Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mastering the Focus

As a teenager, I was heavily involved with A cappella groups and often sang solos. One vocal instructor gave me a tip that, ironically, has affected the way that I write.

When sustaining a note for several measures, to avoid losing your breath or faltering on pitch, imagine a bouncing red ball in front of you. It travels from left to right, on a straight line. In your mind's eye, follow the ball as it bounces and focus -- not on the note you are singing -- but on the ball.

I received that advice at age 16, and it's funny how often I return to it. Lately, I've been practicing a lot of yoga, and I've also applied it there. While bracing myself for a tree pose -- sole of the foot against the other knee -- I focus on one point in the distance, and I envision that bouncing red ball. I never falter on the pose, as long as I keep that bouncing ball in sight.

Now when it comes to writing, this sense of focus is sharpened when applying this approach.

This week, I had some personal circumstances that really threw me emotionally. And as someone who scores as "Feeler" on the Myers Briggs personality test, a week like this hampers my ability to concentrate in a profoundly negative way. I had two stories to finish. Tuesday, my entire day was shot. I didn't write one word.

Then yesterday, as I waited in a pediatrician's office with my child, it occurred to me to recall the bouncing ball. And I realized that if I used my favorite go-to music as backdrop, it would achieve the same result as when I had to sustain those soprano notes.

I plugged in my earbuds on the laptop and pulled up the copy, focusing completely on the rhythm of the music and taking everything else that was bothering me out of my mind. I finished the story within 45 minutes -- one that had me churning for eight hours the previous day.

If you need to focus, try to figure out what will put you in that "hypnotic" state and then employ it as a tool. Even if you just sit quietly for a few minutes and imagine that bouncing red ball with your eyes closed, it has a remarkable effect on clearing your mind so that you can create.

Have any ideas for ways that you break through writer's block? I'd love to hear them! Post a comment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Writing to the Cadence

One interesting thing I learned during my one and only pregnancy was that children in utero can be stimulated intellectually by music -- specifically Mozart. I used to spend a minimum of an hour a day with headphones plastered on my abdomen while my little boy kicked and moved to the cadence of Mozart's compositions. The theory was that IQ would be raised if a child listened to Mozart before he or she took a breath of oxygen. Even to this day, my child sits up and listens if I pipe Mozart through the car or the home.

The same can be said for your writing. A lot of people say to me, "How can you possibly write to music?" Frankly, I can't imagine writing without it. It's more than creating a mood for my muse -- it's a matter of connecting soul to heart to mind and channeling the energy from flowing scores into the keyboard of my laptop.

If you get stuck writing, at a minimum call up some classical music on Youtube and just soak it in with earbuds. I don't always stay with classical .... sometimes I stray to my favorite jazz artist, the sultry and soulful Diana Krall .... or I allow myself the guilty pleasure of my adolescent fascination with Michael Jackson or Prince. At other times, I need the fueling of a soundtrack from a film like "Prince of Persia," "Gladiator," or "Chronicles of Narnia."

So experiment with it. Try a variety of music via Youtube and see what inspires you to write. My guess is that we retain that innate connection with music that can be traced before birth, and as a result, we can channel it into composing our own lyrical prose.

Below are some of my favorite go-to selections to give you a few ideas:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Two Magic Words to Make $$$ in Freelancing

I just received an email from Writers Digest, promising the secret to making money in freelancing if I pay them $99 for their super information!

Guess what?

You don't need to pay a soul for this secret, because it's just two words.

But before I share ... be aware that I have been contacted by many people in my 12 years of freelancing for information about how I make a living. And you know how many people have taken my advice?

One person.

That's because no one really wants to do this.


Here are your two magical words:

Cold calls.

If you're not willing to call editors -- heck, even send them an email introducing yourself if you're too scared to pick up the phone -- then this life is not for you.

Will you be rejected?


99 percent of the time, you will be rejected.

Expect a 1 percent return on your cold calls -- that's 1 "yes" for every 100 contacts you make.


Well, that's what it takes, because in this economy, with thousands of news reporters facing layoffs, understand that this competition is not for the faint of heart.

I've had people listen to me and then respond with, "That's too hard. Isn't there any other way to do it?"


There isn't.

And when I tell them that, sometimes they unfollow me on Twitter, or they sever the connection on LinkedIn.

You know what I say to that? Good. Less competition. Because the ONE PERSON who took my advice is now my competitor -- and that's okay. If I really thought that all of you would do what I suggested, I wouldn't even tell you this, because I'd be out of a job.

Cold calls. You don't have to pay Writers Digest $99 for the answer.

Done. The end.