Remembering Why I Am So Busy

6:30am – get up, feed all of the animals, start working on three articles that must be submitted to meet deadlines.

8:30 – wake husband, see him out the door

11:15 – admit that only one of the three articles will be ready to turn in, email editors to ask for one more day

11:45 – arrive at part time job in time to shove some food in before my shift

12-8:10 – work, work, work

8:30 – return home to cook dinner and try to wrap up at least one article

For some people, that would be an average Monday. For me, that’s a long day.


Lately, I’ve been busier than usual (you may have noticed the months-long hiatus from this blog). Most of the time, I’m careful to build down time into my schedule, but for the last couple of months, I’ve been booking myself completely solid. There are articles to write, a part time job to enjoy, marketing projects to complete…

Being especially busy can be good. It seems like my mind is sometimes more creative when my body is busy. But, if there’s no time to give that creativity an outlet, it just sits there. Finding the perfect (and elusive) balance between creative (usually non-paying) work and work that pays the bills can be difficult, but seems to me to be a worthy pursuit.

This summer, I want to help grow a giant garden, which means spending at least 4-5 hours a week weeding and shoveling and doing glorious physical labor outside. I also want to take a couple of short trips, go to a local amusement park, and spend some time in the woods. All of that means careful time management and the need for funding. It means working some long days so that I can enjoy time off.

I’ve also set a personal deadline: I will publish a novel-length work of fiction by July. I have a first draft, and have begun the second. But it is slow going between the paying work and the fun stuff. Writing a novel falls somewhere in between those two. It’s a big goal, and there are fun aspects, but it is also work.

With all of these goals, the idea of sacrifice has been on my mind. It’s pretty common to read that if you Business owners usually have to make sacrifices to run successful businesses — maybe give up some personal time in order to work longer hours. Novelists, especially ones who have other, paying jobs usually have to sacrifice some time to write. A goal I haven’t mentioned here yet is fitness, and a common thread among people who are very fit is that they spend time shopping, cooking, and working out. Time that could be spent building a business or writing a novel.

One of the most-often clicked on posts on this blog is about pursuing multiple goals. I wrote it several years ago. I’ve never been one to narrow my focus. At this point, it would be painful for me to put my novel aside or to decide to forego the garden this year. Those are the kinds of things that keep me from feeling burned out. Success in any one area spurs me more to reach the other goals as well.

Yet, some days I end up feeling tired and angry. Yesterday was like that. Looking back over what I did yesterday, there was no time to remember why I’m so busy. No time spent on my novel, or even in my flower garden. There was no time to exercise or nurture myself at all.

Is it better to have whole days spent off — writing novels or planting gardens or hiking — and then work long hours on other days? Maybe. Entire days dedicated to fun are important. But, weaving some fun into everyday is equally important. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, a little time to mentally unwind is a necessity.

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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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Examining My Story

Early this month, I posted about being back in my place as a full time business owner.  A couple of weeks ago, I had several conversations with a friend about what her ideal job would look like, which led to some deep soul searching. Yesterday, I read Peter Shallard’s excellent post about the

I'm still weaving my story. (photo credit: flickr, Creative Commons)

I’m still weaving my story. (photo credit: flickr, Creative Commons)

power of our personal narratives. All of that together added up to me taking a serious look at where I am, how I got here, where I want to be, the best way to get there, the story of then, the story of now, and of then, and of the journey between the two.

In Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig, I shared a certain personal narrative – the tale of how I ended up back in an office. Today, I’d like to share my new story:

My Story, Version 2 (aka The Truth)

A quirky lady who never quite found her professional niche got laid off around the time she had an idea for a writing business. She drew unemployment and read a lot of books. Then she began finding clients.

It’s easy to get complacent, though, and she does. She has a few clients and is making enough money to get by, and gets lazy. Eventually clients start dropping off, as is normal, but she doesn’t replace them. She spends most of her time waiting on clients to come to her. She does some half-hearted marketing, then decides to find a job.

The job doesn’t work out, so the writer decides to work harder. She realizes that everything that came before was research, career prep, and important. She learned about all the different ways one can be a freelance writer, all the different ways a writing business can be run. She made a slate of contacts, and realizes that all of that will translate into a better business now.

