. And only join if you plan to be active in the group (which includes — wait for it — writing.)
4. You are the proud owner of a vast collection of quill pens.
Many writers love the trappings of writing more than the actual act of writing itself. So we see aspiring writers posting photos of their collection of mugs with writerly sayings; getting/talking about/comparing/sharing on social media their tattoos of Remington typewriters; collecting recycled-paper, leather-bound journals (just for looking at, natch); and strolling the aisles of Office Depot coveting the fancy pens.
Anyone looking at you, with your exclamation point tattoo and “Writer at Work” doorknob hanger, would think you are a writer. But…are you actually writing? Don’t delude yourself: A collection of quill pens does not a writer make.
5. You take writing classes you don’t need.
Wait a minute…did I just say that? Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot because I teach a ton of classes for writers here—but seen too many writers take class after class in order to avoid having to actually pitch and write.
(Many instructors LOVE students like that…they pay good money, don’t do the work, and the instructor gets something for nothing.)
A multitude of certificates from writing classes is the sign of an insecure writer who always thinks she needs to know more before getting started — or the sign of fanfolk who love showing off their creds more than they do actually writing.
Yes, take a class to learn the skills you’re lacking, whether it’s writing the perfect pitch, running a writing business, or crafting an article that will sell. Then…go out and do that thing. That’s what makes you a real writer. If you come to a a roadblock because you need more skills, THEN you can take more classes.
This goes for free classes, too. Just about everyone with something to sell online offers a free class/instructional webinar/training call to get people on their email lists. It’s tempting to try them all! But unless you need that exact skill right now, you can hold off until you do.
6. You love books.
Writers love spending lots of time on Goodreads reviewing books. And weighing in on the latest literary controversies (is The Goldfinch crap or not?) And discussing On Writing and Writing Down the Bones and The Artist’s Way. And bragging about how many books they have in their homes. (I have over 1,000 books! Oh yeah? Well, I have 1,500. Here’s a photo to prove it!)
But the fact that you have a library overflowing with books, a shelf full of writing manuals, and 500 Goodreads reviews (especially of those writing manuals!) does not show you’re a writer. You talk a good game, but do you have the ass-in-seat-time to prove it? Serious writers with limited time use their time to — write.
7. You call yourself a “scribe” or “wordsmith” on your business card.
You are not a scribe, and you’re not a wordsmith. These terms bring to mind unpaid writers jotting down poems for the love of it — or monks copying Bible passages. (My editor at a writing magazine kept changing the word “writer” to “scribe” in my articles and it drove me batshit crazy…as much as I loved this editor!)
You are a serious, well-paid businessperson who offers writing as a valuable service. Right?
So: Are you a fanboy/girl or REAL writer? And if you say you’re a real writer: Prove it today by shutting down the forums, putting away the writing manuals, resisting the urge for one more class or one more writing group membership…and writing.
Stephen Guise is the author of the new book How to Be an Imperfectionist, and I was excited to be able to interview him for The Renegade Writer…because we writers often let perfectionism keep us from getting out work out there.
In this interview, you’ll learn:
The difference between chance and failure
How confidence = comfort
Why quantity is more important than quality
The perceived benefits of perfectionism
How setting the bar low can actually help you get more freelance writing jobs
Also…when I asked Stephen for a “cover image,” he misunderstood and sent me a headshot. I decided I’m totally going to include it as eye candy for the ladies!
Enjoy — and feel free to pass these files around to your writer friends!
P.S. Carol Tice and I are offering the audit version of our 4-Week J-School RIGHT NOW! Cart closes on July 30, which is two days from today. Want to gain the skills and confidence to land — and write — lucrative article assignments? Check out the success stories from our previous students on the J-School page. Work at your own pace…your access never ends!
I can always tell when a writer isn’t going to make it as a freelancer.
The secret is easy. I just listen for the phrase “churning it out” — as in “I’m churning out a lot of work today” or “I churned out two articles over the weekend.” I hear that phrase, and I know they’re going down. Maybe not today, but eventually, and probably sooner than they think.
Related phrases include “cranking it out” and “grinding it out.”
Why is this such a foolproof method for gauging a writer’s likely success? Not because I think slow equals better. Sometimes slow is just slow. But because the phrase itself indicates a mindset that is the exact opposite of the one you need to succeed.
