Do You Make Every Second Count?

Do you  make every second count? If so, what were you thinking about a minute ago?

I don’t know about you, but my mind is often filled with useless thoughts. They keep going round and round in my mind on a continuous loop. Since I started doing regular breathing and meditating exercises, I’ve become much more aware of them. And I’ve come to realize just what a waste of time and energy these recurring thoughts are.

Another thing to consider is that your thoughts affect your mood and in turn your mood will affect your actions. If you’re feeling low, I bet your thoughts are pretty negative. I’m also pretty sure that your actions will quickly follow a downward spin as well.

To turn things around, I focus on my breathing and try to empty my mind (this trick also helps to get rid of anger by the way). Although it sounds simple, it can be extremely difficult to do. Yes, it takes time and practice, but trust me, it’s well worth the effort.

If you catch yourself dwelling on useless thoughts but can’t stop them no matter what, again take a few deep breaths then ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the best use of my time right now?
  • What do I wish to accomplish?
  • What do I want to experience?

Questions like these will get your mind quickly out of the rut so you can move in a new and more productive direction.

If you’re serious about writing, you can’t allow yourself to waste valuable time with thoughts that lead nowhere. Does this mean you shouldn’t daydream? Absolutely not! Daydreaming is an important part of writing. I’ve had some of my best ideas while letting my mind wonder and wander all over the place. There’s a huge difference between dwelling on negative thoughts and exploring new ones. These new thoughts are the ones you want to cultivate. Again, you can encourage them by asking yourself inspiring questions:

  • What if I took up jogging?
  • What if I tried writing in a new genre?
  • What if Goldilocks decided to change her story?
  • What if the three bears decided to adopt Goldilocks?
  • What if Goldilocks owned her own porridge factory?

And of course, make sure to jot down your wonderful ideas so you don’t forget them as you go about your day.

Once you choose to make every second count, you won’t be tempted to relinquish control of your thoughts ever again. Why? Because not only will you start seeing positive results in your writing, but in your whole life as well.

What are you thinking about now?

How to Choose a Role Model

As we all know, one of the best ways to reach our writing goals is to learn from other writers. But how should you go about choosing a role model? The most logical answer would be to look for someone who has reached the level of success you wish for yourself. I’ve discovered however that it’s much better to look for people who have achieved way more than I plan on. Why? Because it makes my own modest goals seem that much easier to attain.

I also realized that it’s better for my self-esteem. As I’m not in direct competition with these high achievers, I don’t feel intimidated by their success. And I figure that if I can learn the techniques they use and try to incorporate these in my own work, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t succeed—and at a much faster rate, too!

For instance, I’m part of a Facebook group of freelance writers who, for the most part, earn at least five times what I hope to earn in a month. Many of them are full-time freelancers who are published regularly in top magazines and newspapers. While I can’t possibly pull off everything they’re doing due to time constraints, I also don’t need to. If I can learn how to sell just one feature to these same markets on a monthly basis, I will have reached my income goal, leaving me free to pursue other writing projects.

The advantage of joining a group such as this is that not only do I get to observe, but I can ask questions as well. I’ll admit it can be a bit scary to rub elbows with the pros at times, but I choose not to let it get in my way. While I may not have much to contribute to the conversations, I enjoy cheering for my role models and celebrating their victories. And who knows? One day soon they may very well be the ones cheering my victories!

In the meantime, if you need a role model for growing giant zucchinis, I’m your gal! Here’s a hint: get busy writing and forget to check on your garden for a week or two. Works every time!

Recovering from Writer’s Brain Freeze

Brain freeze is something you associate with ice cream or a super cold drink. It’s certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of writing, especially not at this time of year. I mean, brain freeze is all about panic, stress, pressure, and all sorts of fear-inducing factors, while summer is all about play, fun, and relaxation.

Summer is usually a happy time for me, not because I expect to put my feet up on a beach somewhere (although that would be nice, too), but because I get to have a whole month to write! My library job is temporarily suspended, my translation clients are off on their own adventures, leaving me totally free to write. This is the time when I start a new novel or attempt to finish a project in progress; when I let my mind wander and come up with amazing ideas; when I try new genres just for the fun of it. Pure and simple joy!

This summer things haven’t gone quite as expected. In fact, they took a completely downward turn. My happy expectations vanished overnight when unforeseen expenses drained my bank account to an alarming level. I needed to make money and fast!

