Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dear Youngest of Writers (5 Ideas to Cheer You On)

One is eight, and the other is six. Both are related to me, and both have won my word-loving heart as they told me about the stories they were writing—some complete with their own pencil or crayon illustrations. The younger kids in our family may do the same; the signs are there (though I may also be writing about critters, ballet, and all manner of interests!). But these two girls are already fully into the early-grade-school, creative writing groove. Here’s my letter to them (and really, to all the youngest of writers). 

Dear Girls (Miss C and Miss M), 

You might not know right now how GREAT it is that grown-ups encourage you to love reading, to love books, to love stories, to use your imagination, and . . . to write! It’s fun, isn’t it?

It doesn’t matter that you are still learning to spell. You’ll get there. It doesn’t matter if you use a computer keyboard, a yellow pencil, or a glow-in-the-dark pen when you write. Crayons work too. 

What matters—besides having fun—is that writing helps you as you grow up. That is why it’s so great. No matter what kind of school you are in, learning how to write will make school even better and more fun!  No matter what your grown-up job turns out to be someday, you’ll be able to write so well that people will have no trouble understanding what you are trying to say when you need to write to them. (But if you discover it’s hard to read or write, then tell someone you need help. Everyone needs help sometimes.)

Here is the part where I get to cheer you on with five ideas.
1.       Tell whoever encourages you to write a big fat thank you. Maybe you could even write a thank-you note for them. Hmm. I love to get thank-you notes! 
2.       Read, read, read. Reading makes writers better writers. Reading gives you ideas about what to write. Don’t you think so?
3.       Ask others to read to you. Grown-ups and older kids can be busy, but they might also remember how much they loved it when someone read to them when they were your age. Ask them what their favorite book was.
4.       Write, write, write. Maybe you could write a story and give it as a birthday or Christmas gift. Or write something for someone who is sick or in the hospital to cheer them up. You can write stories, but you can also write poems or Get Well cards to help someone have a better day.
5.       Keep a list of what you would like to read about and ideas for stories to write. Then when you have a chance to get some books or write some stories, you’ll already know where to start!

Now . . . ready, set, write!

Love, your grandmother, great-aunt, and . . . a grown-up writer!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hospitality—3 Simple Ways to Create It in Everything You Write

My husband and I just returned from staying a few days with family that is hospitable down to their toes. I am grateful for the relaxing time we spent with them. They seem to know the most important way to make guests comfortable is to make them feel welcomed. And we did feel welcomed. 

I am not gifted in this area—though, of course, I should by this time in my life have improved. Someone like Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine, would want to give me remedial instruction if she met me. But I do know that for the average person, even people like me without highly developed hospitality, it can be achieved. Even if you don’t create fantastic, Downton Abbey multi-course meals and even if your house is The Middle “lived in.” You just have to make a little effort.

It occurred to me that a kind of hospitality is important in all types of writing too. The reader is most comfortable—and receptive—if they feel invited and welcomed into what you have written. But it’s possible to be inhospitable without meaning to. 

Of course, I recommend the full-on editorial process for anything to be professionally (or self) published, but here are three basics that can make anything you write in a welcoming manner, even for an email or blog post. Maybe they seem too basic, but you can probably think of times you wish someone—or you—had considered these steps. 

  • Keep it simple. Guests do not need a seven-course meal on china to feel welcomed. In fact, it might make them so uncomfortable that they feel they are merely on an agenda rather than welcomed. When you write, try to avoid flowery language, stilted language, and “big” words. If only the most scholarly of readers can understand what you are trying to say without a dictionary, your “guest” may bolt or at least skim and miss out on all or part of your message.
  • Be thorough. Do your guests feel welcomed if you forgot to tell them yours was a costume party and they show up in street clothes? Uh, no. It’s easy to dash off what you want to say without ensuring you said what you meant to say and everything you should have said. Read through what you have written to see if everything needed is there and makes sense. Even a blog post can be missing a point that will help the reader "get" your message.
  • Run a spell check. If you accepted an invitation to dinner at someone’s house, you would at least expect to be handed a clean paper plate for the slice of pizza with your name on it. If the living room sports stacks of clean laundry, even those young and harried parents will probably clean off the couch so you can sit down. The results of a spell check before you hit Send or Publish are probably not going to be noticed, but the results of skipping one could be. Do your readers the courtesy of a little clean-up that says, “I know you’re here and I’m glad to see you.” They don't necessarily expect perfection, but a little effort makes a difference.

For readers and writers, this advice is simple. Do you think it has application even for book authors? How so?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

For Freelancers: 3 Steps to Plan for Your Vacation

Planning to be on vacation is a reality for many types of work. Not everyone can just walk out of a workplace and say, “See you when I get back!” without any advance prep. Projects must not slip past deadlines, day-to-day needs must not go unmet—and who wants to come back to a mammoth pile of deferred work if they can help it? 

If you are a freelancer who wants to keep in good standing with clients and not miss being offered projects you could have accepted, some planning can be all the more important. Especially because you probably have no one to whom you can delegate.  

Here are three steps you can take that don’t cover everything, but I think they are worthy of consideration.

1.       Determine if you can check your work email once a day though you are not working (but only once a day). Unless you subscribe to the idea of totally unplugging on vacation or will be someplace where smartphones or laptops are useless, I suggest you consider checking your email once a day. I prefer not asking clients to calculate what projects I can take just because I am on vacation. Not only might mega-busy clients simply dismiss the thought of contacting me for a project with a “I think she said she is on vacation” if I announce I will be away, but I am the one with all the information necessary for determining what projects and deadlines I can fit into my schedule. In addition, I do not want to miss responding to a new potential client.

Note: If you will not be reachable, either by circumstance or intention, be sure to leave an Out of Office message for your email. The worst thing you can do is not respond at all to a client or potential client for more than a day unless some dire personal circumstance can be explained later.

2.       Give a heads up to the clients most likely to contact you during your time off. Even regular clients who think you are great are more interested in knowing what you can do for them than what you cannot. Try to let them know what they can expect, tailored, of course, to how your working relationship with each client.   
       “Please note I’ll be on vacation next month, but I will return in time for any projects you have with a deadline as early as September 1."

       "I will be on vacation February 1 – 15, but I will be checking email once a day and will have access to my project schedule so I can give you an answer about an assignment you’d like me to take." 

       "I'm going to be on vacation next week, but I will be sure to respond to all your email queries as soon as I return."
3.      Preserve enough energy to enjoy your vacation. Plan so you don't work so unreasonably hard before vacation that you could be too exhausted to enjoy it. Gauging how many projects you can accept and complete on time without working nonstop is always a challenge. But it’s particularly hard if you are trying to keep your income steady as a freelancer with no paid vacation—a vacation you probably need because you work hard just like someone who works outside the home every day. (Or some of us might be a bit of a workaholic—not that I would, uh, know what that is like).

I just experienced a fail in this area; I accepted one too many big projects to “make up for the time I would not be working,” and ended up with almost three weeks of pretty much nonstop work when it wasn't really necessary. Fortunately, I will have a couple of days to recover before heading out. But next time I will be more cautious. I know I still delivered quality work, but it would have been better—for me and my family—to have erred on the side of one too few lengthy projects than to have accepted one too many. Maybe you can give yourself some more breathing room before a vacation as well.

Did I mention I am about to take a vacation? Well, I am. Yes, I could write some blog posts ahead of time and schedule them for release, but I’m not going to. See you when I get back!

For freelancers, do you have vacation planning ideas you are willing to share?
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