Writers write about their own life experience, even when they're writing a multi-volume three-generational family saga about slimy green toads which live on the planet Zog in a galaxy far, far away. A famous writer once said that anyone who's survived childhood has enough creative material to keep writing for a hundred years.
You can use this material overtly: you can write articles for newspapers and magazines, and non-fiction books about your interests. You can write about marriage when you get married, children when you have them, and divorce when you get divorced.
You can also use your life-experience covertly. You can't avoid using your life in your writing. Writers who write fiction are still writing from their own experience. If a young female writer writes from the point of view of an embittered homosexual male war veteran, she's still writing from her own experience, because mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, we're all people. We're all human, and we're all the same.
There's a very funny scene in the movie As Good As It Gets when Jack Nicholson, who plays an obsessive compulsive romance writer, visits his publisher and is cornered by an ingenuous secretary. She asks him how he writes his women characters so well, and, while touching her hand to her chest and forehead asks: "How do you know what's happening in here?" It's hilarious. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it and watch it. The point being, that even Nicholson's character in the movie, who's about as far from being a romantic as you can get --- on the surface --- writes sweet romances which touch his readers deeply and affect their lives.
You can write anything, because you've got it all in you.
How to use your life in your writing
Using your life in your writing means learning to use your imagination. Like Alice, in Alice In Wonderland, you learn to develop the ability to drop down the rabbit hole of your mind to access the Wonderland of your imagination at will.
You can train yourself to do this. You start by conducting an archaeological dig on your life, to access your memory of past events, people and places. You usually won't use these memories as-is in your work, but because your memories inform your imagination and creativity, digging around in your memories enhances your imagination.
Therefore, there are two major techniques you need to learn to use your life in your writing. The first is to stir your memories, and the next is to access your imagination at will.
Your memories: write a timeline of your life
Julia Cameron calls your life story your Narrative Timeline. Simply make a list of the big events of your life, starting with your birth, going to school, major childhood events and illnesses, getting your first job, and so on.
You don't need to make a big production out of this. Write the list --- it won't take you longer than ten minutes.
Each day, choose an item from the list, and write about it. This is not writing for publication. Think of it as archaeology, or turning over the compost of your past. Your writing can be totally stream-of-consciousness in style, because no one will be reading it except you, and then only if you want to. If you wish, you can even delete the computer file or destroy the paper when you've finished writing. The process is only intended to stir your memories.
If you have painful events in your past, as most of us do, ignore those. You don't need reminding about the painful events. Those will color your work whether or not you intend them to.
Access your creativity at will: drop down the rabbit hole of your imagination
All creative people develop the skill of entering the landscape of their imagination. If you've ever been hypnotized, it's a similar experience, and it's very simple to do. The process is just like a daydream. You can even do it with your eyes open.
Imagine that you're walking down a staircase, or descending in an elevator. When the elevator stops, you open a door into a landscape --- a beautiful garden, or a mountain meadow. Start wandering through this landscape. Make it real: smell the flowers, feel the wind, listen to the waterfall, or to the sounds of chirping birds.
Or, imagine that you're floating, on a magic carpet, or on a cloud, or in hot-air balloon. Imagine that you're drifting over landscapes. When the carpet lands, you can wander through the landscapes of your imagination.
You can stay in your imaginary landscape as long as you like. Even two minutes will refresh you, and will feed your writing. This creative technique is a stress-reliever par excellence too.
There you have it: two techniques to help you to write from your life --- consciously. Enjoy them, they're great fun.
I'm a huge fan of affirmations, if you are too, check out bmindful, and start using affirmations today.
I've found that on days I use affirmations, I get more done than on the days I don't – definitely a reason to keep using them.
Excellent article on Jung, too, and an intention-experiment to bring a million dollars into your life.
Technorati Tags: Motivation
Selling your work is a numbers game. The more submissions you have, the more of your writing you will sell.
If you're a beginning writer, writing and submitting is PRACTICE. Look on your submissions as practice for at least the first couple of years, or until you're selling your work consistently. Experienced writers have created systems to write, market and sell, so that the process is automatic, they no longer have to think about it.
If you're a professional writer, because the markets for your work change constantly, it's important to set submission GOALS. Set goals for the number of submissions you make each week, and also for submissions to new (to you) markets.
