Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Considerations

We all like to get as much work as possible off our own desks and onto someone else’s before the holidays and/or the end of the year.

But sometimes, you risk getting lost in the shuffle.

Everyone needs a break, so consider the why and the who before you hit “send.”

Contracted Deadlines
Obviously, if you have any deadlines around the holidays, meet them. In fact, put in time earlier in the season (like October and November), so that you can get them in to your agent or editor a little early.

Submission Deadlines
Some contests and publications have year-end deadlines for a particular issue or event. Again, try to get it in a week or two early. Don’t wait until the last minute, when something is bound to go wrong.

Pitches, Proposals, Queries, Manuscripts
Unless I’ve been asked for something by a specific date that falls within the winter holidays, I stop submitting/pitching on December 12 and start up again January 6. Unless it’s a short piece with a quick turnaround, there’s really no point.

That means, of course, that I have to plan earlier in the year to cover what’s basically three weeks without those going out – that means I’ve pitched early, and already scheduled work that is due/pays soon after the holidays, so I don’t have a fallow period.

In theatre, we always struggled in January and February; I try to make sure I plan ahead well enough so that I’m covered in my freelance life then, too.

Of course, if you hit fallow points, then you dig in, do your research, and pitch soon after the first of the year.

But I don’t do cold pitches/proposals/queries/submissions to agents, publishers, or editors during those three weeks. It’s not fair to any of us.

I do use the time for work that has a longer lead time, or for researching new-to-me markets and preparing pitches and queries to send in the new year.

Holiday Cards
As I’ve stated before, I’m big on holiday cards. However, when I send a holiday card, it’s just about sending a good wish for the holiday. It’s not pitching myself or asking if the former client needs anything – that happens again, after January 6.

Those former clients and prospects who got cards? They get a follow up note or email, along the lines of “now that the holidays are over, what are your needs for the coming months? Is there a project where you’d like my help?”

This way, you haven’t put pressure on them during the holidays, but you’ve reminded them of your existence, and now you’re following up for business.

Planning
This is a great time to plan what you want, need, and the changes you plan to implement to your working life in the next year.

I usually start thinking about this in autumn. I have a site called Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, where we work on questions for the upcoming year, and then track our progress.

The planning involves what I want for the next cycle, the research, and a list of new prospects. I prepare proposals or LOIs as pertinent. I have everything written and ready to go by early January.

It’s also a good time for me to look at submission deadlines for theatres for their reading cycle for an upcoming season. Then, I pitch, query, or propose as is relevant to each organization that I think is a good prospect.

It’s also a good time to assess what didn’t work for you in the past year, and what you want to change. When you know what to release, when you make room for what’s better, you can start planning active steps to make it happen.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Spend time with the people you enjoy.

Also make sure you pay attention to those around you who are struggling. A kind word or a helping hand can make all the difference.

Go to at least one new-to-you event locally, whether it’s a networking event or a concert or an art opening. Do something different to prepare for positive change in the new year!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Translating Nano Advice into Work Practicalities

 

Yes, this is another National Novel Writing Month Prep Post.

Because techniques I learned and advice I heeded in my Nano years translated well into my freelance work life.

Yes, Nano is fun and a great playground to stretch into types of writing you don’t usually try.

But can build skills.

Here are the best techniques that transfer well from Nano into professional work.

Write (Almost) Every Day
Nano’s goal is 50K in 30 days, which breaks down to 1667 words/day.

Generally, I wrote a full chapter a day, of about 10 pages or 2500 words. Unlike many people, who find it useful to end in the middle of a thought, I like to work in completed chapters.

But Nano got me into the habit of working on what I now call my “primary project” (whatever I’m drafting), first thing in the morning, when I am at my most creative.

“Morning pages” don’t work for me. But working on the creative project in draft first thing does.

This has translated well into the rest of my writing life. As Carolyn See advised in her book, MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: “1000 words a day, five days a week, for the rest of your life.”

As a professional writer, I now have to write a great deal more than that on most days, but the 1K/day on my primary project works well.

