“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” – Pablo Neruda
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.” – Annie Prouix
As a freelance writer, It’s normal to deal with uncertainty, especially when you’re first starting out. But even as an experienced writer, of the questions I’ve perennially struggled to answer is:
Why do some of my drafts come back almost clean (or get no edits at all) while others get torn apart?
I’ve concluded that some of it probably has to do with editing style: Some editors are simply more heavy-handed than others.
But still, there are those instances where you think you’ve nailed it, only to receive extensive edits back from your client. What’s going on there?
Something like this happened to me recently, and I realized it had everything to do with my process, not with the editor. After turning in a draft on the day it was due, I received a reply from my client, remarking that the piece was well-written, but needed more work. The editor asked me to make some changes and graciously gave me several days to make them.
Over the next few days, and with fresh eyes, I dug back into the story and realized, beyond the editor’s comments, how lacking the story was as I’d originally written it. It was missing some key ideas the editor had asked me to cover in the original assignment meeting and the whole thing just didn’t hang together. Ouch.
I set to work making it right, re-writing paragraphs wholesale and moving others around for flow. I added new transitions and even some new pertinent subject matter. I found a new study to cite in my piece and interviewed a few new subjects. By the time I was done with draft 2, I had a much better story.
So what was the problem with the original draft?
The problem was, it was the original draft.
I handed in my first draft instead of allowing myself time to re-work it. And that’s always a mistake.
Any experienced writer will tell you that it’s rarely, if ever, OK to hand in your first draft.
Even the best writers need time and space to revise. Need convincing? Consider what Ernest Hemingway said on the subject:
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
If Hemingway needed re-writing, so do the rest of us. And sure, we may be able to get by with handing something in on the first draft from time to time, especially when the story is easy (I call those one-and-dones; one source, one interview, one draft). But eventually, last-minute writing will catch up with us.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, this is yet another reason why I’ve resolved to give myself a week to revise a first draft before handing it in. It’ll be difficult. I’ll have to be a lot quicker with my front-end reporting and transcribing. I’ll have to motivate myself to write a big, long story even when the deadline is still a week away. But I think I can do it, and I’ll bet the freelance farm on the fact that my editors will be happy with the results.
Have you learned a key lesson about writing recently? Did you find an error in this post that could have been caught if I’d given myself more time to revise? What are you wearing? Come on, just drop a comment already!
I don’t know why it took so long for me to learn this lesson, but I want to pass it on to you in the hopes that you’ll catch on sooner than I did. Trust me, if you follow this one rule of thumb, you’ll save so much angst:
Draft your story at least one week ahead of the due date.
I’m actually quite the planner and I don’t like to work under pressure. So each time I get a new story assignment, I set up a schedule for its production. I create a new project folder in my good ‘ol Omni Focus program. Then, I set up due dates for the important internal stuff, such as scheduling interviews, transcribing, writing and, finally, handing the piece in.
But there’s one process I have never factored in to my timeline before: Revising. That’s right:
In the ten years that I’ve been writing professionally, I’ve never factored in more than a day to write that first draft.
The thing is, a lot of unnecessary pain ensued as a result. No matter how hard I tried, without scheduling in revision time, I almost always ended up writing stories on the day they were due: getting up somewhere in the 5 a.m. or even 4 a.m. time frame to begin the work, battling mental exhaustion and writer’s block by 10 a.m., getting my second wind by 1 p.m. and finishing sometime between 6 p.m and 8 p.m. What a miserable day!
It wasn’t good for my clients, either. Recently, I got a gracious reply from an editor at 7 p.m. on a Friday, thanking me for having just turned in a story. That got me thinking: Even though editors rarely specify what time they want the copy in on the day it’s due, it can’t be fun for them to stick around on their mobile devices, even after leaving work and possibly settling in to dinner with their friends and families, still checking in to make sure the copy due to them by some freelancer actually came in before the stroke of midnight.
I realized that starting late meant misery for me and amounted to bad client management, too.
My solution: Start a week early. That way, I can ensure that the writing process is much less painful for me and and I’m handing in the piece at a much more convenient time for my clients.
I have two new projects on the books, and I’ve scheduled draft 1 to be written ahead of time. Something always comes up, so wish me luck in meeting my goal.
Are you a procrastinator? A get-it-done early type? Have you successfully kicked your procrastination habit? Drop me a comment and tell me all about it.
… when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.” - Andrew Wyeth
I want you to know that I’m not good at networking. Not at all.
When I read an article I think is brilliant, I may be compelled to contact the writer and say “thanks” or offer a comment, but I hardly ever do it. When I wonder about whether or not a career move I’m making, large or small, is advisable, I sit and ponder it on my own for days without seeking advice from a colleague. If I’m invited to an out-of-town networking event, I’ll dwell on the negatives: the amount of time spent driving, the money spent on gas and the time doing other valuable things (like, say, spending the evening curled up on the couch with my husband and the dogs) that I’ll lose. And I almost never, and I mean never, have a business card on-hand when someone asks for one.
Networking doesn’t come easily to me, though I know and admire others to whom it does. I have colleagues who are natural room-workers, floating in and out of conversations with acumen. These are usually the same people who who regularly and generously introduce contacts to one another in the hope that the relationship will result in mutual benefit. It almost always does.