We're a couple of days away from 2006, so create a marketing plan for submissions now. Then work the plan for a happy and prosperous 2006.
Your attitude is vital. Read "Discipline and Persistence for Freelance Writing Success" for good advice.
Technorati Tags: Writing Tip
How do you put a dollar value on your writing? Are you charging too much? Too little? In your creative small business, pricing issues will come up again and again. I struggled with them for years, until I managed to get them straight in my own mind.
Now I price my writing and writing services to ensure that the buyer is getting MORE than his money's worth. When I've set the price to my own satisfaction, I'm happy to negotiate, because I know my base price. I know what I'd like to get, and I know the lowest price I will accept. This makes for peace of mind.
Are you an apprentice or a master?
All things being equal, you will be able to charge more for your creative services if you're highly experienced. This is because you will bring more to each project. You will see ways of doing things better, faster and more effectively, because you've done similar projects many times, and have made all the mistakes possible and won't make them again. :-)
For example, I create many news releases for clients in my copywriting practice. News releases seem easy on the surface, however to write a news release that will get coverage is a complex skill, much of which consists in knowing what not to do. I charge more for news releases than other writers, because I have the skills and the contacts that ensure that my news releases work.
Are you selling or licensing your work?
As creatives, we have the option of licensing rights to our work, or of selling works outright. Much of my work --- my business writing and copywriting --- is work done for hire. The buyer gets all rights to the work.
When you sell all rights to something, that work has gone for good. You can't reuse it, or resell it. Therefore it's important that if writing (or any other creative occupation) is your fulltime work, you devote some of your working time to creating products which you can license.
For writers, these products could include books (fiction and nonfiction), magazine articles, scripts, and ebooks.
Be aware of rights issues, and of which rights you're selling, at all times. When a magazine editor offers you fifty cents a word for FNASR (First North American Serial Rights) you need to know exactly what that means. It means that you know that you can still sell second NASR, and you've got the rest-of-world rights to play with too. I'm in Australia, so for short magazine articles, I'm quite happy to sell First Australian Serial Rights quite cheaply, because I know I've got lots of rights still to sell--- although "license" is a better term, because when you "sell" rights, you're licensing your work for a specific use and for a set period.
If you're not a hundred per cent sure of how copyright and the rights to your work operate, please buy a book on the subject. It's worth spending the money, to have the information at your fingertips.
When you know how rights work, you can ask an editor who's offered you a dollar a word what rights she's buying. If (horrors) she tells you she wants all rights to the piece for a dollar a word, that perceived good price starts to look shabby if you've been intending to use the material in other ways: as a chapter in a book, for example, or if you've been counting on selling only FNASR, and wanted to sell UK rights as well.
Learn to negotiate
Most creatives are not born good negotiators. You can however, become an expert negotiator. Here's how:
* know your base price: your rock-bottom limit. When you know your base price, you can walk away;
* set your preferred price a third higher than your base price;
* offer a sweetener rather than reducing your price;
* be patient when negotiating;
* in complex deals (like books) get someone (an agent) to negotiate for you.
Your ability to price your writing will develop as you continue to work at your trade
The ability to price your creative work develops over time. You'll make mistakes. You'll kick yourself for signing poor contracts. Look on this as paying your dues, and move on.
Review your pricing structures regularly, and keep up with the latest news on copyright and rights issues. As a creative, your rights are your nest egg, your money in the bank. Guard your rights, but don't become paranoid.
Your most important task is to get your pricing straight in your own mind. When you're happy with the prices you charge, you will become a superb negotiator.
(Here's another article from my archives. If you're VERY interested in Web writing, my ebook Writing For Online Cash is a great investment in your career.)
If you're a selling writer, you're well aware of the new boom in writing for the Web. This boom won't end anytime soon. Competent writers have all the work that they can handle.
If you're looking for writing work, start now to pursue more Web copywriting work.
As a copywriter, what can you write for the Web? Anything and everything. Main pages to Web sites, sales pages, product descriptions, blogs (yes, companies do pay writers to write blogs, which are Web logs or journals, if you're not au courant), newsletters, ezines --- the list goes on and on.
If I were a new copywriter starting out today, I'd focus strictly on the Web. You get to work with companies worldwide, you work at your own pace, and you can see the results of your efforts almost instantly. What chiefly appeals to me is the wide variety of the work, and the terrific relationships you can make.
