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?

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

I hope you’ve had a great week and are looking forward to the weekend! Today I am heading north for three days of learning. Yeah! A special thanks to my husband who is taking on all kid duties for the next few days.

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

Find the best writers’ conference for you from Writer Unboxed.

If you’re taking part in a critique group, Nathan Bransford offers good tips for making it beneficial.

I love this post from picture book author Jamie Swenson about why hobbyists are less likely to sell a manuscript. 

Jane Friedman guest posted on agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog about how to influence editors in a way 90 percent of writers don’t. 

Can you tell I’ve been prepping for a writing conference this week?

 

The Courage to Try Something New

Columnist and author Erma Bombeck said, “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”

She’s right. I often meet people who tell me they are closet writers and I admit that I keep many of my own secret ambitions tucked away. But this week I’m heading to the New Jersey Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference where I will be soaking in every last detail and showing my picture book manuscript to those that can offer valuable feedback. I can’t wait.

I’ve arranged my file folders, jotted down notes for my peer critique group and printed out extra copies of my manuscripts. I’ve also summoned my courage. Walking into a group full of strangers and showing them your work isn’t easy, but the sense of community I’ve already gotten from this group is amazing. I’m excited to share my ideas with them and learn about the business of publishing children’s books.

Leaving our comfort zones is a good thing. It has gotten my creative juices flowing and it also sets a good example for my kids. I always encourage Evan and Madelyn to try something new and now they can see that I do it too. So, wish me luck and I’ll report on the conference next week.

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!

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.

Climbing New Mountains

Each week my articles go out into the world and I’m eager for people to read what I’ve written. The publications I write for have paid subscriptions of a few thousand to over 25,000. I’m not shy about people seeing my byline and I’m always happy when it is on the front page.

But I have a new project I’m working on—one that I’ve been tight lipped about. So, let me tell you a little secret…I am working on writing my first picture book. It seems like such a little thing, but spreading the word about this dream of mine is scary.

When it comes to writing children’s stories, I’m insecure. This is new territory for me and I know I have a lot to learn. The thought of sending my 500-word picture book manuscript off to my four critique partners is far more nerve wracking than waiting for a 2,500-word feature to hit those 25,000 mailboxes.

It isn’t easy to do something new, particularly when we know we aren’t going to be good at it right out of the gate. Yet each week I take Evan to hockey and tell him that he has to practice if he wants to get better. I tell him not to get discouraged when he falls down because that is how he learns. When he whines because skating is hard, I tell him, “In our family, we do hard things.” But I don’t always lead by example. I am guilty of sticking to what I know because it is comfortable.

Last month I took Evan to a rock-climbing party. My little guy wanted to scale the wall, but fear kept him from reaching the top. I knew how much he wanted it, so right before the party ended, I climbed with him. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and loved the adventure.

Jumping into the world of children’s literature is a new and exciting journey, but I know the path to publication is long and hard. I’ll be putting myself out there and learning from my mistakes. I’ve read that picture books are one of the hardest markets to break into. I’d love to get a picture book published (who wouldn’t!?!), but delving into children’s literature is about more than that. It is about learning new ways to play with words and making a new group friends along the way.

Next month I’ll be spending a full weekend at the New Jersey Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators conference. I can’t wait to take in everything the conference has to offer. Writing for kids is a new avenue to explore and I’m looking forward to connecting with a whole new group of writers. It is a fun addition to my life as a full-time freelancer and mama.

Writing Inspiration Courtesy of Orlando

Mindy and kids with Chip and DaleWe are back from a jam-packed spring break trip to Orlando. I love travel because I always come back enthused (even if I am exhausted!).

I found writing inspiration in so many places throughout the trip. If it weren’t for the amazing imaginations and willingness of so many to put pen to paper, Evan wouldn’t get to battle Darth Vader and Miss Madelyn wouldn’t get to give Minnie Mouse a hug.

