I had a rough spring. I won’t go into it here, but trust me, it was rough.
We all go through hard times, and during those difficult stretches, things change. You eat more and sleep less. Or you sleep more and eat less. Or you exercise, or you don’t. Your schedule shifts and morphs until you realize you can’t take it anymore. You have to get back to where you were. Back to a place of comfort and productivity.
I’m finally getting there. How do I know? Because I’m reading again.
I was stunned for a while, I had experienced a loss and all I could do was read about loss. Then I didn’t read at all. But here’s the thing, I write for a living. So here I am, for months, zombie shuffling through life, taking contents out of my well without replenishing the water.
Writers have to read. We have to.
So, the magazines that were stacking up slowly enticed me, their pages like fingers motioning me near. Shortly after, I was in the library, loading my backpack with books.
The stacks grew—two next to my bed, one near the couch—until I found myself reading again. Every day. Scary books and cooking magazines and short story compilations and essays and funny paperbacks and graphic novels.
I missed it. I’m so glad it’s back. That I’m comfortable enough in my own life to dive back into the stories of others. That I’m able to lose time in storylines, characters, and dreams. That I can escape into other cities, romances, ages, and eras. Because if fictions are lies that tell the truth, now I’m finally able to face my own demons by staring down the demons of others.
Does that make sense? If not, I’ll blame it on my reprieve from reading.
But now I have books again, so I know it’s going to be ok.
Freelancing requires willpower.
Yes, I’m talking about constantly pitching and meeting deadlines without a manager giving you a timeline (Newsflash: You are the manager.) But I’m also talking about taking time away from the computer to take care of your biggest asset: yourself. After all, if we aren’t in good shape, there is no way we’ll be able to meet our income goals, right?
So, I’m sharing one of my favorite lunch recipes. It’s fast (we have work to do!) and healthy (in the yummiest way!).
What You'll Need:
How to Make It:
Put your water on the stove and prep the spinach, carrot, and onions while the water comes to a boil. Cook the soba noodles according to directions (should take about 3 minutes).
While the noodles are cooking, make your sauce. Combine peanut butter, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
Once cooked, drain and rinse noodles. Then, combine the soba noodles and your veggies. Pour your dressing over the top and toss. Then, give it a squeeze of lime.
How about you? What's your favorite healthy lunch recipe?
Last week I wrote about using timers to get more work done. While I stand by that suggestion, I have another bit to add, make sure you take time to take care of yourself.
Social media asks us what’s on our minds and, frankly, sometimes the answer is I have is that I need to get offline. In order to keep my projects all moving, I’ve realized it’s become more and more important I take time to clear my head. I’m more productive, not less, when I practice self-care.
Here are ways I refill my well:
· Turn off my phone
· Coffee at a coffee shop
· Go for a run
· Make art
· Take a walk
· Clean up
· Yoga class
· Spin class
· Dance break
· Write a letter (longhand)
· Go outside
· Drink water
Of course, spending time with the ones you love is essential during your off hours, too. Sometimes you can even mix pleasure and work, like when I wrote this post on having a family cooking competition at home. Finding opportunities to bring socializing into your work life can help with burnout, too.
How about you? How do you refuel your creative well?
How do I get more freelance work? Well, every time I put my head down and get to work, more work comes my way.
Yet… I have these urges pulling me in other directions…Let me throw in a load of laundry…Now I’ll make a pot of coffee…Gee, the kitchen sink could use a good cleaning…Hey, there is a new magazine on the dining room table...On and on and on.
When you work from home, it is essential to stay productive. Why? Because our incomes are directly linked to the amount of writing, researching, and pitching we do on a daily basis. Yet, if you are anything like me, you’ll find it is easy to get distracted by day-to-day life. That’s why I use timers.
I know about the Pomodoro Technique but my approach is a bit less structured. I simply set a timer for 20 minutes and get started.
Somedays, if I happen to catch a flow, I’ll keep going and forgo using a timer for the rest of the day. Because, really, if you are on a roll you are on a roll! I love being in the zone of productivity.
Of course, there are also days when my mind is racing. Then, the timer is helpful to get smaller bits of work done. Nuggets that have to get checked off my master list. Those days, I’ll set the timer for 20 minutes again and again, completing smaller tasks.
