Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Question for Fellow Journalists

Journalist friends or those who studied journalism: 

For a book I am writing, I need to hear from you. Send me a short quote on why you decided to get into this business. What was the "A ha!" moment -- the deep down gut reason or an incident or inspiration -- that triggered you to say, "I want to be a reporter?" 

You can either post it here or email me at Names are not necessary for quoting -- I'm following a theory and want to see if it plays out. 


Monday, January 14, 2013

Organizing the Assignments

Being a freelancer means being your own boss.

And that translates into constant self-discipline to work as if someone is standing at your right elbow shouting, "Deadline was 5 minutes ago!"

The problem is that there are some mornings where there are so many pieces of things to do that it's hard to get started with just one. This is one such morning for me.

Now I don't know if you've ever taken a Myers Briggs personality test, but in one of the categories, I consistently score 100 percent as a "J," or "Judging." Basically, that means I live a structured and decided lifestyle. I'm a planner to the nth degree.

So on a morning like today, I put my J skills in action. Here's how I tackled the mountain of tasks. It's a very simple solution for you, too:

Get out a blank piece of white paper and a black Sharpie. Why use a magic marker rather than an ink pen? I find that if I write my tasks in thick, black ink, my mind snaps to attention. The larger letters command my action.

Now draw two vertical lines down the paper and two horizontal lines across. This should give you boxes in which to write.

In each box, write and underline the name of a task. In my case, three of my boxes had titles of three different stories I'm working on. One box was for personal errands. One box was for correspondence with current editors. One box was for business development.

In the boxes with the story titles, I listed what had to be done for each story. Which sources do I still need to contact? Which line of research still needs to be unearthed? Which one has a pending interview? And what time will I start writing each one?

The box for personal errands lists things I have to do this afternoon that have nothing to do with work.

The box for correspondence with editors included a list of phone calls and emails for pitch follow-ups, story planning sessions and other housekeeping matters, i.e., checking on when I can expect my money for work completed.

And the box for business development? My list includes time to work on my book project, time to redesign my business Web site and time to research new companies to pitch.

As you can see, no wonder I had such a mental block when it came time to diving into my Monday morning! The list was enormous! But by dividing these tasks up in categories and looking at them on this sheet of paper in capital letters written with a fat Sharpie, I'm now focused and ready, and I've already crossed several things off the list.

Which brings up my last point .... When you complete a task, cross it off. I don't know why this psychologically helps me, but doing so gives me a boost of energy because of a sense of self-accomplishment. I have more drive then to tackle the rest of the items.

Will I get to all of them in one day?

Certainly not.

But the list will stay in front of me all week, and by Friday, I'll feel like I've earned the downtime I will so richly reserve.

You will, too! Try it!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Real World Rewards for Your Work

Sometimes the real payment you receive for your work isn't money.

A funny thing happened this morning to remind me that this business of writing is about so much more than putting words to paper ....

I'm researching a story about programs to help soldiers and veterans with substance abuse issues. I pulled up the Army's Substance Abuse Program Web site and was tooling around to see the types of courses and aid they have available.

Suddenly, my eye fell on a phrase I know very well: "PRIME for Life."

The link for it went straight to a program description, and I knew that well, too.

Ten years ago, I freelanced for the company that put that program together. My job was to take their course materials and edit them. I didn't get rich, and my name wasn't included in the final product. No one knew I had anything to do with it.

But this morning, when I saw the same course materials on the Army's Web site and realized that soldiers and veterans were benefiting from them, I felt so gratified and happy.

The real reason I got into this business was to help change lives. I know that sounds like a Pollyanna, but it's true. Throughout my career, I've always sought stories that will enrich and inform people, spur them to action or cause them to think hard about their perspectives and attitudes.

As a newspaper journalist, I usually saw tangible results of my efforts on at least a weekly basis. As a freelancer today, I don't always get that immediate affirmation.

This was that type of feeling. It was a decade after the fact ... but what a feeling. I needed that shot in the arm to remind me that what we do really does matter.

And whether you're a rich-and-successful or a poor-and-struggling writer, this type of payment is the best there is.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The 2013 Pledge to Start and Finish a Book

Happy New Year! I'll bet you have a great New Year's resolution that you plan to keep!

The last time I made a resolution was in 2000. I figured that it was a monumental year with the changing over to a new millennium, and that deserved a kick-ass resolution.

So I resolved to conquer a real fear. I sat and thought hard ... what was a real fear that I could tackle and have results to show for it?

I decided that one fear was horses.

I took horseback riding lessons for the first four months of 2000. For the first month, I was so frightened that my instructor literally held the horse's bit and led me around and around a pen, like I was 5 years old.

By the last month, I had progressed to trotting and even staying on the back of the horse when it reared its legs. I'll never be an expert, because truthfully, I never took to it like some people do. But I did cross that resolution off my list as a "mission accomplished."

I haven't made a resolution since then .... until this year, 2013.

I came to a difficult realization that I was spending much too much time on Twitter. It was time to rock the boat.

So I have resolved this:

Every time I feel the nudge to tweet or spend an inordinate amount of time perusing tweets, I will work on writing my book. I'm going to keep an open Word doc on my computer so that I can go straight to it and just write until the urge is gone. I haven't even started this book. But that's the point. I thought to myself, "I'll bet I spent so much time on Twitter in 2012, that I could have finished a book in the time that I was tweeting."

Will it sell?

At this point, I don't really care.

I just want to be able to say ... in my life, I was a newspaper reporter, I was an AP wire service reporter, I was a newspaper editor, I was a magazine freelance writer .... AND I WROTE A BOOK.

Just one book.

Let's see if I can get it done this year. It doesn't mean I'll shelve Twitter completely, but I do need to get my life back in balance.