5 Ways to Deal with Distractions During the Holidays

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There’s a giant mug on my kitchen shelf that reads, “Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle.” It’s good advice for this time of year when life is full of distractions. Just when I need to concentrate on feature articles for clients, the pleasures of the season call to me. Add to that the pressures of shopping for gifts, decorating my living space, visiting family and friends, and watching Christmas movies. Distractions are everywhere. With so many activities demanding my time and attention, who has time to write?

While those pesky holiday distractions won’t go away any time soon, you can still work around them to accomplish your writing goals. Even a little bit each day is better than not writing at all. You may be surprised at how much you can accomplish in shorter writing sessions.

Here are my suggestions to avoid distractions and keep writing during the holidays.
Set smaller goals. You might be used to writing for an hour a day, or writing until you finish 1,000 words. Time may work against you during the holidays, so you might consider setting smaller goals. Instead of writing 1,000 words, aim for writing one page a day (or approximately 250 words). Or instead of writing for an hour, consider a 15-minute session.

Use index cards. One 3×5 or 4×6 card can hold several sentences, maybe one to two paragraphs. If you’re really pressed for time, grab one index card and jot down notes about plots or characters. By the end of the month, you will have collected enough ideas to start writing your next story in earnest.

Set office hours – and stick to them. If all you have in your schedule is 30 minutes when you first get up in the morning, set that time aside. More important, ask your family to respect our personal time.  

Set a timer. Use the timer on your phone or computer. Set it for 10 minutes or 20 minutes, or however much time you have. When the timer starts, write to your heart’s content, whatever comes to your mind. You never know where your freewriting will take you. When the timer rings, stop. Don’t worry about perfection. Focus on getting your ideas down on paper first; you can always edit later.

Write first thing in the morning. When you first arise, grab your cup of coffee or tea and begin writing. You’ll get it out of the way so you can enjoy the rest of the day. Or conversely, write before bedtime. Make a deal with yourself not to go to bed until you’ve written one page.

Of course, another option is to forget all about writing altogether and indulge in the holidays instead. Enjoy the celebrations, and use the holidays to gather inspiration. But as you do sip your egg nog and go caroling, take note of your surroundings. Spend time people watching, which could inspire characters for your next novel. Try activities you haven’t done before, like creating your own Christmas ornaments or cutting down a fresh tree. With every experience, note the sights and sounds around you. Remember to carry a notebook to jot down your impressions of the people, places and events you’ve seen. You never know if you might use them later.

There’s a preconceived idea that writing takes up huge chunks of time, which I think is why many of us avoid writing. And with the holidays comes too many distractions to ignore. By planning ahead and keeping a consistent practice with smaller goals and shorter writing sessions, you can accomplish your writing goals — and still enjoy the holidays.

Don’t let the holidays overwhelm you and derail your writing practice. Use it to your advantage to inspire fresh stories. When it comes time to start writing in earnest again, you’ll have plenty of ideas to keep you writing all through the New Year.

Literary Agents Share Their Best Writing Tips

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Browse the Internet and you’ll find all sorts of tips for writers from fellow writers, editors and publishers. Another group of professionals have their own take on the writing process – literary agents. After all, they work closely with aspiring authors to get their work published.

Most writers won’t need an agent to represent them. If you’re primarily a freelancer writing magazine features, business publications and website content, you won’t need an agent.

But if you’ve completed writing a book — either fiction or nonfiction — that you believe is your best work and you want another pair of eyes to look at it, then it might be time to search for a literary agent. Check out the Association of Author Representatives, which has a database of agents that you can search based on different criteria. Other sources are publishing industry magazines, such as Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest. For more about finding a literary agent, check out these pros and cons from Masterclass.

Even if you plan to self-publish your novel or memoir, or if you don’t plan to write a book at all, it’s worth paying attention to what literary agents have to say about the writing process and the publishing business. After all, they’re review hundreds of manuscripts in search of talented authors with potential. They know what works and what doesn’t in the marketplace. There are nuggets of truth in their words of advice.

Below is a collection of agent advice for writers, gleaned from past issues of Writer’s Digest magazine. In each issue, WD profiles a literary agent who shares tips for pitching and writing, and the genres they work with. They describe what they look for in author submissions as well as what they love about the work they do as agents. Whether you plan to self-publish or have no plans to publish a novel at all, it’s still worth it to hear agents’ perspectives on the publishing process.

