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Archive for the ‘Writer Challenges’ Category

The Balancing Act

In Writer Challenges, Writing & Motherhood on February 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Long time no post, huh? I figured it was time to post an update for those interested in the life of a freelance writer breaking into the industry.

One of the reasons I haven’t been able to update my blogs as much as I’d like is a very cranky 17 month old in the house. He’s recently developed a jealousy of my computer and begins screaming at the top of his lungs whenever he sees me sit at my desk. Thank God for a internet capable cell phone (and thank my husband for buying it) – otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to write this, as I’m pinned under a sleeping little one in bed.

Other than that, the little one spilled hot chocolate on my keybaord and I was out of commission for a bit until I could get a new one. I came down with a stomach virus that had me sequestered to the sidelines for a bit. And as some of you may know, I am back in school working on my Bachelor’s which is taking up some of my time.

What have I learned from all this?? Juggling life, motherhood, and career can often be much like a dance or a tight rope walk – lean too much in either direction and there can be disastrous consequences. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

As it stands now I am still trying to help the little one overcome this phase he’s going through and figure out the cause. I am in the process of reviewing Charter Schools: The Ultimate Handbook for Parents by Karin Piper (parents can check back for that in the next few days). I am still moving forward with my book, and I have been in touch with a few other talented writers/bloggers about some possible collaborations.

Is it everything I wish I could be doing? Not quite. But some progress is better than none. Balance is not an easy thing to master, especially with children – but I’m getting there.

Not Another New Year’s Post

In Writer Challenges on January 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I will resist the temptation to write a “year in review” post for writers, or share my resolutions or anything of the sort.  I think there’s enough of that to go around already.  Don’t you? 

In any case, here’s the skinny on my absence: I got offered a job – sort of.  I got an e-mail stating they were looking for someone to write articles for real estate websites.  They asked about my prices, policies, etc.  I sent an e-mail back 2 days later after agonizing over the e-mail.  I want this job.  Two weeks later, now word back.  I’m assuming that’s not a good sign.

The silver lining?  Someone thought of me.  Someone came across my information somehow and was intrigued enough to get in touch with me.  All my work trying to build an online presence and audience has not been a  complete waste of time (if it wasn’t already evident by all you lovely readers).  So while I am still not a millionaire behind my writing I’d like to take this as a cue that I am doing something right.

Besides that?  I started another blog.  (Another one?!  Yes, another one.)   It’s an education blog, all about what I’ve learned in raising my little one and the endless reasearch on infant/toddler development, early childhood education and otherwise how to aid in his development.  It was long overdue.  ou can head on over and tell me what you think: Brain Food…Simplified  My hope is that between the two sites I’ll be able to keep you all updated daily.

I also have a couple book reviews in the works (stay tuned folks).  And of course the never-ending cycle of queries.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I hate queries.  It’d hard for me to get past the pressure of it.  But there’s nothing else to do but keep trying.  

In my case I can only trust that slow success is the best kind. 

My Pearl of Wisdom for the day: Try not to become discourage my what may seem a never-ending cycle of “grunt work”.  The not-so-painless self marketing, query after rejected query, the websites that no one seems to visit….it will all pay off.  It’s practice writing (which is the only way to get better), practice building relationships with reads, practice building relationships with other writers.  It’s all practice for the day when you become rich and famous (or at least that’s what i keep telling myself).

Paralysis

In Writer Challenges on November 27, 2009 at 4:35 am

As I know others will surely be able to relate to the following circumstance, I thought I’d share my current challenge and some tidbits that may help those in similar straits.  After all, that is what I’m here for.

Over the past couple weeks I have found it usually difficult to find my groove.  Perhaps it was the upcoming holidays, maybe the fact that I’ve been operating on little to no sleep, maybe the stress of some relationship issues bearing down on me.  No matter what the cause you can rest assured that you will come upon times when staying focused is beyond a challenge (if you haven’t already).

I try to maintain my momentum, and as such I keep quite a few projects on my plate at any given time.  This is not easy by a long shot, but I manage – until recently.  The past couple weeks my workload has had a paralyzing effect.  Where I’d normally thrive under the pressure, I’ve cracked.  I feel almost helpless in the face of the daunting to-do list (professional and otherwise).  How have I coped?  I haven’t really.  It’s much easier to ignore the problem and watch episodes of Law & Order: SVU.  I’ve found myself extremely frustrated and discouraged.

