Saturday, 24 March 2012

Making your daily writer tasks fun

I mentioned last week that I would tell you about my strategy for getting writer things done and here it is!

I talked about a grab-bag of appropriate freelancer options to help deal with writer despondency.  Half the trouble sometimes is just deciding what to do - when the pressure's weighing down and you're feeling stressed, making choices can be difficult.  There are a lot of things that need doing when you work for yourself and some are things you could certainly do on any given day.

I spent some time reading my favourite resources - Carol Tices' Making A Living Writing, Problogger, FreelanceFolder, FreelanceSwitch, and Remarkable Communication amongst others  - and compiled a list of suggestions that would be definitely useful to do.  I took this list and printed out some sheets that I was then able to cut up and fold to put in a nearby paper bag.

Not only was it fun, it got me excited about getting things done and even encouraged me to bump a few things of my general to-do list so that options from the paper bag would be more effective.  For instance, making sure every single freelancer and social profile I had was search engine optimised for my career and location.  A couple of days later, someone contacted me directly after seeing me on  I can't say for sure if my rewriting and SEO work had anything directly to do with that but it certainly can't have not helped!

So, let's show you the paper bag method.  Pretend you're me and you're sitting down to get some stuff done - what are you going to do?


- Find a relevant and successful site on Technorati/Alexa and prospect/comment/study it.
- Generate more options for sales packages.
- Make sure my website shows how my work will make my prospect's life easier.

Nice, eh?  Let's do it again.


- Look at people who looked at me on LinkedIn and contact them offering my services  [I actually did do this today.].
- Find some industry-relevant B2B businesses to prospect.
- Pitch for a technical writing job.

When I started this technique, it was before my time really became consumed with work.  It was designed to stop me feeling demoralised and procrastinating.  Now that I have plenty of work, I use it as a Saturday task.  For me, Monday-Friday is paid work time; Saturday is market-yourself day.  However, it can work as a daily thing too or just when you have an hour or so spare and you need a break from creating!

Please note that this is not designed to replace your to-do list.  Not even a little bit. You need the structure of your to-do list as your tasks grow.

But the paper bag method makes the rest of it fun.  When I'm not working for myself, I run a board-games group.  I likes games.   This makes work more like play without losing the focus needed for good self-employment.

What do you think?  How do you decide how your work will flow?  Tell me below or tweet me on @marmaladecopy.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Coping with writer despondency

I've Googled this subject before.  I'm an impressionable, soft-hearted little thing and sometimes I can't separate work from life.  Or work from work, when work temporarily equals no work.  Or when the weather outside is just so sodding grey (welcome to England) that it drains your spirit out through your pupils.

And I've run out of coffee and the money that I buy coffee with.

How does one cope with working as a freelance writer when you feel despondant and just straight-up plaintive?

Write about it

Struggling to write?  Write about that.  You don't have to show it to anyone but it will solve the resounding problem you're facing.  You might write about it in your journal, on an online board you frequent or maybe, like me now, in an informative blogpost designed to help others.  Whatever form of writing you plump for, it will at least keep that part of your brain ticking over. This kill some time until a more pressing or timely option is available (whilst writing this, I got some clarification on some volunteer copywriting I am doing so, once I've written this, I can get on with that!).  At the very least, it will be therapeutic or act as a kind of mind-mapping exercise.

Solve your basic needs

I've struggled with depression for a long time and there are three things I will always do when I feel a mope creeping up.  I put on a big jumper so that I'm warm and comfy (sometimes, extra socks too); I have a cup of tea (black, green, white or herbal - it doesn't matter) so that I'm hydrated, get a change of scene, warm up and maybe natter to the people I live with; and thenI turn on another light in the room I'm in.  I'm not saying that my bedside lamp is on a par with a SAD lamp or the like but it always seems to work for me and light exposure has been scientifically linked to serotonin production (serotonin makes you feel better and more able to cope).

