A Writer’s Guide to Networking

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As writers, we often work solo, unless we’re collaborating on a project with someone else. Sometimes it can get lonely in our creative worlds. It’s not easy working in isolation, but it is necessary to create the  work of our dreams.

But writers cannot live by their writing alone. They have to take time to get out to meet people too. But if you’re like me, you’re a bit of an introvert, which doesn’t make it easy to connect with others.

At a recent event presented by the Chicago Writers Association, a panel of local writers and editors shared their tips for building a strong network. Whether you need a break from your writing, need help getting past a sticky plot point, or simply want to connect with like-minded professionals to find out what they’re working on, your network is an important element in your career development.

One thing the panelists agreed on is this: your writing always comes first.

Here are a few of their suggestions for building your network.

1. Be a good literary citizen. Share what you know with others. Either at meetings and workshops or through your social media channels, be willing to help others. Give advice, tell others about a book you’ve read recently, or tell others about a workshop you attended. Build literary karma – by giving freely of yourself to others, people will remember you when you need help from them.

2. Promote other writer’s works. This dovetails nicely from the first point above and adds to your literary karma. If another writer you know just got published, congratulate them on your social media channels. Even if you haven’t read the book yourself, when your followers and fellow writers see the generous spirit of your comments, they are likely to return the favor when you publish yours. Put other people first.

3. Be a joiner. Join two or three groups that resonate most with you. But don’t just become a member; be active too. An easy way for other members to get to know you is to get involved on a committee because it forces you to interact with other members and industry players. For example, volunteer to be on the membership committee to welcome new members or work on event planning.

The panelists also suggest getting involved in two or three groups to gain different perspectives and further expand your social circle.

Conversely, not all writing groups and associations will resonate with you. That’s okay. Attend one or two of their meetings as a nonmember first to get a feel for what they are about. It may take two or three meetings to decide if you want to become a member.

4. Actively attend meetings. Don’t hide in a corner and observe the proceedings. Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new people at the event. Make conversations with people, and be sincere when you talk to them. Make the conversation about them, and refrain from pushing your personal agenda on them.

To get the conversation started, think of a couple of questions to ask ahead of time. For example, “What book are you reading now?”, “What are you currently writing?”, and “What keeps you awake at night with regard to your writing?”

Remember other attendees are in the same boat as you. They may be as shy and introverted as you are. It might help to seek out individuals who are off in a corner by themselves. They’re likely new to the group too, so start up a conversation. I find it’s easier to approach one person than it is two or three huddled together.

5. Connect on social media. Many publishers, authors, editors and agents are on social media. Follow them and politely engage with them. Share their posts, comment on their stories, and read their blog.

Here’s a great idea and one I plan to implement: send handwritten complimentary notes to them. Thank them for the work they do, for publishing a certain author whose work you enjoyed, or congratulate them on reaching a milestone. It will make their day. Remember, many of these literary professionals work in isolation too, and they want to hear that their work matters. However, be polite and sincere, and don’t push your agenda.

6. Avoid imposter syndrome. For some writers, it can be difficult to admit that they are a writer especially when they haven’t published anything. Avoid of temptation of telling yourself that you don’t belong with other writers because you haven’t published anything. It’s a self-defeating mindset. Whether you are a newbie writer stretching your creative muscles, or you’ve published several books already, you are welcome at all and every networking event. Practice saying out loud “I am a writer. I am a writer.” Keep repeating it until it is deeply ingrained in your soul. So the next time someone asks what you do, you can say with confidence “I am a writer.”

Remember writing is a journey and we are all passengers on the same road. Some of us come with more baggage than others. But that doesn’t mean you are not welcome to the club. You are not an imposter playing at writing. If you write often, even if you haven’t been published, you are a writer and you belong.

Finally and most important, do your writing before your networking. Your writing should always come first. If you don’t do the writing, the networking is meaningless.

Networking is more than collecting business cards. You also have to learn to be a good literary citizen too.

 

Tips for Self-Editing Interpersonal Communications

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Our personal communications is as vital to our success as our marketing and sales strategies, maybe even more so. The way we present ourselves to the outside world says more about who we are personally and professionally than any strategic plan. More often than not, what we do and say can either help our business or hurt it. For evidence of that, you only have to look at public figures like Roseanne Barr to see how swiftly things can change with one poorly thought out comment.

That’s why it’s important to learn self-editing techniques. Self-editing is the process of reviewing, revising and correcting your own communications. It is similar to the self-editing process for a manuscript, except it is geared toward social media, emails and correspondence, such as cover letters.

