How I Advanced My Writing Career This Week

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In December, I wrote about how I planned to be a better writer in 2015. Since it’s been a little more than a month since that post, I decided to check in with myself to see what type of progress I’ve made. I didn’t expect to hit every area on my list in two weeks, but I’d say I’ve gotten off to a pretty good start.

Here are 4  steps I took to advance my writing career:

Pitched two outlets. Last year, I was a total slacker on pitching. After I landed a couple of steady gigs, I got comfortable, which was a huge mistake. Then on top of that, I missed out on a major opportunity that I might write about once I’ve rectified that situation, but for now, I’ll keep it cute and put it on mute.

With pitching though, the entire process is a pain in the ass, but the bottom line is if I don’t pitch and land bylines,  I don’t earn money. Since one of my goals is to double my freelance income this year, I must abandon my cozy my comfort zone . Hopefully, I’ll land another byline soon.
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10 Questions Tag

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My blogger friend Drea from The Drea Daily was kind enough to nominate me to participate in the 10 Questions Tag, which gives me the chance to answer 10 random questions she posed. I’m super excited that she tagged me because it’s a fun and quick way to discover a little more about bloggers outside of normal posts and to give other bloggers a little shine.

Here are my responses to Drea’s questions below:

1.  Favorite TV series?

A Different World. Pretty much any episode of that show can boost my mood. I’ve been known to walk around my house wailing at the top of my lungs, trying to emulate the operatic singing in this clip that begins at 2:43:

2.  Least favorite aspect of blogging?
I suppose what I enjoy least about it applies to writing in general and that is the process of creating. I’m SUPER slow at writing my posts. Sometimes I’ll start an idea and before I know it’s 2 am and I’m nowhere near finished.

3.  Favorite phone app?

It’s not necessarily my favorite, but Twitter is the one I use most. My smartphone is so underutilized.

4. Your worst/most embarrassing habit?

Allowing my anxiety to consume me.
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Did Your Vision Board Work? 2014 in Review

vision boardAnnual assessments have always been routine for me. The only issue is they typically leave me bemoaning the days I wasted and wishing for a time-machine to put the past 365 days to better use. However, there was a major shift this year in my attitude that propelled me to make a vision board in January.

I’d heard people discussing vision boards before, and while I’ve always been one of those people who make new year’s resolutions, it still sounded like some pseudo-spiritual propaganda. Like, really? All I gotta do is tack my goals to a board and they’ll magically manifest? Mkay.

After giving it a little more thought, I realized that a vision board simply reinforces the fact that people tend to be drawn to things they want.  If a late-night Wendy’s commercial can lure folks to the drive-thru, why can’t a board that advertises personal dreams and goals essentially do the same thing?

HAS IT WORKED FOR ME?

Well, the better question is whether I’ve allowed it to work for me. 2013 ended on sort of a high note professionally, but personally it was one of the darkest, lowest moments of my life.  Therefore, I decided that 2014 had to be better.

I had a ton of stuff on my board, but here a few successes I had this year that really stood out for me:
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6 Reasons To Read Your Published Articles

During a conversation with my pitch partner Andrea from Be-Quoted a few months ago, we were discussing an article she’d successfully pitched when she revealed that she rarely reads her published pieces. As a result, I told her that I could build a case for my opinion that writers (new writers, in particular) should make a regular practice of reading their published articles. Now, while I will admit that I haven’t read every single one of my live articles, I still think writers can benefit from regularly reading the final, edited versions of their work.

Scrolling Twitter one evening, I came across some tweets from Julia Beverly, formerly of Ozone Magazine. She’s currently writing a book about the life of the late UGK rapper Pimp-C and has been discussing the process online.

As enthusiastic as she seems about her upcoming project, in the same breath Beverly candidly admitted that she more than likely would not be reading this book upon its completion. Merely revising articles can sometimes feel like a mild form of mental torture, so I can’t say I necessarily blame her for already planning to pass on reading her own book before she’s even written the last word.

The reality is Beverly is a certified OG in the writing/publishing industry, so she can totally afford to give her published work the cold shoulder. But for less established writers, I feel there are good reasons to read those published articles:

It allows you to learn from your mistakes.

Based on the changes I’ve seen from my editors, I’ve been able to identify problem areas and even managed to make some improvement without having my weaknesses explicitly highlighted.

Once, I received a group email from editors who advised the writers on the correct way of citing images. I realized I hadn’t been doing it the right way, but that could’ve been avoided if I took the time to at least skim over some of my previously published pieces, or better yet, pay more attention to my style guide! In that situation, I got two lessons in one.

Learn your editors’ style.

