Scary Social Media – Writers’ Top 4 Fears (and How to Get Past Them)

scary social jackolanternThe writer sits at her computer, fingers poised over the keyboard. Her whole body speaks of hesitation, uncertainty … FEAR. The blue-white light of the screen accentuates the creases in her anxiously wrinkled brow and gives her skin a ghostly pallor. She types a few words and stops. Backspace, backspace, backspace. She tries again. No, not right – highlight, delete. Shoulders hunched, she remains in place – just staring … stuck.

This writer isn’t battling writer’s block. Writer’s block was a walk in the park compared to this. This writer is trying to figure out social media.

You know you should be there. You’ve heard all about the importance of the writer’s platform. You “get it,” but you just don’t know how to get it. Each time you work up the courage to open a browser tab onto Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn, you suddenly freeze up.

You shared a lot of great comments on my recent post, Why Social Media Is a Good Idea for Writers. As I read through your observations and questions again, a few common themes emerged. I know we’re a small focus group; but I also think that the issues and concerns you raised are pretty universal for writers trying to get a handle on social media:
 
Fear #1: The learning curve is too steep. It’ll take too long to get things set up, and I’ll probably screw up royally and my career will go down the drain because of some stupid Facebook faux pas or Twitter trip-up.

The bad news: If you’re totally new to social media, there is a bit of a learning curve. The good news: It’s not as steep as you think. The awesome news: There is no “right way” to do social media.

You never learned to program your VCR and you only know how to use your smartphone because your kids showed you how. I get it. I don’t consider myself a luddite, but I’m no tech whiz either. I am, however, reasonably proficient on most of the popular social networks.

You can be, too. No, really. You can do this.

Here’s the thing. The people who design social networks are usually trying to make them as idiot-proof as possible. I’m totally not calling you an idiot; I’m just saying that these people are not trying to make social media hard. They want you to participate, so they are going to make it as easy as possible.

The key to getting past your fear of diving in is two fold:

Focus your efforts

If you’re completely new to social media, I’d suggest that you check out a number of different networks and then pick ONE to PLAY with. I say “ONE” because I don’t want you to be overwhelmed. I say “PLAY” because that’s how I want you to approach social media. Though you will eventually want to have a strategy and a process, at first you just want to explore and experiment. Hang out and see what other people are doing. Lurk. Maybe engage in a few conversations. Share something. Don’t feel pressured, just do what writers do best: observe.

Take baby steps

When you feel ready (and you’ll know when you’re ready), take a few baby steps towards a more in-depth and consistent kind of engagement. Don’t feel like you have to flood your profile or feed or whatever with tons of content right away. Pace yourself. Let your presence grow organically.

Remember:

  • You don’t need to be everywhere.
  • You don’t need to do everything.
  • There are no hard and fast rules.
  • You aren’t going to get a ticket or a black mark on your permanent record.
  • Finding your social media groove might not happen overnight, but it won’t take forever either. Start with fifteen minutes a day and just see how things go.

 
 
Fear #2: I will tumble down the social media rabbit hole and never write anything again except for status updates and blog posts.

On the other hand, you might be worried that once you start spending time on social media, you will become completely addicted and spend the rest of your life scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, reposting LOL cat memes, and pinning pretty pictures on Pinterest. You will sacrifice all your writing time to the demon gods of social media and never publish your novel/poetry/short story/whatever.

You’re right. It could happen.

But … probably not.

There’s no question that social media can become addictive. I’ve read about numerous studies that demonstrate the addictive nature of social media. In some cases, clicking around on Facebook or Google+ has been found to be more addictive than alcohol or tobacco. However, the chances of you logging onto Facebook and never coming out again are pretty slim.

Social media can be a (major) time suck, but only if you let it. Avoiding the black hole of social sites requires two things:

Systems

When it comes to the relative chaos of social media, systems are your friend. I could write a whole other post on this topic alone, but just to give you an example, here is the system I use to process 100 – 200 blog posts each day:

Content curation (sharing other people’s content) is a big part of my social media strategy. I read a lot of blog posts. I typically scan 100+ posts each day and read about 30 – 40 in full. I don’t have time during my workday to read and share posts, so I batch process:

  • I use Feedly to aggregate all the blog feeds into one place.
  • I find corners of otherwise unused time to scan through Feedly on my iPhone. (Usually this happens at night while I’m waiting for my daughter to fall asleep after bedtime stories. I also hit Feedly during random “down” times like waiting in line at school pick-up or at the bank.)
  • I use the integrated BufferApp to schedule tweets of posts that will be useful to my audience. BufferApp creates the tweet including the post title and a shortened URL, and then all I have to do is add my two cents and hit “Buffer” to schedule the tweet.

