Time Alone, Part Two

Last month I posted about a writer’s need to guard his time and work process against the viking-like ravages of family. I promised a follow-up post and here it is.

First, thank you to April and Sarah who commented to bring their own methods for securing work time for their writing. Sarah has combined the old standby of closing the door with a fiance who knows better than to open it when she’s working. April brought up another challenge of writing. It’s not securing the quiet work space for her — it’s making herself work when there is fun to be had or errands to finish.

Ray Bradbury, in his memoir Zen and the Art of Writing, tells a story that touches on both of these things. According to Mr. Bradbury, Farenheit 451 was literally a dime novel. He wrote it when his children were of grade-school age, during the summer. When his kids wanted him to play instead of work…he chose play every time. Who wouldn’t? So Mr. Bradbury went to the local library and wrote his masterpiece on coin-op typewriters that ran on dimes.

That’s one way to solve the problem — remove yourself from both temptation and interruption.

What works best for my family is communication and scheduling. Being a little bit OCD, my wife an I go over the schedule for our summer days each evening before bed. This includes blocks of time where I’m going to work — often coinciding with my wife taking the kids to the park, library or similar off-site event. When they are home, my oldest son knows only to interrupt if it’s urgent and Mom can’t help — and mom doesn’t mind snuggling the baby child during those hours.

I’ll be the first to admit that it took some time, training and a few tears to really get to the point where my wife learned that needing to work didn’t equal not loving her. But that’s another post altogether.

Thanks for listening.

Book Release Announcement

Hi all,

Your patience has been rewarded. My new book, Astoria: A Guide to Oregon’s Gate to the Sea is now available at Amazon and Powell’s. After a couple months of publishing delays, it’s good to see it out there.

It’s a travel guide for Astoria and the surrounding area, including a bit of the history and culture that makes the area interesting enough for me to visit in the first place. If you’re planning a trip out this way, or you just want to support your 43rd favorite writer, order copies for yourself and everybody you know.

Thanks for listening.

Accountability, Week Four

I fell $130 short of goal this week. I could slam it out tonight, but instead I’m going to spend time with family who’s home for Easter. Part of this is because of the holiday weekend, part of it is due to the nice weather. A large part can be blamed on having discovered the program Sons of Anarchy.

The nice thing is that I beat my benchmarks during some earlier weeks. Meaning that, although I’m slightly behind for this week, I’m still ahead slightly towards my overall goals. This, I think, is the big lesson here. Tom Callos drummed into me about the power of slow, steady progress toward a goal. I slacked off this week, but I’m good to go because I’ve been on the path thus far. If I’d been slacking off for all the weeks, I’d be in a world of hurt.

Stats for this week:

  • Total Earnings Goal: $2,250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,110
  • Earning Compared to Benchmark: 94%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $9,000
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 45%
Thanks for listening.

Accountability, Week Three

This was a rough week for accountability. I had a minor surgery that took me out of the action for three days. I made my goals with a combination of three actions:

  • I worked extra early in the week to get ahead.
  • I scheduled my weekend to include some blocks of family-free time so I could play catchup.
  • I held back a paycheck from some March work to apply to this week.
Planning is vital if you want to succeed as a freelancer, and especially vital when life conspires to make it difficult.
This week’s statistics:
  • Total Earnings Goal: $2250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,255
  • Earning Compared to Benchmark: 100%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $6,890
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 35%
Thank you all for providing some of the encouragement I need to stay on track. And, as always, thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Entrepreneurship

All freelance writers are serial entrepreneurs, whether we like it or not. An entrepreneur is somebody who comes up with an idea, tries to sell that idea, works with people to make that idea happen and finally makes or loses money based on the quality of that idea.

The cycle of selling an article follows that exact process. As freelance writers, we come up with an idea for an article, we try to sell that idea to a magazine, we work with experts as we research the article, and we get paid based on whether or not the magazine accepts the final product.

There’s just one difference between an entrepreneur and a freelance writer. The typical entrepreneur will go through this cycle less than ten times in his entire career. A productive freelance writer will go through this cycle more than ten times every single month.

With the increased availability of self-publication and self-promotion on the internet, freelance writers become even more entrepreneurial as we release actual products such as blogs, newsletters and ebooks.

Bottom line: to make it as a writer, we shouldn’t just study the tools of writing. We must also understand entrepreneurship, small business management, sales and marketing.  Bottom line: if you’re writing well enough to sell even a few articles, you’re better off getting an MBA than an MFA.

I’m fortunate enough to have come to this career after nearly a decade in small business management and ownership. I’ve read the key texts on the important subjects, and I’ve experimented in the laboratory of a working brick-and-mortar business.

For those who are coming from a less business-oriented background, I’d like to take the liberty of suggesting a few books to start your education:

Remember: if you don’t make your writing a business, you have no business trying to write for a living. There’s nothing wrong with just writing for the pure joy of it. Just don’t try to support your family by treating your writing business like it’s a hobby.

Thanks for listening.

PS: On the subject of entrepreneurship, I’ve just launched a side project based on a simple, fun idea. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Astoria Book Update

Quick update for all the folks who have been asking what’s up with my upcoming book on Astoria, Oregon.  It was due on April 1st, but there’s been a printing delay. Something to do with the maps.

I should receive a final approval galley early next week. You can still expect to be able to order — or receive your preorders — by the end of the months.

Thanks for your patience. I know some of you are looking forward. Almost as much as I am.

Writing Professionally: The Tao of Steve

The Tao of Steve was a romantic comedy from the turn of this century, a favorite of my friend and martial arts brother Kelly Dodge.  Personally, I prefer my comedies less romantic – and my romances less comedic — but that’s a matter of personal opinion.

