Fiction writing–one episode at a time


I had never heard of episodic novels until I read a post by Donald Maass on Writer Unboxed recently. Funny thing is, after reading Maass’s article, I realized I had read a few episodic novels. I just didn’t realize they fell under that category. But I did notice how different they were in the way the stories were told.

While traditional novels take a linear approach to storytelling with each scene leading into the next, episodic novels are told as a series of self-contained stories around a central theme, place or character. Think of a TV series in which there is the same cast of characters each week, but each episode centers around a different problem, like Friends, Cheers or Mash. Episodic novels are told in much the same way. Each episode can stand on its own as its own story, but it still propels the overarching plot forward.

Here are a few examples:

* The Hobbit was written by J.R.R. Tolkien to entertain his children. Each chapter (or episode) could be read to them before bedtime.

* The story of Olive Kittredge is a character study. Each episode of Olive’s life is told from different perspectives, sometimes from a different character who interacts with her. Each story reveals a different side to Kittredge’s character.

* In The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman, the focus is not on a character, but on a thing – a garden that appears to grow from reddish earth beneath it. The story spans several generations featuring the various owners of the garden and their relationship to it.

* Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is another character study of one girl’s unfortunate childhood. The story is never told from her perspective but as accounts from people in her life who interact with her.

Episodic novels can be children’s stories like The Hobbit or Huckleberry Finn. They can be coming-of-age like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or To Kill a Mockingbird. They can be adventure stories, stories of journeys to distant lands, like the Arabian Nights. Or they can be character studies like Olive Kittredge, or an exploration of a time or place, like The Red Garden. Here’s one list of episodic novels but I’m sure you can find other examples.

Note that episodic novels are not the same as a series novel. A series novel consists of several complete books that follow in sequence, such as Harry Potter. Episodes are self-contained scenes within one book,  but they are still integral to the plot. Each episode connects to the episode before and after it.

TCK Publishing describes four key elements of episodic plot:

  • Episodes are distinct but are logically connected.
  • Each episode contains elements of plot (conflict, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.)
  • Episodes contribute to the overall plot of the story without impacting any other episodes
  • The common theme binds the episodes together.

Another common characteristic is that episodic novels tend to be presented in chronological order. So though the episodes might be told by different characters describing the same incident, the story is never out of sequence.

I admit this might seem a bit confusing. After all, episodic novels seem to break all the basic rules of storytelling, and it does not follow a linear structure. Try reading a few of these stories to see how they are different from traditional novels. Think of it as one more way to tell your story.

Then if you feel brave enough, pick up your pen and try writing one. Remember to focus on one specific character, place, or moment in time. Then like a TV screen writer, create individual episodes that can stand on their own while moving the overall story forward to a satisfying conclusion. Writing an episodic novel (or making a valid attempt to do so) may be the most challenging thing you ever do.

Novel Reading for All Seasons

Like most writers, I enjoy reading and I try to read as many different genres as I can. I find it exposes me to different writing styles and different ways of storytelling.

Along the way, I’ve discovered that some books are better read during certain seasons than others. For example, I believe summer is the best time for light-hearted romances while winter is better for thrillers and cozy mysteries. Other times it’s just the feeling you get while you read a certain book that reminds you of certain seasons. Harry Potter, for example, seems at home during the winter. Those lengthy tomes are best read by a blazing fire while sipping a cup of tea.

Below I’ve compiled my list of recommended reading for each season of the year. This is based on my own reading preferences, of course, and the feelings I get while I read these books. You might have your own preferences. (Many thanks to Genie in a Novel for sharing her seasonal favorites on Facebook.)

Summer

Summer of ’69 by Elin Hildebrand. The queen of summer beach reading takes a nostalgic look at the lives of four siblings during one tumultuous summer.

Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank. This last book by Frank takes place off the Carolina coast and boasts some of the most interesting collection of characters and a most satisfying ending that put a smile on my face.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Imagine taking a trip on a traveling book shop down the Seine in Paris.

The Language of Sycamores by Lisa Wingate. Summer is a transitional time between spring and fall. It only makes sense to follow the narrator’s transition to a new life in a small town.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Hmmm…another book with a beekeeping theme.

Autumn

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (or any of its sequels). Hoffman’s magic realism seems a perfect fit for the fall.

Dead of Night by Charlaine Harris (or any of its sequels). Fall is the perfect time of year to enjoy a paranormal romance, don’t you think?

Ghost Stories by Edith Wharton. Who knew that Edith Wharton also wrote ghost stories? Her collection isn’t particularly frightening or gory, but it does lend an air of eerie magic.

