Grab an eggnog (or whatever drink you favor) and stay with me for a minute as I show you how to make this holiday season your most productive yet.
The holidays are upon us again, and that means roughly a billion distractions will intrude on your business and writing life. There are ways, however, use this chaos to your benefit and stay productive even when the world comes crashing in.
Grab an eggnog (or whatever drink you favor) and stay with me for a minute as I show you how to make this holiday season your most productive yet.
By having a plan and executing it, you can keep your business running smoothly and enjoy all this holiday season has to offer without working yourself into the ground in the process.
When I speak to other writers about the concept of productivity, they do, for the most part, focus on how to get more done faster. And, while we all like to feel like we've accomplished a lot, to me there is a factor that even more important in being a productive writer:
Doing the work you need to do even when you'd rather chew nails.
I know many writers who work hard on the first draft of a manuscript, only to give up when they realize they don't have the skill or mastery of Hemingway or King. They forget that neither of those writers, or the many thousands published since Guttenberg's great invention, were born with those skills either.
They had to learn them, and they did that by continuing even when they wanted to give up.
That's the difference between masters and the people who only dream of being successful: They did not quit.
They kept going even when it was hard. Maybe especially when it was hard.
We all have reasons we want to quit. Even these masters did/do.
The trick is to move past them and make your voice heard.
And that is where perhaps, the second most crucial factor comes in:
Not just in your writing, although of course, that is important, but also in what productivity means for you.
I know writers who work 10-12 hours a day writing thousands of words and consider that only semi-productive. And others who write a few hundred words over the course of a couple of hours and feel very accomplished.
The trick is to know what you are capable of and to push towards that goal every day without exception. Even when you don't want to.
Right now, I am preparing for NaNoWriMo, that delightful time of year where we all try to write the Great American Novel in a single month. Over the course of 30 days, I have set a personal goal of 1,750 words, a little more than the target set by the organizers. It's more than I typically do on a weekday because of my work schedule, but I like a challenge. Even if the book is terrible, I will persevere because the goal is important to me. I want those 52,500 words and that cute little badge that says "Winner." That will be my writing motivation for November. I will find another and a more attainable (smaller) goal for December and onward. That's how I push myself.
Your goal may be smaller or larger, that's up to you. It should, however, be attainable. You'll do yourself no favor if you set a goal to find 20 clients and write 100,000 words in a week only to crash and burn. Likewise, deciding that 500 words in a week will get you nowhere and leave you with no motivation to apply yourself.
For real productivity and balance, you need to find that sweet spot right between what you can quickly accomplish and what is just beyond your reach and shoot for that, pushing through even when it's hard, and you want to stop.
Because the first step to being productive is to persevere. Just keep going, and the rest will follow.
Like every other writer on the planet, perhaps every person, I want to get more done. But that isn’t enough. I want the work I do to be fulfilling and of the highest quality too.
That can be difficult when I have angry editors breathing down my neck and demanding the impossible, or when I’m just run down from trying to do too much.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to improve my output even when the Universe is conspiring against me: Take care of myself.
Self-care is hard for some people, I know. Women especially seem to have a hard time making ourselves a priority. We’re taught from a young age to nurture, to put others first.
Guys don’t have it much better. They are learn to work hard to “provide” for the ones they love. They “protect” through labor and effort.
Both groups are discouraged from “laziness” and rest.
Everyone suffers as a result.
Now, I’m not saying that you should take a trip to Germany and leave the kiddos unsupervised for a week or two (Seriously, who does that?) but making your own care a priority will not only make you a better writer, you’ll be a better partner, parent, and friend too.
Proper self-care relives stress, which is damaging to mind and body. Stress can make it hard to sleep, relax, and enjoy the company of others. Stress can even increase the symptoms of depression and anxiety and put you at risk for a host of other health concerns that could put a serious damper on your family life.
As an added bonus? Dealing with the cause of your stress will make you more productive as well.
Self-Care on the Cheap
Some of my favorite self-care activities, those that I recommend to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed and just plain unproductive, are simple, cheap (or free!) and have been very effective in helping me to feel re-energized and ready for action.
Try some of these and see if you don’t benefit:
Now get off this page and go take care of you!
What is Productivity?
When I set out to write my book on productivity, I had a clear view of what the concept was and what I wanted to write about, but as the book has evolved, that view has changed.
It seems that my definition of the word is not only not universal, but the concept isn't even agreed-upon by everyone either.