Not all editors are created equal. That means that depending on who you write for, there may be little to no difference between the piece you submitted and the published article. Other times, the final article may not resemble anything in your original piece. It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to lose your voice while trying to do the piece justice, but unless it’s your blog, an op-ed or a pub that  has extremely lax guidelines, the publication’s voice and style ultimately trump yours.

This is why I think it’s best to try and pay attention to the editors’ changes to see what you can pick up on.  That may mean writing “stuff” when you really want to write “shit,” or leaving out something you think is hilarious and clever (more on that later).
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Becoming a Better Writer in 2015

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This year I’ve made leaps and bounds when it comes to writing, but I still have many miles to go before I arrive at what I’ll call my optimum writer status. Truth be told, I have no interest in being the perfect scribe (whatever that may be), but I definitely have some room for improvement.

Here’s how I plan to be a better writer in 2015:

SUPPORT OTHER WRITERS MORE

I get so caught up in the stresses of creating that a lot of times when I’m done filing articles, I haphazardly tweet the links and log the hell off my computer. In those moments, I don’t want to read another headline, blog post, or article because I’ve been fully immersed in them for hours at a time and my eyes and brain just can’t take anymore. But beginning now and throughout 2015, I plan to devote more time to reading, sharing and commenting on other writers’ work, especially those who are just starting out, or those whose work I truly admire.

ENGAGE MORE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Someone one posed the question, “What does your social media presence say about you?” I’ll be the first to admit that mine isn’t very reflective of who I am.  In reality, I thrive in social settings and am at my best when I have some food, drink and good company. However, I’m old school and social media is just so…OPEN. I can’t properly convey what I’m feeling, but I haven’t gotten comfortable with putting my fleeting, uncensored thoughts and beliefs out there for the masses to consume and share. Whenever I do, it’s followed by so much self-scrutiny and anxiety that sometimes I’m tempted to delete my account altogether. Anyway, it sounds insane but it’s the truth.  But the fact is,  I need to be more engaging online. While it’s still awkward for me, it feels much better to actually interact with people instead of simply seeing their tweets float by on your timeline daily without having a clue what they’re about outside of some random tweets or blog links.  I joined to put myself out there (plus, there are work requirements), but I realize I’m doing myself and other writers who look for support a major disservice by being a hermit online.
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The 8 Most Common Excuses I Use Not to Blog

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Well, this is embarrassing—and that statement has absolutely nothing to do with Firefox failing to load all my tabs. I hate that it’s come to this, but if I have to put myself on front street just to get shit done, then so be it. Within the past hour, I’ve created two drafts (three if you count this post) in which I began a blog but didn’t see either of them through to completion.

This process of creating a bunch of possible blog posts and then leaving them to rot in draft hell isn’t a new pattern for me. It’s a bad habit I formed and haven’t quite been able to shake. The reasoning behind this pesky tendency can’t be narrowed down into one word, but I figure if I just write it down in a list, perhaps it can help me avoid my addiction to creating drafts and encourage me to write, edit and hit publish already!  Furthermore, I hope it’ll encourage any other bloggers who, like myself, can come up with 99 reasons why they shouldn’t post a blog.

So here it is, in all its unfiltered, shameless glory. The 8 most common excuses I use not to blog:

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4 Reasons My Thanksgiving Was Non-Traditional

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Usually I tend to develop some major anxiety and irritability (read: flip the f*ck out) if my husband and I don’t partake in at least one traditional Thanksgiving activity.  I don’t know why but I just have this thing about formally acknowledging a holiday, which used to pose a problem because my better half isn’t big on celebrating. When we first started dating,  he once called me on Thanksgiving from a Jack in the Box drive-thru. In my opinion, consuming fast food on a holiday is a complete travesty, but he saw nothing wrong with it.

Fortunately,  since then we’ve created a few of our own traditions, but what I most look forward to is him frying a turkey the evening before Thanksgiving. The entire house smells like Cajun spices and it helps to get me in the holiday spirit.

This year’s Thanksgiving was really non-traditional, at least compared to the stereotypical holiday gatherings of tons of rowdy friends and family, excessive amounts of food and cool, gloomy weather. Who knows what kept my meltdown at bay—perhaps it was the aroma of fried turkey or the near-70 degree sunny weather.

Either way, here’s what made my Thanksgiving surprisingly non-traditional:

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Bypass the Burn: 7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

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Ever find yourself barely limping along with what feels like an infinite to-do list stretched out in front of you? Sometimes the end appears like a mirage in the desert, wavering in the distance. You’re approaching something alright, but unfortunately it’s not the finish line. It’s burnout, which is oftentimes unrecognizable by those whom it afflicts until it arrives in the form of depression, loss of motivation, insomnia, alcohol or substance abuse and a host of additional health-related consequences. If you feel like you’re literally teetering on the brink of sanity, a bout with burnout may be in your near future.

