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: Artists Are Expected To Settle For Less — And Shouldn’t

As a published author, I’m getting a little tired of getting pitched to by marketing organizations that want me to hand over a bunch of moolah, but refuse to commit to results.

I understand the value of getting one’s name out in front of as many people as possible for name recognition and business growth. That’s part of how I earn my living.

I work with other businesses to communicate their message effectively and grow their business. They expect me to grow their name recognition. To get their name and their product in front of those who will actually open their wallets and buy it. They expect – and demand – that the work I do – the work for which they PAY me — results in more sales.

If it doesn’t, within a reasonable amount of time, that client will end our business relationship and hire someone else who gets him a better return.

Why are authors and other artists told they must expect any different?

Almost every author/artist promotional service has a disclaimer that they can’t guarantee sales. Why not? Other businesses expect a return on their investment. Why shouldn’t artists?

They should. We should. We need to stop settling for less.

When I hire someone else to promote my book, I expect it to result in sales. Otherwise, there is no point in hiring that firm. I can do it myself.

If it does NOT result in sales, then I’ve put my money in the wrong place, and it’s time to try something else.

The way any reputable business owner does.

Because, as an artist, I AM a small business.

We need to stop settling for a lower return than any other business because we’re artists. We need to stop ALLOWING others to treat us as second-class individuals. We need to start acting like smart business people, so that we will be treated as such.

Part of that is expecting a reasonable return on the investment.

So what is a reasonable return? At the very least, I want to make back what I spent on the promotion, plus 20%. Which is a low, but that’s my personal threshold for feeling like a campaign was worth the money spent. When it goes above that, I’m delighted.

Then I see how I can build on that for the next campaign.

Plenty of people will wail that one “can’t” expect a return on art/novels/etc. The demand I’m making here will anger a lot of marketing people.

Why can’t we expect a result for money spent? Movie studios do. Television content providers do. Fine artists do. Commercial theatre productions do or they have short runs. Traditional publishing houses do, too.

Because the artist is dropped from the contract if the artist’s work does not sell.

Now, more and more artists are forced to hire their own marketing for their work. If my publisher tells me I have to get X amount of sales or I won’t get future contracts, and I’m required to hire my own marketing firm, then, yes, I expect that firm to be savvy enough in the kind of marketing I need in order to deliver the results FOR WHICH THEY ARE PAID. If my publisher paid them directly, or had an in-house marketing team do the work, the same expectations would hold. Lack of results means the business relationship ends.

So we need to stop thinking that we don’t “deserve” results simply because we are not a corporation. We are a small business, and we deserve the same results when we hire in a service as any other business does.

I’m done settling for less.

(Note: This has been a tough time, especially for progressive women. I joked on social media that this year’s Nano needs to have a “Women’s Rage” forum. Instead of that, I’m starting a private virtual group to develop creative work in multiple disciplines called Women Write Change. Stay tuned here, on Ink in My Coffee  and the main Devon Ellington site  for more information. It’ll take me a few days to set up, and then I’ll have an address where interested parties can request invitation).

Ink-Dipped Advice: Find the Right Writer, Don’t Drive That Writer Away! (Part One)

 

While this post is aimed primarily at businesses who want to hire a writer, I’m sure many of my fellow writers will relate to the material.

Notice that I didn’t title this post “Finding the BEST Writer.” Because “best” has permutations.

A technically brilliant writer can be the less-than-best choice if said writer can’t empathize and then communicate a proprietor’s passion for his/her business, or if the writer doesn’t understand (or isn’t interested) in the business and how to communicate it to the audience. The technique might be there, but if the copy is bloodless, it won’t engage and enlarge the audience.

A passionate writer who is delighted by the business can be the less-than-best-choice if said writer doesn’t have the technical capacity and the craft to sculpt the words into creative, engaging copy.

The “best” writer for any particular project has craft skills, understanding of the business, understanding of the target audience, and knows how to merge those different facets into something unique and wonderful that enchants an audience.

How is this mysterious creature, as elusive as a Unicorn, discovered and enticed? Is there a business/writer matchmaking service?

There are plenty of services who will claim to do just that — weed out the chaff, find you the best writer wheat. Regard their claims with a grain of salt. Don’t just ask for a client list and read those clients” websites. Ask the service which materials their personnel created for those clients, confirm with the client, and ask for samples.

I’ve been on both sides of working with agencies. When I started in theatre, I worked for temp agencies all over the country in various administrative capacities, and I learned how to write copy for a variety of different fields. I’ve also signed with so-called “creative” agencies who claim to pair marketing/business writers with clients. Nine times out of ten, the agency paid no attention to my strengths, my knowledge base, my skills. I was sent to a client because there was an open slot, not because I was the best person on their roster for the slot. I work with words, not numbers. I am not a bookkeeper. I am a writer. When I worked in major cities, I was at least sent out for writing, editing, development, or administrative work. Outside of major cities — far too often, I was told I was being sent to an accounting department. When I reminded the hiring manager that’s not what I do, the answer was “Oh, I’m sure you’ll pick it up.” That is not fair to me or to the client. Match the person to the job.

