I’m No Friggin’ Mary Poppins AKA: When Writer’s Block Suggests To Friends And Family You’re In Dire Financial Need

I like to keep it pretty positive, but there’s something I need to address. This isn’t just for my sake, this is for all of my friends and the friends I have yet to meet who have started their own business. This is also for everyone that seems to think “owning a business” means “excessive free time,” “in need of money,” and “unemployed.”

I was asked this morning, for about the third time in six months, if I wanted to nanny this summer. The exact sum up upon asking was, “you mentioned looking for a new client or two on Facebook so I thought you could use the money.”

Woah. Let’s back the jolly trolly up a bit.

On the one hand, this person and I don’t speak regularly. She probably thought she was being nice. Helpful, even. But let me just get one thing straight: my business has never included nanny work. It is a writing service. It is a social media management service. It is writing copy for large and small businesses on a variety of topics including law, healthcare, automobiles, non-profit, television, marketing and more.

By working for myself, I am not unemployed. By working for myself, I’m not looking for any available opportunity that will put money in my back account. By working for myself, I’m not skipping out my front door at 11:00am every day singing “I’m done! Time to go shopping!”

By working for myself, I’m employing myself because I know my own value is worth more than the 40k salary and “great benefits” a big business thinks they can recruit me for. By working for myself, I take on clients that are in line with what I do and only what I do: writing and social media. By working for myself, I have 60+ hour weeks and I have 20- hour weeks. Business ebbs and flows as it does anywhere else on the planet. It doesn’t mean I’m writing 500 word articles for $5 on About.com and it sure as hell doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly become a nanny.

My seeking out new business is just that: seeking new business. It doesn’t mean I’m circling the drain pipe. It means that if you have a referral, send it my way because I’ve got the time to help new clients this month. It means I’m growing as a business. Branching out.

So the next time you have the urge to offer your self-employed friend an odd job that makes them a fast twenty bucks, think: have they asked you directly for such an opportunity? If not, hire the help from outside your friend pool and call up your self-employed buddy to ask them out for a drink.

Starting a business isn’t easy – it takes guts. But the truth is that for me, life without guts is nothing more than a death sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

Are You A Wanter Or A Doer?

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London

Truer words were never spoken.

Here we are – almost at a new year. I bet you’re making resolutions aren’t you? Or perhaps you’re just thinking of all those resolutions you made last year that you didn’t fulfill. You’re feeling like a bit fat failure. Next year you’ll be different. Next year things will happen that surround you with just the right circumstances.

I find that the root of the issue, especially for many would-be writers, is that they’re waiting, hoping to be inspired.

I hate to break it to you, but waiting and hoping (with anything, but especially with writing) is stupid. That’s right: stupid.

You’re lazy.

You’re fearful.

You’re whining.

Stop it.

Allow me to share a story. My college major was journalism. It pains me to think of my eighteen-year-old self, now. How sweet she was. How innocent. How creative. The world was her oyster. And her skin had the thickness of a grape.

She dreamt of changing the world with her writing. She’d write for causes and the world would stand up and rally behind her because she was brilliant and insightful.

Did I mention that I was going into this major have no journalism experience under my belt but plenty of creative writing experience?

I learned a very important lesson in those four years: a creative writer is not a journalist. My sentences were too long. My language was too flowery. My descriptions weren’t based in fact. Why the hell was I using so many adjectives? I didn’t write fast enough. I was too nice as an editor. I couldn’t write the hard, cold truth even when it was staring me in the face because it put someone else in a bad light and that made me feel terrible about myself. This isn’t a review, it’s a summary. Are you crying? Why are you crying? Stop crying!

THERE’S NO CRYING IN JOURNALISM!

Oh, but I cried. I’d bring those marked up news stories home and cry over my collection of various failures until the red ink pooled like puddles of blood. Perhaps it wouldn’t have hurt so much if this feedback didn’t come from every single journalism professor I ever had. I was destined to suck.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t grow a thick skin. That’s the first thing you need if you’re going to be a writer: a leathery hide. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. I didn’t appreciate it then, but I laugh about it now.