How much money can you make? If you're a complete beginner, you can estimate that you'll make $50,000 for the first year. If you're more experienced, you can easily double that amount.
How to get started as an online copywriter
How do you get started copywriting in the online world?
It's not a requirement to have your own Web site, but it helps. With your own site, you can point prospective clients to work samples, and can show them that you know how the Web operates. They can also get an idea of your writing style. The biggest benefit of a Web site is that it's painless marketing. After the site has been up for a year or so, clients will come to you, you don’t have to hunt for work.
You can find Web writing work in many ways. The best way is to approach companies directly, with a proposal.
You can also respond to online job ads. However, please be careful when responding to such ads. I've received several anguished yelps from writers who've been conned by rip-off artists. These characters get writers to write (and write and write), and when the writer sends an invoice, there's no payment.
If you have doubts about someone after Googling them (entering their company name into Google.com). You can also check out the Whispers and Warnings discussion.
Please get a retainer up-front
A further warning--- if you don't know the client, and haven't worked for the company before, get some money BEFORE you start working on a project. Copywriting is not speculative work. Please make sure that you get your writing services agreement signed, and that you get a retainer up front. You might not require a retainer for small projects if you know the client, but you should definitely get a retainer for any job over $200, and for all new clients. The retainer can be as low as ten per cent for a large project, with regular payments to be made at intervals, or half the total fee.
If you don’t have a writing services agreement, please create one. It's a simple form explaining the scope of the project, its deadline, the number of revisions, the payment, and how and when that payment is due.
If you enjoy writing, enjoy the Web writing boom. It's a chance for you to get started with a writing career if you're a beginning writer. If you're a pro, it's a great chance to increase your income.
(Here's another article from my archives; hope it helps you. :-))
If the definition of insanity is to keep doing what's not working in the confident expectation that it WILL work, then writers and other creatives are nuts.
When you're a writer, you write and you market your work. That's it. It's exactly the same process for Stephen King as it is for Stephen Brand-New-Writer. You dig a hole and you keep digging until they bury you in it or you hit a gold mine.
That's what makes a life in the arts so challenging. If you're a creative, you create, and you sell. That's all. This counter-intuitive process leads many writers on an endless quest for the "secret". There has to be something else, they think. It's too simple. There has to be more to selling your work than that.
The bad news is that there's no more to it. And that's also the good news.
The good news: Every word you write makes you a better writer
Write every day. Write constantly. You've heard it all before, you're sick of hearing it. You don't want to write every day until you get some guarantees that it's not all for nothing. After all, your partner has threatened to throw the computer out the window, and you want some semblance of a normal social life before you die.
It's true, every word you write makes you a better writer, and you don't get to be a better writer without putting in the time writing those words. Dig out some old files. Go back five years, if you've been writing that long. If you've been writing for less than five years, go back and read your first efforts. Does your beginning work make you cringe?
Your improvement has been incremental. The more you write, the better your writing gets.
Along with writing, you should also read and study other writers. Take writing courses. The big benefit of a writing course is that you're forced to write.
But that's not enough.
The bad news: Selling is often a matter of luck
Here comes the bad news. Selling is often a matter of luck. New writers like to believe that editors and agents are super-human beings who know everything. They certainly know better than writers. (Big wry smile.)
Editors and agents have problems even as you and I do. They have jobs to do, and they want to do them as easily and as quickly as they can, with the least amount of hassle. This means that when you send an article proposal to a magazine and another writer sends a similar idea, if the publication has worked with him before, he gets the job. It may not be fair, but to the magazine he's a known quantity. They know what to expect with him. On the other hand, if there's a book on the topic and the agent calls to offer the serial rights for less than it would cost to hire either of you, you both lose out.
Rejection is a fact of the creative life. Many genre novelist have written ten complete novels before the first one sold, and that sale was often a matter of luck. That novel was in the right place at the right time, so to speak. Let's see, at 80 to 100 thousand words per novel, that's close to a million words, before a single word sold. Of course, once a novel sells, the editor and the writer's agent will encourage the writer to dig out those past efforts, revamp them, and chances are they will be published too. (So if you're filling a couple of filing cabinets with unsold manuscripts, take heart. Look on them as your retirement fund. :-))
Many writers have to continue for years, doing what isn't working. They have no guarantee that it will EVER work. But if they stop digging that hole, they'll never strike gold.