Choose the Days You’re Not Going To Write
People huff and puff that “write every day” is not realistic.

It is if you’re a pro.

But that doesn’t mean you never take a break, a day off, a vacation, a sabbatical.

The difference is that you plan them. You choose to take however many days off per week or per month.

Then you do it.

I created a handout/download called “30 Tips for 30 Days” from the motivational emails I used to send out to the writers I mentored every morning. I’ll probably post it again this November. Within that, I built days off.

The second part of that means you adjust your daily word count to cover the days off. If it’s 1K/day for 5 days a week, but then you take a week’s vacation, you up your word count for THE MONTH before your vacation to absorb the words you won’t write (or will write on something else) on your time off.

Do it BEFORE you leave, because you won’t catch up if you just let it slide.

If you choose time off and then enjoy it, rather than just letting the writing slide and “not getting around to it” you will be more productive at the desk AND more productive the rest of your day, because you don’t have the “I should be writing” guilt hanging over you.

What if life gets in the way? Unexpected illness or an accident or whatever?

Deal with your life. Adjust the writing.

I find that sticking to the writing during a crisis helps me survive and cope with it better. It gives me a break from the stress and allows me to drop into my fictional world, even if only for a couple of hours here and there.

When, for whatever reason, I can’t do that, I decide how many days I can afford (on both financial and emotional levels) to be away from the writing, and I adjust the word counts around it.

I live on deadline. If I expect to keep and grow my career, I have to meet those deadlines, even while life is happening.

Bank Ahead
Instead of procrastinating, work ahead of your daily goal, especially at the top of the month.

That translates well to so doing at the top of any project.

The first flush of enthusiasm on a new project is great. Get as much down as fast as you can early on. That way, if and when obstacles come up, you’re both ahead of the game, and you don’t forget what you meant to say but didn’t write down anywhere.

Translate that to getting ahead on any project you do, and you’ll find less scrambling near deadline, unless your client is the one dragging his feet and creating obstacles (and you’ve planned contingencies in your contract. Right? RIGHT????).

Finish What You Start
This is one of the most important things I learned during Nano, although so many people lose heart and motivation during Nano and give up.

Unfinished projects drain creative energy.

The more unfinished projects you have hanging around, the harder it is to creatively breathe. The harder it is to see ANY project through.

When you rely on creative work to keep a roof over your head, you have to be ruthless about cutting out obstacles to that creative work.

Finish what you start. Then put it away for a few days, a few weeks, a few months (if it’s on someone else’s deadline, that timeline may need adjustment).

Once you can look at it objectively, decide if you want to retire it, put it in stasis, or continue work on it. Then set a schedule and deadlines and get to work.

I teach an entire course on this, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, and the workbook is available here.

I developed these techniques by finding out what worked for me within the Nano structure, then applying it to my other creative work, and making the necessary adjustments to streamline and strengthen the process.

This year, the traditional Nano structure and schedule does not work for me, which is why I created the Women Write Change forum. I may go back to Nano at some point in the future. But even if I don’t, I am grateful for what I learned there, for the camaraderie, and for the chance to focus intensely on a project for a month.

What are your experiences? If you’ve participated in Nano, what has or has not worked for you? Have you been able to translate any of it to the rest of your writing life? If you’ve never done it, have you been tempted? Why did you choose not to?

I’m genuinely interested in your answers.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Should Business Writers Do National Novel Writing Month?

 

It’s mid-October, which means thousands of writers and aspiring writers are getting ready to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November.

Is it worth it for a business writer?

I write many things: business writing, novels, short stories, plays, radio drama, etc. Maybe my experiences will help you decide.

I have had some great times with National Novel Writing Month. And some frustrating ones. I’ve been a mentor to new members, sending them a daily morning encouragement. I’ve hit the 50K goal and more every time (although the year my grandmother was dying during November was more challenging than some of the other years.

I’ve gone to write-ins and meet-ups and participated in forums. Met a lot of great people. Connected in new ways with writers I already knew.