I also honed one hell of a talent. Not everyone can write – though a lot of people think that they can. It’s a talent, friends. And like any talent, it takes practice. You must WANT it.

Writing is not a profession for the weak. It’s not a job for people unwilling to work and grow and learn hard lessons. It’s not the place for an idealist who longs for inspiration as she thoughtfully stares out the window chewing on the end of her pencil.

If you want to write professionally, you’re throwing yourself into a deep, dark mosh pit of kajillions of people with the exact same dream. You can’t sit around on your keester, praying for inspiration. You have to get to work. Sometimes that means working when there is nothing to work with. In fact, you have to work ten times harder, longer, and faster than anyone else in that mosh pit of would-be writers. Can you do it?

Don’t wait for inspiration to burst through your brain like lightening on a cool, spring day.

The people that want something – really want something – they go after it. The people that like the idea of something? They wait around, hoping to be inspired.

Hell, you may as well be waiting for Prince Charming. Save yourselves, my friends. He’s not coming while you catch those extra Z’s.

So tell me…do you go after something or do you simply want it?

Writing Raw

Are you all apologized out this week?

Excellent.

I’d like to discuss a new writing topic: sharing difficult stories.

I once said that writing what you know is terrible advice. I stand by that blog 115%.

However, for those writers that feel the need to write what they know, deciding to do so is often the first step in a long, painful process.

Recently, I was approached about how to write on some very personal subject matter. Without it, the triumphs of the story weren’t as meaningful.

That didn’t mean it was easy to write. However, the decision had been made that, no matter what, this deep rooted pain was going to be the story. How to make it sound real without making it sound whiny, victimized, or a slew of other negatives?

Here’s the truth: it’s easy to let our emotions take center stage when we write personal things. To be whiny, to be a victim. Hell, it’s from YOUR point of view. Recall in the apology blog when I told you to keep it short and sweet because the more you think about it, the more pissed off you’ll get?

I’m going to give you just the opposite advice this time.

Let it all out, my friend.

I truly believe that to write the tough stuff, you simply have to sit down and write it all exactly how YOU feel it happened. Let every hurt, every scar, and every insult just pour out of you. Cry about it. Scream about it. See red. Play the victim. Feel pain. Take no prisoners. Throw everyone under the bus. This is YOURS.

Are you a mess, now?

Good.

Walk away.

Leave it for a day.

Return.

Deep breath.

Edit.

It’s time to take that puppy from raw to personal, deep and meaningful. You’ll find that you’re much clearer about a written situation when you can come back to it. It’s almost like a time machine or a second chance.

Give it a try.

 

 

 

 

 

Writer’s Block is Real, or, How To Write A Proper Apology

You’ve gone and screwed it all up, haven’t you?

Well if you haven’t yet, you will. Trust me.

Or someone will think that you did.

Yes, my friends, at some point in our lives, we’re all going to have to apologize.

They’re not the easiest things to write – and I’m a writer. If my writer’s block is kicking in, chances are I’m poised to write an apology.

Nonetheless, it’s important to know exactly how to write them because they’re not going away any time soon. True apologetic letters have turned into apologetic emails (because one should never, ever text an apology and let that be the end of it).

Nonetheless, there’s a formula that goes in to writing them properly, professionally, and in a way that doesn’t make you want to chase the send button with a few tequila shots.