Unfortunately stress and writing don’t mix well, at least not when you’re not used to it. In my case, during that first week of vacation, my brain literally froze. I learned that there’s a vast difference between self-imposed pressure and the real deal. It’s one thing to plan on increasing your income with your writing and set yourself goals and deadlines, but it’s quite another to be forced into it. Up until now, my writing had grown at its own slow pace, which is to be expected as I write part-time. But slow was suddenly, and definitely, not an option anymore.

I think what saved me from my brain freeze and got me moving again was, funnily enough, having to stack a bunch of firewood! Being relatively new to country living, my body is not used to hard labour. If I stack wood one day, I need the following one to recover. So I’d tire out my body one day and ease into writing the next. By the time all the wood was stacked at the end of the first week, I was able to keep right on writing.

So far, the positive thing that emerged from all this drama is that it is forcing me to come out of my safe and cozy, introverted shell. Although I’m an extremely friendly person, I don’t naturally reach out to people. But I realized that connecting with others and building relationships was crucial at this point. The need to make money hurled me way out of my comfort zone.

As I opened myself up and started reaching out to magazine editors, book publishers, former clients and employers, and anyone who might need my writing and translating skills, strange coincidences began to happen. A publisher I had not heard of in eight months turned down the picture book manuscript I had submitted, but encouraged me to send more stories directly to her. An ex bookstore colleague now turned educational book rep contacted me out of the blue to ask me if I knew writers, proofreaders, and translators who might be interested in working on a new line of activity books. Yes, me! Pick me! Then finally, finally, a magazine editor asked me to revise a short story for possible inclusion in her publication, and then accepted it after I did so!

None of these things have filled up my bank account yet, but they’re a great beginning. More importantly, they’ve given me hope and helped me renew my efforts with greater enthusiasm and energy.

The moral of the story is, if you ever find yourself with a case of writer’s brain freeze, do the following:

  1. Move your body in any way you can. It will help you stop worrying and clear your mind.
  2. Decide what needs to be done.
  3. Then do it! Don’t worry about the outcome. Just get on with it.
  4. Ask for help. Reach out to past and present clients, friends, social media groups, the universe. You never know who might be able to lend a hand.
  5. Don’t stop until you’re safely out of the danger zone. Take short breaks when you need to and do get a full night’s sleep, but don’t stop until you reach that safe point—only you know what that will be.

If all else fails, leave a comment below. Maybe I can help you work it out. But first, I need to reach my own safe point!

The Art of Being a Fast Pitcher

Are you a fast pitcher?

For the past two months I’ve been learning how to pitch ideas to editors more effectively. My goal, like many of you, is to land more writing assignments so I can grow my income. And since getting published is a numbers game, it made perfect sense to direct my energy at improving my pitching.

I’ve always been an inconsistent pitcher. I’d have a few good months here and there, but I’m mostly a slow pitcher—embarrassingly slow in fact. It would often take me as much time to write a query letter than the actual piece. My query had to be absolutely flawless before I could even think of sending it out. This meant I had to pick the right publisher, study the publication in depth, come up with the perfect idea, outline it, write a rough draft, and finally… start my query and polish it to a shine. The whole process could easily take me over a week. All that time for only one query letter!

So how fast a pitcher are you? If you’re using the wrong ball probably not that fast. Same deal if you’re using the wrong techniques. In my case, I was desperate to fix this, and I knew just where to go to get the help I needed—I enrolled in the online course 30 Days, 30 Queries created by Mridu Khullar Relph (I highly recommend it by the way).

So did it work? Yes, but I obviously had to be willing to put in the work and effort, and it’s still very much a work in progress. To meet my new goal of sending out at least one pitch a day, I’m learning to let go of perfection (which, when you think about it, is really just a form of procrastination and fear avoidance).

I’ve turned my process around and now save my longest stretches of free time for writing pitches, working on assignments and personal writing projects. Everything else gets done in the little pockets of time that appear throughout the day. This includes scanning newsletters to find new markets, speed reading magazines, looking through book publisher catalogues, and coming up with ideas.

Oh my gosh—ideas!

Ideas were by far my biggest time wasters. And not because I had trouble coming up with them! I tend to jot down the multitude of ideas that come to me every day on whatever piece of paper I happen to have at hand and place them in folders divided by category and age group. When the time came to brainstorm, I used to read them all, see which ones tempted me the most while putting aside those that terrified me. It literally ate up hours of my time! I finally put a stop to this by forcing myself to grab the first idea on top of the pile and go with it. And I surprised myself. I actually managed to ignore my fears and turn a few scribbled notes into a pretty darn good pitch!

