There were many times I didn’t think I’d make it through.
I had two children by the age of 21, their father wanted no part of it. I was on my own. I was working full time and returned to college when my oldest two were still in diapers. I took a full load of courses and picked up a work study job on campus. Minimum wage then was $4.25/hour. My two bedroom mobile home trailer was tiny and cheap, but it was mine.
I spent my days working and my nights doing bath, commuting between home, daycare, work, school, and then doing homework, and bedtime for the kids and then hours doing my homework or trying to figure out which bills I could pay that month.
I earned my degree, and graduated cum laude to boot, but it sure wasn’t easy. I also managed to morph that work study job into a full-time position, although it took almost ten years to work my way up to $35,000 annually with benefits.
It was going to be more money than I’d ever made in my life.
Life throws a hand grenade
That was the same year my gallbladder decided to rear its ugly head. After nearly six months of not knowing for sure what was wrong, it finally required removal which everyone said should have been no big deal.
But for me it was.
The surgeon screwed up, unknowingly I guess or maybe because he was leaving for vacation the next day, he sent me home. Two days later I was back in the ER and then was admitted, requiring emergency surgery.
I almost died.
I spent two weeks in the hospital, my kids were shuttled from family to friends to coworkers. Thank God for all of them who stepped up. It took much longer to recover because I had no choice but to go back to work at least part-time. My income was all there was.
Starting over and over…and over
I had to start over to build what I had. I started freelancing in 2003 for extra money. The job I relocated for and thought would be long-term turned out to have a manager who forced me out but then was indicted for embezzling federal funds.
I started over again but determined this time that I would figure out how to not be so dependent on employers for my income.
I had two more children, born when I was thirty-five and then thirty-nine. Their father turned out to be an addict which brought a whole new host of hardships to deal with including the long-term impact of his addiction and abandonment on my youngest daughters.
I started over again and again. Each time it felt like five steps forward and three steps back.
It’s been a long, complicated, difficult, stressful road. But it’s also been filled with family, surprises, new skills, new people, challenges, and most of all, love.
As I sit here today, I’m fifty-three and grateful for those hardships. I’ve learned so much and it all helps me now to have the flexibility I love.
It’s the fact that I’ve had those hardships and overcome them that’s made me stronger and made me capable enough to run my own business from home.
My youngest turns fourteen in a few weeks. My children and ten grandchildren are healthy. I spend time with them often and can help out when needed.
I enjoy my steady work-from-home job teaching tech and freelancing. My coaching business is growing rapidly. I have multiple income streams. My goal is to buy a home within the next year.
There’s truth to that old German saying by Friedrich Nietzsche “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens. — Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” which loosely translated is “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”
Key Message: Everything I’ve done gave me the strength, skills, and confidence to do what I’m doing today.
As a single mom, life changed for the better every time.
As a single mom of two and then four children, it was up to me to make enough income to support my family. Long before I started freelancing, I was raising my children alone, no child support coming in. Most days I left the house before 6am and didn’t get home until after 6pm. My kids were being raised in daycare.
There simply was no other choice then.
How it started
I put myself through college using grants, work-study money, and student loans while my older two children were in diapers. I worked my way up from a job as a work-study student at $4.15/hour to a full-time job (yes, that was minimum wage then) to a program coordinator for a local community college at $35,000 annually.
I was on welfare until my two youngest children were teenagers because even though I was working full-time and then some, I still qualified for daycare and medical assistance.
I worked ten years for a Women’s Center of a local community college. I got the job because I went into the center looking for a single parent support group for students at the college. When the director of the center found I was eligible for work-study on campus, she told me there wasn’t one but that I could start one if I wanted and get paid for it.
I said yes
With her guidance I learned to lead
At first it was mostly a social program to support other moms, picnics, movie trips, etc. Later, I initiated a daycare program at the college’s branch location so more moms could attend college courses. Then I started doing special student orientations for moms returning to college.
Many of the moms were struggling with transportation, parenting, personal health, money management. It wasn’t just daycare that kept them from being successful in college. Graduation was a year away and I would no longer be eligible for work-study. My supervisor arranged for me to travel to Nashville be trained as a life skills facilitator to better help the women I was working with to remove their obstacles to college.
She explained I would have learn how to raise funds to cover the cost of my salary every year if I wanted to keep my job and asked if I wanted to stay.
I said yes.
I marketed the program in the community and negotiated agreements with outside agencies such as Head Start, Job and Family Services, and others in order to bring in funds. I started teaching the life skills series for women that were Head Start moms, women in the local domestic violence shelter, in transitional housing, or drug/alcohol rehabilitation. It was up to me to convince those agencies to pay us to provide the program to their clients.
The incentive program I created for my participants was so successful, I was invited to speak at a conference in Nashville. Our program site was even selected as one of the possible sites for a visit from former Vice President, Al Gore. The moms in our program had teens that were struggling too. My boss asked if I would be willing to train as a youth life skills facilitator.
