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“To believe a thing impossible is to make it so.”
A short while ago I wrote a guest post for Copyblogger on how to earn $250 per hour. It got an amazing response from readers.
…for one reader who thought I was selling writers a false bill of goods by suggesting they could possibly earn that much.
He was so upset that he started trolling the reviews on Diana Burrell’s and my e-books, trying to bait writers who left positive reviews by posting inflammatory comments.
In one of those comments, he wrote something like, “By Linda’s reasoning, you should be able to make six figures working 10 hours per week.” He said this as if it was clearly in the realm of the ridiculous.
Last year I earned six figures working an average of 10 hours per week. (Some weeks I worked more, some less. Some I worked a ton, some I didn’t work at all.) 2014 was a banner year for me. In previous years, I’ve earned anywhere from $70-90,000 working those same hours. (And you have to remember that not all working hours are billable writing hours.)
When I saw this disconnect between the troll’s belief and the reality, I realized this is a HUGE problem for freelance writers (and people in general). Everyone feels as if their own experiences are the rule. If THEY can’t imagine themselves earning super well, then they believe that NO ONE can do it.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
The Two Kinds of Writers
Writers are split into two camps:
On one side, we have the writers who see someone who says they’re doing great, and they become angry. “That can’t be true! They’re scamming us! It’s impossible! No one makes THAT much writing! Prove it!” And at the same time they’re crying foul, they’re a little jealous.
On the other side, we have writers who see people doing well and are INSPIRED. They hear another writer is earning six figures and they become determined to do it themselves.
Not only that, but the writers in this camp are happy for the freelancers who’re out there kicking ass. They know writing is not a zero-sum game and one writer’s success doesn’t take away from THEIR chances. In fact, it makes their chances even greater: A writer who’s doing well proves it can be done, and that’s a good thing.
Guess which writer is going to be more successful — the one who feels it’s impossible to do amazingly well, or the one who’s inspired by other freelancers’ successes to work harder and achieve more?
If you believe it’s impossible to make a good living as a freelance writer, then you almost certainly are not going to earn well. That’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophesy. And it’s also flat-out wrong. For every writer who grouses that it’s impossible to earn well, there are dozens of writers who are making it a reality.
But if you see someone doing what you thought was impossible and use it as motivation, you can do anything.
“Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.”
Write, Don’t Gripe
I have a writer friend who makes three times what I do. Hearing that just makes me want to work harder. Another friend — who had never written anything before — wrote his first novel, pitched it to an agent, and just received an almost-6-figure advance from a major publisher. YES!
Many writers would say these people are lying. They would demand to see the novelist’s contract, or the freelancer’s tax forms. And they would work themselves into a lather trying to prove these feats are impossible — while the writers in question are laughing all the way to the bank.
Which writer do you want to be? The one who believes making a good living writing is impossible? Or the one who shows the world it IS possible?
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Stuck writing for the content mills and struggling to pay your bills? Yeah, you and a TON of other writers!
Content mill owners and misinformed writers have been spreading the word that if you want to make a living as a freelance writer, you need to start out by writing for cheap-o content mills, bidding sites, and revenue share sites that pay you pennies for your hard work.
And even worse, after spouting this lame advice, they offer no tips on moving on up out of the mills to start earning some REAL money as a freelance writer! So too many writers keep slaving away at the mills for $5 per article, and they burn out before they can rack up a decent amount of pay.
Well, I’m here to change that. One of my passions is helping writers earn a decent living, so I scoured the web for 50 posts that will help you escape the content mills — from motivational posts to basic articles on how to break into more lucrative forms of writing.
Not Convinced You Want to Leave the Mills?
Lots of writers are afraid that if they leave the content mills, they’ll be left with nothing at all — and even $5 per article is better than that, right?
Not so. I rounded up a bunch of posts that will convince you to kick the mills once and for all. They show why content mills aren’t a valid “step up” to real freelancing, how the numbers don’t add up, and more.
1. The Science of Undervaluing Yourself (And How To Overcome It)
Author: Sean D’Souza
A cautionary take about undervaluing yourself as a businessperson…plus great stories about clients who complained about spending $250 on one of his products, only to go out and blow $2,500 on a vacation or $30,000 on a new car. You think you can’t command high rates? This post will make you think again.
2. Writers Explain What It’s Like Toiling on the Content Farm
Author: Corbin Hiar
A telling quote from this enlightening post: “‘I was completely aware that I was writing crap,’ she said. ‘I was like, I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’ […] ‘Never trust anything you read on eHow.com, she said, referring to one of Demand Media’s high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.” Be sure to read the comments!
3. Why You’ll Fail at Freelancing if You Suck at Math
Blog: Profitable Freelancer
Author: Jen Mattern
You may be thinking you can make the numbers work as a low-paid content mill writer, but they just don’t add up. Read this post and you’ll stop fooling yourself.
4. The High Cost of Earning Little
Blog: Ask MetaFilter
Not a blog post per se, but this thread will show how U.S. freelancers pay more in taxes than the employed — which makes writing for the content mills even less worth the effort than you thought!
5. The Reality of Writing for Content Mills: 14 Writers’ True Stories
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Carol put a ton of investigative work into this post, and the result is a real eye-opener. If you’re not quite sure the content mills are something you want to avoid, reading this will MAKE you sure.
6. Why You Shouldn’t Write for Content Mills
Blog: The Matador Network
Author: Michelle Schusterman
Michelle writes, “Still…work hard on queries and send them out daily on the off-chance of getting a response months from now, or write the toilet vent piece for a guaranteed, immediate $15? I went the mill route. Here’s why I shouldn’t have.”
7. Content Mills: Why Aspiring Writers Should Avoid Them
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Not only do content mills not give you the experience you need to become a better — and better paid — writer, but the whole content mill model is at risk of dying. Carol offers these and more reasons why you should steer clear of content mills.
8. 3 Things Writing for Content Mills Can Teach You About Freelance Writing
Blog: The Writing Base
Author: Samar Owais
One lesson learned from this post: “There’s nothing like earning $5 an article to make you realize you’re never going to achieve your goals if you keep writing for these rates.”
9. 6 Crucial Lessons from Writing for Content Mills
Blog: Be a Freelance Blogger
Author: Shannon Cutts
What writing for content mills has given you: You have a thick skin, good self discipline, and a warrior mentality. Now, Shannon wants you to use those winning traits to land decent paying work!
10. 5 Pros and 5 Cons Using Content Mills to Start Your Freelance Writing
Blog: Freelance Writers: Expertise for Newbies
Author: Melony Candea
One notable “con” of writing for the mills: “It is a plain, hard truth that you can’t use a lot of your content mill experiences to sell yourself to quality sites once you’re ready. It doesn’t matter how well written the pieces are, the sites themselves have a slight smear on them within the writing community.”
11. Quit Getting Paid Peanuts: 10 Tips for Freelance Writers
Author: Heather Lloyd-Martin
A big takeaway from this post is that if you don’t think your writing is worth much, clients won’t either. Here’s what to do about it.
13. So You Want To Make A Living Writing? 13 Harsh Truths.
Blog: Write on the River
Author: Bob Mayer
Think everyone’s doing better than you, and it makes you want to just give up and stick with the mills? Love this quote: “People lie. Writers are professional liars. I’ve listened to keynotes from writers and known they weren’t telling the truth. I’ve seen ‘deals’ posted in Publishers Marketplace and known the agent was grossly exaggerating the sale. No one blogs about ‘my career has gone down the crapper.’ Nope. People talk about good things. So don’t let it discourage you when everyone seems to be doing better than you.”
14. How I Make a Living as a Writer and You Can Too
Blog: James Altucher Confidential
Author: James Altucher
Learn the realities of writing for money, including Altucher’s revelations that platforms are shit and bookstores suck. An eye-opener!
15. The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living
Author: Sonia Simone
Here are all the intangibles you need to make a living writing, from love to confidence to support. But don’t be fooled — this post goes beyond touchy-feely sentiments to share some key real-world insights.
16. How To Make A Living As An Author: Joanna Penn With Mark McGuinness
Blog: The Creative Penn
Author: Joanna Penn
Here’s how bestselling author went from writer to successful author-entrepreneur. My favorite line from this post: “Stop thinking like needy artists or freelancers living hand to mouth, and start thinking and acting like creative entrepreneurs.”
17. 3 Ways to Escape the Content Mills & Earn More as a Freelance Writer
Blog: The Renegade Writer
Author: Linda Formichelli
I think it’s important for writers to know there is a VAST, good-paying market in between content mills and hard-to-break-into magazines and businesses.
