Monthly Archives: March 2013
I’m always on a quest to get to know my readers better, so today I’d like to hear from you:
Do you read primarily fiction or non-fiction? Which do you prefer reading? Which do you prefer to write?
Answer in the comments below and feel free to ask me a question of your own.
School and work are both important, but focusing on one or the other to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous. We’re often told to put these things above all else, which can lead to self-neglect and even self-hatred. Capitalism tells us to focus on what makes us money and ignore that which nourishes the soul. Since these beliefs have been drilled into us since we were kids, they’re difficult to ignore.
Unfortunately work and/or school will probably always be factors in your life. The key is to make sure that they don’t interrupt your writing time more than absolutely necessary. So how do you keep school/work out of your writing time?
1. Don’t take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t have to stay at work late, don’t. If you don’t have to join that after school club, don’t. If it’s not going to help you advance in life, say no. Remember that the writing won’t happen if you’re always exhausted when you get home. Remember that in ten years you’ll be more upset about not having finished that novel than you will be about missing extra hours at work.
Sometimes you’ll want to take extra commitments, and that’s fine too—as long as you still carve out daily writing time, and refuse to take on extra assignments that you’re not passionate about. Think about how you’ll feel in ten years. Will you be sad that you missed that extra workshop? Will you be sad that you didn’t help create the yearbook? Or will you be sad that your novel is still only half finished?
2. Work smarter. Find ways to complete your tasks faster without sacrificing performance. There are always short cuts. Look for the ones that won’t damage your grades or your career and take them. Finish as much as possible while you’re at the office or in the classroom so you can focus on writing when you get home. Often you won’t be able to control how many hours you spend at work or in class, but by working hard during that time you can minimize the amount of work you take home.
Stay focused at work or in class and you’ll get everything done in record time—and you’ll be able to write guilt-free when you get home.
3. Say no to social engagements more often than you say yes. Why is this under the school/work category? Well, odds are that you have some friends at school or in the office. And that those people invite you to dinner or to the bar or to different events. Say no twice for every time you say yes. Say no if you know it will cut into your writing time. Be willing to leave early to write—nobody will look down on you for leaving early, and if they do, they’re not good friends anyway.
Saying no is hard. I struggle all the time with saying no to social commitments, but I’ve gotten better at it over the last couple of years and I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then when you see how much progress you’ve made in that time you’d otherwise be spending at the bar, you’ll be happy you made the decision to say no.
On the other hand, maintaining friendships is important, so say yes once in a while. Real friends don’t mind if you’re busy, but they want to be valued too.
You’re probably going to be working or in school for a long time. Everyone has to accept that one of these things will take up five, eight or even twelve hours of their day, five days a week, for a large chunk of their lifetime. What we can do is make sure that we don’t let work and school eat our life to the exclusion of what really matters to us—writing, working towards our dreams and nourishing our souls.
How much does work/school detract from your writing life?
Don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series:
Last week I created the Great Guest Post Exchange. I got some emails and I’ve already agreed to work with a couple people. You being writers and all, I don’t think there’s a lack of interest–I think it’s a lack of confidence. Or perhaps you don’t understand how guest posts can be beneficial to you. So I decided to discuss why and how to pitch a guest post.
So, why write a guest post?
- Writing a guest post puts you in front of a new audience.
- Guest posts also help you build relationships with awesome bloggers.
- Being featured by these bloggers lends your name credibility.
- Accepting guest posts brings fresh perspective to your blog–it also brings you a new audience and lightens your work load.
On a more personal level, many famous bloggers attribute their fame to guest posts, and the guest posts I’ve written have definitely increased my traffic. Every time I feature an author on my blog, whether it’s through an interview or through a guest post, I get some new visitors, and quite often those visitors stick around. I also make a friend and send a few of my readers their way. It’s a win win for everyone.
So, are you sold on the idea of guest posts but have no idea where to get started? An entire book could be written about how to pitch and write a guest post, but by keeping a few simple rules in mind you can greatly increase your chance of being featured on someone else’s blog.
How do you land a guest post?
- Do your research— Before you email a blogger to pitch a guest post, first make sure that they accept guest posts. Check their guidelines and read a few pre-existing guest posts to figure out what they want. You also want to make sure the blog will have a similar audience to yours and is likely both to work with the topic you’d like to write about and to bring you loyal readers.
- Create multiple ideas–Brainstorm ideas around the themes of the blog you’ve chosen to pitch a post to. The more ideas you have, the more likely it is that one of them will get selected by the blog.