I said yes.
I trained in youth life skills and eventually supervised a young man who was trained to facilitate men’s life skills. The program for youth opened up opportunities to write grant proposals and bring in money to provide the life skills together with entrepreneurial skills to low-income youth during the summer months.
For three years I wrote the curriculum and coordinated that program in the summer, facilitating life skills, teaching entrepreneurship, and supervising other staff who taught the youth how to make their own jewelry.
The year before I left the college, the Dean of my department asked me to rewrite a grant proposal that they paid someone else to write who didn’t do a great job.
I said yes.
The funds were to provide a program that included tutoring, mentoring, financial aid information, and life skills for an entire cohort of low-income 7th grade students in order to get them onto the path to college.
We missed approval for the grant due to the competitiveness. Instead of giving up, I convinced the other agencies in the community to pitch in services and funding so we could operate the program on a smaller scale, with just twenty 7th grade students. I coordinated the community wide effort, called the Higher Education Partnership (HEP) that involved several outside community agencies. The plan was to apply for the grant again the following year, this time with proof our program would be effective.
Unfortunately, just before time to start the proposal writing, I was hit with some major health problems. I had to have my gallbladder surgically removed. I nearly died from complications. It took six weeks to recover enough to return to work part-time.
The near-death experience also had a profound impact on my life.
I wanted more time with my children and to feel more fulfilled in my life. A co-worker asked me if I thought maybe it was just time to see what else was there beyond the college.
I said yes.
And the next two or three years of my life was spent providing direct social service to women and families in transitional housing. I worked two part-time jobs, one teaching self sufficiency as a program coordinator for a housing agency and the other creating a mentoring program for women on welfare for Catholic Charities. I learned so much about how to recruit participants, find and train volunteers, create and publish a newsletter, and much more.
Then a friend I had met through an online dating app asked me if I’d be interested in working with homeless veterans because his employer was hiring.
I said yes.
I moved to the city
The next year of my life I taught job skills to homeless veterans in one of the largest shelters in downtown Cleveland. It was one of the most fulfilling and one of the saddest jobs I’ve had in my life. I was mortified by the way our veterans are treated. I did what I could but the long hours and late nights didn’t work well now that I had teenagers at home. I wanted to have more flexibility in my schedule so I could be home with my kids. A friend asked me if I’d ever thought of starting my own business.
I said yes.
I started freelancing part-time but I knew that to really be effective as a consultant, I needed to know more about business. I had always worked in non profit jobs.
So I went to work for Robert Half International/Office Team where I spent the next few years working as an admin for different businesses including two accounting firms, a telecommunications company, a realtor, a manufacturing company, a hospital system and an orthopedic surgeons practice. I continued to freelance in the evenings and on weekends.
While I was pregnant with my fourth child, I ended up on bedrest for a month. During that time I did a lot of personal reflection, more freelancing, and decided it was time to get out of the city and live life at a slower pace. My mom was separating from my stepdad and she asked if I wanted to rent a 10-acre farm with her.
I said yes.
Life changed completely again.
Things moved at a slower pace outside of the city and we had horses, goats, and chickens. My oldest daughter and her son came to live with us and for a short-time my son, his girlfriend and her son came too.
I worked part-time doing billing for an agency and after that I worked for the U.S. census as a crew member and then as a crew supervisor. The part-time work gave me a lot more time to do freelance work. My mom asked me if I could make enough money freelancing to quit my job.
I said yes.
It took me awhile to earn enough where I was comfortable quitting that part-time job. There were some lean times for sure and I worked some long hours to make ends meet. But by 2015, my father passed away and I had moved again, to my hometown with my two youngest girls. I had three regular well-paying clients and a network of places I could use to take on additional work to fill out my schedule. I was working less hours and making more.
In 2019, I joined Ninja Writers and one of the members asked me to create a course about SEO.
I said yes.
That decision combined with the new income goal I’d set for myself just a few months prior was the catalyst for doubling my annual income over the next year.
It’s 2022 and life is comfortable now. I’m doing what I love with people who understand what it’s like to be a writer. I’m planning to buy a house. And in my spare time, I get to help other freelance writers reach their dream writing path, with fewer mistakes and less time than it took me.
All because I said yes.
Are you ready to change your life for the better?
What can you say yes to today?
Ready to find more freelance writing jobs? Get my free Market Mondays newsletter with links to writing jobs and paying markets every week.
Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Ladderwas founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do business better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.
I first started freelancing in 2003. I spent a lot of time writing blog posts and other content for small business owners via Odesk (now UpWork). Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was fairly new back then, the term is believed to have originated in 1997. Does your blog post satisfy your reader was not the priority back then.
