Ink-Dipped Advice: Adversity

Those of you who have followed along on Ink in My Coffee and on social media know that last week, I was hit with a crisis. I had an unexpected major car repair, far more than I had put aside. Yes, I am one of the 78% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck who cannot afford an emergency.

I’d thought the month of May was the start of my road out of that, and that I might even have enough of a cushion to take a few much-needed days off, but then I was hit with the car repair.

The repair is being done in stages. Phase One, the most expensive one, was to get the car back on the road. I live in an area where public transportation is a joke, unless you’re going from Hyannis or Barnstable into Boston.

The hard part is, I had to ask for help to do it. That nearly killed me. Which is not logical, because I do my best to help anyone else who asks whenever I can. Yet not having enough of a cushion to fund this major, unexpected repair myself makes me feel like a failure.

But I asked for help. I received far more than I expected. I also sent out another spate of pitches, some at a much higher rate than I expected. I received payment for a big job just completed (which had been marked for other bills and a couple of days of rest for me, but oh well). I landed an assignment from a quick-pay publication, and have another spec assignment on a bigger-than-I-usually-work-for pub that would pay well (although a few months down the line). I sent some LOIs to companies I might not have initially approached, but circumstances made me do so now.

It’s more immediate pressure on me right now, but if I can keep myself mentally in the game, and not break down physically, I should be able to do it.

But it sharpens into focus some of the things I’ve been trying to change, and forces me to change them sooner rather than later.

This is a catalyst for change.

It will be good in the long run. If I can only survive in the short run.

How do you deal with unexpected adversity? What are your most helpful tools?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Conference Follow-Up

 

I was honored to teach at the NECRWA Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference over the last weekend of April.

I’m in the process of follow up from the conference. I usually try to get it done in the first two business days after I return. I was so wiped out from the month of April that I crashed and burned last week, and I’m still working on my usual post-conference protocols.

I’ve written about this before, last year, in the Authors Publish newsletter. I haven’t referred to that copy for this post — I’m simply sharing what I do. Returning from a conference can be overwhelming, when you unpack and look at all you’ve brought back.

Thank the Conference Organizers
I believe this is the most important piece of follow-up. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and emotional stamina as well as physical stamina to put on a conference. The organizers deserve a little thanks.

I thanked them in person on the final night, and I’ve thanked them across several social media platforms.

I’m behind in the written thank you, but that went out at the beginning of the week.

All of that matters.

Send out Promised Materials
Did you meet with any agents or editors? Did they ask for something specific? Get it out, as soon as possible. Some of them will ask you to wait a week or two after the conference, because they have a lot to catch up on. Make a note on your calendar, and send it when requested.

Make sure to send the materials while it’s still fresh for them.

This is also true if it was a trade show style conference and you spoke with vendors about possible freelance jobs.

If you talked to agents, editors, or publishers who didn’t ask for anything specific, just send them a quick note or email saying you enjoyed the conversation. Not every interaction has to be an immediate submission. There are plenty of agents and editors I love talking to at conferences. But I don’t write what they represent or publish, so I don’t submit or query what they don’t want. I do, however, keep in touch. If I ever do write something in their wheelhouse, I’ve laid the basis for a relationship.

If you met a potential critique partner and talked about exchanging manuscripts, or a fellow writer, where you did a book exchange, send the materials or say thanks. If it was a book exchange in the moment, make the time to sit down and read the book within the next two weeks. Tossing it on the TBR pile and not getting to it for a year isn’t helpful. Be the partner that you seek.

Thank presenters
Did you attend presentations you particularly enjoyed? Most presenters include their website or social media information in their presentation or handouts. Send them a quick e-mail and thank them on social media.

Even if we intellectually know our presentations went well, it’s a big emotional boost when a participant takes the time to say “thank you.”

Follow up with fellow conference goers
I collect cards, flyers, bookmarks, postcards from everyone. If we’ve had a conversation, I follow up as soon as possible, either to say I enjoyed the conversation, or to continue it.

Sort the Swag
In addition to picking up material from those I meet, I also accumulate plenty of material from those I didn’t.

When I get home, I sort it.