Considering my my misfortune I’ve found some solace in one fact- these feelings are normal.  But the even better news is that we can break the cycle.  You may find yourself reading this as a person who’s going through the same thing, or someone who’s already found their way off the merry-go-round.  Either way it is possible to get back into the groove of things sooner rather than later, before the mountain of work gets any bigger.

In my case the first step is accomplishing one small task to boost confidence.  I decided to update my blog.  Then move on to another small task with tangible results.  Research for your book is good, but for the purpose of gaining back your momentum it’s best to stick to tasks in which you can see your progress – like writing the outline to your cover letter, submitting a short article to Examiner, submitting work to a contest, etc.

Once you’ve accomplished a few less intimidating tasks you may move onto larger ones by breaking them down into manageable steps.  Have you been assigned your first feature article and have yet to write it?  Here’s an example of how you might break down the process:

  1. Revisit your initial query to refresh your memory.
  2. Write down some questions you’d like to answer in the article.
  3. Write your outline, and be sure to include where the answers to the aforementioned questions would be.
  4. Write your rough draft (no research yet; leave space to include stats and facts later).
  5. Research for your article (use specific questions as your guide; this will save time).
  6.  Write your article chunks at a time.
  7. Edit & polish.

By breaking down one intimidating task into manageable steps you may be able to overcome your paralysis.  In some cases you’ll be able to spread your steps out over a few days.  On others you may have to accomplish many tasks in one day taking breaks in between.

In the future you can avoid this process all together by recognizing the warning signs.  Have you been feeling overwhelmed?  Not getting much sleep?  Are tasks popping up faster than you can complete the ones you already have? 

  • You may allow yourself one day to recuperate when needed, but after that it’s back to work, otherwise work will pile up and you’ll be right back to square one. 
  • Eliminate Non-essential tasks until you feel comfortable and able picking the project up again.
  • Allow yourself some time to breathe.  Taking 10min here and there during the day will save you time by preventing burnout.
  • Ask for help.  A good friend to hold you accountable can pay in dividends by keeping work from piling up.

NaNoWriMo

In Writer Challenges on November 11, 2009 at 8:29 pm

My lovely readers, it’s another day if the life of a hustling freelancer.  As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I am participating in NaNoWriMo – which is National Novel Writing Month.  It’s day 11 and my word count is a little less that 2,000.  The challenge is 50,000 words in one month, which means I should be writing at least 1,700 words a day (more like 1,600 and some change….but who’s counting?).  I’m behind to say the least.

I’ve had my concept since October, and my outline has been complete since the end of October.  I got my first 1,000 words written a couple nights ago.  That means I started late too.

I’m still committed to being finished with my book by the end of November.  Somehow.

In case you were wondering what kind of book I’m working on, I’ll tell you (I’m just a thoughtful person that way).  I believe many of the participants of NaNoWriMo are working on fiction novels; not me!  Mine is non-fiction.  A memoir based on my experiences with prenatal depression.  Imformative stuff.  Chock full of resources for mothers, future mothers, and friends of mothers that may be at risk for different forms of perinatal depression – including prenatal.  More information on how you can download my book (for FREE) this December is to follow.

Why am I struggling with this NaNoWriMo?  Number one, this is my first time.  Plain an simple.  Anytime you try something new, there’s going to be a learning curve.  I also didn’t do any advance preperation other than my outline.  And mine was meant to be a short story anyway, the outline isn’t lending itself well to the 50,000 word goal.

If you’re considering particpating in NaNoWriMo next year I suggest looking over some resources.

And if all else fails google “NaNoWriMo resources” or some other variation. 

The bottom line here no amount of information will equal your first-hand experience with NaNoWriMo.  Unless you’re accustomed to daily writing of 1,000 words or more, it’s ganraunteed to be a chalenge – rewarding, but a challenge.  And even if you are used to daily writing of 1,000 words or more if you’re not used to daily writing on one book (as opposed to different book projects int he works, blog posts, or articles), it’s also likely to be  challenge.  And that’s okay.  If you don’t complete the 50,000 words the world will not come to a grinding hault.  Everything will be okay, and you’ll probably be a better writer at the end of it with a retty big dent in your novel.

I may not complete the 50,000 word challenge, but I will complete this book by the end of November.  That much I am sure of.

