Spell Against Self Doubt

This summer, I almost turned down a writing residency.

Before fully considering the offer, doubt crept in. A friend pointed out that I was more focused on my self-doubt than the opportunity in front of me. And so, I cast a spell against self-doubt.

The spell was quite simple; it was to complete four actions before starting work.

Those actions were:

  • An act of kindness
  • An act of strength
  • An act of creation
  • An act of bravery
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My Spell Against Self-Doubt

In the weeks leading up to the residency, and during the residency itself, my spell against self-doubt became a daily practice. Each action was an antidote to my most frequent doubts.

The manifestation of my casual witchcraft was to:

  • Make coffee for my partner  (Act of Kindness)
  • Bust out 30-50 Pushups (Act of Strength)
  • Sketch a quick cartoon (Act of Creation)
  • Scribble three pages of automatic writing (Act of Bravery)

The culmination of this practical magic was that when I started work on my play I was energized, centered, and eager to tap into the fictional world I was creating. Whenever doubt started to murmur, I refuted it, with my proof of kindness, strength, creation, and bravery

Centering my writing practice on acts of kindness towards others (and myself) let me shed my fear that writing is a selfish pursuit. The adrenaline rush from my act of strength let me draw with energy and abandon. I started sketching because it was a form that had no repercussions on my sense of self as a creative.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction: holding a grudge / letting it go

I gave up on “learning to draw” in seventh grade when I was unable to render a realistic bouquet of flowers. Last July, when I decided to start drawing, I was unencumbered from any pressure to be good. Unlike writing, it’s not something I’ve practiced.Surprisingly, I fell in love.

Armed with paints, I was full of stories. Freed from any understanding of technique, I was able to let go of my bias that realistic is good. Drawing in my own perspective, freed me to write in my own voice.

After the joy of splashing my thoughts into colorful cartoons, I was able to face myself on the page and write.

By the time the residency started, the spell had taken hold. Instead of bringing my toolbox of doubt, I brought my watercolors and a play I was excited to share.

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Ready, Set, Draw!

Over the past six months, the spell has stuck. I continue to count acts of kindness, feats of strength, and drawing as an essential to my writing. What started as an act of desperation has become a source of inspiration.

Do you have your own version of the spell against self-doubt?

Have you ever tried drawing/dancing/singing as a way to warm-up before writing?


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Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

 

Friday Fun – The writer’s day job

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: I’ve never heard of a writer who launched a career without first enduring years of studying the craft, collecting rejections, and working all kinds of other jobs in order to pay the bills. Some writers seek out day jobs that are writing-related such as copywriting, journalism, and so on. Other writers prefer jobs that have nothing to do with writing, opting to keep their day job and dream job as separate as possible. What’s your preference and why?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I don’t know how to answer this question! In a dream world I imagined working odd jobs (bartending in particular) to pay for rent and food while working on novels. That might still transpire as I pursue my dream of living and traveling full-time in an RV.

But as it turns out, I’m a full-time business writer and any odd jobs away from it are more distracting than helpful. I guess I figured out how to answer the question! If/when I pursue a full-time fiction live, odd jobs will be welcome. Otherwise, I’ll take variety in the kind of non-fiction and business I write, but don’t want much distraction from it.

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Once upon a time I believed that an aspiring author should never engage in other types of writing for fear of contaminating her creativity or otherwise handicapping her muse. I don’t believe that any longer. When I held non-writing day jobs, I feel as though my entire frame of reference – to the world and my place in it – shifted. When my mind was occupied all day with things like inventory levels, sales budgets, project coordination, and so forth, I found it difficult to transition from that logistical and analytical way of thinking into a more fluid and creative state. My current “day job” as a self-employed marcom writer at least lets me work in my preferred territory – the land of words, ideas, and stories. I may not be writing fiction, but at least I am still working on how to craft a cohesive story, hook a reader, be clear in my writing, and so forth. Although the type of writing I do for my clients is a world away from the type of writing I do for myself, I have learned that all types of writing practice are beneficial.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: I’ve taught writing since 1980, to Ivy League students, elders, inmates and kids. I’ve also managed a rural medical practice, written medical copy, features, interviews and book reviews, as well as editorial columns and radio broadcasts. I’ve taught literature-based humanities programs in libraries, hospitals and prisons, given public lectures and motivational speeches. For a while, I was a leader for Weight Watchers. But all the while, my aim was to be able to write fiction full time, which is what I do now.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Can anyone “just” do one thing and make a living these days? While the dream might be to write full time, I know that part of writing full time is marketing, blogging, book signings, etc. etc. I am very lucky in that I love my day jobs, and love my life just as it is, for the most part. The juggling act keeps me focused. I won’t be able to do it forever, and the retirement dream includes writing full time. Someplace warm. Where it doesn’t snow.

Friday Fun – How Did You Go Pro?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Here on Live to Write – Write to Live, each of us is a professional writer who makes her living by some manner of wordcraft. You may wonder, however, exactly how we wound up doing what we do today. Where did it all start?

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Though I have always written, I have definitely not always made my living by writing. Far from it. I have been a sales clerk at a high-end jeweler, a retail buyer (of crystal and china), a project manager, an account executive, and a digital media producer. For most of my life, I kept my writing to myself. I considered it a private pleasure, not a professional endeavor. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and change that mindset! I have my daughter to thank, indirectly, for the fact that I am a professional writer today.

