Category Archives: freelance life

5 Steps to More Authentic Writing

How often have you, as a blogger, been told to write authentically?

How frequently have you read the advice to be authentic and your audience will find you?

Sure, you should absolutely write authentically. Yes, if you are authentic, the right people will find you.

But…

How do you do that?

How do you write authentically? How do you balance all the social media dos and don’ts with being your true self?

Here are my 5 steps to authenticity that apply to anyone creating content:

  1. Write like you speak. Nothing makes your work sound weirder faster than trying to write in a way that you think sounds “smart” or, really, anything other than your natural voice. Focus on being conversational.
  2. Cut the jargon. Related to the point above, jargon alienates most readers. Unless you’re writing for a technical audience who you’re sure knows what you’re saying, cut the jargon. If someone has to look something up, you’ve probably lost that reader.
  3. Edit for concision. Aim for clarity, not length. Check out these 5 editing tips to learn more.
  4. Write in active voice. Whenever possible, write in an active voice rather than a passive one. Check out this blog post for the hows and whys.
  5. Read your work out loud. Always. You could probably do away with tips one through four if you simply read everything out loud. Trust me on this one. Here’s more.

Not one of those tips will take you much longer to complete your piece, but every single one will improve your work.

If you want to dig into this topic more and really examine your blog for authenticity, check out my eBook, Authentic Blogging. With tons of worksheets to go along with the content, you’ll come out the other side feeling confident and self-assured in your writing! 

Writer’s block is a myth

blank-computer-screen
The New York Times obituary of Joseph Mitchell heralded his work writing about average and eccentric folks, which he did well… until he didn’t. According to the obit:

If his name is not as widely known as it might have been, that is mostly because for the last three decades of his life, he wrote nary a word that anybody got to see. For years, he would show up at his tiny office at The New Yorker every day and assure his colleagues that he was working on something, but that it was not quite ready…. Whatever it was, nothing of any substance emerged from his typewriter after 1965 and his friends came to think of it as an exceptionally bad case of writer’s block.

The piece goes on to say that his editor suspected that he was plagued by perfectionism. After all, the janitor at The New Yorker cleaned reams of copy out of his wastepaper bin.

It’s tragic, really. If you haven’t read Up in the Old Hotel*, do. It’s a carefully-curated collection of his work profiling unexpected characters. Mitchell sucks you in, grabs hold, and doesn’t let go until the last page.

So, what happened? Was it the infamous “writer’s block” that did him in?

I think not. I think writer’s block is a construct–a concept invented to allow talented writers an excuse for not doing the work. I think feeling stuck and stressed and overwhelmed and unmotivated occurs naturally in any creative profession. The fear of failing, of being ridiculed, of pouring your heart, soul, time, and talent into something that might be torn apart? Well, it’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

Crazy enough, perhaps, to stop writing altogether.

I’m guilty of this. I have a big project, a personal one rather than a client project, that I’ve backburnered time and time (and time and time) again. My reason excuse could easily be, “Oh, man. I’m just blocked on this one.” But I know that’s not the case. I know that this is a personal project, and it means a lot to me. I know that, by writing, I risk criticism, ridicule, and burning at the stake.

Okay. Maybe not. Definitely not. But it feels like that, so I don’t write.

So, what does a writer do to overcome this? Well, first off, stop calling it “writer’s block” because you’re letting yourself off the hook.

Then, set yourself a good, solid goal. Note that I didn’t say a big, lofty goal. Just a good, solid one. Like, tell yourself you’re going to write 250 words toward your project each day. That’s not much–one page, double-spaced. You can do it. Heck, you could probably do more, but that’s not your goal. Stick with 250. Hit that word count, then save and close your document.

Do it again the next day and the next day and the next. Before you know it, your project will be up and running, sprinting toward the finish line.

Don’t let yourself claim a case of “writer’s block.” Do the work. Keep at it.

Now, I’m off to do my 250 for today. Happy writing!

New project alert!

I’m thrilled to be contributing to two new blogs: The Honest Kitchen’s and Dublin Dog Blog’s. I love both those organizations and am excited to contribute to their online space.

