My Favorite Things to Help Push Past Writer’s Block!

Everyone gets Writer’s Block and it sucks. It sucks monkey balls. Staring at the screen, plucking your eyebrows to the point of baldness won’t help. What works to break the block is different for everyone but these are my favorite ways to help me push past Writer’s Block.

1.) Go for a walk

When the dreaded blank mind of Writer’s Block hits you upside the head like your momma slapping you after using the Lord’s name in vain, step outside. Get that fresh air and sunshine. Use the time to think about what your characters are doing right now. Is your heroine at work? Having lunch? Having a secret affair with her boss who just killed his wife because- see? It’s working already.

2.) Meditate

Clearing your mind, sweeping out the dust and mess can refresh your mind and thoughts. Just focusing on your breath and pushing out all the cluttered thoughts in your head will help you refocus and get a fresh start on your work.

3.) Write crap right there on the page

Yes, you read that right. Write every stupid idea that pops into your head. It doesn’t make sure? So what! Just keep writing. Eventually, you’ll find the path of the story.

4.) Write the opposite of what your character would do

You’re writing a mystery about a very conservative presidential candidate who was about to make a speech but you get stuck. Write the opposite of what a conservative presidential candidate would do in that scene. For example, “Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, strips off his clothes to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and twerks in front of the crowd.” This will get both you gastric fluids and the creative juices flowing.

5.) Change locations

Get away from where you usually write. I typically write at home so if I get stuck, I will run over to the library or the coffee shop or even the park and try to start again. A change of scenery can really help get new ideas rolling in.

6.) Take a break

Step away from the laptop. I see you, lingering there, staring at the screen. Move away and do something else for twenty minutes. This is when I will do some yoga or file some paperwork or watch an DVR’d TV show. Then go back to the work with a clear mind.

7.) Call a Lifeline

Call a friend, gossip, catch on what’s going on in someone else’s life. This will give you perspective and maybe an idea for what to write next! Hopefully, your friends are interesting.

8.) What Would So and So Do?

I love the book The Bell Jar. Love it. Sometimes I like to think about what Esther Greenwood (the main character in The Bell Jar) would do if she was in the situation that the character in whatever I’m writing is in. Sometimes the answer is hilarious or just plain strange but it gets me thinking and that’s the important part.

9.) Listen to a Podcast

There is a boatload of podcasts on writing. Find one and download it. Not only do they inspire the listener with stories of success but also tips on productivity and tips on breaking Writer’s Block!

10.) Switch Genres

What?! You’re a hardcore thriller writer so why would you try to write from a romance perspective? Because it might spark new ideas. It can give you insight into the character and how they may respond in certain situations so why not give it a try?

Next time you’re stuck in the black hole that is Writer’s Block, give one or all of the above tips a try. Most importantly, keep writing! Don’t turn into the “writer” who has Writer’s Block that lasts years. While life goes on, you lose precious time! Keep writing. Keep working. Keep striving for excellence!

 

Mistakes that will Kill Your Freelance Career

Freelancing is a business. It must be treated like a business in order to succeed. Writers sometimes dive in without being prepared or knowing what to expect. The last thing you want is to ruin your reputation as a writer. Here is a list of things that will kill your freelancing career before it starts.

1.) Not editing enough before submitting

A writer’s life is 90% editing. In the words of Stephan King, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

As a writer, we have to frequently “kill our darlings” meaning we need to cut unnecessary words, descriptions and for the creative writers, even dialogue and characters. Find what’s wrong with your work before someone else does because that is a hard thing to live down.

2.) Not responding to emails or calls within a reasonable amount of time

If the person paying you to do work can’t get a hold of you, chances are they will think you are a flake or no serious about your work. I’m not saying check your phone and email obsessively every ten minutes but a few times a day (I’d schedule it so checking and distraction doesn’t get out of hand). If the customer changes their mind about something and you don’t realize until two days later, you may have spent two days working on the wrong project or perspective. It will not only hurt you and your business but the relationship with the company that hired you.

3.) Giving in to your fear

Starting out as a freelancer can be a very scary prospect. Many people, myself included, tense up when pitching to strangers or interviewing people. Don’t let fear take over! Write out everything you need to do for a pitch, interview, article, etc. and then break them up into small tasks. I like to highlight the tasks I finish. I feel like I’ve accomplished something and my planner ends up looking like a rainbow!