Churning work out means you don’t care about the work, you’re just doing it for the reward. It means you’re perceiving your efforts as being not much different from a machine at a factory. You’re a robot on an assembly line, producing widgets.
The problem with being a robot on an assembly line is it’s boring and dreary and it doesn’t pay very well. Also, you’re interchangeable with every other robot that can be programmed to insert tab A into slot B. Which means your competition is basically everyone in the universe.
I’ve been a freelancer for more years than I want to admit to in public, and I’ve survived — thrived! — this long because I love what I do, even on the days when it drives me nuts. When you love what you do, you don’t perceive it as “churning” things out. You think of it as a craft, one you care about getting right. You want to find the best example, the right turn of phrase, the most credible source to interview.
Your Editor Wants a Revise? This Is a GOOD Thing.
People who churn things out bitch about edits (for example) not because the edits are wrong or misguided but because the edits affect their bottom line. They seem to think that any time spent on making a piece of writing better is time that could be spent writing something else and (by their misguided calculations) making more money.
I like edits because I like becoming a better writer. Have I occasionally had questionable edits? Sure. Still, I think of edits as a fact of freelance writing and as an opportunity to grow as a writer. But to hear the churn-it-out writers talk, all edits are questionable and every aspect of freelancing that doesn’t involving depositing a check is of little value and should be ignored or completed as quickly as possible.
Instead of looking for ways to deliver value to their clients they complain about every small thing they’re asked to do. The editor says, “Can you ask the source if she has photos?” and you’d think Rumpelstiltskin had demanded their newborn child.
This wrongheaded approach will burn you out faster than just about anything else you could do to yourself.
Your Writing Is Not a Commodity
Now, I’m not saying you should work 80 hours on a 300-word piece for which you’ll earn $50. I am saying that you need to recognize that you are a craftsperson, not an assembly line. I’m saying turn down the 300-word pieces for $50 that require 80 hours of work.
I’m a prolific writer, and being able to write fast has certainly helped me make a decent income over my years as a freelancer. But “being prolific” and “churning things out” are two different things.
I’m prolific because I love to write and because I’ve set my life up so that writing is easy to do. I have dedicated time, space, and materials for it. I have spent a long time learning the craft — and practicing it. I know how to focus to get the job done instead of endlessly procrastinating and then having to rush to finish by deadline. I don’t over-research. I plan interviews ahead of time to keep them on target (and limited in duration). I have areas of specialization so that writing a new article isn’t like learning a new language. I have learned how to vet clients so I’m not wasting my time on “opportunities” that aren’t opportunities.
All of this takes time and effort, and it can’t be accomplished if all you ever focus on is the bottom line. If the choice is between researching potential clients to identify a few new possibilities that might pay well and writing two badly paying blog posts in an hour, the churn-it-out writer will pick the latter when the former is in her best interests over the long term.
A Bad Rate Will Never Be a Good Rate
People who churn it out often think they can turn a bad rate into a good one by doing the project as quickly as possible. But a bad rate is a bad rate — and you won’t improve your situation by having your name attached to crap work. However, even people who are earning decent rates for their work get suck into the churn-it-out mindset. They could get more if they went faster, right?
Either way, churning it out can lead to boredom, dissatisfaction, and burnout. The kinds of work that you can churn out are never the interesting projects. If you’re constantly working at warp speed just to tread water, you’ll end up giving up before too long. But mostly the work will dissatisfy you because you’re focusing too much on the reward instead of the process.
I get that we’re all doing this out of the profit motive, but if that were our only consideration, we’d be painting houses or fixing plumbing. The truth is, the more you focus on money-money-money, the less you focus on Am I doing work that’s worth doing? And yet it’s work that’s worth doing that inspires us, helps us enjoy our jobs, and makes our lives better. And interestingly enough, the work that’s worth doing is usually the better-paying kind.
The next time you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, I could churn that out in an hour,” stop and ask yourself why you’d ever want to evaluate the work of your life that way.
Jennifer Lawler is sponsoring a one-day-only fundraiser (May 15, 2015) for the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance. Buy any of her romances at the special fundraiser price of just 99 cents (Kindle edition) and she’ll donate her royalties to the TSA. Here’s where to go for more information.
Jennifer is a writer and editor whose articles and essays have appeared in print and online publications such as Family Circle, Cooking Light, Writer’s Digest, and Bankrate.com. She is the author or coauthor of more than fifty books.