I worked out this little strategy through basic anecdotal living choices but if you read around the area, you'll find science to back it up.  It also puts me in mind of Maslow's hierarchy.  Maslow was a psychologist who developed a theory that behaviour is based on meeting needs.  The most basic needs we have are physiological;  warmth, security, sex, oxygen, food, water, excretion.  Try withholding any of those and you'll notice it  (with all respect to asexuals - I gather some people really, really don't feel a need for sex).

Make sure you are clear on what you need to do

Half the battle is knowing what you're supposed to do next.  Working as a writer can be a real storm of options; social media, mentoring, networking, blogging, cold-calling, content mills, reading endless blogs on what to do without quite managing the actual doing of it and most importantly - the writing itself.

One way I've coped with this is to make a grab-bag of options and I pull out 3 every day.  I know that these things will be useful for me because I compiled all the information I've learnt into one long list of 'things that will help my career' (more on that to follow later).  It makes the work fun, challenging and less like a slog that I have to force myself to do.  I like games (I run game sessions - click here) so it makes sense to incorporate that.

The other is to make a flowchart of things that are really, really fundamental to getting myself set up as a freelance writer;  the business plan (not as hard as it seems it has to be - see here), the 'Dream' (so you know what you're working towards), your prices, your price packages and so on and so on.  If I'm really stuck, I do something with a tangible benefit so even if it's not writing per se, it contributes towards the likelihood that someone will pay me money to write.

Have these three strategies in place and the mundane blues will be easier to cope with.  I really believe the biggest problems in finding your motivation are basic discomfort, not knowing what you should be doing and feeling unproductive.  I think of them as swampy holes.  Walking down a road is much harder when you have to wade through three claggy, swampy holes of discouragement.  Get the road paved - as it were - and the basic act of walking along will come a lot easier to you.

What helps you get up and go when it's the last thing you want to?  Have you tried the tea/jumper/lighting solution?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Probability is your friend

I am a strong believer in probability.

I think that quotes from successful people that say things like "Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration" and "Eighty percent of success is showing up." are not just trite and facile but also hold the kernel of a really important life lesson.

We tell ourselves to keep plugging away when we're struggling .  Not because we're entitled little brats who expect the moon on the stick (at least, I hope not).  But, because repetition leads to both an increase in skill and an increase in the probability that you, as a sort of social entity, are available to succeed.

My basic life position is this; it can be hard to know what is the right or most successful thing to do - however, it you don't do anything, then definitely nothing good will happen.

This life stance doesn't address ethical quandries directly.  What is does produce is action.  You don't know if this action will suceed or fail but that doesn't matter.  The overarching goal is to discover the best way to do something and, I'm sorry, but you just cannot find this without making some mistakes.

Cynicism and lethargy are largely pointless.  Experience and taking rest are fine but those two traits before?  Eject them.

Working for yourself as a freelancer or writer will probably be hard, unless you're stepping into it with 25 years in your business and your business network and portfolio are bulging and pristine.

For the rest of us, we just have to keep plugging away.  Unless you cold-call that creative director, email for that voluntary work or tweet our latest post, you're not giving people the chance to access, approve and use you!  Nor will you get any better.

It is hard to delay gratification like this and keep the faith. But for your career's sake...just squeeze one more tweet/blog/coldcall.  One is better than nothing.  You never know when it's going to be your lucky day.

What do you think?  Should you always squeeze one more drop of productivity out or is it better to sometimes call it quits?

Monday, 5 March 2012

How to cope with distractions for the stay-at-home writer

I don't know about you but I need quiet to write.  I need quiet just to think about writing.  Present me with on-going distractions and I slide into a morass of endlessly reading SEVEN THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT BLAHBLAHBLAH over and over.

I live with a baby.  I live with his mother too, for the record.  He's not a magic baby who can take care of himself.  I love this baby.  I do not love his teething.  I do not love the erratic surprises of something setting him off because he's teething and then wailing in nerve-jarring cycles until he decides he's been sufficiently hugged again.