Becoming a mom was the event that inspired me to share my writing publicly. I was a first-time mom who was reeling from the initial tremors of divorce. After fourteen years of marriage and three years of marriage counseling, I was facing the end of my life as I knew it. I began sharing my experience through public journal entries on a little social networking site called Maya’s Mom. People read my stories. They identified. They commented. I suddenly realized that my words had a place in the world outside my head. Long story short, Maya’s Mom asked me to write for them professionally. It was my first paid writing gig and I was elated. About a year later, Maya’s Mom was bought by mommy blog behemoth, BabyCenter, and I went along for the ride.

It only took one tiny, baby step (pun intended) for me to start to believe in the possibility that I just might be able to make a living writing. Though by then I was divorced and working as a freelance project manager, I’d decided to make my living writing. I began offering writing services to my project management clients and within eighteen months had enough writing work that I was able to turn down project management jobs.

Today, I help clients define their brands by writing messaging frameworks. I write website copy, ebooks, case studies, research papers, manifestos, and more. I also write a bi-weekly column and the occasional feature for various regional publications, and have (finally) begun working seriously on my fiction. I no longer wonder if it’s possible that I might one day make a living writing my own stories. I just wonder how and when I’ll make that next leap.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: My first paid writing gig was as a foreign correspondent when I was a senior in high school (I filed weekly reports with the local paper from France, where I was on a month-long class trip). But like Jamie, it was motherhood that put me into print as an adult. I was tapped to write for a Family Matters column in a local paper, columns people still remember, just as I remember thinking, Why has no one ever said mothering is really hard before? They had – and they still do – but the details change with the generations. In addition to the parenting columns, I also wrote grocery lists and policies for the medical practice I managed. I earned most of my literary income as a freelance scholar and teacher. But writing jobs kept knocking on my door, and I jumped at the chance to turn ink into income. My first big job was writing a medical book for a major medical center. More medical jobs followed. All this time, I was also writing novels and essays. Vermont Public Radio picked up the essays; my first novel was published; I was able to retire from management and devote myself to writing, teaching and public speaking.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I got my first writing gigs in high school for the school newspaper. It was so nerve wracking to know I was writing for a public audience (instead of ‘just’ the class), yet I wrote about what I knew — the awesomeness of candlepin bowling, and the story came easily. It was published with my byline, and the bug bit — seeing my byline made all the anxiety beforehand totally worth it. I wrote more articles for the school paper, unpaid of course, but then moved on to college and contract work. I wrote a lot during various jobs, for pay, but no byline.

My first paid writing job was in the late 1990s writing for the local newspaper in a special segment that featured local businesses – if a business bought ad space, they had the option to also have an article written about them. If they opted for the article, a freelancer was needed. I applied and said I’d write about any business – so I landed auto dealerships, a garage door installer, ice cream businesses, restaurants, furniture stores — I didn’t care what type of business. And that launched me on my way.

I loved (still do) seeing my byline. My transition into a self-employed writer actually came about through manuscript editing, as a lot of editing work can end up being “re”writing. I kept writing for local papers and then a regional magazine while doing editing work, and eventually it forayed into writing for businesses. It was a subtle shift, and like anything, it’s always changing and growing as my interests and experiences grow. Most business writing doesn’t come with a byline, though, so I do still seek out public avenues for some of my work!

 

Yup, It’s Hard Work

As I lean into creating a career as a fictionn writer, and look for and talk to mentors, I keep waiting for the “and then it kicks in and just works” statements. No one is saying those words. At all. And the hard work goes beyond the butt in the seat writing time required. It also involves the business of writing itself.

sisyphus-signI have a number of friends who are publishing books right now. As a member of Sisters in Crime New England (and the current president) this isn’t really surprising. That is the point of the organization–support and mentorship. And friendship. Many of my Facebook friends are writing mystery series (or two or three), and have a book due every nine months. I know two people who had books released today. E and L had book #2 in their respective series due on Sunday, meanwhile they are doing signings, guest blogs, and promotion for their first books. T has a new series (her third or fourth) launching in two months, and is a wreck. B and J have book # 1 in their series coming out this fall, and are both working on book #2. J is thinking about a second series as well. S just got her first book contract, so now she has to write the book. G is looking for an agent. And R just got a contract on a book he has written, and is now working with the publisher on his promotional materials.

As someone who aspires to being on this treadmill, I am learning a lot about the publishing and promotion business. I am also learning over and over something I already know, but sometimes forget. It is hard work. All of it. Writing. Rewriting. Editing. Promotion. Starting it all over again. Hard work.

But what I am also learning is that attitude is everything. I learn from the people who lament publicly at every phase. I learn how not to act. And I learn from the people who are funny, exhausted, distracted, and grateful. Grateful wins, every time.

Writers need to write. We’ve eaten the apple, and are doomed to feel the call for the rest of our lives. Sure,  you can ignore the call; that is its own misery. No, we need to write. It is hard work, and a hard life. But we need to do it, despite the difficulties.

As I watch my Facebook feed, I just thought this should be acknowledged. It is all hard.

Really hard.

It never gets easier.

And worse? There are no guarantees. A series can be dropped. Promotion falls on the author’s shoulders. Ideas don’t come just because you scheduled this afternoon to write.

But still, even after all that and more, we write. Because we have to. We are blessedly cursed to have been infected with the need to write. It is more than a desire, it is a need. So the hard work needs to be balanced by joy. The small steps needs to be celebrated. We can control two things–what we produce, and our attitude.

Have a great 4th of July.

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