She shines up all of her samples and past work and starts making lots of phone calls. She calls businesses, ad agencies, and nonprofits. She writes everyday. She pitches blogs that pay contributors. She thinks of a few unusual ways to market and begins trying different things. Sheh emails letters of introduction and queries to editors.

She tracks all of her ideas. And enjoys all of it! Even the calling. It takes a little motivation to make 20-30 calls a day, but she realizes that she likes talking to people, learning about their businesses, and finding out more about the world. She makes lists, becomes aware of time management and starts getting more done each day.

It takes a few months, but she soon finds herself in a position to pick and choose her assignments. She is writing nonfiction books and selling them, doing some editing work, blogging, ghost writing, and writing – and more importantly PUBLISHING – fiction. She is making more money that she ever did as an employee.

What about you? I’d love if you share your personal narrative in the comments!  

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An Introvert Learns to Love Collaboration

One of the things I had to do all the time in teacher school was work in a group. Words cannot adequately describe how much I detested group projects. I tried to always rig things so I had one friend in the group to make sure we could get all of the work done. It was almost a certainty that the other people in the group were going to be slackers. That may sound condescending, but I assure you, there were far too many late nights where I scrambled around trying to get things done that were supposed to have been done by other people.

The reason there were so many group projects assigned in teacher school is that we were learning how important and useful group projects would be for our students. I didn’t think (and still don’t) that putting kids who worried about getting everything just right in groups with kids who absolutely did not care was fair. The logic is that in the workplace, most work is group work and that students need to learn how to cope with the slackers. They are going to need that skill when they have jobs.

I don’t know about all that. My own experience in the workplace was almost as bad as my experience doing those much-hated group projects in teacher school.

After all of that, it is probably no surprise to learn that on the scale from introvert to extrovert, I land way over in introverted territory. That’s one of the reasons working at home is so appealing. Simply being around lots of people (as in an open office) drains my energy. And so I decided long ago that being a hermit could be the perfect lifestyle.

Then, I discovered the joys of collaboration.

It was accidental, this discovery. First, I found myself working as a collaborator with many of my clients. They would share their ideas, I would ask about their goals, then I would produce some copy, talk with them about changes they’d like to see, and finally come up with something they loved. We worked together – they gave me ideas, I gave them copy.

Then, I read about how Sean Platt and David Wright collaborate as writers. (I have just finished Season Two of Yesterday’s Gone, and highly recommend it!) While I have collaborated on lots of client work, it never occurred to me that it could work on a creative level as well. Their work is proof that it can, with the right combination of talent and personality.

Now, I am working with a partner on a new project, and it is going so well we have started a second project together. As it turns out, collaboration can be lots of fun and very productive, even for introverts – if you find someone you trust.



If you are enjoying the Independent Writing Series, make sure to check back on Thursday, because there will be an interview with writer Joanna Penn! 

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Just about anyone who has undertaken some sort of creative endeavor can tell you about the walls that you discover. If you want to bust through those walls, and be “epic” there are plenty of posts that will encourage and motivate you. That’s not what this is, though. I’ve stumbled across a few walls lately, but instead of busting through them, I’ve been sneaking around them, or struggling to climb over them. I have not had the pleasure yet of busting through anything.

While everyone else has been feverishly writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I have been participating in a different, and much smaller writing group. Several months ago, a friend and I were talking about how we both wanted to try writing fiction. We each write professionally – she as a technical writer, I as a copywriter – but neither of us had ever seriously attempted to write fiction beyond a creative writing class in college. There was an invisible wall stopping us.

We both have notebooks filled with observations and ideas, but nothing solid. We were stuck behind a wall when it came to actually writing a story. Talking usually helps when you are trying to get past a

Sometimes you’d rather sit down and rest than to try and get past the wall.

wall, so we just chatted about it. As we talked about the different elements of story-telling, we decided it would be fun and useful to take an online creative writing class. We started looking at all of the free ones available, but none of them included what I consider an essential element: writing. That first wall to writing a novel loomed as large as ever.