Yes, it's kind of my fault.  I had some kind of idea of what I was signing up for when I moved in.  Not a real idea because I'm an only child/youngest entrant to an adult step-family but I knew, babies, like, cry and stuff?

I didn't know he'd cry this much.  I didn't know that it would wrench at my heartstrings, leading to a mixture of frustration, anger and maternal-y emotional pain.  I also didn't know that I would, one month after moving in, launch into my work-from-home freelance writing career (more on that later). I can't yet afford some lovely writing space in a creative quarter (but my goodness, I can't wait).  I currently can't even afford to get a cup of coffee so I can work in a cafe, all fancy-like.

So what can you do in these situations?  I've learnt that staring at the ceiling trying to stop the word "smother" coming into my head does not make for good writing sessions.  I've learnt that the wall is too echoey and hollow to quietly knock my head against it.  I've learnt that baby cries still penetrate fingers jammed in ears.

On the plus side, I'm learning how to cope with these distractions.  These sorts of audiological interruptions will always be present, particular for an urbanite.  So, what do we do, eh?

White noise

I love white noise.  And brown noise and pink noise too (yep, there's several shades!).  I like it best in nature sound format.  I used to use as many, many others do but listened to it so much that I started to notice it where the audo file restarted.

I now most prefer  They have some odd choices (Darth Vader breathing, holiday fireworks and kitchen noises spring to mind) but they have all the classic choices too.  This composition got me through a lot of things;  my ex-housemate's persistent nervous cough (8 months of throat-clearing every 5 minutes, anyone?), writing my dissertation at the university library whilst surrounded by the inane, squalling babble of underachievers and finally any public space. Because generally any public space is filled with people who somehow have never deciphered the value of blowing their nose with a tissue.  It's immensely soothing to the irritable scribe.

Get writer-related things done.

Working as a writer isn't just about writing.  You also have administration, accounting, marketing and networking.  If you can't write because it's too noisy, why not get on over to LinkedIn and nose around at what others are doing?  Or check Google for the local competition.  Make sure your social profiles have the appropriate keywords (mine are currently; Bath, Somerset, Bristol, copywriter and copywriting).

Ideally, swopping tasks like this wouldn't be your aim.  The more you chop and change, the more will-power and concentration will leak out and before you know it, you're stuck reading in the endless A BAJILLION PEOPLE WHO DO THINGS YOU MUST READ ABOUT NOW BECAUSE ITS GREAT AND YOU WANT TO BE GREAT SO YOU MUST REEEEEEAD cycle.  But you're already not working so that concentration cost has already there.

Go and make a cup of tea.  Open the window and look around.  Write a blog about it (...*ahem*).  Hide under the duvet and regress into snuggly mode for 5 minutes to plan your next move.

Go for a 15 minute walk

You're already not working so you might as well reap the benefits of a change of scene, a breath of fresh air and a break from being in front of your computer. Hopefully, by the time you return, you'll have walked off your pent-up frustration and the distraction will have stopped.

It would also be good for you. My favoured writing method is half-lying down with my knees drawn up with my laptop.  Sometimes I do this but on my side, which is even worse. I will then do this for hours. There's been quite a bit of chatter about how much your health suffers when you sit down for hours at a time.  I gather that very little movement is needed to reverse the effects of this - the important thing is that it gets done, rather than how much is done.

In fact, I'm going to go for a walk right now.  The phone keep ringing, my back is twingeing and I'm not sure what the next point is going to be.


Okay, my walk didn't inspire another.  But I did achieve getting a letter in the post and getting fresh air.  I didn't manage my arbitrary target of 4 things that help with distractions but instead I wrote a completely different post.  I started pottering around the internet and found Moodscope which was oddly reassuring (check it out!).

Distractions are legion and some of them are for good reasons (like my flatmate baby growing up into a happy, healthy, little boy).  As with most things in life, you need to take these incidents as an opportunity to take stock, change track and achieve in a different area of your life.

What do you think?  How do you cope with unwanted noise?