9 Habits of Profitable Freelancing: Writing Lots

Professional Writing ServicesIn my book The 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing, one of the habits I list is “Write Lots.

When I first thought about writing professionally, I had the problem of underestimating the scale of available work. Now that I’m in my 6th year of writing full time, I have a better grasp on just how much work — and how many different kinds of work — is available for writers willing to chase it.

And you have to be willing to chase it. It’s not like it will be coming to you.

(Well, after a while it will start coming your way…but only after several years of doing the hunting yourself)

In the past six months, I’ve gotten paid to do the following kinds of writing:

  • Ghostwriting on religion
  • Web content
  • Print magazine articles
  • Travel & food writing
  • Advertising copy
  • Martial arts instructions
  • Social media profiles
  • E-books on writing
  • Ghostwriting on international business
  • Presentation scripts
  • Game rules
  • White papers
  • Young adult fiction

In the same time, people I know in the industry have been paid to do the following other kinds of writing:

  • Catalog text
  • Calendar color commentary
  • Travel guides
  • Movie and TV scripts
  • Research summaries
  • Grant proposals
  • Business plans
  • Nonfiction books
  • Fiction books
  • Short stories
  • Brochure copy
  • Flyers for businesses
  • Corporate employee manuals
  • Social media engagement

The bottom line is this. It doesn’t matter what you want to write. You can find somebody willing to pay you to write it.

Go find that somebody.

Get paid.

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Two New (to me) Tools for Writing Professionals

Picard Facepalm D’oh!

When I say “New Tools” in this context, what I really mean is “Tools That Have Totally Existed For a Very Long Time That I’m Finally Putting to Use and Making My Life Easier With.”

Yes, I’m a professional writer and business writing coach. Yes, I make part of my living teaching writers and other kinds of solopreneurs how to be effective and organized.

 

No, I didn’t adopt either of these no-brainers until January 2nd of this year. And they’re already making my life much, much easier. If you’re not using them, try both for a week. You’ll be glad you did.

My Professional Writing Dillemma

My email inbox is often a freaking mess. I answer about half of my emails one the same day I get them, then archive that bad boy since the response will bring the conversation back into the queue. That works fine, but there’s another species of email that’s a thorn right in the side of my back.

You get them, too. Emails you’re not responding to right away, but need to keep in the front of your mind. For me, these fall into two broad categories:

1. Emails containing a meeting date and time I don’t want to forget.

2. Emails I can’t respond to until a certain date, or until something specific happens. 

Each of the two tools I put into place this January fixes one of those two emails. Without them, both cluttered up the bottom of my inbox and stressed me out. Worse, there were usually enough of them down there that the emails didn’t grab my attention…and grabbing my attention was the main reason I kept them in my inbox in the first place.

Seriously. It was a problem. Middle-class, first-world problem.

But still a problem.

Solution #1: Siri

writing business coach
If you don’t know what this has to do with Siri, you don’t love science fiction.

Did you know you can pick up your iPhone 4s or newer and say “Siri, remind me to XXX on YYY” and she’ll set an alarm that shoots you a message on YYY telling you to do XXX?

Yes, you did.

So instead of leaving that email to fester in my inbox until I get new information during a meeting on the 10th, I archive that son of a bitch and say sweetly to Siri “Siri, remind me to email that dude on the 11th.”

And she does.

I’ve heard Skyvi does the same sort of thing for Android phones, and the awesomely-named Cortana might do it for Windows phones. I have no experience with them, but the functionality is easy and awesome.

Solution #2: Google Calendar

business writing coachI didn’t promise either of these tools was innovative or new. I’m just saying I love that I’ve started using them.

It’s possible I’m the last person in the world to start immediately putting any appointment I make via email into my Google calendar so I can find it on my phone or computer any damn time I need to.

I don’t care. It’s freaking’ great. Especially with the new “Pencil it In” feature that sometimes automates it for me. Open a new tab. Write in the details. Send invites to everybody involved to make me look on top of things. Tell Google to send me an alert 48 and 24 hours ahead of time to remind me.

Bam! Instant flakiness remover. Like dandruff shampoo for my worklife.

 

How about y’all? What tools that have been floating around in your workspace for years have you only recently put into place and immediately kicked yourself square in the giblets for not using far earlier? I’d love to hear about them. 

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SEO WiSE for Writers and Business Owners

Hire a Writer I should have used a different title.

Writers, at least professional writers are business owners. This should not come as a surprise to anybody who’s been reading this blog or seen me speak.

