It’s Most Difficult at the Beginning

I am back to square one, maybe even square negative five, regarding my fitness level. Similarly, but much less drastically, I’m at a low point in client numbers. Fitness and business have always swung along the same pendulum in my life, likely because they both depend solely on my own motivation and willingness to do the work. At this particular moment in time, I’m working on the basics for good health and for a prosperous business. You know, paying attention to what and how much I eat, making a point of doing some form of exercise everyday, making marketing calls, sending out queries, referring back to my business plan.

And it’s freaking hard.

Easing myself into things, as I do, I started counting calories two weeks ago, and have kept it up. Now it’s time to add in exercise, and that is tougher. I’m trying to follow a fun, slightly silly workout plan, that uses the language of RPG (roll playing games). It’s called The Hero’s Journey, and it looks pretty simple. Except, on the first day, I am supposed to do 100 reps of four bodyweight exercises. I’m going to try, but don’t have much faith that I’ll be able to do it. The first set of 25 almost killed me.

Similarly, I started sending out marketing emails a week or two ago, but I know that to see real results, I’m going to have to do much more. Like make 10 calls a day, every day, for a month or two, and continue to send out several emails per day. That’s just how it works. For someone like me, who feels weird and awkward on the phone, and who struggles with any kind of social interaction, this stuff is hard. Probably not as hard as getting back in shape, but still not exactly as easy as writing a blog post.

The important thing to remember at times like this is that it’s only hard for a little while. It won’t take long before I’m looking forward to working out, or before the marketing has done what it always does and I only need to send out 2-3 queries each week to stay busy. Everything in life is that way. When I first built my flower garden, it took a lot of work to break up the grass and fluff up the dirt. But the next spring was easier, and every one after has been too. Any BIG THING is that way. You have to approach it a bit at a time and know that it will get easier.

A friend learned to play guitar as a teenager. Then she got a job, raised some children, and didn’t play. Recently she picked it back up and says the same thing about her practice sessions. They are tough, but she knows they will get easier.

Have you ever started over with something? How did it go for you?

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Walking the Freelancer Tightrope

The fourth quarter of 2014 was my most lucrative quarter as a business owner to date. It was the kind of quarter that makes you reevaluate and scale up your goals, and spurs you to begin dropping your lower-tier clients. It felt good.

(You know what happened next, don’t you? It’s so sadly predictable!)

The first two months of 2015 have been less than stellar. They haven’t been my worst months ever — not by a long shot — but my earnings did drop to about 30% of what they were in the two previous months. There are many reasons for the drastic drop, and most of them are related to the delicate balance business owners much strike between feeling good and feeling a little worried.

When I’m a little worried, I pay more attention to marketing — it’s just naturally on my mind more. Since it’s on my mind, I see opportunities while reading for pleasure, browsing online, having conversations with colleagues, as well as randomly in the middle of the night. I’m just more open to finding new work.

On the other hand, when I have lots of work, I’m thinking about getting that work done all of the time. I’m making connections to whatever it is I’m writing — and that is good. It gives my work more depth, and sometimes shines a new light on a topic.

When things are tighter, I tend to hoard my pennies, and my time. I don’t invest much in things like software, or in taking time off from writing to go to lunch or to events. Of course those things can, and do, generate new business.

You might imagine that less work = more time for other projects, but that hasn’t been the case in my experience. For example, when I had more deadlines than usual, I got up between 30 minutes and one hour early everyday to work on my fiction projects. Scheduling becomes more important when you are busy, and sticking to the schedule is critical.

When I have fewer deadlines I tend to let things slide, thinking, “Eh. I don’t have anything scheduled for the afternoon. There’s no harm in sleeping in this morning.” Or watching a movie, or baking some bread, or whatever other purple squirrel I can come up with that day.

Luckily, I’ve been working on my own for long enough that I have some safeguards in place to deal with the current situation. I have a long list of publications to contact, and another list of businesses and organizations that might need my services. I have a plan that I can pull up and follow the moment I realize things are off-track.

Recognizing the downward turn and taking the steps necessary to correct it are two different things, of course, but that’s where experience comes into play. It may take me a month or two to see what’s going on, but once I do, it’s easier to take action.

Here are a few of the specific steps I’m taking now:

1. Sending out a set number of letters of introduction or pitches each week. My number is 10. I do a fair amount of research before contacting a prospect so more than 10 becomes overwhelming.

2. Contacting all former clients with whom I enjoyed working. This one is self-explanatory, and just common sense. It also tends to yield the fastest results.