Search Engine Optimization Then
All the internet gurus were advising businesses on how to “rank on Google” and how to do it quickly. Back then, the algorithm was much more mathematical. It was easy to “trick” the search engines and get your content on the first page of Google.
As a result, I was often asked by my clients to hit a specific keyword density (number of times the keyword is used). Clients back then told me it didn’t matter what I wrote, as long as the keyword density was at the level they wanted.
It was just not in my nature to write nonsense or to write stuff that wasn’t accurate; I did the research anyhow, but it paid very little. I soon stopped taking projects from these types of clients.
Because of these types of website owners, there was a plethora of content on the internet that was nonsense. Some articles even had sentences that just didn’t make sense. It was all because website owners cared more about ranking and drawing traffic than they did about providing valuable content.
Business owners were being told they had to rank on Google to get traffic. So their goal was publishing as much content as possible on their website so they could draw traffic and boost their site ranking. It sounds crazy now, but it was common practice then. A blog post that satisfied the user didn’t guarantee a Google ranking then.
Search Engine Optimization Now
But SEO has come a very long way since those days. There have been multiple upgrades to the Google search algorithm. Google and other search engines have progressed. Most are much more capable of analyzing content based on more than just repetition of words.
In fact, there are now over 200 factors that go into whether or not any piece of content ranks on Google’s first page. A few of these factors include internal and external links, site speed, bounce rate, site structure, metadata, and many others.
Search engines now are also capable of recognizing natural language and conversational tone, visual and infographics, and video content. The algorithm can even distinguish valuable content from poor content or “thin” content. All of these changes have made it much harder to simply game the system. It also means writing a blog post to satisfy your user is much more likely to get your post ranked on Google SERP.
The future of SEO is all about user experience.
Of course, you can use paid ads to rank in those top spots on Google. But paid ads can be costly and not everyone has the budget for this technique, especially as a new business. Today, the best way to rank organically on Google’s SERP (search engine results page) is to provide the best possible user experience with your content.
There are some mechanical factors that go into providing a good experience such as site speed, optimization for mobile users, eliminating broken links, reducing errors, and others. It can be difficult to understand all 200 factors that go into your content ranking. Unfortunately, there’s never a guarantee of ranking unless you have the budget for paid ads.
But there are tools you can use to address some of the ranking factors such as Google Search Console and mobile optimization views offered by many web page builders. The future of SEO is all about providing the best user experience.
You can provide the best user experience with your content, if you understand your customers and what they are looking for when they perform a Google search.
The Buyers’ Journey
There are three main stages all buyers go through:
When you write your content, think about what stage of the buyers’ journey your reader is in when doing their Google search. What is their intent or purpose in searching? What do they need? Can you provide information that will help them move to the next stage of the journey? If your post satisfies your user, you stand a much better chance of ranking organically on Google’s first SERP.
At this stage, the buyer has recently become aware of a need they have or a problem. Your content should focus on the pain points of the problem and on making potential customers aware of your product or service as a solution.
Searchers at this stage are looking for how to get more information about their problem or need.
Content that satisfies the user at this stage in the buyers’ journey will typically be more educational in nature. Examples of content that satisfies the user at this point are whitepapers, webinars, reviews (to see what solved the problem for others,) e-books, and checklists.
Buyers at this stage are beginning to recognize their problem and are interested in more information about how to solve it. Your content should increase awareness of available options, including your services. It should also help them determine how relevant the issue is for them and provide information they need to continue the journey.
Very few people jump to a solution for a problem without exploring alternatives. The awareness stage alerts potential customers to the fact that they have a need or problem and that there are multiple solutions or options.
At the evaluation stage, the buyer is trying to determine which option is the best solution for their problem.
Content to satisfy the user at this stage of the buyers’ journey should help them understand what features or other things they need to consider to make a decision.
The best content to satisfy the user at this stage is content that compares and contrasts different solutions or gives in-depth information about one solution. In-depth content on features common across the options is helpful at this stage.
Examples of content that helps move a user to the next stage of the journey (decision or purchase) are buyers’ guides, case studies, demonstrations, and other content that shows them how the product or service will solve their problem.
Users who have moved to the decision stage of the buyers’ journey are ready to buy or commit. They’ve evaluated their options and have narrowed it down typically to one or two potential solutions. They’re going to buy or commit to a solution.
To satisfy your user at this stage, your content should reinforce your solution as the best option.
Content that satisfies the user at this stage will be live training, launch events, or user guides. The content you provide should show them exactly what it will be like to implement your solution.
The changes to SEO are great news for business owners who are committed to providing value for their readers and potential customers. If you focus on writing content that helps your user make informed decisions about a solution to their problem, you’ll satisfy your user and win “points” with Google’s ranking system.
Of course, there are those other approximately two hundred factors that go into ranking with Google, so there are no guarantees.
But the more you focus on providing value and the more educated you become on how to satisfy your users at each stage of the buyers’ journey, the easier it will be to rank with Google and attract your ideal customer/reader.
