Wednesday, April 29, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Cultivating great writing

"Enthusiasm and persistence can make an average person superior; indifference and lethargy can make a superior person average."~William Ward

Last year, I took a narrative nonfiction class sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and led by Tom Hallman. Hallman has won a Pulitzer and writes the kind of long, people-focused stories I long to do. As this persistence challenge has progressed, I've been thinking more and more about what he told us.

I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like this:
The people who are most successful aren't necessarily the ones who have the most innate talent. They're the ones who are willing to keep trying and failing and keep trying and looking foolish. The ones who win the prizes and do this kind of journalism are the ones who are willing to admit that they don't know.
This really struck me. I had been so insecure about my writing, and so afraid of possible criticism, that I hadn't even submitted a story for him to review with the class. So you can guess which camp I fell into at the time.

Since then, his words gave me courage: I've tried to use some of the techniques he offered in stories. I've asked for some help. And in general, that hard veneer of needing to look in control has softened somewhat.

So the lesson of becoming a great writer is about persistence. It's about failing and showing up and not taking it personally. Just like everything else, it's about acting from faith, not ego.

Sounds challenging? Of course it is. It's counterintuitive, especially when trying and failing in front of others could affect your business. The stakes seem higher for freelancers than they seem for fullt-time employees. But the truth is, I don't know if they are.

Being a freelancer affords us a kind of freedom that full-time staffers don't always get: We can pursue stories without worry about getting paid because we do that all the time--it's called querying. We can be adventurous with our writing when we have our editor on board.

We can risk.

What are you doing this week to move your writing in the direction you really want to go?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Faith for the job hunt

"Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters."
[Isaac Bashevis Singer]
Every query is an act of faith: In yourself, in this wobbly industry, in the economy.

It says, "I believe there is enough work out there that an editor will see this query and will choose it, out of the scores she receives every day. She will read it and she will even assign it, for a decent rate."

You can be forgiven in this market for doubting that scenario. And if you have any tendencies toward self-criticism--if, indeed, your inner critic doesn't just come out on the page but asserts itself, red pencil in hand, in every part of your life--you can be forgiven for wondering whether your query is good enough to rise to the top despite what's happening in the market.

This is why, no matter your religious affiliation or none, faith is a key component of persistence. I always think of those pioneers trudging across the open plains to the promise of ocean, to water. Forget for a moment whatever your political beliefs are about whether that was a moral act--to take over other people's land. Just think of that journey: It's an act of faith. They trusted that they would get there, and if it got really hard, they would find some way through it.

Right now, we all need to have a little more pioneer spirit and a lot more faith to stay self-employed. When interviewing people for my Black Enterprise story on persistence, one of the themes that repeatedly came up was faith. Though I only quote Patti Webster talking about faith, I'd guess five out of the seven people I interviewed for that story said faith was part of their willingness to keep doing the work despite complete lack of evidence that they were getting somewhere.

“I just knew that God had positioned me in this place and that if I just kept at it I would get a break," Patti told me.

She did. After living in her mom's home for two years, she finally landed a big-name client, and then some of her public relations clients who had stayed with the big agency when she struck out on her own came back on board.

Apply this to your life:

Does it feel right?

You don't have to believe in God per se to benefit from faith. Ever since I spoke to Patti, I've been thinking of one thing she said to me: That she felt she was exactly where she was supposed to be. I feel the same way. My seven years in newspapers prepared me for the hard, thankless work of freelancing, and the benefits are far greater than the stresses. For me.

So when you start feeling beleaguered by doubt, ask yourself if you really believe you're where you're supposed to be. Do you believe if you keep working, you'll get the break you need? If so, send just one more query. Make one more follow-up call.

Act as if

If you believe as I do that this is where you're supposed to be, act like it. A friend likes to counsel me, when I feel doubt about my relationship, to ask myself if I want to be in in it today. If I do (and I do), then I have to act like it. That means I have to show up for it, be kind, be honest and let her in at least a little bit.

The same goes for freelancing. If you want to be a freelancer today, act like you want it: Do the work it takes to stay a freelancer. I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. You don't have to believe your query is the best, you just have to send it. You don't have to believe that you're so special that you should survive when lots of business are going under, you just have to act like you do. Today.