18. 8 Strategies to Building Your Freelance Writing Career
Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest
Author: Brian Klems
Lots of good, solid nuts-and-bolts advice that will help you pitch your way to success in a market Brian says is getting easier to break into — thanks to email and the Internet.
19. So You Want to Be a Freelance Writer
Blog: Freelancers Union
Author: Kate Hamill
Kate, head of the Freelancers Union, gives the scoop on starting a freelance writing business.
20. Creating a Stronger Freelance Writing Business
Blog: Words on the Page
Author: Lori Widmer
A sample of the “why didn’t I think of that?” advice you’ll find in this post: “Look where others aren’t–right at the doorsteps of the companies and people you want to work with. Suppose you write about organic gardening. What associations cover that industry? Who are the experts? The PR firms? What publications support the growers, suppliers, manufacturers, or organic landscapers? Go to the sources themselves with your pitch. Do your homework, write your introductory letter, and follow up in a few weeks.”
21. To Become a Successful Freelance Writer, Start Here
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Are you one of those aspiring writers who says, “I’ll get started as soon as I determine my niche/decide on a business name/learn this fancy word processing program”? Carol tells you how and why you need to just take action NOW.
22. How to Stay Sane While Building Your Writing Career Part Time
Blog: The Write Life
Author: Ali Luke
Some core takeaways from this post: Be realistic, look into cutting down on your non-writing activities, and create systems that work for you.
23. 3 Secrets to Quickly Grow Your Freelance Writing Income
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Spoiler alert: Use your job and educational background to score gigs, even if these aren’t the topics you’re passionate about right now.
Yeah, But How Do I Actually GET These Lucrative Writing Assignments?
Somehow I knew you would ask that. So I gathered posts that outline the very basics on breaking into several different kinds of writing that can pay well. If one type calls out to you, you can do some Google-fu to dig deeper into the details.
First, a couple posts that outline all your options for writing niches that are worth pursuing:
24. What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?
Author: Terje Johansen
Wow! Get all the details on 25 types of writing to choose from — from technical writing to resume writing to journalism.
25. 105 Ways to Make a Living Writing in 2015
Blog: All Indie Writers
Author: Jenn Mattern
From ad copy to write papers, this list offers 105 ways for writers to make money, well, writing. My fave quote: “If you aren’t sure where to start, or if you’re worried that there aren’t enough potential writing gigs to go around, consider this: Just about everything involves a writer in some way.”
And now, the newbie guides to breaking into better writing niches:
Freelance copywriters can earn $50, $100, and more per hour for writing ad copy, brochures, newsletters, product descriptions, and more.
26. How to Become a Master Copywriter in Just One Year
Blog: The Write Life
Author: James Chartrand
I love how this post doesn’t promise instant riches, and also delves into some of the mental aspects of becoming a copywriter.
27. How to Become a Freelance Copywriter
Author: Joanna Wiebe
Solid details on how to build a portfolio, find clients, and more.
28. The Freelance Copywriter’s Unfair Marketing Advantage
Author: Brian Clark
Being a successful copywriter is about a LOT more than knowing how to write well. Brian discusses how to differentiate yourself from all the other copywriters out there.
Online Writing 101
Basically any writing for an online market counts here: Web copy, online newsletters, articles, and other types of writing that appear on the web. Pay varies widely, but bigger businesses tend to pay more moolah.
29. How I Make My Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too)
Author: Ali Luke
Ali earns not just from her writing online, but from affiliated activities like coaching and running a membership site. Here’s the scoop on how, why, and how much each earns.
30. How to Make Money Writing for the Web
Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest
Author: Brian Klems
Brian leaves nothing out of this informative post — from websites that list paying freelance jobs to tips on the craft of writing for the web.
Content Marketing 101
Content marketing is writing that’s meant to entertain and educate with an eye to garnering readers, loyalty, and sales — and can include blog posts, e-mail newsletters, and more. Pay varies, but many businesses are learning it’s worth it to pay more for good content.
31. How Freelancers Can Break Into Content Marketing Writing
Blog: WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age
Author: Jennifer Gregory
Jennifer outlines the steps to becoming a content marketing writer in this post that includes a load of great resource links.
32. Getting Started as a Content Marketer
Blog: The Content Marketing Institute Blog
Author: Joe Pulizzi
Not exactly a blog post, but a web page by industry pro Joe Pulizzi that offers up a list of resources for newbies who want to break into content marketing.
33. Epic Content Marketing: How Business Writers Can Profit From The
Blog: High-Income Business Writing with Ed Gandia
Author: Ed Gandia
Ed interviews content marketer extraordinaire Joe Pulizzi (does that name sound familiar? to get the scoop on what content marketing is and why it’s a good market for freelance writers.
Magazine Writing 101
This is MY baby, and let me tell you: Some magazines pay zilch, while top markets can pay $2 per word and up. I’ve actually been paid well over $2,500 for a single article for a newsstand magazine. Other magazine markets that pay include trade publications, custom publications, and online magazines. If you’re interested in breaking into this market, you may want to check out Carol Tice’s and my upcoming Pitch Clinic class. We show you how to write a killer query or letter of introduction, and we two magazine editors on staff to critique your homework!
34. How to Get Paid to Write for Magazines: The Ultimate Guide
Blog: Boost Blog Traffic
Author: Linda Formichelli (Who is that chick, anyway?)
I know this is one of mine, but it really is an ultimate guide! Get the details on who will buy your articles and how to pitch them.
35. How to Write for Major Magazines
Author: Allena Tapia
Allena has some great tips on which editors to pitch and how to flatter your way to success as a magazine writer.
Want write blog posts for clients? Lots of businesses are realizing the value of maintaining an interesting updated blog, and they’re looking for writers who can make it happen. Pay varies, but $50-$75 per post is common, and you typically don’t have to do all the research and interviewing you’d do for a magazine article. You can also earn money from your own blog through selling products, running ads, and doing affiliate marketing.
36. How to Start Earning from Your Blog – Right Away
Blog: Write to Done
Author: Carol Tice
Carol lists a bunch of ways to attract blogging clients — but notes that if clients aren’t coming to you, you need to reach out to them. (And she has tips for that too!)
37. How to Become a Highly Paid Freelance Blogger
Blog: Writing Happiness
Author: Marya Jan
Choose a niche, gather testimonials, and blog your butt off! These and more tips will help you get started as a paid blogger.
38. How to Become a Freelance Blog Writer
Blog: Freelance Switch
Author: Leo Babauta
Lots of advice for the blogging newbie. One great tip: “Once you’ve got some subscribers (a couple hundred would be awesome), don’t submit your stuff to the social media — let your readers do it for you. And they will, if the article is worthy. If it’s not worthy, you don’t want to submit it anyway. The effect of a popular article — or more accurately, a few popular articles — is big, in terms of becoming a freelancer. It gets you noticed by other blogs, and they’re your real market.”
Self-Publishing E-books 101
Self-publishing is tough to earn a lot from, but even so it beats the hell out of the content mills. You own your content and can sell it wherever and however you like, and online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble make the selling process simple. My Amazon titles earn me a few thou in royalties every year.
39. How Can the Average Writer Make Money Self Publishing E-Books?
Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest
Author: Brian Klems
A very thorough discussion of the ins and outs of publishing e-books, especially hitting that sweet spot with pricing.
40. Self Publishing Podcast 116: What We’d Do If We Were Just Starting Out
Blog: The Self-Publishing Podcast
Author: Jacob Tullos
This podcasts addresses such newbie questions as: Should I start a blog? What should I blog about? Should I write a full novel or focus on shorter books? Should I break in with a series or release a standalone title first?
41. How to Make Money on Ebooks
Blog: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
Author: JA Konrath
JA Konrath makes a living from self publishing, and in this post he gives an overview of what it takes — including a Q&A of common newbie questions and a pro/con list for traditional vs. self publishing.
Ghostwriters can make a mint penning books, articles, and blog posts under their clients’ names. I’ve ghostwritten a couple of small Chicken Soup books that paid $5,000 each, and know from experience that series like Idiot’s Guides and Dummies books (though you’re technically a “co-author,” not strictly a ghostwriter, because your name appears under the subject matter expert’s name on the cover) can pay $10,000 and up.
42. How I Ghostwrite Other Writers’ Books
Blog: The Write Practice
Author: Joe Bunting
Joe offers a thorough discussion on the ethics of ghostwriting, how to land gigs, and the process for ghostwriting a book.