I’ve participated in Nano five times (four successive years, then a break, than a few years ago). I’ve completed four novels, and have two novels partially done (last time I did Nano, I did a “tandem Nano” where I worked on one project I’d already started, and one I started on Nov. 1). One of those partials has been retired; it will never amount to anything. One novel was torn apart and reworked over a period of years. It was published under a title that sunk it; I got the rights back, switched publishers, and it became PLAYING THE ANGLES, which launched the Coventina Circle series. One novel was put aside for several years, and has been torn apart and revised over the last couple of years; it will go out on submission to agents in spring. One novel needs another revision and then, it, too, will go out on submission. One has been put aside until I can get it into the revision queue; it has a decent premise, but needs more craft. One novel needs to find its way back into the writing queue to be finished, then revised, then go out on submission.

When I was making the transition from working on Broadway to writing full-time, Nano helped me get into the habit of writing, first thing in the morning, around 2K/day (and then I’d settle back into at least 1K).

I have discovered the work written during Nano needs more revision than other work.

50K in a month is not a stretch for me anymore. 1667 words a day is pretty normal for my first writing session on my primary project – many more words have to be written each day in order to keep a roof over my head. This is my business, not my hobby.

So, for those of us, especially in business, does it make sense to write on our own time at that pace during Nano?

Do you want to try something new? I find Nano useful as a playground, to stretch into directions I don’t normally write. In that regard, I find it useful no matter what other kind of writing I do.

Are you willing to make the commitment to do 50K on a particular project on that month? Because just writing along with Nano at your own pace, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of Nano, which is “lots of words on paper really fast without editing.”

Because of my contract schedule, Traditional Nano does not work right now. I have a book coming out in late October; another one coming out in December; another in January; I’m working on the next books in those series for next year. I’m also prepping another series for re-release and am in talks about other releases.

The last time I participated, I was disappointed in the forums, which had always been fun before. I found too much whining; not enough writing. And moderators accusing professionals of “self-promotion” every time they answered a question by an unpublished writer. It felt like professionalism was discouraged.

But I like riding the wave. And I’m tired of feeling exhausted and furious about the current state of the nation (and the world).

So this year, instead of “Traditional Nano” I started a closed forum called Women Write Change. It started as not-quite-a-joke during the Kavanaugh hearings that we need a women’s rage forum during Nano. I re-read a manuscript I’d put aside a few years ago. The writing was universally praised, but I was told to “tone down the rage, because women’s rage makes readers uncomfortable.”

This book’s time has come.

This forum is for progressive artists in all disciplines who identify as women. It’s something different than Nano, although hooking into that enormous wave of energy that happens when tens of thousands of people write during the same time. It’s a place to develop work inspired by current situations.

It’s what I need, artistically and personally, right now.

But is it worth it for a business writer, tired from writing for others all day, to do Nano?

I’d say try it once, if you want to try something different and are willing to make a commitment. You’ll learn valuable information about how you work, and where inspiration comes from.

The most important thing it teaches, if you stick with it, is to put your own work FIRST.

I have found that techniques with which I experimented during Nano have helped me in other writing. I’ve found it exhilarating and frustrating. I think it’s worth doing at least once in your life – and then deciding what you can take from the experience and apply to other types of writing.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Networking Practices

 

It’s been a busy time for me lately, and in a good way. But I’ve had some positive results of the various networking I’ve done.

When I meet people at events and exchange cards, I try to send them a note or an email within a few days of the meeting, just to say I enjoyed meeting them and to continue whatever conversation we began at the event.

Most places I’ve lived and worked — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Edinburgh, Australia, Western Mass, Vermont, Washington DC, etc. — this is standard. You exchange cards, you exchange messages post-event and build from there, or have the initial post-event pleasant exchange and put the information aside in case it’s needed down the pike. And then use the information when and where appropriate.

Here, it’s quite different. Most of the time, I do the follow-up, and it’s crickets. If it’s a visiting artist/instructor/agent/editor from somewhere else, there’s response, but local? Rare.