Little Pretty Things or The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day. I always think of fall when I read Lori Rader-Day. Maybe because both of these novels have an academic setting that reminds me of this time of year.

The Family Plot by Megan Collins. One of the best mysteries I’ve read in a while with a most unusual family and backstory.

Winter

Harry Potter (any book in the series). Genie in a Novel listed this in her winter selection, and I have to agree. These lengthy titles are easy to get immersed in on a cold, winter morning.

A Stranger is Watching by Mary Higgins Clark (or any of her mysteries). Winter is perfect for burying yourself in a good romantic suspense novel, and Clark is one of the best.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. Historical women’s fiction is another genre that is perfect for winter reading.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. You can’t go wrong with a classic.

One by One by Ruth Ware. I read this book by Ware last winter. It only makes sense since the story takes place during the winter in the Alps.

Spring

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. The book that became the movie “Field of Dreams.”

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. When I think of spring, I think of gardening, and this particular garden comes to life – literally.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Carrying on the nature theme, Novik shows us what happens when we don’t treat nature honestly and fairly.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. One of the best descriptive food journeys you will ever take.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity (or any of her other books). Moriarity always comes up with a unique premise and an unpredictable story line.

Do you agree or disagree with my lists? What books would you put on your seasonal lists?

How Writers Can Develop Stronger Skills and Knowledge

If there’s anything I’ve learned as a writer is that writers are lifelong learners. They are naturally curious about the world around them and they tend to ask a lot of questions. They’re intrigued by new ideas, or even a fresh take on an old one, and are usually willing to experiment with a new ways of doing things.

Fortunately, there are plenty of situations in which writers can continue their learning. Our profession requires it. Stop and think about how you learned to do what you do, and you’ll realize that there are more sources of learning than you thought were possible.

It’s important to keep up with the latest skills, technology and tools available to help us do our jobs better, or at least help us become better writers. Where to find that information will depend on what type of knowledge you seek. You won’t find it all in one place. Yes, at the same time, you find opportunities to learn all around us.

Think about all the different types of learning you’ve gained on your writing journey. Notice what areas you need to improve.

  • The craft of story telling. It’s one thing to be a good writer, it’s quite another to know how to tell a good story. I’ve always been a good writer and had strong technical skills. But I knew nothing about creating a work of fiction until I took several classes at a local writing studio. Not until then did I begin to understand plot structure, character development and how to create tension and suspense. I’m still learning. Different rules apply for writers of poetry and memoir. If you want to specialize in a particular style of writing, you have to learn the craft.
  • Research. As a freelancer, I’ve been assigned to write articles about some of the most obscure topics, such as high-performance homes, blockchain technology in real estate, and refrigeration phase-down policies affecting facilities managers. But with each assignment, I’ve become a mini-expert. I had to so I could prepare for the interviews.  Whether you’re working on an essay, a magazine feature or a full-length novel, it’s necessary to do research so you understand your topic inside and out.
  • Communications skills. Writers may be called upon to make a speech, negotiate their fees or interview sources for feature articles. That requires solid communications skills, but not all writers have mastered these skills. That requires confidence and a lot of practice. If you’re lacking in any one of these communications skills, you might consider taking a class to build that confidence.
  • Copy-editing and proofreading. Writers need to master copy-editing, proofreading and grammar skills. Many editors expect writers to proof and edit their own work before submitting the final draft to them. While it helps to have another pair of eyes review your work, it’s also important to be able to proof your own if no one else is available. If you lack these skills but are a good writer, you can easily develop them with practice.
  • Organizational and time management skills. Writers may get so caught up in the act of creation that they might lose track of time — and deadlines. Writers need to balance their work load, especially when working with multiple editors and projects. Whether you develop your own system for tracking projects and deadlines, or you use a platform that does most of the work for you, you’ll learn to stay organized no matter what clients or employers throw at you.
  • Math aptitude. Writers may work with words, but there are times when a basic aptitude for math will be necessary. Sure you might have an accountant who does your books, but when it comes to writing, there are times when you need to solve a complex math equation or calculate percentages?  Math is necessary to balance the books, and your checkbook.
  • Marketing and social media. Many writers I know aren’t very comfortable about marketing themselves, including yours truly. The thought of promoting themselves makes their stomachs churn. Yet successful writers know that marketing is a part of their arsenal of skills. Marketing is necessary to showcase your writing and attract new clients. Just like the communications skills above, it might be helpful to take a course in digital marketing or social media to know how to navigate the landscape and build confidence in your marketing abilities.
  • Technical know-how. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would need to know certain software programs and configure my own computer equipment, I would have rolled my eyes. I’m not known for my technical ability, but I know enough to get by. Anything more difficult and I have to call in an expert. I enjoy the challenge of learning new software. As technology continues to grow, writers need to keep pace to stay relevant in our industry.
  • Business side of writing. Writers might focus so much on the creative side of their careers that they overlook the business side. If your business acumen is lacking, it might be time to update your knowledge in that area. Consider a course in basic accounting, project management, or business planning. At first glance, these topics might seem dry and dull, but they can help prepare you for the day you hang your own shingle as a self-employed writer.
  • Advanced degrees. If you feel an advanced degree will help your writing career, there are plenty of MFA and MGA programs. (Personally, I don’t think you do need one these days.) However, some industries require it. For example, some health and wellness blogs require articles be written by nurses, doctors and psychologists. Another thing to keep in mind is that MBA and MFA programs are pricy and require a huge chunk of time. You need to weigh the cost of getting specialized advanced training against your future career goals.
  • Informal mentoring from other professionals. Whether meeting with a former boss over coffee or networking with other professionals at a workshop, you have a chance to learn from others. You can bet that whatever work problem you may be grappling with is something that someone else has already dealt with. The beautiful thing about networks is the opportunity to learn from others.
  • Volunteer work. Many years ago, when I wanted to expand my portfolio, I sought volunteer opportunities to write newsletter articles for a local membership organization. By contributing articles and planning some of their education programs, I was able to gain valuable experience that I could share with potential employers. Don’t overlook volunteer work as a means of gaining hands-on experience.
  • Practice, practice, practice. The key to becoming a better writer is to practice—and practice often. Even if you spend only ten minutes each day writing, you continue to improve your skills. It’s much like learning to play the piano. You get better with practice.
  • Life experience. Don’t overlook your life experience, which can fuel your most creative stories.  That experience can be anything from moving to a new neighborhood to fighting with your best friend or finding out you have cancer. Tap into those deep emotions from your life experience to fuel your writing.  