My pitching rate is gradually increasing. I went from one pitch a week, to one every second or third day. Yesterday, I actually sent out two in one day! I’d say I’m finally making my way into the fast pitcher club.

My next step? Learning how to get editors to respond faster. If you have any tips for that one, I’d love to hear them!

How Writers Can Use Visual Aids

In my February post, I showed a picture of one of my favourite visual aids. It’s an index card on which I’ve drawn an arrow. Inside the arrow I wrote, “I am a creator”. Being a writer, it is particularly appropriate for me.

I have several of these index cards scattered throughout my home. Some are pinned in plain sight while others–more private ones—are tucked inside various notebooks and drawers. Each one contains a positive message that acts as a reminder of the things I want to focus on.

I first came upon this idea while reading Sonia Choquette’s book “Your Heart’s Desire: Instructions for Creating the Life You Really Want” and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s a good way to break up negative thought patterns and bring your mind back to the present. Depending on what each card contains, they can be used to inspire you, get you to take action, cheer you up, or even encourage you to enjoy life a bit more.

It’s a simple trick that doesn’t require a lot of time. All you need are a bunch of index cards and some markers. Failing that, feel free to use whatever you have on hand. If you’d rather create something more eye-catching (and happen to be artistically inclined) you can also turn them into beautifully designed pieces.

Here are some suggestions for your cards:

• I write every day
• Ideas come to me easily
• I find the right homes for my stories
• I am confident
• I am happy
• I am successful
• I am fearless
• I fill my life with joy
• I breathe deeply
• I follow my dreams
• I try new things

Simply write what you’d like to see more of in your life. Be creative and have fun with it. Then place the cards where you’re most likely to see them. Sometimes I forget where I put them and it’s always a nice surprise when I come across one.

Now take a screen break and go make some cards!

Do You Cut Corners and Settle for the Easy Win?

I’ve never been motivated by the easy win.

It used to drive my gym teacher crazy. Whatever team sport we’d play during phys ed, I hardly ever tried to score even though I was one of the best athletes in my school. I didn’t see the point of scoring against kids who could barely dribble the ball. I got a bigger kick out of helping them make that basket or sink the ball between the goal posts.

The same thing happened in class. I would never answer easy questions unless I absolutely had to. I’d only raise my hand when a juicy problem would come up, when there was a chance I might be wrong. Again, teachers seemed baffled by this attitude.

In both cases, it always amazed me that my teachers could not see what I was doing. When actual game time came along or exams popped up, I never fooled around with scoring and getting all those right answers in. Because then, it mattered.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m attracted to writing. There’s nothing easy about it. And there’s no guarantee of success either.

Starting a book doesn’t mean you’ll finish it. I should know. I have several unfinished manuscripts to prove the point.

Finishing a book doesn’t guarantee it will find a publisher. Again, I have many orphans in my files.

Publishing a book doesn’t automatically ensure it will get read, bring fame, or even stay in print for long. One of my books survived for less than one month before the publisher unexpectedly decided to close up shop.

No, there’s nothing easy about writing. But there’s nothing that could bring me more joy, pride, and satisfaction either.

If you like easy wins then maybe writing is not for you. But then again, it doesn’t need to remain a struggle. If you’re not making the progress you desire, then it’s a sure sign you need to change your game plan.

Start by answering these questions honestly:

  • Are you putting enough time into your writing?
  • Are you keeping up with market news?
  • Are you querying, pitching, and submitting regularly?
  • Are you learning continuously?

Just because you’re a part-time writer doesn’t give you a free pass to skip the steps necessary to succeed. Sure, you may not have as much time as some other writers do, but it’s not a valid excuse to cut corners.

A friend of mine publishes at least one novel a year. He teaches full-time, has three kids, and is involved in various causes and activities. He certainly hasn’t skipped any steps to reach this level of success. I bet he’s not motivated by the easy win either.

What about you? Will you settle for the easy win—or take a chance, invest in your dream and become the writer and person you want to be? The choice is all yours.

Are You Sticking to Your Plan?

Wow, it’s already February! How did your first month go? Are you sticking to your plan or is the shine of the new year already wearing off? This month is super important—even more so than the last. Take some time now to review the fabulously inspiring goals you made in January.