Hi folks, I am continuing my series called BLOOM this week. This month my series is about how to make your work bloom. Not always an easy task. For the artist, the story isn't really always so pretty. This year has been tough for me. My stupid brain has been letting me down. I've stumbled into a period of anxious depression. I've always been this internal optimist at heart, but gray clouds have rolled in.
Here's what it feels like. I sit at down to work. I've put the time aside. I focus but the feeling of jazz is gone. Bitter feeling have replaced it, and it's really choking my soaring spirit. It feels like my window to bloom has passed me by. The winter is here and I'm just screwed. There is no money for a hothouse to force a bloom in this cold winter's walk in my life. Has my opportunity passed me by? I don't know but I keep working.
To tell the truth, the only thing keeping me afloat right now is the work itself. I can see the years of crafting on the page. It's a happy mirror to me. I've never written better. How weird is that? Even if the brain is sort of messed up, the work is not. I'm bleeding onto the page.right now. This blood is rich stuff. This work is the best of me. It dodges all the feelings and the life is on the page. More than a few tears end up on those pages too. I am so grateful for the work. So grateful.
I refuse to pause even on these cloudy inside days. Life feels too short to pause for them, and I plan to bloom. I believe that for me and you. I know that time and life isn't always on our side. And yet, dream for tomorrow. Dream another dream. Don't let the chance to create slip away from you. I know how scary it is to feel no one is ever going to see your work. Work anyway.
I have heard a saying. "April showers bring May flowers." I'm counting on the truth of this. Showers are here. Flowers should be coming. I hope you come back next week for more of my bloom series.
One last thing, a request. I hope that you check out my book PLUMB CRAZY. Please read it, share it with a friend or a library, post a review somewhere. I put a lot my heart unto this book. It will lift you up in unexpected ways.
Here is a doodle.
Here is a quote for your pocket.
Your coffee's warm, but your milk is sour Life is short, but you're here to flower Dream yourself along another day Never miss opportunity Pete Murray
Here’s a phrase I hear from a lot of Internet/business/marketing guru-types:
“To be more productive, choose one hour per day where you’ll process your inbox.”
Or: “To process your inbox quickly, respond to every email in five sentences or less.”
These are very smart businesspeople, and many of them take pride in how accessible they are and how quickly they respond to emails — but the phrase “process your inbox” belies the truth of the situation: Many entrepreneurs think of emails as random widgets that pile up in their inbox that need to be removed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Emails are a distraction from their “real” work.
But here’s the thing: Emails are not widgets. Emails are PEOPLE. Each email represents a real, live, breathing human who is trying to reach out to you.
If your business involves selling something to the public, then emails are not a distraction from your work — they are your work. Well, part of it, at least.
Sure, sometimes these people want something you don’t want to give, like a book’s worth of advice or to let them write a “totally original” post for your blog in exchange for a bio that mentions their Dubai dating service. At times, you get people who write you scathing emails because you dared to try to sell something. And sometimes you’re super busy and looking at the 500 emails in your inbox makes you want to cry. But you can’t deny that each email is in fact an actual person who needs you for something.
The New Rules of Email
I developed these rules to help writers and entrepreneurs remember the importance of their audience, while keeping them from becoming overwhelmed with all the people clamoring for their attention.
1. Emails Are People
Okay, we just talked about this: A full inbox is not a pile of detritus that needs to be shoveled out as quickly as possible. It’s a crowd of people who want to get in touch.
2. People Can Wait
Just because people can email you quickly doesn’t mean you have to respond quickly. You set your priorities for the day, and sometimes that means the people emailing you will have to wait.
A lot of emailers don’t consider that everyone has stuff in their life — but just like them, the people they’re emailing have a lot going on. For example, last week my husband was in Tokyo all week and my 6-year-old son had 3-hour ballet rehearsals almost every evening — and at the end of the week, we had a guest and then spent an entire Saturday at the theater for the two dance shows. And on top of that, Carol Tice and I are launching a new class, and we spent hours and hours last week working with our team on making the class a reality.
While I fully recognize that the emails in my inbox are people, do you think I responded to each person within minutes, or even hours last week? No — it was more like days, and is turning into weeks.