Looking for freelance writing jobs? Get my free Market Mondays newsletter every week. It’s chock full of links to writing jobs and other markets that pay writers and my best tips and tricks for freelance writers.
Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Filter was founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do business better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.
Part of what I do as a business owner is to teach live tech help calls where writers and other small business creatives can learn how to use the software they need to run their businesses better online. One question that always comes up involves whether to create a personal or business brand.
The members of my very first tech help group - I call them my “guinea pig” group - have transformed from writers trying to monetize their hobby to CEO’s who are planning and launching their small businesses.
I love seeing all the progress they’ve made with their businesses now that technology is less of an obstacle to moving forward.
In the process of teaching business owners about the technology they need to write, get seen, and get paid, I also answer questions on techniques for branding, email list building, SEO basics, developing their messaging, building an online presence, identifying their audience, and more.
One of the first steps a business owner has to take when building a business is to build a website. The first step to building a website is to buy a domain name. In order to help with buying a domain though, we first have to talk about branding.
To do that, we talk about the differences between personal and business brands. Deciding between a personal or business brand for your writing business or startup, is one of the early decisions you’ll want to make. If you buy a domain without committing to one or the other of these, you may end up having to redo your website or even buy a new domain name at some point.
You can’t always make the decision between personal and business branding when you first get started, but knowing the difference between the two can help you with choosing your domain name. Sometimes when you begin to think about your writing as a business, you may decide you need to have more than one brand or more than one domain, and that’s okay, too.
Creating a Personal Brand
A personal brand is just what it sounds like: It’s a brand built around you as a person. The way I explain it to people is that if the service you are offering or the business you are building would not exist in the same way if you sold it to someone else, then you want a personal brand.
For most writers, authors, and freelancers, a personal brand is going to be the best choice. If you want people to recognize your name and your face, then a personal brand is going to be a good route to go.
Authors and writers generally want to be known by their name, or at least their pen name. If you decide on a personal brand, you’ll want to choose a domain that is yourname.com or some variation. It can sometimes be difficult to get your exact first and last name, especially if your name is common. If you can’t get your first and last name, then the next best option for a personal brand is to get a version of your name as your domain. You can do your first name, middle initial and last name. Or, try your middle name with your last name, a nickname with your last name, etc.
My first and last name wasn’t available. Neither was my nickname with my last name. I ended up with my nickname (Meg), my last name, and the word writes. If I had to make this choice again, I might use the word writer instead of writes, simply because writer is a better keyword.
When you build a personal brand, it will most likely reflect your personality and values. You’ll choose colors, fonts, and other elements, such as your photo or caricature likeness, and other images that will tell your audience who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do.
Creating a Business Brand
Part of our group time over the last several weeks has been used to share the progress each business owner has made with developing their website, landing page, and other marketing messaging.
We have a couple of people in the group who are developing a business brand. It’s so great to see how their writing businesses have evolved over time as they’ve learned more about branding, developing their messages, and using technology. Your business brand should also reflect its personality.
Is your business formal or informal? Serious or fun? Are your services educational, entertaining, or something else? Answering these questions will help you market your business to the right audience and hone your messaging.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is also critical when developing your brand. Having a keyword in your domain is also a good idea for optimizing SEO to help drive traffic to your website.
So if you are developing a personal brand and you write about health, for example, you might do your first name, last name, and add the words health writer or nutrition writer (more targeted). For a business brand, you might include words like wellness, fitness, or even just health in your business name.
If you’re ready to take your writing or other creative work from hobby to business, think about whether it would work best as a personal or business brand. Ask yourself whether or not you can ever imagine selling your successful business?
Think about how you want your business to be known in the world. Those who prefer to be behind the scenes rather than in the public eye might prefer a business brand.
Personal brands might be better suited for writers, musicians, and for those who want to be known as the face of their business, or for those who provide personal services such as coaching.
A Personal and Business Brand
For myself, I began with a personal brand, using a version of my name, as a freelance writer and consultant. It made sense then as I was primarily doing freelance writing, with a byline. People who might buy my services need to know that I’m a real person. Using my name and photo in my branding, and honing my messaging around my personal values and interests, helps my clients know and trust me as a writer.
As my business is evolving, I’m also developing a business brand as Freelance Filter. For Freelance Filter, the focus is on helping small business owners learn to use the technology they need to do their own business better online. Freelance Filter provides helpful tutorials, software reviews and comparisons, and tech help services.
I can have other writers or staff involved in providing Freelance Filter services as long as I oversee the work to make sure it accurately reflects my brand values. Freelance Filter is a business brand that could someday be run by or sold to someone else if the opportunity arises.
There’s not really a right way or wrong way to brand your business.
Branding can even vary for different people who offer similar services. The important thing to do when branding is to make a conscious decision about which way to brand your business.