Making Sense of the “Hat Game”

In Writer Challenges on November 9, 2009 at 8:53 pm

One of the things I did recently to help mainstream my workload was organize my writing tasks.  In a previous post I discussed creating a business plan for your writing.  I took another look my my business plan and broke it down into my roles as a writer:

  • Author
  • Journalist
  • Blogger
  • Residual Queen
  • Mommy Writers Founder
  • Editor
  • Miscellaneous

I decided for me it’s most important that I work a little on my book and whatever queries or writing assignments I have at the moment every day. 

  • Sunday: put on “Author Hat” for 2hrs
  • Monday: put on “Journalist Hat” for 2hrs
  • Tuesday: put on “Blogger Hat” for 1hr, “Author Hat” for 30min, and “Journalist Hat” for 30min
  • etc….

How can you use this exercise in your writing career?  Examine your writing goals.  Maybe you only want to focus on writing books.  In your case you might break your workload down into marketing/promotion, writing the book, and working on your book proposal.  In this case it would be wise to spend time on the writing every day.  Perhaps 1hr on the book every day, 30min on the proposal and 30min on the marketing.

Social Media Madness

In Writer Challenges on November 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Some of my values readers may be wondering what’s been keeping me so busy that I haven’t been updating as regularly as I once did.  If you weren’t wondering…I’ll share what’s been keeping me so busy anyway.

Recently I’ve been focusing most of my attention on facilitating a free online writing class for women (which you can learn more about by clicking the “free classes” tab above or visiting Mommy Writers), and trying to build my platform – that inolves a lot of online networking with people who might be interested in  he topics I write about. 

For those who may be unfamilar with the term, “platform” refers to  all the ways you are visible to your audience.  The best definition I’ve found is in Christina Katz’s book Get known Before the Book Deal . 

The word platform simply describes all the ways you are visible and appealing to your future, potential, or actual readership.  Platform development is important not only for authors; it’s also crucial for aspiring and soon-to-be authors.  Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. 

Your platform communicates your expertise to others concisely, quickly, and decisively with clarity, confidence and ease.  How visible are you?  How much influence do you have?  How many people know and trust you?  If others recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is the measure of your platform success.”

If you’re like me you may be involved in so many online groups that it’s become difficult to keep up with them all.  Or worse – trying to keep up with them all you suddenly find your writing taking a back seat.  Writers’ groups are good, but only if they are not distracting you from the actual writing.

My solution?  I’ve decided not to try to check everything every day.  I made a list of all the online groups I’m involved in.  From there I decided which I needed to check and/or update daily.  I could only come up with one – Twitter.  Then I decided which I spend the most time on, and determined to never check more than one of those “time-eater” sites on any given day.  The rest was easy.  Check 4 sites per day, I allow myself to spend 20-30 mins on the “time-eater” site, and the rest I have to check in less than 20min.  With the time left over I can update my Twitter. 

On any given day I can spend between an hour and an hour and a half trolling the social media sites of the web – spreading the word about my writing, and learning fro other writers as well.

It may seem a little odd to make such a science of online groups and chatter, but anything that has the potential to absorb so much of your time is worth taking a closer look.

Getting Back on Track

In Writer Challenges on September 27, 2009 at 5:17 am

  Is it just me, or are some days just harder than others?  

  Some days when it comes to my writing I just lack direction.  I feel frazzled, and it’s hard to focus.  I start thinking about all the money I’m not making and I get discouraged?  Am I wasting my time here?  How would my time be best spent right now?  Just recently I was having one of those days.  I felt like I was stuck in a rut.  I didn’t quite know what I should do right then.  Of course I have my writing business plan (which you can read more about in my post here) – but that was long term.  I was beginnign to feel a little fuzzy on the short term.

  I’ve mentioned before the importance of doing something to advance your career everyday ( if you missed that you can read more here).  But on this particular day I was finding it extremely difficult to take my own advice.  I had no clue what I should be doing.  So I decided the best thing to do was STOP.  I stopped everything.  I took a step away from the computer, took a few deep breaths and tried to just slow down.  I thought about my finish line goals, and I took a minute to get real.

  By “get real” I just mean that I had to think about how much time there is in a day and how many other responsibilities I have.  I had to keep in mind that I can only do but so much in a day.  I realized that if I’m so busy pushing myself to accomplish unrealistic goals I’d be more likely to fry my brain, run through my energy reserves until I had nothing left, and end up facing another day like the one I’m discussing right now very soon.