If I mention, the next time we run into each other, “Hey, I sent an email after we met last time; did I get the address wrong? I want to make sure I have your correct contact information”  — the answer is usually, “Oh, I don’t have time to respond to emails” or “I didn’t answer, because I figured I’d run into you again.” In my book, those are not solid practices that grow one’s business.

I try to reconnect with those I’ve met about once a quarter. Just a quick “Hey, how are you, thinking of you, how’s it going?”  When I have an address, I often send a postcard rather than an email. Whereas email response to quarterly follow-up is about 3% locally and 15% beyond the bridge, response to postcards (by email, since I add my email address) is usually 25% or more.

I attended an event a few months ago, a lovely networking event, with about forty or fifty people. I exchanged twenty or so cards. Followed up within two business days (standard) with all twenty. Heard back from four (which, around here, is a huge response).  From those four, one was a person with skills that was useful to one of my clients, and I got them in touch and he was hired; the other opened the door to an arts group with whom I hadn’t had previous contact, and we’re talking. So that was pretty decent.

Wearing my playwright/novelist hat, I was a reader at the Provincetown Book Festival a few weeks ago (which was one of the best festivals I’ve attended in years). After the festival, I thanked the organizers and the sponsors (I’m still tracking down contact information for the fellow readers in my event, to say what a pleasure it was to read with them). I heard back almost immediately from festival personnel (not at all a surprise, since it was one of the best-run events I attended). 

I also heard back from several sponsors, absolutely thrilled that I contacted them and told them how wonderful the experience was.

One sponsor stated that they support so many local events and hardly ever hear back from anyone. So they were delighted that the event went well, and that I took the time to contact them. On my part, “taking the time” took probably less than five minutes.

And now that sponsor knows the event was money well spent.

I attended two events last week. Followed up on both. From the first, I heard back from two out of the two dozen or so people contacted. From the second, there were thirteen of us at the event. I followed up with all thirteen. I’ve heard back from and made plans with six of those thirteen so far, which is positive.

Will any of those above contacts end in cont-RACTs?

Who knows? But these are interesting people who love what they do. Interacting with them improves my quality of life, even if it doesn’t end in a contract. I hope they feel the same way. And even if they don’t hire me, there’s a good chance they’ll recommend me if they feel it’s the right match. As I will do, in the same situation.

What’s the moral of this little tale?

Follow up and follow through when you meet people. Don’t just collect cards and stick them in the drawer. Think beyond being hired on the spot. Think about getting to know some really interesting people who enrich your life.

Even if I don’t get hired by any of these people — there are some of them in fields relevant to upcoming books. You can be darned sure I’m going to consult them on their areas of expertise and thank them in the acknowledgements.

Connections are about people. As much of an introvert as I am, I find other people interesting. So I make myself get out of the house and interact, and I am almost always glad I do. Because their stories are interesting, and fuel my work.

Remember, as a writer: Nothing is EVER wasted.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Pieces of Teachers

“Everyone wants a piece of the teacher, but you don’t get that piece until years later.”

That quote is attributed to author Kate Green by Natalie Goldberg in her book LONG QUIET HIGHWAY, which I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time.

That quote reverberates with me. I remember many teachers from my life. Far too often, I didn’t realize the gifts they gave me until years after.

My fifth grade teacher, who bought me a set of Rudyard Kipling at a yard sale because she knew I loved to read the classics; My sixth grade teacher, who let me read and write far off the reservation, and encouraged me to write stories during class time, even during lectures. Who taught me I could spit out a first draft any way I wanted, but then I had to shape it in order to present it to the world. My band teacher in high school, who knew I loved to write, and suggested I write articles about the high school band, orchestra, and chorus for the local newspapers (my first professional published byline).

In college, I was lucky to have a fantastic teacher who was also my advisor. At a competitive school like NYU Film School, that was vital. I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years, and even got together with him when I visited NYC a few years back. I’ve also kept in touch with one of my screenwriting professors from NYU. The two of them helped me get back on track when I got unfocused, especially when I put other people’s work ahead of my own.

