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

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.

Don’t Sell Stories. Sell Solutions.

I make a living as a freelance writer, but I don’t sell words. I sell solutions. In my business those solutions come in the form of a 2,000-word feature article or a 500-word blog post, but my true value lies in what those pieces mean for the people who buy them.

By meeting my deadlines and submitting well-researched articles time and again, my editors know they can count on me to provide a product that suits their needs and helps them meet their goal of putting out a quality publication on schedule.

I write a lot about transportation, so I stay up industry news. That means I can pitch new articles or angles that my editors may not have thought of. It also allows me to react quickly when I take on new assignments because I am up to date on the latest trends.

To increase the value I bring to my clients, I do my best to be flexible and take on last-minute projects. When they reach out to me with an urgent assignment, I know they are up against their own deadlines and this is when they need me the most. I want them to see me as a go-to resource, which increases my workload and gives them piece of mind.

As consumers, we already know that we buy solutions. I recently spent hundreds of dollars for a company to spray my backyard to ward off mosquitoes, but I didn’t pay for bug spray. I bought the opportunity to push my kids on the swings without getting eaten alive.

The idea of selling a solution isn’t new, but it can help bring what you do into focus. By identifying where your value lies, you can focus on it and better promote it to your customers.

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!

Four Reasons I Love Freelancing

You get paid to pursue your passion. The most successful freelancers I know have used their passions to shape and drive their business. Sometimes that means finding lucrative ways to be able to pursue the things that interest them the most. This month I’ve written about used motor oil, point-of-sale operating systems and parts recalls, among other things. Am I passionate about those things? Heck no, but I am passionate about researching, writing and sharing my knowledge. I am also passionate about making a living as a writer, which means I often write about topics that I’m not head over heals in love with. On the flip side, I can still make time for those subjects that do call to me on a personal level. And, if I can make motor oil interesting, I can do anything!

You create the lifestyle you want. For many freelancers, that means controlling your schedule, which holds true for me. I struck out on my own so I could work around my kids’ schedules. I love dropping my kiddos off at preschool and picking them up with time left over to play on the playground. I like our days at home, which are rarely spent at home. Making the most of my family time is a top priority for me right now, so I build my business around it. As my kids grow and change, my business will, too, but I’ll always get to be in control of what it looks like.

You can work from anywhere (within reason, of course). Some writers may dream of writing from Paris or a beach in Mexico. I love that I can spend a week or two visiting my parents and make time for my writing while also slipping in to watch my dad have a tea party with Miss Madelyn or drive remote control cars with Evan. As long as I have a telephone, internet access and a quiet room to work in, I can do my job.

You can make it fun. Building a business is a lot like playing a game, and I’m a big believer in games. I race my kids to the car, I play beat the clock when I clean the kitchen and I constantly strive to beat my own record–no matter what it is in. Setting and achieving goals is a rush. When you run your own shop, every goal is your own and, for me, strategizing to reach those goals is a game. I love setting financial goals, then seeing what I need to do to reach them (I talk about that a bit in this post about defining goals ). Yes, there is trial and error involved, but learning, adjusting and then succeeding is the best game I’ve ever played.

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!

Using Twitter as a Writer

I’ve had a Twitter account for quite some time, but I didn’t start embracing it until recently. I’m still figuring out the best ways to use it, but I love it. I’ve been connecting with fellow writers and finding awesome blogs. I don’t know why I took so long to join the party.

As I’ve been learning to navigate Twitter, I’ve found a handful of blog posts that are helpful. I am drawn to posts about how writers use Twitter, but these posts are full of great tips for anyone:

A Writer’s Guide to Twitter by Debbie Ridpath Ohi 

Why Writers Should Use Twitter by Alexis Grant 

The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Marketing from Copy Blogger 

20 Essential Tips for Better Twitter Etiquette from writer Jeff Goins