Saturday, March 29, 2014

Say Yes to Opportunity

As a writer you have to recognize when opportunity comes a knocking. And to take advantage of publishing opportunities, you have to be prepared.
One way to be prepared is to increase your knowledge about a subject in which you're interested. With more in-depth knowledge you’ll be able to gain insight into situations that you may choose to write about. Plus, in-depth knowledge usually leads to details that you wouldn’t have learned about earlier. These will make your writing unique and interesting, as well as open up further writing opportunities.

Opportunity may come from something a friend tells you, or perhaps you’ll overhear something while eating in a restaurant. Normally, you might not consider either important. But with a little background knowledge, you may pay closer attention to these suggestions. Avoid thinking negatively. Instead, ask yourself, “What if?”

You might feel an impulse to do something new. While routine is a good thing, it can lead to complacency. Trying a new sport, a new route for your daily walk, even reading a new type of book will alter your brain patterns enough to make you think of new ideas.

Too many writers stick with one type of subject matter or writing genre. Sometimes it helps to not only read material from another genre but to try writing it as well. This is especially useful when combating writer’s block. Getting away from your regular work can be a good thing.

Get out and experience life. You don’t have to climb mountains or ride the rapids. You may find a new outlook and new material by just going to a different supermarket. Armistead Maupin started going to a Safeway Market on Thursday evenings. He went there to buy groceries and because it was single’s night at the market. He discovered a whole side of life that he didn’t know existed and started writing about it in his column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Eventually, that turned into three novels and went on to become a hit TV mini-series, "Tales of the City." Now that was a profitable opportunity.

But if you choose to be more adventurous, make sure your body is in good enough shape to handle the extra workout. Who knows. You may just have a life-changing experience. For example, one writer started out on a week-long horse-trekking expedition in the far reaches of Yellowstone National Park. At first it seemed like any other trail ride, albeit longer and more strenuous. But as the trek climbed higher and higher, the challenges got greater and greater. Sides of those on the trek that had remained hidden began to appear. And it wasn’t their good sides. How that trek changed not only the writer but the people he traveled with became material for future articles. One that he never would have thought to write before the trek—an article on the horrendous impact of the 1988 Yellowstone wildfires—came about because he rode through the area and saw what devastation it had caused. Another article looked into what to look for in an outfitter due to problems with the one used on the trek.

And don’t forget marketing opportunities. Keeping abreast of the publishing industry will help you to recognize when certain subjects become popular or vice versa. Some writers only focus on what they’re writing, not whether there’s a market for it.

Perhaps you’ve been writing about a particular subject for a while but can’t seem to get published.  That could be because no one was interested in it at the time. But then something happens and the media is all over it. Take the situation with Russia and the Crimea for example. Has this sort of thing ever happened before? Remember the Crimean War from history class. You probably weren’t listening that day. Or Hitler’s takeover of Poland in World War II.

So if you can, take a hint from Mastercard, paraphrasing its slogan, and “Master the opportunities.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Keep Mind and Body in Balance

Writing is a very demanding profession. At times—especially when payment isn’t forthcoming or problems arise with editors—it can be extremely stressful. And stress can play havoc on your health and your writing. It’s a vicious cycle.

The impression most people have of writers is that words just spill forth with little effort—that ideas just appear. But for most writers, this can’t be farther from the truth. Most people, albeit most writers, believe writing to be entirely a mental process. But to make sure your mind is in good shape to write, you must make sure your body is also in good shape.

No, you don’t have to go to the gym every day, but regular exercise is one way to make sure your mind is sharp. And if your mind is sharp, then your writing will improve.

Consider playing a sport. Swim during the summer. Ski, especially cross country skiing, in the winter. Play tennis or basketball. Whichever sport you decide on, make sure it’s one that offers opportunity for rather vigorous exercise. And while playing golf will get you outdoors, the leisurely walking—and for many riding—around the course won’t do it. Bicycling would be better. But if you choose to cycle on level ground and cruise along most of the time, you won’t get very much exercise. Even a walk around your neighborhood each day will invigorate your writing.

There’s a definite connection between the moving body and the thinking mind.

But exercise alone isn’t enough. You must also make sure that your diet offers you the energy that you’ll need. A balanced diet, enhanced by plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, will serve you well. Stay away from trendy foods and especially processed foods.

Sugars provide energy, but too much sugar provides you with a false sense of energy. Sure, you’ll get a sugar high, but that won’t stay with you. And to maintain your mental abilities throughout the day as you write, you need foods that will give you energy that stays with you. The same can be said for caffeine. The more caffeine you take in, the less sharp your mind will be. Above all, avoid processed snack foods like chips and such. Stick with natural snack foods like fruits and nuts.

Some writers get out and do things that contribute to their writing. Ernest Hemingway went out into the world and actively participated in life. While he may have gone a bit overboard—no one says you have to go fight the bulls—he experienced life to the fullest and then wrote about it. Everything he did influenced his writing in some way. On one hand it may have been the experience, itself, while on the other it may have been details that he then included in his stories.

It’s easy to work continuously throughout the day. Once you get going, you may not realize that you’re doing nothing but sitting at your computer. Make time to get up and move. Go outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. Go for a walk. You’ll be glad you did.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Can You Really Make It as a Freelance Writer?

It’s 3 P.M. and you’re sitting at your desk in your cubicle staring at your computer screen. Your mind wanders but settles on one thought—wouldn’t it be great to have time all to yourself to sit and write articles for top magazines. 
It’s that narrow-minded thinking that will make sure you’re still sitting in that same chair several years from now—without having written a word.

Yes, it’s possible to become a successful freelance writer but to do that you have to first define “success.” Is it getting published, making a lot of money, achieving national fame, winning awards? The better you define what success is to you, the better your chance of achieving freelance writing success.

Can you really make a living as a freelance writer? Your chances are probably as good as any other entrepreneur. And just like any other person going into business for themselves, you need to look at the bigger picture.

Believe it or not, freelance writing is all about relationships. Relationships with editors, relationships with research librarians, relationship with the human subjects in your work.

The key to finding freelance success is developing relationships with editors at the publications you’d most like to write for on a regular basis. These relationships are invaluable, as you’re unlikely to make a living by relying solely on a constant stream of cold queries. You want editors to contact you with assignments. The best way to do that is to always deliver exactly what the editor wants by the assigned deadline. In fact, the more quickly you can turn around quality articles, the better off you’ll be.

Many publications, strapped by tight budgets, have smaller staffs these days. So the editors depend on a stable of good, reliable writers to fill most of their needs. While it may be hard to break into one of those stables, it’s a goal you must strive for if you plan on freelancing full time.

As editors move from publication to publication—and they move faster and more often than hairdressers do to other beauty salons—they often take along their most reliable writers, even if the magazine isn’t in the writer’s subject realm. Anyone can learn about a subject to write about it, but not everyone is a good writer. So editors opt for good writers and help them along with the subject matter as they go.

One thing that many new freelancers forget is that full-time freelance writing is a full-time job, just like the one they left to become a freelancer. Of course, the big difference is that you can choose the hours you work, but you’ll still have to put in as many hours—or more—to make it. You don’t get paid vacation time, and you don’t get benefits like health insurance, a 401k and playing on company teams. However, you do have the opportunity to out-earn what you would get working for a publisher and set a flexible schedule so you can take care of other things when you’re not overloaded with work.

So success as a freelancer depends on how all the parts fit together as a whole. It’s usually not about money, but though you can earn far more than you did in sitting in the cubicle of your day job, it’s the quality of life that counts.