Benefits of using a timer:
Do you set timers to get work done? How does it help you?
Lately, I've been focusing on writing more, building my business. And I’m pleased to say, it’s working. I posted about pitching last week, and I’m here to tell you…It works. Got to be in it to win it!!
That said, this post isn’t about that, at least not specifically (I’ll get around to what I mean by that in a minute).
A few months ago, I wrote about my stair stepping routine. How during the summer months, I was taking the stairs but forgoing the gym. Now, here we are, rolling into autumn, and my jeans don’t fit how I’d like them to. Or how I remember them fitting. Or how I remember hoping they’d fit.
The truth is I’m out of shape and I’ve gained some weight. So, I’m now spending some time each morning at the gym.
This week, I was on the treadmill for a half hour each morning, except for today. Today I managed to carve out enough time for a 45-minute cycle class. I realize for the truly sporty, this is not a lot. But for me, it’s a change. It feels good. Like I’m moving toward a workout routine feeling routine. Because right now, it still feels new. I want to wear off that new feeling because I don’t want stop. I don't want to fall back into feeling good enough, but not great.
Because here’s the thing: I need to make my health a priority.
If I want to grow my freelance business, it is essential I’m fit and feeling good. (Here’s the part I said I’d get around to later, how my going to the gym impacts my freelancing.) It isn’t possible for me to be creative, productive, and proactive if I’m not strong and confident.
So, I’m saying it here. Publicly. Those jeans are going to fit soon. By fit, I mean I’ll be able to put them on, sit down, and eat a meal. Because right now, if I'm going to be honest, I can get them on but the sitting and eating is pretty much out of reach.
Are you like me, spending hours/days sitting in front of a laptop? How do you stay fit?
Answer: Keep pitching anyway!
I’ve turned my attitude around when it comes to pitching. I used to dread it. Pitching would sit at the bottom of my to-do list (and we all know that no one ever finishes everything on their to-do list). But lately something has changed and I’ve been pitching with a new-found passion.
Putting myself on a schedule, with pitches going out on a particular day each week, I’ve landed new writing gigs. Now, since I’ve gotten myself in a bit of a rhythm, the query process is beginning to feel smooth (yes, still beginning, I have a long way to go).
I also think it helps I’m having more fun with my pitches. I’m writing about topics that interest me and I'm contacting blogs and publications I already read. I can read an article, think of it from another angle, pitch it, and…voilà! New project.
Plus, editors want to work with people who want the work. If you put time into your query, and make it clear you are familiar with their publication or organization, it makes it clear you are ambitious. You are the kind of writer who, when given an assignment, will provide the copy they need.
How did I get myself to do this? I’ll be honest, I wanted to increase my writing revenue. My income from freelance gigs has been pretty stagnant the last couple of years. I’m grateful for the work I have, but I knew filling up my schedule was up to me.
Here’s my process:
How about you? How have you increased your writing revenue?
Ok, I'll admit it, I got sucked in. The drama of Riverdale pulled me back nightly until I had gobbled up the whole season. There I was, bereft with a bowl of popcorn. Stranded, with no more saturated colors of the fictional town to consume. Although binge watching shows on Netflix could be considered a waste of time (I rationalize that it is storytelling, so as a writer I’m still learning something), Riverdale taught me three important lessons I’m now applying to my business.
It’s Okay to Double Dip
Reboots get a bad rap. I understand why, there are so many stories to tell, why do we have the same characters popping up over and over again? Well, here's the reason: a good story is a good story. If you have a solid story—or two, or three—why not use them more than once? Tell it from another angle, switch the timeframe, take them from past to present. It’s a fun exercise for the creator and the consumer.
Keep the Bills Covered (In This Case by Cover Girl)
The product placement of Cover Girl in Riverdale is a bit over the top. But maybe that’s the point. The whole show surfs on the extreme wave of a soap opera world, so why would viewers care about product placement? Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But it was comical to watch it appear so brazenly. A reminder, that as a creative, it can be ok to take the sponsorship if it feels natural.
