Friday, February 21, 2014

You Can Take It With You

As a busy day-job writer, you need to be ready to mix it up, to write on the go, to always have a draft or a research article or a final edit in your briefcase or under the seat of the car, or on your laptop, tablet, cell phone, or thumb drive.

Today’s technology makes it possible for you to take your writing with you.  Laptops, tablets, readers, and smart phones are all available.  But you may not own all of these devices, you most likely have one or two.  And even if you aren’t this electronically connected, you still have pen paper and perhaps a clipboard.

One of the most useful tools for today’s writers is a laptop.  Some use only a laptop computer.  Perhaps you live in a smaller apartment and don’t have space for full desktop setup.  While you can purchase a new laptop – preferably one with wireless—you can often find one for less that’s refurbished on a manufacturer’s web site.

The same applies to tablets.  While you may not have the keyboard flexibility of a laptop or desktop, nor the full word processing power, you can always purchase an optional add-on keyboard to help you jot down notes or make lists. Tablets and e-readers are better for reading overdrafts or for doing research—bookmarking web sites for later use.

Evernote, a program that allows you to save articles and whole web pages, as well as create to do and idea lists, as well as random notes, then access them on another of your devices at another time, is an excellent tool.

Even smart phones offer a way to access notes or to do pulmonary research while on the go.  With so many restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops offering free Wi-Fi, it makes sense to get plugged into today’s technology.

But while owning and using electronic devices is a start, you’ll have to get into a mobile mode if you expect to accomplish anything while on the go.

When you’re at your computer in your office, you have everything at hand—handwritten notes, printed out notes, lists, computer files—all at the ready. But when you’re on the go, you may not have all these things at your fingertips. To successfully work on the go, you have to prepare your work ahead of time.

Type up and print out your pages of notes. Save the files on your desktop but also save them to a thumb drive or directly on your laptop or tablet via a wireless connection. Also print out your notes. While some writers do all their work on their computers, it makes sense to have notes or drafts of articles, stories, or chapters of a book printed out so that you can mark or edit them with a colored pen.

Not all locations have Wi-Fi available. If you’re in a situation where there’s not electronic connection, then you can take out your printed notes and such for current projects, and continue working. But you have to prepare these beforehand.

One problem that can occur when working with a thumb drive is that you create or edit files on it but forget that the version on your main computer hasn’t been changes. Get in the habit of copying all the changed files onto the hard drive of your desktop or laptop at the end of each day or upon returning home if away for a length of time. If you’re using a laptop and a desktop, make sure that you save files to both in their most current form.

If you choose to read over drafts on your tablet or e-reader, don’t forget to delete them when you’re finished that project so that they don’t clog up the memory on your mobile device.

Another way of working while on the go is to use a service like GoToMyPC. With this service, for which you’ll have to pay a monthly fee, you can access the files on your desktop computer while working away from home on your laptop, tablet, or a third-party computer, such as those in a hotel business center.

Using your mobile devices will allow you to make better use of the incidental spots in your daily schedule—lunch hour, waiting for your kids to get out of sports practice, a half-hour between school drop-off and your morning commute, waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office, waiting to board your flight at an airport—when, given the right setup and equipment, you could easily fit in a solid session of writing or editing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

There’s Something to be Said for Routine While Working a Day Job

Many beginning writers work a day job while working on improving their craft. Some get up extra early and write before leaving for work. Others work after dinner when they get home. But either way, their writing often suffers because the majority of the day when their mind and body are fresh, they’re working for someone else.

It’s hard to juggle a full-time job with writing. There are only so many hours in the day. So how do you work a job that drains your creative energies and still get your writing done? The answer is simple—routine.

Everyone does a few things by routine—brushing their teeth, showering or bathing, even eating. While working in a routine can seem humdrum, it’s a way to get organized and get more things done in a limited amount of time.

Before you can work out a routine for your writing, you need to figure out what you need to get done. Make a list of your typical writing chores—everything from thinking up and jotting down ideas to researching them to applying that research to your writing to the writing, itself. You can’t do all of these things every day, and you probably don’t need to. Allot a certain amount of time to each type of chore. Some will take just a few minutes while others may take several hours. Divide up the ones that take longer to do, such as writing an article or story, and divide them up into segments that you can work on daily.

It’s actually a better idea to write for shorter periods of time rather than in long stretches, so dividing up your writing, and perhaps your research times will most likely help you in the long run.

Take a look at your daily schedule. You probably don’t think about that much. Instead, you get up, clean up, eat breakfast, go to work, work at your job, eat lunch, work more at your job, go home, eat dinner, relax, and go to bed. The next day you start that basic routine all over again.

What you need to do is work your writing chores into that already established routine. You probably don’t think you have any time, but if you analyze your daily schedule, you may find that you have quite a few blocks of extra time that you could spend doing one or two writing chores.

Map out a schedule—create a spreadsheet of it so you can carry it with you. One good thing about all the technology that’s around you is that you can use it to your advantage. To paraphrase an old saying, “You can take it with you”—your writing, that is. (More next week on using technology to expand your writing and create a portable office.)