When you consider the many ways we acquire knowledge, writers are well equipped to handle any kind of writing project that comes their way.

Strategies for Getting Over the Mid-Summer Writing Slump

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ever have those days when you simply don’t feel like writing? Funny that those days seem to occur most often during the summer. Blame it on the heat that makes everyone feel lazy. Or the distraction of summer activities – picnics, parties, the beach, outdoor movies in the park. When it’s summer, the last thing you want to do is work. And writing is work.

Conversely, maybe you’re too busy with work assignments and deadlines to squeeze in any pleasurable writing time. Despite my busy schedule, I feel like most days I’m waiting for email responses, interview confirmations and reviewed manuscripts, which make me feel like I’m not getting anything accomplished.

Welcome to summer, where everything and everyone seems to move at a slower pace. Even your writing practice can begin to slow to a crawl.

How do you get back into that creative flow? How do you keep your writing practice going when there are so many summer distractions and obligations to take care of? Here are a few strategies that have worked for me. They might work for you too.

*Shorten your schedule. It might be necessary to shorten the schedule. For example, instead of writing every day, cut back to three or four days a week. If all you can give to your writing is three days a week, then go with that shortened schedule. Then when summer ends and activities slow down, you can always go back to writing every day. The most important thing to remember is to keep to some kind of schedule so you don’t lose momentum or motivation.

* Write in the early morning. If you can’t find the time to write during the day, try writing before breakfast. Many writers swear by this practice. It’s quiet at that early hour before the rest of the world awakes, and you can actually hear yourself think. You might be able to do your best work then.

* Write in the evening. If the early morning does not fit your schedule or appeal to you, try writing after dinner or before bedtime. You might find it more relaxing and it might help you get to sleep.

* Write in short bursts. Sessions of 10 to 15 minutes can help you stay productive. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in that brief amount of time. Check out my earlier post about writing in 15-minute sessions.

* Skip a day or two. It’s okay if you have to cut back on writing time to make room for other activities. Just don’t extend it too long or you might have trouble getting motivated to start writing again. Engage with the outside world and exploring new people and activities. They can only help to enrich your writing.

* Focus on non-writing activities. With less time available, writing may not be practical. Use your time instead to read about the writing craft, do research for your work-in-progress, or study the works of a favorite author.

*Set small goals. Setting smaller goals will feel less daunting and may be easier to achieve. Set a goal for writing one page a day. Or 1000 words a week (or about 200 words a day). By writing one page a day, you can still make steady progress toward your larger writing goal.

If none of these suggestions work, then try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine your life without any kind of writing at all. What if you never wrote another word again? How would that make you feel?