- Outline your ideas–Outline your three favourite ideas. This way you have three posts prepared in case they don’t like your first one.
- Remember the guidelines–If they want a full post, by all means write and send them a full post. Many blogs would prefer you to pitch an idea. Pitching two or three ideas that you’ve fleshed out pretty well often gives you a better chance, unless the guidelines specify to only discuss one idea at a time.
- Be polite–Start your email with “Dear ____”. Always know the person’s name. Say thank you to them for the time it takes them to read your email. Let them know why you want to blog for them and why their readers will like reading your post. Don’t be pushy. Thank them for their time.
Following these rules won’t guarantee that your guest post will be accepted, but it does mean that you’re giving it the best chance possible, which is all we can ever do as writers. Put your best foot forward and don’t be afraid: bloggers are nice people, and if you follow these rules, they won’t spit in your face. They might not be interested in the post, but as writers, we have to accept that other people won’t always be interested in our work. Bloggers, at least, are other writers and will generally make an effort to be nice about it when rejecting your post.
Personally, my goal is to help all of you become better writers and achieve your writing dreams, so if you’ve been thinking about pitching a guest post to me–whether or not you’d like to do a proper exchange–don’t be afraid. I will not only be friendly and professional, but if a post has potential I will also edit it with you and help you shape it into something awesome. And if you’re looking to send a guest post somewhere else, send me the pitch and I’ll give you some feedback to help you move forward with your writing career.
Hi guys, WordPress screwed me over and posted this on Friday instead of when it was supposed to go live, so if you’ve already read this, I’m sorry, but you can read a guest post by me today on Brianna Soloski’s blog Girl Seeks Place instead.
Today our discussion is about distractions that are at once harder to ignore and easier to eliminate than those caused by family: the distractions of modern day technology, specifically phones and the internet.
Phones and the internet—and phones that connect to the internet—are wonderful inventions that can easily turn into horrible soul sucking devices. How many times have you gone to email someone and ended up watching twenty cute cat videos? How many times have you picked up the phone and ended up talking through all your writing time? You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done it. We’ll probably all do it at least once more in our lifetime.
But it has to stop. In order to finish that novel, non-fiction book or even one article, you need to focus. You need to ignore all those cute cat videos. You need to stay off the phone. You need to detox from Facebook until your project is finished, or at least your work for the day is finished.
How do you eliminate technological distractions? Check out these simple steps to a more focused work period:
1. Close your browser. I know you don’t want to. But if email is a constant lure for you, knowing that the window is already open will kill your concentration. You’ll be checking your email every three sentences, slowing you down quite a bit. Out of sight, out of mind. Close your browser window and hide the symbol somewhere you can’t see it without looking intentionally. It’s pretty common to have your browser in the tool bar of your operating system, but it’s also simple to remove the icon. Take the initiative and make it easy for you to ignore the internet.
2. Disable the internet. If the first strategy doesn’t work for you, it might be time to disable the internet altogether. This might mean disconnecting your computer from the internet. It might mean disconnecting your router and modem. Or it might mean downloading software that will block the internet during your writing time and turn it back on when you’re done without you ever having to move away from your computer. However you do it, try disabling your internet and see how much faster everything gets done.
3. Turn off your phone. Or, at the very least, turn it to silent. Odds are you won’t get any really important calls during the hour or two you’ve set aside for writing anyway. How many phone calls do you really need to pick up? Can you call back later? Do you really need to listen to your friend whine about her break up right now? As distraught as she is, she probably won’t be too upset if you call her back in an hour. You don’t really need to know every time something happens on Facebook.
Try turning off your phone during your writing time—or at least part of it—and see what a difference that makes. Try deleting most of your games and turning off those Facebook notifications permanently too. Limiting your access to time wasters makes it easy to get more done.
4. Switch technology. If you’re still struggling with technological interruptions, you might be better off switching to a word processor only device such as an Alpha Smart or even to pen and paper. Simply not having access to the internet will make it a lot easier. Turning off Facebook and email notifications on your phone or even having an older phone that isn’t compatible with Facebook or your email client can be of great assistance too.
Remember, technology is a tool. When used properly, it makes your life more comfortable and more productive. When used improperly, it can totally derail you from your goals and eat up your life so that you hardly exist offline. If you can’t use the technology properly, maybe it’s time to stop using the technology at all.
Everyone gets distracted by technology until they learn how to stop it. Different people are effected by technology differently. I’ve always been good at staying on task even with my browser window open and visible in the toolbar, but some people don’t write at all unless they completely remove themselves from the internet. It’s important to know yourself and to know which distractions you’re most vulnerable to and to learn how to eliminate or at least minimize them.
