Saturday, January 12, 2013

7 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Procrastination

©Stuart Mills (

When I first had children, I thought that they’d slow down my writing career.  And so they have. But in some respects, they’ve done wonders for it.  

Having kids has made me a far more efficient writer. I used to be a big-time procrastinator. But when you only have 2 or 3 hours a day to work, you tend to get to the heart of things fast. There’s no time to waste staring at a blank page or revising the same sentence twenty times or checking the refrigerator to see if some new, interesting food has miraculously appeared.  It’s Butt in Chair, fingers flying, until someone starts crying. 

But as my children grew older and started school, things started to change.  I had more time on my hands and guess what? I didn’t always use them wisely.  Now, my youngest son just started school full-time, and so for the first time in more than five years, I have about 6 (count ‘em! 6!) consecutive hours a day that I can devote to work.  

Those extra three hours a day seem like an ocean of time...and oh, I see the dangers already. So, to keep myself on-track, I’ve set out here certain anti-procrastination techniques that have been effective in the past.

Care to give these a try? 

1. Make the 15-minute promise. Pick the highest priority task on your list - especially the one you most dread doing - and vow that you’ll work on it for 15 minutes.  Promise yourself that you can stop after 15 minutes have passed you can stop, but until then you’ll give it your all. Most of the time,  once you get started, you’ll keep going.  That 15 minute bump is all that’s needed to get you over the hump of procrastination.  (This is also a great trick for house-cleaning.)

2. Make a To-Do List.  It may seem obvious but making a daily to-do list every single morning can help prevent procrastination.  Seeing all the things you need to do written down can be a great motivator, as is the satisfaction gained from crossing each item off your list. Remember to always put the most important items on your list first - maybe even bold them or put them in a different color.  

3. Eliminate Distractors.  Oh, it’s hard to stay away from that wicked temptress known as the Internet.  So, when I do need the internet for a particular project and want to make sure I’m concentrating, I seek out a location where the Internet simply isn’t available.  Yes, I know great internet blocking software is available but getting out is a good excuse to work in a different environment. (In other words, not Starbucks.)  If Wifi isn’t your biggest distractor, figure out what it is and eliminate it.  Ringing phone? Put it on silent.  Tempted by what’s on the tube? Put a large note on your TV screen saying something like “how does surfing the channels cost?” or place the remotes somewhere so inconvenient, you feel ridiculous seeking them out.  

4. Avoid Taking On Hateful Projects.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  Last spring, responding to an editor’s request, I pitched an idea that I wasn’t enthusiastic about at all.  The editor accepted the pitch (that figures) and gave me an open deadline. Oh how I struggled to write the piece. Not because it was difficult but because it just wasn’t that interesting to me. I must have wasted several hours dragging my feet on the research and writing – hours that could have been used on other paying assignments.  While I don’t have the financial luxury to be wild about every single project that comes my way, I did vow never to inflict such pain on myself again. Well, unless the financial or career rewards are simply too good to resist.

5. Get an Anti-Procrastination Buddy.  Do you have a friend or colleague to whom you can faithfully swear that you’ll get X, Y,  and Z done within a particular amount of time and will hold you accountable if you don’t? Or who’s can give you an firm but inspiring pep talk when you find yourself wandering off-track?  I have a buddy like this and she’s priceless. 

6. Bribe yourself.  It’s an old standby but it works.  I have often promised myself some culinary reward (usually almond ice cream) for finishing a project or task.  It’s effective, though - the way I do it - not too healthy.  Maybe it’s a better idea to reward yourself with a long, hot bath...a good run...20 minutes on Wii...whatever will spur you to get the job done.  You don’t even have to wait until the completion of a project. Try setting up mini-rewards for finishing difficult paragraph or sending an email that you’ve been putting off. 

7. Declutter.  Maintaining a messy desk or computer is an especially insidious way of promoting procrastination.  There’s always the temptation to clean it up, which seems like it’s not procrastination because it feels like you’re doing something productive.  And even if you don’t clean it up, there’s often something on a cluttered desk or computer to distract you. Just declutter.  Take an hour to clean all that extra crap of your desk or computer once and for all, and watch your productivity increase.  