Another quick example of a system is how I use Twitter “lists” to filter my Twitter stream so I can focus on only the tweets that are most relevant to me. I have almost 4,000 followers on Twitter. It’s insane to think that I could have any useful or meaningful conversations by just randomly scanning through such a huge stream of tweets. Talk about a needle in a haystack! Luckily, Twitter has a “lists” feature that allows me to assign the people I’m most interested in to topical lists. For instance, I have a list for my “real world” friends, a list for writers, a list for marketing folks I admire, a list for artists, a list for clients, etc. I use Hootsuite to display my lists in a multi-column format that lets me easily scan all the tweets that are important to me.

There are hundreds of mini systems you can use and dozens of smart tools that help you streamline and automate social media activities. In fact, I’m investigating a few new tools that offer a more comprehensive suite of features, and as soon as I’ve road-tested it I’ll be sure to share.

Restraint

This one’s pretty simple: Stick to your systems. Don’t make excuses to “just check one thing.” Don’t allow yourself to be lured by the siren call of “the funniest video ever.” Stay focused. Make your social media time productive, not frivolous.
 
 
Fear #3: My ego will take over and I will become obsessed with comparing myself to others and constantly checking my stats, leading to deep feelings of inadequacy and depression which will eventually leave me sobbing quietly under my desk.

The land of social media can be a treacherous one. Though words like “authenticity” and “transparency” are thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras, let’s face it: most people show only the good bits. It can be challenging to keep a firm grip on reality when comparing your life (which you know to be imperfect) to the shiny, sparkly, social media life projected by others.

The cure for this fear is simple: step back for a reality check.

The truth is that things aren’t always what they seem on social media. You need to be able to keep your perspective. For example, a friend of mine was feeling low because she was comparing herself to a high profile blogger/podcaster. This “big fish’s” content featured high profile people and consistently had astronomical retweets, likes, and +1’s. My friend was suffering from that sinking I’ll-never-get-there feeling until I told her that this seemingly uber-successful person wasn’t making a living and had moved home.

Don’t be fooled by the illusions.

More importantly, don’t get caught in the comparison trap in the first place. You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses.  Social media should not be an arms race. The numbers – subscribers, followers, friends, etc. – are only part of the picture. Instead of worrying about whether you’re measuring up to some fabricated standard, spend your time having real conversations and making real connections with people.
 
 
Fear #4: I’m just not comfortable with putting myself out there. My personal life is personal and I want it to stay that way. On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want to be “that guy” – constantly shilling my book until I’ve alienated all my friends and die cold and alone in the gutter clutching my WiFi-enabled device.

You find selfies disturbing. You have absolutely no desire to post pictures of your cat, your pedicure, or your dinner. You do not feel a need to confess your deepest fears or desires. You just want to share your  stories.

You’re on social to promote your writing, but you don’t want to feel like a broken record. Feeling like you have to always be talking “my book this” and “my book that” leaves you wanting to shout, “Damn it, Jim. I’m a writer, not a marketer!”

The cure for both these issues is simple: It’s not about you.

It’s about your work. It’s about your ideas. It’s about the things that inspire you. It’s about the people who inspire you. It’s about other people’s stories and the way they intersect with your stories. It’s about the craft and journey of writing. It’s about how people identify with your work

Also, remember: Social media is meant to be social. It’s meant to be a conversation, meaning a give and take. In a real world conversation, you aren’t expected to carry everything yourself, right? Social media is no different. Ask questions. Invite dialog. Encourage debate. Have some fun.

So, to sum things up:

  • Worried about the learning curve? Don’t be. This isn’t as hard as you think.
  • Worried about screwing up? Don’t. There is no one right way.
  • Worried about getting sucked into the social media vortex? Set up systems and stick to them.
  • Worried about succumbing to constant comparison and status chasing? Skip that. It doesn’t matter.
  • Worried about over-exposing yourself? That’s a non-issue because it’s not about you.
  • Worried about becoming a sleazy salesperson? Focus on the give and take of the conversation, not the sales pitch.

Social media has huge opportunities for writers. Bust past your fears and get out there. It’ll be worth it on many levels.
 
 
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Mike Thomas

A Rising Tide

Two weeks ago I wrote a post (“In the Company of Writers“) about my journey as a writer over the past ten years. I created a list of the things I have learned, and included the following:

  • Success of others doesn’t diminish your chance of success. It improves it.

Two of the comments questioned that statement, and so I thought I would explain, or try to.

The easy answer is that being around success you learn how people create their “luck”:

  • When you have a friend who gets a story published, you learn about markets, and niches, and submission processes.
  • When you know writers with agents, you hear how they made that happen. You take a look at a query letter that worked, and you learn. You hear stories about rejection, and you take heart. And perhaps you have opportunities to meet agents in the process.
  • When you have a friend who has a book published, you learn by watching her go through the process. You learn about proposals, contracts, deadlines, timelines, editing, copy edits, Goodreads, ARCs, blog tours, book launches, metadata, Amazon rankings, and B&N lists. And you gain knowledge in advance of needing it, which is always helpful.
  • Authors need teams to help them market, and to offer support. So you pass out book marks, drive to signings, and clap loudly at panels. And you find that talking about your friend’s work is easy, and fun. And again, good practice.