How do you keep technological distractions to a minimum?
One of my goals for this year is to write twelve guest posts(my first one went up here last Friday). I also recently decided that I’d like to accept more guest posts here.
I put quite a bit of effort into figuring out how to accomplish these goals when I realized the answer was right in front of me. So, after some careful thought and planning, here is the solution:
The Great Guest Post Exchange
Here’s how this is going to work: I’m going to write a guest post for your blog and in return you’ll write a guest post for my blog. We’re going to commit to giving each other high quality pieces because we don’t want to ruin each other’s reputation. We’re not going to set strict deadlines because these aren’t paid pieces and life gets in the way, but we’re going to get these posts to each other within a month of making the commitment. If for any reason one of us can’t finish their post within that month, we’ll talk about it and create a new deadline.
We are going to post on each other’s blogs and promote our respective posts. We are going to respond to all the comments on our respective blog posts because that’s what professionals do.
Here’s how this won’t work: I will not automatically accept your post because it is there, and I won’t expect you to accept my post just because it’s there either. I will not publish substandard posts or posts that don’t help my readers in some way, and I hope you will follow the same standards on your blog. You will not re-publish your guest post for 30 days after it goes live on my blog, preferably not at all. I will not re-publish my guest post to your blog for the same amount of time, and if you’d like to feel exclusive I won’t re-publish it at all.
I am your colleague, not just a publicity outlet.
All that being said, to participate in the Great Guest Post Exchange, please either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your proposal OR leave your email in the comments below. Feel free to also ask any questions or raise any concerns you might have about the Great Guest Post Exchange.
There is an old maxim—“Write what you know.”
True enough, but sooner or later you might want to write about something you do not know anything about. Then what? Give up on the idea? File it away in a dusty filing cabinet with the farewell thought, “Someday”? Or maybe you grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground and command (as a writer friend of mine once said), “You will conform to my wishes!”
Everyone has their own style of research; my style may not be yours, but as long our style works for us that is all that matters.
Okay, let us say you want to write a story about a chimney sweep. Sounds simple, but to make your character and story believable, what exactly does a chimney sweep do? How does the sweep do it? Time to check Wikipedia. Check YouTube. Just Google “chimney sweep” and see what crops up. You will start to develop a database. In the process you will probably uncover details that might have an impact on the plot of your story that you had not foreseen before. And then, it is time for the moment of truth. Go find a real chimney sweep and interview him or her.
Be sure to bring a digital recorder with a lapel microphone—a backup for each is a good idea too. And a pad of paper and working pens.
Preparation for an interview is crucial. After your initial research you now have a far better idea of what questions to ask. Start off with the basics—age, education, hometown, what did the parents do, etc. Married? For how long and what does the spouse think of the chosen vocation? In the early 21st century how does a chimney sweep find work? Internet? Yellow pages? Post notices at rural feed & seed stores? The clothing worn—is that something of a “chimney sweep uniform” or just the person’s chosen clothing?
As the interview progresses do not hesitate to pounce upon an interesting remark or ask the person to clarify a remark. You never know when a stray comment may lead into unexpected and fertile research territory. Be sure to keep your interview to 30-45 minutes, no more than an hour.
And you have it. You conducted your initial research, learned enough to frame proper questions like an old pro, and you conducted an interview. You can now add factual, believable information to your character, to your story.
It will be easier than you think. Tell a person why you want to interview them, buy them a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, and you will discover that people enjoy talking about themselves and their jobs. Your job is to listen.
So, good luck, good research and writing, and enjoy!
PS: You may wonder why I chose a chimney sweep as an example. I read an article in a Colorado Springs newspaper many years ago and was surprised to find such professionals were still around. Since then I have always wanted to include the character of a chimney sweep in one of my stories.
SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 grandchildren, and a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). He has served in the Army National Guard since October 2004, and holds the rank of staff sergeant. He is a published photographer and photojournalist, an aspiring painter, and is studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in underwater archaeology. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories, and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, Lucrezia Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. As of December 2011, he became the latest homeless Iraq war veteran in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can purchase his books here.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been discussing obstacles that keep you from finishing projects. Last week we discussed the intrinsic guilt we feel when demanding writing time. Now it’s time to tackle one of the obstacles that makes us feel guiltiest: family interruptions.
Think about it. You’re working on your brilliant masterpiece when your mother calls. You feel obligated to pick up and stay on the line for the next half hour. Since you only have an hour of writing time and you’ve lost focus, you give up entirely and you spend the day feeling guilty about not writing enough.