43. How to Be a Ghostwriter
Blog: Standout Books
Author: Robert Wood
I love how this post outlines the different types of ghostwriting you can get into, and gives advice on breaking into this niche.
44. So You Want My Job: Ghostwriter
Blog: The Art of Manliness
Author: Brett & Kate McKay
The authors interview Dean Zatkowsky , who averages $150 per hour for ghostwriting. Lots of great info on what to expect if you want to get into this field.
And that’s 44 posts to help you break out of the content mills, say buh-bye to writing for peanuts, and make a good living as a freelance writer. If you enjoyed this post, please share with all your writer friends via email, on Twitter, and on Facebook!
It all started with a bowlful of marbles.
For years I wrote for many of the major women’s and health magazines — Woman’s Day, Health, Family Circle, Oxygen, Fitness, Woman’s Health, Redbook, and more. And part of my job was to always be researching my markets, so I read a LOT of these magazines every week.
It seemed that every year, each magazine in this niche would run an article on foot health where a podiatrist would recommend several exercises readers should do to keep their feet in good shape. One of these exercises was to toss a handful of marbles on the floor, and use your toes to pick up each one and deposit it in a bowl.
And every time I read this, I asked myself, “Is there a single woman, anywhere in the universe, who actually does this? In a country where the vast majority of women don’t even get the minimum recommended amount of regular exercise, is anyone out there taking the time every day to work on their toe strength?” It baffled me.
This next section may seem like a non-sequitur, but what I’m going to talk about now ties into all this and there is a lesson, I promise.
The Comparison Game
Even though I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to the craft and business of writing, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to just about every other part of my life. I like my house to be beautifully designed and sparkling clean, I stress when my toenails are chipped, I insist that every meal my family eats be as organic as possible and has all the macronutrients in the right amounts, and until my recent back injury, I was hiring a personal trainer to work me out three times per week — and feeling bad that my belly looked, well, like that of a 46-year-old woman.
You know how we tend to compare ourselves to others? Well, in each area of my life I’ve always compared myself to the foremost person I know in that field.
- I compared my house to the home of my friend who’s a very successful interior designer.
- I compared my energy and fitness to the full-time personal trainers I’ve hired.
- How did my eating stack up to the diet of that woman who runs a blog about the evils of processed food? This mom uses a special app while on road trips to find breakfast spots that offer organic, free-range eggs. What would she think, I asked myself, if she saw me pick up $1/dozen eggs at Target?
- Our son’s lunches needed to look like the ones featured on healthy mom blogs. (Oh damn, did she MAKE those whole wheat tortillas?)
- How did my last e-course launch compare to the marketing genius with 15 employees who broke $1 million on his last launch? Ugh.
Comparing upwards was a recipe for dissatisfaction and stress, but it was so hard to stop. Can you relate?
And Then It All Falls Apart
My back went out in July, and after getting a lumbar steroid injection a week ago, the pain reached a horrifying peak (ironically…aren’t those injections supposed to alleviate pain?). I ended up on the sofa for several days, being waited on hand and foot by my husband, our son, and our exchange student.
I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t clean. I couldn’t even work that well because it was difficult to balance the laptop on my knees as I sat in the one position that didn’t cause agony.
I’ve been grateful for all the help I’ve been receiving, and didn’t want to criticize how anyone did anything for me. Gift horse and all that.
But guess what?
My husband gave our son an apple for breakfast before his dance class — yes, just an apple, before a strenuous hour of ballet — and the universe did not implode.
It took me a couple of days to get back to a client who couldn’t download the materials she bought from me. She was fine with it.
We had family over for my birthday and bought pizza and cake instead of my stressing over a homemade dinner and dessert all day as usual. Everyone had a great time.
I spent half a day surrounded by dirty plates and glasses because my husband got overloaded with to-dos. I survived and so did everyone else.
And that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment:
The Experts Picked Their Battles
The experts we compare ourselves to have devoted their lives to being the best in that one area.
- The podiatrist offers magazine readers toe exercises and probably even does them at home because foot health is his entire life. He may eat fast food every day and live in a messy house, but damn, his feet are in great shape.
- The famous author who pumps out a bestseller every year — I guarantee she is not on top of her laundry and she probably doesn’t take a shower the entire week before a deadline.
- The mom who runs a blog that features beautifully styled photos of her kids’ hyper-healthy, homemade bento box lunches — creating those lunches is what she does for a living. We don’t know about the rest of her life. Hell, maybe her marriage is falling apart and her kids are entitled brats. But all we see is the thing she’s perfect at, and we extrapolate that to the rest of her life.
- Personal trainers’ lives revolve around fitness. They run daily and have their split routine down to a science, and that’s what we notice when they train us. We see the thing they’re best at and assume they’re perfect in all aspects of their lives as well. But look a little closer and we see that maybe they’re poor marketers or get behind on their bills occasionally.
I’m not trying to be all Schadenfreude here. I’m not saying we should pick apart experts’ flaws to make ourselves feel better. What I’m trying to get across is that the experts chose one area of their lives to truly shine in, and that’s really all we can expect of anyone else — or ourselves.
Now, Pick YOUR Battles
We see these experts in our lives, and they seem to have it all together and be perfect at the one thing they do, and we aspire to be the same.
But the thing is, despite what magazines and Internet gurus would have us believe, we can’t emulate every professional and expect to retain our sanity. We can’t feel guilty that we’re not doing daily toe exercises and writing bestsellers and crafting bento box lunches and taking our kids on weekly educational field trips and walking around with perfectly coiffed hair and rock solid abs and measuring the macronutrients in our food.
Pick your battles. What is the one thing you do — or want to do — better than anyone else?
Maybe you’re a brilliant writer or entrepreneur. Or you’re a devoted homeschooling parent. Or you always look put-together and beautiful. Or you’re a wonderful host, and your home is a place friends and family love to gather. Or you work hard to rock six-pack abs and upper arms that don’t jiggle when you wave.
Don’t hang your self worth on having it all going on in every aspect of your life — let your self-esteem stem from your own personal superpower.
I’m not saying you can’t be a good parent and a good writer, or you have to let your health go to pot if you want to have a beautiful home. Self improvement is always great, and as humans we’re always striving for better and more. But realize you can’t do it all perfectly, and no one expecting you to. (And if someone is, you probably don’t want them in your life.)
You won’t see any bowls of marbles in my closet. My top skill is writing, so that’s what I’ll focus on. Take a few minutes to think about this today: What’s your superpower, and what do you need to let go of so you can shine?
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my new e-book Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. Committing is using overwhelming force to solve a problem or reach a goal. It’s pretty much the opposite of the baby-steps approach. When you Commit, you do whatever it takes to make happen what you want to happen. You can use one giant, crazy, unbelievably powerful tactic, but it’s even more effective to combine several tactics at the same time — which we discuss in this self help e-book.
In Commit, we talk about hiring help, creating accountability, and amassing the resources you need to get off to a mighty start. In this concise and actionable personal development e-book, you’ll also find details on how to prepare for your Commit practice…how to troubleshoot common problems…and 20 ideas for reaching your goal or solving your problem through massive action.
Interested? Check out the 22 five-star reviews and get your copy on Amazon.com here!
Creative character descriptions are hard to master.
There are long debates about how much character description is enough and how much is too much. Some readers want to know hair and eye color, height and weight, etc. Some want to fill in their own details.
Not enough detail and you have talking heads.
Too much detail and you turn some readers off.
The choice is yours. Write what you enjoy reading.
Either way, you have to define your character in a way that makes the reader care what happens to him.
An important consideration when describing characters is the viewpoint lens filtering the information. Self-description is tricky and often results in narrator intrusion.
1. Dick can compare and contrast himself to someone else.
He was five-six maybe five seven, coming up to my shoulder. His hair was buzzed like mine, which used to indicate military but had become a recent fad. He could be bulked up from training like me or a gym membership. It was hard to tell these days.
2. Someone can insult or praise Dick's appearance.
“Your nose looks like you head-butted a rhino, your big brown eyes are bloodshot, and that dimple doesn’t make up for the weakness of your chin.”
3. The three-item list is a little on-the-nose, but employed often.
Dick was a thirty-five-year-old with a pot belly and no hair.
If this is in Dick's POV, it is narrator intrusion. Dick would not talk about himself that way. But a secondary POV character could describe him:
Dick turned out to be a thirty-five year-old with a pot belly and no hair. His wide blue eyes and plump lips completed the resemblence to a man-sized toddler.
4. A unique voice makes descriptions pop.
He had the kind of face that would render him boyish well into old age: round blue eyes, fair wavy hair, freckled nose, and baby smooth skin, the kind of face that would age quickly overnight, as if a witch's spell had broken. The transition would be quick and painful.