If you see that your world would be drab and empty without writing, then use that vision as a catalyst for your writing practice. Use it as motivation to keep writing. Even if its the middle of the summer. Even if it’s just a little bit every day. When summer ends, you can jump back into a regular writing practice.

12 Ways to Spend Downtime between Freelance Assignments

Photo by Rebeca Gonu00e7alves on Pexels.com

Busy freelancers don’t always enjoy a lot of downtime between assignments. When those down times do occur, however you may breathe a sigh of relief, then wonder, “What’s next?” It could be a few days or a few weeks before the next assignment drops in your lap. So what do you do in the meantime? Here are a few ideas to keep you busy until the next assignment comes along.

  • Research new potential clients. A freelancer’s job is never done, even after you’ve submitted the most recent assignment. You always have to look ahead for the next publication to write for. You can’t always depend on current clients for a steady stream of work. Down time is perfect for exploring your options. Read publications that you’d like to write for, review the editorial guidelines if there are any, find out if they accept submissions or if all writing is done in house. Even if it is, the editor might accept a freelanced submission if it fits their audience.

  • Take care of your billing and invoicing. If you’ve fallen behind on invoicing because you were too busy writing, it’s time to play catch up. Those invoices are vital to keeping the money flowing into your bank account. You don’t want to miss a single payment.

  • Update your website. Freshen up the content. Add links to the newest articles you’ve written. Update photos. Contribute an article or two to your blog. An updated website can entice visitors keep coming back. Don’t overlook your social media profiles either. As you gain new clients or complete assignments, be sure to add those accomplishments to your sites so readers can appreciate them.

  • Practice writing outside your usual style. If all you write are magazine features, use the down time to try your hand at writing poetry, an essay, or a short story. Experimenting with different writing styles can freshen up your own writing.

  • Take a day off (or two). If you’ve been working hard to meet deadlines and haven’t taken time for yourself, then you owe it to yourself to take a few days off. Don’t think about work. Instead, hit the beach or spend a day at the museum, or go hiking at a local forest preserve. Time away from the job can give a fresh perspective and renewed energy. Then when the next assignment or client comes calling, you’ll be ready to go.

  • Reach out to your network. Down time is perfect for catching up with your network or expanding it. This could be as simple as sending out an email to a friend or client to say hello, or meeting a former colleague for lunch. You never know if any of those casual contacts will produce a hot lead on another assignment.

  • Assess your office supply needs. Make sure you have working pens, pads of paper, ink cartridges for your printer and anything else you need to keep your writing business going. It might also be a good idea to assess your computer equipment needs. Is it time to upgrade your laptop or printer? Do you need update your security software? You don’t want to run out of supplies during the next assignment, so make sure you have everything you need.

  • Take a quickie online course or webinar. As writers, it’s important to keep up with professional development. There’s always something new to learn about the industry. There are plenty of self-study courses at Writer’s Digest University, Media Bistro, or try a more general business c course on Udemy or Coursera. Even learning one new thing can help you serve clients better.

  • Catch up on housekeeping chores. If writing has taken you away from household chores and the dishes are piling up in the sink, then down time gives you a chance to clear the space. Clear out a closet, declutter your bookshelf of books you’ve already read, or clear out old client files, whether in file drawers or in your digital work space. Unloading stuff somehow makes you feel lighter and freer.

  • Spend time with family and friends. Make time for the people who mean the most to you. Enjoy a picnic lunch, go see a movie with them, or just hang out over coffee. Sometimes writers can get so caught up in the day-to-day obligations of their writing business that we forget we have friends. When downtime hits, spending time with them can make you feel grounded again.

  • Catch up on sleep. In my opinion, you can never get enough sleep. Sleep is what gives you energy to get you through the day, especially the rough ones with difficult assignments and demanding clients. Without proper sleep, you can’t always do your best creative work. So indulge yourself. Sleep in.

  • Immerse yourself in a good book. There’s nothing like a novel from a favorite author to make you forget your work problems – at least for a while. Books are the perfect escape, no matter if it is cloaked in romance, mystery or fantasy. On the other hand, reading up on writing craft, marketing or social media can be just as beneficial.

If all you have is a few days between freelance projects, there’s always something else you can do to stay busy and stay motivated with your writing career.

Helpful Resources for Freelance Writers

Like most professionals, freelance writers don’t work in a vacuum. They have to surround themselves with a supporting cast to help them succeed. They also have to arm themselves with knowledge and skills to win new client business.

In my freelancing journey, I’ve relied on several helpful resources to refine my craft and stay motivated, especially when I feel stuck or discouraged or filled with self-doubt about the wisdom of my career path. Here are my go-to places for inspiration and skills development.

