Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Try These Simple Tips for FIghting Loneliness While Writing Alone

“Writing is a solitary job--that is, no one can help you with it, but there's nothing lonely about it. I have always been too busy, too immersed in what I was doing, either mad at it or laughing at it to have time to wonder whether I was lonely or not lonely. It's simply solitary. I think there is a difference between loneliness and solitude.”
William Faulkner

When you write, it is almost always alone. You may be bodily sharing space with other human beings,  but locked inside your own mind is where the magic happens. This can be tough for some people. It may feel lonely. I get that sometimes. Not when I am actually producing, as Faulkner points out, but more between projects, or just on those days when the words have to be dragged out, instead of flowing easily.

If this is you, there are things you can do to build a “team” of sorts, even in the solitary business of freelancing. There are others out there who also need someone to share their journey with, and they will be happy to come along for the ride, just be sure you are willing to provide value to them in exchange for their company.

Find an Editor

This may be a professional, if you are at that stage in your career, but it doesn't have to be. You may want someone to read every single post you write, or you may only need them for the “important” stuff that you are unsure of, or feel could have an impact.

Here are some qualities to look for in an editor.

         Give honest feedback, you need someone with an opinion, who “gets” you
         Excellent grammar skills. I need a comma Nazi personally, and I am looking for someone
         Understands writing well enough to not just point out weaknesses, but suggest improvements

If you are paying this person, be sure you have the resources to pay their standard rate. Don't ask people to work at a discount, or for free until you have enough success to pay later, that may never happen.

Start a Support Group

You can find, or start a writer's, or creative workers support group. Look on Craigslist in your area, or check out Meetups to find likely groups to be part of, or to put out the word for your own group. You can share your writing, talk about technique, and encourage each other.

Here are some things to keep in mind when starting, or contributing to a group.

         Commit. If you say you are going to be there, be there. Others will count on you as much as you do them.
         Contribute. You probably looked for a group because you wanted people to share with, now is not the time be shy. Be an active part of the group.
         Honor other's boundaries and set your own. There are some things that are better not shared with a  group.

This can be a huge source of support and creative inspiration, if you work it. Make sure you don't get involved, unless you are really willing to be a part of a group. I cannot stress this enough. Think of what you would want from group member and be willing to give it before joining up.

Work Outside the House

You may need the privacy of your mind, but in many cases, you can still get out and work around other people from time to time. Laptops are easily portable and most coffee shops have wi-fi. Or, if you are like me, choose one that doesn't so you won't be distracted.

There are also places that offer common work space on certain days of the week for freelancers. Again, Craigslist and Meetup might be good sources for local information.

         Choose a place that has an environment that works for you. Don't expect other people to change their habits to suit you.
         If you are going to a business, such as a cafe, or coffee shop, buy something. They are used to people taking tables for long periods, but not for free, that is rude.
         If all else fails, most public libraries have desks for writing, and lots of research materials at your fingertips.

It is important to stay in touch with the outside world. After all, you are expecting them to read and love your work, and knowing who “they” are can't hurt. New experiences are also necessary to fil up your own inspiration, so go for it!

Take Time Off on Purpose

It's easy to think that the more time you spend writing, the more success you will have, and this is  true, up to a point. But, unless you intend to be a hermit, remember that you probably wanted to do this job, at least in part, to have freedom for other things.

You need to intentionally develop outside interests, so that home does not become so comfortable that you develop an unhealthy attachment to it.

         Start a hobby, especially one that involves other people. Join a sports team, or a club of some sort.
         Get a part time job working with people. It will give your brain a break, and put a little additional money in your pocket that is not dependent on writing. I build things for people.
         Go to church, or synagogue, or whatever works for you. Seeking out others who share your spiritual beliefs can be a strong factor in staying content.

