Be the Inspiration

January is a great time to get inspired for the coming year. I’ve been finding mine by reading In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney.

The book is basically a compilation of successful women who each answer a set of questions about their experiences as business owners and creators.

As inspiring as each of these women are, I thought it would be interesting to answer the same questions myself, exactly as if I were being interviewed for the book and see what my answers might reveal about my own process.

Here are a few of the questions asked of these 100 women and my own answers. 

* What is your favourite thing about your workspace?

That it is movable. I like the fact that I can write anywhere as long as I have my laptop, iPad, or just a notebook and some markers and pens. This summer I did a lot of writing in parking lots as I waited for my partner while he attended a multitude of medical appointments. As I was not allowed to accompany him inside due to the pandemic, I made sure to bring plenty of work to help pass the time. It worked beautifully and really brought home the point that writing can be done anywhere. 

* What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?

Time (and this seems to be a popular answer in the book as well). Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours learning, writing, editing, researching, thinking, developing, reading, planning, and dreaming. The amazing thing is that none of it has ever felt like a loss. Every minute that I spend on my writing business is special to me even when it’s not going so well. After spending years wondering what to do when I grew up (I was nearly thirty when I finally figured it out), I am utterly grateful to have found my calling at last, which means I’ll never take it for granted. Ever! 

* What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out? 

Don’t wait to hear back from an editor before starting on another piece and sending out more work. Always be writing and submitting. I’ve found that not only does it help my business grow but that it keeps me from getting into a funk when I get the inevitable rejections—or complete silence in many cases. By always working on a new piece, I have less time to spend on feeling sorry for myself. 

Grace Bonney’s book contains many more questions and inspiring answers. While I encourage you to read the book, I also invite you to answer the questions yourselves. I’m sure you’ll discover some amazing things about your own artistic life. But don’t keep these answers hidden in a notebook. Make sure you find a way to add them to your posts, CV, LinkedIn profile, and anywhere they could have an impact on your creative career. 

Here’s to a wonderful writing year! 

Is Your Passion for Writing Petering Out?

Do you find your passion for writing has taken a nosedive? Is that burning, all-consuming desire to succeed not as strong as it once was? If so, here’s why you shouldn’t give up just yet. 

A few days ago, I came across an article in Bloomberg Businessweek entitled “The Psychological Formula for Success After Age 50” by Arianne Cohen. It stated that even though passion dwindles with time, it is offset by perseverance and determination which both increase in middle age and peak in our 70s. 

As soon as I finished reading the article, I rushed to the kitchen to share this wonderful discovery with my partner of 31 years. As he listened to me, his hands froze in mid-chop, the partially-sliced red pepper on the cutting board forgotten. His whole body went rigid before he bellowed: “Are you serious?”

Surprised at his angry outburst, my mind quickly sorted through the most likely reasons. “I’m not talking about sex,” I replied. “I’m talking about work and hobbies, you know, getting stuff done!”

My words instantly reassured him—and thankfully saved lunch! 

For a while now, I had been wondering why I was having more and more trouble getting myself to do any writing. After some deep thinking, I realized that my passion for writing basically was not what it used to be. I then started asking myself some hard questions. Was it time to do something else? Had I fallen out of love with writing? No, I didn’t think so. After 20 years, I still enjoyed the process of turning the germ of an idea into a finished story, the thrill of seeing my work in print. But the eagerness to grab a notebook or run to my computer to get the words down simply was not there.

Things finally clicked into place after reading Cohen’s article. Just like my partner, I felt instant relief. It was all right not to have passion anymore because frankly, I have bucketloads of perseverance and determination to spare. Even though I don’t have the drive and desire I used to, I can still keep going until the work gets done. To me, that’s way more important than relying on something as fleeting as passion. And just in case my partner should be reading this: No, I’m not talking about sex!  

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

I’ve been stepping out into my garden a lot lately, mostly planting veggies I know I can grow successfully. I did challenge myself with something I’ve never tried before though: sweet corn. It might grow, it might not. I mostly did it for the fun of it, not because I expected any kind of success. There’s not much at stake either since the grocery stores, markets, and road stands will soon be overflowing with them.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is quite different when people are relying on you to do a great job. We’ve all had to do it at some point. Some people actually thrive on it. But if you’re anything like me, just the thought of stepping out of your comfort zone when the stakes are high will make you want to hide under the nearest rock, even if you have to huddle next to the creepiest of creepy-crawlies. 

As an introvert, most of life’s experiences fall way outside my comfort zone. I’m at my happiest holed up at home with my books, pens, papers, and snacks galore. This is why I’ve adjusted to COVID-19 confinement better than most people. However, not even the stay-at-home orders could keep me safe from my editor’s request. When she proposed that I create a short video to introduce each of the five ebooks I recently completed for teens with intellectual disabilities, my first urge was to look around for a likely rock. But since we were on a video conference call, I smiled bravely and said: “Sure! Sounds like a great idea!” 