I think they were both surprised when I went into theatre instead of film as my career, but were interested in how I looped what I learned in their classes to the rest of my theatre and writing life.

When I teach, students come away with handouts and workbooks (I am the Queen of Handouts – the bins I haul into a conference workshop cause eyes to widen and backs to groan).

I’m a strict teacher and don’t put up with excuses or not writing. I make it clear that during the scope of the class, things are strict, and then, AFTER the class is over, they get to keep what works and toss the rest. I see many of my students toss quite a bit initially, and then slowly work their way back to what we did, in their own time.

Either way is great. You find your process by trying many different things, not staying in a rut, taking chances, and building your skills with every piece you write.

I am deeply grateful to my teachers. Even the ones I didn’t agree with gave me something important. And I’m still realizing the pieces, and will continue, my entire life, as long as I pay attention.

Who are your most memorable teachers? Is there anyone with whom you kept in touch?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Don’t Settle! Multiple Skills Deserve Higher Pay

 

In local job listings, I’ve noticed an infuriating trend: ads for part-time jobs, without benefits, that expect the employee to be the receptionist, the bookkeeper, the marketing/communications director, and the general administrative assistant. They want computer skills, graphic design skills, web development skills, photography/social media skills, writing skills, customer service skills, and accounting/QuickBooks capacity. For minimum wage.

No.

I touched on this in an earlier post.

Value your skills. Research each of these skills. What is the range of pay in your area for this type of work?  Graphic design usually starts around $60/hour. Basic bookkeeping is anywhere from $35 and up. Web development/IT skills range anywhere from $85 to $150, marketing writing can be anywhere from $35 to over $100, photography is usually close to $100.

So when someone posts an ad asking for ALL those skills, figure out how much that person should offer. Figure out what to ask.

Some places post all of this in the ad with the lowest allowed hourly minimum wage.

Skip them, unless you’re in a position to need interim dollars to keep a roof over your head.

Some listings will have percentages of time they believe each task takes up: 20% bookkeeping, 40% receptionist, 30% marketing, etc.

First of all, make sure it adds up to 100, and not some higher number. Because if  it’s more than 100, they need more than a bookkeeper.

Second, figure out how much the job should actually pay for all those skills. In a 40 hour work week, how many hours does each percentage break down? How much should each of those skills be paid? That’s your baseline figure for the bottom of the rate.

If these percentages and the ad have been written by a so-called “HR” person in the company, it’s not going to be accurate. The person with whom you’re working most directly will have the real knowledge.

If the ad does not list how much a chunk each skill is projected to take (because it’s never going to be accurate. Human beings works at different rates; business ebbs and flows), ask. 

If the money doesn’t align with what you want and should be paid for the multitude of skills, move on.

But I’m a freelancer, you say. Why would I even read these ads?

First, because it’s always good to see what employers think they can get away with. There’s a hue and cry that there are so many jobs out there that “can’t” be filled. That’s simply not true. Employers don’t want to pay for the skills employees have honed over the years, and they don’t want to pay people to do what they’re good at. They’d rather pay poorly for people who can do one thing decently and six things poorly than hire more than one person to do what they do well. Or pay one multi-skilled person fairly and give benefits.

They claim they “can’t.” The reality is that they won’t. There’s a difference. If they broke the job down appropriately and paid fairly, the business would prosper. But they are stuck in poverty consciousness and that’s what they extend to their workers, and it spirals downwards. It infects a region like a monetary cancer.

Because businesses talk to each other, at networking events, at dinners, during golf games. If one guy gets away with paying crap for a job encompassing 16 different skills that are usually paid at market rate, all his friends will do the same. 

And the cancer spreads.

Second, as a freelancer, if you find the company interesting and exciting, it is sometimes worth it to approach them with a proposal to work as an independent contractor or consultant.  Point out how your skill will earn them money if they hire you in as a freelancer, rather than unrealistically bundling it into an general assistant job.

They’re not paying benefits anyway. It doesn’t hurt them.

