Friday, November 2, 2012

Work + Life Balance: One Can't Live On Work Alone



I feel like I am always "on."

I'm an Eastern Time Girl, with Pacific Time regular clients. What do you do when your phone buzzes while doing yoga at 8:25 PM, and your editor asks for a quick addition to your story? I respond.

I talk to experts for stories, who are across all time zones and have crazy schedules that don't always fit a 9:00-5:00 block of time. So, when your contact says she can do 7:00 AM or 9:00 PM, what do you do? I take the 7:00 time.

I work on a do-it-my-way schedule. If I want to write a story at 10:00 PM, I do it. If I want to spend the morning on Pinterest and write a piece in the afternoon, I do it. But even when I'm not working, I'm still working. I'm answering emails. I'm monitoring Twitter. I'm promoting. What's a woman to do? Keep on keepin' on.

I am always on.

While I pride myself on being reachable, and try to respond as soon as humanly possible to requests, emails, calls and stories on deadline, I realize it's a vicious cycle that can leave little time for yourself. Sooner or later, it catches up with you and things start falling off the plate.

For me, it's a social life. It has always been a social life.

I am one of those solitary people who does really well on her own for long spans of time. In high school when I edited the student newspaper, I sighed with relief when people left me to finish it alone. College brought independent studies and tutorials instead of seminars and lectures. The working world brought quiet time instead of an office space. And I love it. I really love working now, because I can be plugged in and connected to tons of people while writing entirely on my own. It's a great thing for oft-times socially-awkward, wannabe-but-not butterfly like me. (It's cool. I own it.)

But it's not enough.

Eventually, no matter how independent you are, solitude catches up with you. You are sick of the voice in your own head crafting little nonstop sentences. You miss people's faces. You even miss the faces of the Starbucks baristas and check-out folks at Target. You have to get out and see the real world, which doesn't exist behind a computer screen.

I learned that lesson this past month, and disappeared a bit from the Internet. I called up some friends and made a few plans. And wanna know what? I feel better. Wanna know what else? My web world was still here when I got back.

Writers and creatives struggle with it. But please, remember to look for that work/life balance. You cannot always be "on." Put the phone away with friends, and get it off the table while on dates. Don't worry if you can't respond to an email until the next morning. Don't worry if you can't make that expert's first available call time. Schedule some life. If you don't, you'll start hating what you do, which takes up a good chunk of said life. Who wants to live like that?

So, put down the phone. Log off. And I'll see you out there in the {real} world, OK?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Time Management: How to Kick Your Own Butt



I am a natural-born procrastinator and Doubting Thomas. All writers are.

The thought of actually sitting down and writing a story used to intimidate me. What if I start writing and realize this isn't translating from my head to the page? What if I need more expert info, and can't get a hold of anyone before deadline?? What if the concept for this story, one I've personally pitched, falls flat???

*Cue freakout*

Right? Anyone else? Ah, those little seeds of doubt we plant within ourselves while writing anything and everything: stories, pitches, personal essays, book proposals, and so on. As long as you listen to them, though, you can't have a writing career. 

Let's be real. You cannot spend two weeks focusing on one story, and do no other writing work. That would be nice, but it's impossible. It's not lucrative. Let's be honest about why we're here: although we love writing, for many of us, this is also our day job. We need to work. (And as an aside, despite what others might say, we are not selling out as creatives by putting price tags on assignments. Let's stop that ridiculous idea. We're using our God-given gifts to earn a living. Nothin' wrong with that. Anyway, moving on...) Even if it's not your day job, fretting still keeps you from putting anything on the page.

The seeds of doubt are your writing's biggest adversary. They will hold you back, keep you from submitting your ideas, and inspire lackluster work. Been there, experienced all that.

I had to try different things to oust them; had to search around for the ultimate way to kick my own butt and get writing. To stop wasting precious time. Want to know what I did? It's SO FUN, y'all:

I scared myself silly. Not just with doubt, but with actual pressure to perform and execute.

When I know my byline is going on something, I work hard to make sure it gets done right. When I'm writing for a new client, I work hard to make sure it's perfect. When the story feels big or it's extremely important to me, I work hard to make sure my message holds the right weight.