To get past it, we decided to put together our own creative writing class, and started carving a path around the wall.

Writing groups have been around forever. There’s one in my town that meets at a great bar every Tuesday night. It’s probably a good group, but I’ve never gone. Going would mean I had to get dressed and leave my house. Also, going to a bar every Tuesday would be expensive – the cost of fuel and beer…Anyway, for someone who is almost a hermit, going out to a critique group feels onerous, and presents what for me, is an insurmountable wall.

My friend, let’s call her Debbie, and I made a list of the topics we would expect to be covered in our dream creative writing class. We decided it wouldn’t too burdensome to research and present on a couple of the topics each and that a seminar-style class would be interesting. Debbie and I found three other people willing to join in the experiment, and here’s how it works:

  • We are making heavy use of Google.
    • We have a circle on Google+ where we post random thoughts, comments about topics, or whatever.
    • Google Docs allows us to share all sorts of things. For instance, a day or two before presenting his findings, the person who researched Point of View shared a document with a list of links and his thoughts about each one. In turn, other members of the group asked questions and left comments that the presenter responded to during our meeting.
    • Google Hangouts (within Google+) is what really makes all of this possible. We “meet” in a Hangout once a week.
  • While it’s not a requirement, most of the people in the group are using participation as a catalyst to work on a writing project. The week we talked about plotting, a few of us wrote out a plot for a story.
  • The group provides accountability, structure, a place to bounce ideas around, and will hopefully result in some stories being written.

We are only in our third week of meetings, but so far, it seems to be working pretty well. During our first meeting, we hammered out a list of topics, and people chose which ones they wanted to research and talk about, then we decided who would present the next week. The topic for the second meeting was plotting, which I talked about, and the group discussed in a very general way. We were all planning to share a basic plot line during the third meeting, but circumstances dictated otherwise. (People are busy, it’s a weird time of year, and stuff happens. It’s all right.)

Point of view was the topic of the third Hangout. And BOOM! We hit another wall.

When you are telling a story to a group of friends about yourself, you naturally use first person. You’ve probably been around someone who used third person to talk about themselves at some point, and you probably thought they were weird. When you tell a story about someone else, you naturally use third person (limited, to your own view, of course) because to do otherwise would be strange. Most of the books we read for pleasure are written in what is known as third person omniscient. There is also a POV called second person, but it’s weird and difficult to read.

Anyway, if you are a writer, and you start thinking about all of this stuff, it can act as the biggest, scariest, barbed-wire encased wall in the world. It just stops you cold. You get all tangled up in the technical details of writing. This is a wall we are just going to have to climb over. There’s no path around it, because this wall is the actual telling of the story. As a writer, you need to understand point of view, but you still have to tell a story.

One way to get strong enough to climb over the wall is to play with point of view: write the same scene from different characters’ perspectives. Write it in first person, then third person limited, then third person omniscient. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. You are climbing over a big, gnarly wall. That’s never easy.

I’m sure that there will be many more walls between now and when I’m writing a post to tell you that my first work of fiction is available on Amazon. But, I’m equally sure that those walls can be avoided, climbed over, or maybe even busted through.

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My Imaginary Friends & Local Bloggers

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a kid? I mean, like one that your parents probably still remember?

I had a cast of imaginary friends. They had names, families, background stories, and I talked to them all of the time. These imaginary friends had tea with me, played ball with me, went on walks, listened to stories, and anything else I happened to be doing. I remember them more clearly than I remember a single kid from kindergarten or first grade. Or even 5th grade. It’s a little embarrassing, but I hung out with these imaginary friends until I was 12 or 13 years old. By that time, I was talking to them about stuff I’d read, stuff I was learning at school, people I was meeting and things that made me worry.

Eventually, too many people thought it was too weird that I went in the backyard and talked to myself all the time. But I still needed a way to process things, and so I started filling up notebooks. While I didn’t actually address the stuff I was writing to anyone, journaling took the place of my imaginary friends and gave me a way to filter the world.  Even today, writing is a way for me to decide where I fit into the scheme of things and how I feel about events, people, places, and the world in general.