Try a few of these things, or share your own in the comments below. We can all use ways to stay connected. It is good for us, it is good for our art, and we have a lot of great stuff to contribute to the world at large. You know you're smart and have great ideas, so don't deprive the world of your genius.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Here's How to Write What you Know and Connect With Your Audience

As a writer, it often seems that we are so limited in what we can say well. When you search for topics, especially topics you can make money with, it can be hard to find something that is a good fit.

The eminent poet, Howard Nemerov is quoted as saying, “Write what you know, that should leave you a lot of free time.” 

This bit of advice gets tossed out a lot and most of the time it is made fun of. Surface thinkers often say it’s stupid, because then you couldn’t possibly write fiction. Other say it’s impractical because it would leave out writing about a topic from research, but for me, it has a bit of a deeper meaning. 

It is the ultimate writer’s version of Oscar Wilde’s oft quoted sentiment, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. “  Or Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”
This is something all writers should know!

Even as a ghost writer trying to capture someone else’s “voice” on the page, we are at our most powerful when the truth that lies within us rises to the surface and bleeds out into our work. Here is how I would phrase it, to make it a little more accessible, “Write from your passion.”

Write what makes you tick, or feel, or think a little deeper. Don’t try to make everyone happy by writing what you think they want to hear. Tell me what you think is important. Get it out there. Your voice is just as important as every other. It can be more so if you take the time to develop your perspective and hone what that means to a sharp edge. 

Let me share a personal story with you.

Last night, I spent some time with one of my four sons (yeah, I have four daughters too, crazy, right?) anyway, we used to own a theatre training studio where we produced Broadway musicals with young actors and this son was so passionate about what we did. We had to close it down five years ago, but my youngest brother opened a similar one in a suburb on the other side of Oklahoma City, where we live. 

Gideon, my fourteen year old son, got invited to fill in as part of the chorus for their production of West Side Story and it was his first real musical in about five years. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him perform again. 

Afterwards, we did something I have missed for all these years, we went out with the young cast and some of their parents to an IHOP. If you have ever been a drama kid, going out like this after the last performance of a show is probably something you recognize and treasure. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it. 

Anyway, there was this mom there talking to me, who had been stage manager of the production. She was talking about how when she was in high school she had been in competitive drama and had done okay, but in several years of competition had never brought home the big prize. 

So, the teacher asked them all to do an original 8 to 10 minute oratory as a class assignment. She presented hers and it was so good that the teacher insisted she enter it in competition. She didn’t feel that was her strong suit, so she resisted, but others added their encouragement and she eventually entered the piece. It won state. 

So, why did this happen? She was at a loss, until I asked, “What was your topic?”

She got quiet, looked down at the table and almost whispered, “Poverty.”

Even 20 years later I did not have to ask if this had personal meaning to her, it was evident it did. I suggested that this hidden passion was what had sparked her winning performance. It was, she admitted and she had never thought about it like that. 

She was true to herself!

She had written what she knew. She had tapped into who she was at her core and shared a piece of it and the result was something she couldn’t produce until she did it! That is so key in the life of a writer!

So, how does that play out in a writer’s daily life. Well, I cannot speak for you, but for myself, it works like this. 

·         I have to find some connection to a piece of work to even accept it. I will write about topics I was not originally interested in, but not often. 

·         I connect research information using facts I already know to better understand new topics. So many things in life are analogous. Learning to do this is a great tool.

·         Most of my lead ins come from my thoughts on the topic, correlating some quote, or some observation that I think I have in common with my reader into the introduction.

·         I try to get inside the head of the person who is reading the piece. What do they want to know? So, I go learn that, and then share it! (this comes easy for me, it is an acting technique in preparing roles.)
These are just a few of the ways that I use this everyday. But, what if you are not as awesome as me? Trust me. I am not that awesome. Just ask my kids. Well, initially they would say I was, of course, but then you would find out what a nerd I am and that I am a slop, that I like to put things off to the last second, and that I get bored easily. All of which plays against me to an extent. But, it can also all be used. 

So, how do you find things that you can use in your writing that are “true” for you?