Don’t work for minimum wage; charge your rate.  Hold your boundaries — you are not an employee. Maybe you’ll do some hours on site; maybe it’s remote. Spell it all out in your contract. You are paid for meetings. You know I believe on being paid for phone time. If they insist you are on site, travel time counts.

You have to be better at what you do than anyone they have on staff — but not only is it a better situation for both of you, but, by doing well, you are teaching the employers that freelancers with specific skills are worth the money.

Those of you who know me know that I don’t “niche.” I have areas of specialized knowledge, and I can learn about anything else that interest me quickly in order to write about it. But I consider myself a Renaissance Writer (not a Generalist). 

So why am I against listings for a variety of skills?

Because it’s about not paying a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It’s about getting as much as possible for crap wages.

Most jobs with such listings aren’t worth courting as an independent contractor or consultant. But, every once in awhile, some of them are. Once in awhile, you find a small business that is committed to walking a positive talk. That is a case where they might not be able to pay much; but they are willing to pay fairly. They will temper what they ask for to the bounds of the budget. They want to be treated fairly, so they treat others fairly.

These businesses usually grow. It’s exciting to be a part of that growth. Finding the one business that is worth working with counters the 250 crap ads you combed through, looking for that one.

Value your skills. Know your value. Study the market. Craft your pitch. Create partnerships and working relationships that work for everyone.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tired Brain

image by super-mapio via pixabay.com

We all suffer from “tired brain” at times. When it’s possible, take a few hours or even a few days off to refresh the creative well.

But sometimes, we suffer “tired brain” with an immovable deadline. Your choices are to suck it up and deal or default and lose the gig. The third choice is to push yourself in the wrong way and still screw it up.

I prefer Option 1.

I’m sick and tired (of being sick and tired, but that’s a different conversation) of being told how much I should sleep, and having people flake out on something because they’re sleeping.

Hon, the first time I slept regularly for more than four hours a night was well after I moved out of NYC. I would not have had a career in production if I demanded or expected eight hours’ of sleep regularly every night. It simply doesn’t happen in most professions that require hard work.

Jobs have regular hours and clock on and off times. Careers demand more.

For years before I left New York, I lived in a state of perpetual exhaustion. I got a lot done. I had a great time.

I’m older now, and my body requires different things. I hear a rumor that if I live to be REALLY old, I’ll sleep even less. We’ll see.

But for now, when I have “tired brain” there are a few things that get me back on track and help me get it done:

–eat properly. Often, if I’m fading, it’s because I didn’t stop for a meal, or stop for the RIGHT meal. When I was doing eight shows a week on Broadway, flipping people in and out of clothes, I ate constantly, and I ate a lot of carbs. Now that I sit for many more hours a day, I lower the carbs and up the vegetables. If I really need to focus, I eat protein.

–switch tasks. If there’s something else I can knock off quickly without too much brain power or research, I’ll stop the task on which I’m fading and switch to the other one. Finishing the shorter tasks gives me the energy and motivation to tackle the bigger one.

–do the thing you like least first. Once it’s out of the way, there’s less tension and dread over everything else.

–take a shower. I get many of my best ideas in the shower. When I’m having major plot or wording problems, I’m so clean I squeak.

–Do something physical. I prefer yoga, or taking a walk, but do whatever activity invigorates you. Friends of mine use swimming as their go-to energizer.

–Meditate. When you “just sit” and focus on your breath, the murk in your brain clears up and problems solved.

–when you’re actually sick, take time off and get well. There’s a difference between “I’m sick” meaning “I don’t want to do this” and “I’m sick” meaning there’s actually something wrong. When it’s the latter, stop sooner rather than later, focus on getting well, and then you won’t drag out your illness with relapses.

–Schedule regular “well days.” No matter how busy your schedule, book in regular time to do something you think is fun, that is only a “want to” instead of a “have to.” When you take the time to refresh the creative well, you’ll be surprised how much more productive you are.

When I worked in theatre, we had the phrase, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

And when I spent months with a minor league hockey team to research a book, I learned the valuable lesson of “Dig deeper and get it done.”

Namaste.