You might imagine, then, that maintaining a blog is almost natural for me. But, it is actually pretty difficult to distill  my unfiltered thoughts into posts that might be useful or interesting to other people, and despite how personal blogging can be, you click the publish button in order to share something. With other people. If you didn’t have an audience in mind, you wouldn’t publish your writing.

There are lots of reasons to maintain a blog. Smiling Tree Writing sometimes serves as a portfolio, so that prospective clients can see that I can put nouns and verbs together properly  – and when you are talking to prospective clients, you need to be sure you approach them differently than you would your imaginary friends. It is also a place to share my thoughts on owning a small business, the business of writing, and the lessons I am learning. For the last few months, I have been a member of a Facebook group of people from the Chattanooga area who maintain blogs, too. The group has diverse reasons for blogging, and it has been quite a lot of fun getting to know other bloggers and learning about their processes. I wanted to share links to a few of them.

These links are not in any particular order, as it would entirely impossible to rank these blogs:

1. Chanté Newcomb writes at, mostly about topics related to internet marketing and social media. I feel pretty lucky to have such a great resource who is willing to meet me for coffee or lunch just about any time. If you keep up with online trends, you should definitely be reading Chanté’s blog.

2. No list of blogs would be complete without a few foodies, would it? There are a few in our group, and Mary Hamaker shares her culinary adventures in a cool blog called Chattavore. I love that Mary does reviews, shares her farmers market adventures, gives us recipes, and writes reviews of local restaurants. There is at least one other food blogger in our group,  VignettesFromMyFork, and my apologies if I missed anyone else!

3. Just as we need the foodies to keep our bellies full, we need the moms to remind us how much fun it is to raise kids. Mommyboots is a great place to share the roller coaster ride. There are photos of cute kids, honest discussions of the ups and downs that make up the life of a mom. StuffParentsNeed offers product reviews, features giveaways, and posts about the lives of parents, and ThatMommysLife shares the perspective of a mom of three.

4. I am always grateful when there is a post at TennesseeTicket, because it helps me wade through the murky waters of politics – both local and statewide. I glad someone writes about it!

5. Some blogs defy description, and so it is with the one maintained by the member of our Facebook group who does not actually use Facebook. Madame Sunday at ModernSauce will make you smile, gag, and literally laugh out loud. Her posts touch on design, life, and fashion, and pretty much anything else that Madame feels like writing about.

6. Several members of our group write for or about their businesses and work. It’s really interesting to get some insight into how people with different careers feel about what they do.

InsideAReportersNotebook is written by a local TV news reporter, both DwightHuntersPosterous and RedLipsandAcademics give us an idea of what it is like to work in higher education, while NeosCreations and FitForAQueenBoutique are retail establishments where the owner blogs. Our group also includes ThePaperDoll, a professional organizer who writes posts that are wonderfully helpful to the less organized among us, and TheBarlewBlog shares information and thoughts about urban living and architecture.

7. Two of our members write about life in Chattanooga specifically. One of them is a newcomer who had a great idea for meeting the residents of Chattanooga and, he writes about his adventures at NewChattanooga. The other is a returning resident who writes about living in a house that once belonged to her grandmother, while rediscovering her home town at  _Emily_Rose. *Edit* I left a third blogger out of this category! Apologies to Tony Burgess who writes about whatever catches his attention – and it is often life in Chattanooga – at Tony Burgess, a Geek for Life.

8. From work to hobbies to life, the list wouldn’t be complete without touching on the spiritual side of things, and we have members who do that as well. The Journey Is an Adventure; I Am an Alien is the place where one blogger shares her musings as she pursues a Master’s of Divinity degree, and AShiftInPerspective is written by a minister who has two decades of experience.

There are other members of the group, who write about other topics. The thing that is amazing about this list, and about the group, and about blogging in general, is that there is such and amazing range of topics, and personalities and that they are all appealing. If you’d asked me two years ago about my interest in politics or organizing your answer would have been a blank stare. Now, I am armed with a little information and find that I really enjoy learning about both topics  – as well as the others on the list.

So, are you a member of a blogging or writing group, either locally or virtually? Do you find it a distraction or something that really contributes to your writing?

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