My Three Words for 2014

2013 was an interesting year for me.

I quit my job of 9 years and took the leap into a new career as a self employed writer and it felt great. I had control of my life and my time and I’d left behind the IT career that I’d grown really tired of.

My year was spent working on as many different projects as I could and tried to find that thing where I could say, “THIS is what I want to do with my life.”

Did I find it?

Sort of.

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HitRECord on TV Episode 1

I’m a big fan of the HitRecord website. I haven’t collaborated on it enough in the past and one of my many plans for this year is to become more involved on the site.

The HitRECord on TV show looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun and hopefully more of the episodes will be added to Youtube once they are shown on TV.

5 Tips for writing concisely

Image by JJ Pacres

As a writer I am always looking to improve. That improvement happens through increasing my vocabulary, writing everyday and examining my skills that need work. Concise writing is one important skill that is overlooked by many writers, and one I am working hard to improve in myself.

Crafting a piece of writing that says exactly what it needs to and no more is a difficult process. It requires more thought, and concentration than most writing that exists online. It requires a clear vision of what you want to say, without adding anything that isn’t essential to that message. In an age where word counts are not a problem, and editorial oversight is a rarity, concise writing is a way to stand out and show that you are serious about the craft.

Concise writing doesn’t mean shorter writing. A 1000+ word blog post is still concise when each of those words has a clear purpose. It does mean removing extraneous words and sentences. It does mean writing in an active voice that pushes the reader forward. It does mean know what you want to say and how to say it.

Writers ramble. We are all guilty of talking around a subject at length, painting an interesting picture with our words without being clear about what we want to say. We pad out word counts with redundant words and modifiers which is more harmful to our writing ability in the long term than taking the extra time required to write concisely.

I’ve read a lot of books about copywriting and written communication in the last few months. I’ve learned how great copywriters distill their thoughts and clearly get their message across in a few words.

Here are 5 simple tips I’ve learned to make your writing more concise:

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Dealing with Rejection

Sweet Sorrow

photo credit: Caro Wallis

Nobody likes rejection. It can be a horrible experience, but it is a fundamental part of life for anyone who does creative work.

Rejection is about the work, not the person, and it can be easy to forget that. When someone rejects work that has had hours spent on it, it can be difficult to separate those two things, but that’s what needs to be done.

Rejection of the work can be for numerous reasons. It may not be exactly what they’re looking for. It may be bad timing. It may be that the work wasn’t right for that person. Just because it has been rejected by one person it doesn’t mean that it isn’t what someone else is looking for. It does mean you should take that work, polish it a little more, and then find another market that may want it.

Occasionally the rejection can be because the work just isn’t good enough yet. Some people hate to hear that, and will use that fear of failure as an excuse to avoid doing anything just to ensure that feeling isn’t experienced again. Doing creative work means that this is going to happen, and it should be used as an opportunity to improve your craft. Rejection should fuel the desire to be better.

Dave Trott in his new book, Predatory Thinking (Amazon affiliate link) said,

“If you can’t handle rejection you limit your possibilities for success.”

This is completely true. Rejection is just an aspect of the job and will, for the most part, outweigh the success experienced throughout a creative career. It’s the reaction to that rejection that will decide whether the career as a whole is a success or failure.

Everyone that is a success in the world, and especially in a creative career, has had to deal with rejection on a regular basis. Instead of letting that rejection swallow them up, it inspired them to be better, to create something greater than they had before, and to strive to be the best they could possibly be.

It’s what being creative is about.

it’s what being successful is about.

Take that rejection, learn everything you can from it, and then get back to work.

Thoughts on a Creative Career

I found this video by Ze Frank earlier today and I’ve watched it a few times since then. In it he talks about having a creative career and that if you want to be something, then you need to start being it. He uses the writer career as an example, saying simply that if you want to be a writer, then write. Don’t put it off because you’re afraid for whatever reason. Just do it.

Things like this are really speaking to me at the moment. Most of the advice he gives are things that I’ve heard before, but sometimes you let the most simple advice slip away from you without realising it and it’s useful to hear it said out loud again. Since I’m at the beginning of a new career it really is helpful to listen to people I respect talking about things that are already going through my mind. It makes me feel a little less stressed about building this career knowing that it’s something that everyone in the creative world goes through.