In my mind, productivity is a matter of defining your goals, creating a plan, and completing tasks on schedule.
Of course, maintaining focus is an important part of that equation.
In interviewing others I've learned, productivity may simply boil down to getting a lot of stuff done in a short period. Quantity one would say, over quality.
For still others, it means remaining focused long enough to complete one important task every day.
And of course, there are those whose opinions include a mixture of the three perspectives.
I had no idea that being productive could be so complex. But I suppose if it were simple, we'd all be doing it.
This knowledge added a new layer of challenge to my project. I was going to have to do more than explaining how I kept it together every day; I would need to provide tools that could help anyone get a handle on their task list, regardless of how they viewed it.
A challenge, to be sure, but one I am up to.
The goal of this project is to give something of value to struggling writers who, like me, have too much to do and not enough time to do it. While the tools I list can be used by anyone in any industry, they're specifically designed for creatives whose attention is being pulled this way and that, preventing them from making the kind of progress they need to reach their career goals.
Because, no matter how good a writer you are, if your work is never seen, you aren't going to get anywhere. And if you cannot pull yourself together to get it written, it will never be seen.
With this in mind, I tore up my original manuscript and started again fresh. I wanted to make sure that the final book would serve writers of every type well and give them a good resource from which to draw when the world was getting in the way of their success.
I cover the tools I use to help keep my projects straight, to help defog my brain, and to organize the data and sources
I need to make sense of my articles. I also offer access to research information that will help you understand why these tools will work for you and what the experts recommend when nothing you try helps you maintain focus.
I'll even share some spectacular failures of my own and how I recovered to up my productivity and get more done with less time (just so you know a little failure won't be the end of you).
By using the tools I have found on my own and through the help of other writers and entrepreneurs, I provide insight into ways to help you stay focused, set goals, brainstorm your master plan, and ultimately, gets the stuff you want to be done so you can reach those goals. Hopefully, you'll find the success you want in life, that is, if you're willing to put in the work because, in the end, no one can make you successful, you have to go out and take it for yourself.
In the same way, no one can take productivity and success from you. Sure, they can slow you down a bit (you know who I'm talking about), but they can't stop you from reaching the levels of productivity you want if you're really determined to be successful, you'll find a way.
So, start here.
Learn about the methods I use to help me focus when I just can't seem to get it together.
Try out some new tools to help you get and stay organized even when your project is falling apart.
And discover new ways to relax, de-stress, and get your focus back when you're ready to give up.
I'll be posting a few tidbits here and, in a few weeks, sharing a link so you can get a copy of my book on productivity and a free copy of Jumpstart Your Freelance Writing Career when you leave an Amazon review.
Because I'm all about saying thank you when people give me their free time.
I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it and, even more, I hope you get some benefit from it all.
That's really why I wrote it, after all.
I have a habit of buying little travel magnets when I go someplace new. This weekend, while wandering near Mt. St. Helens, I found a unique snow globe with bigfoot in it that said: “I Believe.”
Of course, I couldn’t resist.
But as I played with my new toy in the car, I pondered what that really meant.
Those are powerful words.
If you’re a person of faith, of course, it means you accept the concept of the divine and its impact on your life.
If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you welcome the idea that we are part of a vast manipulation by powers beyond ourselves who seek to control every aspect of our lives and futures (seriously, anyone who has ever watched Congress in action should toss this one.)
As a writer, it means you trust that your skill is great enough, or that your ability to learn and improve is keen enough, that you can create something of benefit to the world.
This last one is what I, and most other creatives I know, struggle with most.
It’s not that we aren’t capable. It’s that we lack the confidence – almost to a person – to consistently credit ourselves with any real talent.
Even the most prolific writers I know suffer from this lack of morale from time to time.
So, how do we overcome?
How is it possible to cast aside all doubt, even after a terrible review, and embrace the idea that we have a gift – the desire and ability to do something others cannot?
By stubbornly refusing to believe anything else.
I wish I could tell you there was a magic formula here that would give you instant results and send your confidence soaring, but there isn’t.
Only through practice, self-affirmation, and continued work will you ever begin to feel as though the work you do is worth something.
And that’s not the worst of it. That praise you hope for, the stuff that comes from outside sources? It doesn’t help.
Relying on others to determine your worth is a fool’s game. If you cannot summon the fortitude within yourself to see you like the wonder you are, no outside source will ever do. Those little nibbles will just set you off in search of more, like a drug that never quite fills the void.