Make it a mantra

Almost every morning I say or write, "I accept that if I keep querying I will get an assignment." A great freelancer I know says that the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful freelancer is persistence. Marketing is a volume business, and each query you send gets you closer to a yes. But you have to trust.

Risk it

And then you have to take the plunge. It's called faith for a reason: You believe despite evidence to the contrary. What I've learned recently is that you get faith not from building up this spiritual reserve or this great sense of self-esteem--then acting--but by taking the plunge, risking rejection and then making progress. Faith isn't generated by your mind. It's generated by actions.

So what are you going to do to build faith in yourself and your business today? What risk are you willing to take?

Even the smallest risk counts: Clean your desk. Organize your files (clear away space for all those new assignments you'll get). Email to follow up on a query. Send another query. Work on a query. Take an action.

And then give yourself credit.

Photo by i:tzhaar.

Monday, April 27, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Motivating Yourself into Persistence

Recently, I did a story for on "The Power of Persistence." In it, I interviewed Damon Brown, the freelancer whose amazing persistence I chronicled during the Marketing Challenge.

In the article, I describe the similarly inspiring work Brown is now doing on another story:

He’s currently in talks with a prospective client to write a lengthy feature after pitching the editor more than 20 stories over the past four years.

“Here I am, with a tough publication, pitching in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and they’re heavily considering a major feature that’s probably worth $5,000,” he says.

The way he got there, he said, was a combination in believing in his story ideas, ruthless self-appraisal, and doing the tedious follow-ups that have built the relationship with his editor.

This points out one of the challenges of persistence: Persistence is about boundaries--and who likes boundaries, especially when those boundaries keep you from experiencing pleasure? It's sensation--bodily sensations of which we're usually scarcely aware--that drives us. If something isn't pleasurable, we avoid it. It doesn't matter that in the long run that the physical sensation of selling a story you love is usually one of elation if the feeling every month when you follow up, or when you get a rejection is depression and hopelessness.

That's why I suggest there are a few ways to motivate yourself to be persistent. For the sake of discussion, let's just say the persistence is about querying to your goal every week (say, four queries a week). For most of us, it's emotions that motivate us. Here are the top three. Which motivates you?

"If I don't do this, my business will fold and I'll have no money again and I'll be evicted and I'll end up living on the street--and that will make it really hard to get new work! Plus, I'm a bad person if I can't get it together to query. Bad freelancer! Bad!"

As Brown says, "“I have a mission to cover pop culture and subcultures that are misunderstood. I really believe in this feature idea. I have the attitude, ‘We have to talk about it.’”


"I really want that new purse/to buy that house/to have a cushy retirement/to go to the chiropractor, and selling this story will help me do that. Oh man, I want it so much I can taste it, I can feel the weight of that purse on my arm. What else do I need to do to get it?"

"It's so fun to come up with these ideas. It's like a game to shuffle around my ideas with markets to find the right fit. I find it intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. Plus, writing queries is its own art. What can do with them today?"

Those are the big three. (Have another? Leave it in the comments.)

What I find, however, is that no motivation is pure. My desire and joy must overrule my fear to get me to send the query. So consider that next time you want to avoid your querying:
  • What's the joy, what's the desire and what's the fear?
  • Are they rational?
  • And what's the long-term benefit?

Photo by baejaar, apologies to the grammarians in the audience.

Friday, April 24, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Automating the Hard Stuff

Yesterday, we talked about how getting support to do the daily stuff you don't want to do (invoicing, collections, querying, decluttering--you know, the bread-and-butter of keeping your business going). But Peter Ubel shared another really good way of creating a hard-and-fast structure to help you accomplish your goals:

Automate it

When Ubel talks about automatic withdrawals to an account to which you don't have quick access, he's identified two ways to create a structure:
  • Take it out of your daily to-do list.
  • Make it hard for you to go back on your plan. (In this case, a plan to save money.)
Action: To apply that to yourself, you'll have to look for persistence projects that fit the bill. Most of the things that are hard to do are hard to do because you have to do them yourself. But some examples could be:

If you have the dough, hiring a housekeeper will put it out of your mind and also force you to confront it weekly or monthly ("I have to tidy up for the housekeeper," seems to be a common cry.)