And hard work is all well and good -- but to truly be productive, you also need to set a goal you can't get yourself out of.

When there's an extremely short deadline, I freak out. But then I work hard and get the dang job done.

Example: Early in my writing career, I accepted an assignment from a new client. The editor wanted it turned around by the next morning. Literally. The. Next. Morning. 9 AM. At the time, it was 4 PM, and it was also expert-based. Naturally, my first thought was no flipping way. But on second thought, I really wanted the assignment -- and the client. Would it really be so hard to find an expert? We live in the Internet Age, after all...

Before I could talk myself out of it I responded that I could do it.

I got an email back in a matter of minutes: "Great! And I also have this other assignment, still due tomorrow. Eek! Would you want to do that one, too?"

Also expert-based. Also due 9 AM the next day. I'd have to bust my butt all night to get it done. But before I could let it sink in and appropriately send my nerves and fears into action, I shot back a quick response: "Yes, I'm on it!"

I allowed myself to freak out for, like, five minutes about how I was going to pull off two expert-based stories in a matter of hours. WHAT HAD I DONE.

But then I got to work. I hunted down the right experts and worked on assembling both stories at once. I turned one in that evening, and the next in the following morning. My editor loved both pieces.

A little bit of extreme fear is a good thing. Pressure, along with a very specific goal, made me realize I could actually manage my time and get myself on track. I could pull off stories on a tight time frame -- which I now keep myself to on a regular basis.

The reality is, I can look at a story I've written hundreds of times and find new things to edit and tweak with each read. But I can also do a story along a reasonable timeline I lay out for myself. I can choose to write, or I can choose to let the doubt creep in and slow me down.

Right now, I try to write a few stories each week. I have a running list of tasks to complete, and pull assignments off the list, in order of approaching deadline, to work on. I wake up early on my "writing days," setting aside a few mornings to just work on the writing part of my job. And when I'm writing, that's it. I'm writing. I pretend the piece will be due that day, and I won't be able to work on it anymore after my deadline is up. I give myself a certain number of hours to assemble and work on it, telling myself I will be done at a preset time. And usually, I get it done. Sometimes I bleed over an hour or so, but for the most part, I stay on track. Then, I read through a time or two and submit.

I create the pace for myself. I create the pressure on myself. I create a goal. Then, I write the story, hit send, and stop worrying so much. Chances are, the sentence is perfectly fine whether I leave the in the comma or take it out. (Seriously.) I've found this is a solid method of action -- for blogging, for writing, or even just for my own personal projects.

...I just have to have a mini-freakout session first. Catharsis. That's all. (And I'd recommend it.)

OK, spill time. I want to know: How do you kick your own butt and stay on track while writing?


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Welcome to the Blog. So... What Should We Talk About?



Since I closed up shop on my fashion blog a little more than a year ago, I have been looking for a place to share my thoughts. Not about style anymore, per se (although that's certainly part of what I do), but about writing. About the process. About this crazy ride that is freelance writing. 


A lot of people have come to me over the past couple years to ask me how I got into freelancing, and how they might be able to do it, too. I've never quite known how to answer. I've tried, but what resulted was a muddled and oversimplified version of the real deal. There was so much to say on the topic. It's so vast, so expansive, and always a little different for everyone.


But I'm going to do my best to finally come up with a suitable answer. My answer is this blog.


I know there are a lot of writing blogs out there, blogs about freelancing, and they are phenomenal. I read them. I admire what those writers have built. But my blog? We're going to do things a little differently. We're going to make this blog a fun ride.


I don't want my site to read "business-y," because I think you can find that elsewhere. I'd rather it be like a chat with friends about a topic we're passionate about: writing. Aren't those the best conversations? I think it'll make for a great blog experience, too.


With that in mind, I want to leave you with one question: What do
you want to talk about? Seriously. I don't want to be the long-winded friend who doesn't let anyone else get a word in! You pick the topics; I will discuss with you. Sound cool? Leave me a comment.

Thank you for joining me. I'm so excited to chat!


xo.