If this post is not an example of that, I don’t what I could say to demonstrate how this is done. Use your life experience. So, you never lost the love of your life? You have experienced loss before. It’s very much the same thing, now, apply that experience. You’ve never been rich. Maybe not, but you have had at least one day where you could have what you wanted and didn’t feel limited right? Use that experience. 

Just as in acting you don’t have to have been a criminal mastermind to understand the desire to control things to your advantage, or to have power over someone who makes you feel powerless, in writing, you don’t have to be the president to know what it is to have job pressures and responsibilities. 

Use your imagination to fill in the gaps. 

Readers are not asking you to tell them what it feels like to be someone else. They are asking you to help them understand it. They want to know what a thing feels like in the human experience, not always, were you there? 

Another example of this is with the current political discourse in our country. For those who feel our system of policing lacks something ( like me) or that many young patriots lives are lost to causes that are more commercial than altruistic,  the idea that if you have not been a soldier, or police officer, you have no valid opinion, is a common one. 

I don’t have to be one to know what I think it should be!

 While it is true, I have never had to hold a weapon and make choices about another person’s continued existence, I know what I want my country and my community to be. I can see where the police departments actions and the military’s policies line up with that, and where I feel they are lacking. 

 Here’s an example. I am a carpenter by trade. If I come to your home and hang your front door upside down, you don’t need to know how to hang a door to look and see that something is very wrong with my work. My mistakes are evident!

So, you don’t have to have hands on experience to comment on things in your writing. We all have a great deal of understanding about how the world works and when it doesn’t. We are all capable of seeing mistakes that have huge consequences and outlining what we see as the problem. 

·         Being able to write about something from an outside perspective, without day to day knowledge of the inner workings is a skill you can develop and you can have a valid opinion on topics just by educating yourself. 

·         By relating things you see to things you have experienced, you can build a bridge to understanding what another person goes through on some level. 

·         You should also be careful of letting that turn into a critique that goes beyond your ability to state your opinion and steps into telling someone else what their specific actions or responses should have been. 

Write what you know!

You may not think this is a lot. You may be young and lacking in experience. You may feel your opinion isn’t valid. You may even think that no one will read what you write. 

You are so much more capable than you know. I don’t care who you are. You have experienced thousands of days from a unique perspective. You have learned to do so many things that I cannot even begin to do. Really. That’s where you start. It’s not, “Learn everything before you start writing.” It is “write what you know”. Write what you know already. Start from there. Write what you feel, or think, those are things only you can know! Write what you learn. Write what comes to mind when you  empathize with your audience. Write awesome stuff and you will never have a lack of readers once you find your audience. 

Trust me on this, there is someone out there that will share your perspective, or appreciate being challenged by it. There is. There are likely a lot of them. The desire to share your voice is enough to indicate you should do it. Do it the best you can. I bet you will be surprised by how much you know!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Discover This Easy Formula for Setting Perfect Freelance Writing Rates!

Freelance writers often ask me questions about my rates. I laugh and tell them they get to set their own rates, and not to depend on me to set a value on their time. Most of them don't think that's funny and go away frustrated, so, I thought I would take a minute to tell you exactly how I calculate what work is worth to me.

Start From Your Cost of Living

Add it up. The groceries, the car insurance, the light bill, the taxes, the business expenses, everything. Now add 5% cushion for lean times, which will come. This is your base level needs assessment total. This is what it takes to simply maintain the life you now lead, without any improvements. It's also known as a good place to start.

      Add on for vacations, gifts, and any other expenses you might reasonably encounter along the way.
      Put in 15 to 20% for retirement savings.
      Allow yourself some room to grow, say, 10%.

The number you get from this, should be your goal, at least for now. Let's take a look at what you do with this from here. There are several options for pricing, and each of them is calculated slightly differently.