Luck requires hard work. Seeing other people navigate the waters of publication, your path may become easier. But probably not. It will just become clearer, and a lot less scary.

But this philosophy is about more than learning. It is about self preservation. There is room enough for everyone, and success is defined a lot of ways. But discontent in the form of “why not me?” creates room for jealousy, which soon turns into full blown envy. And this isn’t a good place for writers to live.

Instead, be happy for the success of others, especially for your friends. Raise a glass over every contract, dance when they get a book deal, weep when they get on a best seller list. Ride on the wake of their success, cheering all the way. If nothing else, it is a lot more fun.

“A rising tide will lift all boats.” — John F Kennedy

************

J.A.Hennrikus writes mysteries, and blogs with five friends all in varying stages of launching new series over at Wicked Cozy Authors.

Anatomy of a non-fiction book proposal

Last week’s post on the structure of a book proposal for a fiction series resulted in a few requests for the structure of a non-fiction book proposal. There are some similarities. The biggest differences are that you need to include a table of contents and your sample pages should *not* be your first chapter.

Here’s the breakdown (skeleton):

  • Overview – Your first challenge is to describe your book in 2-3 paragraphs (500 words or less). Include the title and subtitle; target audience; anticipated length of the manuscript; when you’ll have the manuscript complete; and what makes your book unique and worthwhile. –I’ve seen a suggestion to consider this the copy that appears on the back cover of the book, in a publisher’s catalog, or even as the brief review you’d see in Publishers Weekly or the NY Times Book Review. Think big, but be concise.
  • Target Audience – identify your core readers – those most likely to buy your book. Research the market and try to find some hard numbers to use to identify the market size. Also include tangential readers – those non-fiction readers who may be drawn to the subject matter of your book. (i.e. a lot of your book relates to horseback riding, so a potential market is a horse enthusiast)
  • About the Author – Talk about your credentials and experience. You want the agent/publisher to completely ‘get’ what makes you uniquely qualified to write and promote this book. You can also include social media and other platforms you are already established on in this section, or include it in the Marketing and Promotion section below.
  • Competitive Titles – This is a list summarizing those books and authors you see as major competitive/similar titles. Also include an explanation about why your book is different from each title you list. This section serves two purposes: you’re proving there’s an established audience who will find your book interesting and clearly showing how yours is different enough to compete with them.
  • Marketing and Promotion – Whether you have created/started your author platform already or not, this section needs a lot of content. In this section, explain your comprehensive plan for actively promoting your book and how publicity needs to be focused. List magazines and other media outlets that your target audience pays attention to and identify the outlets you (and your publisher) will focus on to get your book reviewed. Name people who will write blurbs for you (you’ll need them before your manuscript is completed). What are the topics and target outlets, based on the subject matter or your expertise, that will allow you to obtain speaking engagements? List types of groups and organizations that will be interested in having you speak. Identify portions of your book that can be excerpted in magazines and relevant journals; include up to 10 publications you feel will publish the excerpts. And don’t stop there! Include other promotional ideas you can pursue: speakers bureaus, hiring a publicist, getting on relevant mailing lists, leading/speaking at workshops, your book tour ideas, and whatever else you can think of.
  • Detailed Table of Contents – Don’t skimp in this section. Be very specific about summarizing every chapter. This section can range from 3 to 20 pages or more. The agent/publisher is looking for the details of what is inside your book. (I highlighted ‘detailed’ to emphasize that you don’t want to skimp here.)
  • Sample Chapters – Non-fiction agents and publishers generally don’t want your first chapters submitted as samples. They want a couple of chapters from inside the book that will give them a good snapshot of your writing style, the content, and the structure of the book.

Also, if your manuscript lends itself to images or artwork, you’ll want to include details about them – ie. whether you will supply all relevant images/art, whether you’ll need to obtain permission/licensing, whether it’ll be in color or b&w, and so on.

I hope this helps you as you start working on a non-fiction book proposal. If you discover anything else that should be included, please let us know!

Lisa J. Jackson Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys New England’s crisp fall mornings and warm sunny days. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

How to be a freelance writer – 5 tools for smart planning and time management: Part 1

roaring lion

“How do you get so much done?” is a question I hear from friends, colleagues, and clients pretty frequently. I don’t say this to brag. Like every other successful freelance writer I know, I hustle. I make hay while the sun shines. I burn the midnight oil (and, sometimes the candle at both ends). I get stuff done because I have to. (A deadline is a great motivator.)

What I do is not magic. I’m not an incredibly fast writer, nor have I figured out how to survive without sleep. (If you crack that mystery, please let me know.) What I do have is a system and some basic project management skills. Today, I want to share them with you because if I can help even one working writer reduce the chaos and tame the stress, it’ll make my day.

In my two-part series on the secrets of successful freelance writers I encouraged writers to become good project managers. One of the most important aspects of providing strong project management is creating and managing project schedules. You need to be able to provide an up-front plan, stay on top of it, and revise as things develop. You also need to be able to help keep your team (including your client) on track and on task with friendly reminders and nudges.

