Saturday, March 17, 2012

Siphoning Off the Muse

Every now and again you may get a very dry assignment -- one that makes your eyes glaze over and creates nightmare-quality writer's block.

I'm in the middle of one of these writing marathons this weekend, hammering out three stories for three different magazines, all of them tough. Face it. When you find the subject boring as a writer, how on earth will you make it interesting for your readers? Added to that challenge is the constant temptation to go on to other activities, when the words on your screen are at a minimum uninspiring.

In moments like these, I siphon off someone else's Muse.

You know that spark of creativity that grabs you at 3:48 a.m. and won't let go until you sit down and write as quickly as you can thoughts that are pouring into your mind like water from a fire hose? Sometimes you won't always have it. But I guarantee you that someone else out there does. So do what I do. Find them. Draw from the inspiration they provide. In short order, you'll find that your own imagination is soaring.

Last night, as I was in one of these writer's block funks, I was pinging around Youtube and discovered a little miracle named Akiane Kramarik. This child is like Mozart on canvas. Her artistic gifts began at the tender age of 4, and to see what she's created since then is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Here's a link to her site:

If you go to her Gallery section, not only do you view her work, but accompanying it is an explanation behind each piece. As I studied her art, I became mesmerized. I looked for interviews with her and discovered that six days per week, this child rises at 4 a.m. and spends five to six hours in her studio.

So this morning, when I was faced again with my droll little assignment, I siphoned off Akiane's muse. I imagined her in her studio, dedicated to finishing whatever work was placed before her, creating genius gems before the sunlight hit her side of the globe.

And the words began to flow for me.

Give this a try, whether it's to draw from someone else's art, writing, musical compositions, even scientific discoveries. Find an inspiring creator. You will discover that you begin to siphon their Muse energy, and before you know it, writer's block will be a faint memory.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Low-Hanging Fruit

I've been freelancing full-time coming up on 11 years now, and I constantly get the question, "How did you survive the Recession?"

I'm going to share a secret with my fellow freelancers, one that I've mostly kept to myself. But for those of you who are serious about entrepreneurship, it bears repeating:

Go for the low-hanging fruit.

What do I mean by that?

Simply this: You'll never see my byline in magazines like Good Housekeeping or Glamour. The reason is very strategic -- the magazines you pick up in the supermarket are the magazines that everyone pitches for work. They're the first places writers will go for assignments.

Do you realize how many queries those editors get per day? You might as well throw a stone at the Empire State Building, hoping it reaches the observation deck.

Now I'm not saying it can't be done, and if you have successfully pitched those magazines and landed an assignment, my hat is off to you. But if you want to make a living at this -- if you want to pay your electric bill and feed your children -- don't even bother with the highly-competitive glossies.

Go for the low-hanging fruit.

There are scores of magazines out there that may not get national recognition but still do stand-up journalistic work and make you proud that your byline is included in them.

Visit They have an extensive database of every single trade magazine imagined, on every continent, in numerous languages. Spend a week researching markets you'd like to hit. Then look for the magazines that none of your colleagues are considering and pitch them. only charges about $6 per month for this exhaustive service, but I sincerely doubt that most would-be freelancers give it a second thought.

I had to come to a difficult realization 11 years ago: The chances that I'd land a byline in one of the large supermarket magazines were slim. I analyzed why this made me upset, and you know what the bottom line was? My emotions about this were not tied to money, but were solely affected by whether someone at that magazine thought I was good enough to print. It was all about my ego.

I examined my body of work, and I came to the realization that I'm good. Really good. I don't need a New York City editor or a 28-year-old hot shot to give their approval. I know that my work is quality-driven, that I'm honest, that I'm creative, that I'm thorough and that I'm objective. A byline in one of those magazines is just fuel for my ego.

When I was able to reconcile that one little fact, hitting the trade magazines no longer seemed unpalatable.

And you know what?

I started grabbing one assignment after another, and my business made it through one tough Recession, despite the fact that many talented journalists were being laid off and were flooding my freelance market.

Go for the low-hanging fruit.

I promise you -- your ego will not suffer, and your business will do just fine.