5. Mirror gazing is considered cliché, but character self-description is done.
Rather than a list, add a little attitude.
Christ, I was getting old. My hair had more gray than brown and was receding faster than the ocean at low tide. The bags and sags on my face made it harder to shave. My eyebrows had taken on a life of their own. The guy in the mirror wasn't me. It was some old fart sitting in a park feeding pigeons.
6. Avoid narrator intrusion.
The following descriptions are narrator intrusion in anything other than omniscient POV.
1. Dick's blue eyes lit up when he saw Sally.
Sally could see his blue eyes light up. An omniscient narrator could say it. A first or third person narrator would not.
2. Dick stared at his handsome reflection in the dresser mirror. His eyes were blue. His nose was crooked. His chin was dimpled.
This is you, the author, telling us what Dick looked like.
7. Sense of character trumps details.
You need to give your reader a firm idea of who they are dealing with more so than the color of his eyes, especially when you choose the vague description technique.
Is Dick harsh and judgmental, sweet and lazy, or coarse and fun-loving? The reader fills in whether she thinks that person is corpulent or thin, attractive or not, based on the way the character presents himself.
It creates dissonance when a character's physical description counters what the reader feels about him. This can be done accidentally or on purpose.
8. Make your characters authentic from the ground up.
As outlined in Story Building Blocks II and Story Building Blocks Build A Cast Workbook, it is useful to assign each main character a personality type. The traits propel them and affect the way other people see them. Temperament types are universal, but you can warp and shape them in hundreds of ways. This may sound like too much work, but it is well worth it to do the research. Personality types react to each other in different ways and your readers will not be the same temperament type.
I’ve been working on a new e-book called Control: Take Charge and Live the Life YOU Want, and this essay grew out of one of the chapters I’ve been writing. This book won’t be out for a while because, well, I just started it…but if you want to read something great, check out my top-rated new e-book Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. One writer committed her way into lining up $29,700 worth of work in one month!
Why the Phrase “It Is What It Is” Makes Me Want to Punch People in the Throat
There’s been a cultural shift towards all things Zen — accepting what is, being happy no matter what the circumstances, expressing gratitude for our blessings, and greeting irritating situations and people with a compassionate smile. The phrase “It is what it is” has invaded the vernacular.
That is wonderful. There are many things we can’t control, and it makes sense to accept them rather than rail against what you can’t change.
But in some cases, we put on our Zen faces for things we can and should change, because we’re feeling under-confident about taking charge. We’re afraid that we’ll upset other people if we insist on getting what we want, even if we’re perfectly justified in doing so…or sometimes, we’re feeling lazy or unmotivated and it’s just easier to pretend to accept the way things are.
The Gratitude Trap
In early 2008 I suffered from daily, debilitating panic attacks, and I complained to my therapist that I hated being on antidepressants…and while I was at it, I wasn’t thrilled with my Tourette’s medication either. They made me tired, and both boasted a long list of scary-sounding side effects; for example, the Tourette’s med can cause tartive dyskinesia, a permanent condition that causes — wait for it — uncontrollable movements such as “wormlike motions of the tongue.”
The therapist said, “Instead of being angry that you’re on these medications, why not feel grateful that medications like this exist that can help people live normal lives?”
I couldn’t argue with that, so for years I practiced gratitude. “Hey, I just saw a report that my Tourette’s med is causing men to grow breasts. Oh well, I’m grateful this medication is out there helping people.” And “Wow, I just read an article on how antidepressants aren’t nearly as effective as we think, but tapering off them can cause horrible withdrawal symptom — but I’m grateful because who knows…this medication may be what stopped the panic attacks.”
After reading one too many articles about the dangers of these medications, it suddenly hit me that “be grateful” can be just another phrase for “suck it up,” and decided to wean myself from the drugs. I researched methods for tapering them down to minimize withdrawal symptoms, and bought books on natural Tourette’s relief. These are actions I could have taken in 2008 and saved myself a lot of grief, but instead I was placated by the Zen-like idea of gratitude. Now, I feel like I am the one in control of my body and my health.
Being thankful for our blessings is important, but gratitude can be dangerous if it’s used to keep us stuck and take away our control over our lives. Think of the unhappy worker who says, “I’m lucky to have any job in this economy.” Or the wife who says, “I’m grateful to have any husband at all, with all these kids to take care of…so what if he’s emotionally abusive once in awhile?” Or the writer who says, “This content mill pays me only $10 per article, but I’m lucky to make money doing what I love.”
Not Accepting What Is
Accepting what is can translate as settling for less than you deserve or making do with less than you need. When you settle or make do, you’re giving up and letting the situation control you. You’re saying other people are in charge of you, and you’re going to just roll over and learn to deal with it. The philosophy of accepting what is, when used at the wrong times, results in a sense of loss of control. And my philosophy is that what we humans most desire is a feeling that we’re at least somewhat in charge of our lives and what happens to us.
Instead of trying to impress others with our Zen-like attitude when faced with a challenge, we should make sure that what we do and what we get is what we want and need.
An example: My web hosting service (I’m looking at you, WP Engine) was dinging me an extra $50 per month in overage charges due to search engine web robots that were indexing my site hundreds of times per day, which pushed my site over its visitor limit. I worked with the web host for months to block the bots, and the best they could do was offer a lame suggestion to sign up for their next-higher plan, which cost $70 more per month than the one I was paying for. I finally gave up, thinking “Oh, well. You’d think that a web host that charges premium prices wouldn’t be so petty as to penalize me for every bot that visits my site, but I’ll just learn to live with the $50 per month overage fee. It is what it is. Ohm.”
Finally, one morning I woke up with yet another $50 invoice sitting in my inbox and I had the sudden realization that I don’t have to deal with this. It took all of 30 minutes to research cheaper web hosts that allowed unlimited visits, to sign up with a new host, and hire them to move my websites over to their service.
The sense of control and satisfaction I felt when I was done was enormous. Before, I was letting my web host control my money, my time, and my emotions. Now, I was in charge again. Never again would my morning be ruined when I checked my email and found a $50 invoice waiting for me.
The phrase “It is what it is” often means “Shut up and deal with it” when someone says it regarding a situation we can change. If we want to gain a sense of control over our lives, we need to insist on getting what we pay for, being treated well, and feeling worthy of other people’s best efforts. We need to speak up confidently, though kindly, when we’re getting less than we deserve. Saying “It is what it is” when something you bought doesn’t work the way it should, or you’re asked to sign a contract that goes against your best interests, or someone mistreats you, or you receive something that’s not up to par…that’s handing over control of your money, time, and self respect to people who don’t deserve it.
When your favorite contestant on American Idol comes in second place, that’s a good time to say “It is what it is.” When you are, say, cheated out of money by someone or asked to sign an onerous contract, saying “It is what it is” is a sign of laziness and lack of control couched in Zen terminology.
Here are a bunch of clichés, all of which are apt: You are in charge of your life. You hold the steering wheel. Why should you settle for less in your life because you don’t want to rock the boat? Zen platitudes like “It is what it is” and “be grateful for what you have” work when you’re facing the inevitable…they don’t work when you have even the smallest possibility of making a change for the better. [lf]
My new e-book — Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action — is all about creating a life you love by throwing every ounce of energy and resources you have at your biggest problems and goals.
I’m thrilled that in less than a week, Commit has racked up 16 five-star reviews on Amazon! And I’m even more excited to hear that readers are starting Commit practices to build their businesses, lose weight, and more.
Freelance writer Penny Hawes has been Committing to a BIG income goal this year — and she lined up more than a third of her income for 2015 by the first week of February. I interviewed Penny to find out:
- What her Commit practice looks like.
- How one decision helped her go from feeling broke to achieving her goals — and then some. (Penny took advantage of NINE Commit tactics to make it happen!)
- How Committing has helped her with the winter blahs and self worth issues.
- What her work style was like before she started Committing.
- How many Letters of Introduction she plans to send out to help her reach her income goal. (You won’t believe it!)
- How she reframes cold calls to make them less scary. (Hint: It’s about the service, not about you.)
- How Committing is like body surfing.
- And much more.
I know some Renegades prefer to listen to interviews, while some (like me) are readers — so I have both options for you.
Download and listen to the interview (25 minutes)
Download and read the interview (PDF, 12 pages)
I hope you get a lot out of this interview, and that it will help you start your own Commit practice!
If you want to read Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action, here’s the Amazon link…or just visit to check out all the awesome reviews, including one that says, “I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon!”