“Don’t be precious about your material. Don’t keep a sentence because it sounds nice. Be prepared to get rid of material, and be as ruthless as you can.”  Claire Anderson-Wheeler, Regal÷ Hoffmann & Associates

“Keep writing, even when people aren’t telling you to keep writing.”  Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency

“Get yourself a great critique partner.” John Cusick, Folio Literary Management

“No amount of good pitching will make up for a bad project, so focus first and foremost on your craft. Always challenge yourself to improve.”  Zabé Ellor, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

“Story arc is important, no matter what genre – even nonfiction, maybe especially.”  Rick Pascocello, Glass Literary Management

“Write what excites you; that passion can leak into the text and start a chain reaction.”  Ian Bonaparte, Janklow & Nesbit

“Understand that rejection is part of the process – learn from it instead of taking it personally.” Megan Close Zavala, formerly of Keller Media, now a writing coach.

“Believe that you have many stories to tell, and don’t despair if your first book doesn’t sell.”  Connor Goldsmith, Fuse Literary

“Don’t hold back when writing and dig as deeply into your emotional reservoir as you can.” Heather Cashman, Storm Literary Agency

“Practice verbally describing your pitch and watch for people to perk up with interest – that’s the heart of your pitch.” Caroline Eisenmann, Frances Golden Literary Agency

“Write a lot. Show your passion. Be authentic. I look forward to being surprised by a fantastic story.”  Linda Camacho, Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency

“Not every book you write should be published, but that doesn’t invalidate the experience you gained in writing it.” Susanna Einstein, Einstein Literary Management

“Don’t worry about following trends. Build a community. Support your local bookstores and fellow writers.” Lisa Grubka, Fletcher & Company

“Remember that agents and editors got into this business because we love books. We are not your enemies.”  
On editing: “Try to understand the gap between your intention and your editor’s understanding of your work.”  Rachel Sussman, Chalberg & Sussman

“Immerse yourself in the authors of your genre.”  John Talbot, The Talbot Fortune Agency

“Always build your platform by publishing smaller works: essays, articles, poetry, stories.”  Natalie Kimber, The Rights Factory

“Learn your own weaknesses and root them out ruthlessly. Don’t aspire to be published; aspire to be read.”  Bob Hostetler, The Steve Laube Agency

“Know the comparable titles that aren’t blockbuster bestsellers.”  Christopher Rhodes, The Stuart Agency

“No one’s success hurts the chances of yours. Be supportive in your communities. Be careful who gets to weigh in and critique your work.”  Erik Hane, Headwater Literary Management

“Pay attention to what people are looking for (manuscript wish lists). Write freely, edit with precision.”  Stephanie Hansen, Metamorphosis Literary Agency

“Have courage. You won’t know how to do any of this yet…but you’ll learn.”  Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

“Know/learn when to keep at it and when to move on. Don’t give up on your dreams of being a published author, but sometimes it is best to move on from a project that’s just not working…, and start something new.”  Patrice Caldwell, New Leaf Literary & Media

Do you work with a literary agent? What is the best advice you have received from them?

How Writers Can Turn Envy Into Motivation

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Have you ever listened to someone read from their recently published debut novel and think, “Gosh, I wish I could have my novel published.” Or maybe you read someone else’s work in your writing class and thought, “I wish I could write like that!”

If so, you’ve just been attacked by a little green monster named Envy.

Envy shows up in your life when you perceive others having what you don’t have: talent, power, prestige, money, popularity.

Envy is usually tied to some other hidden emotion. It may be a sign of competitiveness or insecurity, for example. You want what others have because you fear you don’t have enough of it yourself. Or that you’re not a good enough writer to ever be published like your friends and colleagues. You subconsciously compare yourself to others and fall short. Envy steps in to fill the void.

Envy also shows up when you compare your sense of self with your ideal self, writes Mary Lamia, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to project that ideal on someone else. If your personal ideals are exaggerated and unreachable, you will always feel that you are never good enough.

David Ludden, Ph.D., also writes in Psychology Today that envy has a dark and light side. On the dark side, we may harbor ill will toward someone who appears to have more of what we want. Benign envy – the lighter side – can be converted to motivation to improve ourselves. We can use envy to learn from others and observe how or why they have become successful. For example, maybe they got published because they took the time to research the publication and figured out how to pitch their story to the editor. Maybe that other writers gladly accepts feedback from an editor while you are reluctant to accept their critique.

When envy shows up in your life, there are several ways to deal with it. For starters, you need to be aware of when it shows up. What prompted its entrance? Most important, what can you learn from it? Here are three ways writers can deal with envy.

