Postponing the Urgent for the Important

Yesterday was the first Monday of the new year, which also marked the first day my kids were in school since Dec. 19. That meant it was my first chance to sit down and plot out my roadmap for reaching my goals in 2015.

I’ve been thinking and strategizing in my head, but I wanted to actually create a tangible plan of action. But then my inbox started exploding, my phone started ringing, and the five hours of uninterrupted daily work time I had got eaten up with, well, work.

I made zero progress on the passion projects I want to pursue this year. The ones that are still partially finished or alive only in my mind. The ones I need to finish for myself.

Then I picked up my tired and hungry kids from school and we launched into our afternoon/evening routine. The constant hopping from one thing to the next—snacks, homework, hockey practice, dinner, baths, reading—left me frazzled. That first day back in a routine took its toll on all of us! After I tucked my kids into bed, I had more real work to tackle, leaving my plotting for another day. My grand day-of-planning had been a bust, and I was disappointed.

But as I was brushing my teeth, I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog post Forever Tries on the many things that need her attention and how she simply can’t get to them all.

“If your hands are too full to grab that idea out of the air, let it go. To have your hands full is a ludicrous blessing. So if you must—if you must let go of the urgent to tend to the important, then do it, you lucky dog. Let it go, smile and let that idea or opportunity pass onto another sister knowing that more will come. There is always more on its way—more opportunities, more ideas, more love,” she wrote.

By the time I fell into bed (next to a whimpering four year old who has not slept through the night since Halloween), I remembered how lucky I am—lucky to have a little girl and a family who need me and a house that I’m slowly making into a home. Lucky to have kids who have endless appetites and are healthy and strong enough to play hockey and dance and swim. Lucky to have clients who trust me and give me a steady stream of freelance work—work that let’s me live the lifestyle I want and gives me so much more time with my kiddos. I am so, so grateful for them and the work they send my way.

I am confident that my ideas will wait. The projects I’m truly meant to tackle will be there for me when the time is right. Or, like Glennon said, they can flow on to someone who can shepherd them through to fruition. I wasn’t going to check everything off of my to-do list in one day anyway, so it is ridiculous to put so much faith in one little Monday. Besides, I have 51 more this year. Life is a marathon and not a sprint, even if it seems like it would be easier to race right to the finish line.

When Evan was three, I took him to watch the Washington Capitals hockey team practice. As my little guy sat pressed up against the glass, I started chatting with a grandmother who was there to watch her grandson play. We talked for the whole hour about motherhood and family (how I wish I could remember her name or the player).

She shared so much advice, but the one thing that stuck with me the most was that we’re all a tapestry. Everything, even the things we don’t remember and our kids don’t remember, become a part of our fabric. I think of that every time I stop to blow a dandelion or pick up a pretty rock with my kids, and I think it of it on my crazy, hectic, love-filled and sometimes frustrating days.

Those days are just important as the quiet, everything-goes-as-it-should ones. Maybe even more so. They’re a part of us. They give us depth and understanding and empathy. I like to think that every day that passes as I do pursue my passion projects is preparing me to for the projects that are a perfect fit for me. I’ll find the little pockets of time to pursue them here and there, even if they aren’t tended to every single day. They’ll show themselves when the time is right.

To My Fellow Freelancing Mamas: Mistakes are Okay

Risk a Wrong Turn

Yesterday I received an email from a sweet new mama who is working to chart her own course and create an awesome freelance life. She was hoping to connect and learn from the path I walked when my kiddos were babies, and I couldn’t wait to talk to her. Today while her little one rested, we talked for over an hour about what has worked for me, shortcuts I found and how she can get started.

After we hung up, I thought about the things I forgot to say.

Being a new mama is scary. Those little babies seem so tiny and fragile and you constantly worry that you’re going to make a mistake. Launching a business is pretty much the same way. It seems like there are so many ways you can fail and you want to know every tip or trick to make sure you’re a success.

But, I’m going to let you in on something I wish I’d known back then: Mistakes are okay. Mistakes mean you’re learning. Mistakes mean you’re trying something new.

Maya Angelou said, “You did the best that you knew how. Now that you know better, you’ll do better.” So, to my fellow freelancing mama, the next few years are inevitably going to be filled with tons of self-doubt—over parenting, starting a business, writing, you name it. You’ll replay your decisions and the what-ifs over and over. You’ll learn that there is no magic formula to making it all work, but the beauty is you don’t have to figure everything out today.

In Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott wrote, “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

So, block out the well-meaning dream killers, conquer your self doubt and start scheming. Grow your business at nap time and bedtime and even during tummy time if you can. I can tell you, there are going to be days when demands of family life and your work like will seem daunting. Some mornings you’ll wake up and you’ll be so tired that you feel like you can’t get out of bed. But you can and you will. And one day, you’re little ones are going to go off to preschool and grade school and you’ll look back on those years and wonder how you made it all work, but you’ll sure be glad that you did.

