Blog

How to Spend Your Summers Writing Instead of Weeding

Every summer I look for ways to make more time for writing. In the past that meant taking extra time off from my day job. It worked great except that it left me with less income. When I eventually got a better job with more vacation days, I didn’t think this would be an issue anymore.

The thing is, when I landed the better job, I also became a house owner. I quickly discovered that house chores and yard work can pretty much take over your life. So last summer, I did what I do best—I looked for ways to cut. 

The most difficult and drastic move came when I decided to ditch the pool. I agonized all winter about it. I had never had a pool before so over a period of five years l invested a lot of effort, energy, and money just to learn how to keep the water from turning green. Getting rid of the pool meant throwing away all that hard-earned knowledge. But keeping it meant spending valuable time on an expensive oversized tub that I got to use only two months out of the year (Quebec summers are pretty short). It took one day to dismantle the beast. I haven’t missed it since, not even during the hottest days. I simply take more cold showers now.

The vegetable garden came next. I have mixed feelings about gardening. It’s a love-hate thing. I love when I actually manage to grow something, but more often than not, my plants either don’t grow well or end up getting eaten by wildlife at some point during the night. So I skipped the garden and settled for three potted tomato trees. Much easier on my back and more restful nights.

That left the flower beds. Who doesn’t love well-tended flower beds? But who has the time to pull out all those weeds day after day? Certainly not this writer! I give the flower beds a Iot less attention now. Weeding gets done only when I need a break from writing, not because I worry what my neighbours might think. And in the process I learned that some of these weeds make pretty awesome flowers.

These three changes made a huge difference in giving me back my writing time. I sent out more pitches and finished more stories. It worked out beautifully, and is still doing so one year later.

This summer, I did restart my vegetable garden though. But I increased my odds of a better yield—and more restful nights—by putting up a chicken wire fence around the whole thing. Yes, it’s not as pretty, but I doubt my fans will make a big deal out of it. What matters is that my gardening efforts didn’t take anything away from my writing. Thankfully we had enough rain that I only had to water it a couple of times. Weeding got done when it got done, and it didn’t bother my veggies one bit. 

With summer nearly over, I’m already wondering how I can make next year even better. Who knows, I might earn enough from this summer’s writing to hire someone to do all the weeding next year! 

Look Where You Want to Go

When I took my driver’s course many years ago, two pieces of advice stuck in my mind. 

One, don’t drive over a pig. Apparently, they’re the most dangerous animal to run over because they won’t flatten like a pancake but retain their round shape. If you hit a pig, your car will rise off the ground and flip over. So be nice to pigs.

Two, drive like a race car driver. If your car starts to skid toward a tree, ditch, or other unwanted obstacle, keep your eyes where you want to go. It’s your best chance of avoiding a nasty collision. You’ll instinctively steer your car out of trouble just by shifting your attention where you want to go.

I’m bringing this up now because we just had another foot of wet, slippery, spring snow yesterday. Although it’s very pretty, I almost ended up in the ditch as I drove back from work. Luckily, my instructor’s advice popped in my head, and I was able to keep my eyes glued to the road and not to the fast approaching ditch on my crazy, out-of-control slide down the biggest hill in the area. 

This morning, as I thought back on my scary near-miss, I was struck by how that second piece of advice also applies to other parts of my life, like writing for example. Because if you don’t keep your eyes where you want to go then how will you ever get there? It’s more likely you’ll end up mired in a totally unsatisfying writing rut. 

Maybe you want to focus on a specific type of writing. You’d like to write children’s picture books, say, but never seem to find the time to take that class, research publishers, or get to know key people in the industry. Or maybe you dream of earning a higher income but keep writing for content mills instead of taking a chance and approaching higher-paying markets. If that’s the case, you’re aiming straight for that ditch. And don’t expect to get out of it anytime soon. 

So, where do you want your writing to take you? Figure it out then simply take whatever steps are necessary to keep you heading in the right direction. 

And remember, watch out for pigs! 