If you cannot look within yourself and find your worth, no one else’s opinion will ever be enough.
This need for self-realization is true in all aspects of life, but especially so when you seek to create. You must believe that your creation has – or will have – worth and go for it.
I’ve talked to writers who insist that they will feel accomplished and have more confidence when they’ve finished that class or sold that first book.
They’re right; they will.
For a minute.
Because as soon as that book hits the shelves, they will start worrying about sales, discovery, and critical reviews.
The moment they finish that class, they will realize how much more they have to learn.
It’s a never-ending cycle that only sets us up for failure.
The confidence that you should do must come first, as must the belief that the world will be a poorer place if you don’t – even if you need to fake it.
And before you start thinking that your work isn’t nearly good enough, remember that someone published a series of books for kids about a bald guy in his underwear. If you don’t think you can do better than that, you haven’t been paying attention.
I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it as often as I must to make you believe it – you are special.
Not “snowflake, take care of me because I am a fragile thing,” special, but unique. A one-of-a-kind piece of a larger puzzle without whom the world would be a darker, more incomplete place.
The world needs you, whether you can see that now or not, it’s true. I urge you to accept that burden – the burden of your gift with joy and grace. You may never be a critically acclaimed author who makes millions, but you just might write the words that save a life, buoy a soul, or create the desire in someone else to learn more or to be more.
You were given this gift for a reason. You may not know why now, hell, you may never know why, but it is here, and you owe it to yourself to own it, nurture it, and share it with the world.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re worthy.
I believe in you and you should too.
Today I watched again and again as the media played an amateur video showing the violence that occurred in Charlottesville. While the White House downplays this incident of domestic terrorism, I think there can be no doubt, for those paying attention, that we should call it nothing less.
If we can consider a semi-organized entity half a world away to be a threat to American ideals for attacking those who think differently, why would we not say the same, and in stronger terms, of those within our own ranks who openly attack those who think and look differently than they?
Thinking people cannot.
You may say that these people are protected but the first amendment. They have the right to speak freely in this land.
I would disagree.
The first amendment to the US constitution protects speakers from prosecution for speaking the truth against the government or the citizens of this country.
It should not provide protection for those who incite violence and encourage hatred. On this we must be clear.
When a “White Nationalist” stands on the corner, waving their flag and screaming for the death or deportation of those of a different hue, they do not deserve protection under the law.
Neither does an administration that refuses to condemn those who seek to sew discord on our shores.
The White House would have us believe the events of Charlottesville were an isolated attack by a single man goaded on by violent counter protesters, but look closely. These men arrived armed, bearing torches, and screaming vitriol at anyone who would listen.
They came looking for trouble and were more than happy to take advantage of the agitation of the crowd to cause it.
And why was the crowd agitated? Because they feel helpless. For more than a year certain politicians have used the hatred of these once fringe groups to draw attention to their cause. While few have openly embraced these groups, they have been happy to use them to draw attention to themselves and turn the dissatisfaction of their base to good effect.
They play the ignorant and ill-informed like instruments and empower racists who feel emboldened to speak for the rest of us. And, as long as we allow them to speak on the public stage and refuse to condemn them for the terrorists they are, they will.
The only way to stop these people, is to drive them back into the darkness where they belong. Force them back beneath the rocks where they have been hiding and deserve to continue hiding for the rest of their miserable, ignorant lives.
We can teach our children, focus on educating the next generation, increase the public’s awareness of the damage this sort of rhetoric causes, but that will only help future generations.
We must act now if we are to stave off continued will put America at the center of a conflict where there will be no winners. We can no longer idly stand by and assure these people have platform on which to spread their hateful ideas.
It is time for us to prove that we stand for the freedom’s this country was founded upon and refuse to allow those who would take those from us and our brothers and sisters the opportunity to do so. We must condemn the actions of these fringe groups and punish those who would encourage them and we must, without hesitation, remove from influence those who would support their ideals.
If we do not, then in short order, there will be little in our nation worth protecting.
I’ve had many friends and colleagues exclaim to me “I wish I could be as productive as you are!” as they watch me put away the last load of laundry or apply the final coat of paint to a project.
I guess they’re right, I do get a lot done, but it isn’t without sometimes feeling like a fish swimming upstream.
Focus and energy are not things that come easily to me. In fact, in high school, one of my best friends bought me a little decoration for my locker, it was a magnet (with matching stationary) and I still remember what it said:
“It can be done, it should be done, it shall be done...tomorrow.”