My first two posts for The Honest Kitchen are up, and you can check them out here:

You Found a Lump on Your Pet. Now What?

Kick Dog Car Sickness to the Curb

Can’t wait to share more of my contributions down the line!

New client alert!

I’m so excited to be working with Waggo.com! It’s an absolutely beautiful website filled with must-have pet products. But – even better – I’m working with them on writing home and design content. It’s so much fun to combine pets and home decor, two of my favorite topics.

My first post is live on the site today. Check it out: How to integrate dog design into home design.

I have a bunch more assignments for them in the coming month. So fun!

Dear Freelancers, Stop writing on spec. Please.

I had a disappointing experience recently.

Long story short, an editor asked if I’d be interested in writing for them and, by the way, their rate is x. I said sure. I asked if he had assignments lined up or needed pitches. Pitches. So, I pitched. We went back and forth and ultimately decided on two stories. Then, the assistant editor emailed to say… write and submit them both, they’ll see what works, and pay me for/if they want one of the stories.

Nope.

I imagine that same assistant editor would balk at the prospect of doing her job all day, showing her boss what she accomplished at the end of the eight hours, and then getting paid for only the work he deemed usable. Eight hours behind a desk, say, but only two hours of work passed muster. No way would anyone agree to that.

Or imagine your dentist agreeing to clean your teeth, but you’re only going to pay him for the teeth that YOU think are cleaned well. What dentist in his right mind would agree to such an arrangement?

And, yet, that is exactly what they were asking me to do.

The problem? (I mean, other than the obvious…)

MANY freelancers take on this type of “on spec” work. It’s undercutting and undermining those of us who make our living at this. I pride myself in putting time and effort into every story I write. That includes background research, telephone calls, rough drafts, and editing. I’m unwilling and unable to commit that time to something I might – or might not – get paid for.

I’m also unwilling and unable to turn in shoddy work on the off change that I might – or might not – get paid for it.

Dear freelancers, please stop writing on spec.

You, your time, and your talent are worth so much more than that maybe/if scenario.

Confessions of a planner addict

Hi. My name is Maggie, and I’m a planner addict.

(This is a safe space for those sorts of confessions, yes?)

It’s all because I love setting goals. Okay. That isn’t entirely true. If we’re being confessional, I might as well let my Type-A, hyper-competitive colors shine: It’s not that I love setting goals. Nope. It’s that I love achieving goals.

But, you can’t achieve anything unless you’ve defined it first.

Hence, my planner addiction.

day planner

Yeah. That’s me. Hugging my planner.

This is on the top of my mind right now for two reasons. First, I recently joined a planning group on Facebook (yep, there are more of us!). Second, I start setting the next year’s goals in October. That gives me ample time to brainstorm and think everything through strategically. By the end of the current year, I have the entire next year mapped out.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how I goal plan:

Goals set for the whole year >> slated to be accomplished in specific months >> broken down into action items by week >> scheduled as “to dos” by day

Here’s a more detailed explanation of my process works: I start with scrap paper (I can’t have rough drafts in my pretty planner – final versions only!!) and jot down every single possible idea, project, partnership, and publication that I can imagine for my four main categories (freelance, OMD! blog, dogs, personal). This is a wide-open, no-judgement list. It doesn’t even have to be based in reality  (like, it’s perfect acceptable to write “Appear on Oprah,” even though her show is no longer – these are dreams). Reality comes next.

From there, I go category by category breaking the big ideas down into time frames: immediate, within the next year, within the next five years, and perhaps someday. I type up the five-year and someday goals.

Then, I tackle the immediate and year goals, breaking them down into individual projects. Like “Publish a Book” would be broken down into steps (come up with idea, research idea and other books on the market that are similar, craft an outline, research potential agents or publishers, and so on…), then I put a tentative date next to it. These dates are month only. Immediate projects get marked down for the first quarter. Longer term projects fill out the rest of the year.

If I need to rearrange or tweak anything, I do it here. Sometimes that includes eliminating projects or moving them from the year to the five-year sheet.

The end result is that all the projects I have slated for 2014 will be penciled into a month in my planner. When I approach each new month, I break those projects down into smaller action items by week then by day. I also have a list of dream projects that I can reference and add to as the year progresses.

