Category Archives: Inspirational

The Ten Commandments of a Serious Writer

Today is a very special day. It is time for me to tell you all about the ebook I’ve been working on, The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer. The ebook is based on this post, with a slightly altered list of commandments.

Each commandment has been more fully explained, with exercises designed to help you become more fully committed to your writing. This ebook will give you all the tools necessary to plan the next stages of your writing career, including three potential schedules for you to base your own on. If you’re looking for help to make the transition from hobbyist, this is the ebook for you.

This ebook isn’t a comprehensive guide for becoming a successful writer, but it will walk you through the process of laying a foundation for your career. That said, this book isn’t quite finished yet. First, I’m looking for your help.

If you have committed to one of these commandments–you’ve written every day for the last six months and finished a book, or you’ve found and learned to work with a critique group–and it’s helped you grow as a writer, especially if it’s helped you make money writing, I’d love to hear from you. I’d like to add one short personal story from a different writer to each commandment.

This will be a free ebook given to my subscribers. Those who contribute their stories will be allowed to give the ebook to their own personal blog subscribers as well. This is your chance to be officially quoted in an ebook, and to get your name in front of my readers. If you’d like to share your success story, email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com.

I’m also looking for feedback. I’d like one or two people who in the process of laying the foundation for their writing career to give me feedback on the book and the exercises within so I can make any improvements. The ebook is now finished, but everyone needs a second pair of eyes on their writing. I’d like that second pair of eyes to belong to one of my readers. If you’re interested, once again just email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com and I’ll tell you what kind of feedback I’m looking for. Copies will be sent for feedback at the end of this week to any interested parties.

As for the new name of this blog: I’ve had such wonderful suggestions and there was a little conflict because the most popular name is taken by someone else, so I’ve decided to extend voting until Friday, when I’ll also be explaining in more detail my plans for the new site. Vote here.

What do you think of all the changes around here? Are you eager to read The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer?

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Final Thoughts on Disturbances in your Writing

For the last couple of months we’ve been talking about disturbances in your writing and how to deal with them. We’ve discussed several types of distractions and strategies for each one, and two weeks ago we talked about making the sacrifice in order to have time for your writing. Today I’d like to wrap up the series with some final thoughts on distractions and how to deal with them.

There will always be things distracting you from your writing. We will always have families and friends vying for our attention, and we will always have laundry to do. There’s a good chance that you’ll always have either school or a job getting between you and your writing too. None of us gets to live in a bubble where we can write all day every day–unless perhaps you’re independently wealthy and have maids to cook your meals and wash your clothes.

Still, that’s no excuse for not getting things done. Yes, many of these distractions can’t be avoided altogether, but they can be minimized. As we’ve discussed over the last two months, for every distraction there’s a strategy you can use to get back to work. We must protect our own writing time. Nobody can do that for us. In fact, most people will detract from your writing time–often without realizing what they’re doing.

It’s your job to protect your writing time. This is why I cancelled my plans today. I realized that I’ve let too many things cut into my writing time lately, and that my plans for today weren’t essential. Now that I’m working for DJiZM, I have almost no time for my personal writing projects. This has led me to cut back on my socializing time. I’m still not perfect at protecting my writing time–odds are I never will be–but I get better at it all the time, and that’s the important thing. Slowly but surely I’m cutting away the non-essential things to make more time for my craft.

You don’t have to do it all at once. Commit to minimizing one distraction at a time. You’re not perfect, nobody is. You’re not expected to cut everyone out of your life, and you’re not expected to eradicate all these distractions at the same time. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

Most importantly, don’t make it a chore. Writing shouldn’t be a chore. While it’s important to create and defend your writing time, you shouldn’t do this at the expense of your enjoyment of life. Life is too short to be unhappy because of decisions you’ve made. So when you’re asked to do something that cuts into your writing time, ask yourself–in a year, in five years, in ten years, will I regret not being there? Or will I regret not having finished my book?