It will likely evolve and change over time. Richard Brandson, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates are examples of people who have both personal and business brands.
Once you make the decision between personal and business branding, you’ll find it’s much easier to make decisions about choosing a domain, designing your website and other marketing messaging, creating service offerings, and embarking on future endeavors.
There are a variety of reasons people take up writing. You may write as a creative outlet, to heal past trauma, for income or as a hobby. I’ve discovered a true writer never stops learning.
For me, writing has become my full-time income. I love writing and sharing knowledge which is why I worked so hard to figure out how to make it my full-time job. For others it could be a side hustle in addition to a day job, a way of relieving stress, or your method for expressing your inner desires and thoughts. For some, writing may be more than one of these.
How you write and why is mostly a matter of personal preference. There is one thing about writing where most, if not all writers, will agree. Very few, if any writers will master the skill as it seems there is always more to learn if you are willing to try something new.
Below are the ways I’ve found over the years to make sure that I’m always learning.
1. Write with Intent
It really doesn’t matter why you write. At least not to other people. But what can help the clarity of your writing is that you write with intent. It’s a good idea for you to know the purpose for your writing.
just for practice
warm up or release your creativity
for fun or to entertain
inspire yourself or others
record or share memories
The list above is not all inclusive because it’s really an unending list. But I’ve found that when I am clear in my mind why I’m writing before I get started, it helps keep me motivated and helps me focus.
2. Challenge Yourself
My writing is clearer when I write with intent. I find that knowing my intent for a post or session allows my mind to make better decisions about character development, word choice, and even pacing. When I sit down to write with intent, the finished draft often needs less editing too which allows me to be more productive.
Set a goal for your writing. Decide that you will write a set amount of words per week, per day, or even per hour. If word count is too specific, set a page goal or chapter goal.
NaNoWriMo: During the month of November each year, thousands of people across the country come together to write 50,000 words, an entire novel. There are online cabins you can join so you have accountability and support as well as in person local write along sessions.
Other Contests: If you prefer to do something more structured that has a more objective and tangible reward, you can look for writing contests. Thousands of contests are available and they range from simple, informal prompts to full-blown structured contests with cash prizes.
3. Uncage Your Creativity
“Every story there is to tell has already been told”. Most writers hear this or some version of it very early on. And it’s true to an extent. Just about every story can be stripped of all the details about setting and character until all that’s left is plot. And pretty much every story is based on one of less than ten plots. Those plots have been recycled by writers for centuries.
But it’s the details of the story you are writing that give it originality. The development of your characters, the pacing of your scenes, subplots, and the details of your settings are what dress your story up. The more you can uncage your creativity, the better you, as a writer, can turn one of those tired old plots into an original story that grabs the attention and admiration of your readers. Your ability to unleash your creativity is what makes your story like no other.
Below are some tips for tapping into your creativity:
Free writing: Set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes and write. Try this by hand with pen and paper and also using a keyboard as you may find each method provides different results. This is a pre-writing technique that can work to help you find new solutions to a problem, bust through writer’s block, and connect to your subconscious. The main rule to free writing is to keep your pen (or cursor) moving the entire time. There is also no editing allowed, not even correction of spelling mistakes or typos. It’s okay if what you write is repetitive or seems ridiculous, just keep writing.
Word Games such as crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, even Scrabble, can boost your vocabulary. When you expand your vocabulary and give your mind permission to look at how pieces create the big picture, it uncages your creativity and allows you to generate new twists and ideas, make intriguing connections and write more engaging content.
Journaling: This can be a terrific way to practice writing and uncage your creativity. You can use creative writing promptsas a jumpstart and to help you write with intent.
Writing Prompts are a great way to chase away “blank page syndrome”, uncage your creativity, jump-start your imagination, and call your muse to attention. Writing prompts are especially effective when used in combination with freewriting. Set your timer, choose a prompt, and keep writing until time is up!
Stretch your Imagination by deliberately asking an odd question that challenges the norm like:
what do clouds taste like?
what sounds does the number five make when angry?
how would the world be different if children could vote?
4. Know Your Reader
If you’ve been writing for any length of time you’ve probably heard it’s very beneficial to know your target reader. This doesn’t mean your writing is not available to everyone, it simply means you know what you write will resonate with a specific subset of readers. The reason for taking the time to think about who your audience is before you start writing is it makes it easier to draw your reader in and keep them hanging on your every word including:
Writing on their level
Connecting using a personal story
Answering questions they have about the topic
5. Take a page from the writing legends
(I have no affiliate relationships with any of the links in this post.)
The best way to be a writer that never stops learning is to keep reading those who have come before you. There are many, many excellent writers who have written books dedicated to helping you learn to write better. Some of the classics include:
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones
The Chicago Manual of Style
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
If you’re writing a blog post, a scene, dialogue, novel, a poem, or even a journal entry, you will reach a natural stopping point.