But how on earth can you expect to stay on top of all of that while you’re also trying to handle your own marketing, client meetings, and the actual writing?

It may seem impossible, but it’s not.

There are 5 tools I use to help me get a handle on (and manage!) my schedule – from the Big Picture to the minute details and everything in between. In this post, I’ll share the first two:

The Writer’s Big Picture: Good, Old Excel

You know that saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees? It’s definitely applicable to the freelance writer’s life. Often we are juggling so many projects and tasks that it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks – things like an interim deadline, client call, or – you know – feeding the kids.

Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by my workload, I take a breath, step back, and look at the Big Picture. I do this using a basic Excel spreadsheet that I designed to help me create a visual overview of my workload and pipeline (jobs that I think are coming soon). This 30,000-foot view always helps me to feel a little bit saner.

I call the spreadsheet my “Workflow Doc.” Here’s what it looks like:


Workflow spreadsheet sm

And if you click here, you can download a copy of the actual Excel document.

To use it:

  1. List your clients and projects down the left-hand side
  2. Define the current and upcoming months and weeks across the top (I like to look at four months at a time, but you can look at two or three if that seems more manageable.)
  3. Using the color key at the bottom (which you can’t see in the screen grab, but it’s there), color code the project cells to indicate what type of work needs to be done for each project during each week. I use the following phases: Initiation, First Draft, Edits, Development, and Launch. I know that each of these phases will require a different level of attention from me. For instance, the Initiation phase is typically just a meeting or two and will usually only require a few hours while the First Draft phase may require several solid days. The Edits phase might need about 30-50% of my time, while Development (typically the phase during which the project has moved from my hands to either a designer or a developer) may only require 10% of my time for small edits and adjustments.

After you have the chart filled out, you’ll easily be able to see any potential train wrecks, where you have time available, and opportunities to “massage” schedules in order to make your life less crazy. For me, being able to see everything on paper is a lot less scary than just having a vague sense that things are barreling out of control. Even if I fill out the spreadsheet and see that I am, in fact, in a load of trouble, just knowing exactly what kind of trouble I’m in makes me feel better and gives me the information I need to start working on a solution.

The Writer’s Project Plan: A Gantt Chart

The next level of detail is the individual project plan.

Confession: in my past life, I was a project manager, so I have better-than-average tolerance for all things budget- and schedule-related. That said, learning the basics is not as difficult as you might think.

When I was a full-time project manager, I used Microsoft Project to create project schedules in a Gantt chart format. Now that I am on my own (and on a Mac), I don’t have MS Project anymore, so I needed to find a simple (preferably free) tool that would let me create Gantt schedules. After much searching, I settled on an online service called ViewPath, which has the baseline features I need and a free option. Perfect!

Here is what a basic Gantt format schedule looks like:

sample gantt

I could spend several posts talking about how to build a schedule, but here are the basic steps:

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that need to be completed. For a basic writing project, these might include initiation tasks (discovery meetings, research, outlining, etc.), writing tasks (first drafts, revisions, final edits), client management tasks (presentation and review meetings), and so on.
  2. Put the relevant tasks into your Gannt chart in the appropriate order. (I group each set under a sub-head to make the overall schedule easier to read.)
  3. Identify where there are “task dependencies” and “link” those tasks in the Gantt chart. For instance, you cannot start your research until you have had the kickoff meeting and received the reference materials from the client. You can’t start on your first draft until the client has approved the outline. You can’t make revisions until the client has provided feedback. Within the Gantt chart, you can connect the end of one task to the beginning of another to show these dependencies. The beauty of this is that, within the scheduling software, when you move one date (say the client is two days late with feedback), it automatically moves all the subsequent dates so that you know what impact the delay will have on the overall schedule.
  4. If you are so inclined, you can assign resources to each task.

You can, of course, go into all kinds of additional detail, but those are the basic steps. Once you have created the schedule, you can include it in your scope of work so that everyone involved is on the same page in terms of timing. In this way, you are providing a better experience for the client and making your life easier because you’ll have an even better sense of exactly what has to happen next.

… but, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of managing individual tasks next time.

Here’s the thing – managing your time and your projects well is a critical part of freelance writing success. Without these skills, one of two things will happen: 1) You’ll miss deadlines and lose customers (and, eventually, your business will fail), or 2) You’ll push yourself to work ungodly hours and burn out (and, eventually, your business will fail).

I don’t want that for you. We writers need to stick together and help each other out.

I hope that my Big Picture and Project Plan tools help you find some additional sanity. Next time, I’ll share with you the three tools that I use to manage my time and projects on a day-to-day basis. Until then, keep writing, keep breathing, and if you have any questions – leave ’em in the comments! 

 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: iam_photography

Resource: On the Premises Magazine

On the Premisesa good place to start is a resource for fiction writers. It’s a PDF and web-based magazine published 3 times a year. The stories in the magazine are those that have won in the contests set up by the editors. You can read or download back issues here.