The next day your mother calls during your writing time and you don’t pick up. Your guilt about ignoring your mother eats away at you for the next forty-five minutes when you cave and call her back, interrupting the last fifteen minutes of your writing time.
In either scenario you lose writing time and feel guilty, but you don’t have to. There are several strategies that will allow you to maximize your writing time and minimize family distractions without creating guilt, and they work with almost any family.
So let’s get started:
1. Have a designated writing space. It doesn’t have to be a big space. It doesn’t need a lockable door. It just needs to be a space that’s distinctly yours and set up to encourage productivity. A space that you can say clearly belongs to you and is dedicated to your craft. Make a point of carving out even a small corner in which to write without distraction.
But setting up your space is not enough. You need to tell the people you live with that this is your writing space, and that when you’re in it you’re not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire. You’ll probably have to tell them more than once. You need to be firm about it but not mean. Remind them gently. After a while, all but the most irritating relatives will get the point and leave you alone when you’re in your writing space.
2. Have a designated writing time. And make sure that everyone in your family knows it. Start with half an hour. Tell everyone in your family not to call you from 5:30-6 because it’s your writing time. Remind them as kindly and frequently as possible. Every time you see them, tell them about how much you’ve accomplished in that uninterrupted half hour.
Make a point of reminding people when your designated writing time is even if they haven’t interrupted it yet. Keeping it fresh in their minds makes them less likely to forget and interrupt your precious writing time.
3. Make a buck off your writing. This one’s a bit difficult because it involves people other than you and a bit of leg work, but it’s worth it on a few levels. For one thing, it’s always nice to make a buck doing something you enjoy. But more importantly, it cements the idea that writing is important in your family’s brain.
Many relatives don’t respect your writing time because they don’t understand why you’d work so hard for something that isn’t making you money. Even if you only sell one article and make fifty bucks, they’ll realize that writing is valuable for you, because they’ll see the proof. Some people don’t understand value unless it’s in dollars, and making some money is a great way to reinforce the idea that writing is important—after all, everyone can think of a couple good things to do with fifty dollars.
4. Get some noise cancelling headphones. If you’re working from a desktop in the living room and you can’t move it, get some noise cancelling headphones or earplugs. You don’t even have to listen to music, though some soothing classical music or even some white noise might help your focus. All you have to do is put them on your head and enjoy yourself as the sounds of the world disappear around you.
The best part? Nobody ever gets offended if you don’t hear them the first time when you’re wearing big headphones, and most people won’t bother you unless it’s important. When you’re wearing headphones, people feel like they’re interrupting, and if they block out the noise in the room around you, they’ll stop unintentional interruptions too.
There are many ways to minimize or completely eliminate family distractions that don’t involve totally alienating your family or telling them to screw off. The methods above are just the beginning—which methods have worked for you?
I kind of got derailed last week with asking questions but this week I’d like to get back to accountability. Since we’re talking all about achievement, let’s go over how I did in the short month of February.
Edit Moonshadow’s Guardian– Thanks to getting a job and starting a new after school program this month–with the promise of two more by the end of March–I’ve been super exhausted, but I’ve got a proper plan of attack and I don’t have school next week, so I expect there to be a lot of progress this month. I’m really frustrated that it hasn’t gotten done yet, but it’s a project that’s not going to bring me any income any time soon even if I hurry, so it’s less of a priority.
Launch 10 Commandments–- I wrote up an intro and conclusion to this, and then realized it’s part of a bigger book. So I’ve created an outline for the book and I’m building around what I already have.
I didn’t make any notable progress on my other goals for the year so I’m choosing not to list them at all this month. Unfortunately I’m only one person and I can only split myself in so many directions at once, so I’m focusing on these two projects and blog maintenance.
This month I’ve made some big commitments to things that have nothing to do with writing, but which will help me grow as a person. I made these commitments because I know that writing can’t be my only focus. I’m graduating this June and moving out soon after that. Having a small but steady paycheck will ease my mind about money, and working part time in the summer will allow me to work on my writing full time. It’s important to note that this job–and the other programs I’m starting, two of which end in June–won’t be impeding my writing in a few months. In a few months I’ll have all the time I need to write during the day.
So this month’s report on a writing scale is mildly disappointing, but amazing things are shifting in other areas of my life and I’m still confident that I can complete everything on my list for this year–and probably a few things that didn’t make it onto my list.
How much progress did you make towards your goals in February?