That moment where you feel it’s done.
One of the lessons I’ve learned through experience is to write just enough. When you reach that natural stopping point and you try to push beyond to make a certain word count or because of some other arbitrary reason, it rarely makes it better.
Writing till it’s done is different than making sure you dig deep enough or cover all the angles. It’s different than getting stuck or running out of ideas.
When you reach a natural stopping point, you’ll feel it if you’re paying attention.
If you find writing a piece has become a struggle, remind yourself of your intent for the piece and then make sure that you haven’t inadvertently pushed beyond that natural stopping point.
7. Turn off the inner critic during draft stage
It’s important to understand that different sides of the brain are engaged when you write versus when you edit.
This is one of the main reasons to delay editing when writing your first draft. If you allow yourself to edit as your write, it requires your brain to switch between two modes and it means it’s easier to get distracted.
When you edit, your muse is off duty and during the time it takes for you to get back to writing, your muse just might get bored and wander off.
8. Edit with fresh eyes
It’s always best to edit with fresh eyes no matter what type of writing you are doing.
Whenever feasible, set your draft aside for several hours or even overnight. If you’re writing a novel, finish your entire first draft and set it aside for several days or longer before you begin to edit.
If you simply must edit without a break in between, try reading your writing out loud or in reverse order from the final sentence to the first sentence. This will help you to see typos because it’s not as easy for your brain to “fill in what should be there”.
You can also have someone you trust on standby to read your writing. As recommended by Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer in Copy Logic, ask them to edit your writing by letting you know which sections are confusing, unbelievable, or boring (CUB).
Each of the writing tips above is designed to help you write more often and to write better than ever before. Use the ones that work for you. Shelve the others for another time.
As a writer understand we can never completely master all there is to learn. With the right tools and an open mind we can improve our writing if we are willing to challenge ourselves as a writer to never stop learning.
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Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Ladderwas founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do tech stuff better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.
There comes a time in every woman’s life when we realize there’s more to life than what we’re doing. For me that time first happened in 2003. As a single mom, it became clear there was more to life than working and taking care of my children. A friend reminded me to “make time for you.”
I started freelancing, but without guidance and purpose, I floundered over and over again. I was more than capable but it was hard to know what to do and when.
I searched the Internet without much luck. I did some freelancing but didn’t gain much traction. When you don’t have a destination fixed firmly in mind, even a map isn’t much help at all.
It’s possible you’ve spent the majority of your adult life doing what everyone else thought was best for you.
Maybe you’re recently widowed or divorced, perhaps your kids are getting older and you have more free time. Or maybe your kids are grown and you’ve recently retired from your 9 to 5 job.
Regardless of the reason, you find yourself with more time on your hands and/or a desire to do something meaningful with your life for the next couple decades.
It could be you know what you need to do, you have a dream in mind, but the technology you need to learn is overwhelming.
Or maybe you just can’t figure out where to start.
Over the last year, I’ve been coaching other writers and small business owners about how to first identify their destination, then create their map for getting there, and navigate rough waters along the way.
If this sounds like you, I can help. For those who are interested in freelance writing or need to learn the technology to do their business better online, visit Freelance Filter.
What to do when you feel like there’s more to life than what you’ve got.
Do you ever feel like there’s got to be something more to life than what you’ve got now? Like maybe you need to identify your your purpose in life?
I’ve so been there.
For me, the time that stands out was right after my third child was born. It seemed life was just passing me by. I was just going through the motions of work, sleep, and single parenting without any real plan. Each day was a lot like the next. I had no true purpose.
If you’ve ever felt afraid to let yourself dream big, maybe this will ease your fears. I spent ten years working with low income women and youth before I made the decision to relocate to Cleveland and work with homeless veterans. As a case manager for a veteran’s re-employment program, I was assigned to the largest men’s shelter downtown.
There were nearly 400 men there most nights. And sadly, a good number of them were military veterans.
Are you asking the right question?
One of the questions I used to ask students in my job skills class was this:
If you had access to the training and any money you needed, what would you be when you grow up?
How would you contribute to the world?
I asked this question to my first group of veterans in my job skills class. One man, who looked about forty years old, began to get tears in his eyes when it was his turn to respond.
I’m fifty years old. No one ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. he said.
I told Steve* he could have some time to think about it as I continued around the room.
When just surviving today is the priority, it’s hard to dream big
These men had all volunteered and served their country, many of them had seen combat. They returned to find they didn’t fit into society any longer. The horror they had witnessed, and in some cases been ordered to participate in, had a deep hold on them.
Without treatment, they grew restless, frustrated, bored, angry, and in some cases abusive and self-destructive. They couldn’t see a way out over all the obstacles.
But what I discovered is almost every one of those men wanted more. They wanted to step into their place in society. I used to arrive at the shelter on Monday evenings and within minutes, there were a line of men, waiting to talk to me and find out how I could help them.