So, On the Premises is always running a contest – a ‘regular’ one and a ‘mini’. I learn a lot from the editors suggestions/hints/tips for submissions as well as the feedback they offer once a contest closes. They also share entries.

And they offer a free critique if your story places in the top 10; and have a reasonable fee if you’d like a critique if your story didn’t make the top 10.

blue ribbonDid I mention the staff is generous in helping writers?

  • As of -last- Monday, their newest ‘regular’ contest, Contest #21, already had 36 entries. Submissions are being accepted until Sept 27. It’s looking for 1,000 to 5,000 words on the premise described here. There is no entry fee and prizes are: 1st: $180, 2nd: $140, 3rd: $100, Honorable mention: $40 (and sometimes they’ll do up to 3 honorable mentions).
  • The new ‘mini’ contest, Mini-Contest #21, is now open to entries until August 30. No entry fee. Prizes are: $15 for first, $10 for second, $5 for third, and honorable mentions get published but make no money. This contest is seeking a 20- to 40-word (yes, that’s only a maximum of 40 words) story that starts and ends with the exact same word. Oh, and that word can’t be used anywhere else in the story.

To enter either contest, use this page to submit your entry (and to get the details/guidelines for both contests).

In addition to its website, On the Premises is also on Facebook, and has a blog. The blog doesn’t have a recent post, but that’s intentional. In the latest newsletter, the co-publisher mentions that the content on the blog is solid and they find it more beneficial to put time into the monthly newsletter.

I find the monthly newsletter to contain useful writing-related information every time, and look forward to seeing it in my Inbox.

This month’s newsletter, for instance, talks about using misdirection in a story — and also about how when submitting to a contest, to make sure your story doesn’t simply end, but that it actually wraps up the story line.

You can subscribe to their newsletter through this link.

Note: I’m not being compensated for this post. I personally enjoy On the Premises and felt you might like to know about it, if you didn’t already.

I’ve submitted stories in the past, but did not get published. I plan to submit to the mini contest this month, though! Nothing to lose and publication to gain. Are you with me?

Lisa J. Jackson Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys writing short. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

How to brainstorm and write a story in 24 hours (or less)

I’m adding another ‘thank you‘ to Jamie’s to those of you who participated in the recent NHWN poll. Great feedback.

Onward! In April, I wrote about a 24-hour short story contest I find to be fun, stressful, inspiring, challenging, entertaining, and a great exercise for my muse. Do you see the ups and downs in that last sentence? I have a lot of emotions when writing for a contest, assignment, or a client. And I like that. If I didn’t have a mix of emotions, then I’d take that as a sign I’m too comfortable. Growth comes from pushing into the ‘uncomfy zone,’ not from the same ol’ same ol’.

With the next rendition of the contest coming this Saturday, and based on survey feedback, I thought I’d delve into some tips for writing a story or article with a deadline of a day or less.

These tips can also be applied to blog posts, interviews, and more.

  1. Know the assignment. If it’s a contest, be familiar with the rules. If it’s a client project, make sure you’re clear on the deliverable. If it’s an article, blog post, or interview, know the key points to be covered.

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

  2. Write out initial thoughts – brainstorm. Turn off your internal editor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and start freewriting ideas. Make lists, mindmap, scribble, draw, whatever it takes to get initial ideas downloaded from your brain. Use a timer, or write until you run dry, whatever works best. For me, a timer keeps the internal editor from speaking too loudly.
  3. Step away. Turn the paper over, minimize the window, close the laptop, walk away from your desk, or close your eyes. I find it helpful to change gears completely and go for a walk, have a snack, listen to music, read e-mail, or anything that doesn’t relate to the project. The mind is still turning ideas over, and likes to do so when you aren’t paying close attention.
  4. Come back with fresh eyes. Read through your notes. Highlight the items from your brainstorming that catch your eye and cross off the ideas that are too typical. What else leaps to mind now? What strikes you as interesting, original, or fun? Shift perspectives — if you’re the reader, which of the items, which focus/approach, would be most interesting or refreshing?
  5. Pick one idea. Yes, just one. Which one floats to the top of the list? Start with that one. (You can always go back to the list later if you need to.)
  6. Free write.  Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.
  7. Repeat step 3.
  8. Write your second draft. You know the topic now; your muse is partnering with you to get the story written. Fill in the blanks.
  9. Repeat step 3. A great time for a treat because you’re almost done.

    Deliciously cool key lime pie

    A treat — Deliciously cool key lime pie

  10. Read with an editor’s eye. Clean up the grammar and punctuation. Get within your word count. Give your story / article / assignment a nice polish.
  11. Sleep on it. Similar to step 3, but, it’s the final stretch. The words are on the page and fulfill the guidelines. You have time to relax and let the piece simmer.
  12. Make final revisions and submit before your deadline.

And my favorite step — 13. Celebrate the milestone. I do the “whoot whoot” and fist pump the air and/or do a happy dance. It’s a great feeling knowing a task / assignment / contest entry / what-have-you has been completed and submitted.