Websites/Blogs:

Funds for Writers – If you have ever wondered how to earn a living from a writing career, check out this site by mystery writer Hope C. Clark who shares tips and advice for finding sources of income. In her weekly e-newsletter, she compiles lists of writing contests, literary agencies, freelance opportunities, writers’ retreats, grants and fellowships, and more. There’s plenty to read and learn from her site, and you’ll walk away feeling inspired.

Make a Living Writing – Carol Tice’s site is a go-to place for writers of all levels of experience. The blog covers tips and advice for getting published, how to find good-paying writing gigs and how to avoid  content farms. You can download a free e-book about how to avoid scams and browse lists of freelance writing jobs.

The Muse – While The Muse is primarily for job seekers, freelancers can find helpful tips for working with clients or finding career opportunities if the freelance life isn’t working out. Sign up for the news alerts about companies that are hiring, get insights from people who work at these companies, and get advice on how to approach a hiring manager.

Media Bistro – I’ve taken several of the online courses from Media Bistro, and they are well-paced, detailed and practical, covering everything from social media, advertising and copywriting to marketing communications and journalism. There’s also a job board for full-time gigs and a freelancer marketplace called Freelancer Connect where you can look for contract opportunities.

Writer’s Digest magazine – Whether you freelance for businesses or write fiction, Writer’s Digest offers the most comprehensive information, no matter what kind of writing you do. Find out about writers’ conferences, read interviews from successful authors, or take any one of hundreds of online courses. If you get writer’s block, they also offer writing prompts to get unstuck.

Jane Friedman – Friedman, a former editor at Writer’s Digest, has developed a loyal following among creative types who want to know how to get published. While Friedman reports on the publishing industry, she also shares guest posts from successful authors and editors who discuss everything from starting an author platform and how to pitch to a literary agent to how to start a blog and how to find beta readers for your novel. The online workshops are inexpensive too – about $25 for a 90-minute presentation.

Kat Boogaard – Boogaard is a successful freelancer who offers helpful resources to writers of all levels of experience, whether you’re a beginning freelancer or an established professional. Her weekly e-newsletter written in a cozy, conversational way, gives readers a peek into what it’s like to be a freelancer. She also shares freelance opportunities that she’s gleaned from social media. Check out her site at www.katboogaard.com.

Reynolds Center for Business Journalism – I recently came across this site while doing some random research about a topic I was writing about. The weekly e-newsletter called Tuesday’s 2-Minute Tip  provides ideas and advice about covering business topics, such as politics, cyber security, and supply chain businesses. Each article shares resources on where to find key data for business stories, statistics, and industry research.

Reedsy – Reedsy is an online marketplace for creative professionals who help businesses and individuals write and publish books. Reedsy also offers free online workshops via YouTube about the writing craft. You might find workshops about character development, working with an editor, or creating tension in  stories. If you’re interested in self-publishing, Reedsy offers a platform to help bring your story to life.  

Networking:

American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Monthly Freelancer Networking Group – Each month, freelancers meet online to talk shop. In addition, ASBPE lists job openings and news about writing for business trade publications. If you write long form articles for the business trade, this group is for you. Best of all, membership is free.

Freelancers Union – Your business is more than writing; you need to understand the financial side too. At the Freelancers Union, you’ll find numerous resources to help you operate your writing business as a business. Create contracts for your clients or learn how to manage your invoicing. There’s also an insurance marketplace for health, term life and liability insurance (among others) because well, writers need insurance too. Sign up for alerts to stay abreast of developments on laws that can affect writers. The Union may not be the most glamourous of writers’ sites to know, but it is probably the most important one.
 
Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) – As writers of fiction and/or nonfiction, there will be a point when you need to hire an editor. One of the best places to find one is the EFA. You can post a job or browse the member directory to find a match. Also check out the editorial rates page to know what you can expect to pay a freelance editor, or if you’re a freelancers, what to charge a client. There are numerous chapters throughout the country, so you can be sure to connect with other freelance editors wherever you are, and many of their events are online.

Books:
In addition, I have found the following books to be not only helpful but essential for developing my writing business.

  • Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers and Other Members of the Creative Class by Elaine Grogan Luttrull
  • The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Freelance Writing by Linda Formichelli
  • A Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Laura Spencer and Carol Tice

No matter where you are in your writing journey, whether you write for business clients or write fiction, these resources will help you stay on the leading edge of industry trends.

Six Steps to Writing Compelling Profile Stories

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

While most writers seem to specialize on one form of writing over others, such as short stories or marketing, there’s a lesser known type of business writing that’s worth looking into. That’s the personal profile.