I’m still trying to find the balance between doing something creative that I’m proud of, and doing something to pay the bills. Building an income is a major factor in my career at the moment, and one I am exerting almost all of my energy on, but I shouldn’t forget the reasons I started this career in the first place. I wanted the freedom to be creative, and to begin projects I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I wanted to be able to get involved in other people’s projects for the simple fun of trying something new.

Mostly, I just want to write, and I haven’t been doing enough of that.

Creating a Weekly Schedule

I briefly touched on my schedule now that I’m self employed in my previous post. At the time I said I was happy to leave it fluid and open to change while I learned more about how I wanted to spend my days, and after a few weeks I think I’m starting to nail down what works for me.

Finding my Creative Peaks

The first thing I set out to discover was exactly when I’m at my most creative throughout the day. With that knowledge I could begin to shape my day around those peaks so that I would be doing my best writing for clients, and for myself.

I’ve made myself sit down at different times during the day to try and write something. While I was able to write at every point I discovered that mornings are not my friend, creatively speaking. Whereas afternoons and evenings were perfectly fine. I tried writing client work, writing for myself, even writing pitch emails, and while everything I sat down to write was completed, all of them were more difficult in the morning. It began to bother me, so I tried to figure out why that was the case.

After thinking about it for a while, I believe I’ve figured out the root problem with my creativity in the morning. After 15 years in the IT industry where mornings are more often than not spent running through daily checklists and system monitoring, it’s no wonder my creative energy is low before 11am. In the mornings of an IT career you check the previous evenings backups; you check all the servers are behaving and none of them had problems through the night, as well as lots of other little things, but you never really need to deviate from a set routine unless there’s a problem. Even then the problems you experience tend to all be the same so you then step into another routine to deal with them. There is virtually no creative spark in the mornings of an IT career, they are instead filled with simple monotonous administration.

Once I realised that my old routine was still playing havoc with my new career, I decided to make it work for me, rather than against me. Now rather than try to write anything in the morning I do research for that day’s writing instead. Or I carry out administrative tasks like my accounts, blog/website maintenance, or going through analytics data. They are all important tasks that I need to do so I get them out of the way first thing. Which then leaves my afternoons and early evenings free to write. I’m sure as my previous career falls further behind me my mornings will get easier, but for now I’m going to make use of them in any way I can.

Creating the Schedule

For the first few weeks of my new career there was no real structure to any of my days. I would work on things when I felt like it, and that sometimes meant doing things a little too close to their deadline. So now that I know that any actual writing is better if done in the afternoon I needed to build a schedule around that to bring order to my days.

I very quickly made a decision that for some tasks, rather than spread them out through the week I wanted to spend one day getting them done. For example, I’ve scheduled in Monday’s for building lists of potential clients that I would like to work with, as well as marketing myself. That doesn’t mean that I only do those things on a Monday, but they are my primary tasks for that day. Two of the three important items on my to do list for Monday’s are now always to find a set number of potential clients, and to market myself in some respect. The third item changes depending on what needs to be done, which does allow for some flexibility in my day.

I have days that I’ve set aside to write for specific clients now, and I’m working on a set schedule to write posts here. I’ve also set aside time in my schedule to do something creative that isn’t work related, whether that’s to write some fiction, continue the slow process of teaching myself to draw, pick up the guitar and learn a new song, or to take my camera out and start a new photo project. I believe that just doing something for the sake of being creative is going to be a huge benefit to both my life and career in the future.

I’m also breaking my day down into regular blocks of time and setting myself tasks for each of those blocks. It’s working just now, but I want to streamline it further and really improve the way I work. It’s all still a work in progress and will definitely change as I develop as a writer and my workload grows. For the moment, it keeps me focused on my goals and keeps me from the evil clutches of procrastination.

Are you a freelancer? If you are, let me know how you manage your time in the comments or by email if you’d rather it wasn’t public. I’m really interested in finding out what works for other people so that it might help me improve my own time management in the future.