What techniques do you use to stop procrastinating?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Top Freelance Writing Resolutions for 2013

Happy New Year writers!  I hope we all have a happy, healthy productive year in which many of our freelance writing dreams come true!

I was thinking of what New Year’s Writing Resolutions I should make this year and decided to take a look at last year’s resolutions to get some insight. In short, this is what I resolved:

  • To keep my freelancing fears in perspective
  • To stare my technophobia in the far
  • To invest in my business as needed
  • To network more
  • To firmly believe that I will meet every goal on my New Year’s list.

Overall, I think I did pretty well. I was very good about confronting my fears, and I definitely didn’t hesitate to invest in my business.  I was okay about networking, though I’d have done more if I had more time.  And even though I didn’t meet every goal on my New Year’s list, I remained confident that I could had I tried.  Sadly, I am as technophobic and illiterate as ever, but, well, you can’t do everything in one year.  It’s definitely on the list again for this year. 

In terms of resolutions, all of these are keepers (though perhaps I should be more selective about how I invest in my business - some investments were worth it, but a few I should have skipped.)  But there’s certainly new resolutions I should make.  And so here’s what I resolve this year:

1. To specialize.   Last year, as part of my investments, I hired a copywriting coach, Chris Marlow, who has convinced me of the need to specialize.  As she points out, just because you specialize doesn’t mean that you only have to do that one kind of work -- or that you can’t change your specialty later.  

But specializing makes sense: it establishes you as an expert in particular area and, when you do it right, makes it easier for your target audience to find you  

This year, I will work on developing a specialty in copywriting for law firms, lawyers and the legal industry. 

2. To be a faster writer.  Since I’ve become a freelancer, it’s never been more clear to me that time is money.  I don’t dither and sweat over my writing nearly as much as I used to (it’s embarrassing to admit but early in my freelance career, I was such a perfectionist freak it sometimes took 2-3 hours to write a simple 100-word piece), but I know can still do better. 

This year, I will not let perfectionism or, more accurately, fear, slow down production.

3. To write every single day.  How often have you spent the entire day working, only to realize, as you step away from the computer, that you haven’t actually written a thing, save an email or three?  Happens to me far too often.

Naturally we freelance writers must do all those non-writing activities that it takes to sustain our business, but we mustn’t let these things overshadow our true passion.  

Only writing (and reading) improves our writing. From good writing comes more interesting gigs, better pay, and greater self-confidence and pride.  There’s really no excuse for not making this, career-wise, a number one priority.

This year, I will write every single day, even if it’s a short blog post or private journal entry. 

What freelancing resolutions did you make this year? How’d you do last year? 

** (Photo courtesy of

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Want to write a nonfiction book in one month?

Today marks the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a month in which fiction writers double-down and attempt to write a  50,000 word (or more) novel during the 30 days of November.  Participates officially sign up on the NaNoWriMo website and submit their manuscript at the end of November to get the word-count checked.

As a non-fiction writer, I've always been a wistful witnessing the enthusiasm and community spirit of the would-be novelists participating in NaNoWriMo.  I mean - I love it!  Trying to complete a novel in one month?  That's inspired! 

But there's no need for envy.

Yesterday, while reading the Writer’s Sherpa blog, I was excited to learn that there is also a NaNonFiWriMo challenge going on.  Anyone who accepts this challenge will do his or her best to complete any work of non-fiction by the end of this month. 

Unlike our novelist counterparts, we non-fiction writers don’t have to meet a word count or officially enter a competition. And it doesn’t matter if you already started writing the piece prior to November.  This a personal writing challenge, pure and simple.  The only prize is the deep satisfaction of having completed a non-fiction writing goal. 

As a bonus, Nina Amir, the author who started NaNonFiWriMo, is offering 30 days of blog posts from top writing experts offering tips on writing non-fiction and how to get that work published. You can read more about the NaNonFiWriMo challenge on Nina’s blog.  

I definitely need this kind of fire under my butt to finish my “Kids in Paris” ebook, so count me in! 