A poorly worded email can make you look ignorant, while a well-crafted letter written in an angry tone can make you look unprofessional. Neither one will help you achieve your business goals.

What you say – and how you say it – gives the recipient a clear idea of who you are. Further, what you say or write may not always be exactly what you mean. Ever write something that sounded fine in your head but when you or someone else read it back to you, it didn’t have the same meaning? Somehow the meaning got lost in the transition from your head to the paper or computer.

More important, what you write or say can have lingering and sometimes devastating impact. One poorly thought out tweet posted in a knee-jerk reaction can cost you clients and customers. In conversations, what you blurt out cannot be taken back. Ditto with social media and emails. Once it’s out there, you can’t get it back, and the damage to your business and reputation is already done.

We are all guilty of these communication miscues, but there are ways to refine our skills to prevent this from happening too often. I’m just as guilty as the next person, so I’ve learned from my experience to self-edit my interpersonal communications with the same attention to detail as any writer would a manuscript for publication.

Before writing that cover letter or email to an upset customer or responding to someone’s Facebook post, take a few minutes to follow these tips to self-edit your communications.

Step 1. Using a note pad or blank sheet of paper, write everything down that you’d like to say. Spill your guts. By putting it all down on paper, you won’t be in a position to hit Send or Post right away. If you’re angry, or upset or excited about a situation, writing your ideas down on paper first will help dispel some of that emotion.

Keep in mind that you will not use everything you write down in your final correspondence. But just like writing a novel, it will help you get all your ideas down first. Then you can edit it later.

Step 2. Set the letter aside for a few hours. Let it simmer on the backburner. Go and do something else for a while – head to the beach, play basketball, take a nap, watch a movie, anything to get your mind off the letter. Your emotions will simmer down by then too so you will be able to think more clearly.

Step 3. Come back to your letter after sufficient time has passed. I recommend at least a day if you are truly upset about something. Otherwise, a few hours will be sufficient. Review what you have written. Underline or highlight the important points you want to make that still ring true. Keep it to only two or three points however, so your final letter won’t be overly long.

Step 4. With a red pen, cross out the sentences and sentiments that do not belong, things you wrote in anger or excitement, or extraneous content that does not add value to your letter. Whatever is left can be reviewed and edited for appropriateness or to help you support your key points.

Step 5. Rewrite your letter, email or social media post with the highlighted information left over from your draft. Chances are it will be more concise and less emotional than before. That’s a good starting point.

Step 6. Review again for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Misspelled words shows carelessness and lack of attention to detail. It also shows you didn’t take the time or didn’t care to proof your work.

Step 7. Pay attention to the tone of your letter or email. You want to come across as professional, clear-thinking. Although if you are writing a letter to support a cause or persuade someone to take action, a little emotion may be necessary. But don’t overdo it.

Step 8. Avoid personal attacks. Focus on the issues you are writing about. There are ways to express dissenting opinions rationally and intelligently without resorting to personal insults, which only makes you look bad.

If in doubt about your ability to self-edit your personal communications, have someone you know and trust proof it for you.

This same process holds true for social media posts. Write down what you want to say on paper first, set it aside for a few hours, then come back to it. You may decide to tone it down, revise your comment or not post it at all. There is no reason to respond to someone’s comment on social media right away. Buy yourself some time and put thought into your response. What you say and write reflects on you, for good, bad or worse.

Self-editing is an important part of the personal communications process. By following these simple steps, you can communicate with colleagues and customers with greater confidence and integrity, and they will see you as someone with whom they want to do business.

How to Fire an Employee: Text, Email or Meeting?

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It’s no fun being fired from a job, especially one you’ve enjoyed for many years. Neither is it fun to be the one who has to fire someone. Just ask anyone who has ever been in that position.

There is no good way to tell someone that they no longer have a job or end a working relationship. With the prevalence of texting, email and social media, it can be tempting use these tools to do the job for you. It might be easy and convenient, but is it wise? And is it professional?

Texting and emails have become commonplace in the office, especially for routine tasks like scheduling meetings, confirming appointments and sharing ideas. At the same time, in-person meetings and phone calls are losing favor, especially among millennial workers.

When it comes to being fired, millennials prefer getting the notice by email or text. A recent survey by software company Cyberlink finds that one in eight workers between the ages of 21 and 31 said they prefer getting fired by text or instant message. (I suppose the other seven out of eight surveyed still prefer in-person meetings, phone calls or some other method.)

Despite the increased popularity of texting and emails for firing people, in-person meetings are still the best way to go, according to millennial expert Dan Schwabel in his book “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.”  Today’s workforce yearns for personal communication in the office, he says in a recent story in the New York Post.