  After I’d done that I thought about what calculated steps I could take over the next few weeks to get closer to achieving my dream of becoming a big wig in the writing world.  I decided I’d try to accomplish one task a week.  These are the tasks I came up with:

  • complete book review for Anything But a Dog! 
  • complete book review for Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers
  • complete 2 queries for local publications 
  • complete article for web zine
  • wrangle at least 3 more interviews for another article I’m working on
  • and then complete the article concerning the reviews
  • complete 2 manuscripts to submit
  • rework an already complete article to submit to Ezine Articles
  • apply for Examiner
  • work on a newsletter for Mommy Writers
  • work on completing my first book

  I wrote this list a little over a week ago and I’ve already completed 1 task and made progress on 3 others.  Not bad if I do say so myself.  I hope this will inspire someone else who may be hitting a wall to make their own list and get re-focused.  I’f you’d like to cheer me on and see if I cross another task off my list this week, check back.  I’ll keep this updated.

Getting Around the QUERY

In Writer Challenges on September 17, 2009 at 5:45 am

  As a writer it’s helpful to know what you’re struggling with so you can make the extra effort to eliminate the chink in the armor.  For me it’s querying.

  The query has so much added pressure.  You have to first seriously dissect at least a few recent copies of the publication to ensure that you can demonstrate that you are familiar with them, avoid duplicating an idea that they just ran (which would also be a monumental waste of your time), and match he tone of the publication.  Then you have to squeeze all this information about your idea, how you plan to execute it, why it fits their publication, and why you’re the one to write it on one little sheet of paper and make it stand out.  I hate it.

 Although it is something all writers will have t do at some point in their career, there are some ways you can avoid it – all in the interest of time.  In my case studying multiple copies of a publication to appropriately match the tone is very time consuming.  But I still need clips.  Not only do I need clips I would like to get my writing out there sooner rather than later.  So if you’re like me, what do you do?

  Call a few publications, preferably free local papers, and ask if they accept unsolicited manuscripts.  If they do you can just skip the query and send the complete article to the publication.  You still have to study the publication and make sure you match the tone and don’t duplicate ideas, but at least you can skip right to the article.

  Getting a few clips by submitting articles to sites like Ezine Articles or Ehow will help your query/manuscript look a little more appealing.  Editors seem to like experience.  This sucks for new writers, but we just have to deal.

  But in the end, the truth is – I have to get over it.  And if you have an aversion to queries too, then so do you.  This is just meant to help you get some clips in the mean time while you tackle your fears of queries, since clips are the name of the game.

Q&A with Finance Author Brigitte A. Thompson

In Q&As, Writer Challenges on September 6, 2009 at 6:06 am

Why is it important for writers to understand bookkeeping?

Writers are earning money and this money needs to be reported as income on their income tax return. If writers do not have any expenses to claim, their taxable income will be higher and they will owe more income tax.

Understanding what can be claimed as business expenses when you are a writer and how to properly document these expenses will help ensure the success of your business.

The most important thing you can do as a writer is to become organized. There are many books available on how to organize your writing, but this is the best book available about how to organize the financial side of your writing business.

Have you found that freelance writers require a different set of bookkeeping rules?

Many bookkeeping rules are universal such as the requirement to record income, but there are some areas of the tax law that are of more interest to freelance writers. This includes dealing with royalty payments, bartering, personal property and agent fees. My book addresses the universal tax rules as well as the infrequently discussed rules that apply specifically to freelance writers.

Learning how to document expenses and how to track income will give writers the best chance at overall business success.

What are some tax deductions that freelance writers might not be aware of?

There are many tax deductions available to writers. Some expenses are common, such as the cost of purchasing a case of paper or paying for a computer software upgrade. Other costs incurred in the operation of your writing business may not jump out at you as expenses when they could be. For example, consider the following accounts.

Mileage: Trips made in your vehicle to pick up office supplies can be counted as a business deduction if you record the proper information to support it.

Meals: Treating your agent to a restaurant meal with the discussion focusing on your next book can also generate a tax deduction when properly documented.

Shipping: UPS charges and postage used to mail a query or review copy of your book can be a small expense, but it should still be tracked. Those small deductions add up and every penny spent as a qualified business expense will reduce the amount of income tax you owe.

Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers devotes an entire chapter to expenses including a comprehensive listing of expenses and detailed information regarding what documentation is required to support each one.

I’m sure you’ve observed other freelance writers making accounting missteps that cost them time and money. What are some of the most common issues and how can we avoid them?

The most common misstep I’ve seen with writers is not taking themselves seriously as business owners. This can lead to financial pitfalls. Many writers have been honing their craft for years so it’s hard to identify an official starting date for their self-employment. Without this point to mark the beginning, it is easy to put off tracking income and expenses. This can be an unfortunate mistake.

The IRS will consider you to be in business when you are actively pursuing projects intended to generate income and expenses. This means they will expect you to file a tax return to report those transactions. Keeping track of your income and expenses from day one will enable you to pay the least amount of income taxes on the money you earn.


What are some of the challenges readers face with regards to bookkeeping?

I found the most common challenge writers face revolves around what they can claim as income and what counts as a tax deduction. For example, if their first job is writing the school newsletter, is the money received really income? Do they need to do something with the Internal Revenue Service before they can be considered a business? How do they handle self- employment tax?

The second most common concern for the freelance writers is related to proper documentation. What receipts did they need to save? How should they be kept? What information needs to be recorded to prove the expense? These are all great questions and they are addressed in the book.

Obviously, your book is a great place for writers to get information on bookkeeping. Are there are any other resources you recommend?

Yes, I recommend writers visit the IRS web site (www.irs.gov) to research specific tax issues and the Small Business Administration (www.sbaonline.sba.gov) for general business information.

I also recommend joining professional associations for writers such as American Society of Journalists and Authors (www.asja.org), The Authors Guild (www.authorsguild.org) and National Writers Union (www.nwu.org). There are many groups to choose from so consider the benefits of membership before joining.

I was interviewed recently by Freelance Success (http://www.FreelanceSuccess.com) which offers an insightful newsletter for their members. There are also online groups for writers such as MomWriters (http://www.MomWriters.com) offering networking opportunities as well as camaraderie.

How can we purchase your book?

Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers is available through Amazon.com and my publisher (www.CrystalPress.org). Any local bookstore can order my book by ISBN-10: 0963212389 or ISBN-13: 978-0963212382. List price is $17.95.

Brigitte A. Thompson is the founder and President of Datamaster Accounting Services, LLC in Vermont. She has been active in the field of accounting since 1986 and is a member of the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers and the Vermont Tax Practitioners Association.

She is the author of several finance books for business owners, contributing author to two business books, and a freelance writer whose articles have appeared nationally in print and online publications. Visit her online at Writers in Business.

Making Time

In Writer Challenges, Writing & Motherhood on September 3, 2009 at 2:41 am

As a mother I have a lot of things contending for my time, and as a writer, it seems like my work is never done.  So I have learned a few ways to squeeze a few minutes in here & there (besides writing during naps) to get some of my writing done.

At night after the little one has fallen asleep getting out of the bedroom and to my computer can seem like walking through a mine field.  So I keep a notepad and pen in the nightstand beside the bed, and once he’s in a deep sleep I can just roll over and jot some lines down in my notepad.  Getting them typed, polished, and sent where they need to be is the hard part.  I can also manage a few minutes at my computer during the day by using a big safety gate like the one shown here to gate off the “hot spots” (electrical outlets, computers, bookcase, etc) and let him run amok.  If you have an especially independent baby and an intriguing collection of toys you may be able to sit him down with the toy box and get a few minutes in (this hasn’t worked for me, my son becomes easily bored with the toy box and is entertained for longer stretches when allowed to roam the living room freely).  Sometimes if I take him for a stroll in the park he will sit quietly in his stroller while I write.  That usually lasts ever so briefly.

I get the bulk of my work done by sneaking out of bed at night to get a few lines typed before I hear him waking up and by letting him roam around during the day.  But no matter what “tricks” I have learned, I think it’s just a fact of life that i will have to accept – I will not be able to complete anything in the same time I was able to in my pre-baby days.  It has taken me far longer than expected just to rework an article I’d already written to re-submit.  I did finally finish it though today!  Hopefully I will have a link for you guys to visit within the next couple weeks.

If you have any other interesting tips for how you write with a baby let me know!!  I’m always looking for more ways to get the most out of my time & I’ll share them here.