Friday, August 22, 2014

Too Good to Be True

“Make a great living while working from home (or from a coffee shop, or poolside, or while you travel) ...YOU decide what you write about and for whom.” Sounds almost too good to be true. In fact, that’s just what it is.

The above blurb, promoting a free webinar and report, recently appeared in a Writer’s Digest Update Email. Look at the phrases used—great living, working from home, coffee shop, poolside, while you travel—all things you’d love to do. And that’s the catch. Each of these phrases causes unsuspecting writer wannabees to start day dreaming about a life they’d love to have, away from the drudgery of the cubicle they inhabit every day.

There are lots of seminars and come-ons out there, enticing beginners. Each plays on the dreams of people like you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad to dream. But as far as writing is concerned, it pays to add a touch of practicality to your dreams.

Let’s look at each of these phrases.

Make a great living. Yes, you can make a living as a writer—I’ve been doing it for 29 years. But only a handful of lucky writers makes a “great” living. In fact, as I’ve said so many times in this blog, writing is hard work and generally the pay is often in the moderate range. Unless a writer produces a blockbuster bestseller, about the only way to make big bucks is to do corporate writing. And that puts you right back in the cubicle, even if only virtually.

Working from home. In today’s technologically inspired marketplace, you can do a lot of things from home. Computers make that possible. So why writing? You may be passionate about writing. Or perhaps friends have told you that you write well. Or you may look at writing as a way to get people to notice you.

From a coffee shop. Everyone imagines themselves sitting in a Starbucks writing the next great American novel. Have you been to a Starbucks recently? Chances are you won’t find a seat. That’s because so many people use it as their mobile office. It seems everyone in the place has a laptop open to the Internet or is working on a document or spreadsheet. However, if you ignore the caché of Starbucks and try Dunkin Donuts, for example, you’ll usually have the place to yourself.  Isn’t what you’re doing more important than where you’re doing it?

Poolside. The same applies to sitting poolside and working on your laptop. This isn’t the safest place to work, unless you just happen to have your own pool. If that’s the case, you probably don’t need to make a living as a writer in the first place. But if you try this at a public pool or swim club, chances are the kiddies will splash that shiny new laptop of yours and ruin whatever you are working on.

While you travel. Everyone—and I mean nearly everyone—dreams of traveling the world and writing about it. It seems like the ideal glamorous life. However, they see it from a vacation perspective, not a working perspective. Most likely the only travel they’ve done has been on vacation, where time isn’t important and they can do pretty much what they want. But working while traveling is something else. You’ll be constantly living out of a suitcase. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll have to beg someone else to pay for your trip—and travel isn’t cheap these days. And finally, depending on your schedule and the work you need to accomplish, you may not even have time to enjoy the places you visit. And forget about a family life. You won’t have time for it.

So before you get suckered into free webinars or costly seminars that promise to show you the way to writing riches, think carefully the practical side of being a full-time writer.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Time is of the Essence

One thing you have on your side as a freelance writer is time. It can work for you or against you. Essentially, it’s all about how you play your cards—what you do with your time.  Play them right and you win. Play them wrong and you lose. But there’s always that constant of time.

You have plenty of time available. But does it seems to fly by more quickly than you’d like? That may be because you probably squander your precious working time. Realistically, you can’t write for hours and hours. The quality of your work will suffer, and your body will rebel.   

During an average workday, a writer’s work load consists of various important as well as less important items. Much of your time involves sending and receiving information. During the long hours you work, you’ll be doing a lot of fragmented things. Does this sound like your typical work day?

You need to be realistic when it comes to using your time wisely. Don’t take on too much, or you’ll set yourself up to fail. Only you know how much you’re capable of handling. Overestimating the number of projects you can handle at any one time will surely lead to disappointment. And if you keep that up, it will be more difficult to become more productive.