4.) Being unprofessional

Never, ever cop an attitude with someone who is paying you. Even if they are asking for free work, politely say ‘I can’t work for free, I’m sorry. Maybe we can work something else out.’ Always return correspondence. Always do what you say you are going to do. Never get angry with someone you are working for or at least don’t let it show. You never know who they will tell and how that will hurt your business.

5.) Working for free

It may seem tempting to write for free, thinking ‘they will surely hire me in the future if I do this for them.’ That’s not the case. There are a lot of scammers out there who will ask for free work and then you never hear from them again or once you tell them your rates they never respond. If someone wants or needs the work done, they will pay for it and they will pay a reasonable wage for it.

6.) Missing deadlines

Deadlines are set for a reason. When the assignment is first issued, write out each step to ultimate success and then break them down on your calendar in small parts. If you do this, there is no excuse (barring death or severe illness) to miss a deadline. If you are going to miss a deadline, or need an extension, tell your contact person immediately so they can adjust their plans.

7.) Not keeping track of your submissions

There is nothing more embarrassing than submitting a query letter to the same company or magazine more than once. They will surely think you can’t take a hint and are more likely to remember that you were rejected for the same idea not once but twice! Most likely you will not get work from them after that happens.

8.) Overloading yourself with work

It may seem like a good idea to send out a lot of queries at once or take on a lot of work at once. It’s not. There are only so many hours in a day and unfortunately, you will have to sleep at some point. Schedule jobs according to what your schedule realistically allows. Don’t book twenty 1000 word articles in a week if you work part-time outside of the home and have quadruplets. It’s not going to happen. Leave time for life to happen.

9.) Not doing the research

Not doing the research will kick you in the ass immediately. If you put the wrong information in an article or blog post, someone will point it out and frequently not in the nicest of ways. If it’s wrong information in your blog post, someone will surely comment and say something that isn’t so nice. For example, “Polar Bears aren’t blue you, moron!” Trolls are everywhere but making an error in your blog, while embarrassing isn’t career crushing. However, if you make an error in a piece of work you are getting paid to write, that can be a crushing blow to your freelance work.

This includes sourcing photos. While photos posted to the internet are technically free for use it is not only appropriate but necessary to give credit where it is due. Different companies source different ways. Make sure to ask for an example of how they format sources.

 

10.) Not finding reputable sources

Wikipedia is not a reputable source of information. I know the word “Wikipedia” sounds like an encyclopedia but it is not. It is gathered and submitted information by the everyday person that is not researched for accuracy before posted online. Never, ever use Wikipedia as a source.

How do you find a solid source for information? Go to the library. If you are looking for online sources only, if you search for something like “what color are Polar Bears?” and more than two sources state that Polar Bears are white, since they concur on the information, chances are that they are good sources.

Overwhelming, right? There is so much to steer clear of in order to have a successful freelance career but if you love writing and want to be your own boss, it is worth it. Keep writing and editing. Keep your chin up and eyes on the goal. You will get there and if you follow the tips above, you will be in good shape as a freelance writer.

Freelancing for Newbies

Ah, the freewheeling life of a freelancer. It’s been just a few months freelancing and I’ve already learned some valuable lessons. To save future freelancers, I’ve written a list (a listed article is sometimes called a ‘listicle’) of the top five things NOT to do when starting out as a freelancer.

1.) Do not give away your time or talent.

It may seem tempting to give new customers a “deal” because you feel so grateful for the customer giving a job to a newbie, but nothing makes you seem more like a newbie than giving your talent away. It wreaks of desperation and in general, customers will take advantage. Once you set that precedent of being a push over, they will expect it in the future. Stand firm on your rate (assuming it’s  reasonable) and how much time you need to finish the project.

2.) Edit and then edit again.

Never ever turn in a project that has not been read through twice after finishing and read out loud at least once. Why? Editing your own work is hard because you know what you meant to write so your brain makes you see nothing but perfection most of the time. However, give it an out loud read and you’ll see more mistakes and hear more awkward wording. If you have another freelancer friend, trade editing work. Fresh eyes can help a lot.

3.) Outline articles before submitting a query letter

Frequently, I will send the basic query letter and get a response of “we’d like to know more. Please send more information on sources and content.” Basically, they want an outline of what your article will include. I suggest doing the outline before sending the query. This is because if a magazine or website shows interest, you want to send the outline immediately before they have time to forget about you. If you get an email from the magazine and they then have to wait on you, they may lose interest. In freelancing, you have to be fast!

