Review & Reflect, Set & Implement

For about the last three or four weeks, and maybe even a little longer, I’ve been thinking about what I want. From little things like some new socks (why do I wait until every pair has holes before I buy new ones?) to bigger-picture things like

You have to start somewhere.

You have to start somewhere.

what I’d like my life to look like in a year, or five, or even ten. Thinking about what I want inevitably leads to thinking about how I spend my time because, as we all know, minutes make hours and hours make days and days make years. What you do with your minutes matters.

Review & Reflect

So what have I been doing? Not writing posts for this blog! The last post was in AUGUST. This blog, and in fact, my business, enjoyed an unnoticed, uncelebrated anniversary in July. Smiling Tree Writing began (both the blog and the business) in 2009. The last two months have been the most profitable for the business to date (which is one reason there haven’t been any posts since July — I’ve been working!). Both of those facts make me feel a sense of pride, as well as a drive to push harder.

Although the last two months were the best to-date, I have a confession: November was the first time I met my original, set-in-2009 income goal. It took more than five years to reach that first (quite modest) income goal.

I have conflicted feelings about that. One the one hand, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I had to work that hard for

Then you can grow from where you are.

Then you can grow from where you are.

that long to make that (quite modest) amount of money? Geez. Do I really want to keep on doing this? On the other hand, it can be done. I’ve learned an awful lot about it in the last five years, and it feels like that work is paying off.

Of course, reaching that original goal means I must increase it rather drastically — by about 75%. In order to increase your income by 75% you need goals, short term, long term, measurable, specific, and all of the other things that good goals are.

Set & Implement

Once I knew what I want for the next year and beyond — insofar as anyone can know since the universe always holds surprises — I needed a map. How do I get from here to there? Here’s a glimpse of what my goal setting looks like:

  1. professional
    1. make $XXXX a month, from varied sources (this will require an increase in both number of assignments and amount paid per assignment)
      1. create a list of publications to pitch
      2. continue looking for regular, steady, paid gigs like XXXX and XXXX — it would be great to have 2 more of those
      3. set a regular schedule for marketing, whether it’s a couple hours a week or 15 minutes per day. Just do the work.
    2. finish the rough draft of my story, send it to some people to read, get it to XXXX for editing in August, get it
      ...and growing...

      …and growing…

      published in October.

      1. complete the draft in Scrivener
      2. get the whole thing printed for draft 3
      3. make corrections in Scrivener
      4. send to people to read
    3. finish the tips for XXXX book, pay to have it formatted and pay mark for a cover and get it published by February.
      1. inquire about cost for formatting.
      2. if it’s not all already in Scrivener, get it there.
    4. start writing on smilingtreewrites again, at least every other week.
    5. update everything in my portfolio, add new work
  2. health
    1. Nutrition
      1. shop every

As detailed as that list may seem (and it goes on for several pages, and covers a variety of categories besides professional and health) it is missing at least one crucial element. Dates. Although it mentions some months, there are no specific milestone-type dates. For example, this list doesn’t say how many letters of introduction or queries I will send each week in pursuit of new work. It doesn’t say by what specific date I will have completed the rather painful second draft of my manuscript, or what date I will have “the whole thing printed.” As it stands, this list of goals is only a partially useful.

After I wrote this list, I made another for how long I’d spend on various activities each week or month. Doing that led me to add a few things. Next, I’ll put things on my calendar, so that I see them everyday. I may even make some kind of visual aid to hang next to my desk to help me stay focused as I’m working.

The hardest part is implementation. I can write workout plans all day long, but that won’t help me become a runner again. To do that, I’ll have to put on my running shoes and hit log in some miles. Reaching your goals isn’t magic, no matter how magical it may feel when you do.

When do you review and set new goals? Do you have a process? Can you share any sage advice about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to reaching goals? 

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What To Do When You Mess Up

Throughout the majority of my writing career, I’ve worked with long-term clients. Usually, my clients are business owners who need regular content for their blogs or their newsletters. We get to know each other fairly well. Lately, I’ve been diversifying a bit and adding in a few publications.

A few weeks ago, I pitched an article to an editor I’d never worked with. She liked my idea and gave me a rather short deadline. It was exciting because it was a topic that I love, and the pay was higher than

Perfection is over-rated.

Perfection is over-rated.

I’d expected it to be. I put the deadline on my calendar on the right date, but got it mixed up in my mind.

In case you are wondering how that is possible: The article was due on Monday, August 4. As I planned my schedule, I somehow thought the 4th was on a Friday. I scheduled time to interview, write, edit, and proofread on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Duh!

My subconscious, though, had a better grasp of dates than my conscious mind. I woke up in the middle of the night Sunday night — suddenly — and realized that Monday was the 4th, and that the article wasn’t started. Cue the panic.

I got up early Monday morning and went to work, cobbling something together. It wasn’t great. I wasn’t proud of it. In the email submitting it, I told the editor that since it was my first article for her, it would probably need revision. She responded that it was totally inappropriate, and asked if I could write something that included original interviews and was more suitable by Wednesday. I owned up to the mistake, agreed that the first draft wasn’t good, and said that I absolutely could send something better.

Feeling pretty good about getting a second chance, I went to work, contacting people who might be willing to interview, writing questions, and generally doing my job. I wanted the second attempt to be outstanding. And, at the risk of being a braggart, it was. The editor published it within 10 minutes of receiving it, and send another assignment the next day.