  • Always keep the apology short and sweet. The longer you ramble, the bigger the chance of subjecting your reader to a lot of drama that probably has little to nothing to do with the situation at hand. Write a paragraph (that’s 5 sentences) or less. For those who struggle with writing, this is where you breath a sigh of relief. After all, a paragraph is often less than 100 words and you’ve already mastered that skill.
  • Don’t focus on the wrong things. So often our apologies are focused on exactly what happened as opposed to what is going to be done to fix it. Think about it: when you’re pissed at someone and writing up that nasty response, don’t you just get angrier and angrier the more you replay the situation in your head? You both know what the apology is regarding. Focus on what will be done to fix it.
  • Choose those words wisely. You want to begin a conversation and calm the storm, not throw wood on the pissed off frenzy of fire. Choosing the right words can be the biggest challenge for someone that doesn’t write often or doesn’t enjoy writing. I understand. Just memorize this sentence: “It’s imperative that you know how deeply sorry I am.” More details on why this is an awesome phrase to keep in your back pocket below.

Okay, let’s just say that you actually did something wrong. I can’t believe it either, but it tends to happen to the best of us. What does that apology read like, exactly? The exercises below are geared toward the workplace, but I’ll explain the basic idea in-depth so you can tweak as needed.

Situation:

You missed a phone call with a client.

Apology:

Client

OH NO! I had you on my calendar for 2pm, not 1pm. It’s imperative that you know how deeply sorry I am and I’d appreciate an opportunity to right this situation as it’s unacceptable on my part.

Can I offer a free hour of writing consultation services in addition to our consultation call?

Your Name

See what I did there? Let’s break it down.

OH NO! (Or some other phrase you like to use: Oh my goodness, Drats, Shoot, Fiddlesticks) in all caps signifies the importance and urgency of your email. It also suggests that you’re not an idiot – in other words, missing your call with them is totally outside the norm.

I had you on my calendar for 2pm, not 1pm. Give a reason as to why this happened. It’s so easy, especially when we screw up, so say something along the lines of, “this is all my fault.” Guess what? As nice as it sounds in your head, it just leads to future distrust. By offering up exactly why you screwed up the person reading your apology can see that this instance was likely an anomaly rather than the standard.

It’s imperative that you know how deeply sorry I am and I’d appreciate an opportunity to right this situation as it’s unacceptable on my part. Everything about this phrase puts you in a submissive position while you’re placing the reader of your apology in a position of power. However, in this position of power, your reader also feels your sincerity and understanding, which helps to cut back on the level of tension. Boom.

Can I offer a free hour of writing consultation services in addition to our consultation call? We all love free stuff. I love it. You love it. The person you’re sorry to loves it. There are plenty of free things to be offered too, even if this isn’t a business related apology. Stand up a friend? Offer to buy them a drink. Stand up your kid? A trip to Disney probably goes a long way. I joke. Maybe just offer them a puppy or something.

See that? Short. Succinct. Smooth. You’re on your way!

On the other hand, we’ve all had to apologize for things that are not our fault. Not by a long shot. That apology too, is something we all must learn how to write, damn it all. The most common apology I find myself writing on a Monday morning is when a client emailed then texted then called with an urgent task- and I didn’t do it. After all, it was the weekend. That one reads a bit differently.

Apology:

Client

Good morning! I wanted to let you know that I did receive your requests over the weekend. Unfortunately, because they were received after normal business hours (9-5, M-F) I didn’t get them until this morning, which I’m sure, must have been somewhat frustrating. I’m happy to make the changes that were requested and they should arrive no later than end of day Thursday, June 27.

I’m very excited to be working on this project with you. In the meantime, if you have any other projects or assignments to add, please feel free to reach out with them. I’m all over it.

Your Name

Now let’s break that down.

Good morning! Start with a pleasant greeting that has nothing to do with the fact you’d like them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

I wanted to let you know that I did receive your requests over the weekend. Unfortunately, because they were received after normal business hours (9-5, M-F) I didn’t get them until this morning, which I’m sure, must have been somewhat frustrating. This part is two-fold. It not only shares with your client that you’re on the ball during normal business hours, but it also tells them where their expectations might have fallen astray. It does not offer any kind of solution because there is no solution to be offered to them and certainly no free things. It explains that you don’t work weekends (duh) and that isn’t something to apologize for (also duh). It also acknowledges their feelings (panic, frustration) when they couldn’t get in touch, but doesn’t feed them.