One of today’s biggest problems for writers is Email and varied other electronic distractions. If you receive lots of mail, you may find yourself taking care of it instead of your writing. It’s easy to procrastinate. And then there’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, to name a few of the social media distractions facing all of us daily. They’re addictive. And as with your Email, you may find yourself spending more time on them than on your writing. Set aside down time to take care of these tasks.

You may want to check your mail the first thing in the morning, then at a couple of specific other times during the day. But limit the time you spend with it. Before you know it, you could easily spend most of your morning doing basically insignificant tasks. And turn off any message or sound telling you that you have mail. That will surely draw you away from your work.

Avoid other distractions, too. Let your voice mail or answering machine take messages for you. You can call whoever called you back later. And don’t forget to turn off your cell phone. If you’re constantly checking your cell, you won’t get any work done, either.

You may also want to keep a piece of scrap paper handy on which to jot down thoughts about other projects that may pop into your head as you’re working. If you don’t, you won’t remember them later. And if you stop to pay attention to them while you’re in the midst of writing, you may find that they’ll knock you off your writing track.

Make writing a priority. But it’s also important not to write for long periods at a stretch. Take breaks every so often. Get up and walk around. Go for a walk, Do laundry. But don’t take your break at your computer. Surfing online isn’t really taking a break, and you’re body needs to get up and move around.

Schedule other duties around your writing. Write when you feel mentally sharp. That can vary from person to person. You may feel sharper earlier in the morning, so get up earlier to write. Or you may feel sharper later in the afternoon. Figure out when your mental peak occurs and work with it. Do menial tasks like cleaning or taking out the trash during your mental down time.

To help you get the most out of your time, create a daily or weekly To-Do List. (See my post “Smart To-Do Lists Get Things Done” from Sept.6, 2013). Use the A-B-C priority system. Once you have made your To Do List, place an “A” next to items of top importance, a “B” next to those less important but that still need to be done, and a “C” next to those with the least importance.  You may find that the ones with a “C” next to them may complete themselves automatically or may not need doing at all.

Schedule five minutes of review time into your day. Look at what happened yesterday, what will happen today, and what you need to do tomorrow. The more you plan out your day, the more you’ll accomplish.

If time is getting between you and your writing, start doing something about it before it’s too late.

Friday, August 8, 2014

So You Want to Write a Blog - Part 2: Positioning for Success

Location, location, location. That’s the mantra of real estate agents. And it should be your mantra as far as your new blog goes. In this case, it’s not where you post the blog----there are numerous free blogging sites that you can use. Instead, it’s how you position your blog among the other blogs in your category.

So before you do anything, you’ll need to do some surfing. No, you don’t need to go put your swimsuit on and get your boogy board ready. But you will need to spend some time surfing the Web for other blogs in the subject category that you’ve chosen. When you find several you like, study them. Don’t just read the latest post, but check back through the archives and find the thread that keeps all of the posts in line with the bloggers goal.

And that brings us to the next step. You’ll need to define your goals for your new blog. What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? What type of blog will it be? (See last week’s post). Are you trying to establish yourself as an expert in your field? Are you trying to promote your business? Or are you blogging for fun and to share your ideas and opinions? Write down your short and long term goals for your blog. What do you aim to gain from it in six months or a year. Then design, write and promote your blog to meet your goals.

What are your target audience’s expectations? The design and content will vary according to your audience. And even before you post another entry, your audience will size up your blog. If you don’t meet its expectations, they’ll move on without a second thought.

Once you begin posting your blog entries, you’ll need to be consistent. Nothing screws up a blog more than when the blogger jumps around and rambles on and on. Your blog represents a specific message and image to your audience. Your blog's design and content should consistently communicate your blog's image and message. Being consistent allows you to meet your audience's expectations and create a secure place for them to return to again and again.

Another stumbling block to gaining a good audience is not regularly updating your blog. If you fail to update regularly, your audience will perceive your blog as a static Web page. Your blog should be anything but static. It should be a vibrant living thing that’s also timely.