Don’t allow yourself to live with regret. Do the things that truly matter to you–and if you discover that writing isn’t that high up on the list, that’s fine too. You don’t have to pursue a writing career. You can write occasionally, you can skip the editing and just move on to the next piece–just make sure you’re doing it with the intention of remaining a hobby writer. If you want to make this a career, you will have to make sacrifices.

It’s up to you–and only you–to decide whether or not writing is important enough to make sacrifices are. I’ve decided that my writing is definitely important enough to make sacrifices for. You might decide something different, and that’s fine too.

How much are you willing to sacrifice for your writing career?

Making The Sacrifice

For the last couple of months we’ve been talking a lot about disturbances in your writing, from writer’s block to family to repetitive strain injury. It’s important to develop strategies for dealing with each of these obstacles, but in the end it all boils down to one thing: making sacrifices.

Today we are blessed that we can do just about anything we want with our time. We have literally millions of options. We can read or watch anything almost instantly with the internet. We can communicate instantly. We can also do everything that came before the internet: go for a bike ride, travel, garden, socialize at the local pub.

With so many options, everyone’s always busy. We fill up our time without thinking about it and forget to leave time for ourselves. We forget to make time for our craft. We get caught up in everything else the world has to offer and we forget the most important things.

It’s fun to party all the time or to spend all your time after work lounging in front of the TV. Even better, it’s easy. But if you want to turn this writing thing into your career someday, you have to make sacrifices. You have to turn the TV off. You have to close your browser. You have to say no to that party or at least go home early.

Making these sacrifices is hard at first, but it gets easier all the time, and without making the sacrifices, you’ll never become a career writer. If you can’t make the sacrifices, maybe this business isn’t for you. Perhaps writing is just an emotional outlet for you or a hobby. That’s fine. Just remember not to treat it like a hobby when you’re trying to turn it into a career.

To be good at anything, you need to practice. To practice, you need time. To create time, you need to make sacrifices. So make a commitment to your writing and make the sacrifice. You’ll know it’s worth it when you have that first publishing contract.

The Writer’s Poison

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Today’s post is a guest post written by one Joelle Fraser. Please give her a warm welcome.

Last month, I became a published author for the second time. You’d think I’d feel successful, wouldn’t you? I have two books with prestigious houses, both of which received excellent national reviews; I’ve been anthologized and gotten awards, been flown by Random House on book tours and chauffeured around by media escorts, been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.

And yet, like every other writer in the world, I can name a thousand others who’ve achieved more. Much, much more—whether it’s money, fame, acclaim, awards, or a combination thereof, there’s always someone who leaves you in the dust.

Success, I learned with my first book, The Territory of Men, is a moving target that can cripple you with frustration. One day, for example, 75 people would come to a reading; the next week, in another town, eight might dribble in. I’d open my email one morning to find a great review in The Washington Post or USA Today, and an invitation to teach at a prominent conference. Then my inbox was empty for a month.

The longer your book is out, the more sporadic the attention; if you don’t publish another, it can fade away altogether, like a photograph of a fabulous event no one remembers.

Two years after my first book, I started a family, and for a long while, stopped writing. Meanwhile others continued to revel in success! For years, every Sunday morning I’d sit with my empty notebook while reading the steady cascade of achievement in The New York Times Book Review.

When my marriage fell apart, and I lost half custody of my son, I moved to an isolated cabin in the Sierras. For the next year I healed by walking in the wilderness and writing words on the page. Those pages became my next memoir, The Forest House. While I loved writing the book, I wasn’t looking forward to the publication process, and all the stress over whether it would succeed.

What helped was my peer, Alison Singh Gee, whose lovely memoir, Where the Peacocks Sing, came out at the same time. Even though we were ostensibly competitors, we were also friends who had much in common: we both teach college writing and are mothers of one young child. We even blurbed each others’ books. As reviews came in we’d “like” the links on each others’ FB pages; and we’d comment on the gleaming photos of our book covers. During our book tours we’d post promotional blogs about our respective events.