Yeah, I was a hardcore procrastinator, but I knew if I was ever going to get anywhere in life, that was going to need to change in a big way.
In the years since that cute little gift, I have experimented with ways to pull myself together and be a more productive member of society.
I’ve tried diet and exercise, meditation, workbooks, DVDs, advice from friends, you name it.
All to help me get and stay focused so I could do the things that matter to me.
Most of the things I tried weren’t terribly useful. I wound up distracted or bored and ready to move onto something else.
Some, however, have proven to be remarkably successful in helping me get, and stay, on track. These new methods have made me into a more productive writer, a more organized mom, and a better manager.
I want to share those with you.
Follow along as I lay out my own tools for being more productive throughout the day and listen as I ask high-achieving friends what they use to get it all done.
With luck, you’ll pick up a few tricks that will help you reach the level of efficiency you’ve been striving for and finally make those important goals happen.
You might even find some life changing advice that will help you to enjoy that free time you’ll finally have because you won’t be working so much.
I know I have.
Of course, you might also find that you’re so productive that you’ll take on even more work and bury yourself once again - but I guess that’s a chance you’ll have to take, isn’t it?
Is there anything worse than watching a project fall apart and not being able to stop it? Maybe seeing a client tear apart something you’ve worked on for weeks and being powerless to do anything about it.
Such was the case for me on a recent job.
This client had no idea how to manage his social media accounts. He only knew that he wanted them up, put together, and professional - and they had to be linked.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a request like this, so I put together a plan and a quote and handed it off.
He wanted adjustments to the work, complained about the cost, and insisted on writing his own posts. He only wanted me to set up the accounts so he could get started.
Not a problem.
Until he started writing.
Writing is hard work. It takes a certain skill set that not everybody has. Sure, anyone can string words together, but to communicate effectively is a bit more complex.
Imagine painting a portrait. We can all do it, it is not difficult, but to capture a person, to really communicate who they are with brushstrokes, takes an ability that most of us do not possess - good writing is like that.
This client lacked the ability to put his ideas on paper in a way that reflected his company and the message he wanted to convey.
There is no shame in that. The shame comes from refusing the help of people who do have that rare skill.
His posts were full of misspellings and factual errors and, when I attempted to help him correct the issue, he became defensive, insisting that I just wanted more money.
It wasn't the case, but nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.
It’s been six months now, and he can’t get his marketing off the ground.
He blames me because no one reads his posts, in spite of the fact that I don't write them.
It was frustrating to work so hard to build him something useful only to watch it implode, but sometimes, that’s the way it goes.
Now, when I set up a social media plan, I insist on writing at least two posts per platform and providing a simple template for clients to follow if they insist on taking it from there.
I can’t force them to use it, but at least I can say I tried.
Clients aren't the only ones guilty of this sort of hubris, though. Writers can find themselves in this same boat if they aren't careful
As a writer, I am responsible for so much more than putting words together well. It is my duty to paint a picture for the reader. Sometimes I do that with little effort. Other times, I need help from those who can see the work in a way that I cannot.
When I was young, that made me feel as though I were inadequate. "I am a writer; I should be able to do this!" I would think to myself. Any criticism made me feel like running away and giving up.
I am older now. I have thick enough skin to know that sometimes, others know more than I do - and that's OK. I can accept criticism, learn from my mistakes, and appreciate that, at times, I need to reach out and let someone else show me the way.
In my mind, this is the key to success in business and life. Setting aside our egos and taking advice when given - even if you don't use it all - will help you to grow into a better version of who you should be.
I am hoping that with time, my client will see this and use some of the tips I gave him to improve his company's advertising. Even if he doesn't, I have learned something from him and that alone was worth the experience to me.
I wrote Jumpstart Your Freelance Writing Career because of my desire to help new writers get the information they needed to get up and running quickly. There are many good resources out there for writers who want to start freelancing and have some experience and a network of professional contacts to rely on, but for those who don’t, that’s just not the case.
Most of the books and websites I found when I was embarking on my freelancing career assumed you’d already been writing professionally and had some idea of how to get started.
I did not.
Others promised easy riches in just a few weeks working for just a couple of hours in your spare time.
This was a lie.
In fact, there was so much bad advice and false information I, like many writers before me, nearly quit before I started.
It took some time, but I managed to gather some good resources together and get things on the right track. I was still frustrated, however, by the lack of solid information available to people who genuinely want to work, but can’t get things going.
So, I wrote a book.
