What Are the ‘Silver Linings’ of Your Writing Life in 2020?

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“Every cloud has a silver lining.” You might have heard that proverb at one time or another. It means that there’s something good or hopeful to be found in every bad situation.

Dictionary.com has its own definition: “A sign of hope or a positive aspect in an otherwise negative situation.”

The year 2020 has shown us an overabundance of negative situations, from a pandemic of a highly contagious and dangerous disease and social isolation from loved ones to social injustice, civic unrest and political and economic uncertainty. It’s been a difficult year, but somehow we’ve made it to the end with the hope that 2021 will be better. It has to be better, right? We can only go up from here.

Yet despite the turmoil in our world, there is reason to hope. There are silver linings in the year that was. It’s called “counting your blessings.” We all have them if we look close enough.

So what silver linings have I noticed in my world? For one thing, I was highly productive with my writing projects.

* Consistent blogging. I recommitted to my blog, posting stories at least once a week, sometimes two. With this renewed commitment, I am now considering expanding my offerings to include a weekly writing prompt, white papers and e-books.

* Experimentation with writing styles. Without clients to write for, I’ve used my free time to experiment with different writing styles, most notably e-books and novellas. At 30,000 to 50,000 words, novellas are shorter than novels and tend to have only one plot line, but they are longer than short stories.

* Reading challenge. I kept up with my reading challenge throughout the year. Reading provided the needed escape from the darkest moments of the year.

* Professional development. I took advantage of discounted webinars, online workshops and virtual conferences that were offered, which I would not have participated in otherwise. I studied everything from building a freelance business to content marketing and writing holiday romances.

* New technologies. Like many people, I participated in more online meetings than ever before which meant learning new technologies, such as Zoom and Google Duo.

* Expanded offerings. I completed and posted a white paper on my website and plan to do another one in 2021. I also have two e-books in the works.

* Networking. I launched an email networking campaign to one group of contacts to search for new clients. The second phase of that campaign will begin in the New Year.

A writer’s work is never done and it goes beyond just writing stories. There’s the business of running a writing business and all that it entails – accounting, networking, marketing, etc. Despite it all, I feel hopeful and optimistic about the future.

I realize that in the midst of darkness, there is light too, like a rainbow after a storm. We must all learn to adapt to this new reality of ours, because frankly, it’s not going away anytime soon and our lives will be changed. Things won’t be the same as they used to be, even though we may wish them to be  “back to normal.” Each of us will have to redefine what that new normal means for us, and more important, what it looks like for us.

So how has your writing life changed – for better or for worse – because of the upheavals of 2020? What are the silver linings in your year?

14 Holiday Gift Ideas for Writers (and Yourself)

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The following article was originally published in 2018. It has been revised with new gift suggestions for 2020.

Happy holidays, and ‘tis the season for gift giving. I’m taking a break from my usual posts about writing to indulge in a little brainstorming for holiday gifts for the writers in your life. Or even for yourself.   

Here are a few ideas to get you started on your gift list.

1. Books about writing. Naturally, books will fall on any writer’s wish list, especially books about writing, reading or creativity. What writer wouldn’t want to add to their library? There are plenty of books available about becoming a better writer, improving your habits, overcoming writer’s block and more. Check out some of these book suggestions. There are more suggestions here and here.

2. Writer’s tools of the trade. Every writer needs a current dictionary, thesaurus, AP Stylebook and/or University of Chicago Manual of Style to complete their library. Add The Elements of Style and a basic grammar book, and your library is complete. Even if you have a dictionary on your shelf, they are updated fairly often, so it might be beneficial to get a more current version.

3. Caffeine containers (also known as coffee mugs). No writer should be without their daily supply of caffeine. Check out this collection of humorous coffee mugs from Café Press that are sure to put a smile on your face.

4. A really, really nice pen set. Many writers I know write their stories longhand, so they need plenty of writing instruments to get the job done. Consider getting them (or yourself) a supply of really nice pens (within budgetary reasons, of course), or a stock of their favorite pen, if they have one. Working with a stylish pen can put you in a more serious frame of mind when you write.