It’s like using the fine china or crystal today instead of waiting for “a special event”. Celebrate the moment, the accomplishment. The piece didn’t exist in any form 24 hours (or less) ago, and now it’s done, dusted, and submitted.

Now for the next project!

If you have specific questions, please ask.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

Facing My Fears Head On

I have this quirk where once I work through something. I’m done. I’ve moved on. Been there, done that, don’t need to deal with it again.

Oh, if only life worked that way.

You’d think by now, I’d have mastered facing fear. Especially fear of new beginnings, because at 45, I’ve had my fair share of new beginnings, some by choice, some not so much. And yet, here I am again at another new beginning and the fear stands right beside me.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to focus on my kids these last few years. The plan was to turn out my first romance novel in the space between volunteering at school, volunteering for the Cub Scouts, writing for the town paper (pro bono), managing the household, cooking more meals, and running the kids to karate, cub scouts, ski club, garden club etc.  Some how things didn’t work out the way I expected (hmmm, I wonder why???).  I’ve made some progress on my WIP. I have a ideas mapped out, I am about a 1/4 of the way through my “shitty first draft” and I’ve learned a TON. It wasn’t wasted time, but I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped to be.

The time has come for me to go back to work. Prior to my four year stint as a SAHM, I worked for myself for thirteen years. It is probable that I’ll return to the ranks of self employed, but I’m keeping my options open. There are certain constraints and priorities that will impact the work I choose to pursue.  Some of them are practical (I still have to get the kids to karate etc.), some of them are personal, I been working long enough that I have a pretty good understanding the environments where I can thrive and best contribute.  Whatever I end up doing, it will have at least a writing component if not be completely writing focused.

Still, I need to dust off the old resume and put myself out there. The advantage of working for someone else is that you put yourself out there once and then you’ve got a moderate level of security. With freelancing, you put yourself out there again and again.  With every pitch comes the chance for rejection. After four years out of the practice of actively seeking clients, I’m feeling a little timid (anyone who knows me IRL, just snorted), but it’s true.

I have a lot of skills, I’m a good writer. I am highly organized and love organizing for other people. I’m knowledgeable about social media practices. I understand the marketing process. On the surface, I am a very confident person, but oy.

  • What if I’m not as good as I think I am?
  • What if I screw it up?
  • What if no one wants to hire me?

These are irrational fears. I know it, but that’s the thing about fears, logically you know they are foolish, but the still hang out like ghosts you see out of the corner of your eye. So, I’m doing what I can to chase away the ghosts.

poster on the left says Absolutely, positively, definitely, without a doubt, NO FEAR, (Not even a little bit). Poster on the right says (Don't let your fears stand in the way of your dreams

I bought these t-shirts a long time ago. Both have outlasted their usefulness as clothing (can you say grease stains?), but I still love the sayings. So much so that I turned them into artwork and hung them in my office (sorry about the glare). I made them as reminders, that I’ve been here before and I’ve conquered and thrived. I will do it again.

In the meantime, deep breath, big smile.

What do you fear and how do you combat it?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. Her words have appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

Tackling a 24-hour short story contest entry

I like to enter writing contests now and again, and in general prefer not to enter any that have a fee. I tend to like money coming to me for writing rather than away, which I’m sure you can relate to.

But there’s a short-story contest that caught my interest a few years ago that I like to enter, even though it has a fee. It’s the Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest and it’s put on 4 times a year. The fee is $5 to enter.

There are a few reasons why I like this contest:

  • There are more than 85 prizes available
  • Top 3 prizes include cash amounts of $300, $250, or $200; and publication. Incentive!
  • It’s limited to 500 participants — 17% of total participants can win something (but, not all 500 submit by the deadline)
  • I don’t know the topic or word length until the bell rings – no stress over the prep 🙂
  • All participants have the same 24-hour period in which to write and submit
  • The rules are spelled out in detail and communicated on the website, in a downloadable PDF upon registration, and again at the start of the contest
  • Even though a prompt is the base of the contest, you don’t have to use it verbatim
  • There’s a lot of writing freedom
  • No specific genre
  • Encouraged to think outside the box
  • Tips are shared (i.e. it doesn’t impress the owner to have a character with her name or location in your story; put a title on the story; put your contact information at the end of the submission, and so much more)
  • If I end up not submitting, I don’t feel guilty over the $5 spent
  • I have time to write a draft and then step away from it (usually sleep on it), and then refine the piece before submitting
  • There are more than 85 prizes available (oh, am I repeating myself?) That’s a LOT of opportunity to win something!
  • It’s been around for quite a while
  • It’s always on a weekend (Saturday 1PM EST to Sunday 1PM EST)
  • The contest date It’s always announced weeks in advance, so I can schedule the time
  • When winners are announced, a summary of all entries is shared – common themes and endings – as a learning tool
  • It’s fun!
  • It’s a great break from ‘regular’ writing
  • I’ve placed in the contest a few times – and continue to strive for Top 3 at least once. 🙂
  • It’s good exercise for the muse
  • It’s a milestone to look forward to
  • Winners are announced when promised (generally within 6 weeks)

Okay, so that’s more than a few, but I haven’t come up with any reasons not to enter. There’s really nothing to lose, and only some spur-of-the-moment writing-to-a-prompt experience to gain (at a minimum).