Start by taking a look at what’s been working so far and what totally bombed. The first is easy, but the second requires a bit more thought. You’ll want to ask yourself a few questions to figure out what went wrong:

  • Why did this goal fail to move forward?
  • Did I give it enough time and attention?
  • Is this goal something I really want to work on and achieve?
  • Should I keep it or replace it with something else?

When writing part-time, it’s easy to overreach and fail. But worse is to keep chugging along, struggling with things that don’t work and keep failing until you’re tempted to give it all up.

In my case, on the third week of January, I noticed a couple of flaws in my monthly tracker (a system I use to make sure I’m working on the right tasks-see previous post). Some of these tasks included various forms of writing such as magazine pieces and book manuscripts. But because I spent a great deal of time studying markets, I didn’t do that much actual writing. I discovered that it’s really easy to get carried away when studying markets. The deeper I dug, the more markets that popped up. I got distracted even more by creating lists to keep track of them all.

This means my tracker looked pretty empty even though I hadn’t been slacking off. To fix this, I added an extra row in my February tracker for market study. This should help me better balance my time between the two so that I get more writing done.

Another thing that came to light as I reviewed the previous month was that I needed to plan my days better in order to make the most of my tracker. So the very first row of my February tracker is reserved for daily planning. It acts as a reminder for me to take a few minutes the night before and decide what tasks I need to work on to move me towards my goals. This way, I don’t waste valuable time the next day wondering what to work on or get sidetracked working on things that may be fun or interesting but that won’t take me in the right direction.

As the weeks go by, I expect to be doing a lot of adjustments to my monthly trackers. That’s the beauty of this system, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

Ready for 2017? Reach Your Goals!

Like most of you, I have spent a lot of my free time this month pondering my goals for next year and how best to accomplish them. I’m a fantastic list maker, but seeing them through to completion is always a challenge. My biggest problem is that I can’t predict what will happen in one day, let alone an entire year!

So I dug around in my writing toolbox and here’s what I came up with.

First, the lists. I started off by jotting down all the things I would like to work on or see happening in 2017. I then separated these into two lists: professional and personal goals.

For my professional goals, I shuffled the items on my list and grouped them into three main categories: landing more writing gigs, maximizing my two websites, and expanding my social media presence. All of which, I hope, will lead to my main objective: a substantial increase in my income for 2017. I then analyzed each category and trimmed it down to those items which I felt would help me reach this objective.

The next step involved figuring out how to make each one of my goals a reality. The thing about goals is that unless they are paired with concrete actions, they’ll very likely never see the light of day. As I dug around in my writing toolbox, I pulled out my monthly trackers and decided to see if I could adapt them to propel me forward.

Monthly trackers are extremely popular with fans of bullet journals. They’re basically charts used for tracking activities or habits. The first column contains a list of actions you wish to keep track of. The following columns are numbered to reflect each day of the month. So, let’s say you wanted to track the days you spend promoting yourself on Facebook every month, you would add a check mark or colour in a square for each day that you did. Here’s a picture of what I mean.

goals monthly tracker

This particular tracker contains both professional and personal goals and starts in the middle of the month. The ones I’m working on right now for January will contain one page for professional goals and another for personal goals and will cover the entire month. My professional goals tracker will list specific actions that I feel will help me reach my overall objective. And by colouring in each day that I complete an action, I will have a clear visual guide to ensure I move in the right direction. By the time we near the end of January, I’ll use my tracker to help me plan for February and so on. Maybe I’ll notice that some actions work beautifully while others need to be modified or changed completely. But whatever happens, I’ll be able to adjust as needed so that by the end of the year there’s an excellent chance I’ll have reached my main objective.

Now excuse me while I go finalize my trackers before January 1st comes along!

Keep Track of Your Progress With a Writing Diary

When you’re writing part-time it can be difficult to judge if you’re making progress or stagnating. Everything seems to take longer to get done. And if your interests are varied, you’ll probably have lots of projects at different stages of completion. As you hop from one to the next, you may start to feel that you’re not getting anywhere at all.

For me progress comes when I do two things: write regularly and submit regularly.

Of course the writing process involves much more than that, such as brainstorming, researching, planning, outlining, keeping up with industry news, promoting, networking, and taking classes. But if I stop producing new words and submitting on a regular basis, my progress slows down or comes to a complete standstill.

Sure, life happens. On any given day, countless things pop out of nowhere to interfere with my progress. I can make as many excuses as I want, but it won’t change the fact that I’m not writing, not submitting, and definitely not moving forward.

