Friday, April 24, 2015

Getting and Staying Motivated

There’s nothing harder for a writer than getting and staying motivated. In this high-tech, whirlwind world, it’s often hard to focus on the job at hand. If your cell phone isn’t buzzing to let you know someone desperately wants to speak with you, then it may be vibrating to let you know that you know that someone posted something on your Facebook Page. And then, of course, there’s your family, the stress at work, and who knows what else. What can you do to stay motivated when you’re bombarded with all this?

Well, take heart. There is a way.

There are probably lots of times when your head is just bursting with ideas. You can’t wait to get started—but you never do. If that’s the case, you have a problem with getting motivated. To sort things out, jot down as many of those ideas as you can. Look them over and pick three that stand out from all the rest.

Study those three and ask yourself why each is a good idea. Also ask how relevant each of them is. And finally ask how passionate you are about each one. One of them will stand out after asking these questions. That’s the one to start working on. At this point, forget about getting published and just get to work.

Get yourself excited about this new idea. Dive into researching it. The deeper you go in your research, the more fascinating the topic will become. You may even get so motivated that you ignore that blasted cell phone vibrating in your pocket!

But getting motivated and staying motivated are two different things. That initial surge of writing energy will only last so long, then what?

Visualize where you’d like to be with this project and your writing in general in say six months. Do you see your work being enjoyed by readers? That’s not the same as being published. While the two are intertwined, most writers don’t go beyond seeing themselves published. They forget about their readers. And the secret to success is that you just can’t do that. Your readers are the most important part of the process.

Imagine readers getting excited about what you’ve written. Imagine them laughing or crying. When a reader says they just couldn’t put a book down, that’s a testimony to good writing. Make that happen to your work.

To be sure you stay on track, set a writing time and place. Work writing into your schedule just like eating and exercising. Develop a writing routine (See “There’s Something to be Said for Routine While Working” from Feb. 17, 2014).

Ask yourself what would you like to accomplish with this piece of writing? Every piece of writing should afford you some sort of accomplishment. It may improve your writing skills. It may help you to advance your characterization skills. Or it may increase your knowledge substantially about a particular subject. No writing project is worthless. All contribute somehow to your writing ability and your outlook on life.

To stay motivated, set some goals for yourself. Look ahead. See the bigger picture. Set some long-range goals covering perhaps a year and some short-range goals covering a month or so (See “Setting Goals” from Jan. 4, 2013).

Take time out to read. Reading will stimulate your brain and give you even more ideas. Non-fiction is best. The fantasy of novels doesn’t always stimulate your brain enough because you get involved in the everyday lives of the characters in them. Everything is pretty much thought out for you. But with non-fiction, you’re often forced to think of other things related to what you’re reading.

Above all, decide why you want to write. What drives you? Why do you torture yourself with it? When you know the answers to those questions, you’ll be able to stay motivated, perhaps for a long, long time.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Setting the Tone

Most writers get so involved with their writing that they aren’t aware of the tone they impart to it. In fact, it isn’t until a third party, someone like an editor, reads what you’ve written that you’re made aware of the tone or lack of it in your writing. Tone can create interest or just the opposite.

So what is tone anyway? Some say it’s the style of the piece. Others say it’s mood. And still others say it’s the author’s voice. Of the three, those who say voice are the closest. But it’s not the author’s voice but his or her attitude toward his subject—something that’s often hidden deep within the piece. Words used to describe tone might be authoritative, intimate, amusing, or aggravated.

Perhaps it might be easier for you to visualize tone. Photographers give mood to their work using light, either natural or artificial. It’s the way they choose to light their subject. The mood they create using light translates into tone. For heightened drama, they light their subject from the side. To increase horror, they light from below. For romance, they use soft candlelight. In films, directors convey the tone of a scene through its background music. Showing a person being pursued by a vicious dog wouldn’t be half as frightening without the ominous music that accompanies it.

But writers don’t have light or music. Theirs is a world of words. So creating the right tone, for the most part, involves using the right words, arranged in a particular way, for the effect you want. When a person speaks, it’s the volume of his or her speech that conveys the tone. But writing is silent. And that’s the challenge.

So if you use the wrong tone in a piece, it can ruin it for your readers. You’ll turn them off before they get half way through.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to hear the tone in a piece of writing while you’re working on it. It’s only after you’ve been away from it for a while that you’ll notice the tone. And it may surprise you. One way to make yourself more aware of the tone of a piece of writing is to read it aloud. Or even better, read it into a digital audio recorder, then listen to it as if you’re listening to a book on tape. You’ll hear the tone of the piece, whether good or bad.