Explore Different Formats
Truth be told, Archie was not on my mind until Free Comic Book Day. That’s when a comic version of Riverdale appeared in my house. It was a short, teaser version, but it introduced me to the contemporary Riverdale world and soon enough I was streaming the shows. I often think of my work as separate entities—print articles, blog posts, and marketing copy. This is helpful, as each type of writing utilizes its own format, but they can inform each other, woo. I can (and should) be talking about my work with other organizations. Who knows what new gigs might cross my desk?
I have a part-time job near my house. I work in a building rooted in Midwest history but full of contemporary tenants. Built in the early 20th century for an engraving and printing company, the halls are now populated with actors on their way to auditions, students for the DJ school, and yoga practitioners with mats on their backs.
My office is on the fifth floor.
There is an elevator, of course. It’s an old elevator. You know, the kind you have to pull the gates back to enter. It’s an Otis. It’s a memory machine for me. A piece of personal history because I learned about the Otis elevator company years ago while attending a wedding at the Studebaker mansion in South Bend, IN. I missed the group photo because I was chatting up the curator. He gave me all sorts of inside scoops, including stories about the elevator. One of the first of its kind. An Otis.
But I still take the stairs.
It’s summer and I haven’t been to the gym for weeks. Instead, I bike my daughter to summer camp, walk to get groceries, and take the stairs. I must admit, I was intrigued when I read about Jake Tapper’s morning routine of a small bowl of oatmeal and two hardboiled eggs (sans yolks) followed by 40 minutes of cardio. And I’m tempted to give it a try. Although, admittedly, I’ll likely start a bit smaller. You know, eat the yolks. Start with 20 minutes of cardio.
Climbing the stairs, I feel my quads burn. I pass an actor carrying a garment bag and give him directions. I get to the fourth floor and notice I’m huffing and puffing. A woman is carrying yoga props and I help her heave the elevator door open. I make it to the fifth floor. I’m a bit breathy, but maybe that will pass. Maybe by the end of summer it will be an easy stroll.
I stride up to the fifth floor because I can. Because it’s summer, and I’d rather bike and walk and take the stairs than do my time at the gym. Besides, although I do work a handful of hours in this historic factory now buzzing with creatives, rather than machinists, most of my work life is freelancing. So, I’m often tucked away. Sitting on a chair. Alone. Working.
I like the social aspect of the stairs. I like feeling the accomplishment of the climb.
But watch out fall…I’m coming at you with plans. Workouts. Gym dates when I’m hiding from Chicago’s fall chill. And when I’m sore from my workouts, I know I’ll have the elevator to return to, I’ll be safe in the arms of my old friend Otis.
I have a tendency to overwhelm myself. I start projects and abandon them. Grand plans are outlined in notebooks. Various notebooks, all different sizes and colors, are piled precariously around my home. Near my bed. On the coffee table. In the blue sofa reading nook I affectionately refer to as "the nest."
How much work is getting done? Well, um, that's the problem.
As Neil Gaiman said, in response to the question of how to get published, "You write. You finish what you write."
So I'm going to take that advice and run with it. I've had some successes. Light successes. I'm thankful for them but I'm not going to settle. It's time to see some real wins. So, rather than dream about a future me in a future land (as I've been known to do), I'm going to try goal setting. Keep myself on a schedule. Put my Google calendar to work.
A sales leader friend of mine gives her team 90 day goals. She says it's easier this way because the goals are accessible. In reach. That giving people pie-in-the-sky goals only leads to defeat. After 90 days, her team celebrates their wins and retools any targets that weren't met. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
So, I'm going to try it. I'll let you know how it goes.
Watch out July, August, and September...
Ok, fine, I'm late to the party on this. Spring sprung nearly a week ago, but somehow an announcement of spring still felt appropriate. Why? Because I'm makin' changes, baby!! New beginnings!
I've been freelancing writing for a handful of years and have been taking photographs for longer than that (college major and first job) but have never been too good at getting the word out about my work. So, here I am. Word is out.
Last week, my spring break article for Metroparent Magazine posted and I added photo listings to my Etsy store, including these green marble photos. They were originally part of my daughter's leprechaun trap, but the color is so fresh, so spring, I couldn't resist taking some photos.
What's in store for this week? Pitching. I have tons of pitching to do and I'm thinking of buying a new camera. Canon or Nikon? We shall see...