The Professional Writing Life by Intern 1 (Sarah Traill)

The Professional Writing Life by Intern 1 (Sarah Traill)

image1During my months with Ann, I’ve had time to see the professional writing life up close. Here are a few of her tips:

First, have a master plan. Make sure to write down all your tasks and deadlines. If you don’t write them down, you’re liable to forget!

Once you have everything written down, make a plan to accomplish it. Allow for more time than you think you’ll need. Those last-minute technological problems or tea spills over that critical document you needed are bound to appear if you’re working on a too-tight schedule. By having a weekly or monthly master plan, the daily struggles won’t be as stressful.

Secondly, be fluid in your plans. As a professional writer, your schedule changes on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis. Accept these changes and allow both yourself and your plans to be flexible. If you’re unable to accomplish something on the day you wanted it done due to scheduling conflicts or some other issue, allow for that and get something else done instead.

Third, complete small tasks on a daily basis. Make sure you’re finishing at least one small task on your project (or projects) every day. If you try to tackle all the huge tasks, you’ll burn yourself out, so try instead to take a certain amount of time or a certain number of small tasks to complete daily. Start with just half an hour to work on one project and move forward from there.

For example, send three emails, research for 15 minutes, make one phone call and write for half an hour. That’s maybe an hour of work, but you’ve made substantial progress on several on-going projects. If you do this a few times a day, every weekday your projects will quickly be completed.

Fourth, be open to new possibilities. Keep an open mind towards new ideas, new writing projects, and new connections. You’d be surprised how many new opportunities appear because you asked others for advice or information. Connections come where you least expect them!

Fifth, make time for your writing. Life can get busy, but make time to write during your day. If writing every day is too much, try three times a week for a set amount of time instead. Or write every day for two weeks and take a week off. To succeed as a professional writer, you must make sure you are making time for writing as often as you can.

Finally, Ann’s favorite tip: be nuts! To be a freelance writer, you have to be a little crazy. But that’s what makes it so much fun.

What I Learned from a Summer of Not Blogging

What I Learned from a Summer of Not Blogging

IMG_0149I haven’t posted a new blog entry in months and I’m trying not to feel guilty about that. The summer was filled with writing two books which, frankly, took priority over blogging.

One book was a co-writing project with Bill Blacquiere, soon-to-be-retiring director of Bethany Christian Services. The Call to Care helps focus readers on how each one of us is called to care for vulnerable children and families. How we work out that call day to day is different for everyone.

The other project was my own book, Christian Publishing 101, releasing in January 2018. I interviewed many experts in the publishing field—editors, agents, authors, publicists—to help create this writer’s-conference-in-a-book.

Throw in a family vacation, writers retreat, helping plan and pull off the Breathe Christian Writers Conference, and being a good family/church member and mom/wife, and suddenly it’s early November.  There are a couple of lessons I learned during this blogging hiatus. Hopefully you can take some of them to heart.

1. Social media is fluid. I didn’t blog, but discovered the joys of Instagram. Who knew that #writingwithchickens would be so much fun for me and for readers? It started because every time I wrote outside on the deck or swing, our three chickens would rush over to get in my business. They walked across the keyboard, pecked at the keys, studied the screen, did other crazy chicken stuff.

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Once I started posting goofy pictures on Instagram, #writingwithchickens became a thing. People started liking and following the girls. We don’t have a ton of followers, yet I’m always surprised when people talk to me about those chickens. And they buy me chicken stuff! I now am proud owner of a tiny chicken notebook and a stack of chicken plates, plus a chicken item or two that I purchased.

I may not have blogged, but I now have an Instagram following and friends on Facebook who comment on the crazy fowl. Plus I’ve taken the girls on the road thanks to a traveling flock of three tiny chickens that fit in my pocket. (See if you can find them in the photo.)

2. Interns are fun and make me work. I had my first intern over the summer: the lovely Sarah Traill. Her guest blog posts will appear here soon. She was a true gift, helping me research, writing a bit, and generally making my writing life easier. This fall Hannah VanKampen, a senior at Cornerstone University, interns for two afternoons a week. She took the photo of my cool chicken stuff. Hannah is eager to work and learn, too, and a real gift.