Hey, stuff happens. Your people understand that. If you’re feeling bad about delayed responses, you can always set an autoresponder letting your peeps know you’re underwater and will be slow in getting back to them. Or mention on your website’s Contact page that you can’t respond to every email, but here are some great resources that can answer your questions! (I’ve done both.)
3. Not Every Person Needs (or Deserves) a Response
You do need to recognize the fact that emails are people, but that doesn’t mean every person deserves a response. If you’re walking down the street and a gang of construction workers catcalls you — do you feel bad for giving them the side-eye as you walk on by?
If it’s clear that person is wasting your time — by, say, asking you to share their infographic that has nothing to do with your niche — or is just baiting you for a fight, then no response is needed.
For example, a member of my mailing list responded to my Monday Motivation for Writers email today with nothing but a single link. When I clicked on it, it took me to an Amazon page with all of his novels. Do ya think I responded to that?
Marketing emails and newsletters obviously don’t require a response, unless you really feel moved to say something.
And sometimes, a situation will resolve itself if you just wait. If it’s clear this is the case, then why respond?
4. If It’s Important, They’ll Come Back
As the News Editor at BoardGameGeek, my husband gets a ton of email. He’s had upwards of 1,300 emails in his inbox at one time. I keep trying to get him to simply delete all the emails that he is obviously never going to be able to get to.
Here’s why: If it’s important and absolutely requires a response or an action on his part, the people will follow up.
No one wants to declare email bankruptcy, but sometimes that’s the kindest thing you can do. Yes, emails represent people, but if it becomes clear you’ll never have the time to respond to everyone, you’re only stressing yourself out and creating a guilt complex every time you open your inbox.
When it gets to this point, delete them all, and you’ll discover that many of these people didn’t need you after all.
An Attitude Adjustment
This may seem like just semantics — what does it matter if you look at your emails as annoyances that need to be dealt with, or as people who are looking to connect with you?
I think the way you think about your emails says a lot about the kind of businessperson you are. Do you care about your audience, or are you just looking to make a quick sale?
Or maybe you’re just misguided and feel like everyone needs and deserves a quick response, and the only way to do that is to “process” your inbox. That says a lot about a businessperson, too.
And your people can tell. When you respond to every single email within two minutes with a super-short sentence or nothing but an emoticon, people sense you’re thinking, “I need to process this email as quickly as possible and get it off my plate.” No one wants to be “processed.”
You’ve probably heard some gurus say that to process your email as quickly as possible, you should respond to every email in five sentences or less. Personally, I’d rather have someone wait and get the response they deserve. Sometimes that’s a longer, more thought-out email, and yes, sometimes that’s a simple “Thanks!”
Emails are people. And people are your business.
P.S. Hey, are you a content mill writer, or a writer who is earning way less than you’re worth? You’ll want to come to Carol Tice’s and my FREE webinar on Tuesday, May 19 at 11 am PDT/2 pm EDT: 8 Ways Content Mill Writers Can Earn More — Fast. When you go to this page you’ll also get a copy of our 37-page case study report: Escape the Content Mills: 6 Writers’ True Stories of Breaking Out and Earning More. Here’s where you can go for those goodies!
भाग दौड भरी जिंदगी में अक्सर खुद को प्रोत्साहित करना बहुत जरुरी हो जाता है पर … कैसे करें खुद को प्रोत्साहित… यक्ष प्रश्न है. पर कुछ ही देर मे मुझे इसका उत्तर भी मिल गया . किसी काम से मेरी सहेली मणि के घर जाना हुआ तो वो किसी से बात कर रही थी ” कमाल है,तुम तो वाकई में बहुत समझदार हो. मतलब कि हर बात को कितनी सहजता से ले कर उसका समाधान निकाल लेती हो और कोई तनाव नही रखती हमेशा स्माईल ही रहती है चेहरे पर हमेशा ऐसे ही रहना शाबाश,कीप इट अप…
मैं सोच ही रही थी कि किससे बात कर रही होगी अंदर गई तो दूसरा कोई नजर नही आया. मेरे पूछ्ने पर बोली अरे तूने सुन लिया… और स्माईल करती हुई बोली कि शीशे के सामने खडी होकर खुद से बात कर रही थी. खुद को मोटिवेट करना भी बहुत जरुरी होता है इसलिए अक्सर वो यह काम करती रहती है.. मुझे यह बात बहुत पसंद आई. सही है जब तक हम खुद को शाबाशी नही देंगें उत्साहित नही करेंगें तो आगे कैसे बढेग़े…
वैसे नीचे Motivational Quotes भी दिए हैं ताकि आप भली प्रकार समझ सकें
14 Motivational Quotes to Keep You Powerful
I once despised motivational quotes, probably because my wrestling coach liked to say, “If you’re not puking or passing out, then you’re not trying hard enough.” Read more…
हमे हमेशा खुद प्रोत्साहित करने के साथ साथ मोटिवेशनल साहित्य भी पढते रहना चाहिए इससे हमे बहुत नई जानकारी मिलती है और साथ साथ हौंसला भी मिलता है.