Freedom is an interesting thing. We know it’s concept and we get the gist of it all, but many of us are busy functioning amidst our daily routines and we think of freedoms only on their grandest of scale. We are grateful for the rights we have living in a free Country, but we don’t think about the smaller freedoms. The freedoms that our routines, namely being stuck to them, may be stripping away from us.
[From my Instagram]
Routine. Trust me, I’m like you and love a good routine. Routines are good, they keep us focused and working towards goals; consistency is the foundation of every major accomplishment. We NEED certain routines, yet routines are a tricky double edged sword.
Routines keep you focused. Routines can also hold your prisoner. The issues that dictate which is which are: the routine, the basis for it, and how much flexibility you allow yourself within it.
I can parallel this to running because it’s an easy example; training should become a routine. You need to KNOW you’re going to do it, don’t think of it like a ‘maybe’, you know your goals and you know you need to be consistent to reach them. You need that routine to keep you focused because running and training is hard. Frankly it’s painful and there will be times when you need to know you’re going to just have to put your head down and grind through. BUT, there are times when grinding will only leave you a broken, dull stone, so there needs to be a degree of flexibility. There are times when rather than pushing you need to step back.
Freedom outside your routine is also a state of mind. Being so busy usually means you’re perpetually distracted, or so focused on the task at hand you’re not opening yourself up to anything else. PAUSE. A mere pause, and opening yourself up to the possibility of…well, the possible.
You can’t see an opportunity if your eyes aren’t even open. What’s funnier still is that when you’re busily distracted you’re not even aware of the potential that you’re missing something!
That’s not some kind of riddle there, and it’s meaning is only best exemplified through actual experience. If you’ve had a moment where you cognitively shifted your focus, veered slightly outside your routine, and you had a MOMENT, experienced something unexpected that just, made you smile. That momentous experience of freedom is what I’m describing.
You chose to be free and in that moment you opened yourself up to have that smile….however small the experience was that brought it to your face.
You see, to get that smile, that satisfaction, doesn’t require you to veer wildly off course to the point where you recklessly abandon all goals or tasks at hand. No, it can be as simple as putting the other shoe on first…the tiniest change of routine just to show yourself that you CAN do it out of order. Who knows, you may like it. Just knowing you CAN often causes a much larger shift in perspective. You wonder what else you CAN do.
So be free. Think with an open and free mind. I challenge you to do tiny things outside of your routine and see if, by Jove, you like it.
This post is a continuation of my previous week’s discussion of stuck emotions. When a character feels inadequate or down on himself, it’s very hard to get a character who cares about themselves or the story. Another alternative to this situation is a character who doesn’t want to be involved in their particular circumstances–they couldn’t care less about taking over the family business, for example–and so they try very hard to convince themselves and the reader that they simply don’t care.
This is very difficult to forge into compelling fiction. After all, I hold that the basic aim of any writer is to make the reader care. So if a character doesn’t care, my first objection is that they’re making it that much more difficult for me, as a reader, to get invested in the story. It feels a little unfair. After all, I’m working so hard to get into the book, suspend disbelief, latch on to a character, inhabit a point of view, hear a voice…that I want the protagonist to be in the same boat. You’re ideally creating someone the reader can get invested in. And if it’s an anti-hero type or someone stewed in apathy, who won’t invest in herself, that’s a tough sell.
It’s realistic, sure. It happens in life, and it’s very full of deep and real emotions. But it’s hard to pull off well. So if your particular writing challenge is creating a compelling character who just so happens to be detached, pent up, hidden behind defenses, or just a straight-up nihilist, you need to crack those walls at some point, and soon. Even if it’s for a minute, even if only the reader can see it because it happens in interiority…some measure of vulnerability needs to happen.
And then, there needs to be something that compels the character to move forward. Whether it’s a very personal motivation, a private objective, a small bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel, whatever, it needs to pull them forward into the story. One thing I won’t do as a reader is suffer through a manuscript where it seems like the protagonist is being dragged along, kicking and screaming. Facets of this idea are discussed in my post on “character buy-in,” which becomes an important concept here. It doesn’t just have to do with suspension of disbelief, it has to do with the character finding their own reason to engage with the story.
Finally, if your character really does care but they say they don’t care, it better not last too long, because ain’t nobody got time for that! Protest less and get into the real telling of the tale!
Be inspired by many, aim to inspire at least one.
Tomorrow is a New Year that brings amazing things: opportunity for a fresh start, renewed hope, possibilities, and even new beginnings.
Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.”
Eek…so I’m very excited to say I can now share with you all the new children’s book I’ve written and illustrated: ‘Shay and the Caterpillar’!! Now before I lose the interest of everyone above ‘child’ age and don’t have children I feel it’s important to say that 1) hello, one should never outgrow a love for picture books and art and 2)…
This isn’t just a children’s book, this is a book for anyone who’s ever struggled with the feeling that they weren’t enough. Because you ARE.
All Shay wished she could be was colorful. But it seemed no matter how hard she wished or how hard she looked for color, it wasn’t to be.
That was until the day the Caterpillar showed her just how bright she made the world.
Follow along with Shay in her journey to finding color, with a message and uniquely whimsical illustrations children and adults alike will delight in.
So even if you don’t have children yourself, I encourage you to take a read. Plus, I’ll bet you DO know a little girl or boy who does love a good story with kick-butt graphics. And parents, I doubly encourage you to make this one your NEXT bedtime, snuggle-time, anytime read.
BUY NOW on Amazon: Shay and the Caterpillar
I had a great phone call with a coaching client a few weeks ago, and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about a phenomenon I’ve noticed over the years. He was really passionate about his first five chapters, the ones he’d already drafted. He had a strong goal to finish his manuscript, but no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t progressing. Why? He was fixating on revising those completed chapters!
Some writers sit down and bang out a draft, no problem. (Those jerks!) Some writers have the hardest time pursuing new pages when they already have part of a draft completed. This can be trouble for a few reasons.
What you’ve already written is a known. It’s there already, and you can begin to work on it. Plus, there’s the idea that if you really polish those first few chapters, you’ll have a stronger springboard for the rest of the story. The blank pages that follow are unknown, they’re not nearly as appealing. In fact, they can be downright intimidating. So who would blame a writer for sticking to the familiar?
In addition to being done, your existing chapters also provide a lot of opportunity for distraction. When we’re tinkering with the same few chapters over and over again, we tend to feel pretty productive. But we may also miss the forest for the trees. Because while you’re working on syntax and trying to decide what order those three scenes should go in, the “bird’s eye view” of the entire project itself is getting ignored. Just like some manuscript revisions tend to devolve into moving around commas rather than dealing with larger issues like plot and voice, tinkering can take you away from what needs to be your focus, especially in an early draft: getting the big picture down on paper.
What do I recommend to writers who are getting caught up in their early pages at the expense of finishing a draft? Write a long outline where you detail what you plan to do in each additional chapter. Cover what scenes you’ll include, what the big plot turning points will be, and how characters might grown and change as a result. It doesn’t have to be fancy or thorough. The goal here is to give yourself a map for finally committing those unknown chapters to the page.
The hard truth is this: once you finish a manuscript, you will most likely discover things you didn’t know about your story, you’ll have developed your themes and characters, and you will want to go back to the beginning and start planting some seeds that will eventually grow and blossom over the course of the novel. So those first chapters that you’re polishing are likely to change as your own understanding of the manuscript changes.
Tinkering can be good if you recognize it for what it is, and don’t indulge it too much. When writers come to me with a promising first few chapters or one really rough complete draft, I am much more intrigued by the draft, each and every time. In the first chapters, you are still very much in the idea stage and trying to figure your novel out. When you’ve completed a first draft, you’ve at least put everything down on paper and you’ve executed a version of your vision. It may not be the final version, and it may not be terribly polished yet, but at least it’s complete. Pulling that off may be more intimidating up-front, but it’s definitely more gratifying in the long run.
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When you close your eyes, may you dream of lanes, miles, and splits.
It’s never too early to dream of track, or any running goals for that matter. But at a time in the season where your next race may night be quite close enough to ‘taste’…the motivation to brave the elements (Hello, Winter, I was over you last month.) can wane for some runners.
I often take the snarky, or sarcastic, side to life, even when it comes to a ‘kind’ kick in the right direction. Here are some ways I suggest keeping yourself consistent until it IS close enough to ‘taste’ your next race.
1) That Runner Guilt Factor: I’ll be totally honest, this is usually my BEST way to combat a motivation lull. I remind myself that skipping a run usually is not worth feeling that ‘runner guilt’ later. No joke, you know it’s not fun going to bed tossing and turning because you caved to an instance of laziness.