 

Finding a Community

After ten years in the D.C. area, I’d built up a great little writing community. I had friends who were freelancers and had my list of writing conferences and events I liked to attend. Of course, there are terrific writing communities online, but I love face-to-face interaction every now and then. I always walk away from meetings with other writers inspired and excited to tackle my next project.

Now that we’ve landed in Salt Lake and most of the boxes have been unpacked, I’m working to re-build my network of fellow writers. The relationships I cultivated in D.C. grew organically over the years as my career grew. I took my time and didn’t set out to surround myself with fellow writers. It just seemed to happen, but now that my network is gone, I miss it and I’m eager to connect with other writers here in Utah. Here’s how I plan to do it:

Take Advantage of Chance Meetings
Connections can come from a number of places, and I find that sometimes the key is simply showing up. Last weekend my family and I attended an alumni event at my undergrad. As my two kids were creating goody bags in the kids’ corner, I bumped into a former journalism professor of mine. We started chatting and now just a few days later, I’ve been invited to take part in a panel at the college on freelancing. I’m looking forward to connecting with the fellow freelancers on the panel and my professors.

Join Local Chapters of Writing Groups
In addition to being a freelance journalist, I’m a budding picture book author. I joined the D.C. chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and made great friends there (one of which, it turned out, had a son in my son’s kindergarten class). I’ve sent off my emails to the Utah/Idaho chapter of the organization and hope to get involved here soon.

Attend Regional Writing Conferences
There were always a number of writing conferences in the D.C. area. I’ve attended workshops there through mediabistro.com, Writer’s Digest, SCBWI and the American Independent Writers Association. This summer I drove two hours to attend the New Jersey SCBWI conference and walked away with dozens of new connections. Because of the population difference between the East coast and here, I doubt I will find the same number of writing conferences, but I’m keeping my eyes out for conferences in the mountain west.

Go Out on Assignment
As a freelancer, I do the bulk of my reporting from my desk, but going out on assignment is a great way to connect with people in the area even if they’re not writers. I’ve been doing a lot of writing about natural gas lately and Utah is a hot bed of natural gas activity, so I’ve been doing face-to-face interviews and expanding my list of sources. I’m also adding value to my editors who are able to take advantage of my new geographic location without having to pay travel expenses. And, like I said, sometimes just showing up is the key, so there is a chance I’ll connect with other writers just by covering a story on site.

How about you? Do you prefer a virtual network or do you like face-to-face meetings?

Increase Your Power of Observation with Field Trips

So far June is turning out to be the month of field trips for me, which is a good thing. In 2008, I guest blogged about how I think more reporters should venture out from behind their desks to cover stories. Everything I said still holds true, and now I see the value in other areas as well.

Field trips increase our power of observation. All too often we overlook the things we see every day because they’re routine.  This month’s field trips have included taking in the Beach Boys 50-year-reunion concert with my mom, my recent journey to New Jersey for a writing conference and covering a press conference in downtown D.C.

Henry James said, “A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.” I agree. By observing and noticing the little things, we become better storytellers. And whether you write fiction or non fiction or newspaper articles or novels, the details are what make your story come alive.

At the Beach Boys concert, the band was great and they played all their hits, but the best part was watching how generations of families showed up together. If I were writing an article about the concert, I would have included the four-year-old little girl who danced and clapped for two hours straight and then fell asleep on her grandpa’s shoulder. He carried her out during Surfin’ Safari, and I pictured both of them snuggled in a quiet spot while the rest of the family continued to cheer and sing.

Field trips can encourage us to start up conversations and make new connections. I’m a firm believer in writing conferences. My recent trip to New Jersey gave me concrete ideas on how to improve my craft, but more importantly, I walked away with a handful of great new friends I’m continuing to connect with online. That initial conference registration fee is going to continue to pay dividends all year.

The few hours I spent covering a press conference last week gave me enough material to file a story that day and I jotted down a list of story ideas that will come in useful for several months. The conference speakers were interesting, but they were just part of the experience. Some of the best learning took place during the casual lunch that followed the event. You never know where you’re going to find your next great idea or that one thought that makes everything click.

Field trips don’t have to take us far. Even checking out a new restaurant or grocery store can exercise our observation muscles, and the more we use them, the stronger they will get.

Friday Favorites

Wow. What a busy week this has been at our house. After returning from the New Jersey Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I hit the ground running with client projects, kid projects, dentist appointments and a sick little one. Luckily my mom came into town right at the same time, so she has been a wonderful second set of hands.

Here are a few of my favorite reads from this week.

This is an interesting article on the growing number of freelance/solopreneur businesses and how they add value to those who do business with them. Thanks to my hubby for sending me the link to the article.