Yet over the months, we emailed and called each other privately. I knew her worry, understood her hopes and disappointment, and she knew mine. We’d both taken those long drives to bookstores on school nights—all the while wondering if more than a handful of readers would show up—and felt the same weight of the piles of ungraded papers and mounting chores waiting at home.

I shared the disillusionment that comes from watching your Amazon sales rank ebb and flow, then ebb again. I’d also tasted the same bittersweetness of the mixed review.

It was as if this time, with Alison, I had a constant reality check. She helped me see through the smoke and mirrors of the author’s “glamorous” life.

Like travelers on an escalator we’d wave to each other as we moved up and down the fickle ladder of success. We both know there’s a place you have to reach—no matter what stage you’re at as a writer—where you feel that someone else’s success is your success. If you can get there, it’s a wonderful, liberating place to be—and from it your own work will soar.

And so when Alison’s book was praised in Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine, I was happy for her; and when I was asked to do a guest blog for The Huffington Post, she cheered for me.

What I’ve learned over the past decade is that envy can poison your creativity—it’ll stain your writing like blood spilled across a page. It implies not only deprivation—something is missing in our world—but someone else has what we don’t. Looked at so simply it’s not hard to imagine envy has its roots in childhood. My son is in the first grade, and I’ve seen the raw expression of envy in children’s faces: I want what you have—give it to me!

The ultimate antidote for envy, which comes from our basest selves, is gratitude—which comes from our highest.
For it’s only from a place of plenty that we have something to give. And that’s what writing is, in the end—a gift, one we have and one we give to others.

No, it’s not an easy solution. Like any good habit, gratitude takes work. I have to remind myself to do it, and then it’s often grudgingly at first. So I’m grateful to the writers who write such wonderful stories and poems and articles, who’ve enriched my world with a lifetime of pleasure and enlightenment.

I’m grateful to my friends like Alison who remind me that I’m not alone, that my best is good enough, and that most of all, the words I write are worth it.

Bio: Joelle Fraser is the author of the memoirs The Territory of Men (Random House 2003) and The Forest House (2013). A MacDowell Fellow, she has an MFA from the University of Iowa. She teaches writing and lives in northeast California with her son. Find her at http://www.joellefraser.com.

You can purchase a copy of The Forest House here.

Dealing with Repetitive Strain Injury

I made this item the last on my list because it is the most difficult to deal with. While everything else can get in the way of your writing, most things won’t stop you dead in your tracks the way RSI does.

I’ve had RSI for about five years now. It gets better, then it gets worse. Sometimes it’s better for an hour, then it gets worse. Sometimes it gets better for a couple of months before it gets worse. Sometimes it gets consistently worse every day for a long time before slowly getting better. It never completely goes away.

Saying no to an extra assignment or night on the pub is challenging, but it gets easier. It’s also a good exercise as once you’re a full time writer, you’ll need to constantly defend your time against people who don’t understand that you’re still doing a job.

Writing through tears is much, much harder and isn’t any good for you when the tears are caused by repetitive strain injury. In fact, unless you have a do-or-die deadline in the morning, it’s probably a good idea to stop when you feel pain, especially if it’s a sharp pain.

If you have repetitive strain injury, your focus should be on preventing pain rather than working through it. If you don’t, you should be taking preventative measures anyway. Doing a few simple things can stop RSI from developing or getting worse. Ergonomic furniture and hand rests are great but can be expensive. I’ve created a list of simple preventative measures you can take with even the tiniest budget. Investing in your health is important, but these are things you can do when you just don’t have the money.

Preventative Measures

Stretch before writing. There are simple arm and wrist stretches you can do before and after you start writing that will keep the pain away. There’s even a website called Desktop Yoga that will give you a visual walk through of these exercises.

If you’re already suffering from RSI, it’s probably a good idea to also do these stretches when you first wake up and before you go to bed.

Take breaks. It’s a good idea to take a ten minute break every hour or two. Get up and make yourself a cup of tea. Stretch out your wrists. Go for a walk. Whatever you do, get away from your computer for a few minutes. Your wrists–and your eyes–will thank you. Those breaks might be enough to keep the pain away and ensure that you can keep working in the long run, so don’t feel guilty about taking a couple minutes away from your work.