मेरे विचार से अब तो नही सोच रहे होंगें कि कैसे करें खुद को प्रोत्साहित …. वैसे अब मुझे भी घर लौटने की जल्दी थी खुद को प्रोत्साहित जो करना है शीशे के सामने खडे होकर … और आप ?? आप तो करते ही होंगें अगर नही करते तो आज से ही करना शुरु कर दीजिए….
Should I write this article even though I don’t know what the payment is?
The editor said she was going to assign this idea, and two weeks later I still haven’t heard back about an assignment. Should I ding her?
Will I be a pest if I nag the editor about a payment that’s 30 days past due?
The magazine wants me to write a 1,500-word feature that will require six interviews, tons of research, and photos — but they can only pay $75. I’m afraid if I say no I won’t get any work at all. What should I do?
Should I ask for a First North American Serial Rights contract instead of All Rights? I’m scared!
Freelance writers are always posting to forums and email lists with questions like these. And I find a good way to answer many of them is with this acronym: WWYED?
What Would Your Editor Do?
(You know, kind of like WWJD, except Jesus probably never negotiated terms with a magazine editor.)
For example, if you’re asking “Should I go ahead and write this article because the deadline is looming near, even though I don’t know yet what the payment is?” — would your editor work even a single day at her job without knowing what she would be getting paid?
If you want to know, “Will I be a pest if I nag the editor about a payment that’s 30 days past due?” — what do you think your editor would do if his paycheck were even one day late, much less a whole month?
You’re worried about asking for a FNASR contract? Well, your editor wasn’t afraid to ask YOU to give up all your rights, in all media, in perpetuity, for 25 cents a word.
You’re offered an assignment for a heavily-researched and interviewed feature, including photos — a week’s worth of work — for $75. Would your editor work for $75 per week?
You don’t want to be a nag, but the editor told you two weeks ago she was going to assign you this idea, and it’s been radio silence since then. What would the editor do if her boss were interested in an idea of hers and then forgot all about it?
You Are Not a Supplicant
It’s appalling the way writers are treated sometimes, but even more appalling is the way writers often let themselves be treated.
You are not a supplicant. You are providing a valuable service — the very writing people pick up a publication to read! The ideas that give magazines their enticing coverlines! The research that brings credibility to a publication!
Writers assume that because they’re doing work that many perceive as fun, or passion work, they don’t deserve good pay or good treatment. So they’re afraid to ask to be treated with respect.
But as much fun as you may be having as a writer, the publication is profiting from your work. The fact that writing an article is fun doesn’t discount the fact that it brings in clicks (for which the publication is being paid) or readers (who advertisers pay to reach).
Writing is a business. No matter how fun it is, no matter how passionate you are about writing, it is a business. You are an entrepreneur. A business owner.
You’re in a business just like your editor is. So if you’re ever wondering whether you should stand up to shoddy treatment or push for what you need, just as yourself:
P.S. The next Write for Magazines e-course starts on Monday, June 8! Want to join the class that’s helped writers break into magazines like Woman’s Day, Writer’s Digest, and E: The Environmental Magazine? Here’s where you can check it out.
In I Know How She Does It, Laura interviewed and analyzed the time logs of over 140 women who have kids and earn at least 6 figures — women many consider as “having it all” — to offer advice on how we can fit a full, fun, busy life with work and kids into 168 hours per week. This is especially relevant to aspiring freelance writers who may have kids and a day job, and who are having trouble fitting writing and business-building in among all their other obligations.
By the way, if you’d like to keep your own time log, you can sign up for one free here.
Can you talk a bit about how you view the hours in our lives as a mosaic?