Agents, Editors, Publishers go in one pile. This is AFTER I follow up with promised materials, as stated above.

Authors I met go in another pile.

Authors I didn’t meet, but picked up material go in a third pile.

I follow up with authors I met first. That includes buying at least one of their books, if I didn’t do so at the conference. And reading that book in a timely manner. And then, LET THEM KNOW YOU READ IT — especially if you liked it. Leaving a review is also helpful.

I research the agents, editors, and publishers, especially if I didn’t get a chance to meet or cross paths with them at the conference. Do I have anything I think will suit? Does what I have meet their guidelines? Are they open for queries?

There have been times when I’ve been signed with an agent, and I run into an editor or publisher at a conference with whom I click. I then discuss it with my agent, and together we decide if there’s anything to query, or if we save it for another time.

If I have good conversations with an agent or agents while l’m under representation, I let them know. I don’t want my agent to feel I’m doing anything behind their back; I don’t want the agent I talk with to think I’m behaving that way either.

I go through the pile of authors I didn’t meet last, and check out their books and websites. Conferences are one of my favorite ways to find new-to-me authors.

File Information
I have files of conference programs, handouts, and promotional materials. I often remember a particular author or business by which conference I “discovered” them, so that’s how I file. I file the information AFTER I’ve done all of the above, because if I put away a file, my subconscious believes I’ve finished the project. I need unfinished files in front of me.

I keep files for far too long. Basically, I have an Archive. But that’s my choice. Do what suits you.

Normally, I’d have my initial contacts done early in the first week I was back, and be working my way through the Authors-I-Didn’t-Meet pile. But I’m behind, so I’m still working on thanking presenters and following up with other authors I met.

If the above sounds like a lot of work — hey, it is! But it pays off in connections and building friendships and finding great new reading material.

It’s all worth it.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Opportunity

 

We’re still working on the personal strategic plan. This week, we discuss the category called “Opportunities.”

What does that mean in a strategic plan?

I define it as taking a closer look at where you (either an individual or a business) are not utilizing your strengths and recognizing the chance to grow.

Part of that is not approaching potential new customers with a negative.

The Positive Approach
Let’s say there’s a small business in your town. You’d like to work with them. You know you’d be a good hire. You could handle their marketing, social media, get them connected to other businesses and events in the community that will grow their profile and, by extension, their business.

You do your research. The social media profile has very few followers and they aren’t following a whole heck of a lot, either. There are some marketing posts, but no engagement. There are typos in their signage and on the website. The website is a static page on a free site that doesn’t draw in the viewer.

Lots to fix, right?

An opportunity, right?

But HOW do you approach them? By telling them what’s wrong with their site and their approach?

Not unless they ask you, in the interview, what you would do differently.

If you pitch them with what’s wrong with their site, they won’t bother to listen.

If you pitch them with how your skills will grow their audience, their engagement, and their business, there’s a better chance they’ll pay attention.

How to lose them: “I looked at your site. You have typos galore, it’s obvious you’re not paying for a web host, and your social media profile is practically non-existent. If you hire me, I’ll fix it.”

How to get them interested: “I was drawn to your site by your mission and your passion. It’s difficult to keep on top of all the communication and audience engagement needs when you’re so busy. If you’re ever interested in bringing in someone to ease that pressure, I’m interested. I have some ideas to engage and expand your audience. I’d love to meet with you and talk through ideas.” And then add in your particular skills that are appropriate.

See the difference?

Every interaction can be an opportunity, and it doesn’t need to be a hard sell in the moment. Meet people. Exchange cards. Follow up. If it’s not something that’s your area of interest or expertise, keep an eye open to see where you can recommend someone else. If you come across a helpful article or piece of information, send it on.

Instead of drive-by marketing, build relationships.

Stay in contact with people. That’s vital. I find reminder postcards more useful than emails, but not more than quarterly. I send out a batch of cards with a simple, “how are you? I was thinking of you. I thought I’d check in to see if you need anything.”

I’m big on holiday cards at the end of the year. It’s a way to let people know you’re thinking of them.

Expanding Your Repertoire
Is there something that interests you, but you haven’t worked much in that area?

Research companies/businesses that work in that area.