Planning for Success, One Week at a Time

Planning is something I’m really good at. I love makings lists. I love creating tasks and goals. And I really love imagining winning outcomes. But the actual implementing? Not so much.

That’s because what looks great on paper, often doesn’t match my reality. Sure, pitching a new magazine, contacting an editor I’ve worked with before, and researching book publishers is easy to accomplish on a daily basis during my long summer break.

But once I’m back at work, expecting to come home and turn myself into a superstar writer is not realistic. I might manage it once in a while, but certainly not every day of the week. 

On the other hand, it’s more than possible I can hit all of these goals on a weekly basis. Since my last blog post, I looked at my detailed plan and spread it out over an entire week. Over the last few months, I’ve updated it several times to make sure it meets my needs and helps me reach my goals.

Here’s what my plan looks like at the moment.

Writing Plan 

Written in big, bold letters at the top of the page followed by the date. I like to date my plan so I can see when I last updated it. 

Goal

What am I trying to achieve? This is important. Without a goal, a plan has no meaning. In one sentence, I nail down exactly what I want to accomplish with my writing.

Reminders

Here I jot down a few things I want to keep in mind. It gives me that little extra boost I sometimes need to put my plan into action and avoid procrastinating. 

Daily 

These are tasks that I feel must be done every day. I keep them to the barest minimum so they don’t take up the whole of my writing time.

Monday to Wednesday / Thursday to Sunday 

I spilt my week in half. Each half gets specific tasks. During the first half, I study new magazines. When I find mags I want to write for, I come up with ideas and send them a pitch. During the second half, I pitch ideas to editors I’ve worked with before. Since I’m more likely to hear back from these editors with a positive response, I save the weekend to create the bulk of the actual stories.

Monday to Sunday 

If I still have enough energy after I’m finished with the above tasks, I then set to work studying book publishers. I give myself the whole week since I don’t expect to get much done every night. But if all goes well, I’ll have at least one pitch ready to send by the time Sunday comes along.

The very last thing I do before stopping for the night is to set my tasks for the following day based on what I’ve managed to accomplish and what still needs to be done.

Following Up

At the end of each week I sit down with my Weekly Follow Up chart and take a moment to reflect on my writing process. I ask myself three questions: 

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What needs improvement?

Notes

At the end of my chart, there’s a space where I jot down notes on anything that may have helped or got in the way of my goals. Did anyone approach me with a writing project out of the blue? Did I get knocked out with a bad cold? Did I waste too much time on Facebook?  

Every time I feel it’s necessary, I adjust my plan, rewrite it, and change the date. I save all of my plans so that later on I’ll be able to refer to them if needed.

Now all that’s left to do — and this seems to be a recurring problem for me — is to figure out how I can fit in writing more blog posts. Because one thing I learned is that if it’s not in the plan, it simply won’t get done!

Hope this planning tip helps you prepare for the new year. 

Happy planning! 

How to Keep Ideas Coming

Do you know how to keep ideas coming? Ideas are as necessary to a writer as breathing. Having said that, certain activities will encourage the flow of ideas while others will block them as surely as my long curly hair clogging the bathtub drain. Do you know what these activities are? They’ll be different for everyone so it pays to be aware of them. Every time I notice a new one, I add it to my special list. 

Here it is:

ACTIONS THAT ENCOURAGE THE FLOW OF IDEAS
  • Swinging in my hammock 
  • Washing dishes
  • Weight lifting 
  • Journaling
  • Running indoors 
  • Taking a shower 
ACTIONS THAT STOP THE FLOW OF IDEAS
  • Playing solitaire 
  • Reading romances
  • Negative thoughts 
  • Worrying 

In general, any kind of physical activity that doesn’t require too much thinking or focus will help generate ideas. For instance, while I get plenty of ideas running laps indoors, I haven’t had a single one jogging outdoors yet. It could be because when I’m outside, I’m more focused on my surroundings: being mindful of obstacles in the road, making sure I don’t get run over by vehicles, and keeping an eye out for animals that might chase, bite or spray me.