5. Professional development. Instead of a physical item, consider the gift of experience or education. Continuous learning is important to most writers to stay on top of publishing trends. Writers are constantly searching for ways to improve their own craft and become better writers. Consider a gift of a Writer’s Digest subscription or an online course through Mediabistro.

6. Writing exercises and word puzzles. Exercise your brain and jumpstart your creativity with a magnetic word game. Each magnet contains a word, and with 100 or so word magnets, you can create some pretty imaginative poems. Put them on your refrigerator, and let the family create their own mini-short stories as they grab the milk.

Another option is the Writer’s Toolbox, described as “more exercises and games to inspire ‘the write side of the brain.’  Get the family involved with a Once Upon a Time storytelling card game. One person begins telling a story using the elements described on their cards, guiding the plot toward their Ending Card. But other players can interrupt the Storyteller with their own elements and the right to take over as the new Storyteller.

7. Jigsaw puzzles. Speaking of puzzles, jigsaws are ever popular. Not only does it give you a needed beak from writing, it’s a way to relax and unwind. If you’re stuck in a writing rut or you’re facing a tough plotting dilemma, taking time out to work on a jigsaw puzzle may be just the distraction you need to get your mind off of your writing problems.

8. A book of writing prompts
. Occasionally writers need help generating story ideas. To get the creative juices flowing, they might appreciate a book of writing prompts. Before you know it, the writer in your life (or even the writer in you) will be off and running on their next story.

9. Do Not Disturb signs. Some years ago, I once saw a sign that read “Do Not Disturb. Genius at Work.” I laughed at the time, but I think it succinctly describes the sentiment most writers feel when they are at work. Writers are creative geniuses who need privacy and quiet, uninterrupted time to plot, daydream, and craft their stories. Let people know that once that sign is on the door, it’s time to get down to work.

10. Music for your ears. Some writers enjoy a little background music while they work, so a few new tunes might put you in the mood to be creative. Even if you don’t listen to music while you work, music can calm you when you’re not working or make you feel like dancing when you’ve met a deadline.

11. Membership dues to a professional organization. If you have ever wanted to join a writers’ association, now might be an opportune time to give yourself a gift of membership. Some organizations charge only $25 or $30 annual fee to join, and if you’re lucky they may pro-rate it or give a holiday discount.

12. An inspirational poster. Looking for motivation? A framed print or poster with an inspirational quote can help you stay positive during those long stretches of writing time.

13. An ergonomic desk chair. With all the sitting writers do, it helps to have a good chair to sit on so you don’t suffer any back pain. How old is the chair you currently have and how often do you use it? Does it have enough cushion to support you? Does it allow you to plant your feet firmly on the floor? There are plenty of ergonomic chairs on the market that are designed to align your spine properly. They might cost a little more, but your backside will thank you.

14. Desk lamp. If you plan to spring for a new chair, why not add some new lighting to brighten your work space? Sometimes the right lamp can improve the lighting of your desk space while improving your mood.

At this time of year, it’s easy to become more focused on finding gifts for the people in your life. But don’t be shy about giving something to yourself. Self-care is important too, especially after the year we’ve all gone through. Remember to treat yourself well. The more you invest in yourself, the more you improve your writing life.

Happy shopping and happy holidays.

Supporting a Favorite Cause Can Be Good for Your Professional Life

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Today is known in our gift-giving season as Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to giving back to the community. The movement, which began in 2012, shifts public attention away from the commercialization and consumerism of the holiday season toward more meaningful, community service activities. Giving Tuesday is intended to bring the focus back to what the Christmas season is all about – giving to those in need.

As an independent worker or small business owner, giving back not only makes you feel good, it can be good for your business. Getting involved with a charitable group, especially one aligned with your professional identity, can give you added exposure in the community and attract new clients.

For example, if you work as a graphic designer, volunteering for a small theater group to design their sets can not only improve your skills, but put you in touch with people who may need your services. Likewise, if you write for a living, you might consider volunteering for organizations aligned with your writing interests, such as libraries, literacy programs or be a writing tutor.