I’m happy to make the changes that were requested and they should arrive no later than end of day Thursday, June 27. You’re “happy” to make the changes for them. You’re not angry that their attempts to contact you went over the invisible line. You’re not pissed off that they intruded on your weekend. Rather, you’re feeling upbeat and helpful.  Not only that, but you’ve given them a date by which they can expect return which helps alleviate future bugging.

I’m very excited to be working on this project with you. In the meantime, if you have any other projects or assignments to add, please feel free to reach out with them. Reinforce that you’re happy and excited about the assignment. Give them an ego boost. You’re excited to be working with them. Assure them that they can continue sending you tasks and that this situation should not be off-putting.

I’m all over it. Final sentence equates nap time blankie. It’s comforting. The client has nothing to worry about.

So you see, it doesn’t have to hurt to write an apology even when it hurts to write an apology. It also doesn’t have to be something that you plot out half your afternoon to write. Sure you might want to add a bit of personalization if the apology is to a friend or about a more serious matter, but the above should definitely take the worry out of the basic apologies that happen on a (hopefully irregular) basis.

What do you think? Share the ways you like to apologize below. Flowers don’t count unless they’re accompanied by a letter of acknowledgement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kissing Comfort Goodbye

One thing that paralyzed me as a writer, for years, was the idea of sharing my work.

Wait.

That’s a lie.

One thing that paralyzes me about being a writer (present tense) is the idea of sharing my work.

There are those who say writer’s block is simply a matter of severe anxiety. In some instances, I fully agree. This is one of those instances. In fact, the idea of sharing my work with the general public can send me into such terror that writing itself becomes impossible. After all, what could I possibly write that everyone will love?

The answer? Nothing.

I will never write something that everyone in the whole entire world loves and agrees with. It doesn’t happen for the Poet Laureate and it sure as hell won’t happen for me.

And actually, while we’re going down this road, let’s clarify further.

Not only will some people hate my writing to begin with. Some people that start out loving my writing will come to despise it.

Heck, even you’ve been there. Perhaps not with me, but with another creative.

Think of, for instance, that new song on the radio. Gosh, it’s really catchy. Every time it comes on, you can’t help but sing along. Then, a month or so in, it starts to feel a little old. By month three, you swear that radio stations are tracking your movements and only playing the song when you get into your car. Gah! YOU HATE THIS DAMN SONG, TURN IT OFF!

The reality of writing anything, and then sharing it, is that you will encounter a fair amount of criticism. Some immediate. Some down the road. But hey! You did something a lot of people are far too terrified to ever do. That includes your critics.

Criticism is made worse by the internet. The anonymity that haters today can have is rivaled by… nothing.

Frankly, you shouldn’t give a flying bird about any of it.

Being a writer – being an artist – being someone who creates – is reliant upon your ability to kiss comfort goodbye and just make.

And that is something both beautiful and unique about artists of every kind. This is art, my friend. This isn’t rocket science or brain surgery. This isn’t perfection. There is no right or wrong answer. This is expression. This is beauty. There is never complete comfort in the unknown.

We kiss comfort goodbye the moment we choose to create.

Is your inability to write caused by a lack of known factors? An inability to know and control the outcome?

I’m here to tell you that, that will never happen. As an artist, as a writer, you must release the anxieties that follow sharing your work with others. In doing so, you may find that your writer’s block falls a bit by the wayside, too.

 

 

 

 

Experimenting

Want to know when I get the worst writer’s block?

At the end of the day.

After my brain has been used and abused for one hundred other things – walking, driving, uploading, downloading, organizing, talking on the phone, remembering how many ounces are in a typical glass of wine. The usual.

Perhaps you can relate.