To garner a good position for your blog among your audience, it’s imperative that you invite your readers to join in a two-way conversation. Ask them to leave comments. Pose questions from those comments that will solicit more comments. Continue the conversation by leaving comments on other blogs inviting new readers to visit your blog. If you don’t gain loyalty from your audience, then your blog will fail.

Much of your blog's success will depend on how you promote it on the social media networks. Find bloggers in your subject area and comment on their blogs.

Look for enhancements for your blog. There are plenty of plug-ins and features available. But don’t overload your blog with gimmicks. Try holding a contest, for example. It’s a simple way to engage readers. Take the time to research new tools and features, and keep an eye on the latest news from the blogosphere.

Remember, your blog is an extension of yourself. Your loyal readers will keep coming back to hear what you have to say. Inject your personality into your blog and adapt a consistent tone for your posts. People don't read blogs simply to get the news. They could read a newspaper for news reports. Instead, people read blogs to get bloggers' opinions on the news, the world, and more. Don't blog like a reporter. Blog like you're having a conversation with each of your readers.

If you follow the old real estate developer adage, "If you build it, they will come," you’ll surely be disappointed. Sure, some readers will find your blog and read it a few times. Others will stick around for the long haul and read your every post. But developing a successful blog requires hard work by creating compelling content on your blog as well as working outside of your blog to promote it and develop a community around it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

So You Want to Write a Blog - Part 1

Blogging is all the rage today. It seems that everyone wants to write a blog. And although it’s relatively easy to get started, maintaining the momentum is the hard part.

All blogs are not create equal. Generally, they can be broken up into several categories—news, instructional, advice, opinion, promotional, journal, and general musings. Each has its own use.

You may want to write a news blog—not one that deals with national news but one that covers little known local news. Elena Santangelo’s “Norristown Diary,” a blog about her hometown in eastern Pennsylvania, is a good example. Not only is she covering news that slips past the mass media, she’s also learning a lot about her town as well. There’s a need for a blog like this—if nothing more than to raise awareness about local issues.

Instructional blogs like this one have their own niche. Blogging is a great way to share your expertise on a subject, especially if you’ve been successful with it. In this case, you need to be somewhat of an expert on the subject you tackle.

And then there are advice blogs dealing with personal finance and investments, health, food, travel, you name it. With this type of blog, you also need to have some expertise, otherwise your readers won’t take you seriously.

If you’re a person with lots of strong opinions, especially on trendy subjects like climate change and gun control, then you may want to share your opinions with your readers through a blog. In this case, you’ll need to do creditable research so that you can back up your opinions and not just rant and rave.

You can also promote yourself or your business through a blog. Promotional blogs can go a long way in social media marketing. Then can help establish you as an expert in your field, thus attracting customers to you. They can also promote your products and services.

Perhaps you travel and want to write a daily blog en route. In this way, you can take your readers along with you. This shouldn’t be a boring diary of where you went, what you did, and what you ate. Instead, it should be a lively look into the location and culture, and even the people you meet along the way. This type of blog is usually short lived, spanning only the length of the trip. It does, however, make you more observant because you’re constantly looking for good blog material.

Lastly, you may want to write a blog that can only be classified as a general musing. Usually, this sort of blog is intended for a small group of close friends or followers who may be interested in the comings and goings of your life. But even this type of blog needs to be planned out and organized. It should offer some insight into your life. It should not consist of just your daily ramblings. That will eventually drive even your closest friends away.

How often should you update your blog? The answer varies. Some bloggers update once a week while others do it every few days, and still others daily. Maintaining a daily blog can become a chore.  Except for news and journal blogs, most are updated weekly.

There are probably millions of blogs on the Internet. And there are millions of readers for those blogs. But matching your blog to even a handful of those readers can be a challenge. To do that successfully, you have to imagine your target audience. Your blog has to speak to them to get their attention. It has to offer something unique—something they can’t get elsewhere.

NEXT WEEK: Some tips for making your blog a success.