3. Closely evaluating how my time is spent. If there is “spare” time, I try to fill it with either planning, research, or working on my fiction projects. It feels terrible to realize I’ve wasted time on social media or playing games when a glance at my bookkeeping software clearly says I should have been doing something to support my income!

4. Getting back to my plan. In November and December, I put together a detailed plan for the next year. It has some good stuff in it, and pulling it out and following the steps is helping me stay on track.

5. Making sure the basics are covered. A couple of weeks ago, this site went down because I forgot to pay my hosting bill. That is just a bad way to run a business!

Have you ever corrected a downturn in your business? What are your best tips for avoiding a slump? 

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Refusing the Fear

One of my big things for 2015 is publishing fiction. It was one of my big things for 2014, too, but it didn’t happen. Lots of other good things happened, but I didn’t publish any fiction. This year, I’m taking a few proactive steps to push myself along:

I’ve taken a spot on the calendar of a very in-demand professional editor. In December, she announced that her first available opening for 2015 was August, and I grabbed the slot. So, I now have a deadline.

Writing fiction is scheduled, just like my client work. Each day begins with #firsthourforfiction. (Except today. Today I’m sick and haven’t written any fiction yet. Having that time as part of my daily schedule makes doing the work easier. Just like when I rode the city bus to school and walked to class. Exercise was a built-in part of my day and much easier to fit in.

Daily reporting on what I’m working on will give me a good reason to actually do the work. I’m posting #firsthourforfiction reports on my public Google+ profile, and have also joined a couple of accountability groups.

All of those things may seem like normal, common sense things, but in reality, they are tactics for dealing with fear. Feeling afraid of writing is something new for me. Writing is what I do; it’s what I’ve always done. Writing is how I make decisions, it’s how I work out tangled emotions, it’s how I speak most clearly. I write hundreds — often thousands — of words almost everyday. I’ve written and published a non-fiction book without the least bit of fear. Articles don’t scare me, nor blog posts.

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Why is fiction scary?

It’s not because it’s a window into my soul or anything cliche like that. I have no plans to write any kind of ground-breaking literature. I just want to tell a story. This book will be the equivalent of a TV show you might watch for entertainment. I’m not trying to change minds or say anything important
with it.

It’s not because I fear rejection. Since I’m going to self-publish, there won’t be anyone to reject it. I don’t expect it to be a best seller or anything like that. If things go according to my long term plans, it will simply be the first of many entertaining stories that will provide some small income for my retirement years. I have no plans to market this one story at all. I will simply write it, polish it, and publish it, then move on to writing the next one.

I think it is scary because some people I respect will read it, and maybe they won’t like it. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. People pay me money to write things. If the people I respect don’t like the stories I write, maybe I’m not really good at it. Then, I’m not good at anything.

Now, that is the deep, dark, sinister voice inside me. It’s not the optimistic, bright outlook I work for, or even the logical, calm train of thought that I rely on. It’s the ugly thing that I try to ignore.

It won’t be ignored, though. It asserts itself. It’s the reason this novel has not yet been published. It’s the reason so many other stories are sitting, half finished, in my documents list. It’s the reason I’m still a wannabe and cannot speak about writing fiction from a position of authority and experience.

2015 is the year of seeing projects through in spite of the fear. It’s the year of having a little courage.

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Doing the Right Thing at the Wrong Time

There are so many ways to procrastinate that look like work, it’s a wonder anything ever gets done. For instance, I have a friend who loves to market her writing, to talk to editors, interview, and put together outlines. But she detests turning those outlines into articles. She will send out an extra five letters of introduction, reconcile her finances for last year, make

I also take photos of flowers when I'm avoiding writing fiction.

I also take photos of flowers when I’m avoiding writing fiction.

budget predictions for next year, and scrub the toilet in order to avoid the actual writing part of her job. All of her procrastination activities are useful and helpful, but they are a good example of doing the right thing at the wrong time.

I’m writing a novel. I have a gap-ridden first draft, and am about a quarter of the way through first revisions. It has taken me about ten times longer to get this far than I ever imagined it would. There are lots of reasons it’s taking so long — from the fact I have to earn a living writing other things to being fearful. If you’ve been a reader your whole life, and you have a good idea of what good writing is, it can be terrifying to put your own work out there.