Frame your pitch so you convince them that the skills you have are what they need, and that you can learn the details of their particular business quickly.

My marketing and social media skills apply to a variety of fields. I’ve written for sports, individual artists and musicians, a marine life non-profit, museums, an independent clothing designer, an organic landscaper, a record producer, a chef, and much, much more.

I found things that interested me, and applied my skills.

As a bonus, I now understand more about how those businesses work. That’s useful in both business writing AND in my fiction and scripts. Because everything is material.

Best Advice
The biggest advice I have in the opportunity category is: Don’t wait for opportunity. Create opportunity.

How do you create opportunities?

Where would you like to expand?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan – Goals

 

Last week, I noted that I’m not comfortable publicly stating my goals on this site, when it comes to the Personal Strategic Plan. We all have the choice how much to reveal and how much not to reveal. There are times where stating a goal or a dream or a resolution publicly makes you take firmer action and have accountability. There are also times when talking a goal too early dilutes it from becoming a reality.

I have a site where I keep monthly to do lists and work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the month and the year. Of course, it’s called “Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions” and can be found here. I work on a series of questions through autumn that help me define my GDRs for the coming year.

Then life comes and things change. We all have to decide where to be adaptable and flexible, where to let go of what no longer works, and where we’re just giving up.

For me, goals are things I can break down into actual steps. I can put a finite time limit on them. Dreams are more fluid. I often need more time and thought and resources before I can turn a dream into a goal. A resolution is where I work on something in myself that I want to improve.

In a strategic plan, the goals are closely tied to the vision/mission statement, and use the strengths and weaknesses. (We will talk about opportunities and threats in a future post — I’m rolling my eyes just thinking about it).

Goals have to do with knowledge of what you can and can’t control.

For example, a novelist can have the goal of writing and polishing the next novel, and getting it out on submission. Becoming a best-selling author within a year might be a dream, but until the book is written and out on submission, it’s not a goal. Once the book is in publication, there are plenty of parts of the “best-seller” mode that the author can’t control, but the author can take specific steps to turn it from a dream into a goal by a comprehensive marketing plan and hand-selling, one-on-one, to as many potential bookstores, conferences, readers, etc.

But without a manuscript on paper, “best-seller” is a dream, not a goal.

Even once the book is out there, there are plenty of factors that might make “best seller” impossible. You can then set goals for sales increases based on the physical work you are able to do in any given period, and your advertising budget. You might not meet them, but you’re closer to tangibles and actions.

Goals are about action. “I am here, I want to be THERE.”

A reasonable goal is “I will pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs this month.”

A more difficult goal is that you will SELL 4 articles and that all 10 LOIs will wind up in assignments, because there are too many factors outside of your control.

The more experience you have, the more research you do prior to the pitches and the LOIs, the more likely each one is to hit true and get you a paid assignment, but the goal is to do your homework and get good pitches out there.

A resolution would be to take any rejections, examine them, learn from them, and apply that knowledge moving forward so that you have a higher percentage of
acceptances.

By learning and applying new knowledge, you are more likely to have your pitches and LOIs result in paid assignments. You will see your percentage go up.

You may well hit the point where you pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs in a month and they all hit.

Then, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I want, or am I playing it safe?”

It may be time to adjust the goals.

Can you send out the 4 pitches and the 10 LOIs that hit, but also send out one or two more pitches and a couple of LOIs to places that are a stretch? More visible markets at higher pay? Maybe they won’t hit, but if they do, you’re moving up a tier.

You’re building on the achieved goals.

When you sit down to list goals, list plenty. Then break them down to see which are goals and which are dreams. Which dreams need work on resolutions, so that you can turn them into goals?

You’ll notice I’m avoiding a lot of market-speak in this piece. Mostly because those terms make me want to hurl. Certain terms get overused and are thrown around instead of action. Especially in meetings, where people try to impress executives with a lot of hot air.

I was on the board of a non-profit a few years ago. We worked on the organization’s strategic plan. I was the one in the room who kept saying, “What do you MEAN by those phrases? What are you going to DO to create these goals?”

Which, of course, was met with blank looks. Until someone took a breath and threw out another string of market-speak, to which I said, “How?”