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not at my best in front of an audience. It all started in elementary school when our teacher told us we would each have to pick a slip of paper from a hat, then stand in front of the class and mime whatever was written on the slip. No big deal, I thought as the kids before me mimed easy stuff like combing their hair and brushing their teeth. When my turn came up, I picked a slip with the word “angry” written on it. Getting into my angry pose, I crossed my arms over my chest, frowned, and glared at my classmates. When no one volunteered any guesses, I deepened my frown and glared even harder. Puzzled by my classmates’ unresponsiveness and feeling more uncomfortable by the second, I looked at my teacher for help. All she offered however was a disappointed shake of her head and a wave of her hand motioning me back to my seat. 

I sometimes think back on that humiliating experience and wonder how differently my life might have turned out had my teacher offered to help me instead of rejecting my efforts. Who knows, I might have transformed into the next Meryl Streep. The fact is, my teacher didn’t help me, and I’ve had a hang-up about doing any type of public performance ever since. Which leads me back to making these five videos… I’d like to say that it all went without a hitch and each one ended up worthy of an Oscar nomination. Well, it didn’t quite go that way. Turns out it was even harder than I thought. Yet, I did make those videos. Not only that but my editor even looked happy with the results. Take that, teacher-whose-name-I-can’t-recall! 

Stepping out of our comfort zone is really something all writers must face if we want to see any type of growth in our careers. Yes, it can be scary—terrifyingly so at times. But it can also be a wonderful way to learn valuable skills and gain experience in areas we would never have attempted otherwise. 

So, go ahead and scare yourself silly! I’ll see you on the red carpet. 

How to Get Work Done When You’re Not Feeling Well

I haven’t been well since December. I have good days where I almost feel like my old self. But unfortunately, I have a lot more days when I don’t have the energy to do a tenth of what I was capable of just three months ago. It’s extremely frustrating and upsetting since it’s affecting all areas of my life, including my writing.

As you may have noticed if you’ve read a few of my posts, I’m the type of person who loves making plans. I plan my years, months, and days way in advance. I’m definitely not a last minute person. But since my health took a nosedive, I’ve had to face the fact that long-term plans simply don’t work for me at the moment. 

The funny thing is that I now have all the time in the world to write. Because schools are closed due to the pandemic, I’ve been off work for a week and may not be able to go back for several more. In a way, it’s a golden opportunity. However, my body is not cooperating. It doesn’t care that I could literally write every single minute of the day. It mostly only cares about how soon it can get another nap.

This means that I’m learning to go with the flow instead of forcing things to happen. Surprisingly, I’m still managing to get work done, but not necessarily when I might have liked to or when it might have made the most sense.

Take yesterday for example. Saturdays are usually when I try to catch up and tie up loose ends. I start with admin, wrap up writing projects, and plan for the coming week. Instead, I woke up, took a shower, had breakfast then immediately went back to bed where I spent about an hour revising a story, followed by several bouts of napping, reading, and checking the news for coronavirus updates. Not exactly what you would call a productive day, but I’m happy to say that my client still got her story on time. 

And this is the significant part: I’m learning that moving forward is not about getting everything on my list done. It’s about focusing on what is truly important TODAY. And in these times of uncertainties, it may be the smartest thing to do. 

When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t as tired. As I took stock of my energy level and tried to figure out the best use of my time, the idea for this blog post popped into my mind. Since I don’t have any pressing tasks, here I am writing this post before both the idea and my energy disappear. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good day though. Who knows, I may even start a new writing project and see what happens.  

Whatever is on your to-do list for today, make sure to STAY SAFE!

Planning for Another Great Year

I’ve had a good year this year. In fact, I’ve had a record year in terms of the money I earned from my writing alone. I’m super happy—and I’m sure I’ll be even happier when I actually receive payment for it all! 

Now comes the hard part. How can I make next year as good? What happens if I don’t even come close? What if it was just a fluke?

These questions always seem to plague me when life’s good. The answer of course is : there’s no way of knowing. 

However, there’s a few things I can do to help put luck on my side. For instance, looking over this past year, I can see that I was more outgoing. I used every conversation as an opportunity to slip in the fact that I was a writer while mentioning the books I was working on. It helped build my credibility and spread the word. When these people speak to me now, most will start the conversation by asking me how the writing is going. 

Another thing I did was not shrink back when opportunities presented themselves—even if I was scared out of my mind! This led me to appear on a podcast about writing for magazines, submit my portfolio to a school board looking for a children’s writer (and landing a five-book contract!), writing my first newspaper profile, and proofreading the English part of seven bilingual picture books for a renowned French publisher (three of them are pictured above).

So, if I simply keep doing these two things (being more vocal about my writing and saying yes to opportunities instead of running in the other direction), there’s a good chance I’ll be having another great year. 

And if I don’t? Well, it’s not the end of the world. Truly! Whether I have a good year or not, I’ll still be here doing what I love most—writing. 

Can’t beat that! 

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!