2) The Endorphin Factor: Close to the above, I also remind myself that even if I feel tired/sluggish and the last thing I want to do is run…that usually changes after the first 5 minutes or mile. Once you get into the run those endorphins kick in, and I’ve never finished and thought, “Wow, I really wish I woulda just kicked it on the couch.”
3) Play Antagonizer: Mental dialogue, “C’mon, don’t be a weenie. Suck it the heck up, lace it up.”
4) The Buddy System: When in doubt, call a friend, arrange a run, join a group, social media that you ARE going for a run. That way if you back out, you’ve got to deal with the ‘Tweet of shame’ later. Good peer pressure and all that jazz.
5) Training Program: If you’re training to PR, I have to say I honestly recommend you have a coach, or are knowledgeable enough yourself to coach yourself. But self coaching is HARD…and it’s a lot easier to not have to ‘think’ about your training. That way, you have someone to tell you what to do, BAM, your job is just to run. Trust me, running is hard business, taking some things off your plate is nice. Plus, if your coach gives you the workout, no arguments, lace it up, Buddy!
6) Dream of Goals: Even if race day IS far away, write it down and know your goals. Like the picture above, if you VISUALIZE what you want and put it OUT THERE, it makes things feel more ‘real’ and you know what you’re working towards. It’s harder to blow off a written goal, one you dream about, right? Methinks yes.
7) Bribery: It’ll get you everywhere. Bribe yourself with new running gear, think about dessert, splurge on some cool new shoes, dream of pancakes on your run, create a cool playlist…whatever. When it doubt, donut it out…you just have to run first.
8) Identity: Okay, some people may be all judgmental and say you shouldn’t DEFINE yourself as a runner…but I’ll be honest, a big part of who I am (or at least the parts I tend to like the most! haha) is that I’m a runner. It’s not just a passion of mine, but it’s a way I connect with people, my friends, and a mentality. I know if I’ve run for the day I feel better and am a happier individual. So race or no race, get my miles on.
9) Money in the Bank: Think of all these miles and workouts as money in the bank. The stronger you are going into the ‘meat’ of the season the better you’ll race. Doesn’t that sound logical? Picture your competitors, who do you think will do better come race day, the ones gettin’ ‘er did, or the sofa’ing ‘er did? The uglier the day/workout, the more excited you should be when you tackle it…it’s making you that much tougher.
10) Superiority: Remember that runners are just better. So go run, don’t you want to be part of the cool kids?
Snark, goals, tough love to yourself…whatever it takes. Dream of miles, and remember you HAVE the support of the entire (awesome) runner community to give you a motivation boost when you need it.
You’re wondering how you’re doing as a writer. I know, it’s hard to not have a handle on whether you’re doing well or poorly!
So you ask another writer, maybe one who’s more experienced than you:
- How many queries do you write per week?
- How much are you earning?
- How many assignments do you get every month?
- How long does it take you to write an article or a blog post?
- How many ideas can you generate in a brainstorming session?
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t make sense to compare your progress with other writers’ numbers because, well, there’s nothing you can do with that information.
For example, say you know another writer sends out three queries a week. What does that mean? Is that writer the last word in marketing? And are you even comparing apples with apples? If you are a stay-at-home parent of three young kids and have only five hours per week to work, and the other writer has no children and can work 50 hours per week, it doesn’t do anything for you to know how many queries she manages to send out — except to give you a guilt complex.
Plus, every writer has different superpowers. I can write a 1,000-word article in an hour once my interviews are done. When you ask me how long it takes me to write an article and I tell you that, should you feel bad if it takes you four hours? No. Writing fast happens to be a strength of mine, but maybe your superpower is writing kick-ass headlines, or generating ideas, or negotiating.
Another example: Maybe you talk with five writers about how many ideas they generate in an hour-long brainstorming session and they say five to ten. You know you can develop only two ideas in an hour, but that usually they will both result in assignments. So who’s doing better?
Finally, things change as you progress in your career, so talking to someone with more experience isn’t as helpful as you would think. For example, a pro writer doesn’t send out many queries. You know why? Because he doesn’t have to. He has a roster of clients who come to him with work. So if you heed the oft-told advice to look to more experienced writers for benchmarks, you could be led astray.
There’s a saying I found in a book, and I wish I can remember what that book was so I could properly credit it, but here goes:
What other people do is a data point, not a decision.
It’s always nice to know how and what other writers are doing, but you shouldn’t base your decisions or self-esteem on their numbers.
What matters for YOU is that you’re always improving your own numbers: Your income should be going up, the time it takes to do various tasks going down, you should be getting better assignments, and the percentage of pitches that end in assignments should be increasing.
If you’re doing that, other writers’ numbers should not matter one whit. As long as your stats are improving, you can be confident you’re on the right track. [lf]
Magic doesn’t come out of thin air, the moments that ARE magical are born from will, work, determination, and often times a bit of absurd belief that you’re capable of goals far greater than anyone sane would believe. Magic exists, it’s just only the insane are lucky enough to find it.
While I may play running shoe favorites, you get the idea. Get running and in any shoe that meets your fancy…cuz ‘stopping’ just aint all it’s cracked up to be.
More RUNNING MOTIVATION
#SweatsintheCity Runnerchick Chic
This weekend they will be running the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The pinnacle of excitement for college cross country, I’ve done a few pieces highlighting a few of the front runners vying for the individual title: Shelby Houlihan, Crystal Nelson, and Patrick Tiernan.
Whether you ran cross country in college, or even went to college, or not I urge you to read them because among all of there runs a similar theme: cross country is unique because it blends the individual component of running with the team aspect. As every runner knows, ultimately, a race is against beating yourself, and while track does have a team scoring element, it is in no way like cross country’s.
Here, there is a team of seven, five runners score but don’t think the sixth and seventh man (or runner woman) don’t count. You need all seven because:
1) You never know: We’ve all had days where the gun goes off and it’s clearly not your day. If you’ve got one of your ‘usual’ top five runners amidst a horrible race, you better hope you can rely on your sixth or seventh to step up.
2) The tie: There are classic stories where it comes down to a tie breaker and a win was decided on the number sixth runner…you can bet that runner who proved a win for their team was celebrated that night!
Most importantly, while running is a test against yourself, there is an incredible bond that is formed between training partners. We’ll call is a bond build on suffering, and when you ‘click’ with certain training partners or groups that’s where the magic happens.
A partner, or team, can pull you to YOUR best.
Through the training season, time miles, the work you put in, if alongside a person/team, therein breeds a remarkable enthusiasm. The success of one is a success of the whole, and in the middle of the pain of race day you can dig a little deeper knowing that you’re racing for yourself but also for your team, your friends, the ones who are pushing through their own pain for you too.
Runners graduate, move on, change teams, but the component of having a training partner there to push you remains the same. Out in the ‘real world’ runners have many options in terms of running: solo, with a friend, with a group, finding a team, etc. Each runner decides where running fits into their life and also what ‘kind’ of running they’re doing.
Some crave the solace of a run with no one but themselves, their thoughts, and the pounding of their feet. Ample time for thinking.
Sometimes it is important to be able to grind out a tough workout by yourself because there is an important part of mental training that must occur.
But…I will say if you want to stretch yourself I urge you to try meeting with at least another person for some of those hard workouts. Ideally, a person a tad faster than yourself.
You see, running is ultimately a test against yourself…BUT, it’s because your MIND is (most often) your greatest obstacle. Having another running there ahead of you, giving you chase, is usually just enough to trick your mind into shutting up and letting your BODY prove you are capable of more.
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1) Did you run for a team ever, be it in high school, college, or beyond?
2) How often do you run by yourself? With anyone else? With a team?
3) Will you make a goal of meeting someone for a hard workout in the not-so-distant future?
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Within every runner live the Yin Yang twins…the grinder and the ice-cream loving, sloth who lives to watch cartoons. We’ll call the latter the ‘recovery champ’.
While I jest, because it’s not just ice cream they love but pizza, donuts, burritos, french toast [insert runger fantasies here], there is truth to it.
In order to run hard you’ve got to allow your body to recover just as ‘hard.’ It often takes runners awhile to learn this, often the hard way. Typically everyone goes through the stage where they race every run, a run doesn’t count unless you’ve maxed out, right?! While this usually leads to improvement in the short term, eventually going hard every day will lead down the road of an injured, over-trained, mess.