Though I don’t possess inherent networking skills, I’ve learned that I can still network successfully, and so can you. Here’s how:
1. If you’re invited, go.
If someone values your presence enough to extend an invitation to a networking event, you should go. It means the inviter thinks you have something meaningful to contribute to the conversations that will take place. Trust that you do and RSVP with a resounding “Y-E-S.”
2. Wear your name tag.
I’m continually surprised at how many people at networking events don’t make and wear name tags, even when the option and materials are offered. It’s like we’re all still operating under some sort of social rule we learned in the 4th grade that mandates we not wear name tags for fear of being uncool. Name tags are the quickest way for those looking for you (your inviter, for instance) to find you. And the easiest way for someone to strike up a conversation with you is to ask you about the company you represent. So include both your name and your company name on that little sticker, and post it with pride.
3. Break in gracefully.
One of the most tricky situations at any networking event is breaking into group conversations, especially if the convo is in a closed circle. According to Jodi Glickman, author of “Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It and the Secrets of Getting Ahead,” it’s OK to make your intentions known. She advises networkers to briefly make eye contact with someone in the circle before introducing themselves and asking to join the group discussion. Once you’re in, wait a bit and let the conversation flow before asking a question. Check out Glickman’s full post on breaking into conversations gracefully here.
4. Don’t bulldoze the speaker.
I’ve seen too many people try ineffectively to get a speaker’s attention at a conference by approaching them afterword and immediately launching into their own business dreams and goals. If you’re able to get the speaker’s attention, even in a sea of eager admirers, simply offer a handshake and a note of thanks for their great talk. Don’t offer a card. Instead, follow up a day or so later with a personal email that contains links to your web site, blog or other info at the bottom. Recall the talk and, if appropriate, ask a question related to the talk. If you’re able to start a dialogue, great! Maintain the relationship by touching base again in a few weeks’ time. But always have a reason for doing so, and make your communication quick and worth the read.
5. Pay it back and pay it forward.
Truly great networkers have mastered the art of being gracious. I’ve received some of the most thoughtful emails and have had some of my most meaningful career conversations with individuals who appear to be the busiest and most important on paper. I’m always flattered that someone with an incredible amount of their own work to do will take the time out to dialogue with me. So no matter how busy you think you are, you owe it to others to share your valuable expertise and advice, too. Make time to answer contact emails as best, thoughtfully and thoroughly as you can. And when you’re initiating the communication, keep it short and sweet.
6. Follow up.
Always email the host of a networking event the next day with a “great to meet you” or “thanks for inviting me” note. Contact any others with whom you’ve had a memorable conversation and let them know you’d like to keep in touch. If you have a solution for them that arose out of the previous evening’s conversation, such as a referral to another person that may help them in their business venture, suggest making an introduction. However, don’t include two people on an introduction email without running the connection by them first. You don’t want to put anyone on the spot.
7. Touch base when it makes sense.
I like to touch base with interviewees, clients and colleagues on social media when appropriate. For example, if I’ve just had a great interview with a source, I might tweet out a note of thanks (if the tone of the article is non-confrontational and not a review, of course) and include a mention of the publication I’m writing the story for. I might mention colleagues in a Facebook post I think they’d be especially interested in. I routinely thank Twitter followers for mentions and retweets and let clients know when I’ve mentioned them in a social media post. Sometimes, if I think it covers a topic I know he or she is interested in, I’ll email a colleague directly with a link to my latest blog post.
8. Don’t forget your card.
You never know when you’ll run into someone who’s interested in striking up a business dialogue or relationship. So keep a handful of business cards in your purse, pocket or wallet at all times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met an interesting individual who asked for my card and I was caught, to my embarrassment, without one.
9. “Fake it till you become it.”
In an incredible TED Talk last year, social psychologist Amy Cuddy described the physical effects of body language in shaping our feelings about our selves and others and how those feelings shape the power dynamic in any given situation. The way we sit and stand, she said, actually affects the hormone response in our bodies that cause us to feel more or less powerful and confident. She suggested holding a “power pose” for two minutes before entering into a high-stress situation (for me, a networking event definitely constitutes one of those) in order to shape our feelings and actions positively during the event. In other words, she advised us, when feeling our most powerless, to “fake it till we become it.” Try it! I’ve used this technique before networking events and it worked for me. Check out the full talk and a further exploration of Cuddy’s power poses here.
10. Be patient.
Remember: Networking success doesn’t happen overnight and neither do the results of a good networking experience. It may take several months, or even years, of relationship building before the connection results in a tangible benefit, but it’s worth the patience and persistence. And it’s not just about connecting with someone that may hire you later or recommend you for a top contract. A recent article published by Psychology Today states that networking fosters creativity, exposes individuals to people with diverse skill sets and helps knowledge spread. And of course, there are all of the stimulating and inspirational conversations that can be had when people who are passionate about their careers get together. Trust me, these kinds of experiences are worth the maintenance and the wait.
What tricks do you use to network successfully? Drop me a comment. I’d love to hear about it.