Laura: Many people look at their time log and just see these cells on a grid. I said, well, let’s change that. Let’s view it as a mosaic — and you are the artist, you are the mosaic maker, designing what your hours are going to look like and moving things around to
I think this mosaic image is also profound because we have a tendency to tell our lives in stories and to construct memories as stories — and probably your Renegade Writer readers do that, especially because we are storytellers. And the format of a story tends to be: Here are three points of evidence that lead us to an epiphany that we must make some change.
With life it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking: These stressful things happened — I had this horrible day at work, this bad night of sleep, this issue with my kid. Therefore, life is crazy and unsustainable and I must change.
But what if you view life more as a mosaic and say, well, we had those three stressful moments, but we had all these other moments too? Those moments count as well. We can choose to see those three stressful moments as this evidence leading toward our epiphany or we can say, well, life is stressful AND life is wonderful. There really is no contradiction here. We don’t have to construct a story out of it. We can simply view of the whole mosaic for what it is. So that’s why I like that image.
Can we talk about the 24-hour trap and how writers can avoid it?
Laura: The 24-hour trap is that we have a tendency to think that things need to happen daily in order to count in our lives.
Obviously, it is good to have daily habits — and when we want to add something into our lives, we first ask ourselves, where can I put this into my life every day? The problem is that if you have a busy life, often you can’t put something in at the same time every day — but that does not mean it can’t happen.
I see this especially with things like exercise. Many people will say, “Laura, I’d love to exercise, but I am just not the kind of person who can leave for an hour at lunch every day” or “I want to get home and see my kids so I can’t go to the gym after work every day” or “I recognize mornings might be a great time to exercise, but I just can’t stomach the thought of setting my alarm for 5:30 every day.”
And it’s like, “Okay, well, don’t set your alarm for 5:30 every day.” Here’s an idea: Maybe one day a week you could get up half an hour early and do something; maybe one night a week you and your partner trade off who has the kids and you can go exercise during that time; maybe you do something on weekend mornings before the family has gotten up; and maybe you run around the track by your kid’s soccer game on Sunday. Then you’ve already fit in four exercise stints per week.
That was not daily, but four times a week is pretty good.
I think the 24 hour trap keeps us from seeing the whole picture. If you look at the whole 168 hours of the week, often things will fit. You can’t hold to everything fitting into 24 hours.
And I think writers especially fall into that trap because they think, “I need a special writing time every single day.” But even if you got it in three times a week, that’s better than nothing.
Laura: Yeah, and the problem especially is when people don’t do it because they can’t do it daily. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Sometimes it’s really easy to hold onto these stories we tell ourselves, like “I have a full-time job and a family, and therefore I can’t write.” Instead you could say, “Okay, I can’t write for three hours daily, but I could wake up early twice during the week and do it then, or I could stop watching one television show and just get something down on paper, and maybe I’ll be so inspired by what I’m doing that I’ll keep going.”
We have a tendency not to try those things because then we have to actually confront what we are doing and what we are not, and we have to look at our output and judge it — and often it is just easier not to do it and tell ourselves the story that it is impossible.
I notice that you often recommend outsourcing so that you have more time to do the things that are more important to you — but how can writers do this, especially if they are new and aren’t making a lot of money, and they can’t afford to hire much help? Do you have any tips for them? Maybe they need to just relax their standards?
Laura: Yes. When you don’t think something is the best use of your time, you have three options: You can ignore it, you can minimize it, or you can outsource it.
And obviously the outsourcing part costs money, but it does not cost anything to lower your standards — so that is a first line of offense if you are trying to make more time in your life.
I was just reading a comment on somebody else’s blog from this woman who was all excited about how she would get the kids into bed at night, and then do three hours of housework. I think she wanted everyone to think about how diligent she was or some such. I don’t know what point she was trying to make, but my first thought was “Why on earth are you doing that? Why does it require three hours at night to do all this? If you really feel the need to clean, set a timer for half an hour and then be done with it — and if it did not happen, it did not happen.”
So that’s certainly an option for people: Just let it go. Borrow that theme song from Frozen and let it go. It really does not matter. You will never get that time back, so use it first for the things that are important to you and let other things fill in around the edges.
There are a lot of writers who think, “I have kids at home, so I can do freelance writing from home and it will all work out.” And then they realize it does not work out because the kid isn’t napping on their schedule, or they need things while you’re on an interview. So I was wondering what are some of the creative ways that women you interviewed handle childcare.