If you pay bills by hand, set up automatic payments. This seems so Web 1.0, but it's worth examining whether you really need to fill out that check and apply that stamp to the envelope. In fact, today I got an email from my student loan company informing me that people who pay bills online generally spend 15 minutes on the project, while those who pay by snail mail spend two hours. So if you dread bills, give it a shot.

Though a lot of decluttering is labor-intensive, there are some things you can automate:

If your inbox is a tangle of spam hiding important emails from editors, spend a few minutes today setting up important folders. Then direct specific emails to those folders so they don't hit your inbox (On Mac's you do this by creating rules in the "Preferences" menu under "Mail."). Instead, they head right to folders where you can look at them in your own time. You can also get rid of paper statements, instead getting email statements, and reducing the number of letters--and thus paper--you have to sort through later.

Bills again
Are you still receiving your bank statements via snail mail? If so, you're crowding your desk with clutter and adding another step to your day. Do yourself a favor and sign up for electronic payments. Most creditors offer this, and you can direct those emails directly to specific files just for them. That way, you know where they are when you need them, and you don't have to spend any time on them unless you want to.

What don't you automate, but could? What keeps you from doing it?

Photo by lylemerie.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Help with the Hardest Tasks

Yesterday, I wrote about Peter Ubel's unique prescription for overcoming lackluster persistence: "Marial Law." For those of you to whom such an approach is off-putting, consider that Ubel offers softer ways to enforce the structures we created yesterday.

Here's one:


I've been waffling on contacting new markets lately, as I've written before. Instead of trying harder and harder to force myself to want to do it, I simply asked for help. Some fellow freelancers are running their own query-a-day challenge and I asked if I could join them. Someone else had to drop out, I dropped in, and now I get daily emails from another reporter reporting how well she's doing.

This approach targets something else Ubel talks about in another part of the interview. Speaking of the irrationality of he real estate or fiscal markets, he said:
"We are social beings, too, and frequently judge our own decisions by seeing what other people are doing. If my neighbor added a new kitchen with a home equity loan, I might assume that is a good idea for me, even if a more rational weightong of my finances would suggest otherwise."
He's detailing a negative use of our social instinct, but setting up a "query buddy," "declutter buddy" or some other action partner is a way to harness that instinct for good.

Action: Take a look around your social network (and maybe developing a social network is a persistence project you have to work on in itself).
  • Is there anyone in it who is struggling with the same thing you are?
  • Is there someone who wants to tackle it the same way you do?
  • Is there someone who's temperment meshes well with you and with whom you welcome closer contact?
You can answer these questions simply by talking to friends, sending a few emails or even posting to freelance boards about your quandry. Even if you don't find a goal buddy, you're likely to find people willing to commiserate.

I've written before about the power of support and finding the right support person. Those rules apply here, as well.

Photo by D3 San Francisco.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Motivating Yourself to Move Forward

On my way back from the Association of Health Care Journalists Conference this past weekend, I picked up a copy of Scientific American Mind, and, specifically, an article about how irrational behavior is hardwired into us. In a Q&A, professor Peter A. Ubel, author of Free Market Madness, made the following observation:
One reason we humans do not always behave rationally is that we have limited willpower. We understand that junk food is bad. But we cannot follow through on our rational desires. We plan to run for 30 minutes, but after 10, we get off the treadmill and convince ourselves we are a bit stiff today. We try to cut down on empty calories and then grab a handful of M&Ms from a candy bowl, almost unaware of our actions. No single M&M caused anyone to have diabetes. No one experienced a heart attack because he was 20 minutes short of his exercise goal. And yet our lives, or waistlines even, are the result of thousands of such decisions and behaviors.
Anyone who's ever dieted knows what he's talking about. Not that the desire is bad, or that a single outcome is bad. It's just the chasm between intention and action on a regular basis that undermines persistence. To develop persistence, and get the rewards from being persistent, you have to do the things you plan to do even if you don't feel like doing them. Something has to motivate you.

But where do you get the motivation? Here's what Ubel told Scientific American Mind:
To improve ourselves, we have to act as if each M&M matters, as if each decision has important consequences. To do this, it helps to make rules and follow them. Commit yourselves to no candy, no desserts, and you will become more mindful of M&M bowls. Run outside, rather than inside on a treadmill, and you will be forced to finish your running loop. Tell a friend you will walk with her for 30 minutes this afternoon, and you will be forced to show up. Do you want to save money? Have some money automatically deposited into a savings account that you cannot access easily through ATMs, debit cards or checkbooks. Sometimes the best way to behave better when you are weak is to impost martial law on yourself when you feel strong.
How does this sound to you? Do you like the idea of "imposing martial law," as Ubel puts it?