A profile is a written portrait of a person. The profile is gleaned from research and interviews with the subject and perhaps other people who know that person well. It can be as long as 2,000 words or as brief as 500 words.

You’ve likely seen profiles in newspapers, magazines and websites, usually has a narrative non-fiction piece. I find profiles to be one of the most interesting things to read – and to write. People make interesting subjects because every person has a story to tell. That story can be about their time serving in the military, or going through a divorce or overcoming cancer. You can learn about their hopes, dreams, successes and failures. You can find out what they believe and what they value, and how they see the world.

The subject doesn’t have to be a celebrity or VIP either. They can be a parent who is fighting the city to save the local library from demolition. It could be a doctor who has decided to set up a clinic in an underserved community, or a formerly incarcerated woman who is starting her own business.

Profiles are one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve written in my career. Most of the ones I’ve done required me to interview only the subject individual. Other lengthier, more detailed profiles include interviews with people who know the profile person well.

There are four things I learned from writing profiles:

  • Everyone has a story to share, something they’ve gone through that molded them into who they are today.
  • Profile subjects can inspire others to follow in their footsteps, or take their own leap of faith.
  • Profiles put you in touch with outstanding individuals who have achieved great things, sometimes against all odds.
  • There is a market for these types of stories. Sometimes entire magazines are devoted to profiles.

At first glance, profiles may seem simple to do, but the key is to create a clear, accurate picture of the person. Getting to the heart of their story isn’t always easy, but necessary. Here are the steps I take to write a profile. You can find other tips on Masterclass and The Write Life.

Step 1: Do research. Gather as much background information as you can about the person. Check their LinkedIn profile or other social media, read any articles that were written about them, and visit their website, which usually has an About Me page. Make notes of the key events in their life that you might want to include in the profile.

Step 2: Find an angle. As you sort through the background information and articles, notice if there’s a recurring trend. Or alternately, notice if an event has been glossed over. I recently worked on a profile about a quadriplegic fashion model. While most articles focused on her accident and her rise in the fashion world, I noticed the initiatives she was involved in that opened doors for other young women in wheelchairs to enjoy a career in fashion. That became the focus of my profile of her. The focus of the profile can be anything from their career, family life or contributions to the community.

Step 3: Draft an outline. Once you know what you want to focus on, draft an outline for the profile. The outline can help you determine what types of questions you need to ask. Then create a short list of questions to prepare for the interview.

Step 4: Schedule the interview. Some people are nervous about being interviewed, so make sure you put them at ease. It might help to make small talk at first so they feel more comfortable talking to you. I usually try to keep the interview brief, no more than 30 minutes, especially if it’s a short piece. It might also help to record the interview so you can go back to listen to it later in case you missed an important detail.  

Step 5: Draft the profile article. Integrate interview notes with the rest of your research material and begin writing. When the first draft is complete, let it rest for a few hours. Then begin editing and rewriting until it is clear and cohesive.

Step 6: Send the profile to the individual to review. I believe this step is especially helpful to make sure you’ve quoted the person accurately and the story is true. This way the person knows what the story will look like, and you get their approval before it gets published.

Once you get the person’s approval, make whatever changes they request, then submit it to the editor.

Writing personal profiles is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a freelancer. It’s a satisfying feeling when you know that you’re helping people tell their stories.

Tips for Working with New Freelance Writing Clients

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

I’ve started working with several new clients recently, and with each one, I hope to develop long-term relationships with the promise of ongoing assignments. While I’m excited about these new developments, I’m also nervous about starting something new.

Several questions keep stirring inside my head: Will I make a strong first impression? Will they like my work? Will they hire me for more than one assignment? If the client is pleased with our work, three things may possibly happen:

* a productive, working relationship for the long term
* more assignments from the same client (repeat business)
* potential referrals to new clients

Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your standing with a new client so they will come back to you again and again. If they know they can count on you to produce quality, well-researched feature articles for their publication, they will keep inviting you to write for them.

Here are my tips and suggestions for breaking in with a new client.

1. Get details in writing about the assignment. More often than not, they will send you a writing sheet that describes the assignment in detail, including word count, due date, maybe even other articles written about the topic. The writing sheet (sometimes called writer’s guidelines) may also include sources to interview, especially if it’s a trade publication. If the client does not provide anything like this, ask them for the details in writing, even if it comes in an email. I like getting these details in writing so I know what is expected of me.

2. Follow the writer’s guidelines. The client may have specific formatting requirements, such as capitalizing subheads or spelling out acronyms at first mention. They may ask for headshots of the people you interview. Make sure you follow these instructions. Freelancers can lose a client simply because they didn’t follow instructions. The client wants to work with someone they can count on to do the work that’s asked of them.