How to survive until you sell (and forever afterward)
Firstly, don't forget to trust the process. It works. You create, and you market your work. That's all.
However, you also must:
* keep up with what's selling, so that you're not selling a bicycle in the rocket age. This doesn't mean you hop on every passing bandwagon. Trust yourself. If you're writing a multi-generational family saga-type novel and only chicklit Bridget Jones clones are selling, keep writing. The wheel turns. If you write from your heart, you will sell;
* get a life aside from your writing. If you refuse to live your life, your creative well will soon dry up. Keep living and keep writing. If you can't yet support yourself with your writing, take heart. Look on your day job as material. For a writer, everything is material;
* take chances. Write what's fun for you --- or what's painful for you. Take whatever happens to you, and use it. It's all material. If you've been writing for ten years and haven't sold a word, write about that. (I'm not kidding);
* have fun with your writing. Never get so keyed up to sell, sell, sell that you stop enjoying what you're doing. At least 80 per cent of your writing must be writing you'd do for pleasure, even if they weren't paying you. I enjoy copywriting, it's a game to me, and I get as much enjoyment out of writing copy as I do out of crossword puzzles. Find out what you enjoy writing, and focus your efforts on that.
* try new stuff. Investigate other kinds of writing you might enjoy.
To sell your writing, keep doing what's not working --- yet. One day, maybe TODAY, it will work, so keep digging that hole.
(Here's another article from my archives. Enjoy.)
How many words do you write a day? Some novelists manage 2,000 words a day or even more, but most writers feel they've done a good job if they can turn out 500 to 1,000 words.
If you're writing zero words a day, you're blocked. Writers get blocked because they're anxious, or because they don’t have enough information.
Dealing with anxiety
Anxiety can show up in various forms, either physical, mental, or emotional. You may feel tired, or have a head-ache. You may decide that you're bored with what you're writing, or so depressed you can't think. Or maybe you convince yourself that you're just too busy (the lawn needs mowing, and you should spend time with the kids). You'll do your writing tomorrow.
The anxiety block is hard to manage because you often don’t realize that it is a block. You have terrific reasons for not writing. No one would expect you to write with a migraine, would they? And you really do need to mow the lawn.
The only way I've found to manage this block is to be tough on myself. I set myself a daily word target, usually 500 to 1,000 words. I may not reach that target, but before I go to bed, I MUST write 500 words. Every day.
Paradoxically, I've found that even when I'm not in the mood to write, or when I have a headache that would fell an ox, I feel better when I've written my 500 words. I often go on to write the full 1,000.
The most pernicious anxiety block occurs when you're convinced your writing is worthless. This block may happen as a result of chaos in some other area of your life: perhaps with relationships, or illness, or finances.
Handling this block takes careful management. First, try to see that it's a block, which has happened because of the stress you're under. Your writing is fine --- you've just lost perspective. If you can convince yourself of this, it's a major achievement.
Try to write anyway, even if you feel your writing is trash. If you can't, take a break from writing without feeling guilty. Relax, exercise, eat well, and indulge in a few movies, or a favourite hobby.
If this block lasts for more than a month or two, visit a therapist. There's no shame in this, and seeing someone can save you endless months of frustration.
Eliminating the "no info" block
You can also get blocked because you don’t have enough information. You're trying to write the final draft, instead of tackling the writing process draft by draft.
Here's a handy way to prevent the "no info" block by taking your writing through clearly defined stages:
A. First draft: your thinking draft. In this draft, you write whatever you like. You're aiming for quantity here, rather than quality.
B. Your second draft. Your first draft has shown you what you want to say. In this draft, you have a crack at saying it.
C. Your clean-up draft. Your final draft. You've said what you want to say, now you get a chance to say it better. You clean up the redundancies and spice it up.
In practice, stage B may have several additional drafts, as many as you need: B1, B2, and more.
The easiest way to kill the no-info block for good is to allow yourself to write badly. Every day. This is because writing is hard when you try to think and write at the same time. Allow yourself to think on paper for as many drafts as you need. Then write the final draft with confidence.