They wanted to dream big.
But they were stuck, just trying to survive one day at a time. All they could see in front of them were obstacles.
Many of them had chronic illnesses including respiratory issues and mental health issues, such as PTSD. Many were recovering from years of substance abuse to dull their memories and pain. Some had been to prison, served their time, only to find society still held a grudge.
There was not time or resources for planning. They had so much on their plate, connecting themselves to resources was nearly impossible.
They needed a way to look beyond the obstacles and see their true potential.
Stepping stones can help you dream big
When it was Steve’s turn again that first day in class, he admitted he’d always wanted to be a chef. We created a plan where he would wash dishes in a restaurant with a goal of working his way up to prep chef and then attending culinary school.
As a result of that plan, a dish washing job which would have seemed to most like a frustrating, dead-end job, now became merely a stepping stone to his dream career. Steve got his dish washing job within two weeks.
He could tolerate it because he knew it was temporary. He knew his destination.
Over the years I’ve found this to be true for myself and for a lot of other people. You will be amazed at what you can tolerate if you know it’s temporary and if you see it as a stepping stone to your big dream.
After just a few weeks in that dish washing job, Steve was smiling every day in class. He was excited to tell us about what he was learning and the people he was meeting.
Steve moved into transitional housing not long after getting his job. Within a year, he got promoted to prep chef and I took him to buy his uniforms.
It was a proud day for both of us.
I ran into Steve right before I left Cleveland. He was still working as a prep chef but the restaurant owner encouraged him to go to culinary school and he was enrolled for the fall semester.
His life had completely changed in just a year and a half.
All because he was able to dream big.
How to dream big no matter what obstacles are in your way
If you feel like you have more to offer the world than what you’re doing right now, it’s time to dream big.
Close your eyes and picture what you’d like to be doing. Don’t let yourself worry about money, time, kids, bills, or health issues that might stand in your way.
What would you do if all those obstacles were gone?
Maybe it’s not a job or career, maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is write it down. Describe how it would feel to be doing that thing.
That’s your big dream.
Can you see yourself? Can you imagine how life could be different once you get to your big dream?
Now create your path
Now, this part is harder. Just like I did with Steve, you need to think about what you need to do to get from where you are now to that big dream. Make a list.
Maybe you need education, training, or to learn how to better use technology. If you don’t know what’s required for you to accomplish your dream, do some research and find out.
Think about how other people get started. Steve knew he couldn’t just walk into a restaurant and be a chef. There are steps he had to do first and those steps take some time. Figure out where you need to start and then what you need to do to start there. Steve couldn’t start culinary school right away, his priority was a job so he could get housing and pay his bills. Survival.
The dish washing job helped him do that and it helped him gain experience and learn more about the inner workings of the restaurant industry. Every day he went to that dish washing job, he was learning and gaining experience.
If you can’t find someone to pay you while you learn the skills that are required, volunteer in exchange for learning the skills you need. Work another job if money and survival is a pressing priority for you.
Start small and create a path of stepping stones to help you dream big.
Just like Steve, before you know it, you’ll look up from that path and find you’re close than you ever thought you could be!
One trick from the 1950’s that you must use in your modern business to avoid failure.
It may come as a surprise to you that a process to set smart goals which originated in the 1950’s could still be effective in your modern writing career or business.
But believe it or not, without this one technique, your business is setup for failure.
The SMART process of goal setting became well-known in the education arena thanks in part to the extensive Professional Learning Community work by Rick and Becky DeFour.
But the concept of SMART goals was originally associated with Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management (1954). Fifteen years before I was born! I first heard about Peter Drucker, when I was an Elementary Education major in 1988.
In the 1990’s, SMART goals was a popular trend for adult learning curriculum to enhance accountability and productivity.
This meant, throughout my decade as a community education instructor, certified life skills facilitator, and program coordinator at the college, the SMART goals process was an ever present focus for me.
Now, SMART goals are used in just about every phase of life, including healthcare, fitness, counseling/therapy, manufacturing, agriculture, HR/recruiting, big business, marketing, and so many others.
What Are SMART Goals?
It should come as no surprise then that SMART goals can be effective for writers and small business owners.
There have been several versions or variations of SMART goals over the decades but for most people SMART goals are ones that are:
S-pecific (clearly identified or defined) M-easurable (something quantifiable that can be monitored, counted, and tracked) A-chievable (under your control or influence) R-ealistic or Relevant (a stretch from current status but not too much) T-imely (they have a deadline or due date)
SMART Goals for Writers
As a writer, it can be very motivating to set and meet an annual income goal but you can take that one step further and set SMART goals for your writing business. These will help you to not only meet your income goal, but will help you to know what your next steps should be.
SMART goals guide the decisions you make for your business at any given point.