Unlikely. But Ubel does have a point. Structure is the key to persistence. If I tell myself (as I have) that I don't eat sugar, a red flag waves frantically when someone puts a baby tart in front of me, as they did several times at the conference last week. But for me, that's as far as structure goes: It just creates the red flag. How I cope from there is another matter.

Ubel hints at ways to make persistence work, though. This week, I'll lay out three ways to firm up your boundaries--with yourself--and keep on your persistence goals. Today, we'll start with...

I know I don't eat sugar. I have the experience of not eating it for five years now.* And I have the experience of not dying--of embarrassment or cravings--from any single instance of passing the dessert back to the waiter. I also have the experience of ease that comes with not eating it. It's not hard for me usually. People say they can't do it. But I think what they mean is they don't want to, that there's always an escape plan, an exception to their rule about dessert, etc. What Ubel is talking about is a hard-and-fast rule. A "no matter what" rule.

Take a look at your rules around your persistence topics (querying, decluttering, invoicing, etc.). Is your rule;
  • "I will do three queries this week no matter what?"
  • "I'll do three as long as I'm not too busy with paying work."
  • "I'll send three queries, but only if I don't feel too panicked at the time about it."
Don't judge. Just become aware of what your rules are for yourself. Then, at another time, look at them again and ask yourself a few more questions:
  • Do they work for you?
  • Are you getting the results you want or need, or are they feeding into bad habits that sap your energy and your serenity?
Once you've done that, you can take a leap of faith: Try doing the thing you know you should do everyday--even when you don't want to. How does it feel? Is it unbearable? Do you feel better or worse afterward? But a warning: Just like no single handful of M&M is going to undermine your diet, no single act of querying is going to quash your disdain for it. You have to do it over and over again, sometimes for months or years, before you start to have the experience of it being okay to feel uncomfortable and do it anyway.

and you find a few personal rules that don't work for you, you can apply tools we'll talk about tomorrow and Friday.

Photo by Phunkstarr.

*Please no attagirls. If I could eat it like a lady, I wouldn't have to eschew it entirely.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Happy Tax Day

This qualifies as a persistence victory: Today, I paid my 2008 taxes on time and in full.

You may recall that I didn't expect to be able to pay the full bill today. Indeed, by my calculations, and with how screwy cashflow has been recently, I wondered if I'd be able to pay any of it at all.

The reasons I was able to remove the tax monkey that had been suctioned to my back for about a month had some to do with luck and some more to do with persistence.
The persistence part

Following up on invoices it not fun. When I started freelancing full-time a few years ago, I was convinced that checking on invoices was akin to begging for money. But as I've matured in my freelance life, I've come to see following up on invoices as just another part of the job. Here's how I do it:

Mark check due-dates on your calendar
Thirty, 45 or (god forbid) 60 days from the day you submit the invoice (or after scheduled publication, if that's your thing), note the due date on your calendar. Now ignore it and enjoy the rest of your day.

Send a friendly email
The day the check is due--or sometimes a few days later, I send an email checking in on the check's status. This does two things: It alleviates some of the anxiety inherent in the cash-flow cycle, and it lets your client know that you're keeping track. Squeaky wheel and all that.

What should the email say? Mine usually go something like this:
Hi there, nice AP person, I hope you're well. I'm checking in on the status of the check I am expecting from your company (invoice #X for $Y). My records indicate that it should have arrived yesterday, last week, etc. Can you let me know when I should expect to receive it? It will greatly help with my bookkeeping. Sincerely, Your friendly, professional neighborhood freelancer
I'm couching the query in professional, non-reactive language ("bookkeeping," "status of check," etc.). I'm not saying what I'm sometimes thinking ("For the love of god, please send me my money. Taxes are due!")

Follow up
Last month I discovered on a writers board that one of my favorite clients was paying later and later. So I asked a fellow freelancer for the contact information for the AP person and sent her an email asking something similar to the above. She confirmed she had my invoice, but said it "wasn't scheduled to be sent." Uh, really? Because it was due to be paid last week per your contract with me.