Which was met with more blank looks.

The terminology does not replace the action.

Goal setting takes time. It requires thought. It requires self-evaluation and sometimes painful honesty.

But once you separate the goals from the dreams, and figure out how current goals support longer-term dreams, you can start breaking down the goal into steps you can actually take to see results, instead of getting overwhelmed by the whole project.

You will need to stop and re-assess along the way. You may need to change elements of the goal or the path to achieve it.

But without taking definitive action, it’s all talk. It’s a list of meaningless phrases that doesn’t get you anywhere.

How do you come up with your goals?

How do you break your goals down into steps?

How do you motivate yourself to TAKE that first step, and then the next?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Strengths & Weaknesses

Today, we talk about SWOT, the part of the personal strategic plan — or any strategic plan — that makes me feel like I’m entering the land of the psychobabble. I’m using myself as an example, not because I think I’m so wonderful, but because I hope sharing portions of my own journey will help you find ways to look at your own possibilities.

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

The “threats” part of it make me wonder if someone arranged the letters so it would be close to SWAT. Unless I’m worried about corporate espionage, or unless I’m living in a dangerous neighborhood or factoring in climate change, “threats” are a misnomer. I think that’s a toxic element to add into an organization’s discussion of a way to move forward. Even if that organization is facing a rough stretch. When it’s part of a personal plan — I think it sets a tone of paranoia, instead of positive forward motion.

Most strategic plans create a scorecard for four topics within each of these four topics: financial, customer, internal, and learning/growth.

Finding, acknowledging, dealing with, and improving upon these facets is important, whether it’s a business, a non-profit, or your personal plan.

Rather than putting those four topics under the S, W, O, T headings, I would put them the other way around.

We will focus on Strengths & Weaknesses this week.

Question: What are the areas important and relevant to your life?

My list includes:
Creativity
Home/Family/Friends
Financial concerns
Health
Work
Long Term Goals

Under Creativity, I create the following list:
Strengths:
–Steady flow of ideas and inspiration from almost everything around me;
–Ability to integrate and absorb different ideas and techniques into a whole;
–High bullshit detector;
–Love of research and learning;
–Fast learning curve;
–Insatiable curiosity;
–Ability for intense, prolonged concentration;
–Willingness to try new things and expand skills.

Weaknesses:
–Can hyper-focus on a single task and demand total immersion;
–Impatience with self and others.
–Overwork and don’t realize it until it’s too late and I’m past the point of diminishing return;

Home/Family/Friends
Strengths:
–Loyalty;
–Compassion;
–Humor;
–Inclusion;
–Stubbornness/tenacity.

Weaknesses:
–Sometimes misplaced loyalty;
–Need for large amounts of solitude and silence;
–Impatience;
–Zero tolerance for stupidity and chosen ignorance;
–Introversion;
–Tenacity/tenacity.

Financial Concerns:
Strengths:
–Multi-skilled;
–Fast learning curve;
–Contract skills;
–Inventive frugality;

Weaknesses:
–Living in an area that does not respect my work/skills and doesn’t want to pay for them;
–Instability of freelancing;
–Not enough time spent marketing the fiction;
–Some impulse buying, especially when it comes to books;
–Not enough savings;
–Not enough of a financial cushion for meaningful vacation breaks or emergencies.

Health
Strengths:
–Daily yoga and meditation practices;
–Weight training;
–Healthy eating (most of the time)

Weaknesses:
–Poor health insurance options;
–Distrust of the medical profession and the insurance system;
–Not enough physical activity;
–Not enough breaks/vacation time.

Work:
Strengths:
–The entire list from the creativity section is relevant here;
–Ability to adapt quickly and integrate new skills;
–Willingness to do more than the minimum;
–Can read a little bit in more than English;
–A refusal to work for those who I believe lack integrity.

Weaknesses:
–The list from the creativity section is relevant here;
–Willingness to do more than the minimum often ends up in my being expected to clean up for lazier or less-skilled co-workers without appreciation or remuneration.
–As I age, I no longer want to have to adapt constantly. I want to do the job I’m there to do, and that’s it;
–Am only fluent in English;
–Because I believe the work is not about me, but about the work, my contributions are sometimes minimized.