Laura: Well, this is the thing: There are very few good ways to meet the needs of a client and a baby simultaneously. And, yes, there is inevitably the day you have a phone call with your biggest client at 1:30 p.m. that your child who naps religiously at 1:00 p.m. elects not to.
The only real way around this is to have childcare when you need it. When you’re doing something that you cannot do with kids’ noise or kids’ distractions, then you need somebody else to be responsible so you can focus on your work.
And there are many ways you can pull that off that might not be as expensive as hiring full-time childcare. For example, you can be efficient about pushing phone calls into a certain set of hours per day and have childcare for those hours, and then maybe do some more of the writing work after the kids go to bed. Or you could do the writing work when your partner can be with the kids, for instance, if you have a partner.
That’s a way you could pull it off without needing to pay for 40 hours of childcare. But it is very difficult to work without childcare. I had one woman in my study who was managing to run a small business without much childcare. But the way she was trading that off was by sleeping less, and it seemed to work for her because she did not need much sleep. But if you are not the kind of person who can function on six hours of sleep, and most of us aren’t, then you’re going to have to come up with something else.
A lot of writers think they are at the mercy of the client’s schedule. But what I realized is that if you actually tell people when you are available and suggest times, you can get them all into the one block of time where you have childcare.
Laura: Yes. Be very strategic about that and plan to have a few hours where you really attempt to push calls. I try to save mornings for writing and then do phone calls in either the late morning or the afternoon when I’m ready to interact with the world. You can express preferences. Sometimes you’re interviewing an A-list celebrity, and you’re going to have to do it when she needs to do it. But in other cases, people may have a bit more flexibility.
And people are actually happy for you to suggest a time. “Are you available at 10:00 or 10:30? If not, let me know.” They like not having to think about all the options.
Laura: Yes, it is actually not that helpful to send an e-mail to someone saying, “Can we do an interview in the next week?” Because then they’re looking at their whole schedule, and inevitably the first thing they suggest is not going to work for you. So it helps to just throw a few free times out there. If none of those work, then you can go from there, but the odds of at least one of those three working are decent.
You’re a successful writer — what are some of the things you think new freelance writers can drop to make time for what’s important? What are they doing that makes them feel productive that they don’t really need to be doing?
Laura: Well, the way I approach this question is that it’s not so much about dropping things. It’s about making sure that you first put in time in your life for the things that you need to be doing.
If you’re building a business there are certain things that are important for you to do. You need to have some of your work out there, so building your web site with examples of your work is a top priority. You need to be reaching out to potential clients. That is a top priority. You have actual assignments you need to get done. Those are top priorities.
Do those things first and then this magical thing happens where the other stuff that you don’t actually need to be doing starts taking less time. For example, generally people spend more time in their inboxes than they need to because they’re checking it too frequently, and they’re just working from the top down. Whatever happens to be on the top of your inbox is not necessarily your top work priority, so probably it does not need to be the first thing you tackle when you start approaching work.
But the beautiful thing about filling your time first with the things that you need to be doing is that then you figure out for yourself the other things that can give, and they will naturally give because there are only 24 hours in a day — so try that first.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about balancing work, family, and everything else when you were analyzing these women’s time logs?
Laura: I think one of the best approaches — and I’m not saying this is done consciously, I think it was more just because these people had fuller lives — is that they did not watch as much TV as the average American.
It’s not that people didn’t watch any TV. There was certainly a reasonable amount of TV on logs, but the average per week was about 4.4 hours — if you think about it that’s like watching a handful of sitcoms and two or three longer shows, so it’s really not nothing. Four and a half hours a week is more than a half hour a day, so TV can be in your life — but it’s not 20 hours a week, it’s not 30 hours a week, which are some numbers that have come out of surveys of American life.
So I think that is an instructive difference because the women in my study were working longer hours than the average American works. They were spending time with their families, they were exercising for the most part, they were getting enough sleep. What had to give? Well, it was not really anything of that much importance. That, in and of itself, is a great way to balance your life in the sense of actually making time for things that matter.