That is just one example of my many, many stories about messing up. Through years of stumbling along, screwing things up, and carrying on with life, I’ve come up with a list of things that help when you know you’ve messed up:

1. Own it. Confess. Admit that you screwed up. Honesty is the best policy, and you will really put some bad juju out in the universe if you try to blame someone else.

2. Apologize. Say you are sorry. You don’t have grovel, but once you confess the next thing to do is apologize.

3. Come up with a plan to make it better. Make some suggestion that may help remedy the situation.

4. Deliver superior results. If you get a second chance, as I did in with the new client, make sure you come through.

5. Remember: everyone messes up. Don’t spend time beating yourself up. Just do what you can to make it better and move on with your life.

Have you messed up in a big way? Did you recover? How? What are your best tips for getting past a screw up? 

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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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“I’ll Take a Look at It on Spec”

The majority of my writing clients are regular clients, and most of them are people I’ve met. I work with several local business owners, and a few folks I met or found online. In any case, my invoices go to pretty much the same group of people month after month. Sometimes there will be additions, and sometimes clients will drop off. Now and then, I like to look for new work — either because I’m ready to boost my income, or I want to learn about a new industry, or I have a good story idea.

Recently, I decided to look for publications within a particular industry. I had some ideas for stories and wanted to see what the market was like. I identified a couple, called

It's nice to look at pretty flowers while pondering a difficult business dilemma.

It’s nice to look at pretty flowers while pondering a difficult business dilemma.

one, and learned they preferred to receive queries. I read several past publications then pitched three articles. The editor liked one of them and emailed me to say that she would “take a look at it on spec.”

If we were talking about a publication I’d dreamed of seeing my name in for years, maybe I’d feel differently, but my first reaction (in my mind only) was “I don’t work on spec.” But then I thought about the fact that this editor doesn’t know me. She would be taking a risk by assigning an article to an unknown. I offered to send clips in my introductory letter, but maybe she doesn’t have time for that. Even if she does have time to look at my clips, she has no assurances that I will turn in clean copy; there’s always the chance that my clips were cleaned up by some other editor.

However, I would be taking a risk by spending the time to write a good article on spec. It would, of course, be tailored to fit the tone and voice of this particular publication. There would be several interviews involved. It would take time and effort to do it right — time and effort that I could be spending on doing work for clients who know (and regularly pay) me, or looking for clients willing to take the risk of getting to know me. There are definitely two sides to this spec coin!

Ideally, I could offer this editor some kind of compromise, but I’m having trouble coming up with one. The publication is lovely, and one of the best in this particular niche. The pay is what I’d call average to low in the wider lens of magazine writing, but high for the industry. I’m opposed to working on spec — on principal, and because this is what I do for a living. It’s not a hobby. Getting paid matters. There’s the possibility of pitching the same story to several publications in case the editor doesn’t want it, but that doesn’t feel quite right either.

Have you dealt with this situation? What was your response? 

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Do You Wear a Mask?

When it comes to interacting online, there are as many opinions as there are people. You see words like “authenticity” and “transparency” tossed around, and there are discussions of privacy that deserve our attention. The fact is, we all wear masks all the time. You behave differently at home with your family than you do at work. When I was working as an office assistant, I wore makeup to work everyday and realized it was because I felt the need to hide a little in that particular environment. I’ve never had a job where I was 100% openly dava. (Except for now. As a freelancer, I’m me, through and through.)

This is one of my better masks!

This is one of my better masks!

Years ago, I started writing letters, by hand, on paper, mailed at the USPS to my parents-in-law. The idea was to communicate with them in a way I could control. They wouldn’t hear anything in the background like on the phone, and they couldn’t see my weird self like on visits. I could show them what I wanted them to see and share news they would like to hear. It totally worked, too. They went from not really liking me very much and expecting news of a divorce any day to thinking that I was a pretty good mom and we were a happy family (which was all true).

In a way, social media profiles are like my letters. People are showing you what they want you to see. There are plenty of posts and studies and articles about how Facebook makes us lonelier and Pinterest makes us less satisfied because we feel like our friends are doing better than we are, or that we can never have the kind of beautiful home or wedding or whatever that other people do. And, lots of people do only share the good stuff.

There’s this whole other group of people, though, who seem to use social media as a place to talk only about the bad stuff. People who share every little thing that goes wrong, and who ask questions like “Why can’t I ever catch a break?” or who share way too much about their family drama, or who complain about their jobs, or just whatever. Maybe it’s their way of combatting all those pictures of happy people? Who knows, but it sure is tiresome.

Then, there are some people who share nothing personal. Maybe they only share links, articles, and photos regarding one topic — writing, or music, or art, or cooking. Those people bore me in an entirely different way. I want to know what they think about those things, where they live, what their lives are like to some degree.

So, it’s a balancing act. You have to show some happy stuff, but also a little bit of bad stuff — but not too much. You need to share stuff that shows your interests and knowledge, but other stuff too. Then, bit by bit, you create an online mask that is much like your real self.

Do you consider any of this when you post on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+, or wherever you hang out? Do you have a different mask for each platform? What are your thoughts on being authentic? Do you actively tone down parts of your personality when you are online?

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