I love this post from Seth Godin about how you can choose to stand out or fit in.

This post from Julie Hedlund inspired me to download and read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson again. It is one of the first books that ever made an impression on me and I am loving it as much as an adult as I did as a kid.

This post is a great reminder that for writers failure is just another word for the journey.

Happy weekending!

Thank you to the Cheerleaders

My boys are my biggest cheerleaders.

All too often our cheerleaders don’t get the thanks they deserve. They are the ones who keep us going, encourage us, and take on extra responsibilities so we have the time to pursue our dreams. Their voices speak louder than all of the naysayers.

When I decided to launch my freelance writing business, I had plenty of input from well-meaning dream killers. But it was my husband’s encouragement that gave me the confidence to make it happen. Cheerleaders are important in all aspects of life, but I think they’re particularly important for those of us who are pursuing dreams where the odds are stacked against us.

I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and thanked my hubby for all of the encouragement he has given me, but it means the world.  Whether it is a career goal of a personal interest, Bryan never laughs or rolls his eyes when I tell him about my next idea.

He dutifully ate my at-home Thai after a cooking class at the Thai embassy. He took me to the violin shop and helped me pick one out and listened (painfully) while I practiced. That scarf I intended to make him after my knitting class never came to fruition (I wasn’t very good at knit one purl two), but I know Bryan would have worn it if it had.

When I told him I wanted to hang my own shingle, he helped me plot out my business plan and worked out our personal finances so we could stay afloat while I started out. Three years later, he calculated how much we’d save in taxes by forming an LLC and did all the legwork on filing the right documents. When I told him I want to publish a children’s picture book, he told me I should. This weekend he took on all parenting duties so I could spend three days learning the ins and outs of the industry.

Throughout the weekend the other attendees and I shared stories about where our kids, spouses or significant others were, and I thought about how lucky we all were to have amazing supporters. Whether it is our parents, friends, siblings or a significant others, those cheerleaders make all the difference. Even my sweet little Evan offered a few words of encouragement as I set off for New Jersey this week. I am so grateful my boys are my biggest cheerleaders right now.

Today I’m going to thank my hubby for all he does. And when my mom arrives in later today for a visit, I’m going to give her a great big hug and thank her for all of her encouragement now and in the past. I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I do without them.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders? When is the last time you told them thanks?

 

Friday Favorites

Did you catch Hemingway & Gellhorn on HBO this week? I loved it. Martha Gelhorn is one of the reasons I became a journalist. I used to read her work and dream of being a war correspondent (I know–a far cry from the type of writing I ended up doing!). I thought of her when I got to visit Finca Vigia in Cuba and while on safari in Africa (back when I had the freedom to travel). Her memoir Travels with Myself and Another is a great read. Next week I’m going to climb up into my attic and pull down some of her books and feel inspired all over again.

Once again a post from Alexis Grant resonated with me. This one is on creating more moments that matter. 

This is an interesting article on women writing op-eds. 

I love this post from Imagination Soup about simple ways to help your children learn to read. 

My baby girl is turning two soon and we’re celebrating this weekend with these cake batter blondies. I know that isn’t related to writing or reading, but everyone has to eat.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Friday Favorites

Here are a few of my favorite reads from the week:

How not following the rules can get you ahead from writer and social media star Alexis Grant.

Ten writing myths by author Lori Handeland on Writer’s Digest.

Love this collection of posts on advice for writers from around the web on My Name is Not Bob.

Imagination Soup shared tips for writing a personal mission statement. 

I hope you have a fun Memorial Day weekend planned!

Defining Your Goals is the First Step to Achieving Them

As a full-time professional freelancer, I strongly believe that if you treat your writing as a hobby, it will never become a business. Because of that, I think it is important to define your writing goals and then ask yourself why you’re pursuing them. My freelance income has exceeded the income from my former day job, and I know that wouldn’t have happened if I’d treated my writing as a hobby or failed to set goals.

Since my career (and life) is a work in progress, my goals have changed over the years. Here is what has worked for me and I’d love to hear about what works for you.

Embrace a Long-Term Plan: I’ve always known my long-term goal was to make a living as a freelancer. A few years before hanging my own shingle, my goal was to write one freelance piece a month. That pace was manageable with my day job, it gave me some extra money and it helped me build a long-term roster of clients I could turn to when I had more time to devote to freelancing. Making small investments then yielded important dividends when I went full time.

Establish Your Goals and Write Them Down: Admittedly, my goals for the past few years have centered around earning an income while living the lifestyle I wanted. Immediately prior to launching my freelance business four years ago, I created my business plan. I looked over my household budget and pinpointed exactly how much I needed to earn in order to make ends meet and backed into how many articles I had to write each month. I made a list of clients I thought could help me get there. From the get go I used that as the minimum number I would write/earn.