Long Term Goals
I am not comfortable sharing these publicly right now. It’s a case of talking before doing doesn’t help me manifest, but hurt me manifest.

But in the Long-Term Goals category, I find that it helps to define a SMALL set of goals (three to five, not fifteen to twenty), and then list how my strengths and weaknesses affect each goal.

This is different than the way most organizations talk about their long-term goals, but again, it’s different for an individual than for an organization. You use the techniques that have personal value in each type of situation.

Examining the strengths and the weaknesses, it helps to ask where one can build on the strengths. For me, some of my strengths are also weaknesses. Sometimes, it depends on context.

Once you figure out what strengths you can build on (and, in many cases, it’s almost all of them; we are rarely at the pinnacle of our capabilities), then it’s time to examine the weaknesses.

I ask myself:
–Where can I turn a perceived weakness into a strength?
–Where does a weakness indicate a type of job or situation I should avoid because it runs counter to my own core integrity?
–What are weaknesses that can be lessened if I change my perspective or put in time to learn more skills?
–Where do either my strengths or weaknesses become obstacles in my goals, and how can I change that?

There are dozens more questions you can ask on each of these topics, but the above questions are the ones I find most useful.

Also, more than one factor from more than one area often plays in to what we can change at this moment, and where we need to use patience and persistence to make small changes now that will add up to larger changes in the future.

How do you analyze your strengths and weaknesses?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Seize the Opportunity

I’m still working on the personal SWOT piece I promised you a few weeks ago. Because I have issues with how those are set up, I’m fighting/challenged to create something that works better.

In the meantime, I had a lovely, unexpected opportunity spring up.

In one of the busiest months I’ve had in the last few years.

However, it’s a GREAT opportunity. It came to me almost by accident, and I tossed my hat into the ring, because, why not?

I had a first conversation that went well, but I thought it could have gone better. I shrugged it off and moved on.

Then, I was offered further discussion. So I jumped at it.

There are no guarantees. It’s a risk. Especially when I’m under stresses and deadlines from other events this month.

However, if I don’t try, I definitely won’t succeed.

I’d give it a shot. If it doesn’t work — I will have gained a valuable experience.

If it works — yippee, and I’ll share details when I can.

But the important part is I didn’t make excuses or talk myself out of NOT trying, simply because it wasn’t already in the schedule.

I want this.

I will do what I can to make it work.

I will control what I can in the situation, affect what I can, and trust that if that is the right opportunity, because I put in the right effort, it will work out. If it’s not, it won’t.

But it won’t be for lack of trying.

There’s a saying for writers who constantly make excuses for not answering an opportunity: “Answer when the Muse knocks, because if you don’t, she’ll move on to the next creative door.”

I intend to open and invite the Muse in. Or maybe go out dancing with the Muse.

I’m going to enjoy the process, no matter what the result.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Spring Equinox & Balance

A Balance Break

Today is the Spring Equinox. That means that the daylight and the dark are in balance, and that, as of tomorrow, we continue to gain daylight and there’s more daylight than dark until the Summer Solstice in June.

Contrary to what “they” tell us, the Summer Solstice is NOT the start of summer. It’s Midsummer.

That’s a post for a different day.

The Equinox got me thinking about balance. At first, I was just going to toss up a post telling everyone to take a break.

But it’s more than about just a quick break. It’s about the daily shifts we have to do in order to balance our health, creativity, life, work, and financial needs.

Every day, we make dozens of adjustments from what we feel we’re obligated to do against what we want to do against what we thought we’d do against what we can actually get done.

Instead of fighting the adjustments, try to celebrate them whenever possible.

Be active, not reactive.

A rather overused phrase, but important. Let how you structure your day be a series of choices as much as you can, rather than a series of reactions.

Enjoy your Equinox.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Core Values

 

Back on January 16, I talked about a Personal Strategic Plan. Then, on February 27, I talked about putting together a personal vision or mission statement, and how the one I use for myself differs slightly from the one I implement for my clients.

Now, we’re on to the next step in the plan: Core Values.

What does that mean for a writer or freelancer or artist?