Trouble is, writers as a population are among the least qualified people in the world to run a business. They tend to be liberal arts majors who would much rather curl up in a library than pound the pavement looking for clients or organizing finances. That’s why agents and publishers made so much money in the past 100 years or so, and why so many writers were willing to sign away 90% or more of their income to avoid the business side of the job.

The worse trouble is we can’t do that any more.

  • The model of write –> agent –> publish –> write again is vanishing, offered to fewer and fewer people every year.
  • Even the people who do get published under that model don’t get the marketing support they would have twenty years ago. They still need to learn how to get the word out about their books.
  • The quickest method of getting a publisher these days is to do well with your first self-published book, which means treating that project like a business complete with marketing plan.

All in all, professional writers need to be professional writers…not the professional writers we all hoped we would become.

The SEOWiSE program is a training course (full discolosure — I’m one of the founders) that teaches writers how to leverage what they’re best at — writing — to promote their work. I’m proud of it. My partner John Ellis is proud of it. You’ll be proud to complete it. Here’s the basic rundown:

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So that’s the good news. You can get trained, then get paid. And getting paid is the difference between a professional writer and somebody who writes.

The other good news is, because I’m a founder, I can cut you a deal on the price. Reach out to me and subscribe to the blog and I’ll get you a $250 discount.

Seriously, the stuff in there is part of why I never have to find a real job again.

Thanks for listening.

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Poets, Poetry and a Contest With Poems

I wanna talk about three poets.

Poet #1: Mikey Mason

advice for writers, professional ghostwriter

 

 

 

 

Mikey Mason is a geek comic and songwriter responsible for songs like She Don’t Like Firefly, Best Game Ever for which Gary Gygax’s family wrote him a thank you note, and sheer poetry like you’ll find in Han Solo Cool

If I could just be cool like Han Solo

If I could misbehave like Captain Mal

If I could just be half as smooth as Lando

I could get a grip on life somehow

If I could kick some alien ass like Ripley

If I could make you laugh like Doctor Who

If I could follow treasure maps like Indy

They would always lead me back to you

Mikey’s newest album, “Dangerous Gifts” was recently released and is probably his best work yet. I recommend you check him out.

Poet #2: Jake F. Simons

professional ghostwriter

Jake F. Simons is my personal alter ego, the guy who writes stuff that I don’t necessarily want the kids I teach karate to find out about by accident.

In Jake’s book Wingmanyou meet poet Luie Grant. He’s sort of like Beavis or Butthead would be after a few more years of life experience and a couple of trips to prison.

Luie tends to spin extemporaneous poetry during the adventures he has with his good buddy Max Farkas.

Here’s one of his haiku:

At the Home Depot

With two lovely women

Do they still stock chains?

And a limerick he aimed at Max after a particularly bizarre animal encounter:

Your situation’s quite goofy

But don’t try to be aloofy

We’ve seen quite a bit

Some really strange shit

But who knew monkeys used roofies?

TCK Publishing released Jake’s short story collection Five Days of Farkas earlier this month.

Poet #3: YOU

Mikey Mason 1 51RkeCxR-yL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s right. YOU have the chance to win a free copy of both “Dangerous Gifts” and Five Days of Farkas. Here’s how.

Comment here, on Facebook or on my G+ profile with the filthiest, wrongest, sickest, most don’t-tell-your-mom-you-wrote-this haiku you can come up with that uses no curse words, anatomical terms for naughty bits or scenes of graphic violence. Your job is to force the reader to imagine something more horrible than you could ever actually describe.

  • You can enter as often as you like.
  • Deadline is Monday, November 26th.
  • I will announce the winner (the very best entry) on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
  • The winner will receive a free copy of both works.
  • Two second-place winners (drawn randomly from qualifying entries) will receive either the music or the book.

So what are you waiting for? Get to it.

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Software Design Techniques Applied to Screenwriting

business writing coachJohn Copp is a former software engineer, frequent fisherman, screenwriter, poet and political activist I have the privilege of knowing through my writing group. He read some poetry at Three Mugs Brewing last weekend, and absolutely did not get me in a fistfight at last year’s Fisher Poets’ Gathering in Astoria.

Here he applies software design to screenwriting. Enjoy.

 

Time runs away faster than a frightened antelope.  I wrote the original screenplay in four months.  The next rewrite took eight months.  Too long.  Self, I said, take what you know about software design and apply it to screenplay design.  Graduate degree in Computer Science, years in the industry, and over two million lines of code to my credit.  So I did and finished the third rewrite in four weeks.  Not a quick polish but a full rewrite.  Two concepts helped: set theory and modular design.