You don’t have to cut TV out of your life, but make sure that you’re watching the shows that matter the most to you, the ones that really get you excited, that you’re taping, that you want to talk about with your friends. That’s great, it’s a fun thing to do, it’s a great way to blow off steam — but don’t just turn it on and leave it on. Don’t automatically turn the TV on after the kids go to bed and see what’s on. If you and your partner want to hang out, there are other things you can do than sit on the couch watching TV. There are other things that are much more exciting, for instance, than sitting on the couch watching TV that you can do together, so don’t automatically think TV first.
What’s the one piece of advice you picked up from your research that you think would resonate most with freelance writers who have kids and possibly a day job?
Laura: Daily rituals are great. There has been a lot written lately about the daily rituals of artists and how they make time to write or do whatever they do.
And again, that’s great if it works, but it doesn’t always work — and so what you need to do is look at your whole calendar and say, “Here are some blocks I have for writing. I am going to make sure those work one way or the other. If it’s asking my partner to take the kids for a certain amount of time. If it’s choosing to come into work half an hour late because I have that flexibility. If it’s that I just go sit in your car with my laptop during lunch once a week and write during that time.”
Do whatever it takes, but make sure that those blocks are in there — look at the whole of the week because probably you will be able to find the time.
The numbers I use for people is if you are working 40 hours a week and you’re sleeping eight hours a night for 56 hours a week, that leaves 72 hours for other things. 72 hours is a lot of time. You definitely have time to hang out with your family, to exercise, and to maybe spend 15 hours a week launching your business.
P.S. The Freelance Writers Den is opening its doors to members of the waitlist tomorrow (Thursday, June 11, 2015) ONLY. Carol Tice opens the Den only a few times per year, so if you want to take advantage of the goodies, now’s the time! Interested? Here’s where you can join the waitlist.
That means you’re writing one query that you’ll be sending, tweaking as necessary, to multiple publications at the same time.
If you already have your query written, then it’s no skin off your nose to send it to one more magazine. It will take you only a few extra minutes to research the editor’s contact information and tweak the query as needed. If it ends up the pub doesn’t use freelancers, or doesn’t have the space for your idea, or doesn’t pay, then you’ve only wasted a few minutes — and your query is still under consideration by a group of other editors.
No problem, right?
And get this: If your idea is even a somewhat close match for the magazine (which it is, right?), you’re probably ahead of 90% of the pitches they get. I once heard a Family Circle editor tell writers that they shouldn’t pitch her articles on the sex life of frogs. She said that because people do it.
Let the editor say Yes.
You need to research a magazine only enough that you can be reasonably sure your idea will fit in it.
What you don’t need to do is spend hours poring over back issues and guidelines trying to figure out why your idea won’t work. Why spend all that time and effort thinking of reasons not to send a query?
Instead, give the editor a say. Editors are smart. They know a lot more than you do about their magazine and their audience.
And only the editor can know if, say, he’s about to start a new department where your pitch would fit perfectly, or he was just wishing he had an article on X (with X being your idea), or one of his freelancers just flaked and he needs another good writer pronto.
Or maybe your pitch will be so wonderful that the editor will make an exception for you. Carol Tice and I had one student in our recent Pitch Clinic class who sent a Letter of Introduction to a business she wanted to blog for. Here’s part of the response she got.
Ordinarily we do not accept guest posts, as they are almost always short and shallow. We receive numerous requests daily, but only post two or three per year. However, your email is better than most and touches on a few points that interest me.
We pay our writers and they work on assignment. Our top writer is off on baby leave so I’m looking for a backup. A few candidates are in the wings, but I’d like to try an article from you, if our terms are suitable to you.
This can only happen to you if you go ahead and pitch.
You don’t necessarily want to sell your idea.
Guess what? The goal of a pitch is not necessarily to get an assignment.
Well, of COURSE you would like to get an assignment. But what often happens is that your query or LOI doesn’t quite make the cut — say, the publication already has a similar article in the works — but the editor is so impressed by your pitch that she invites you to pitch again, or even assigns you a different article.
The goal of a pitch is to start building a relationship with a client.
If you hold off on pitching because you’re not fully, absolutely, 100% sure your ideas are a good match, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to start a conversation with an editor who may want to hire you down the road.
Your pitch shows what you can do. It shows you have great ideas, can write well, and are professional. Even if it’s not a perfect match, it can lead to assignments.
So the next time you find yourself spending hours researching magazines looking for excuses cut yourself out of the running, stop.