Any expat freelancers out there with me?  Let’s help each other to get some serious work done this month!!  Please leave a comment if you are taking up the challenge!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

5 Essential Freelance Writing Resolutions

(© fuzzbones -

Happy New Year!  I love this time of year.  We’ve got all the lovely blank pages of the calendar to fulfill our freelance dreams.  I’m imagining them filled with new clients, exciting projects, and fantastic surprises that I haven’t dared to imagine but that I’m secretly longing for.   

I’ve just returned from vacation, refreshed and excited to start consciously living my new year’s resolutions.  I say ‘consciously’ because these aren’t really new resolutions for me.  Over the past year, I’ve thought about these principles and tried to abide by them, but I never wrote them down.   

Which was dumb.

Writing down your resolutions and goals is as important as defining them in the first place.  Writing not only helps to shape your aims, but solidify them. It gives them body and weight. It gives them power.  They become both engrained in your subconscious and inscribed in the stars.  Even if you later forget about them, I believe that written words will continue to work for you.

(Example: last year, one of my goals was to have two editors contact me with assignments. I had no particular editors in mind.  I didn’t even have any solid relationships with magazine editors at the time. But it was something that I wanted to happen, so I wrote it down. I completely forgot about it until last August when an editor contacted me with a story idea.  And it happened again with a different editor just a few weeks ago in December.  Goal met.) 

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t just to discuss the importance of writing down your resolutions and goals, but to share my resolutions with you.  Resolutions and goals are words that are often used interchangeably but they have different meanings.  A goal is a specific objective to be attained. A resolution is the expression of your determination to do something. As freelancers, I think it’s important to write out both goals and resolutions.  I have captured my goals for this year in the business plan I’ve written for myself, but I am recording my resolutions here with you now:

In 2012, I resolve to:

            1.  Be Fearless
It is impossible to get anywhere as a freelance writer without breaking through your fear.  A week or so ago, I was dithering over a query that I wanted to send to a very high profile publication. I kept postponing hitting send because, well, I was afraid.  Afraid that it wasn’t good enough.  That it was too long.  That I didn’t have the right editor, blah, blah, blah.  Then I read an article in the New York Times about film director Dee Rees’s breakout hit “Pariah,” an amazing coming-of-age story about young black lesbian.

And I thought: Wow.

The director, herself a black lesbian, must have crashed through unimaginable fears, mental barriers and community disapproval to bring herself to write and create this film. What are my fears about sending out this simple pitch in comparison? Nothing.  I hit send without delay. 

This year, I resolve to keep my freelancing fears in perspective.

              2.  Learn
 No one’s ever called me a tech genius, nor is anyone likely to.  I’ve managed to set up simple blogs and have a very basic understanding of HMTL, and know how to apply SEO principles in my writing. Anything more tech-y than that, and I pretend that I don’t really need it or I pay someone to take care of it.  But as a writer today, I need to have more than a fleeting knowledge of technology.  

This year, I resolve to stare my technophobia in the face. 

            3.  Invest
I’m always surprised when small businesses balk at paying professional rates for copywriting services.  From my perspective it seems like such a sensible investment.  And yet, how many times have I glanced at some intriguing course, book, or seminar on writing or freelancing and thought: nah, too expensive?  Just as any entrepreneur must, we freelancers need to spend what it takes to stay on top of our game, market our services, and offer our clients first-rate work.  

This year, I won’t hesitate to invest in my business as needed.  

            4.  Press Some Flesh
How easy it is to sit in my little hidey hole (otherwise known as Starbucks) and conduct all my business networking via email or social media!  I use the fact that I’m an expat – and a mother – as an excuse to stay glued to my computer instead of picking up the phone or going out to meet real people. Totally lame.  Sure, I’m going to have to drink a lot of Red Bull (the energy drink, not the vodka) before hitting an evening networking event here in Paris, but why not?  It’s high time that I spent more effort getting to know the faces of my online communities – wherever they may be. Really, there’s nothing stopping me from attending a writer’s conference in NYC if I plan it well.  

This year, I resolve that people are going to see the face of the Expat Freelancer.