This isn't a block, it's a process. Everything happens in cycles, even your writing. Sometimes your writing catches fire. You're inspired. At other times, writing is like wading through quicksand, and it takes you forever to write 200 words.
Accept this. When you're in the low part of the cycle, aim lower. If your target was 1,000 words a day, make it 200. Or even 50.
Blocks are a part of the writer's life. Use the above tools to write your way out of them. As incredible as it may seem when you're in the middle of a block, the day will dawn when your block is not even a memory, and you can confidently say: "There's no such thing as writer's block!"
Have you bought your own Christmas gift yet? Make the most of your writing talent and buy Writing For Online Cash: Turn Your Words Into Instant Gold today.
This book has helped others to make a powerful success of their writing, and it can help you too. Make 2006 the year you turn your writing into your fulltime career.
Please note: I've been convinced that I need to raise the price in 2006, so in January the new price will be $97.
(Not sure how to get started as a writer? Here's an article from my archives. Follow this easy process and you WILL get your first sale, guaranteed. :-))
Nothing beats the joy of your first sale. You can plot, plan, market and dream all you want, but until you get that first sale, you're not sure that you're a "real" writer. It's 26 years since I sold my first book to an international publisher. I walked on air for days. To my mind, because real writers wrote books, I was real writer at last.
Your first sale legitimizes what you're doing to others, and not least to yourself. When you've got that sale, you get a lot more than money: you get confidence, feedback, and ideas on how you can make the next sale and the next.
How do you make that first sale? Here's how:
One: Give yourself a deadline
Although I'd made writing sales I didn't sell a book until I gave myself a deadline. I gave myself a long deadline, ten years. I didn't need that long, it took a year. However setting a deadline turned selling a book from a dream into a goal. If I hadn't given myself a deadline, I would have fudged for years: making outlines, doing research, writing a chapter here and there, and convincing myself that I was trying to sell a book, when I wasn't doing anything of the sort.
Give yourself a deadline to make your first sale. You'll know how long the deadline should be. Don't make it ten years unless it's something where you need to learn a lot of skills first before you can produce a product.
Your deadline must be serious. The ten years I gave myself was the absolute cut-off date. If I hadn't sold a book by then, I intended giving up writing book-length material forever.
Two: Ask for the sale!
Once I'd set the ten-year deadline, I knew I had to ask for the sale. This meant submitting partials to publishers. A partial is a fiction proposal. It consists of a synopsis, a chapter outline, and the first chapters: around 50 to 100 pages of the novel. I wrote a partial every two months, and sent them out.
How will you ask for the sale? If you're selling your writing, then send out novel and non-fiction proposals, or proposals for magazine articles.
Keep in mind that "Ask for the sale" means ask the person who can buy your product to buy it. I approached editors at publishing houses who could buy my work. I didn't approach agents. As handy as literary agents are, an agent can't buy.
No matter what product you're selling, from apricots to zebras, you must ask the person and/ or company with the cash to buy your product.
It's worth mentioning here that you don't need to follow any particular rules when you're asking for the sale. For example, most writing books will tell you that to sell a novel you must write the complete novel, then write the partial, then get an agent and then wait while the agent sells the book. You can follow someone else's rules if you want to. Or you can choose your own route. Do what you intuitively feel is right for you.
Three: If it's not working, get feedback from others
You've set your deadline, you've asked for the sale repeatedly, but no one's buying.
At this point, I need to tell you that everyone who's ever followed this process for selling their writing has sold their writing before the deadline. So from long experience I know that this process works. If this process hasn't worked for you it means that somewhere you've bumped into a wall, but don't see that it is a wall.
You need feedback. Find someone's who's doing what you want to do, and ask them for help. You may need to pay for it, but it will be money well spent, because they'll be able to put you on the right track. Don't ask for help from people who have never done what you want to do. If they haven't done it, they may think they know how it's done, but they don't.
After you get your feedback, set yourself another deadline, and then ask for the sale until you make the sale. Try this simple process: it works.
I've just bought a paper planner for 2006. I do most of my planning on paper these days. Don't get me wrong. I write for tech magazines and I love, love, love technology. I'm never happier than when I'm tinkering with my computers or trying out a new piece of software.
