What Do You Do Every Day?

This week I seem to have spent more time communicating with editors than working on my writing. It’s a fun development, which came about from my new year’s resolution to pitch at least one editor and write for at least one hour every day, including weekends. And by day, I usually mean evenings as I have a day job. 

I started on January second and managed to hit my two goals most days. The only thing stopping me have been headaches and migraines, which always show up out of nowhere and can last up to three days. Even then I usually managed to sneak in a bit of market study or write a few lines on my work in progress. So even though I didn’t actually hit my goals on those days, I still moved forward, which was super exciting and motivating. 

Here are the two rules I set for myself and what happened: 

Rule for writing goal – Work in small bursts if I have to, as long as I hit that one hour mark before I go to bed. 

Result – For the most part, as soon as I started writing, I lost track of the time and hit the one hour mark no problem. It’s a process that seemed to build on itself. If I could do it one day, then I knew I could do it the next. As I saw the progress I made each day, it made me eager to get to work. In four weeks, I wrote two blog posts and three new articles, finished one work in progress, and rewrote another from scratch. I don’t consider myself a fast writer so these numbers are pretty impressive for me. 

Rule for querying goal – Send a pitch or a complete manuscript to a book publisher, magazine editor, or literary agent before I go to bed. 

Result – The regular querying brought me to discover new markets and opportunities here in North America as well as the UK and Australia. It forced me to put self-doubt and fears of all kinds aside and just send that pitch so I wouldn’t fall behind. Except for a few quick rejections, not much happened in the first couple of weeks. But on week 3 and 4, I started getting interested replies and requests for more information, which led to my first contract of the year. Joy! This, of course, is making me want to write and pitch even more.      

As a side goal, I also decided to journal every day. It’s something I had let go of in the last few months because I stopped being able to get up early enough to get it done. It was a painful decision, but I chose to prioritize giving my body the rest it needed over my love of journaling. The thing is, I’ve always preferred journaling first thing in the morning. I feel as if it sets me up for the rest of the day. Over the long Christmas break, I got a taste for it again as I was able to do it first thing. I hated having to let go of it when I got back to my day job. So I decided to keep journaling no matter what the time of day. Sometimes I do it as soon as I get back from work. Other times it’s just before I turn in for the night. The nice thing is that even though I don’t get exactly the same benefits as I used to, something good always comes out of it no matter what time of day I journal. I especially love when it leads to new insights and ideas for writing projects. I’m happy to say that I only missed one day of journaling this month (stupid migraine). 

My goal for February is to continue pitching, writing, and journaling every day with the addition of managing the growing number of editor responses. It’s a really good place to be and I intend to enjoy every minute of it—migraine or not!

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!