Once all that is nailed down, I write it in my darling pretty planner!

And, of course, as the year progresses things change. But that’s what White-Out is for!

Are you a planner? What kind of system do you use to plan your year? Or, if you don’t use one, why not? 

What’s on my plate this week?

I love my job!

My work centers around two topics: pets and women’s lifestyle. And this week I have an awesome mix of projects spread between those topics.

First up: Shoptopia.com! I’m lucky to be the pet product curator for this site, which delivers content to shopping malls across the US while maintaining its own hub. I’m pulling products for September right now, and it’s so exciting to be thinking fall!

Next: I just wrapped two feature articles for Weddings in Houston magazine. The publication is a gorgeous glossy full of stunning photography and top-notch editorial for Texas brides. It was a ton of fun to work on stories about cocktails and boutique hotels.

Finally: My favorite recurring project! I get to write the Products and Trends column for Pet Age Magazine, which is the leading pet industry publication. I learn so much about what’s hot by talking to retailers and manufacturers around the country.

Oh! And I can’t forget my passion project, OhMyDogBlog.com. I’m always chipping away at my blog, trying to improve the editorial, photos, and videos, all while tinkering with the behind-the-scenes WordPress stuff and social media presence.

What are you working on? Any fun projects?

The importance of conferencing

When you work from home, it’s easy to get stuck in a particular mindset.

You’re already your own boss (if you freelance), so you lose the benefit of being exposed to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Which is why I make it a point to attend conferences and trade shows at least twice a year.

And I’m thrilled to be heading to BarkWorld this Thursday! I can’t wait to meet other influencers in the pet sphere. I’m excited to learn new social media strategies, to interact with fresh brands, and to talk shop with other writers and bloggers.

Headed to BarkWorld? Hope to meet you there!

Create a morning routine

What does your morning routine look like? Do you frantically search for your keys while downing a cup of coffee? Do you bolt out the door a few minutes late every day? Do you practice yoga or meditate? Hit the gym? Hit the snooze button?

morning coffee

I have never been a morning person. Ever. But recently I’ve found some serious value in a morning routine.

Why?

A morning routine sets up your day for success. And you don’t even have to be a “morning person” to take advantage of a routine. Once you adjust to a new way of doing things, it becomes easier to stay on task and on point.

There’s no “right” routine other than finding what’s best for you. (Lifehacker has some tips, though I’d never suggest giving up coffee! zen habits has a suggestion, too, though I can’t imagine waking up at 4:30 in the morning. But, again, it’s about finding what works for you.)

Here’s the loose outline of my morning routine:

  • 7 to 8: My ideal morning routine starts with a steaming mug of coffee between 7 and 8. I know many productivity gurus suggest not checking email first thing in the morning, but that causes me too much mental anguish. I spend that cup of coffee reading emails, checking my Google reader, updating Facebook and Twitter, and making the rounds through my favorite blogs.
  • 8 to 9: Once I’m caught up online, I head out for a dog walk. It usually takes about an hour to get the puppy tired, which is the amount of time it takes for me to wake up fully.
  • 9 to 12: After the walk, I sit down at my desk – with another cup of coffee and my breakfast – with a clear head, ready to tackle my day.

It’s so simple. Three steps, really. But this easy routine has doubled my before-noon productivity.

What about you? What does your typical morning look like? Have you tried to implement a routine?

Image: Gregory Szarkiewicz

Giving back as a service provider

Now that I work for myself, I can arrange my schedule to be flexible. While most days I’m tethered to my desk from 8 am until sometimes very late, I love the ability to work in some time to give back.

Writing, editing, proofreading, research… All the tasks I do are services that a lot of nonprofit organizations neglect because they’re so busy running their business! It’s really important to be to find ways to give, though financial giving isn’t always the best – or most needed – form of giving. Instead, I’m taking on a handful of service-related tasks, like writing press releases for my local Habitat for Humanity. I like that I can donate my skills to help a stretched-too-thin organization thrive.

How can you find ways to contribute your skills or talents to an organization that needs help?