Without adequate recovery you’ll be too tired to actually run fast. Easy days are important, as are other ways to speed up your recovery. In order to NAIL the days that count, your hard workouts and races, you’ve got to ensure your muscles are able to rebuild and repair themselves between hard sessions.
So there IS an excuse to laze around in your sweats and hit up a Netflix marathon. Recovery is more than just an easy day too, for most mortal runners of the world running isn’t your job so lifestyle choices and how you spend the non-running hours of your day will play a big role in your ability to recover.
Even for the elite runners, they are continually looking for ways to improve their recovery…because chances are there is ALWAYS room for improvement somewhere.
Take a look at your own habits and look for areas you know you could be better at. I’ve made a handy little checklist to give you some ideas of where to start:
* Make sure your easy days COUNT: rely on effort, don’t wear a watch if you have to, you should be able to hold a conversation between breathes on these runs.
* Proper Workout Scheduling: every runner needs to learn their body and how many hard workouts they can handle in a week. As we age we need to learn how to adjust, that may mean turning your ‘week’ into a 10 day cycle.
* Cross Training: I did a whole post HERE about how to maximize training if you know your body can’t handle too many running miles. Cross training on your easy days or as a ‘second run’ can help keep you healthy and allow for an ‘easier’ workout for recovery purposes.
* 30 Minute Refuel: eat a combo of protein and carbs IMMEDIATELY after your runs…especially your hard workouts. Miss this window and recovery rates drop upwards of 60%.
* Nutrition: eating to perform means opting for quality foods, timing them around when you run, and ensuring you get enough nutrients. This means protein, carbs, healthy fats, and overall enough calories to fuel your training demands. Eating to perform also means LIVING, if you’re training hard enough and want a freaking donut, you’ve earned it. Balance comes into play, so I’ll use the analogy of a silo. Fill your body with all the quality nutrients first, then any extra ‘energy demands’ needed to fill the rest of the silo should be up to you. A world without french toast is a dark one.
* Self massage: whole post on that HERE, flush out that lactic acid, keep your body knot-free.
* Hydrate: this is incredibly important regardless of the season, obviously hotter weather requires you to hydrate more and with electrolytes but even in a snow storm you’re losing moisture. Drinking after massage is also important to flush out all that ‘junk’ worked out of your muscles.
* Stretching: tied into self-massage, stay loose, limber, and avoid injuries.
* Time on Your Feet: it’s draining on your legs and energy-zapping, if your job requires you to do lots of ‘work’ know that you may need to adjust your training or learn how it affects you.
* Time on your butt: yea it’s important to rest, BUT office jobs can lead to problems too…too much sitting leads to weak glutes, tight hamstrings, and reduced blood flow. Not good for recovery, so be sure to move around and at least walk around a bit between Netflix marathons.
* Sleep: while I may leave this one for last, this is HUGE!! Sleep is when the body REALLY restores and repairs itself. Skimping on sleep will hamper your recovery, professional runners guard their sleep time and usually take naps too. Make sleep a priority. For those with sleeping problems and insomnia (ugh, join the party!) look for ways to improve the situation or figures out what can sometimes help. Restless nights add up to tired legs and eyebags.
I think that’s a solid list of ways to improve your recovery habits. Start cracking! To let that grinder perform at it’s best, that recovery-er needs to be doing it’s job right too!
New ART is listed and available for prints on my page there…restructured to make things a little easier. As always, anything not shown, email me a request and I’ll get you a print.
1) What are some ways you make recovery a priority?
To learn what I think.
To preserve beautiful moments or images.
To discover truths.
To make children laugh inwardly.
To give children somewhere to go.
For the pleasure of arranging words as precisely as musical notes.
To feel as though I'm discovering the story that pre-exists.
To feel I'm receiving communications from something bigger.
To go on an adventure.
To make something that reflects my self.
To contribute something positive.
Because when I was eight I was told I did it well.
To make something that goes beyond me.
To make something that lasts after me.
Why do you write?
You can take running anywhere and you can let it take you everywhere.
Running will open you up to an entire new world…
…a new community. Friendships, relationships, instant connections. “I’m a runner too.”
The lessons you learn as a runner apply to all areas of life. It will make you stronger.
Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Tougher.
Being a runner means you will DREAM. Not with eyes closed, but rather with eyes squinted thought beads of sweat.
Running will take you to new places both literally and metaphorically. It will SHOW you new places within yourself.
Oh, that places you’ll run. #ohtheplacesyoullrun
UPDATE!!! Do not fret, the Arty Runnerchick is still alive and kicking. I’ve been working on quite a few exciting projects which I will be sharing with you soon!
While that means I haven’t been able to update the blog as frequently as I’d like, I AM updating my INSTAGRAM page daily…so be sure to follow me there to catch everything there first! I’m also on Twitter
In case you’ve not checked it out, I’ve got new articles published on the WRITING page, particularly a lot under the RunBlogRun section.
There is also new art available on the ART page.
Keep running, My Friends, and talk soon!!
Also be sure to SHOP EZZERE!
Running takes you away, into another world.
One you control.
Here, time is warped.
Shifted, ticking excruciatingly slower or insanely, much too fast.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The watch can be a cruel master.
No one can truly see this world…
except for you.
The agony of the inner war waging,
workouts and races, outsiders don’t see.
They don’t FEEL.
But we do. Runners feel,
feel things others can’t imagine…
or would just rather choose not to.
Running’s world is at times painful,
but always magical.
Is a finicky world.
In the end we don’t fully control this world,
but merely, the decision of whether to enter it or not.
Drop down the rabbit hole, My Friends.
Here’s an excellent question I got from a reader recently. If you’ve got any running related questions for me, feel free to drop me a line: email@example.com
I came upon your page regarding running and could not help but be very impressed. I am a 23 year old dental student in my final year and the stress of exams has got my anxiety to higher than average levels. I am writing to you regarding advice and techniques on how to relieve such stress/anxiety through the sport of running. I previously ran 5km a day, however due to recent time constraints I have been unable to match this goal. What would you suggest in terms of distance to ensure I do not spend too much time on recreational running? What intensity do you recommend I perform? And finally what supplementation would you suggest to help me improve and relieve said anxiety.
Dr. To Be
A: Hi Dr. To be,
Thank you very much for your kind words and I’m happy to hear you’ve enjoyed my site! I’m doubly excited to hear that you’ve experienced just how much of a rush, escape, and release running can be. So much more to running than just the physical benefits it gives us!
Wow, I’m stressed just thinking about all the school and exams you’ve got going over there, congrats on pursuing your degree and making it to the final stretch! Now on to your questions.
It sounds like you were able to become rather consistent and felt comfortable with the 5k a day, but I understand that your schedule is becoming more busy. I’ll offer some tips on ‘finding’ that extra time but in regards to you wondering what the ‘right’ amount of time spent running is, there is not ‘right’ amount for everyone. Running is great because it’s incredibly individual and that means training and racing is all fit to the person, and it’s a matter of discovering what is right for YOU. For some that could be 70 miles per week, for others it’s 20. Always remember that some running is better than no running, so for your situation I’d suggest making a goal to fit in your 5k at least 4-5 times per week. That’s a good amount to make sure you keep your fitness maintained and offer you those times to get ‘out’ of school/stress/work mode and find your escape.
Some tips I have for finding that time:
1) Run first thing in the morning. Sometimes that means waking up a little earlier but it also ensures that no matter what comes up later in the day you’ve got your run done. Take the time the night before to lay out all of your running clothes and shoes so you can roll out of bed and hit the road!
2) Packed and Alarmed. If you can’t run in the morning take a bag packed with all your running gear with you to school and capitalize on ANY free moment you have between classes or find a break. You can also schedule your run time in your day and view it as any other important meeting, it’s YOU time and important.
3) Night Runner. Some people thrive off of running out the stress of the day and like to run at night. If that’s you, instead of Netflix or TV, get some miles.
4) Multitasking. I know runners who do their studying while running, be it flashcards on a treadmill, listening to recordings of lectors or study notes recorded.
Usually there are free minutes in the day, you just have to look for them.
I also wanted to let you know that the endorphins released from running actually improve creative thinking and problem-solving. Actually taking a break to run when you’re stuck with a problem or project you can’t solve will help your work. When you come back you’ll be more productive and re-energized. So you shouldn’t feel like your running time is ‘wasted’ time that you ‘should’ have been spent studying.
For workouts, if you’d like to push yourself then start by adding some pick-ups, or fartleks, into two of your weekly runs. Make sure you have at least one easy run between them. For some fun workouts, do 1 mile easy, then alternate running 1 minute harder and 1 minute easy. Come back next time and do 2 minutes hard/easy…the combinations for fartleks are endless. I have more workout suggestions HERE.