The primary rule when working with tone is to keep it consistent from beginning to end. Establish your tone in the first sentence. Stay on track and don’t change tones within a piece. Look for places in your piece where the tone fades or shifts and focus your revision there.

Be wary of off-topic tangents. Don’t let your writing ramble. That will destroy the tone more than anything. Stick to your subject.

Depending on what you’re writing, you need to be aware of your voice, but don’t let it set the wrong tone. If the type of writing you do involves your opinion, don’t pussy-foot around. Express them. Take a stand. The worse thing is for you to try to avoid conflict with your readers. Don’t be polite just because you don’t want to offend your readers.

You can improve the tone of a piece by adding specific details. These draw the reader in and make them feel as if they’re part of the story or article. In fiction, this can help establish a character’s mood. In non-fiction, it adds depth and credibility.

However, working with tone can present problems. When bad things happen to people, some react by writing a book about the experience. Usually, it’s a bad book about all the horrible things that happened to the author. It presents little hope to the reader. This is common with people who have had a bad medical experience, feel strongly about controversial issues, or are angry about other people’s behavior.

To fix the tone, you have to fix the way you think about a given subject. You have to back off, calm down, see other points of view, maybe even take some responsibility for whatever happened. When writing about delicate subjects, you mustn’t let a negative tone take over the piece.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Make More Money Freelancing

In today’s topsy-turvy world of freelance writing, making a lot of money is nothing more than a pipe dream for most. Making any money is more realistic. It has become harder and harder to do so with the flood of new media. So how can you make enough to pay the bills—and not count on your spouse’s paycheck. Ladies I’m speaking to you.

The first thing you have to learn to do is to do your best for whatever you’re getting paid. This can be a challenge as many publications have cut their pay rates in the last several years. To make sure you come up with good content, you need to be as organized as possible, so you don’t spend countless hours on a job that pays a low rate.

There’s an old saying: “You get what you pay for.” While that may be true, a lot of editors want more than they’re willing to pay for. You can make your articles seem better if you include lots of details and keep them short. Generally, a shorter piece take less time to write. So stay focused on your topic. Get excited about it and let that excitement spill out to both your editors and readers.

The second thing you must learn to do is negotiate. Most writers shy away from this because they assume that if they push too hard, their editors will reject them. That may be true when you first start working with an editor. Rule Number One: Don’t negotiate on the first job with an editor. Do the best you can on it and win that editor over. You might consider doing two or three jobs for that editor before asking for more money. Sometimes, an editor’s hands are tied and he or she cannot give you more. But usually they have some leeway in what they pay freelancers. Some writers get paid the minimum while others get the maximum.

Start out by asking what the editor can pay for the assignment. It’s at this point that you must decide if you can economically do the job. Is it worth your time? Will it be easy enough to make lower pay feasible? If the answer is no, tell the editor you’re sorry, but you can’t do your best on the job for that price. Believe it or not, there are other fish in the sea.

Once you feel confident enough to negotiate, think like you’re at a public market in a foreign country where bargaining is the norm. Before you begin, consider what you are presently being paid and then figure how much more you can accept. Ask for 50 percent more to start. Don’t get greedy. The editor may counter with 25 percent more. It’s just like bargaining for a souvenir. If you don’t get your price, be prepared to walk away. If the editor likes your work enough, he or she will counter with an acceptable offer. You’ll be surprised how often this works.

In order to be able to negotiate successfully, you have to have shown the editor that you can get your articles in on deadline. If you discover that you’re going to be late, call the editor and let him or her know. They really appreciate that. In fact, they’re smart enough to have given you a deadline that is actually a week or two ahead of when they actually need the article. So there’s a little wiggle room. But don’t count on this. Some editors work right to the wire.

Lastly, as a business person, it’s important for you to follow up. Remember, editors are busy people. Besides dealing with other writers, they’re dealing with various departments. After you’ve sent in the assignment, wait a couple of days and then send a short Email asking if the editor received it. If you mailed it, give them a call in a couple of days. Both the U.S. Postal Service and Email can be unreliable.

The editor will tell you when he or she plans to run your article. Once that date passes, send another message asking for a copy or two of the issue in which your article appears. And if you haven’t received payment by the negotiated time, contact the editor about it. And don’t forget to let the editor know how much you enjoyed working with them—if you did. Don’t lie. There are some editors who are hell on wheels to work with. In their case, move on to another publication. Don’t torture yourself, no matter how much you’re paid.

NOTE: For additional ideas on negotiation, read my blog from Feb. 1, 2013---"10 Ways of Improving Your Chances in Negotiation."