4.) Make sure you actually have time to take on the project

As a freelancer, we tend to take on a lot of work at once (from time to time, anyway) because if the work in coming in, we usually can’t afford to turn down work. However, if you are overloaded with research heavy work or a lot of little projects, don’t continue to add to your workload. Yes, you will be losing some money but losing your reputation as a competent, responsible and talented freelance writer is a bigger loss.

5.) Treat this as a business from the very beginning

I know, from experience, that it is very tempting to stay in bed an extra hour in the morning. It might seem like a good idea to go for a long lunch followed by shopping. I get that you feel like you have a lot of time now that you aren’t leaving the house to work a traditional 9-5 but from the get go, you need to treat this like a business. Get up, get dressed (you feel more productive if you change out of pajamas- even changing into clean sweats and a t-shirt will make you feel more prepared to get down to business) and plan your day. Breakfast, check emails and get to work.Working as a freelancer has a ton of perks: work from home, no traffic, you are your own boss but you have to take it seriously

Working as a freelancer has a ton of perks: work from home, no traffic, you are your own boss but you have to take it seriously. Keep working at it and remember that this is your job. Treat it like one!

Feel free to comment below and share with fellow freelancers, please!

What My 12 Year Old Taught Me About Forgiveness

My daughter, Alexis, is a special kind of kid. Yeah, I know, everyone thinks that their child is amazing but mine is. 😉

Anyway, she has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. She loves it and believes in sisterhood and helping others.

Recently, a girl in her troop and at her school, we’ll call her Stacy, told Alexis that there was an Instagram account called I Hate Alexis. Stacy told her that it had Alexis the name of Alexis’s friend, Jennie, as the owner of the site. Jennie denied it but Stacy was insistent that it was Jennie because she had texted Stacy about the account. The account said the “Alexis is the worst, ugly and stupid.”

Alexis told me about it. I asked what she wanted me to do. She said she wanted some time to think about it.

The next day, Alexis said she believes it wasn’t her friend Jennie, but it was actually Stacy. She said she’d like to talk to Stacy first.

At school, Alexis, on her own, approached Stacy and told her “I know Jennie didn’t make the Instagram account. Do you know who did?” Stacy said no and ran away.

Alexis told me that she thinks Stacy did it based on how she was acting. Again, I asked what she wanted me to do. She said “nothing. I want to talk to her.”

The following day, Alexis approached Stacy. Stacy burst into tears and admitted to Alexis that she had made the account. Stacy said older girls told her that Alexis and other girls were making fun of her. These happened to be the same older girls who Alexis had told them to stop teasing Stacy a few weeks earlier.

Alexis told me after school that Stacy had admitted it. The account was taken down. I asked her if she wanted me to talk to the principal or have her removed from our Girl Scout troop. She said “no, if anyone needs the love and support of our troop, it’s her. I think admitting what she did was punishment enough. She has a rough life at home. Now we need to teach her how to handle bullying and her problems without hurting other people. That’s what Girl Scouts do. We forgive and support our sisters.”

I was stunned. I cried. My twelve year old had insight and emotional maturity that I didn’t have at that age or even at twice her age! She chose love over revenge and hate. She saw the way this girl was hurting and rather than hurting her back, she wants to love her and help her.

Over the next few days, I couldn’t get over Alexis’s reaction to this betrayal by a girl she considered a friend for years. That’s when the principal called.

One of the other girls attacked on the Instagram account had called the school to complain. The Vice Principal called me to see what I knew. I told him and said that as far as Alexis and I were concerned it was over and Alexis had forgiven her. He praised Alexis for her maturity and said he had to dole out punishment (because rather than helping people understand better ways to deal with hurt they punish).

In the end, Stacy received Saturday School and a mark on her permanent record but more importantly she received understanding, love and kindness, which hopefully will help Stacy learn to love herself enough to handle bullying appropriately.

Be Like the Bird

Days Left to 100 days of meditation: 96

Lesson learned: there’s a reason the early bird gets the worm.  It’s because no one is bothering her at 5 am.

I love my family.  I do.  I’d rather be at home with them than doing anything else (yes, there is a “but” coming) BUT I have found that I cannot, I mean CANNOT meditate with them pulling me in all directions!

The darkness of the morning beckons me to stay in bed so I slept in and therefore did not have my usual 10-15 minutes to meditate before helping my daughter get out the door for school and driving my husband to work and getting myself to work.

‘No problem’, I thought, I’ll meditate really quick at work.

QUIZ: Did I have time to meditate at work?

a.) of course!

b.) yes, but only for a few minutes.

c.) nope, why would you ever think there would be time to meditate at work?