Before you sign up for a volunteering program, there are several factors to keep in mind.

1. Why do you want to volunteer? There are many different reasons for getting involved with a cause. For some, it’s important to give back to their community. Others want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Yet others get involved to build their skills or improve their community. Whatever reason you have for volunteering, make sure it’s honest and sincere. The more sincere you are and the more passionate you are about the cause, the more likely you will stick with your commitment.

2. Do your homework. If you want to get involved and aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of resources available online that can help you figure out what’s important to you and put you in touch with organizations that need your help. Check out Volunteer Match, Serve.gov, and Allforgood.org. These sites are a good starting point to find out what types of volunteer opportunities are available and the types of organizations that need help.

3. Assess your interests. Before you begin volunteering, take time to reflect on issues that are important to you. What issues get your blood thumping or makes your heart swell with joy? Are you concerned about the environmental, poverty, homelessness, literacy or women’s health? Make a list of these issues, then prioritize them in order of most important to least. Then choose one or two that are most worthy of your time and attention.

Next, find organizations that best represent those causes that are important to you. Do a Google search, entering key words that match your interests. For example, enter “literacy programs, volunteer” and see what pops up on your list. As you find these organizations, take the time to research each one. Review their website, read their mission statement, understand their requirements to volunteer. Some organizations may require a background check, especially if you plan to work one-on-one with children or seniors. If the group seems suitable, contact them to learn more about them. Most groups have a new volunteer orientation so you can see what they do.

Other places to look for volunteer opportunities: a local place of worship, library or park district. Don’t forget to ask your friends and family too since they may already be involved in an organization and can give you the inside scoop about what kind of assistance that group needs.

4. Consider your time commitment. How much time can you give to the cause? A few hours each week? One afternoon each month? Volunteering doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but make sure you have time to truly commit to the cause. Be honest with yourself. If all you have to contribute is one or two hours per month, then be clear about that with the organization up front.

5. Consider your skills and talents. Volunteering is a great opportunity to develop your skills. Maybe you want to gain experience fundraising, event planning or grant writing. The opposite is also true. If you have strong organizational skills or communications skills, you can put them to work by negotiating contracts or teaching people how to read or write.

Once you know what causes are important to you and how you can contribute, getting involved with your favorite non-profit group and contributing to the community can be one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have.

The Battle for Your Brain: Classroom Instruction vs. Online Learning

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September has always reminded me of the start of school. And like the young students who return to school to continue their education at this time of year, I often turn to adult education classes to learn something new or refine my skill set. For example, last week I participated in an hour-long webcast about interviewing skills, a topic that never gets old in my field of work.

For many professionals, this is a time to ramp up their education by attending conferences, updating their skills or completing a certification program. Now as September quickly comes to a close, it seems fitting to explore educational opportunities to keep our skills fresh for the rapidly changing business world.

Education comes is different shapes, sizes and formats, and they don’t always have to be expensive. While online learning may be more convenient for many professionals, a study by Pew Research Center in March 2016 finds that a majority of adults still prefer learning in a physical setting over online-based programs. Respondents cited the desire to ask questions of a real live person and the tendency to get lost in all the information that’s offered on the Internet. “Learning is still very much a place-based thing,” says Pew researcher John Horrigan in the study. “The Internet plays a role, but it’s secondary in most respects.”

In today’s post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of online learning and classroom instruction. Depending on your educational goals and lifestyle, you may have a preference for one format over the other.

* Classroom instruction provides real-time interactions with instructors and classmates. You can put faces to the names of your fellow classmates. Online you may never meet your classmates.

* Students receive hands-on experience and learn by doing under an instructor’s guidance. Anything from auto repair, home improvement or gardening may be better suited for on-site, in-person learning rather than online.

* In a physical setting, students can obtain immediate feedback from instructors about their class work.  Attendees also have a chance to ask questions and get responses in real time. With online learning, there may be a time lag between the time you submit work for review and your instructor’s critique.

* There may be more and better opportunities to network with your peers in a classroom environment and maintain those relationships when the course is done.