You can create SMART goals for your own business. Think about what your goal is for your business for the year. Do you want to launch a course? Or start a YouTube channel? Maybe you know you need to build your email list or launch a website or start a blog.
Whatever your goal is, write it down on a piece of paper.
Make it Specific
Now look at your goal and make sure it’s specific. Will you know when it’s accomplished? Is it something concrete you can do?
Here’s an example:
Goal: I want to build my email list.
Specific Goal: I want to double the number of subscribers on my email list.
Make it Measurable
Now that you have a specific goal, you need to make sure it’s something that you can measure.
It’s important to be able to monitor your progress and see that you are moving closer to your goal.
Measurable Goal: I want to build my email list from 100 people to 1,000 people.
Make it Achievable
Now that you have a measurable goal, you need to make sure it’s a goal you can achieve.
What is required to start your goal? Who will you enlist to help you? Is it doable and under your control?
I want to build my email list to 1,000 people and to do that I need to take an email marketing course, for example.
I used it about six months ago to set a goal for myself of replacing my fixed income with my writing income by December 2020. I’m halfway to meeting that goal already! By the way if you’re not already in the Ninja Writers club, I highly recommend it.
If your current email list is 100, it’s probably not realistic to set a goal of 100,000 in a year. But a goal of 1,000 in six months might be totally realistic for you.
Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s something you have control over and can realistically get done using your own efforts.
Make Your Goals Timely
The last piece of the puzzle for SMART goal planning is the T for Timely. This means giving yourself a deadline to accomplish your goal. By setting a deadline, you give yourself that little push needed to keep you from procrastinating.
This is especially important for writers who are self-employed. Set a deadline and stick to it.
Break big goals into smaller, sub-goals and give those deadlines too.
If you find you’re having trouble making progress toward your goals, it can help to post them on display where you will see them often throughout the day. It can also help to get an accountability partner or group to help you stay on track and keep you motivated.
Now that you’ve got the idea, I can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year!
Plus the two things you must get right when you self-publish.
I just had a conversation recently with a client about self-publishing. I’ll admit I’m not a book marketer. I’m not a self-publishing expert. But I’m a working writer who studied the self-publishing industry extensively when I wanted to self-publish my own novel.
In fact, at one point I wanted to be a book marketer and help other authors get their books seen by the right readers.
That is, until I researched self-publishing and learned how many things can tank book sales, if you don’t get it right from the start.
During my research over several years, I learned a lot about the self publishing industry. I also studied related topics so when I did self-publish, I would know what questions to ask to choose the best service.
In the process I learned a lot about what not to do when self-publishing.
The two things you must get right.
You absolutely cannot afford to get the genre of your novel wrong. There are very specific elements to many genres and sub-genres. If you get this wrong, people who love your genre of book won’t find it, which can mean low sales, if any.
Those who find your book in the wrong category, may hate it. If they are looking for cozy mystery and you give them horror, for example. At the least they will feel dissatisfied or deceived, which can result in bad reviews.
Your book cover is your only chance in most cases at a first impression on potential readers. I know that every genre and sometimes sub genre of book also has standard design elements for the cover. When it come to font, style of drawing, even color combinations, you have to get these elements right if you want to attract fans of your genre.
Get the design of your book cover wrong and you make a bad first impression.
Readers won’t even see your perfect blurb, your amazing hook, or that engaging first chapter because they never click on your cover.
Know what service your expert can and cannot offer.
Because technology has made the process of self publishing so much easier, many, many people have begun designing book covers, and offering self-publishing services, or book marketing services.
Not everyone is trying to run a scam. Some folks are simply trying to earn a living doing book cover design, something they’ve discovered they’re good at. They have that eye for visual design and produce great looking covers.
Others are trying to make money using their skill in technology to convert a manuscript in Word into an e-book in Kindle, Mobi, or some other format. The conversion of a manuscript into this format can be a frustrating thing to learn, so many authors would rather just pay someone to do it for them. Many of those offering design services are highly experienced in their craft.
Technical skill and publishing industry knowledge don’t always align.
But someone who is phenomenal with book design might not have the knowledge about the importance of those genre elements of cover design. They may give you exactly the book cover design you want, without realizing it’s the wrong design for your genre and will tank your sales. So it’s up to you, as the author, to know what the design elements are right for your genre and make sure they are in your cover design.
If you are considering self publishing a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, make sure you do your homework first. It’s your responsibility to know about genre, cover design, and the actual publishing process. It’s perfectly fine to pay someone else to do the tasks you don’t want to master. But the more you know, the better questions you can ask when you are vetting those experts.
For solid information on cover design, marketing, and the self publishing process, I turned to YouTube and found Derek Murphy of CreativIndie. I’m not affiliated with him in any way, I just feel he knows a lot about the industry, has experience, and is sincere in trying to provide the best information about self publishing he can.
If you’re going to self-publish, give your book a fair shot by making sure you choose the right experts for each part of the process.