See, I never thought of myself as a morning person. In actuality, I was never much of a night owl either. I was more of an 11-7 type. So while there are articles written about how much smarter night owls are or how much more satisfied with life early birds are (why so many bird references when talking about times of day?) I never really related to those articles. I was neither.

Until I decided to experiment.

After all, as writers we’re required to experiment. Even someone simply handwriting a letter or a document experiments with the size of their letters, the angle of their cursive, and similar.

I experimented with what time of day I wrote for myself. This was writing anything from a journal entry to a manuscript.

I started with the evening because that was by and far the easiest. My work for the day was done. I could turn off my phone and not have to worry that I was missing something urgent from a writing client.

That was short lived.

I prefer a dental filling to having to pound out 1,000 words late at night.

I know this factually because I just had one done. A day after I’d tried to write 1,000 words at 8 P.M.

Next, I decided to try the lunch hour. After all, I get a lunch, right? That’s not asking too much from the world.

Turns out, it was. I could never get to my zen place. I was so worried about my phone call with Suzy and my appointment with Jack and my meeting with Mary and those paragraphs I had due to Lindsey.

Finally, I opted to try the morning. Just typing it, I hear the loud groan of displeasure echoing through my skull. My arm even twitched a little like my brain unconsciously asked it to slam down on the alarm clock, ensuring an additional five minutes of rest.

Guess what? 5 A.M. is the lucky charm. I give myself until about 5:30 to eat breakfast (cereal) and make coffee (usually I set a delay the night before so I don’t have to remember how to grind beans). Then I sit down and the words just flow without prompt. I could write for hours. In reality, I write for about one and a half before I start about morning chores like walking dogs and showering for work.

Experiencing writer’s block? Try switching up what time of day you write. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.

PS: Who knew I was an early bird?

 

 

I Know Your Dirty Secret

Are you reading this blog, thinking that your dirty little secret is still just that?

Guess what?

I know…

Wait, not that one. Weird-o.The other one.

You have a little voice inside your head telling you to write a book.

I know this because ever since I wrote my own book, I can’t tell you how many people have approached me with their desire to do just that themselves.

These people are realtors, stay-at-home moms, doctors, lawyers, waiters, journalists, coffee grinders, and, well, you get the picture.

I’ve concluded that pretty much everyone, at some point in his or her life thinks, “I should write a book about…”

But you haven’t done it yet, have you?

Wait, wait don’t tell me why, it ruins the fun. You haven’t started yet because…hmm.

Your idea sucks. Like really sucks. It’s the suckiest book idea to ever enter anyone’s imagination and the thought of putting it down on paper makes you nauseous.

No? Then…

You’ll get around to it. Soon. You promise. You just have a lot going on right now. Or you’re really social and don’t have much time to write.

No? Oh, I see. Well in that case it could only be…

No one will give a damn what you have to say.

The good news (which you glass half-empty people will see as bad) is that you will always feel this way. Forever. Until the end of time. It doesn’t matter how many things you have written, how long or short these written things are, how meaningful or impactful they were on your target audience.

Even the brilliant, witty Elizabeth Gilbert has these fears. And frankly, if she’s worried, the rest of us writers that have had little to no success should be worried, too.

But don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Being fearful of your creativity is healthy. Normal, even. Allowing yourself to be paralyzed by fear, never moving forward to challenge it, however, is not.

Want to pull the wool over the eyes of your self-doubt?

It’s simple. Don’t look back.

When you stop writing and re-read and edit and change, that’s what feeds the inner voice telling you that your writing sucks. Maybe your writing DOES suck. You don’t need to be reminded of that – you just need a good editor. Duh. Which you can find once your book is complete. Which you completed because you didn’t look back.

Is this starting to make sense?

Sometimes what we chalk up to “writer’s block” is nothing more than fear or anxiety. Don’t you dare let those emotions talk you out sharing your story.

I want to read it. Share a link in the comments below.