Lastly, stress management and anxiety. A really powerful tool is visualization, which I wrote about HERE, and you can apply that tactic to all other areas of life. If you’re stressed about exams, then close your eyes and picture yourself arriving to the test area calm, relaxed, and confident. You ultimately want to get in the habit of being able to put yourself into a relaxed state, with steady breathes, and then when the actual event is happening you’re able to recall that feeling of being calm. It take practice and time, but with practice you’ll become better and better at it…just as with running!
Running offers you a unique mind-space; the chemical release of endorphins plus the feeling of freedom, lays the foundation for a happier, more productive mood overall. You may find that some of your best ideas come on the run, that is the case for me! You may also find that over time, and when you’ve got more time in your schedule, you’d like to push yourself by adding more miles and different workouts. As, I hope the relationship you’ve got with running turns into one that is lifelong.
Thank you for writing and happy studying AND running!
Ask Me: Solving Calf Injuries
Improve Your Running By Asking Yourself THIS Question
“So how’s the writing going?” my well-meaning friend asks me cheerily over an all-too-rare cup of coffee. “Are you still working on your book? And how’s that play doing?”
I feel my stomach plummet. “Um, yeah!” I grope for words. “The writing’s going well. Yes, really well. And ... uh ... how about you?”
The truth is, I haven’t written a word in days. I can go weeks, months – though admittedly not quite years – without writing a single sentence.
My astute friend sees the panic in my eyes. ““Ah, but you’re probably busy with the little ones, aren’t you?”
She’s throwing me a lifeline here. I could grab it and agree the obvious; with two young children under three, I have no time; what mother does? My day is segmented into bottles, breakfasts and nappies, nursery pick-ups and drop offs, the intricate calculations of naps and lunches.
And yet it’s amazing how I do make time to do non-essential rubbish. I manage to fill up the chinks of precious me-space with the garbage of social media discussions or watching YouTube videos. I make time to send indignant tweets on Twitter, text my friends or run out for yet another coffee.
This morning both my children were at nursery for a couple of hours, and instead of catching up on some much-needed research or throwing a couple of experimental paragraphs onto a blank computer screen, I spent the valuable time pottering. I washed up a bit and portioned up some food in the freezer! I did the stuff I HATE ... but didn’t prioritise what I wanted: write.
Because I didn’t have the “perfect setting.” A setting in which I would be simultaneously invigorated yet calm, in a tidy house with no chores to do, having bathed, dressed, eaten and washedup, with a strong latte and an unbroken length of time stretching before me.
AIN’T NEVER GONNA HAPPEN!
All the while, writing seems like a huge mountain, looming reproachfully over me, a vast task too complicated to be attempted.
And yet –time spent writing makes me feel refreshed in a way that the Internet never can. It makes me feel like me again, not a lumbering food-stained, milk-encrusted mammoth, veering from domestic crisis to domestic crisis.
So why do I avoid it so much?
There’s lots of reasons why we procrastinate and these differ from person to person: lack of confidence, interest or motivation; rebellion or resistance against expectations; fear of failure or equally fear of success. But the kicker for me – and absolutely the most devastating – is that I fear that it won’t be good enough, so often I sabotage myself. In the words of David Burns, cognitive therapist and writer of “Feeling Good”:
“The payoff for procrastinating is protecting ourselves from the possibility of perceived "real" failure ... You may often fill your schedule with busy-work so that you have a "legitimate" reason for not getting around to more important tasks.”
Well that’s Tess to a T!
I’m not a perfectionist in the way some people might understand the term. I don’t colour-code my wardrobe or alphabetise my DVDs. Yet I am a perfectionist in terms of writing, which is hilarious because no single piece of writing can ever be deemed “perfect.” Quite simply, I fear I will never live up to my own standards.
This lovely article on Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect outlines my particular dilemma;
Our desire to “perfect” everything makes us overcomplicate a project. What’s actually a simple task may get blown out of proportion, to the extent it becomes subconsciously intimidating. This makes us procrastinate on it, waiting for the ever “perfect” moment before we get to it. This “perfect” moment never strikes until it is too late.
OK doctor, diagnosis delivered.
But what do I do about it? The most valuable piece of advice I ever had was from a tutor on my playwriting course at the Royal Court Theatre, who used James Thurber’s quote: “Don’t get it right, get it written” as a constant mantra. We were encouraged just to turn in the first draft. It didn’t MATTER if it was absolute rubbish. It didn’t MATTER if it veered off topic or was inconsistent or had typos or was badly formatted. The point was that we faced our fears and DID it and once it had been done, we could work on it. And very often, it wasn’t too bad at all.
But as fellow sufferers will attest; procrastination is a constant; you might beat it once, but it will always be there at your elbow. So this week I’m using a number of strategies to overcome it.
By far the most effective to get me started is the 5 minute rule. No matter HOW uninspired I am, if I sit down and work on my book or play for five minutes, very often I find that five minutes stretching into ten, and the ten into fifteen. Life coaches use this strategy to inspire people into a habit of exercise. Flexing that muscle builds muscle memory, and the good habit of plunging right in.
The second most effective is NOT CHECKING EMAIL before I’ve done my writing for the morning. Or Twitter, or Faceb
Thirdly, setting a time limit. Parkinson’s Law tells us that work expands to fit the time available. I can do some really good stuff in half an hour, and making it three hours won’t necessarily increase its quality.
Lastly, breaking down the task into small steps – useful if it’s something like planning and doing the publicity for a show or a book launch. All perfectionists enjoy the feeling of ticking something off a list. You just have to make it the right list.
So by employing a mix of the above strategies, this blog post is now finally finished and I’m off to reward myself with a coffee and five minutes on Twitter!
But how about all you other procrastinators and perfectionists out there? What strategies do you use to get things done?
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I’ve been preaching all along that characters need a clear sense of motivation and objective, those twin drivers that are often part of the same coin. Objective is, simply put, what a character wants to do, and motivation is why they want to do it. Each character should have these things in their back story, even if the objectives are smaller (for secondary characters and such). The protagonist of your story should have the clearest objective and motivation of all, with an overarching need/goal for the entire story arc, as well as more tangible objectives and motivations throughout, from chapter to chapter.
When you’re thinking about this, I also want you to think about balancing positive and negative motivation. Let’s start with negative motivation. Maybe you’re someone who hasn’t had the, ahem, pleasure of experiencing a lot of negative motivation in your life, and for that I commend you. But it goes something like this:
Everyone always told me I’d never make anything of myself. Well, I’d prove them wrong. Smoothing my brand new thrift shop suit down to get rid of any last wrinkles (though doing anything about its smell was impossible this late in the game), I headed into the job interview.
I joke that spite is a terrific motivator. And it is. We often react to adversity by stubbornly wanting to best it. But it’s important to note that this is a reaction to something negative in life that we’re inspired to overcome. It’s negative motivation to want to show your bully what’s what, or land a new job because your stupid current boss thinks you’re a bad employee, or want to claw out of poverty because you never had anything growing up. The motivation is valid, but the aspiration had roots in something negative instead of something positive.
On the other hand, positive motivation is more of a proactive goal. Take one example from what I just wrote: growing up in poverty. You could write two very different characters with the same backstory and related-but-distinct motivations, one negative, one positive. Character A wants to claw their way out of poverty, indeed, because they never had anything good growing up and it sure feels crummy. The buck stops, or rather starts now, and they’re going to do something about it. Character B grew up the same way, with the same kind of deprivation. But they’re positively motivated, they see what they want to do and why in a different light. Maybe they aspire to be the only person in their family to go to college, or maybe they’d like to provide a better childhood for their own kids than they ever had.
I bet I conjure very different people in your mind just by describing Character A vs. Character B in terms of motivation. One is negatively motivated, one positively. They’ll do different things to reach their goals, and justify them with different logic.
In your own manuscript, keep an eye on who is negatively motivated and who is positively motivated. If you want to mix it up, get their negative vs. positive motivations in balance, so that there’s a little bit of both in each. They feel adversity but also possibility. That’s where you’ll find complexity.
Related but slightly different are passive and active motivation. Passive motivation is a condition that exists (unfairness in the world, for example) that your character thinks about and wants to solve or overcome. But it’s not something they can affect directly, it’s more part of their general situation. Active motivation, on the other hand, refers to something they have control over and that they can work toward by taking concrete steps. The needle is obvious and they know how to move it.
All of these are shades to the same issue, and it gives you more to think about as you craft your characters.