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!

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!

How to Control Your Schedule

How do you control your schedule? It took me quite a while to answer that one. Fixed schedules don’t work at all for me. I wish they did. They would certainly have saved me a lot of grief over the years. I tried using professional planners with entries for each hour of the day and night, pretty agendas with words of inspiration printed on each page, calendars with extra large squares to write in daily tasks, and electronic versions of each that sent me helpful reminders every single second. Unfortunately, none of these have ever done me any good.

The problem is that if I tell myself I must do a particular task at a specific time, one of two things happens: my brain rebels and refuses to cooperate, or something unexpectedly comes up to change my plan altogether. Then I invariably end up feeling like a total failure for not sticking to THE SCHEDULE.

If this sounds like you, don’t despair. Put aside your agenda for now and try the following technique.

STEP 1

Rather than adhering to a strict schedule, I jot down what I wish to accomplish today, this week, next month or even for the rest of the year. Then I break these down into smaller doable bits and chunks.

Yesterday for example, I decided I wanted to get the following tasks done and that they might take roughly this much time:

  • Translation – 2 hours
  • Write this post – 2 hours
  • Work on a beginning reader story – 1 hour
  • Workout – 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Call the plumber – 5 minutes

Total: about 6 hours.

Before going to bed, I looked at my list. It was more than I usually attempt in one day. I knew there was a better chance of me getting through it if I finished at least one of these tasks before I went to my library job. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee I would be able to drag myself out of bed before my usual time of 7 am. The thing is I’m not a morning person. Although I naturally wake up around 5 am, if my brain doesn’t latch on to some weird or worrisome thought I happily drift back to sleep for another couple of hours. So for me to get any work done that early in the morning mostly depends on whether I can coax myself into doing so. This is where the next crucial step of my technique comes in.

STEP 2

I give myself options.

Since I don’t like to do things when I feel forced to (does anyone?) I give myself as many options as possible. So looking at my list, I figured out that if I managed to wake up — and stay awake — at 5 am, I could tackle either the translation or this blog post. If not, I could aim for 6 am and do my workout or write my beginning reader story. As for the plumber, I could simply call him later in the day (I doubt he would have happily answered my call that early anyway).

So, how did things turn out? Amazingly, I did manage to work from 5 to 7 am (I chose the translation). When I came home in the middle of the afternoon, I called the plumber and started this blog post. I stopped halfway through to do my workout, then resumed the blog post where I left off. After getting that out of the way, I took a short break for dinner then jumped into my beginning reader story. Yes, it was a very full day — but a very happy one, too. I loved feeling that I had total control over my schedule instead of it controlling me!

Finding Time

I often don’t have enough time to do all the things I would like to do. With three part-time jobs, a family, and a home to take care of, the days fly by much too quickly for my liking. But time is a funny thing. For example, I’m in the process of writing a new book. I hadn’t planned on it. In fact, there’s no room in my life for it right now – there simply isn’t time! But the idea popped into my head one night, tantalizing me with all sorts of possibilities as I drifted off to sleep. The next morning before my alarm went off, the idea resurfaced. I found myself reaching for the notebook and pen I always keep on the bookshelf next to my bed and wrote down the gist of it before it disappeared.

The following morning just as I was waking up, more ideas about that book flowed through my mind, and I sleepily reached for my notebook again. This scenario has been repeating itself for the past two weeks. This book is forcing its way into my life whether I want to or not. It refuses to be ignored or put on the back burner until I can make time for it later. It is both exhilarating and extremely annoying.

Why would I find this annoying? Because I’m not a morning person. On weekdays, I like to stay in bed as long as I possibly can without being late for work at the library. When I finally manage to get myself out of bed, I blindly head for the shower where I slowly pry my eyes open. Now, not only do I manage to wake up before my alarm goes off, but I automatically start thinking about my book, which leads me to get ideas and start scribbling away.

My point is that even though you may think you can’t do something because of lack of time – or if you’re like me, because you could not possibly wake up any earlier – if it’s a project that appeals to you to the point of firing up your imagination, you will find the time even if it comes in snippets and at odd hours of the day or night. However, when these moments come to you, make sure you actually use them. In other words, you still have to do the work. Sure, ideas are great but had I simply toyed with mine before turning over and going back to sleep for my usual extra snoozing session that morning, that idea would be long gone by now. So when an opportunity like this shows up, make the most of it. Don’t question it, don’t hesitate, just leave all of your doubts behind (or stifle them underneath your pillow) and get writing!