Unfortunately I spend a lot of time tinkering with my planning systems, too, time when I should and could be getting more writing done. As Douglas Johnston of DIY Planner says about his own habits and those of a colleague using a paper planner, you can spend a lot of time tinkering with your systems:
While I would carefully set up my list of 50-odd next actions, prioritising them, categorising them, setting alarms, and syncing between all the technology tools I had at my fingertips, Bettina would just glance at her book and get things done. This is not to say I was a slacker -- on the contrary, I did manage to plough through an extraordinary amount of work and training-- but a certain needless percentage of my time was spent tweaking my productivity system and trying to make it all work smoothly as a whole, mostly after-hours.
I still use MS Outlook, Tinderbox, and OmniOutliner, not to mention BackPack, and couldn't stay organized without them, but paper helps me to organize myself, the tech tools organize my tasks.
Technorati Tags: Planning
(Here's an article I found buried in my archives. If you're a brand new copywriter, you'll find it useful.)
Your copywriting practice is built a client at a time. After the first client, your marketing becomes much easier, because you can use any client as an entrée into his circle of contacts.
You do this by asking for referrals. Simply ask your client, either in person or on the phone: "Who else do you know who might be interested in my services?"
Stay silent after you've asked the question --- you must give your client time to think. Remember that you've sprung this on him, and he isn't ready for the question, so just wait for a few moments. Don't speak until you've got at least one name.
After he's given you one name, just ask: "Who else?"
Keep asking "Who else?" until you get at least five names. Remember that you must keep silent and allow your client to think. Bite your lip or your cheek if you have to, but don't speak.
You may think that you've now got five other companies you can approach, but in reality you've got many more than five. Why? Because you'll ask everyone you speak to at these companies whether they know any other businesses or individuals who might be interested in your services.
You also need to beware of making assumptions. Common assumptions novice copywriters make:
* judging a client on the size of his office, or Web site, or stationery, or vehicles;
* downgrading a client from A to B status because she only buys an hour of your time per month;
* thinking that because you've written an ad or a speech for a client she's aware of all the other services you provide;
* that six months after you've done some work for a client the client will remember who you are and what you do.
Your assumptions will keep your business and client base small. Never assume. That tiny one-hour-a-month client may land a big contract, and sign you on for 100 hours a month for three months.
Technorati Tags: get started copywriting
Interesting article at Online Journalism News on the threat posed to publishers by Google Base.
With advertising moving online rapidly, how are your online advertising skills? The report mentioned in the article has tips for publishers:
The report recommends ten strategies to help publishers compete with Google. They include training staff to develop expertise in search-engine marketing, giving advertisers with a wider audience by syndicating ad content to Google and partner sites, and developing print as an upsell to online advertising.
How are your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) skills? What about your Serach Engine Marketing (SEM) skills?
You'll need to rethink your approach to the humble classified too -- writing online classifieds is different from writing classifieds for print.
Technorati Tags: Web writing
Writing is a performance art, so expect to experience performance anxiety, almost every time you write. Think of it as page-fright. :-)
You may freeze up when you face the blank page or computer screen. Or you'll keep writing the same thing over and over, because you know how to do it, and it's safe. Or you'll never complete a novel. Or when an editor accepts an article proposal, and sends you a contract, you'll procrastinate for 12 months and never get around to signing the contract or writing the article.
Performance anxiety is natural. Expect to feel uncomfortable, and write anyway, and I promise you that within 11 minutes of starting to write your discomfort will vanish. Yes, I know it's hard to believe. Give it a try. :-)
In 2006, use your WRITING itself to achieve your writing (and all other) goals. How do you do this? Talk to yourself on paper about every writing task, both before you begin it, and as you work. Whenever you experience a writing block, resistance, or "can't find the time" to write, start writing ABOUT your challenge. This is the single most powerful writing technique I've ever found. It gets you over the performance-anxiety hump.
I emphasise this talk-to-yourself skill in my copywriting course. In the first lesson, I ask students to tell me about their pen, and to start off by writing: "Dear Angela, let me tell you about my pen__________" It's vital for students to learn this skill; otherwise when they have four writing jobs they must finish by the end of the day, they'll waste too much time puttering around. Once they learn to "write about", they can face any day, no matter how packed with writing jobs, with confidence. They know that they can sit down anywhere, and write to order.
You can use this technique every day too. Talk to yourself on paper. The "writing about" prewriting technique works for everything. You can even use it to achieve your writing goals.