5. Believe 
Is there a freelancer out there who hasn't yet read "The Wealthy Freelancer"?   If you haven't, get thee to Amazon tout de suite.  I've read this book literally to tatters and one of my favorite chapters is the very first, which is called: “Master the Mental Game.”  Here the authors discuss developing the mental toughness every freelancer needs to survive the crests and valleys of our business. While they offer several practical tips and techniques, their number one message is this: Believe in yourself.  Believe in your business.  Believe in your success. You’ll never become a wealthy freelancer if you don’t believe that you can be.  

I love this.  It sounds new age and flighty, but it’s true.  How can anyone live out a dream without first believing the dream to be achievable? 

This year, I resolve to firmly believe that I will meet every goal on my New Year's list.

How about you? What resolutions would you add to this list?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Word Count Limit Got You Down? Try These 6 Editing Tricks

Most of the time, I love being a writer. The brainstorming…the research…that moment when all those random phrases and concepts zinging around my head suddenly settle down and start flowing like a river of hot chocolate. Mmm….

 But you know what I also like?  Editing.  I know that many writers don’t like to edit (and I agree that it’s hard to “kill your darlings,” as Papa Hemmingway says we must) but I find it strangely satisfying, especially if I’m editing to adhere to a word count limit.   It’s like a game:  how tight can I make this story without losing any of its original character or elements?  

One of my proudest moments at this game was when I submitted a 400-word FOB article that had 5 major points (complete with three quotes from different experts), and the editor said – looks great, but can you make it 300 words?  Yikes!  But I did it. I nibbled away 100 words from an already-super tight article without slashing any of the points or deleting my quotes. Really, it’s kinda fun. 
If you’re a writer who dreads whittling away at your beautiful prose for the sake of to satisfy some editorial limit, here are a couple of few tricks that might to make it a bit easier.  

1.       Eliminate prepositions.  Okay, I sound really nerdy - but it thrills me to slash teeny, tiny words such as “of” “in” or “at” from my writing.  It’s like cutting fat from a good piece of meat.   Plus, since prepositions are everywhere, cutting them is an easy way of getting closer to your word count goal. 


Were you the victim of a car rental scam?
Were you a car rental scam victim?

After her husband left, she preferred to stay at home.
After her husband left, she preferred to stay home.

The wildfires in Texas cost the government billions.
The Texas wildfires cost the government billions.

2.       Eliminate “that.”  Most of the time, the word “that” can be deleted from your writing without  impairing the sentence’s meaning. Even though it’s only a single word, you’ll be surprised by often you use it – and how getting rid of it tightens and shortens your piece.  


I think that his wealth made a difference to the jury.
I think his wealth made a difference to the jury.

Being stuck with a bill for damage that you didn’t cause is a nightmare.
Being stuck with a bill for damage you didn’t cause is a nightmare.

3.       Avoid “helping verbs.”   The primary helping verbs are “be” “do” and “have.”  It’s so common to use them in speech that we insert them into our writing without thinking about it.


First, you have to create an account. 
First, create an account.

The customer is always trying to get a discount.
The customer always tries to get a discount.     

The report was prepared by top scientists.
Top scientists prepared the report. **

** A writing bonus! Eliminating the helping verb also forces you to write actively, not passively!

4.       Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary words.  Don’t repeat things needlessly. ‘Nuff said?


He knelt down beside the sobbing child.
He knelt beside the sobbing child.

She couldn’t decide whether or not visit him.
She couldn’t decide whether to visit him.

Top with parmesan cheese.
Top with parmesan.

When shopping at a flea market, look for bargain prices.
When shopping at a flea market, look for bargains. 

5.       Ditch most adjectives and adverbs.  We all know this one (well, we should) but it’s hard to obey.  Some adjectives and adverbs are just so pretty. But it’s true that using a good strong verb in place of an adjective or adverb makes for much tighter writing.  And chances are, when you re-word, you can get rid of a preposition or two as well.


She looked extremely beautiful in that red dress.
She rocked that red dress.

The storm totally ruined our garden.
The storm devastated our garden.