3. Meet your deadlines. I can’t stress this enough. If you can’t meet a deadline because you can’t reach a source, for example, contact the editor and let them know. Or maybe the source had a change in their schedule and couldn’t do the interview anymore, and you need to find another source. Contact the editor and ask if they have a source you can interview and/or if they are willing to extend the deadline. Sometimes they may have some wiggle room in their production schedule.

4. Keep the lines of communication open. Just as I alluded to above, if anything goes wrong with the assignment, let the editor know immediately. They may have suggestions on how to resolve the problem. Ask the client if they need additional information, such as images for the article or if they want you to send the article to sources for their review. These are small things you can do to make your editor’s job easier.

5. Proof your work before submitting it. While errors can slip by, you want to make sure there are as few as possible before you submit your final copy. When your work is clean, it shows you are conscientious about your work and it saves the client’s editorial team from having to fix it. Anything you can do at your end that helps the client is a huge bonus in your favor.

6. Be courteous, even if you disagree about something. If, during the editing process, the editor suggests changes to your article or they have questions about something you wrote, respond promptly and politely. Don’t get angry because they didn’t like your clever phrasing. Understand that they have a job to do.

7. Be sure to thank them. Whether they’ve given you a new assignment, made revisions to your story, or sent you a new referral, be sure to show your gratitude. Don’t be shy about asking for future assignments or referrals. It’s okay to say, “Please keep me in mind for future assignments or send my name along to another editor who might need writing help.”

While it’s exciting when an editor reaches out to you for a new assignment, it’s even more flattering when they pass along your name to another editor at a different publication. By following these tips, you can put yourself in the best position possible to earn new assignments and referrals to new clients. That can make your freelancing life a whole lot easier.

Is a Fear of Being Published Preventing You from Writing?

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Many writers are plagued by fear. Whether it’s a fear of not being good enough, a fear of criticism or a fear of success, some writers can be so haunted by fear that they can’t write a single word.

Add one more fear to that list: a fear of being published.

It’s ironic considering that most writers I know strive to get published. That is the ultimate goal of writing, isn’t it?

But I can see why some writers would be afraid to have their work published, and the reasons they give are similar to the list of fears I mentioned above.

* Fear of exposure. Your work might reveal some deep, dark family secrets, or more likely, show off aspects of yourself that you’ve keep hidden. Getting published means putting yourself out there, and that can be scary. What if someone somewhere sees you for who you really are?  

* Fear of criticism. Once you’re published, people will read what you wrote. That’s a good thing, right? The thing is, they may either love it — or hate it. Many writers focus on the negative reviews rather than the positive ones, even though there may only be one negative review compared to one hundred positive ones. It’s the thought of the naysayers that can scare you away.  Getting published means the you risk getting negative reviews.

* Fear of success. Because, after all, getting published is a sure sign that you are a successful writer. But along with publication comes responsibility. Once you publish one novel, readers expect you to publish more. What if you can’t come up with a suitable follow up?

* Fear of a new identity. Once you become published, you shift from being an aspiring writer to a published author. The new identity means you have to live up to new standards and expectations for your writing. It may mean a new lifestyle, complete with travel, public appearances and author readings – things you may not be prepared to deal with.

* Fear of being found out. What if you believe the published work isn’t good at all, no matter how many positive reviews you get? People might find out that you’re a fraud or a phony, and your novel was published through sheer luck, not talent. You might as well give up writing, or so you think.

For many writers, getting published is scarier than writing. Writing is safe because you can do that in the privacy of your home. You can work in isolation, and it’s just you and your story ideas. You can hide behind your laptop screen and play with words and stories all you want. You don’t have to risk anything.

But once you become published, all that changes. You have to take your writing more seriously than before. It’s no longer a hobby but a business. You have to treat your writing as a product.

Once you are published, you might have to view yourself differently. You are now a business person with creative talent and a product to offer readers. To continue that success, however, you have to keep writing and you have to keep putting your work out there for people to see.

No wonder writers are afraid of being published.

Thankfully, there are some things writers can do to assuage those fears.

1. Hire a good editor. A professional editor might cost money, but it’s money well spent if they can catch miscues, provide meaningful feedback and suggest improvements to your work. A good editor can help you create a product you can be proud to publish.

2. Join a writers’ group. If you aren’t part of a writers’ group, form one of your own. Getting support from other writers can help you through the rough patches of the writing process. When you finish that first draft or finally get published, they can help you celebrate your successes.