In Jumpstart I offer quick tips for launching your business and access to some of my favorite resources and industry experts. Good Useful stuff for the clueless writer to get them started.
But I missed something in the writing of that little book: things I think other new and would-be writers should know about the field.
If I had to do it all over again, I would add my top ten list of things you should know before you dive in and it would include:
1) Getting started isn’t easy. So many books tell young writers how easy it is to build a career from nothing with just a few posts and tweets. “Set up a blog and the clients will come running to you.” The truth is, you’ll have to work very hard to get and keep those first clients and build a reputation if you want to be successful.
2) You’ll have to work hard. This bears repeating. I can’t even tell you how many books and “expert” sites promise writers that they can make their fortune on four hours a day. Perhaps if you have lottery winnings to fall back on, but not if you’re getting started as a freelancer. You’ll work very hard and put in long hours before you’ll be able to even think about working part-time.
3) You won’t succeed alone. It takes more than a writer working alone in the basement to make a successful career. You’ll need help from mentors, industry contacts, and fellow writers to polish your craft and become a success.
4) Periods of famine aren’t uncommon. Most websites lead us to believe that once you start pulling n clients, it’s all downhill from there, but that sort of reliable workflow takes time to establish and, in the beginning, you’ll starve as often as you feast.
5) It’s easy to get distracted. With no one to look over your shoulder, it’s easy to get distracted by the myriad other things you have to get done during the day. Developing a way to keep yourself accountable is essential if you don’t want your career to die before it has a chance to thrive.
6) You’ll face harsh critics. Most critics want to read good writing and can offer up invaluable tips to make yours better but some are cruel just because they enjoy watching others suffer. During your career, you’ll hear from both types. Try not to take it personally. Use the information you can and, as for the jerks, remember that their comments are more about them than you.
7) There’s a lot of competition.Thousands of writers are online these days, If you want to stand out, you’ll have to hone your skills and give your readers something they can’t get anywhere else - exceptional quality written by your hand.
8) Your confidence will be shaken. We all screw up - that’s what keeps editors in business. Do your best to minimize mistake and, when they inevitably happen, learn from them, so it doesn’t happen again. Whatever you do, don’t give up.
9) You’ll need to step outside your comfort zone. If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to push yourself to do things you’ve never done before. It’s the only way to make it. It will be hard, but it’s worth the effort and doing so will make you a better writer too.
10) You’ll never feel better. Finally taking that risk - even if it’s just baby steps - will make you feel like a winner in a way that sitting safely on the sidelines never could.
It’s intimidating, true, and you’ll no doubt question your decision from time to time, but if you really want this, you can do it. Just take a deep breath, steel yourself, and dive in.
Oh, and don’t forget to hold on tight - it’s going to be a wild ride.
In every writer’s life, they must decide whether their stories are going to be a hobby or if they’re going to take the leap and put it out there.
I’ve been a professional writer for some time now, but I’ve always hidden my work behind the names of others, writing posts, articles, and papers under the names of those who would reap the benefit in exchange for a paycheck.
I decided it was well past time to take the leap.
Today, my happy little e-book, Jumpstart Your Freelance Writing Career, drops on Amazon. In it are some of the tips and tricks I used to get myself started when I knew nothing, had no contacts, and possessed no experience in my chosen field.
Most importantly? It has my name on the cover, no one else’s.
Finally, I have gathered the courage to put my name on my project and reap the rewards, or condemnations, of that decision.
Today, for the first time, I feel like a writer.
Whether it’s the type of book that can benefit you or not, take a peek. You don’t have to buy it. I just want yout to appreciate that if I, a self-proclaimed super-introvert, can muster the courage to put myself out at center stage, so can you.
Your future, the fate of your writing career, is in your hands, it’s up to you to take it to the next level.
Don’t risk living with the regret of never having tried.
Take the leap already!
Life's journey was meant to be shared, and I mean to share this one with you. Walk with me while I navigate the wild world of freelance writing. Maybe we'll find some answers together.
Some Awesome Sites I have Enjoyed
Carol Tice is an amazingly generous freelancer with loads of excellent advice. Check out her Freelance Writer's Den!
Henneke Duistermaat is a smart, funny, wildly entertaining writer with practical information on how to communicate with your audience and make you writing shine.
Fabulous information for aspiring writers in every genre ,with information about getting your message out and putting your writing on the map..
Visit Me On Facebook!
Connect with me on Facebook and share your journey in the world of freelance writing. I look forward to getting to know you better!