Evan at Jedi Training Academy at Walt Disney WorldEvan, Bryan, Mindy and Madely with Mickey and MinnieAt Universal Studios we wandered through the Harry Potter section and I stayed up late each night to read the Hunger Games Trilogy.

The trip reminded me how grateful I am to those who create the fantasy worlds we all love to slip into and enjoy.

Today I’ll embrace the structure of real life. I’ll unpack our suitcases and prepare for the week ahead, but I’ll also sneak in a few minutes with my Kindle and do some writing of my own. I’ll read books with talking fish, trains and animals to my kiddos, because they love the little escape books provide, too. And, I’ll continue to be grateful for the writers who create them.

The Joy of Blogging

My blogging-turned-real-life friend Sarah wrote a post several weeks ago about the role blogging plays in her life. It made me think about my own reasons for blogging. When I first joined the blogosphere, it was simply because I wanted to write. I liked telling stories about my work and my kids and used my blog as a way to share ideas and keep in touch with real-world and internet friends.

Then I went to writing conferences and read articles that said writers should blog, need to blog to build a platform. I went from wanting to write to feeling overwhelmed by what others might expect to see in this space. Somewhere in there, I lost sight of my blogging goal: To build a little community where I can connect with, learn from and laugh with others. I also hope to share some things that work for me and maybe (just maybe) inspire others along the way.

I recently wrote a keynote speech for a client. In the speech, he wanted to relay a story he read about why animal trainers rely on stools to tame lions. When a trainer enters a lion’s cage with the four legs of a stool pointing towards the lion’s face, the lion tries to focus on all four legs at once. It can’t and a kind of paralysis overwhelms it. The lion becomes tame and weak because its attention is fragmented.

In worrying about what others expected to see in this space, my attention became fragmented. More often than not, posting became something I felt like I should do and I worried I wasn’t doing it right. But it has become fun again. I am going to continue blogging about freelancing and my kiddos because that is my little world right now, but I’m going to worry less about the ratio of writing posts to family posts and focus more on the joy I get from being a part of the blogosphere. I hope you’ll continue to come along on the journey!

Goings On

Wow. The last few weeks have felt pretty hectic at our house. There are only so many hours in the day, and when something in my little world has to drop, I usually let the blog take the fall. Thank you for sticking around and checking back in with me!

While I haven’t been posting regularly, I have been giving the blog some attention offline. I have a handful of half-written posts and I’m putting some plans into action to breathe new life into this little outlet of mine. Be sure to tune in on Wednesday when I offer some how-to advice based on readers’ questions about becoming a freelancer.

Thank you to all of you who have expressed your sweet condolences about Granny. My web hosting company had some technical issues and lost my original post, which also means I lost the nice comments many of you left. I re-posted it, but for some reason comments weren’t working, so your kind emails are very much appreciated.

My little guy has needed some extra attention over the past few weeks. Sometimes I think he doesn’t understand Granny is gone for good, then he’ll say something that makes me realize his little heart is hurting. Motherhood is a new and exciting journey, and I always feel like I should know what to do, but more often than not, I don’t. Plus, as the mom of two, I’m finding that what worked with one child doesn’t necessarily work with the other. That means I feel like I’m constantly starting at ground zero. Can anyone relate? Do you know a secret that I don’t?

On the paid-work front, life has been good! I have several features in the works and I am working on a fun speech for a client. I’m always grateful that I get to earn a living as a writer.

And, speaking of being a writer, on Friday night I took part in the Writer’s Center Leesburg First Friday event with an awesome blogging-turned-real-life friend. It is the first time in about two years that I’ve met up with a group of other writers and it was so much fun to be in a room with all of that creative energy. It was also a great reminder that there are so many ways to be a writer (i.e. you don’t have to have a day job as a writer to be a writer). If you’re a writer looking to add some energy to your writing routine, I definitely recommend seeking out a writing group in your area.