 Hourly Rate

I rarely, in fact never, do write for an hourly rate. It is just too hard to justify and, frankly, I am too fast. My rate would be astronomical on paper. It is, however, the safest way to get good value from a client. It's a guarantee of  a certain price for your time spent on their work. To set your hourly rate, follow one of the following formulas. You can do this for either the survive, or thrive budget numbers mentioned above.

      Divide your survival budget number by 50, allowing for at least two weeks of vacation time. Then divide by 40 hours in a week. Add 15% for time spent marketing, negotiating and record keeping, etc. This is your base hourly rate, the minimum you can work for without slowly going broke.
      Divide your thrive budget number the same way, this is the number you are shooting for.
      You can also decide to work by more or fewer hours. You really can decide how much you want to work. To get this to work out, make your last division by the number of hours you want to work in one week.
      Calculate how much you need by the hour, whether you will charge this way, or not, it will be the basis for the other two methods.

Here is a little secret. The higher your rate, the less work you have to do. Let it sink in. The higher the rate, the fewer the customers you have to find, woo, land, and keep happy. The higher the rate, the less research, typing, editing, re-editing, and emailing you have to do. Which is easier, find five ten dollar an hour customers, or one fifty dollar an hour customer?

Look at the numbers. It would have to be five times harder to find a fifty dollar an hour customer to make the ten dollar an hour customer make sense. It isn't. If it takes you one day to find a ten dollar customer, you could spend up to five days finding the fifty an hour customer and still get ahead on the first job!

Charging by the Word

This one will be a little trickier to calculate for the beginner. You don't know what you are capable of yet. You don't know how long it takes to write a blog post, or a brochure, etc. You need to know this in order to set your rate this way. But once you have fifty or more projects under your belt, you should have a pretty good idea, then this becomes an excellent way to price.

1.      Calculate how many words are in the project. An average blog post is 350 to 500 words. An average page of book type is between 280 and 320.  Be sure to account for every single piece, even the fifty word landing page, etc.
2.      Keep a running tally of how many words you can reasonably write in an hour. For me, this varies based on the type of content and how heavily I believe it will be reviewed, in other words, how likely are they to ask for revisions if I don't make it perfect the first time?
3.      Divide your desired hourly rate by the number of words you will produce in an hour. This gives you a minimum place to start. For example, if you write a thousand words an hour, and you want to make $50 an hour, you need to charge at least 5 cents per word.
4.      Add 20% for all the other stuff that goes into it, for 6 cents per word. ( If you want to work that cheap, contact me, if you are any good I may have some work for you, LOL)

Charging by the word is a good way to go if you are doing a lot of little projects, or some ongoing work for one client. It maintains consistency. They know what to expect their cost to be, and they can plan accordingly. This is the model most likely to get you add-on work. Since they can calculate the cost themselves it is easy for them to add a few more pieces.

*Tip: be prepared to defend your word count! In other words, write tight! Some frugal business people will try to squeeze you on this rate, “You could have said all that in a hundred words, and it's 150, I think we need to edit that down before I can accept it.” Write your agreement to include a page/word count and make them stick to it. In fact,always over-deliver by giving them about 5% more than agreed upon to make it feel like a deal.

Charging by the Job

 This is my personal preferred favorite method of pricing. It gives clear expectations on both sides. The client knows exactly what their cost will be, and you already know exactly how much your paypal account will grow by.

      Start from your hourly rate. This is usually the baseline for every pricing structure since it is the easiest thing to quantify.
      You can also start from your word rate, if you know how many words the project will be.
      Figure up about how long the project should take. Don't forget to add in for research, editing and rewrites. Factor in any other prep, or delivery costs and times.
      Multiply the project length in hours by your hourly rate, and add 10 to 15%. You will almost always underestimate time, especially in the beginning.
      If you started from a per word rate, multiply that times the length of the project, plus 10 to 15%.

This is the easiest pricing structure to get advances on. There is a set price and getting half up front is perfectly reasonable. With the other two structures, that can be tricky, unless you have agreed to complete a specific number of words, or limited yourself to a set number of hours.