For me, it means defining the integrity behind the work. What is the core of personal integrity I use in my own work and toward my own work?

Part of it is how I explore characters, situations, and beliefs in my writing. I write to understand the world (or built/fictional worlds) better, even through characters with whom I don’t agree. Sometimes, I write to bear witness. Other times, I write to find a way to do better, as an individual and a society.

For clients, I shape their message to reach their best and widest audience.

However, if I don’t respect what they stand for, I can’t do that. I don’t work for people who want me to shape a message that I believe is harmful or contrary to who I am as a human being.

Which means I’ve turned down quite a few high-paid gigs. And I’m okay with that.

Other people make other decisions, and that’s up to them.

I practice conscientious consumerism. I don’t shop at places who treat their employees badly or who implement religious or racist or gender-intolerant policies. So what if they’re cheaper? I’d rather spend a little more to buy a little less at a place with ethics that align more closely to my own. I choose to put my money elsewhere. I work hard for my money (to paraphrase Donna Summers’s famous song), and I’m not turning it over to businesses I find loathsome. There are restaurants where I won’t eat and stores where I won’t shop. I politely decline invitations to them; I drive to other stores to get similar items. I don’t have to stand on a soapbox and denounce them or attack other people who spend money there; I make my own decisions and act on them.

Do I get it right every time? Of course not. But I make an effort, and if I find out something about a company that runs counter to my core values, it changes my shopping habits.

So what are my core values?

For my own work, it is to shape worlds through words that explore and expand understanding of different points of view, with an intent toward building a better understanding, and therefore, a better society for all.

By the way, I do not believe that runs counter to being able to entertain. So, for all those people huffing and puffing about how they write to “entertain” and stay away from current events or anything else that has meaning in our daily lives, I look at them and think, “cop out.” However, it’s their choice. I’m glad to know that’s their position. As a conscientious consumer, I then chose to put my money elsewhere; I also do not expect them to put their money into anything of mine. We are each acting on our core values. And can have long and happy lives far away from each other.

The most entertaining, deepest work deals with difficulties people face and how they triumph (or don’t). Humor, at its best, speaks to deeper issues in the vein of ha-ha-ow! when it hits properly.

Work that is “entertaining” is not necessarily “irrelevant” or “fluffy.” We all want entertainment we deem as “brain candy” sometimes. We need it. But the best of it works on multiple levels. Yes, it relieves stress and takes us out of ourselves and our daily problems. But when it endures, we can then do back and enjoy it again on a deeper level. That doesn’t disqualify its ability to please us and charm us and offer respite. True entertainment never condescends to its audience OR its own characters. It pleasures and uplifts all of them.

For my clients, my core values mean to work with people I respect; people who are passionate about what they do and want to share it with a larger audience. It is to work WITH them to create the most positive, engaging message to reach the widest possible audience.

Figuring this out took years. I had to figure out not only what I believed and where my boundaries are, but those beliefs and boundaries shifted as I learned and grew as a person. Eighteen-year-old me made different compromises than twenty-five year-old me than the much-older-me today. I learned, I grew, I tried different things, I made A LOT of mistakes, I learned or didn’t from them, I made more mistakes, I listened to other people and learned from them, and I grew. I improved as a human being, thank goodness. I hope I do that my entire life, even while I still make mistakes.

There were too many years when I tried to please people or make money by working for people whose behavior and values made me cringe because we’re constantly being told that type of behavior is “professional.” As recently as last year, I disengaged from a client because, although the client’s parameters were absolutely legal, I felt some of the ethics were questionable, especially in alignment with my values. I was uncomfortable being part of the organization. I felt I was hypocritical to my own integrity, and therefore I did not give the client the best of my work. Which was a negative for both of us. It made sense for us to part ways, and both go on to better for each of us.

Who I am as a person is not compartmentalized from who I am as a professional. Once I stopped buying into the myth that a professional can and will do anything for the cash without caring about ethics, and started doing work that I not only loved but believed in for people I respected, it all shifted. It’s often not easy. It takes more hustle, more energy, more disappointment, a bigger fight to get fair pay. But for me, it’s worth it.

What do you consider your core values, and how did you figure them out?