1. Embrace the emotion. Accept the fact that it’s normal to feel envious of others sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just a signal that you might be feeling insecure in your own abilities. Accept the fact that it will show up on occasion. As author Elizabeth Sims suggests in The Writer, envy loses its power over us when we tell ourselves that it’s okay to be envious.

2. Keep a journal. Ask yourself probing questions, then write down the answers, says writer Amy Torres at The Writing Cooperative. For example, ask yourself “Whose talent do I wish I had?” “What does this person have that I don’t?” and “I wish I could write as well as [fill in the blank].” As you ponder the answers to these questions, note what emotions rise to the surface. Then embrace those emotions. Allow yourself to really feel them. Then write about what you feel in your journal.

3. Be the best writer you know how to be. Show a confident front, says Sims. Even if you don’t feel secure, put on a brave smile. Fake it until you make it, as they say. Then go out and be the best writer you know how to be. Don’t worry about what the other writers are doing with their work. Focus on your own craft. Smile and keep working.

Envy and its ugly cousin jealousy are bound to show up in your writing life. That’s normal. When they do, recognize them for what they are – signs that it’s time to refocus your energy on improving your own writing practice. Observe what the object of your envy is doing. Maybe you can learn from their example. Then use the benign energy of envy to motivate yourself to work differently.

Once you embrace envy as part of the writing process, those periods of envy will shrink so you don’t notice them anymore.





What Freelance Writers Can Learn about Referrals from Real Estate Pros

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I used to work at a real estate association (two, in fact). One thing I learned by working with real estate professionals was their drive to succeed. Their success depended on making clients happy. If their clients were happy, the agents got referrals.

At first glance, it would seem that writers don’t have a lot in common with real estate agents. But the two share more in common than one would think. Both are self-employed as independent contractors. Both take pride in providing timely and efficient service to their clients. Both thrive on referral and repeat business from clients. But while real estate professionals understand the importance of asking for referrals, many freelance writers are not as versed on this practice.

As any sales person can tell you, the simplest, most straight forward strategy for getting referrals — and often the most overlooked – is to ask for them. Many people either forget to ask or are uncomfortable about asking. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear desperate, or they’re too shy and overly modest, or they fear they will be rejected.

One real estate professional I once interviewed for a magazine article said he often shied away from asking for referrals, despite being in the business for 15 years. But a follow up phone call to a former client changed that for good. After inviting his former client to attend one of his sponsored events, he asked if she knew anyone who needed a real estate agent. His timing was perfect. She referred him to a friend who listed his home with him, a home that was worth a significant sum of money.

You never know what kind of business you’ll get if you don’t ask.

If you want to build a repeat and referral-based writing business, you need to be proactive. You need to ask for referrals. You’d be surprised at how much business can come your way simply because you had the courage to ask.

Here are a few tips for asking for referrals.

1. Spread the word. Word of mouth communication is still the most reliable and effective way to ask for referrals because you can usually get an immediate response from the client. But timing is important too. Real estate experts suggest asking for referrals at three critical points in your relationship – a model that writers can follow for their own business.

* At the end of the project. The client naturally feels good about the project you’ve just completed for them. An opportune time to ask for a referral is when the client is in a positive frame of mind.

* During a follow-up call. In the real estate business, it is customary for agents to follow up with clients two to four weeks after closing on the home. During the follow up call, they ask how the client’s move went and if there is anything they can do for them. Then they ask for a referral.

Likewise, writers can follow up with clients several weeks after the project ends and ask if there is anything else you can do for them. Most important, ask “If you are pleased with my work, do you know anyone else who needs a freelance writer?” Another good time to ask for a referral is when the article you wrote is finally published.

* After you have received a referral. When you get a referral, thank the person who gave it to you and keep them updated on the progress of the project. “I really appreciate your referring Joe Client to me. I’m just about to finish the project for them. Do you know anyone else who needs a writer?”

2. Ask for referrals via marketing materials. Real estate agents often add a request for referrals on all their marketing materials. Remember to ask for referrals on all your print and web materials, such as business cards, emails and website. For example, at the bottom of all your emails, you might write: “The highest compliment my clients give me is a recommendation to someone else. I appreciate your referrals!”

3. Ask for testimonials. Another way clients can express satisfaction with your service is with testimonials. Some real estate agents invite clients to prepare a testimonial in the form of a written letter, a video, or a comment on their LinkedIn profile page. Testimonials can sometimes be more persuasive than other types of communication because they come from someone who has direct experience of your services.