Sarah and Hannah help me focus my writing life—because I have to give them something to do! Being accountable is always a good thing, and these two have helped me tremendously.

3. Guilt is a choice. I knew this already, but it’s good to reinforce that I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing everything all the time. As many in the publishing industry say, focus on what social media platforms you enjoy and let some of the others go for the time being. I was good at Instagram this summer; I’m adding blogging, which I enjoy, back into the mix now. It’s all good!

(Photos by Hannah VanKampen)

I would love to hear how you have balanced writing and social media, how others have helped you along the way, and how you’ve dealt with guilt as it has assailed you in your writing life.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Christian Publishing 101 and entering for a chance to win a free copy in January, email me at annbyle@gmail.com.

 

Lessons from Moving Office

Lessons from Moving Office

img_1135I recently inherited a bedroom left vacant by Kid 3, who took Kid 1’s bedroom when she moved into an apartment. This empty bedroom has become my new office. It was no easy task to move a decade’s worth of stuff from my small office on the main floor to this vast expanse on the second floor.

I learned a few lessons while on this month-long journey.

  1. Take it step by step. Anne Lamott’s lesson from “Bird by Bird” applies to paint and decor. Her advice to move through your writing one step at a time, step after step, makes the same sense as I removed cowboy decorations, spackled, primed, taped and painted the walls. The process couldn’t move ahead without accomplishing the previous steps. Same in your writing life. Take the next step, then the next.
  2. Know your plan and work that plan. I wanted gray walls so found accessories with that in mind. Gray lamp from Ikea, off-white chair with gray writing from Wayfair, gray and white curtains from Home Goods all worked with my plan. That lesson works for writing too. Know the plan for your novel, so you stay within it with research. Outlining your nonfiction book keeps you from rabbit trails. In writing and decorating, a plan is a wonderful thing.
  3. Move outside the box. While having a plan is good, experimenting can be good too. My office isn’t all gray. There are coral-framed bulletin boards, a coral shelf, a light red wagon bed holding miscellany. I also hung a huge vintage painting of downtown Grand Rapids (after painting the hideous frame the dark gray of one wall.). Your writing, too, can use a little outside-the-box thinking. Plot twists, new genres, new markets, new styles. Never hurts to try something different and a little crazy.
  4. Throw stuff away. You’ll not believe the pounds of paper I tossed. Papers, notebooks, old files, brochures, business cards, notes: into the trash it all went. I didn’t need 25 reporter notebooks with notes from stories I wrote 15 years ago. It’s a great feeling to get rid of stuff you can’t possible use ever again. Same with your writing life. Toss the stuff that doesn’t work, physically and psychologically. This could be a characters, others’ expectations, a genre you’re just not good at, bad advice, or a critique partner whose passive-aggressiveness is diabolical. Lighten your life, space and mind.
  5. Recycle. I have boxes of books to bring to my two favorite used bookstores to sell. Boxes of stuff headed to Goodwill. I’ve given away a few things, too. Some things deserve a new home and I’m happy to give it to them. Same with writing. I recently interviewed a local author and will use that interview in two publications. Sometimes I’ve sold one interview three times. Use extra research for your novel in another novel, a short story, or a novella. Don’t waste anything good. Find a home for it if you can.
  6. Get help. Moving my file cabinets up the stairs took four of us: two kids pulling on the rope wrapped around it, and one kid and me pushing from the bottom. It took effort to move those things—and they were empty! I also paid a kid to paint the walls for me; it helped that he needed cash. Good help is a good thing in decorating and writing. Find a good critique partner; hire an editor; find a tutor for social media. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  7. Enjoy the results. I love my office. I sit in my chair and stare at the walls and decorations and  curtains a lot. I smile, too. It was worth all the work. So is that first clip, first box of your books, byline, or media interview. Enjoy every minute of the good stuff that comes from being a writer, no matter how small or large. It’s the life we chose and the life we’ll keep.