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?

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!

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!