My method for tackling the entry is: read the prompt and word count limit as soon as the e-mail arrives. Scratch out initial thoughts. Go out for a walk or get lunch and think about the prompt – think about what the ‘typical’ responses might be (the 1st 6 or so that come to mind should be ignored or twisted into something new). Do a free write without worrying about spelling or word count. Pull the nuggets out from the free write. Write a ‘real’ story. Step away from it. Read it. Step away again. Tweak it. Sleep on it. Make final revisions and submit a few hours before deadline.

This past weekend was the Spring contest. The Summer contest is going to be on July 13, and is now open for sign ups. Yep, I’ve already reserved my seat.

Do you have a favorite contest, or one that you find worthwhile? I’d love to hear about it.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson makes a living helping businesses express themselves with words and writing about NH. She has decided to complete several 5Ks in 2013 as a way to get off the couch and away from the screen. She drinks iced coffee year-round, and needs a stash of Peppermint Patties in the fridge at all times. You can connect with her on LinkedInBiznikFacebook, and Twitter

Secrets of Successful Freelance Writers – Part 2 of 2

successIn the first part of Secrets of Successful Freelance Writers, we talked about the importance of finding the right work, learning to accurately price writing projects, and releasing your inner project manager. In today’s post, we tackle four more secrets that can help you build the freelance writing business of your dreams so you can make money from home … in your pajamas.

Here we go!

Study your craft.

You will never be done learning about writing. Whether your goal is to write feature articles or marketing copy, there is an infinite collection of resources and references that will help you hone your craft. From traditional books to blogs, online courses to community college courses, mentorships to internships, there are literally hundreds of ways to improve your skills and confidence.

In my case, I leaned heavily towards online sources. I became a voracious blog reader, devouring post after post, storing choice bits in my Evernote files, and putting my new skills to work as quickly as I could (lest I forget them). You can self-educate however you prefer, but don’t ever stop being hungry for more knowledge.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Do a search for blogs on your particular area of interest. Load a few into a reader (with Google Reader closing in July, I just switched to Feedly and I’m loving it!). Read them regularly.
  • A great initial resource for anyone considering life as a freelance writer, Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed Writer series are a perennial favorite – chock full of great advice and helpful templates.

Create your system.

There’s a reason that the assembly line had such an impact on the industrial revolution. Systems help you replicate and streamline a process so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you tackle a particular task.

In addition to being more efficient, systems give you and your clients a greater sense of confidence. You know how to break a project down so you can get it down. Your clients feel like they are in capable hands when you have a clear and defined plan to get them from Point A to Point B.

Like pricing, expertise with creating systems will come with time and practice; but you can get a good head start by studying other people’s systems and thinking consciously about what works well on your projects.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Keep a running log of the steps you take to manage a project. After only a few times doing this exercise, you’ll begin to see patterns for what works and what doesn’t.
  • Formalize your system by giving each phase a name. Familiarize yourself with the optimal flow for a project and then share that with your client as you work through the process.

Pay attention to the details.

They say don’t sweat the small stuff. When it comes to writing, I disagree. In writing, you’re better off remembering that the devil is in the details.

In a perfect world, we’d each have our own private editor who would proof and polish our work for us before we release it to the client. However, this isn’t a perfect world, so that’s not usually possible. There are, however, two tricks you can use to help improve the quality of your work.

First, build “breathing room” into your development schedule. Too often, we are rushed. We write right up to the deadline and have to send our work out without giving ourselves time to walk away for a little while and then come back with a fresh eye. Whenever possible, make sure to give yourself enough wiggle room to let your copy “set” for twenty-four hours. You’ll be amazed at how many improvements you’ll be able to easily make even after that short a respite.

Second, read your work out loud. There are lots of things that look good on paper, but sound lousy when spoken aloud. Reading your work out loud makes it obvious when a certain word or phrase doesn’t work. Never skip this step.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • To convince yourself of the efficacy of these tactics, go back to a piece you wrote a while ago. First, edit it just on paper and then read it aloud and edit it again.
  • Adjust the list of tasks and template schedule you created to include “breathing room.”

Provide over-the-top service.

Finally, nothing strengthens your business like stellar service.

When you engage with clients, try to make the experience fun. Smile even if you’re meeting via conference call (people can hear smiles, you know). Keep a positive and upbeat mood. Be responsive to customer inquiries. Be a true collaborator. Be polite and helpful and respectful. Go the extra mile.

One of the best things you can do for any customer is make her life easier. Whether your clientele is made up of corporate marketing managers or solo entrepreneurs, everyone loves to work with someone who makes the work easy. Find little ways to take things off your customer’s plate. Become an irreplaceable resource.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Think about the types of customer service experiences that have wowed you. How can you incorporate some of those types of experiences into your own workflow?
  • Then think about the worst service experiences you’ve had. How can you ensure that you never make those mistakes with your customers?