Why? I wanted to work around my son’s schedule. He was 15 months old and not adjusting well to our childcare arrangements, plus I wanted more time with him. I knew I had to contribute to our family’s budget and seeing exactly how much I needed to earn made the goal seem attainable and tangible. If I couldn’t make my minimum figures, I planned to head back into the world of 9-5. That if hung heavy over my head and served as extra motivation.

Think Big: While creating my minimum income targets, I created my big audacious income goal—the number that would be a big ego boost for me to hit. Why? Personal satisfaction. It was (and still is) a game for me to hit that number. It’s an arbitrary number, but one that I associate with success. I’m happy to say I hit it last year and I’m on track to hit it again this year. A few weeks ago I realized I was a few thousand dollars short of my mid-year goal, so I hustled to pick up another article. I may not have done that if I hadn’t seen the figures in black and white.

Meeting that big audacious income goal while caring for a toddler and adding a new little one to our family was a huge challenge, but it was also empowering. I recently read that the goal you set is the goal you get and I agree 100%.

Continue to Grow: In the fall, Evan will start kindergarten and Madelyn will go to preschool three days a week. Writing that pains me a little because these past few years have gone by in the blink of an eye. Now I’m going to have more time to work during business hours than I’ve had in years, so I’m taking a hard look at my goals. I know reaching my income targets and continuing to serve my current clients is still my top priority, as is working around my kids’ schedules, but I’m eager to find new ways to grow my business. I’m making a list of publications I’d like to write for and plan to pursue new avenues for my writing.

Last week I shared that I’m delving into the world children’s literature. Because I know writing for kids is a business, I’m approaching it as such. I’ve joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and I’m heading to my first workshops and conference later this month. My initial goals are to become a better writer, build my portfolio and learn more about publishing picture books. My long-term goal is to sell a picture book. That means this is more than a hobby and something that I will make time for and actively pursue. Putting that goal out there means I’ll work harder to accomplish it.

How about you? What are your goals—writing or otherwise—and what are you doing to get there?

 

Five Tips for Conducting Effective and Efficient Interviews

Good questions get good answers, and the key to  any story is an effective interview. As a write-at-home mom with limited business hours, not only do I need my interviews to be effective, I need them to be efficient as well. Here are my top five tips to help you maximize your interview time and get the information you need.

Do Your Homework: There is no reason to re-hash information during an interview that I can easily find online. I always start with the company’s website and review their recent press releases. I also search the publication I am writing for to see if the source has appeared in print before and learn from what he or she had to say. A simple Google search can also help you find your source in print. If I have time, I also try to find the source on LinkedIn just to learn a little more about him or her.

That basic research ensures I use my time to get to the information that wasn’t online. It also helps me form questions that will elicit good answers. Plus, being prepared garners some respect from my sources and they know I care about the project and their time. It usually makes them a little more willing to share what they know.

I create a list of questions ahead of time, often making notes next to them to help me with follow-up questions that might come up.

Make a Connection: We’re all a little more comfortable around people we know, so I try to build rapport with a source before I launch into my questions. I take a few minutes thank her for  talking with me and bring up any connections we may have if I discovered them while doing my research. It could be that we attended the same conference, share some connections on LinkedIn or that we’ve lived in the same area. I’m originally from Utah and you’d be amazed at how often my sources and I have some sort of a Utah connection.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask the Same Question a Different Way: When I’m doing an interview, I’m not just looking for information, I’m also looking for pithy, colorful quotes. If I’m not quite satisfied for an answer I’ve gotten, I’ll try to re-shape the question so my source will go into a little more detail.

Set a Hard Stop: I allot 30 minutes for most of my interviews and I always let my sources know up front that I have a hard stop. I find this helps us both prioritize. Sometimes sources, particularly if they have a product or service they’re telling me about, can share far more detail than I need for the story. The time limit helps them focus. If I start to lose control of the interview, which can happen, I can always say, “I know we have a limited amount of time, so let’s focus on XYZ.”

Rely on These Go-To Final Questions: One of the most valuable things I learned in J-school was to end every interview with this question: “Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should know?” I can’t tell you how many times that simple question led a source to launch into a great tangent that totally made my story.

Sources often beget sources, so as we’re winding down, I ask my source if there is anyone else I should talk to for the piece. I’ve gotten great leads this way and it also helps break the ice during my next interview. I love when I can call someone new and say, “Hi So-and-So. I just finished an interview with Joe Blow at XYZ Company and he thought you’d be a great person to talk to about blah, blah, blah. Do you have a few minutes to chat?”

Finally, before I hang up, I also ask the source if I can follow up if I come across questions as I’m writing. I ask for an email address and direct line if I don’t already have it. That speeds things up if I’m trying to answer a last-minute question on deadline.

Do you have any tips and tricks for conducting effective interviews? I’d love to hear them.

Photo by Jakub Krechowicz.