In Tao, protagonist Steve has a foolproof set of rules for seducing women.

  1. Be without desire.
  2. Be excellent in her presence.
  3. Be gone.

You can apply these same rules to succeeding as a professional freelancer.

Be Without Desire. Of course you have desires, opinions, problems, difficulties and a personal agenda — but your clients and potential clients don’t need to know about them. When you’re pursuing and completing assignments, what matters are the job and the deadline. Save personal details for when you’re not working.

Be Excellent in Her Presence. Always put your best face forward whenever you’re interacting with a client. Check spelling on your emails, talk on the phone when you can give the conversation your undivided attention. Make certain you attach files to emails that need them. Meet your deadlines every time and without fail. Remain professional at all times. From my experience, this is the single thing that will set you apart from other freelancers.

Be Gone. Finish your work and move on to your next assignment. That doesn’t mean you can’t check in from time to time, foster a relationship and keep yourself in mind when they next need your services. But it does mean that you should complete your business in a timely fashion and wrap up each assignment as professionally as possible.

In the movie, Steve ends up meeting a woman who puts his system on its ear and turns him into a sincere and loving long-term partner. Like most romantic comedies with this storyline, the moral is that a long-term relationship is better than what could be called “romantic freelancing.” As a happily married work-from-home husband and dad, I have to agree when it comes to romance. For my work life, though, I’ll happily stick with freelancing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some of my clients for years, and value my relationship with them. But I have them because I observe these rules, and I’ve kept them because I don’t break them.

Thanks for listening.


Accountability, Week One

If you have an important deadline or goal, it helps to have somebody to whom you are accountable. This is especially important when freelancing, since you lack the corporate structure that usually comes with its own accountability in the form of your boss.

Since I made my earnings goal announcement earlier this week, you my blog followers have become my accountability.  Progress as I “close business” this Saturday night:

  • Total Earnings Goal: $2250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,385
  • Earning Compared to Benchmark: 107%
  • Progress Toward of Total Goal: 12%

Just posting this publicly helps motivate me to stay on track. Thanks, as always, for listening.

Many thanks to Tom Callos, my friend and mentor, whose Ultimate Black Belt Test taught me the value of blogging progress toward important goals.

A Writer’s Bookshelf

“A writer must read incessantly.”

This is the advice I remember best from the first writing class I ever took – at the local library, when I was in fifth grade. It has stuck with me for the three decades (plus maybe just a little) since I took that class. If you want to write detective fiction, read detective fiction. If you want to be a travel writer, read the travel sites, zines and books. Besides reading what’s going on in your genre, a writer should also read about writing. You need to be careful, though – there’s a lot of drek out there, often somebody trying to cash in on the fact that there are enough hopeful writers to form an industry in and of itself.

I’ve spent bad money on my share of that drek. I’ve also had the good fortune to find a handful of books I recommend to anybody who seriously wants to make a career out of writing.

On Writing, by Stephen King. A “memoir of the craft,” this book consists of both King’s autobiography and a detailed account of King’s tools and tricks for the trade. You may or may not like King’s writing (I pretty much gave up on him in the late 80s) but you can’t deny that he knows a little something about writing for success.

Six-Figure Freelancing, by Kelley James-Enger. Nonfiction is the easiest way to break into writing full-time. James-Enger’s guide gives detailed instructions in the best ways to maximize your income as a freelance writer of nonfiction. It’s light on advice for breaking in to the field, and has little to say about the internet market, but overall a great tool for inspiration and practical advice.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block. This is a collection of essays Block wrote for the magazine Writer’s Digest. They’re hip, funny and topical – covering everything from research to industry tips to specific techniques for common stumbling points. I still use his advice for making up names every time I introduce a new character. Block has at least three of these collections in print, and this is the best of them. If you love it, get the others. As of 2010, the book is 30 years old – so don’t expect much advice about the “new media.”

Seven Years to Seven Figures by Michael Masterson. Not a writing book, this is a guide to some of the easiest ways to increase your net worth to $1,000,000 or more. Thing is, nearly all of the ways he mentions include writing – especially writing ad copy – and publishing. It’s a good source of ideas for how to make money with your writing, and was instrumental in getting me to make the move to full-time.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. If you don’t have this on your shelf, you have no business calling yourself a writer. Own it. Read it. Reread it. Refer to it often. As my most influential teacher, Ms. Day, used to have to tell me all the time: “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” S&W wrote down the rules.

There are others, and today’s list includes websites and podcasts. But above are the resources I find myself returning to year after year.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Paid Leave

One problem contractors often mention is the lack of paid sick leave or vacation time. When you work for yourself, your boss tends to be a harsh taskmaster. But we all get sick, want time off, have emergencies. There’s no getting around that. A freelancer needs time off without suffering financial hardship.

The trick is to treat your leave just as an employer treats an employee’s leave. Employees don’t get paid for not working – they get paid extra when they do work, and that extra is held back until they take time off.

As a freelancer, you accomplish this by working ahead. Do enough work to amass a savings account from which you can draw your weekly or daily nut while you’re not working. When you return to work, schedule in additional hours until you’ve refilled your bank of leave money.

This can be a problem for the less disciplined among us. With no boss or time clock to make sure we work, it’s easy to take time off when we don’t have any banked time to cover it. The only solution to this is personal discipline: don’t take the time unless you have it. If you have an unavoidable emergency or serious illness with no time, you will need to scramble for extra work until you’re caught up.

Planning, discipline and organization are important traits if you choose to take this approach to scheduling time off as a freelancer. If you don’t have them, you’ll need to practice them until you do – or get an “accountability partner” to bust your chops for you on a daily or weekly basis.

Thanks for listening.