The Answer: c.) Duh.

So I went home after work, thinking ‘I’ll meditate before bed, no problem.’

It’s bedtime and I go into the bedroom to meditate.  The bird (a very vocal parakeet named Oswin who doesn’t so much chirp as she screeches) starts yelling, most likely because my husband, her favorite, isn’t in the room.  I’m smile, for I came prepared.  I put on my huge headphones to drown her out as I open the Meditation Minis podcast by Chel Hamilton to get my calm on.

I begin to listen when my husband comes in, turns on the TV and then puts headphones on himself and plays a video game.  With the TV on.  Lights flashing, noises seeping into my ears.

Focusing with all my might, I tune into the soothing meditations of Chel Hamilton.  Then my phone vibrates. Even though I have the “do not disturb” feature on, (apparently there’s a setting to stop texts but I don’t know how to find it and forget to look), it still vibrates.  I know I should not look.  I’m sure it’s not an emergency, right?  What if it is though?  What if someone was in a car accident?  What if Lex (my 11 yr old) fell down a well?

I look at the text. It is Lex.  She sent me at least a hundred purple and blue heart emojis, which is lovely but this time was supposed to be about me relaxing.

I gave up.  I went to bed with the promise of waking up early the next day.

Guess what?  That was the answer.  I woke up early, meditated before doing anything else, before anyone else could get to me.  Success!

I meditated and the results were calming and immediate which you need if you live in L.A., have a family, have to leave the house ever or have Time Warner Cable.

So the moral of the story: be like the bird.

 

100 Days of Meditation: My Journey to Inner (and Outer) Peace

In August of this year, I spent a record number of hours in the bathroom. Constant stomach cramps kept me from sleeping more than a few hours. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even drink. I felt like something was wrong, seriously wrong.

 

My dear husband, Joe, took me to urgent care. The doctor talked to me and said I had a gastrointestinal infection (when diarrhea is yellow, that’s a sign of gastro infections) and maybe a stomach virus. He gave me antibiotics and two bags of IV fluids for my dehydration. I went home under orders to eat a B.R.A.T. diet. B.R.A.T. stands for Banana, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast (or crackers).   He said if I got worse to go to the ER.

 

In the days following, the pain increases exponentially. I was forcing fluids but still couldn’t stomach food. I urinated constantly. The human body pushes fluids out when you’re sick to flush your system but I was still feeling worse.

 

Days later, I’m forcing myself to eat crackers and toast. Applesauce was not sitting well. The amount of time spent in the bathroom doubled. My husband took me to see the doctor. Since my usual doctor was out, I saw her associate. This guy tells me nothing is “wrong” just that I have a bladder infection and gives me different antibiotics. He tells me to continue the B.R.A.T. diet.

 

4 am, the following Monday, I’m in so much pain. I’m crying. I have oral thrush now (yeast infection in my mouth) from too many antibiotics, which are obviously not working. I crawl to the bathroom and have the WW3 of diarrhea. Sweat is pouring down my face and my stomach knots while what must have been a tiny little man stabbing my insides twists my intestines. I nearly pass out. My husband takes me to the ER.

 

The ER doctor does scans, tests, both urine, feces and blood. He looks at all of my records and my symptoms. Finally, he says he thinks I have IBS, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome. He hands me a paper with info on IBS and the diets needed to reduce/eliminate symptoms. I need to follow up with a Gastroenterologist.

 

The diet is called a Low Fodmap diet. Foods break down into different kinds of sugars. People with IBS have a hard time processing these sugars in large quantities. Guess what foods were on the “avoid” list? Applesauce (both apples and corn syrup are the enemy of IBS), gluten (crackers and toast). Fifty percent of my prescribed diet was making me sicker. Cutting out the foods on the “avoid” list helped tremendously but I was still fatigued, had mild cramping and no desire to eat or drink. I went to see the Gastroenterologist.

 

The dreaded colonoscopy came next. Two liters of thick, bitter salty fluid and a day and a half in the bathroom with no food later came the big test. Fortunately, I was fine. I had a few polyps but nothing to worry about. Yay!

 

Now I’ve been on the diet for a few months and it has helped but I have noticed that stress tends to send me to the bathroom. So now I need to de-stress which leads me to meditation and yoga. I found a 100 Days of Meditation Challenge and decided this was the way I’d go.

 

I will meditate and do yoga at least once a day and document the effects I feel. Join me in my journey down the wellness rabbit hole!

 

Tania