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.

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Ideas for Nonfiction (Part Two)

Continuing our list of ways to come up with topics for nonfiction articles, which you can then pitch to magazines and turn into fees and a portfolio…

Springboarding

I touched on this in detail in an earlier post. Keep a note pad handy while researching and writing your assignments. A fact might grab your attention, but be inappropriate for your current assignment. A small section of an article might have enough juice to warrant a full-size piece of its own. Maybe your article for a regional magazine could be recast to suit the needs of a local, or national, publication. If you jot down a reminder, you can come back to these ideas later and pitch them as unique stories.

Library Time

If all else fails, go to your local library or friendly neighborhood bookstore. Spend an hour or so skimming through magazines and reading what kinds of articles they’ve published lately. Think of related, but unique, ideas that will suit them. If you want to write for magazines, you should be reading them anyway. You can combine this idea with your personal expertise and a mind map for ferocious onslaught of idea generation.

The Shower

From what I’ve been told, I’m not the only person who does his best thinking in the shower. I don’t know why, but it seems like humans do their best thinking wet. Your omnipresent, ever-ready notebook will get ruined in the shower. A grease pencil or kids’ shower crayon won’t. I keep one in the little caddy, between my razor and the shampoo. If I’m struck by inspiration, I scrawl it on the shower wall and jot it into my notebook when I’m finished.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m certain others have their own methods, and I’d love to see some in the comments.

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.

Writing Professionally: Six Ways to Generate Buzz

The truth is that print publishing has been taken a beating. In 2010, eBook sales at Barnes & Noble and Amazon exceeded sales of any other kind of book (though admittedly not sales of all other kinds put together). It may not be long before the model of being a published author promoted by your book company is a thing of the past.

In the mean while, the best way to attract the attention of a publisher or an agent — aside from excellent writing — is to come to the negotiation table with an aura of buzz already surrounding your book. Celebrities and the new wave of “ce-web-rities” can still ink good deals because they bring fans with them when they sign a contract.

The rest of us have to generate buzz the hard way. Fortunately, the same factors that are killing the traditional book deal also make it easy for us to generate that buzz with inexpensive and convenient tools.

1. Set up and maintain a social media account such as Facebook or Twitter. Post frequently with the juiciest morsels from your book. “&%$# My Dad Says” started as a Twitter game and now it’s a book with a TV show.

2. Blog about it. For fiction, trickle out a few early chapters or especially beautiful scenes. For nonfiction, write a set of actionable advice posts that establish you as an expert and keep people coming back. Track the statistics to use as evidence when you go to sell your book.

3. Start a Webcast. Video and audio podcasts are growing in popularity every day. If you make it interesting or funny, it may go viral at any moment. Although you can cast about anything you want, you should always end the show by telling your fans about the book that’s coming up.

4. Employ your loyal army of ninja warriors. Okay. Since I came to this from a career as a martial arts teacher, I may be the only one with a loyal army of actual  ninja warriors. But you have your own loyal army of friends, family and acquaintances. If half of them get three friends to check you out, and half of them get three more friends…well, you can see where that leads.

5. Publish excerpts. This is sort of like the blog idea, but with more generally respected sources. Maybe you can take a chapter of your novel and sell it to Escape Pod as a short story. Or you can write about essential aspects of your nonfiction book in an article for a trade magazine. Not only will this increase your audience, you might even get paid.

6. Self-publish an ebook or limited print run. Nothing succeeds like success. If you can sell 2,000 to 5,000 copies of a first printing of your book all by yourself, you will get the attention of publishers as you look for a second run. Even if you don’t want to print more of that particular book, having a successful personal run will give you more credibility with agents and publishers.

There are dozens, hundreds, an infinitude of other possibilities out there. The main point is to use your imagination and beat the “new media” at its own game.

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.

Writing Professionally: Time to Write

Professional writers are lucky – we don’t have to worry about squeezing time to write in the corners left over by our job. Writing is our job. For those who want to become professional writers, developing a portfolio has to take place between your other demands.

The hosts of “Writing Excuses,” a podcast I recommend in an earlier post, have this to say about finding the time to write…

If you say you lack time to write, what you mean is you value other activities more than writing.

In some cases, this valuation is dead on. A contest between my writing and my sons is by no means a fair fight. On the other hand, I’ve sometimes made the wrong choice between re-watching Firefly and working on an impending deadline. To find time to write that breakout novel, or develop your portfolio, it’s likely that you’ll need to set aside another activity – like television, video games or sleep.

I’m currently in the middle of an aggressive productivity cycle, one that requires so much work that I feel like I’m squeezing writing time into the corners left over by my writing job. It reminds me of when I was running a full-time business, and writing in my spare time. Here are a few of the steps I’ve taken to find the time I need to write as much as I want:

  • I get up two hours early. I used to sleep until my toddler son woke me up, but those two baby-free hours in the morning are seriously productive time.
  • When baby Gabe goes down for a nap, I’m writing again rather than relaxing with a video game or Ted Talk on the youtube.
  • Before I pickup my “bedtime book” to read myself to sleep, I take some notes on the assignments I’ll work the next day. This may be pure superstition, but I feel like my conscious mind works on them overnight.
  • I split my daily workload into three segments, then only allow myself to check email, facebook and my favorite forms after I’ve finished a segment.
  • I work out daily, except when I’m sick. A daily 20-minute bit of exercise improves how fast you work, and how you feel about the work you’ve done. Also, I get cranky when I skip a day – and the wife notices.

These steps have found the space I need to literally double my productivity for the past few days – and it feels like they’ll be sustainable until I’ve reached my goals. I also employ some hacks to how I use that time to best advantage…but that’s a subject for another post.

Thanks for listening.