On the other side of the equation, I’ve been hired by companies after they’ve wound up with a mess because an agency sent in someone who was unqualified for the job. A writer may have shown up, but it wasn’t the right writer for the job. Or the person sent wasn’t a writer, but an administrator or a file clerk or a receptionist or a bookkeeper. Don’t send a writer to do a bookkeeper’s job and don’t send a bookkeeper to a job for press releases and thank you letters written for donations. Pretty basic, but far too many agencies ignore this.

A staffing agency that sends in a writer to work with a company is different than hiring a marketing firm to handle your advertising, marketing, and promotional needs. Those firms usually have (or hire in on contract) a team for each part of the marketing operation. I’ll discuss marketing firms in a future post.

Granted, I am atypical of many marketing and business writers in that I translate audience engagement techniques I use in fiction and scriptwriting to communicate a business’s message and grow their audience. Even though I am a multi-genre, Renaissance writer instead of a niche writer, I’m still a writer. Words are my medium. My approach is not a standard, corporate box style. I approach each client as though they are exciting and fascinating, and I craft marketing campaigns unique to each of them. The plans may share elements, but content and approach is individual.

I read quite a few ads, to have an idea of what’s out there, although I don’t respond to that many any more (details on that in an upcoming post).

How To Turn Off Skilled, Qualified Candidates
What makes me skip over an ad? Besides content-mill scale of work and pay?

“Must be able to multi-task in a fast-paced environment. Job duties include answering the phone, scheduling clients, correspondence, filing, Quickbooks, Photoshop, updating website, blog, social media, Instagram, and writing press releases and marketing materials.”

Of course, the above job pays minimum wage with no benefits. So, I’m supposed to be a photography whiz, a tech whiz, a bookkeeper (see above), a file clerk, general admin, a receptionist, AND carry the marketing and social media load? For minimum wage?

Uh, no.

You want well-written material that actually grows your business? Your writer can’t be interrupted by phone calls every thirty seconds How many blog posts a week do you expect? Is your new hire researching and writing them, ghost-writing them, or fine-tuning ones written by others? Good writing needs uninterrupted work time. Also, you’re not going to get said well-written materials for minimum wage.

Next.

“Must be flexible, energetic, able to move between a variety of marketing tasks. Must have iPhone and laptop with Adobe Creative Suite. Must have own reliable transportation, not reliant on public services.”

This job is a couple of bucks an hour above minimum wage, again, with no benefits. The “flexible” translates to “hours outside of normal business hours.” For someone at the beginning of the career, interested in the company, maybe.

“Moving between variety of tasks” — no problem. Can make things more interesting, although the subtext is that there’s grunt work involved. Hauling boxes, setting up chairs for events, etc.

“Must have iPhone and laptop with Adobe Creative Suite.” Deal breaker #1. An employer does not tell me what equipment I need to own in order to be considered for the job. If special equipment is required for the job, the employer provides it. Period. I am not going to be tied to a type of phone or pay the monthly Adobe fee for the employer. Especially when those items end up costing more than I’d earn.

“Oh, but everyone has an iPhone.”

No. Everyone does not have an iPhone. And a personal phone is different than a business phone.

“Maybe they pay the monthly Adobe fee and you just have to use it on your laptop. They’ll give you the log-in.”

Then state it in the ad.

The exception to the above is if there’s a payment that in theatre and film we used to call a “kit fee.” If we brought in our own kits, our own equipment, we were paid a daily rate on top of our regular pay. Somehow, I don’t think the above employer has ever heard of a kit fee or would pay it.

“Must have own reliable transportation, not reliant on public.” Deal breaker #2. First of all, the subtext is that I have to show up for work in a blizzard or a hurricane. Second, unless you provide me with a company car for “reliable transportation,” you don’t tell me how to get to work, or tell me I can’t use public transportation.

Next.

“Please write a sample piece of 800 words including these topics (lists topics) so we can make sure you understand our business.”

One of the oldest scams in the book, along with the three-card Monte. This is a way a “business” rakes in articles provided as “samples,” tells the candidates the business went in a different direction, and then has months’ worth of content without paying for it.

Next.

“Our client is looking for . . .”

Means there’s a middleman doing the screening and hiring. The client is overpaying, and I’ll be underpaid.

Next. Some writers are okay with this; I’d rather not.

“Fast-paced, flexible environment, dealing with a large variety of personalities.”

Translation: An office full of neurotic, nasty assholes.

Next.

“But if it’s the right writer, it wouldn’t matter anyway. The ‘right’ writer will forgive anything and accept what’s offered.”

No. The desperate writer will forgive anything and accept what’s offered. The fresh, new writer trying to build a portfolio may put up with anything that’s offered for a short period of time. Sometimes, everyone will luck out and it’s the best fit. But the truly talented writers will stay away from the above.

So what should an ad include?

That’s our topic next Wednesday! Stay tuned.