On the other hand, online learning via the Internet may be more convenient for professionals who travel a lot or who don’t have time to take a classroom course.

* Online learning allows you to learn at your own pace on your own time or from any place that provides an Internet connection.

* Information is shared in smaller chunks so it’s easy to digest in short, compact time periods. For example, most podcasts, webinars or online class sessions may only be one hour and may only cover one specific topic, such as interviewing skills or using Linked In for a job search.

* Students may work in isolation rather than in a group setting, even though there may be other participants. There’s less opportunity for interaction with other students. Even online discussions lack immediacy and personalization.

* Online learning may require greater self-motivation to keep up with the course work. For example, when I participated in an online writing course, I found it difficult to stay motivated because of the limited interaction with the instructor and classmates. I quickly lost interest. I realized I needed the camaraderie, interaction and feedback from fellow writers.

Whether you take classes online or in a physical classroom at the library, place of worship or local school, education is important to not only keep yourself relevant in business but for also introducing fresh new ideas that you can use at work or in life. Knowing what your educational goals are and what your learning style and preferences are can help you determine which format of learning is best suited for your needs.

Defining Your Career Mission — in Three Words

 

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing

Could you define your life’s work, your career motto, in three small words? Every time I asked this question of association members for their magazine, it made me think long and hard about my own response. What would I say? What is my life’s work, and could I describe it in three words? Talk about an editorial challenge!

While many people may scoff at this question, considering it too full of fluff for high-level executives, asking that question even of ourselves forces us to think about our careers with a sharper focus. What do I bring to the table? How do I make myself stand out? How do my services help others? How can I contribute to the greater good?

These are all serious questions. If we want to be successful in our life’s work, no matter what type of work we do, we must begin with in-depth self-analysis of our own place in this world. Many people trip over this idea of defining their personal motto or mission in three words. They claim they need more words to describe it.

Once we find those three words, however, that motto can drive our decisions in our personal and professional lives. When stuck in indecision, we need only to return to that little phrase to guide us to a resolution that is aligned with our motivations. When confronted by tragic circumstances – a job loss, a death in the family, money woes, or a personal or professional crisis, thinking about this motto can be a source of wisdom, courage and inspiration to help you survive the darkest moments of your life.

Inspired by my routine question to our high-level real estate members, I spent time thinking about my own three-word motto. “Act with integrity” came to mind. So simple, yet so potent and empowering. I think of these words every time I am faced with a crisis of consciousness. And it has helped me through some dark times too.

I can think of a few others: “Believe in yourself.”  “Be kind, compassionate.”  “Think before acting.” Use whatever words work for you. Keep it simple and straightforward. There are no wrong answers. There’s no need to publicize it or put it on your business card, unless you really want to. This little three-word mission statement is for your heart and soul alone.

If you’re looking to find inspiration in your career or life’s work, think about three words that defines who you are. These three little words can inspire you, motivate you, and drive every decision you make. To get started, here are a few tips for creating your three-word motto.

1. Start with an action verb. Words like think, believe, act, help, move, etc. gets the action going, and it serves as a reminder to you to be an active participant in life, rather than an observer. Make it empowering, inspirational and proactive.

2. Be positive. What do each of the mottos mentioned above have in common? Each one paints a positive, sunny picture that is sure to brighten your spirit. The more positive you can make it, the more energy it will give you.

3. Be results-oriented. Say something that reminds you to commit to doing something good and brings positive results.

4. Focus on your power as an instrument of change. What influence do you have in the world? Do you want to write, teach, heal, build homes, sing, or make people laugh?

These ideas are just a starting point. Try out several sample mottos to see if they resonate with you. Do they match where you are in the world at this point in time? Mix and match different words until you find the right combination that best describes your life’s mission.

When you’ve finalized your motto, write it down and keep it somewhere where you can readily refer to it – the bathroom mirror, your wallet, or your computer screen saver. Meditate on its meaning or use it as a mantra so that the message seeps deeply into your soul. With time, that motto simply becomes a part of who you are. It will be so deeply ingrained that you won’t need to see it on the bathroom mirror anymore.