4. Act like a pro. Real estate pros get rewarded with referrals when they’ve done a good job for a client. Writers can get rewarded the same way. Do good work, write great articles and meet your deadlines, says freelance writer Linda Formichelli in her eBook The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Freelance Writing. When you work with integrity, the editor will be impressed. After you know the editor better or you’ve worked with them for some time, ask them to introduce you to other editors they may know.

Building a referral-based business takes time, persistence and self-discipline, and you may not see results right away. The hardest part of the process is simply getting started. Formichelli says it can take up to a year before a referral pays off. That means you need to be consistent and persistent with your communications, without being a pest. Following up with clients every couple of months is okay. Following up with them every day – not so much.

Hopefully implementing these basic strategies can position you for long-term success and help you achieve your freelancing goals.

The Writer’s Guide to Overcoming Rejection

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Rejection is one of the most painful experiences a writer can go through. It’s also a normal part of the creative process. Because without rejection, we would have no impetus to improve our work.

At least that’s what we like to tell ourselves, right?

When rejection happens over and over again though, it can feel like a giant boulder slamming down on your head. You may grow weary of all the effort you put into your work only to have it rejected. You may wonder if a writing life is worth all the rejection, and you may begin to doubt yourself. You may even be tempted to give up on writing altogether.

But don’t give up. If you have a story to tell, you need to tell it. Keep going. Keep writing.

Whether you’ve been turned down for a job, overlooked for a promotion in your company or received a rejection notice from a publisher, rejection hurts. It will always hurt. But there are ways to deal with the lingering emotional turmoil so you can make the most of the rejection and use it to fuel your future endeavors.

So how can writers move past rejection? There are several steps you can take to not only cope with rejection, but use it to fuel your work.

1. Take a time-out. After you’ve been rejected, it might be helpful to take a time-out to re-settle yourself emotionally. Getting rejected is painful, especially if you’ve toiled for weeks, even years, on your latest masterpiece. But rather than get back to work, take a break. Do something else for a couple of days — read a book, do yoga, take a hike, work in your garden, clean house, or visit a museum. Do anything that will clear your heart and mind before getting back to work.

2. Write about your rejection. Don’t dwell on the rejection. Sometimes writing about your rejection experience can help clear your mind and body of the emotional turmoil rejection leaves behind. Write about it in your personal journal, or write a personal essay. In fact, it doesn’t have to be anything anyone else will read. But by writing about it can help heal a wound before it festers beyond repair.

3. Talk things over.
If you don’t want to write about your experience, talk it over with a friend, spouse, or a colleague – someone close to you who understands your need and desire to write. Writers need to surround themselves with a strong emotional support system so they’ll always have at least one shoulder to cry on, one person to listen to your angry rants, and one person to celebrate when you accomplish your dream.

4. Don’t reply back to the rejection source. This is important. Responding in anger is counterproductive and will likely make you feel worse, writes Angela Tung in the Huffington Post. She suggests that sending an angry reply can hurt your chances of being published later on by this publication. They may not want to work with you. However, there is one exception to this piece of advice. If the editor offered some helpful tips to improve your piece, you can reply with a gracious “thank you.” If the editor took the time to provide feedback on your work, it means they liked your writing enough to give you encouragement. Take their comments to heart.

5. Work on another project. If you’re like most writers, you may have several projects going on at once. While the initial project is on hiatus, pull out another piece you’ve had on the back burner and give it another read. After time away from it, you’ll be able to look at your work with a fresh eye.

6. Review the editor’s comments. Once the emotional dust has cleared, review whatever comments you received from the editor. If they took the time to provide feedback or make suggestions, they clearly felt your piece has some redeeming value. Review your work again, this time with the editor’s comments in mind. You’ll find more often than not, their suggestions are worthwhile.

7. Get back to work. That might mean rewriting your piece or it might mean finding another publication to submit your piece to that might be a better fit. With rejection behind you, you can roll up your sleeves and get back to writing with a fresh eye and renewed energy.

8. Don’t quit. Keep working. Keep writing. Don’t let rejection deter you from your writing. Instead use it to fuel your work.

All writers experience rejection. It’s a normal part of the creative writing process. Rejection, and any feedback that comes along with it, is meant to help you become a better writer. Use it to your advantage.