So I followed up asking, "What can I do to expedite the process? Is there anything I can do to help you?" Again--not confrontational. I'm simply looking for ways to make this work. After all, I have friends who are accountants and they hate paying people late. I know she'd pay me if she could.

Her answer was less than thrilling. She told me there was nothing I could do and I'd just have to wait.

So I sat on my hands--but not for long.

Just like querying, getting your money takes follow up after follow up after follow up sometimes. It maybe shouldn't but reality is more important than ideals.

So in this case, I called the AP person a week and a half later and, a little panicked, I left a message. "I really need that check to pay my bills." Embarrassing? A little. But facts are facts and I was hoping it would help.

The result
I didn't get a call back, an apology or a check sent by Fed Ex. What I did get, a few days later, was an email from her saying she'd put the check in the mail--and not just a check for the outstanding invoice, but also a check for the invoice due in a few weeks.

The same goes for another check I received on Monday: I simply followed up and checked in to see when I should expect to be paid. The check wasn't due yet, but I wanted to know how they worked, since they were a relatively new client. Well, I got that check early, too.

And so, taxes got paid.

The luck part

I'm not saying all of this is due to my diligence. I am sure it helped. But just like I have no control over late payment, I certainly can't control early payment. Something about the loosening of the credit market and some internal wrangling at the companies that had nothing to do with me was also in play here.

The truth is, I don't care what caused it. I do care that going into the middle of the month I have both done my part and filled my wallet.

How do you follow up on invoices?

Photo by CarbonNYC.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Querying new markets

The economy is down. Your dream market list has been decimated by shutterings and late payments (or so you hear through the grapevine). So when you do query, you're sticking to the tried-and-true and bewildered by where to go next.

Has this happened to you? If you're not there, let me just tell you: It's a baffling and scary place to be.

Because I'm there.

I've realized in the past few months that I'm continuing to hit my query mark--the number of queries I aim to send out a week--but the risks I'm taking with contacting prospects has plummeted. Add this to the clients I've let go of in the past year, and I'm clinging dangerously close to clients that have started to pay later and later.

Talk about lack of workplace serenity!

So here's what I'm thinking of trying, and you can try it with me and we can check in at the end of the challenge to see how it went:

Create a bottom line for number of new prospects I contact a week/month. It seems reasonable to query a new market every week, or a total of four new markets a month, especially if I do it in conjunction with a marketing plan that directs my querying toward specific markets.

The things I'm thinking I'll need to make this work effectively:

Research on which markets are continuing to buy queries/not running through their inventory

One of my target markets is working through inventory, so I hear, so I've cut down on querying them. But I may still send one or four queries to them this year. You never know when they'll start assigning again.
An organized list of queries

I'll write about how I'm addressing that in another post.


I don't do anything without support from fellow writers. Especially querying is too scary and challenging to do without a few attagirls from your cheering section.


At the end of every month, I add up the number of queries I sent, to higher/lower paying markets and how many assignments I get. I think tracking this will give me more motivation--and persistence--because I expect that it will show results.
What do you do to get yourself to continue to query new markets?

Photo by Bistrosavage.

Monday, April 13, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Starting Now!

First, I apologize for both starting the challenge late and for not keeping up with posting. This is part of why I need this challenge: To create systems that allow me to do the things I love every day, like this blog.

You guys chose persistence for the next challenge, and I'm excited about it.

First, I think it's important to define persistence. What I mean when I say persistence is this: Persistence is the act of doing the thankless unpaid work that makes all the high-reward, income-generating work possible.

That includes:
  • Regular querying
  • Setting and following a business plan
  • Meeting with fellow writers
  • Invoicing and collections
  • Setting time to write and sticking to it; and
  • Organizing
So in this challenge, those are the topics we'll be tackling. But before we get underway, I need your help: What do you want to read most about and what's your biggest persistence challenge? Do you have a great story of how persistence paid off for you (we all have one, big or small)?

I want to hear about it. Email me at heather @, DM me on Twitter or comment below. I want to hear what you have to say and I want to make this challenge as useful to you as possible.

Photo by Redvers'.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Health Insurance Bonus: Insurance language red flags

Recently, we talked a bit about ways to get decent health insurance.