While it might be easier to shoot out a quick email or text message to fire someone, it can come across as cold, impersonal, and in some cases, downright cowardly. Are you too busy to meet with the individual in person, or simply want to avoid confrontation? In-office meetings to fire someone, regardless if that person performed poorly on the job or is being downsized, is more appropriate for the situation and shows more respect for the individual. It is more crucial if the individual has worked with your organization for some years, since you have already established a relationship with them.

Whether you choose to dismiss an employee by email, text or in person, a lot depends on the type of relationship you have with that person, how long they’ve worked at your organization, your age and your communications style. Still you want to treat them respectfully and professionally, no matter how lackluster their performance has been on the job.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one being fired, how would you want to receive the message? Do you really want to get that notification in a text message, or would you prefer an in-person meeting so you can ask questions and iron out all details?

There is no kinder, gentler way to tell someone they’ve lost their job. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. But meeting with someone in person, rather than hiding behind a text message or email, I believe, is more personal and sincere.

Texting, emails and social media have their place in the workplace. But there’s a time and a place for them. When it comes to firing someone, meeting in person is still the best option.

Is It Time to Declutter Your Facebook News Feed?

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Have you seen your Facebook news feed lately? I mean, really take a good, hard look at it? What do you see?

Whenever I browse my news feed, I notice several trends:

* I have more Likes of businesses and personal interests than I do Friends.
* Updates are negative, offensive or just plain depressing. This is true for both business updates and those from personal contacts.
* I see fewer and fewer updates from family and friends who have either gotten too busy to post updates, lost interest in Facebook, or found another way to connect with their friends.
* There are more updates from businesses promoting their products than there are updates from my contacts.

The reason I joined Facebook in the first place was to stay in touch with friends, former and current co-workers and old classmates that I had not seen in a while. Little did I know my constant Liking of companies and news organizations would develop into an avalanche of information that I am now trying to dig myself out from.

Obviously, in my line of work as a writer, I do a lot of reading and research. So it’s important for me to follow multiple news organizations covering the latest trends in the industries I cover – real estate, health and fitness, writing, and career development, as well as current social and political news. Naturally, my news feed is filled with updates, almost to the point that updates from my friends and family are getting buried in the “noise.” If it wasn’t for Facebook’s practice to list posts from my family and friends when I first open the platform, I probably would not see their updates at all.

The only problem is I wind up scrolling through my news feed twice – first to browse the updates from my personal contacts, then a second time through (after selecting the Most Recent in the News Feed menu in the left side bar) to see stories in chronological order. Going through the feed twice is a bit of a pain, but the news junkie in me wants to be sure I don’t miss any potentially important news items.

Add to that the retailers I have Liked over the years, and I’m overloaded with advertising and new product offers. It has all gotten to be too much, so now I am taking steps to declutter my Facebook news feed. Here’s how.

Problem 1:  Too many angry, offensive posts from friends. They mean well, but let’s face it, you aren’t going to see eye to eye with everyone you know. And people are free to express their different viewpoints. But if someone posts mean, spiteful memes about others, shares articles from questionable sources or spouts angry rhetoric, you don’t have to put up with it.

Solution: Hide their posts. The next time you see their update, roll your mouse over the upper right corner of the text box. A little downward arrow will appear. Click on the arrow to display a menu of options. You have the choice to Unfollow them, which means you will no longer be connected to them,  or Hide Posts, which means you will still be connected but won’t see their updates in your news feed. Or you can go to their page, click on the downward arrow on the Following button, and select Hide Posts. It will accomplish the same thing.

Problem #2: Declutter the advertisers and news sources in your feed. If you are like me, you probably Liked quite a few businesses for their products and services. It may have been awhile since you Liked them, which means it might be a good idea to review your list of Likes to see if you still want to follow them.

Solution: Unfollow or hide posts of businesses. Much like you did for your list of friends, you can also hide posts from businesses you know longer support or haven’t posted updates in a while. An easy way to do this is to go to your profile page. Under the main menu by your profile photo, select the More option. On the menu that appears, select the Likes option. It will open a page with all the businesses you like. As you scroll down the list, you’ll notice that each business has two buttons: Liked and Followed with a check mark next to each. Selecting those two buttons will remove the check mark, and you will no longer be getting updates from them in your news feed.

This process isn’t all that time consuming, maybe 15 minutes depending on how long your list is. But by going through this process every few months, it will feel like you are decluttering your closet or cleaning out your book shelf. You’ll feel lighter and freer and open up space in your news feed for things that are most important to you, things like updates from your Facebook family and friends.

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.