Related Articles
Tips for Dealing with Inevitable Rejection
Five Easy Steps to Conquer the Heartache of Rejection

How Online Commenting Can Be Hazardous to Your Career

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Can commenting on blogs and Facebook posts be detrimental to your professional well-being? What you say and how you say it in the online world says a lot about who you are, both personally and professionally.

If you’re like me, you read a lot of blogs and news articles online. It’s the key to keeping ourselves up-to-date on the latest events in the world. But what do you do if the author presents some provocative ideas that you disagree with? What if you jump into a heated debate between several posters online only to be gang tackled by other participants who disagree with your opinion? How do you disengage from this discussion gracefully and with your reputation in tact?

Read any news feed or blog and you’ll likely come across an article that has drawn hundreds of comments, many of them rash judgments and unsubstantiated opinions. I try not to read the comments section of most articles, but when I do, I am often struck by the angry, disrespectful tone of commenters as they spit out their opinions. And when it begins to get personal, with individuals hurling insults at one another like they are hand grenades, I quickly exit the site.

It’s often tempting to comment on issues that you feel strongly about. That’s understandable, and sometimes even necessary. We all have to stand up for what we believe in. Knowing when to speak up and when to keep your opinion to yourself is a delicate dance we all must do, especially in business settings when our professional reputation may be at risk.

While in most situations, your contribution to the online conversation may be harmless, there may be times when it is better to stay out of the fray altogether. Discussions about religion, politics and social issues tend to bring out the most heated responses, so I tend to avoid them online as much as possible.

When faced with the temptation to get involved in these online debates, you can do one of three things:

1. Jump into the debate right away. This might make you feel better in the short term, but a heated response can come back to bite you later in the form of broken friendships and lost business opportunities.

2. Wait before responding. It can be a few hours or one day. Give yourself time to cool off, especially if you feel agitated or angry. Return to the online conversation later only if you still feel a need to express your opinion. Sometimes time and distance can help you see things differently, and you may simply decide to walk away from the conversation.

However, if you still feel a need to comment, plan the message carefully. Focus on the facts, and site statistics if needed. That will add credibility to your commentary. Be sure to remove emotion or anger from your response. When you provide a well-thought out response and communicate articulately, your viewpoint may be taken more seriously, even if others don’t agree with you. Besides you never know who may be reading those comments anonymously

3. When in doubt, walk away from the argument. Most online debates are not worth risking your professional integrity. And just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you have to express it. Sometimes the least said will work more in your favor.

Since you don’t know who may be reading your comments – family members, friends, employers, clients, colleagues, etc. – the best advice is to err on the side of caution and say nothing. Choose your battles wisely.

What you say, or don’t say, and how you say it often reflects a lot about who you are. Think about your personal brand. How do you want others to remember you – as an abrasive personality who runs roughshod over others who disagree with you, or as an intelligent individual who is open to hearing different points of view? Remember clients, colleagues and employers may be tuning in to what you post in the online world. Make sure what you say accurately reflects who you are.

Revising Our Lives


“In writing and in life, you can always revise.” — Unknown

A colleague shared this provocative quote with a group of publishing professionals nearly 20 years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. I don’t know if she came up with this pithy concept herself, or if she repeated it from another source. In any case, it resonated with me then, and still does today.

Life is like writing. When I write, if I don’t like what I’ve written, I can delete it, change it, or add to it to fit my constantly evolving perspective of life. Our lives are in a constant state of revision – from friendships, family, jobs, residences, bank accounts and hobbies. Sometimes that change comes naturally, like graduating from high school or moving into our first apartment. Other times, our lives are suddenly uprooted by life circumstances that we have no power over – a cancer diagnosis, a spouse’s death, a job loss.

As humans, most of us are creatures of habit. We prefer things to stay the same, especially when it suits our purposes. Many of us prefer to create our own life revisions rather than have it forced upon us. That is understandable. We all want to feel we are in control of our circumstances. Most of the time we are, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

It’s one thing to proactively seek out ways to revise our lives for the better, but how do we respond when these changes are forced upon us? It is accepting the change forced on us — by life, Mother Nature, even our own families — that is difficult, because it prompt us to adapt to situations that were not of our own making. Yet, that is the challenge of living this life.

Life calls for us to be adaptable to change. We must go with the flow of life. No matter in what form that change occurs, no matter how difficult ensuing transition occurs, in the long run our lives are revised for the better because of it. We must be willing to accept life’s revisions on its terms, so we can learn and grow from the experience and become better human beings.