So how do you keep the momentum going to make sure you’re making progress with your writing career? One thing I started to do at the beginning of the year was to keep a writing diary. It helps me see exactly what I accomplish each month. Using a spreadsheet, I make an entry each day that I do something related to writing.

A quick look at my diary shows me exactly what I spent my writing time on, when I made the most progress and when I didn’t. Some months are packed full while others are embarrassingly bare. Usually those bare months of writing and submitting are also my most productive for translating. Some might argue that translating is a form of writing so I should include it in my diary. Although that’s technically true, I prefer to keep the two separate as it would be very easy for me to fill all of my writing time with translations.

HERE’S A SIMPLE WAY TO MAKE YOUR OWN WRITING DIARY USING A SPREADSHEET:

Column 1 – Date (today’s date)
Column 2 – Submitted (number of queries or manuscripts sent out today)

Column 3 – Accepted (number of queries or manuscripts accepted today)
Column 4 – What I Did Today (short description of each writing task accomplished, add the time you started and finished each one if you like)
Column 5 – $ Earned (money earned from work accepted)
Column 6 – $ Received (money received from work completed)

My writing diary helps me have a more balanced life. It ensures my translating and library work each have their own space and allows me to make adjustments so they don’t overly encroach on or totally take over my writing time.

Curious to see what a writing diary might do for you? Then give it a try! You can then come back here at any time and let me know in the comments below if it made an impact on your writing progress.

Meanwhile, make sure to keep writing and submitting!

Blasting Writer’s Blues

Hi, I’m back!

I came down with the flu during the last week of September and was sick for most of October. Now, I’m not one to complain. I always try to look at the positive side of things. But in this case, it’s been a real challenge. Aside from the occasional migraine, I rarely get ill. But this whopper really floored me. In fact it caused me to suffer from writer’s blues as well.

What is writer’s blues and how do you get it? I describe it as losing the will to write. It can strike at any moment and can be quite devastating. For me, it usually occurs after an illness or prolonged energy drain.

When I finally recuperated from the flu, I discovered I had lost my writing drive. Instead of coming home from my library job eager to start working on a writing project, I found myself tackling cleaning chores instead. A house can get pretty messy when you stop looking after it for a few weeks, so it’s not as if I was wasting my time. But did I really need to clean all the hidden cupboards that no one ever goes into?

While my house looked better with each passing day, I was no closer to fixing my writing dilemma. Running out of things to clean and feeling slightly panicky, I forced myself to step into my office and sit at my desk. I stared at my laptop for a while but couldn’t be bothered to turn it on. I really, truly, absolutely didn’t feel like it. Gazing around the room, I found myself staring at a pile of magazines that I had saved over the years to study. Curious to see how old they actually were, I got up to find out. Turns out most of them were more than ten years old! These definitely had to go. As I sorted through the lot and made piles for the recycle bin, I found my spirits lifting. Nothing like a bit of cleaning to get me out of the dumps.

Over the next few days, I ended up cleaning my office from top to bottom. In the process, I found lots of scribbled ideas tucked away in various places. As I read each note, I was surprised to find quite a few good ones. The writing buzz slowly stirred back to life as I collected my ideas and placed them all together on my desk.

The funny thing is that I actually have idea folders in my filing cabinet, but I rarely go through them. They are squeezed in among other important documents and easily disappear from sight. I decided to take them out and give them a place of honour in their own special spot next to my desk. Now whenever I sit at my computer, I see all these ideas just waiting to be developed to their full potential. I’m glad to say that my interest is back full force and that I am happily writing again.

Does that mean you should clean your office if you find yourself suffering from writer’s blues? Not necessarily.

HERE’S SOME OF THE THINGS I’VE DONE IN THE PAST TO BLAST WRITER’S BLUES:
  • Reading inspirational books
  • Rereading my favourite books on writing
  • Treating myself to a beautiful journal and colourful pens
  • Doodling and drawing with markers, crayons, coloured pencils, paint
  • Making lists of things that make me happy
  • Meditating or practicing deep breathing
  • Kicking a soccer ball or shooting some hoops
  • Doing something crazy or unusual and writing down my experiences
  • Writing a short piece in a new genre or form
  • Cooking up a storm and coming up with new recipes

You get the idea! Just do whatever you feel you need to do. The important thing is not to give up. You may need to be creative to get back your writing groove but most of all, be patient with yourself. It’ll come back. Promise!