Here are 7 ways to avoid burnout:

Morning rituals: Instead of doing the equivalent of jump-starting your brain by rolling over and checking your email or Twitter feed, consider easing into your day with a morning ritual like meditation or sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, or partake in one of these activities that make mornings less sucky.

Take a break: This might sound obvious, but according to a recent Forbes article that states only 25 percent of Americans take their paid vacation, routinely taking breaks is apparently something a large portion of the population struggles to implement into their lives. In a society that’s all #TeamNoSleep #Grindin’ and other ridiculous hashtag lifestyles that promote excessive work over one’s well-being, it’s easy to fall into that trap of constant work. It’s OK to be motivated to reach a goal, but allowing your mind and body to take a break is less of a hindrance to success than having that body and mind break down in the process. Whether you seek respite from the daily grind by taking a weeklong Caribbean cruise or a brisk 15-minute walk around the block, regularly scheduled breaks are essential to avoiding burnout.

Establish and enforce boundaries: Typically, people who are prone to burnout have an issue with setting limits. Before they realize it they’ve committed themselves to 30 hours of work in one day, which obviously spells disaster. To this I say, exploit the power of saying no. Say no to squeezing in that extra assignment, helping a friend on your only off day or just stretching yourself too thin in general. Prioritize by using a list of wants versus needs and talk it over with someone you trust to make sure you stay on track.

 

Read this rest of this article over at ClutchMagOnline.

Image: Dskley/Flickr

Fighting Through [Random Writing Rant]

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Me right now. Except I’m a brown-haired black chick who hates pink and was too lazy to look for another photo.

Right now I’m supposed to be writing a couple of articles, but all day long I’ve done everything but the tasks at hand and now it’s nearing midnight and I’m not any closer to finishing than I was this morning.  To my credit, I woke up early with the intention of researching, outlining, writing and then submitting the articles, but something happened along the way. What was it? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing.

Today I’ve helped a friend edit a pitch, shopped for groceries, skimmed Twitter, watched TV, wasted hours on YouTube and that’s about it. Nothing really productive…and I didn’t even exercise (I’ve been on a roll with that lately, but that’s another story).

So now it’s 20 minutes until midnight, I’ve got to complete these two articles before sunrise and I have a specific shift I work tomorrow for a different publication.  I write all this not with a point in mind, but just to show that even when you have work and you are doing something you “love” and “have a passion for,” the struggle is still incredibly real. This shit isn’t easy and it’s certainly not glamorous. And we won’t even go into the insanely low amount of money I stand to earn after all of this mental grief.

Oh yeah, I forgot to say what I’ve done to try and thwart the intense procrastination that’s settled inside of me.  I started by opening a bazillion tabs related to the subject of my article.  That led me to YouTube because I thought music would set me at ease.  That led me to watching interviews of music artists and basically down a black Internet hole.  So then I thought, wow it’s a beautiful day and for some reason mid-afternoon hours between 2 and 4 pm are my absolute favorite and I feel like I must venture outside. More accurately, it kills me if I’m not outside.  This is what led me to the impromptu grocery store trip. I thought getting outside would help me. I’ve spent a lot of time holed up in the house lately, working pretty much every day. But getting out only worsened this procrastination.
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All Family Isn’t Good Family

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For Memorial Day, I went out of town to visit my family and returned home feeling frustrated. Being around relatives can do that to you sometimes, but this time was different.

A while back, I came to the conclusion that some of my family members suck. But I just continued to deal with them in small doses and figured that the unaddressed tension between us could be managed because I live far away and our interactions are generally limited to holidays, weddings and funerals.

But as it turns out, those interactions proved to be too much this weekend. So I’ve decided that certain individuals who share my lineage are a complete waste of my time and effort and I’m done being related to them.  Yes, just like that, I decided. And so it is.

People say, “Family is forever,” and “blood is thicker than water,”  but it also takes two to tango, so if they don’t value our relationship, then why should I? For far too long, I’ve held on to this idealistic vision that one day they would recognize how fortunate they are to have extended family. Oh what a joy it would be if they actually cared enough to ask how I’m doing and wait on a response before moving on to another subject. And it would be really cool if they were interested in building a bond with me that goes farther than me traveling to visit them a few times a year. Maybe we could actually be friends, share experiences and have a reciprocal relationship filled with compassion, concern and respect. Continue reading