3. Take criticism in stride. This might be easier said than done since most writers tend to remember the negative feedback more than the positive. It doesn’t matter if those critical voices come from within or from outside yourself (such as readers and editors). There will be times when you should shut it out. The only exception is when working with an editor or agent who may offer suggestions for improving your work. Their feedback should be taken to heart. The rest can be dumped in the garbage along with your rough drafts.

4. Remember why you write. If you feel overburdened by criticism or fear the unknown as a newly minted published author, remember why you decided to write in the first place. It might help to put things in perspective.

Remember that not everyone will appreciate your writing. Just because one person bashed it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a well-written book. It simply means it wasn’t their cup of tea.

Focus on the people who do care about your success. Even if only one person comments that they enjoyed your work, hold onto that. Don’t let a fear of publishing hold you back from doing what you truly love: writing.

Is Journaling Worth Your Time?

I came across an intriguing blog post about journaling on Jane Friedman’s blog. Anne Carley, a writer, creativity coach and journaling advocate posed the following question: Is writing a waste of writing time? The question prompted me to recall my own experience with journaling.

Once upon a time I kept a journal. It was about eight years ago, and I was going through a rough time in my life. I’d made a bad business decision and lost a lot of money because of it. I was out of work and asking myself, “What’s next?” I also went through a health crisis and my mother had recently passed away. I was experiencing a full-blown mid-life identity crisis.

With my life in disarray, I started writing in a journal not to make sense of these sweeping changes that were happening but to vent my anger, frustration, guilt and sadness. I churned out pages and pages of angst-ridden prose – two whole notebooks worth. I vented about my poor decision-making skills and the person who had been involved in the business deal. I poured out my troubles to the journal as if it were a therapist, which I suppose it was. Journaling was critical for my mental health during that time, as was a regular yoga practice. And journaling was far cheaper than visiting a therapist’s office.

Funny thing was, once this series of crises ended, I no longer felt the need to write in my journal. I stuck in in my desk drawer and forgot about it. Every now and then, I’d pull it out, look over what I’d written, write a few more entries, then I put it away again. By this time, I had begun a blog, was writing regularly for freelance clients, had part-time jobs and was writing essays and fiction. I had no more room in my life for journaling.

I know many writers who swear by journaling. They couldn’t imagine starting their day without it. It’s as critical to their existence as breathing.

Admittedly, journaling brings numerous benefits to writers, such as using it as a warm-up exercise, to brainstorm story ideas, or a means to improve their writing. It can help them examine motivations and behavior of themselves and of people around them, and it can be a useful tool to manage your mental health, as it did for me.

While there are certain advantages, there are as many downsides to journaling, such as:

  • It can feel more like a diary or a reporting of events
  • There are only so many hours in the day and too many obligations to allow time for journaling
  • It can be used to avoid doing your regular writing practice, or performing chores you’d rather not do
  • It can serve as a distraction rather than a tool to help you
  • It can feel like a chore, one more thing to add to your to-do list.

Writer Thomas Plummer suggests that new writers often fail at journaling because they have no idea what they want to achieve with their journaling practice. Plummer writes: “Journaling becomes a mind-numbing exercise because without a plan or an expected outcome, you end up writing the chronological steps of your day without adding an interpretation or without deciphering any meaning of what is going on around you.”

To overcome this failing, he presents an example of how journaling can be done so you get the most out of the experience.

Before jumping into journaling, think about the following questions:
1. Where are you on your writing journey? If you are new to writing, journaling might be a practical entry point, especially if you want to write essays or memoir where deep meaningful reflection is needed.

2. Why do you want to start journaling? Know your why. If your answer is because you want to become a better writer or you want to tap into your creativity, then by all means, go for it. However, if your answer is because every writer you know tells you that you should, or because it helps you avoid other responsibilities, then you will likely set yourself up for failure.

3. What do you want to achieve with your journaling? Have a plan for what you want to achieve with your journaling. My goal when I did maintain a journal was to simply feel better about myself and deal with the emotional turmoil I was feeling. I didn’t have a plan other than to write every day until those intense emotions subsided. Your goal might be different. Without a goal, however, you likely won’t maintain a regular journaling practice.

4. What kind of writing do you want to do? I think journaling is more helpful for narrative non-fiction, essays and memoir writing. It probably isn’t going to help you with writing feature articles or non-fiction.

The choice whether to start journaling is up to you. If you do embark on that journey, you’ll find plenty of resources and coaches on the Internet to help you get started.

One final thought: While journaling can help you improve your writing skills, it isn’t the only way. No matter what medium you use — a journal, blog, or something else — as long as you are consistent with your writing, your writing will naturally improve.

Do you keep a journal? What has your experience been like? Can you tell if your writing has improved because of it?