Goal Setting: HOKBIC

For some writers, the hardest part of establishing productivity is making yourself sit down and actually write. You have chores to do, kids to play with, email to check, books to read. It feels like every time you have a great idea for a story or project, you never get around to actually putting it on paper — or entering into the word processor.

If you’re this kind of writer, you might get good mileage out of setting your goals according to HOKBIC time:

  • Hands
  • On
  • Keyboard
  • Butt
  • In
  • Chair
More than one successful author wrote a breakout novel by getting up one hour early or going to bed one hour late. They didn’t worry about how much they wrote or how much money they made — just on setting aside time to write, and writing during that time. If you write for one hour every day for a year, you will have produced a sizable book by the end of that time.
How much HOKBIC time you need depends on your situation as a writer. If you write as a hobby, you probably won’t need an aggressive goal. If you write part-time as an adjunct to a full-time job, you don’t need┬áHOKBIC time…but you should give yourself several hours each week if you want to ever transition to writing as your full time living. Professional writers should set their HOKBIC goals based on how rapidly they work, and how much they need to get done to make their deadlines and financial goals.
You can also apply this kind of dedicated work time to the other tasks surrounding writing. For example, a 10-hour work day might consist of 4 hours of writing, 2 of promotion and marketing, 2 of rewriting, 1 of bookkeeping and 1 of “pencil tapping” to sketch new projects.
Like any other goal, it’s usually better to set your HOKBIC time goals by the week. “Five hours each week” is better than “One hour every work day.” Although it’s the same amount of time, the weekly goal is less likely to fail. Every week will have at least one day that conspires to keep you from meeting your goal…but if you phrase it weekly, you have a chance to catch up by week’s end.
Thanks for listening.

Ideas for Nonfiction Writing (Part One)

“Where do you get your ideas?”

This question is normally associated with fiction writers. I think it’s Harlan Ellison who tells people that he subscribes to an idea service. Coming up with ideas for nonfiction articles is just an important, and in some ways harder. The nonfiction article market is enormous — and growing every day with the proliferation of internet content. All we need to do is come up with compelling pitches. Here are some of the methods I’ve used to get ideas and turn them into money. I’ll bring more to your attention in a later post, since this is a rich topic I could write about all day.

Plumbing Knowledge and Experience

Everybody is an expert at something. I got my start writing self-defense and safety articles as an adjunct to running a karate studio. I sold insurance for a while, and recently did the math to discover I’ve made more money writing about insurance than I did selling it. Industry and special interest publications are the best market for these, especially if you can apply your special knowledge to a related interest. I’m a middle-sized fish in the martial arts pond, which means I had to fight to get my stuff in Black Belt. Parenting magazines, on the other hand, eat my family safety stuff up. This may be the best way to break in to the writing market, since you’re selling your existing expertise rather than asking somebody to take a chance on a thin portfolio.

Mind Mapping

This is the shotgun approach to idea generation. Start by writing a word at the center of a piece of paper. Draw branches off that word, each with a detail or related subject. Draw further branches off each of those branches, filling the page with words and concepts. Some of them will remain words, while others will blossom into full story ideas. This is the method I use for blog subjects. It works well for general brainstorming, and for expanding on basic areas of expertise or interest.

Pre-Orders

Some ideas come to you prepackaged. The freelance writing job sites (more on these in another post) rarely have ads for general writing. Rather, they have ads for somebody to write about a specific — sometimes very specific — topic. The current boom of content mills is based on writers accepting prepackaged writing assignments based on common search engine queries. Small business owners want blogs written to topics that interest potential clients. If you’re a quick researcher, this is an opportunity for nearly limitless work at a pretty good wage.

I’m eager to hear your ideas, as well. Please comment with some tricks you’ve tried.

Thanks for listening.


Accountability, Week Seven

Back in the saddle this week. Still a little rocky, physically, but my energy and concentration are back. Apologies for no Friday update — had a fascinating family thing I’ll probably report on this week.

  • Total Earnings Goal: $2,250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,400
  • Earnings Compared to Benchmark: 106%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $14,145
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 71%
Thanks for listening.

Point of View

Under normal circumstances, I’m a highly energetic, ferociously physical guy. This affects my writing, both in terms of voice and in terms of what I choose to write about.

These past two days, I’ve been alternating between periods of aching recovery, frustration with how slowly I have to move, and hazy drifts through pain-medicated fog. Overall, this is not the most pleasant experience I’ve had this year.

But…

It helps with point of view. Joe R. Lansdale, a martial artist speaking of writing bad fight scenes, once said “You can tell when a virgin is writing a sex scene.” This feeling of helplessness, of low energy, of weakness, will help me write better characters in my fiction and write more effectively for some audiences of my nonfiction.

A lot of the best authors suffered throughout their lives, giving them the empathy to truly understand each and every one of the challenges and conflicts affecting their characters. I’m not comparing my routine hernia operation to the lives of those giants, but it’s a small piece of the same page.

As writers, we have the advantage that every hardship we suffer now is fuel for your creativity later. Even if it never makes it into a particular story, simply knowing this can help us better handle the situation as it happens.

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.

Doing it Right Redux: Freelancing

I’m a professional freelance writer, and have friends who freelance as artists, web designers, coders, financial consultants and bodyguards. Freelancing can seem like a dream: set your own hours, charge more than the daily “wage slaves,” live with your work ethic as the only limiter to your earnings. On the other hand, nobody guarantees you a paycheck. If you do it wrong, you wind up not just broke. You’re broke with an embarrassing gap in your employment history.

Freelancing successfully requires a different formula for different people, but one rule remains true. This rule serves as a warning to many – but for those who do it right, it defines the fastest route for setting yourself apart from the pack. The rule is simple:

People who want to go into business for themselves are often the least suitable people to do so.

Traits that support success for freelancers include attention to detail, sweating the small stuff, working well with multiple bosses, being consistent in communication, and making decisions that help your team over decisions that support you the most. Most people who want to freelance have trouble with one or more of these categories – otherwise, they wouldn’t mind working a 9 to 5 job.

Because this is true, the degree to which you treat your freelance career like a regular job is the degree to which you will rise above the freelance herd. From talking with my freelance friends – both the successful and the struggling, I’ve identified eight habits for remaining professional while working from home in your underwear.

  • Observe a maximum one-day turnaround on emails and phone messages unless you’ve notified a client you’re unavailable.
  • Keep all your deadlines, from turn-in dates to promised communication.
  • Take your lumps with a smile. Some clients will behave in ways you find unreasonable. Working “for the man” means playing nice. Working for yourself means playing nice with more people, more often.
  • Set working hours: time when you’re “at work,” and times when you are not.
  • Remember marketing. In a regular job, you have to work to their specs. While freelancing, you need to spend some time every day finding your next assignment.
  • Observe business communications etiquette. Just because you don’t have an HR inquisitor looking over your shoulder doesn’t mean you don’t need to be polite.
  • Have a professional website, professional business cards and professional letterhead.

The majority of freelancers hit the market with a strong skill set and a bad attitude. Don’t be that guy. It might cost your ego a little from time to time, but it’s the price of admission for success. This isn’t the only key to making it as a freelancer – there are many, many (Many! MANY!) other requirements. But if you can’t see yourself observing these rules, you’re probably better off sticking with your day job.