And then today, I come across a very pertinent post on the Consumer Reports Health Blog: "Seven Signs a health plan might be junk."

The title says it all, doesn't it? Here are the major categories, but I suggest you go to the blog and read the story (and the soon-to-be-released investigative report) at the site:

Limited benefits
This is a big one since, CR reports, "In most states those phrases might be your only clue to an inadequate policy."

Low overall coverage limits
Have a coverage limit of $25,000 or even $100,000? You're setting yourself up for bankruptcy if you have a heart attack or even if you develop diabetes.

“Affordable” premiums
"There’s no free lunch when it comes to insurance," states CR. "[I]f your insurance was a bargain, chances are good it doesn’t cover very much." Their answer is similar to Randy's: Look into a comprehensive plan.

No coverage for important things
Some policies don't cover prescription drugs or outpatient chemo, CR reports. But most won't tell you. Uh oh.

Ceilings on categories of care
"A $900-a-day maximum benefit for hospital expenses will hardly make a dent in a $45,000 bill for heart bypass surgery," says CR. "Limits on mental-health costs, rehabilitation, and durable medical equipment should be the most generous you can afford."

Limitless out-of-pocket costs
Get specifics from your plan before you sign on to find out if they have a cap on how much you can pay. "Some policies, for instance, don’t count co-payments for doctor visits or prescription drugs toward the maximum," they say. That was my experience with my high-deductible plan. A nightmare.

Random gotchas
"An AARP policy we looked at began covering hospital care on the second day," CR says. "That seems benign enough, except that the first day is almost always the most expensive, because it usually includes charges for surgery and emergency room diagnostic tests and treatments." Ouch.

Head's up fellow freelancers!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Don't Forget! Vote for the next 30-day challenge

Have you been in a querying rut? Is your idea of networking NOT avoiding the phone when a friend calls? Do you just resent having to work for free in order to get paying work?

Which is bugging you most? Choose the next 30-day challenge, which will start next Friday:

30-Day Marketing Challenge, Part 2: In this economic climate, one of the few things you can control is how much you market. So it might be worthwhile to take another crack at this.

30-Day Persistence Challenge: When the money's not rolling in, how do you convince yourself to keep marketing, keep doing the daily drudgery you'd rather avoid? This challenge will highlight ways other freelancers build the marketing and other daily tasks into their lives, and ways you can do it, too.

30-Day Networking Challenge: Now more than ever, it's who you know that helps keep your business growing. But if you're shy, busy or otherwise have a hard time prioritizing getting out and meeting others, how do you do it? This challenge will share how.

Leave a vote in comments.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

When you need more help than an accountant or coach can provide

I've written once here before about 12 step programs that can help you if you find your problems with procrastination and other work-related problems were more than you could handle on your own. So during this tough financial time, I asked a member of Business Debtors Anonymous to share her struggles with her writing and how DA has helped. Here's what she had to say:

I had been a writer for many years before I came to DA. I had done quite a bit of magazine work. I'd also sold a novel and a screenplay to good companies, but for money that didn’t begin to compensate for the time.

When I came into DA, I was dealing with the aftermath of an investigative story I published. So much magazine work is a labor of love, and that piece had definitely involved more time than I was compensated for. New information led to a followup story, then even more information came my way.

I was so broke. I had a young daughter, a mom with dementia, etc. I spent many hours and several hundred dollars of my own money trying to pass along my research to periodicals that had investigative staffs that could cope with it.

The work kept going. I, on the other hand, was stressed out, stretched thin, and in Deprivation City. I walked into my first meeting and decided to keep coming.

After I’d been in DA a while, three of us formed a step group. We usually met once a week, for about four years. It went deep. My stated focus was "writing and money." I thought I was going to roll up my sleeves and finally make this thing work. I wrote a new screenplay that I was quite invested in. It wasn’t badly received by my agent, but he said there were some problems with pacing... this and that needed work...

I was wiped out. I couldn't imagine working on it anymore.

I’d always loved writing and wanted to "be a writer." Not just be a writer, but make my living as a writer. Real writing. Serious writing, though some of it was via comedy. I had access to publishers before I ever figured out what I wanted to do. I tended to twist myself and my story ideas into the shape of those publications rather than stop to ask myself what I really wanted to write. My self-esteem depended to some extent on what I could say I was working on, on where and what I was publishing.

