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!

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!

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!

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!

Fear of Success

We’ve all heard of fear of failure. Most of us deal with this on a daily basis. The phrase “What if (insert your particular fear here)? ” runs through our minds so often that we’re barely aware of it.

For a writer these fears might go like this:

What if my idea sucks?
What if my writing sucks?
What if, after all that time and effort, every single editor in the whole universe thinks my manuscript sucks?

But fear of success? Really?

Surprisingly, fear of success can be as debilitating as fear of failure. This is especially true if you’re a part-time writer. After all, if you can barely find the time to write, how on earth will you ever find the time to be successful at it?

For me this fear shows up right after I submit a proposal for an article or book I have yet to write. It usually goes like this:

What if it gets accepted?
What if I get swamped with translations? How will I manage both?
What if I can’t meet the deadline?
What if I get writer’s block and can’t finish it?
What if the end product sucks?

Fears like these may have such a strong hold on you that they can even stop you from starting a project or sending that proposal altogether. So how do you conquer your fears?

Here’s some suggestions:

1) MAKE A PLAN

Let’s say you’ve come up with a super concept for a book, and you just happen to know the perfect publisher that might be interested in it. Once the key components of your proposal are in place, you should have a good idea of the work that will be involved and the general word count. Now take that number and play with it. How many words a day would you need to write to finish the project in three months? How about six, or even twelve months? Which timeline seems most feasible for you? Keeping these numbers where you can see them should help convince, and reassure you, that you can make this book happen.

2) USE CONCRETE EXAMPLES

It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you when dealing with worst-case scenarios. But think back on an actual moment when you were successful. This doesn’t have to be about writing. It can be about anything really. How did it go? How did you deal with the unexpected?

For me, that moment came when my first novel was accepted. I was afraid I would not be able to meet the revision deadlines. My editor was behind schedule and by the time she sent back her first round of comments, the final deadline was right around the corner. Although I suffered a few hair-raising moments, along with having to make do with less sleep during that time, I managed to be prompt and thorough. In the end, everything worked itself out. Best of all, I proved to myself that it could be done!

3) SEE HOW OTHERS HAVE HANDLED YOUR FEARS

The best way to learn is through others’ experiences. The world is filled with examples of both success and failure. If you have a concern about anything, look it up or ask someone who might know the solution.

I first came across the answer to my own fears in Nancy I. Sanders’ book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. Near the beginning, Sanders talks about gaining confidence when proposing books to editors. Deciding to tackle her own uncertainties, she wrote three book manuscripts in a genre she had never tried before but which interested her. She did all this while continuing to work on her other writing projects. In the process, she learned each book took her a year to write. When she finally pitched an editor with a new idea in that same genre, she ended up landing a four-book deal for a new series. When the subject of deadlines came up, she told the editor it would take her one year to complete each book. His answer: “No problem.” Talk about putting your fears to rest! (By the way, I highly recommend Sanders’ book. It contains lots of examples on how to break down the time you have to suit your writing goals.)

Whatever your fears about success may be, take the time to analyze them. The more you take them apart, the less likely they’ll hold you back – and the more successful you’ll be!