Does that mean you can’t do the things you love if they don’t help your writing? No at all. You simply have to be smart about it. For instance, I love playing solitaire on my iPad, but I don’t get any ideas from it. Worse, it can steal valuable writing time as it tends to put me to sleep if I play for more than 30 minutes. So I now play just before going to bed. It quickly stops my brain from going in circles and lets me sleep like a baby! 

You can also make deals with yourself and save those idea-stoppers for special occasions. Use them as rewards, say, for a goal reached. If you know they have the ability to suck you in, set a timer so you don’t overdo it. In my case, the world would be a very sad place if I had to stop reading romances altogether. The thing is, once I start one, I often can’t put the book down until I reach the very last page. Knowing my weakness, I save them as a treat for the weekends. And seeing as it’s Sunday and I’ve finished this blog post, I can now enjoy my book totally guilt-free! Mmm, I think I’ll head for the hammock…

A Handy Tool for Tracking Your Progress

It’s already summer and I’ve barely had time to enjoy my newly bloomed irises. But one thing I did find time for was tracking my progress. I’ve been really keen on it in fact. I keep trying different tools and improving on them so I can get the most information from each. This way, I’ll be able to make better decisions on how best to spend my time in order to reach my goals.

One of my most helpful inventions is a spreadsheet that breaks down my writing earnings and shows me where my sales are coming from each month.

Here’s my Earning Results spreadsheet (I’ll explain below how I use each column):

A Handy Tool for Tracking Your Progress

I obviously had to squish everything to make the snapshot of the spreadsheet fit inside this post. So you’ll need to adjust the width of the columns, especially for the publications (it will be much wider unless you use abbreviations).

Value of Work Sold: This is the total amount for all the types of writing I sold that month, including translating.

Total Money Received: This is the actual amount I received from prior sales. The difference between these two columns has been quite significant so far. Either I sell a lot and receive not a single penny one month, or I sell nothing at all and get a bundle of cash the next. Needless to say, I’m hoping these amounts will even out as the year progresses.

Value of Work Sold from Translations: I added this column because I like to see what my translation work brings in as compared to my writing. You can do the same for any work you wish to track separately or if you happen to have multiple streams of income. If not, simply delete this column.

Value of Work Sold from Writing: This is the total I earned from my writing, be it magazine pieces, newsletter articles, or blog posts. If you have money coming in from books or content marketing, you could add that as well. And if you wanted even more detailed information, you could follow this with separate columns for each category. I may do this myself at some point.

Number of Pieces of Writing Sold: How many pieces did I sell this month? Having this column right next to the previous one allows me to average how much I made per piece.

Average $ Per Piece Sold: See above.

Publications: List of the publishers who bought my work. Useful to see at a glance which publishers regularly buy my work.

Number of Pieces Sold to Children’s Publications: Since I write for both children and adults, it makes sense to know how successful I am in each category.

Number of Pieces Sold to Adult Publications: Same as above.

Value of Work Sold to Children’s Publications: Here I only count the money made from my children’s writing.

Value of Work Sold to Adult Publications: … and the money made only from my adult writing.

These last four columns are interesting because the number of pieces sold in one age group may not reflect the money earned. In fact, I discovered that I usually need to sell more children’s stories to equal the money I make writing for adults. This is not to say that I will ever stop writing for children, but if I suddenly find myself in need of more cash then it would make more sense to target adult publications until my money problems are taken care of.

So there you have it. Upgrading my systems can be a real pain at times. But in general, I find it exciting because it means I’m growing as a writer. If you find you’ve outgrown your own systems, don’t be afraid to tinker or come up with completely new ones. No matter where you are at the moment, if you want your business to grow, you’ll need to keep tracking your numbers. It’s a good idea to get into the habit now. Once you set up your spreadsheet, it only takes a few minutes to fill it out every time you sell something or receive money from your writing. Then once a month, look over your numbers to see how you did. Don’t like what you see? Then you’ll know exactly what you need to work on.

Happy tracking!