So, there you have them – my seven favorite tips for becoming a successful freelance writer. So far, they have served me well. I hope they will do the same for you.

Questions? Lay ‘em on me and I’ll do my best to answer them.

More tips? Don’t just sit there – share! 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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Image Credit: seeveeaar

Secrets of Successful Freelance Writers – Part 1 of 2

antique typist photoSo, you wanna be a freelance writer. You want to work from home, make money writing, build a business in your pajamas. You can write, but do you know – really know – what it takes to succeed as a freelance writer?

I’ve been freelancing for more than five years. It was something I’d always thought about, but was afraid to try until I found myself facing divorce and single motherhood. Adversity has a way of helping us find courage we didn’t know we had. Happily, in addition to my courage, I also discovered a few serendipitous connections that helped me get set up with a couple long-term contracts.

For the first eighteen months, I wasn’t writing. I was a freelance project manager who helped web development companies herd their proverbial cats. I handled budgets and schedules, corralled various resources, and managed client expectations. I wrote a lot of meeting notes and a lot of emails, but nothing more creative than that.

Then, a year-and-a-half into my freelance journey, I got my first chance at a writing project. One of my clients needed some web copy written. When he asked if I knew anyone we could hire for the project, I offered up my own services. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no samples to show. I did, however, have the trust of my client. They gave me the shot and I never looked back. About six months later, I had enough experience under my belt to confidently call myself a “freelance writer.” Six months after that, I joyfully turned down a project management gig saying, “I don’t do that any more.”

Over the course of my adventures in the land of freelancing, I have learned many things. I have been hired for a wide variety of writing jobs: professional blogger, ghost blogger, marketing writer. I have written all kinds of content: essays, website copy, emails, newsletters, corporate ebooks, case studies, award submissions, brand identities, messaging frameworks, and more. I wear a lot of hats, but no matter what role I’m in or which kind of content I’m working on, there are seven “secrets” that have consistently contributed to my success:

Learn where to find work.

When you’re first starting out, it’s tempting to take jobs that you find on sites like Craig’s List or oDesk. While I’m sure there are some viable gigs that you can find through these sources, my personal experience was depressing – the quality of the clients was low, the pay was low, my chances of landing the job against the many other applicants were low.

Instead of searching these sites as a stranger in a strange land, think about how you can use your personal and business networks to make connections with potential clients. Your chances of getting an introduction to the right person are much higher when you have a personal contact. Your chances of getting stiffed are much lower (assuming your friends aren’t jerks).

Don’t overlook the value of the relationships you already have.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Make a list of all your contacts and make a commitment to reach out to a few of them each day. Share what you’re doing and ask them to let you know of any opportunities that come up.
  • One site that I did find helpful in the early years was Freelance Writing Jobs. Though I didn’t ever land a job through the site, perusing the daily job postings was a great way to begin getting a feel for what types of jobs were out there and even what people were paying for certain types of writing.

Learn to price projects properly.

One of the most common pitfalls awaiting new freelancers is inaccurate pricing. You land a new project, but you’re not sure what to charge. You end up throwing out a number that winds up being way off the mark. End result: you work your tail off, but your profits dwindle away to peanuts.

Knowing what to charge comes from experience. You need to know the market value of the work you’re doing as well as how long it will take you to do the work. When you’re just starting out, there are all kinds of unforeseen tasks that will eat away at your budgeted time like Uncle Ned at a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Do some online research by searching phrases like “freelance writing rates” to see what kinds of pricing resources are out there.
  • Make a list of all the tasks that go into a writing project: client intake, administration, research, writing, review meetings, revisions, formatting, editing. Create a template in Excel that you can use to help you price out projects.

Learn to be a project manager.

A project manager is the person in charge of creating and managing project plans, budgets, schedules, and resources. It’s an unglamorous role, but an important one. When you can handle these details, you take a great deal of responsibility off your client’s shoulders – you make her job easier. (That is a good thing.)

In addition to accurately estimating your time (and the associated cost) on a project, learn to create a basic project schedule for your clients. Handle all the documentation tasks associated with a project: creating a scope of work (a topic which deserves a post of its own), capturing meeting notes, sending reminders about next steps and deadlines.

By helping to keep the team on track and on time, you will become a more valuable asset.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Think through the basic steps of a project and create a simple project calendar or schedule that you can provide for each of your projects.
  • Get in the habit of providing clear, consistent communications (most usually in email) so you can help everyone stay on track.

These simple practices have played a big part in my success. They have kept my clients so happy that they don’t just come back for more, they refer their friends to me. I’ve seen these same principles at work in the successful writing businesses of my colleagues as well. Although creativity and writing excellence are important, you might be surprised at how qualities like responsiveness and reliability can influence your prospects.

Next time, we’ll cover four more secrets of successful freelance writers. Until then, what methods and tactics have you seen work well? How do you build your successful business?

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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Image Credit: Jan Willemsen