You should also take a break the moment you start to feel pain and stretch your arms and wrists out. Often that will stop the pain from getting worse or eliminate it entirely. This is especially important if you already have RSI.

Buy a brace or tenser bandage. If you buy the latter, make sure you know how to wrap it properly. Keep one of these on hand and put them on any time you start to feel pain–and take one of those breaks I mentioned above. Stretch your arms and wrists when you take the brace/tenser bandage off, before you start writing.

Adjust your sitting and sleeping. You might not be able to get ergonomic furniture, but perhaps you could try working on the floor or in a different chair. You could try using pillows as wrist supports. Try different spots in your house until you find a way that you can work comfortably, pain free. If you can’t find or make one at home with your resources, check out your local library or coffee shop and see if you’re more comfortable there.

And if you do feel the pain: stretch it, ice it, rest it. If your pain lasts a long time or is recurring, go to a doctor and see if they can do anything to help you. They might not be able to do much, but it’s worth a shot.

The reality is that we’re all human, and human bodies aren’t indestructible. In fact, they’re quite fragile. These things might not seem important right now, but once you’re in pain you’ll wish you’d taken more preventative measures. And if you have RSI, you’ll need to take more breaks and every once in a while you’ll probably have days where you can’t work at all, but if you take care of yourself you’ll be able to write more often than not.

So make a point of scheduling breaks and memorizing these stretches. Your wrists will thank you.

Rules for Productivity

I mentioned last week that I realized I was over committed. The truth is, I’ve known it for a while, but I denied it. I wanted to be super woman, to be able to manage eighteen projects at once while still in school and even working. Unfortunately, I’m not super woman, and I reached a point where I couldn’t deny it anymore.

So I decided to create a plan. But it didn’t turn out to be like any other plan. Instead, it’s a list of rules. Some of it is taking my own advice from my series on finishing projects. I know how to finish a project. I’ve written over a dozen novels. Yes, editing is always slower work for me, but that’s no excuse for the pace I’ve been working at. My new rules govern how I spend my time, ensuring that I’ll have time for my important projects. Perhaps you could adopt one or two yourself.

My new rules

1. I will not work more than three days a week. This is at my part time job handing out flyers. As much as the money’s nice, I don’t need to pay rent right now, so there are much more important things than money. Also, considering that I don’t pay rent, I’ll still make a decent amount of money by working three days a week.

2. I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den. I love blogging here at Dianna’s Writing Den, but it’s a huge commitment to post three times a week. From now on, I won’t be posting on holidays, and I’ll be taking one week off every month. The first of these breaks will be April 22nd-26th. Each post I don’t write is an hour spent on a different project, and right now I need all of those hours. I’m hoping this will allow me to not only put more hours into other projects but to bring you better content during the other three weeks of the month.

3. I will refuse any unpaid commitment requiring more than two hours of my time. Two hours is about the time it takes me to outline and write a guest post. I already have several unpaid long term commitments, and frankly, I need to guard my time carefully. I also need to focus on profits, so anything more than the smallest unpaid commitment is off the table.

4. I will not spend more than an hour on email on week nights. I get a lot of email. It’s actually ridiculous. Every day I get a few dozen awesome articles or blog posts in the mail along with essential correspondences. Making sure I don’t go over this limit means making sure I have time to work on other projects before bed. Playing catch up on the weekends isn’t a big deal either. Most of those emails can wait.

5. I will make progress on one of my main goals every day. This doesn’t have to be a lot of progress. I’m often exhausted when I get home, and I have to make sure that I’m awake on time for school. The important thing right now isn’t how much progress I make each day, but that I make progress each day. Even if I only edit one page of my book or write an outline for a guest post, that’s still a step in the right direction. If I take one step each day, sooner or later I’ll reach my goals.

These rules are designed to help me complete the projects that are important to me. They fit with the busy life I’m leading right now, and most are good advice at any point in a writer’s life. Once I’ve finished writing this post, I’ll be printing up this list and putting it somewhere prominent in my house. In a place where I’ll see it every day.