Want To Be More Productive? Sometimes It’s Best to Just Go With the Flow!

This year, as I continue on my journey toward making every single day count, I thought it would be a great idea to develop a writing niche for myself. I keep reading that it’s a great way to increase your productivity and bottom line as it narrows your focus, thus decreasing the time needed for research.

It’s a technique that sounds perfect for me as I’m interested in tons of stuff. Although having a variety of interests has its good side, it often makes it hard for me to pick a project to work on, especially when it comes to longer works such as novels.

So I figured I would try to specialize in a couple of fields instead of tackling everything under the sun. I rummaged through my stacks of book and dug out a volume on specializing that I had bought several years ago. I remembered starting reading it, but not making it to the end. I wondered why until I actually tried to read it again. It’s kind of spooky but every single time I pick it up, something pops up.  

For instance, a call for submission will lend in my inbox and I just happen to have the perfect story sitting in my files. Or an idea will jump into my head out of nowhere and I’ll dash it off and see if I get any takers. Or an editor will respond to a pitch I sent weeks ago asking me if I have additional ideas for their magazine. And as I happily keep writing, pitching, and selling stories, I’m no closer to specializing. In fact, if I look at the pieces I sold in the last three months, they’re all stories based on non-related topics including running, library work, relationships, pets, and family vacations. 

One thing is clear though: I am most definitely no closer to specializing. 

If I ever manage to get around to it, I’m absolutely certain that my productivity and bottom line will benefit from narrowing my interests. In fact, I’d really love to experiment with this soon and share my experiences here. But right now, as the work and ideas keep coming, who am I to complain? Like my first spring flowers, I might as well enjoy them while they last.

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Making Every Single Day Count

After finishing up my last blog post on making every second count, I decided to build on this idea and base the whole of 2018 on making every single day count. No matter the weather (yes, it’s snowing again), or my mood, or anything else. When it comes to writing, it is so easy to let time slip by. We lose momentum, focus, drive… and the next thing we know, the year is over and gone. Yes, we all lead busy lives, but at the end of the day what really matters to me is this : What did I do today to help me reach my writing goals?

Making lists and setting goals is the easy part. But doing the actual work—every single day—that’s what truly counts. No writing, no progress.

Having said that, it would have been really easy for me to skip writing on January 1st. After all, I had a family lunch to attend out of town, followed by an afternoon of fun and games. I knew that by the time I got back home, the last thing I would feel like doing was write. But as I sprawled on the couch that evening, drifting off to sleep, my stomach still full from my holiday-lunch overdose, my mind turned to jogging of all things. I ran with the thought and the next thing I knew an idea for an article started forming in my mind. I played with it for a bit trying to see where it might lead. After a few minutes, I realized I was actually writing out the story in my mind. I then had a difficult choice to make: I could keep on snoozing or get off the couch and write. Thankfully, I chose the latter and soon had the perfect opening for a personal essay on how I had gotten my start as a runner. And I knew exactly which publication to send it to. Using what I had so far, I composed a pitch to Canadian Running magazine and sent it off.

On January 2nd the editor replied saying he’d like to see the completed story. And just like that, that one evening of writing set the tone for the rest of my week. Each day as I continued work on my running story, I reached out to a different editor. By the time I sent it off on Friday, another editor requested to see two picture book manuscripts.

Unfortunately, the second week didn’t go so well. Ideas kept eluding me while a migraine stopped me in my tracks. By Wednesday I was nearly panicking because I hadn’t sent anything yet. Still I persevered and continued studying potential markets. By Friday I was way behind, but got an unexpected morale boost by having my first piece of the year accepted by Spider magazine. I then got sidetracked again by a bunch of translations… but happily finished off the month with my running story being accepted!

That last minute acceptance gave me a supercharged boost for February— all because on January 1st, I chose to write instead of snoozing on the couch. February is well under way, and my writing is back on course as I continue working on making every single day count.

If 2018 has not exactly been stellar for you, now’s the perfect time to get going. What are you waiting for? Make today count!

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!