I’m not talking about movie sets but mathematical sets.  A set is a collection of related things:

  • {apples, oranges, bananas}                             fruits
  • {open a file, write to a file, close a file}          software operations
  • {hero, ally, opponent}                                      screenplay archetypes

 

Sets provide a means of organizing large collections.  The human intellect uses sets to manipulate ideas, perceptions, relationships, and strategies.  In a sense, the human imagination is structured like a nested Russian doll.  One set contains another which contains another.  Given the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex, the number of nested sets is infinite.

Likewise, the pathways and possibilities a writer’s mind can explore are infinite.  That poses a problem.  If the number of options is infinite, and the life of a writer is finite, how to impose constraints so that something tangible – a deliverable product – gets created quickly?  Sets to the rescue.

TOOLS: whiteboard, eraser, dry erase marker, and left curly braces.  Each curly brace contains a set of related things, most commonly verbs.  Software is all about action, and verbs perform actions.  Same with screenplays.  Here’s an example:

Untitled

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voila!  A screenplay.  The 13th Warrior, more or less. 

Each curly brace contains a set consisting of things (actors, events, circumstances) and, most likely, more curly braces, each of which contains a set of other things including more curly braces.  “Cannibal monster attacks the village,” for instance, will expand into a set of related actions, each contained within a curly brace.  Dolls within dolls within dolls.

Careful.  You’re not writing the screenplay here.  Just stubs with a few action verbs, maybe a character name or two.  Be playful.  It’s all erasable, movable, rewriteable.  When you’re think you’ve got a good map, take a snapshot of the whiteboard and save it.

Now to modular design.  Over two-thirds of the total cost of software systems is incurred after the software is released to the public.  Why?  The software is full of defects.  The best antidote is modular design.  A “program” becomes a set of separate, smaller pieces.  The following characteristics help ensure that these modules behave well.

  •  Clarity of purpose: a module (or scene) should perform a limited set of precisely defined functions.  Similarly, a well-crafted scene has a clear purpose: drive the story forward, say.
  •  Simplicity: a module should neither be overly long or overly complex.  It’s behavior should have strict limitations.  Limited inputs, limited scope of action, and limited output.  In other words, it does what it is intended to do without throwing any surprises.
  •  Easily modified: a module should allow a straight-forward rewrite, not just by the author, but by whomever does the rewrite.
  •  Robust: a module should be able to take a beating in the hurly-burly of the real world without rolling over and crashing the whole system.  Even better if it’s designed for testability.  That is, it’s designed for a ruthless pounding by peers, critics, and script consultants.
  •  Interoperable: modules must play nicely in the sandbox with the other children.  A rogue module that does its thing at the expense of other modules causes trouble.  A scene that undercuts the credibility of the hero undercuts the credibility of the story.
  •  Aesthetic: a well-crafted module has a logical beauty that reflects thoughtfulness and mastery.

So let’s review.

STEP-BY-STEP

  1. TOOLS: whiteboard, eraser, dry erase marker, sticky notes in various colors.
  2. Write ACT I, ACT II, and ACT III on the whiteboard.
  3. Populate each act with stubs on the whiteboard.
  4. Take a snapshot with your cell phone.  Save it.
  5. Erase the stubs but leave the act headers.
  6. Open or print the snapshot showing all the stubs.
  7. Using sticky notes, create scene hints, and post under the relevant act.

 

Cautionary note: by “hint”, I mean just a simple reminder.  Here’s an example.

 

ALASKA STATE TROOPER

Interrogates Joe, accuses him of  blowing up his own boat.

 

  1. When each act is populated with scene hints, stand back, review, think.  Let it sit overnight.
  2. Take a snapshot of the whiteboard.  Save it.  Print it if you like.
  3. Next morning, scrutinize the whiteboard.  You’ll be surprised how many holes jump out.
  4. Do a walk-through on what’s on the whiteboard.  Talk aloud to yourself while you do it.
  5. Do another walk-through while explaining it to somebody else.  Record critical comments.
  6. Do NOT fire up Final Draft until you are absolutely certain you’re on the right path.
  7. Take the rest of the day off.  So something fun.

 

Now it’s time to implement each sticky note as a scene.  Don’t be surprised if you replace or delete many sticky notes.  It’s a discovery process.  Put a checkmark on each sticky note when the scene is complete.  It help spot gaps and, when the last one is checked, gives you a wonderful warm feeling.

Filling an empty sheet of paper with words is both challenging and great fun. When the words become thousands, however, and the pages number in the hundreds, it is easy to lose perspective. Key threads dangle in the air like unfinished spider webs. Unwanted redundancy and sloppy logic lurk in the shadows. Applying logical design is like shining a spotlight on a frog’s face: now you can see all the bumps. It’s a small price to pay to produce a higher quality product in a shorter period of time.

 

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