In any case, I find myself doing the right things at the wrong time constantly. Yesterday, during my scheduled writing time, I found myself wondering what categories I would use on Amazon when the book is completed. If you know much about self-publishing, you know that categories and keywords are critical because they are how people find your work, so choosing the best ones is the right thing to do. Choosing them when the book is only a fraction of the way to being finished is the wrong time to do it. I have also chosen an editor (who I will not be able to afford, barring a winning lottery ticket or other unforeseen windfall), and have discussed cover art with an artist whose work I admire. Right things, wrong time.

What productive things do you find yourself doing to avoid the hard stuff? Do you go with it, or do you exercise some discipline get yourself on track?

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The Value of Unstructured Writing

When I think about the work that some other writers get done in a day – or what they say they get done – I am amazed. Flabbergasted. Especially when I compare my own work-related activities. Part of the problem is that I don’t really credit some of the writing I do as important. I’ve always tended to think of unstructured or unpaid writing as goofing off, but that is misleading and part of a mindset I’d rather let go of.

For instance, many mornings, or moments when I feel stumped, I spend time writing in a journal. Later that time feels wasted. Writing has always been the way I work through problems. It helps me think things through, and look at them a little more objectively. It calms me. So, sometimes, I journal about things that I’m worried about — a disagreement with my husband, feeling annoyed with my messy house, money, or any other of the approximately 2 million things people tend to worry about.

But there are other times that my journal entries serve as a starting point for blog posts and articles. It’s a place/time/way to tease out ideas and see if they are worth exploring or not. Sometimes I will reread past journal entries and find a single sentence or a paragraph that sparks another idea that turns into a new kind of marketing to test.

My “journal” is actually a document titled “Writing Exercises & Ideas” and it is a jumble of all kinds of things — often useful things. It’s where I end up noting points in other people’s work that intrigue me, or silently arguing with experts. It’s also where I play with ideas for fiction, and think about my professional life. There are some pro/con lists, and lists of things I want to learn, and entries where I just dream of what I want (sometimes it’s a description of me completing a marathon, or a description of what our house will look like when it is all finished, or a description of what I hope my career looks like in 15 or 20 years.)

Time spent thinking, dreaming, planning, deciding, and exploring is not time wasted. Changing how I view my own activities – acknowledging that writing in my journal is productive and useful – feels like an important shift. It all goes back to my personal narrative, which is an idea that has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now.

Are there any parts of your job that you feel vaguely guilty for doing, but that contribute to your overall productivity? Have you ever had to shift your thinking in order to realize that productivity? 

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There Is No Perfect Job

Yesterday, I wrote about my personal narrative – the story I tell myself and others. Contemplating work and life choices led me to think about  Jon Morrow’s recent post How To Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers. I’ve been pondering what my so-called ideal day would look like (there are actually several versions of it) and whether or not the activities I do on a daily basis are going to get me any closer to any of those versions of an ideal day.

Jon’s post is about getting smarter in order to become a popular blogger. He shares his own daily routine, including the deliberate steps he takes to get smarter. Those steps cover everything from reading nonfiction books daily to finding friends who stretch his mind. He is talking about the day to day activities required if your dream is to be a popular (or successful, or money-making, whatever you want to call it) blogger.

Jon does a great job of explaining the work that is involved in being a great blogger – great posts don’t just flow from a fountain of inspiration. There’s research, writing, rewriting, learning, and thinking involved. There are a whole lot of experts and studies that offer inspiration for people who are looking for something different, an alternative to a gray cubicle. You can find all kinds of advice on starting and running a small business. While that kind of inspiration abounds, posts like Jon’s are a different sort of inspiration.

Even the most perfect job involves, well, work. Some part of the day to day stuff will probably always feel like a grind. Calling it an “ideal day” is a

A literal grind! (image from Creative Commons on flickr.)

A literal grind! (image from Creative Commons on flickr.)

little misleading – wouldn’t most of us think of a vacation day as the ultimate ideal day?

When I am writing, I can get lost. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post, a research article, marketing copy, or fiction – if I’m playing with words, I am having fun. (Unfortunately my dogs or the phone or some other minor interruption usually limits the time I’m lost in the fun part of my work.) But, sending out emails marketing my services? Ugh! That, for me, is a grind. A slog. The part of this job I’d like to skip. (And, I don’t mind the minor daily interruptions during this part of my work!)

My writing accountability partner is the opposite. She LOVES marketing. She likes doing interviews, creating outlines, and so on. The writing? She can’t stand it. She gets all tangled up in figuring out where in the outline bits of information fit best, and in writing active versus passive sentences.

There’s always going to be a part of the job that isn’t fun. What part of your job do you love? What part could you do without?

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