If you’ve been struggling to complete your projects due to a ‘lack of time’, perhaps you need to adopt some of these rules yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much a simple set of rules like this can change things–every minute counts, and a few hours of extra time a month can make a big difference.

Do you have rules around your productivity/writing/time?

Staying Focused

For the last few weeks we’ve been discussing how to deal with various disturbances in your writing. We’ve discussed family interruptions, technological interruptions, school/work interruptions and even writer’s block.

Today we’re going to discuss one of the most important things any writer can do, especially when working on a book length project: staying focused.

For most people, staying focused–especially for the amount of time required to complete a novel–is no easy feat. In a world that’s all about instant gratification, it’s hard to keep your focus and to stick with a project that might provide no gratification at all. But as writers, that’s what we have to do. If you don’t want to hunker down and get focused on a project that admittedly might never make you a dime or see the light of day, go do something else.

So how do you stay focused? I use a simple three step process, and while it’s not perfect, it keeps me on track most of the time.

1. Figure out your focus. Choose a project to work on and commit to finishing it by a certain date. Be specific. Is this going to be a novel-length project or a series of poems? Often a lack of focus is a symptom of being too vague about your goals. As any motivational writer will tell you, it’s much easier to stay focused on a specific, measurable goal. So be as specific as you can when choosing what you’re going to focus on in the coming months.

2. Make a plan. Now that you know what project you’d like to focus on, make a plan to complete it. Take a look at the deadline you’ve specified and how long you want your project to be. How many days between now and then do you have? How much would you have to work on the project each day to finish it by the deadline? Is it a reasonable amount of work? If not, you might have to adjust your deadline.

Make sure that you include all kinds of work in your estimate. If it’s a first draft, writing might be the only thing you need to do, but on the second draft you might have to write some new scenes as well as edit the old ones. If it’s an ebook you plan on self publishing or a website you plan on launching, you’ll probably want to do some advance marketing.

Give yourself a reasonable deadline based on how much work you can be expected to do each day, then start planning your time. Are you going to spend an hour a day editing your novel? Or are you going to spend one day editing and the next marketing? Decide how to organize your time and write down your plan.

3. Eliminate distractions. This is actually what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, and it is perhaps the most important thing. Now that you’ve carved out time to work on your project and figured out how to use that time, it’s your job to defend that time. This part involves saying no to people and creating strategies to deal with the distractions you’re most susceptible to.

The easiest way to do this is by scheduling time to work on your chosen project each day and making sure nothing interferes with that plan. Make it a habit to write at the same time every day. That way it’ll become routine and soon you won’t have to think about it, you’ll just write at that time each day.

Conclusion

This may seem like an over simplification and maybe it is, but I think keeping the focus to finish a project depends entirely on these three things. In fact, I argue it could even be simplified to two things: make a plan and stick with it. It’s a simple concept in theory that becomes incredibly complex when you try to implement it, but if you follow those two rules–no matter what it takes–sooner or later you’ll have a finished project.

And that will be worth all those hours of hard work, right?

Managing Writer’s Block

Many writers speak of writer’s block, an inability to create new work or to finish a project. They discuss a mental wall stopping them from reaching the creative part of their brain. Hundreds, probably thousands, of articles have been written about writer’s block, what it is and how to cure it.

Yet there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of writers who don’t believe in writer’s block.

I take the middle ground on this one. Writer’s block could be anything. It might be all in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Often it’s a symptom of other issues in our lives or the story we’re working on. Other times it’s just an excuse for not wanting to write. What’s important is moving away from the term “writer’s block”. You have to figure out what your specific issue is and deal with that. By figuring out the underlying issue, you can overcome it and eliminate your block.

I’ve created a list of possible causes for writer’s block and how to overcome them. Even if you’re not suffering from “writer’s block” now, figuring out what usually causes your creativity to stop flowing allows you to create systems to stay creative. So take a look at this list and figure out what you can do to overcome your “writer’s block”.