As we neared the end of the steps in that mighty fine little group, in a very natural way, I decided to give up writing. I felt enormously relieved.

For income, my PRG suggested that I go through my Rolodex and ask people I felt warmly toward if they had any work I could do. One was a book designer, and she kept me busy for the next few years editing and rewriting privately published books, and writing copy for travel brochures. Neither was the kind of thing my self-image would have tolerated earlier but we had a great time working together and I found that writing the travel stuff loosened me up. I got an hour's pay for an hour's work -- amazing! -- so I only had to work about ten days a month, giving me time for other responsibilities.

My home DA meeting for years has had a monthly visions meditation. Over time things came up in those meditations that in a lovely way spoke to or produced images about writing.

As my daughter got older and I found a good situation for my mom, I more or less started over with writing. For the next couple of years, I went to my writing room every morning, sometimes scribbling whatever occurred to me, sometimes using a book that offered lists of open-ended starters. My mantra was, "Am I having fun? Do I like it?" I didn't show anything to anybody.

At the same time, I developed a really firm habit of not just reading positive material every morning, which I'd done for a long time, but also meditating for twenty minutes, which I'd never been able to do consistently.

After I'd filled three books, I reviewed them for bits I liked, and sometimes fleshed those out. The writing felt much more like whatever it was I'd meant to write all along -- the way writing felt in fourth grade or seventh grade. I'd gathered enough material to go for a long time. Some pieces began to roll themselves into balls, to grow.

Gradually I tiptoed back into allowing input from other people. That part is still hard for me, not to get lost in what other people have to say and abandon my own sense of what I want to do. For quite a while I practiced that -- getting input, backing off, noticing how I was sometimes thrown by it, then correcting my course...

Out of that process have come the makings of six books, which I'm working on. I send pieces out occasionally, but for me, it's better to make my living some other way, so I stay true to myself and my writing. Just for today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

30-Day Economic Stability Challenge Wrap Up

It's that time again. While there's always more to say on finances, it's time to wrap this one up. Don't worry, there will be more posts on maintaining workplace serenity no matter the economic conditions.

In case you missed any, here's a recap:

The power of serenity: It's easy to be serene when you're flush with cash. But how do you maintain it when you've got $13 in your bank account. I share how I did it when a check from a client bounced.

Financial mind shifts for successful freelancing
: Five new ways of seeing money and business in order to stay solvent no matter the financial tides.

Financial planning 101: Q&A with financial planner Sherrill St. Germain on the most common financial blunders freelancers make.

How I increased my income in nine months: Six steps that caused my income to shoot up.

Collecting what's yours: Guest blogger Kristine Hansen shares how to go about getting your money when a client is behind.

Three ways to increase your income this month
: Short term cash can be hard to come by, but here's how to use your writing skills to make some bank now.

Prioritizing cashflow: Guest blogger Julie Sturgeon shares how she made room in her budget to create a cash cushion.

Proving you're worth the money: Two ways to increase income with current clients, and how to show you're worth it.

Creating order with financial plans: Guest blogger Katrina Ramser shows how to prioritize spending, saving and debt repayment.

Budget vs. spending plan
: Why I prefer the latter and how it can help you save.

Creating a spending plan: Knowing you should have one and actually sitting down to create one are quite different. Seven easy steps to your first spending plan.

Having your day in (small claims) court: Guest blogger and legal journalist Lorelei Laird shares how she won back payment in small claims court and how you can do it too.

Ways to save: Four ways to add saving into your spending plan, and to keep at it.

Creating a personal savings marketing plan: Convince yourself to save the same way brands convince you to spend.

The great health insurance challenge: Affordable, quality health insurance is a block to financial stability. What works for you?

The case against high-deductible plans: Why low-premium, high-deductible plans may not be the best financial option for you.

Group healthcare love for the lonely freelancer: Seven writers groups that offer health insurance, and whether it might work for you.

More group health love
: Three more places to look for group health plans, and one big warning.

Fear not the IRS: Ways to make peace with the IRS at tax time.

Setting up quarterly estimated taxes: A few easy steps to paying tax as you go, and avoiding penalties.

Photo by Refracted Moments.