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Soapbox: About the Industry

Advice For Working Writers

by Sandy Antunes
Mar 04,2005


Advice For Working Writers

by Sandy Antunes

Hi folks,

As I'm in the midst of finishing up a 150-page PhD dissertation, it seems timely to discuss good writing habits. Even while doing a PhD, I've been doing little freelance jobs here and there. In order to write (and finish school and raise 2 kids and bring in at least some money), I need to be able to focus, to... oh, wait, Jonny Quest is on.

[a little later]

Anyway, as I think I was saying, it's important that... hey, is today Monday? Cool, that means a new Order of the Stick is up! [pause] Heh, "I am certain our flesh proved far to springy for their arrows' taste", that Berlew fellow is funny!

*Ahem*. Without further ado, a 'lancer's dozen of working writer advice. Sort of like a baker's dozen, with even less precise counting.

1: Disable sound card. Yep, disable the sound card on your computer. Without sound, you're less tempted by internet films. Cute flash gimmicks that friends forward aren't as appealing. And, most important, you won't be spending time playing computer gamers because, without sound, the zing just ain't there.

Unfortunately, porn is still fine sans sound, but no single advice is perfect.

2: Set email to check once/hour. Break the compulsion of endlessly checking for new email. Set your client to only check every hour, and stick to it.

Frankly, the immediacy of email becomes an addiction. Once email is set to regular deliveries, it becomes less a distraction and more a tool. That is as it should be-- just a tool.

3: Visit your fav sites 1 day after updates. For example, "Order of the Stick" updates Mondays and Thursdays. I used to compulsively click many times each Monday until it was up. Far, far better that I simply check Tuesday, when I know it's there. In the end, I don't suffer for seeing it 12 hours after some others, and it reduces the time sink webertainment offers. Mr Cranky updates Friday? Check it Saturday!

4: Calenderize your regular sites. Related to the above, if there are sites you regularly visit, build a little day-of-week calendar, make it your home page, and stick to its schedule. First, you free up mental time of wondering "what is new today". Second, it lets you keep to Rule 2 above. Finally, it makes checking for new updates a short coffee-break activity, something you can blow through before breakfast.

5: Always try to have 2 projects going at a time. The idea here is that you can then always take a break from one project, by doing the other. Instead of having to seek out outside distractions when frustrated, you just shift projects. This maximizes effective work.

6: Make a dollar goal for each day... and hit it. Figure out the minimum you want to earn a month. Divide by 30. Now, try and ensure you score up that much business a day. If you want to make $100/day ($26k/year), make sure on any given day you are either finishing a $100 gig, sending out pitches for gigs, or otherwise ensuring you are a) hustling up work or b) finishing up work that meets your 'nut'.

If you find yourself falling behind your figure, devote a day or two to just selling yourself and getting gigs. A freelancer has to spend 1/4 to 1/3rd of their time, minimum, marketing themself. And you have to finish what you start so you get paid. Track it in dollars.

7: Give yourself 1 day of rest. Choose one day of the week, and make that your flake day. That's the day you can do anything you want. While I can't order you to stay off your computer, it will help keep you fresh and inventive to do so. Have fun! Eat lunch out! Take a break! Hey, if it works for God, it works for a writer.

8: 50-page rule for books (3-paragraph rule for magazine articles). A tip from a librarian via the Washington Post: give any new book 50 pages before you put it down unread. If by that point it hasn't engaged you, move on. For magazine articles, go 3 pages before quitting, but if it sucks, just stop then.

The librarian modified the rule for age: after age 50, it's (100 - your age) pages.

9: You don't have to read every article in a magazine. If you're a compulsive reader, cheapskate, information junkie, or-- like me-- all 3, remember you can just put down something. You don't have to read it all. It's your purchase, you can skip what you like.

10: If you buy 3 issues a year, subscribe. Related slightly to the above, if there's a magazine you read more than 3 times a year, just subscribe. It's cheaper, often a buck an issue. And then you can more easily skip articles, if you're not seeing it as a full-price item.

Ignore this rule if you can't stick to Rule 9, though, or you'll find yourself swamped in back issues.

11: Take rewards after work, not as pre-reward. This is vital. If you promised yourself an ice cream sundae or finally watching the Chinese cut of "Shaolin Soccer" for doing your work, never reward yourself before finishing. The promise of "first I'll do this treat, then that will motivate me to finish" leads to guilt and recrimination.

Keep it simple and above board. Work first, hit your goal, then do the reward. Don't second-guess yourself.

12: Ignore the above rule if you hit your goals 3 days in a row. Self-explanatory, really, and similar to Rule 7 ("Day of Rest").

13: Carry pen + notebook. Yeah, this is the computer age. But having-- and being comfortable with-- a pen or pencil and simple paper means never having to miss anything. Instead of rushing to the computer when inspiration hits, you can quickly capture it for later transcription, and get on with what you're doing.

I recommend having a single notebook, an 'anything book' you carry everywhere. You can sort it into sections, topics, and tasks later. Just keep it handy so you can minimize the effort and time between "idea" and "idea captured, move on".

14: The 2 minute rule. This one I blatently steal from a motivational speaker. If a task can be done in two minutes, don't add it to your "To Do" list, just sit down and do it. Otherwise, it'll take up a lot of mental energy and still not get done.

15: You are not necessarily your audience. The only rule that isn't really about work habits, I list this because it's my biggest failing. As a writer, it's important to remember that you are a lone voice. While you are being paid for your creativity and insight, indirectly you are also being paid because you can do something the audience might not. But you should temper this with understanding what the audience wants.

In practice, this means collaborate when possible, and listen to editors. The goal is to write in your own voice, but also to have people listen. So there's always some accommodation between what you envision, and what is best read by others.

Consider your audience and their tastes. Don't stand too firm on a single point if an editor balks. Get outside feedback on your work. It'll be stronger for it.

And stronger works lead to better paying work.

Until next month,
freelance TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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