Begin by blocking in all the necessary things you need to do every day—washing, eating, cleaning, driving kids places, and working at your job. Study what you do for a week to see how long it take you to say eat breakfast. Do the same with all the other things you have to do. Then adjust your spreadsheet schedule for the times you’ve discovered.  What’s left is the time you have for writing chores. At first it may not look like you have any time left. But look again.

Can you add time anywhere—get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later, take less time for lunch, take less time for relaxation or relax while doing lighter writing chores like thinking of ideas or even researching online?

Now add writing chores into your schedule. Work up a routine. For instance, housewives used to reserve Mondays for wash day, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays for cleaning bedrooms, Thursdays for cleaning living and dining areas, Fridays for food shopping, etc. You need to do the same with your writing chores. Assign particular chores to particular days of the week. And do them only on those days whenever possible. In addition, you need to allot time for writing every day or every other day. If you’re schedule is packed, then write for a time on weekends.

While this may sound like a lot of work, it will take a while to establish a writing routine, just like it has taken a lifetime to establish your daily routine. You’ve got to re-educate yourself so that writing becomes an integral part of your daily life, not just a once-in-while pastime.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The 3C’s of Freelance Writing

Since probably from the time you started school, you’ve always associated writing with the ABC’s. But there’s so much more to it than just putting words into sentences. If you are or are planning to become a freelance writer, then you need to also follow the three “C’s”—content, communication, and commitment.

Sure, having a great vocabulary—especially of familiar words—is necessary for any writer. But assembling them into effective, meaningful content is the key. Impressing readers with words you use is one thing, but using those words to express thoughts that are clear and precise is another.

And not just any content will do. It’s got to come from the heart as well as the mind. You’ve got to have something important to say about a subject—even if other writers have said similar things. It’s your perspective on that subject that’s important.

Writing is communication. So is speaking. People communicate their thoughts and ideas to other people using either or both. The difference between writing and speaking is that in the former, the person uses only words. There is no gesture, body language, or voice inflection—there’s no visual or audible means of any kind. Whatever the readers gets from the words is all done by inference and interpretation.

In speaking, a person uses all those things. The listener, even if it’s only a voice recording, hears the inflections and the intonations. He or she hears the emotions.

The third and last of the 3 C’s is commitment. In order to be a successful writer, especially one who freelances, you’ve got to be committed t your work. That commitment goes beyond just a commitment to your writing. It also includes constantly improving your skills as a writer, being aware how others write and comparing your work with theirs.

But more of all you have to be committed to your readers, for it’s they who will make or break you as a writer.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Do You Have a Support Network?

Everyone needs someone to cheer them on. Everyone needs someone to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. Everyone needs someone to be there to help them over the rough spots. Even writers. Especially writers.

Writing is a lonely profession. But even though you have to be alone to write, you don’t have to write in a vacuum.

Nobody really writes alone, without the support of a partner, friend, neighbor, dog, agent, local bookstore. Who is in your support network? Who do you depend on to give you a lift when you’re down? Who do you turn to dump on when you get a raw deal from an editor or publisher?

If you don’t think you have anyone to support you, make a list of the people who can help you make it happen. Let’s start with your family.

If you live alone, are the members of your immediate family on your side. Do they ask you how your writing is going or do they constantly ask when you’re going to get a “real” job? Do they read your published work? Why not give your parents or siblings copies of your books, short stories, or articles. Books, especially, make great gifts.

If you’re married or live with a partner and have children, does that person allow you time to pursue your writing without feeling guilty? Can you and your spouse or partner agree to one kid-free night each? Can you trade or pay for babysitting services in your neighborhood?

Do you have any friends, and if so, are any of them interested in what you do? Do they ask about your latest project? Do you offer information about what you’re writing about when you’re together? Friends can be great sounding boards. They’re great for bouncing off ideas for new writing projects, and they’re great to unload the bad things that happen. Sometimes, a spouse or partner can be your best friend, but often a writer needs to speak with someone with whom they’re not in an intimate relationship.

And even pets can offer good support. You can talk to your dog or cat and pour out your guts, and neither will talk back. They’re always there for you, especially when you’re feeling really down.

If you’ve published books, one of the best forms of support can come from local bookstore owners. These are people who have a direction connection with readers. They hear what readers say about your books and can offer valuable information about how readers feel about your books.

Probably the least supportive are members of local writing groups. Unless a group is led by a writing professional or writing teacher, chances are that any support that comes from such a group won’t be sincere. In many cases, writers who tend to join these groups often are more interested in getting stroked, in hearing positive comments about their work, even f they aren’t true, rather than objective ones. A group led by a professional is more likely to provide more balanced and constructive support.

As well as recruiting your cheerleaders, you should also look at the people who distract or discourage you from your writing dreams or plans. Is there a family member who never takes your work seriously? Is there a writing buddy who spends more time moaning about the publishing industry than actually writing or providing mutual support? There’s a reason why people discourage you from your creative dreams. And the reason is them, not you.

Take time to beef up your support systems, and either reduce your time with the naysayers, or at least change your reactions to them.