Possible Causes/Treatments for Writer’s Block

Cause: story flaws– sometimes the cause of writer’s block isn’t you, it’s the story you’re working on. It could be that your story isn’t structurally sound. It could be that you’ve chosen the wrong viewpoint character. You might need to do more research to flesh out one of your ideas. There are all kinds of reasons why you might get stuck on a particular story.

Treatment: figuring it out– the first thing you have to do is figure out whether or not your main problem is a story issue. Analyze your story. Are all the events in the right order? Do they all belong to this story, or does one of them stick out like a sore thumb? Is your viewpoint character the right one to tell this story? Or are they unsure of what’s going on or just plain irritating? Have you done enough research to write about these issues/in this time period properly?

Read through what you’ve written so far and ask yourself these questions. Once you’ve figured out the issue, there are many ways to solve it. You might take out a scene that sends your story in the wrong direction, switch viewpoint characters or take a day to do research. Sometimes a story is just not meant for you and you’ll realize you can’t write this story at all, or that you can’t write it now for various reasons. It’s okay to put these stories away and move on to something else. I personally have a four book series perfectly outlined that I probably won’t write for another ten years. The important thing is that I kept the notes and that I’m always working on other projects.

You can always come back to it. If the story is really causing you heartache and you don’t know why, maybe it’s time to move on.

Cause: perfectionism– perfectionism is creativity’s worst enemy. Often we get bogged down in our desire to be “perfect”. Millions of dollars are spent on perfection, but the irony is that there’s no such thing as perfect. For one thing, nothing can please everyone, so even if it’s perfect to you, it won’t be perfect to the next person. Besides, people are imperfect, and thus our creations are imperfect.

Treatment: give yourself permission to write crap– and remember that you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. Remember that first drafts are always crap. Second and even third drafts are usually crap too. Some people spend twenty years editing one book. I’ve already spent seven working on one, and I know that the draft I’m working on is still imperfect and always will be.

Perfectionism can not only stop you from writing a draft, but it can stop you from submitting. Admit that at some point you need to stop editing and start submitting. I personally know that I have almost reached that point with Moonshadow’s Guardian. I’m working on a submission package and preparing to let it go, knowing that it is not perfect now and that it never will be.

Tell yourself it’s okay to write crap. Know that nothing you create will ever be perfect and instead focus on making it the best you can make it. Write a note to yourself explaining that all first drafts are crap and that it will never be perfect, and tape that to your desk. Every time perfectionism slows you down, remind yourself: you’re not perfect and you never will be. Your work will never be perfect. Neither was Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. Twilight definitely wasn’t perfect. You don’t have to be perfect for people to love you and your work, so stop trying so hard to reach this impossible ideal.

Cause: burnout– at this point in my life burnout is the most common reason for me to feel uninspired. It’s caused by doing way too much and starting way too many projects. This is getting more and more common as people work harder and longer hours, as we are constantly expected to be available via smartphone and to take on more responsibility in order to keep our jobs which never pay enough. Sometimes burnout is caused by a demanding boss, but often it’s ourselves who cause it. We take on too many commitments. We underestimate how long things will take us. We don’t give ourselves time to recharge.

Treatment: relax– sometimes all you need to do is take a break. Go for a walk. Take a hot bubble bath. Read a book purely for entertainment. Start saying no to unnecessary commitments. Take regular time for yourself. Sometimes all you need to get creative again is a little me time. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to carve out time for yourself, but nothing could be more important for a writer.

Make yourself–and your creativity–your first priority. If you don’t care for yourself, who will?

Conclusion

There are all kinds of real issues that writers call “writer’s block”, but the important thing to remember is that all of them can be overcome. All you have to do is figure out what your problem is and get to work.

What usually causes your writer’s block? How do you overcome it?

Dealing with School/Work Related Interruptions

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.

Conclusion

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:

Disturbances in Your Writing
Eliminating Guilt
Dealing with Family Interruptions
Dealing with Technological Interruptions

The Why and How of Guest Posts

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.