6.       Use contractions.  This one might be difficult for those of you who had teachers like I had, who believed that contractions were for drunks, babies, and uneducated good-for-nothings.  But these days, using contractions in most forms of writing isn’t a sin.  Just look at the style of the publication you’re writing for – if the tone is easy-going or informal, go for it.  You can cut dozens of words this way.

Example: I wouldn’t think you need an example here, but you never know.

What tricks do you use to shorten your writing?   

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where to Self-Publish Your Book: A Round-Up

As my book-in-progress inches closer to completion, I’m beginning to examine how I’m going to get the darn thing published. I’ve already decided that I want to go the self-publishing route, for reasons I’ve explained here. But whenever I started researching the various self-publishing services, I always ended up rocking back and forth in bed screwing my fists in my eyes, muttering too many, too many, too many.

But one must be brave. So, I turned to my writer’s group at LinkedIn, asking more experienced members to recommend good self-publishing services. The response was awesome. Though I haven’t quite decided which service I’ll go with, I think I’ve got the top options in hand and can make a good, informed decision when the time comes.

To help you narrow down your list, here’s a round-up of the "best" self-publishing services, according the International Writers group at LinkedIn. Of course, not everyone will be satisfied with every service, but this list provides a good starting point to find the right match for you.

(If you’ve had good experiences with others self-publishing services, please add your own in the comments!)

Now, if you’ve been looking into self-publishing, there’s no doubt you’ve come across the name “AuthorHouse.” It’s one of considered the largest of the "big three" of self-publishing (the others being iUniverse and Xlibris, all three of whom have the same owner). Several members of the LinkedIn group were fiercely negative about their experiences with this service. Further research revealed a computer-crashing amount of negative opinions, not to mention some truly alarming reports. Complaints primarily centered around the company’s lack of integrity, inflated prices, control over the cover design, and a workmanship so shoddy that it almost seems intentional.

You might want to steer clear of that one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

5 Reason Why You Should Become an Expat Freelancer

(© IKO -

Well, hello there!  Yes, I’m back after a 3-month hiatus.  That’s right – I took 3 months off from posting and I’m walking right back in here, unashamed. 

I know all the social media gurus say that taking such a break is to commit social media suicide.  That I should at least arrange to throw some old content or some guest posts in my absence.  And I daresay they’re right.  But the Expat Freelancer blog isn’t Copyblogger. And while part of me wishes that I was mistress of all that brilliant content and had an audience that runs in the tens of thousands, the other part of me is happy that I can sneak away for a nice long summer break, lounging on the beaches of Corsica and Narragansett, without feeling guilty or stressed.  

This is the beauty of being an expat freelancer.  As an expat, I have adopted that French “give me vacation or give me death” mentality.  As a freelancer, I can indulge it.  (Not that I didn’t continue to work some while I was away.  An expat freelancer at home has to take advantage of the situation, especially if you target American magazines and clients.) Okay, yes, my beach reading did the latest edition of Peter Bowerman’s “The Well-Fed Writer.”  And yes, I did outline a novel.  But none of that felt like work. Can I help that my work is also my passion?

At the moment, I’m feeling so satisfied with life as both an expat and a freelancer that I thought I’d kick of the new season of this blog with 5 reasons why being an expat freelancer totally rocks.  If you’ve been dreaming about writing abroad, maybe this will spur you to make a change!

Reason # 1: You get a fresh perspective…on everything.

Good writers do more than turn an elegant phrase; they offer a new perspective or insight to their readers. As an expat freelancer, you get new perspectives and insights in spades.  Everything from driving on a highway to standing at a bus stop can be a cultural revelation – and potential copy. Even now, I'm working on an essay about my trip to the local Stop & Shop when I was at home in the U.S.  Did anything special happen there?  Not really. But as I wandered the huge aisles, wide-eyed as a refugee, picking up tons of stuff didn't need, I suddenly had a perfect understanding of that mixture of awe and distaste that many Europeans have toward America. What an enormous, greedy, fabulous country. 

Reason #2:  You’ve got instant entry into travel writing
It’s easy to create a niche as a travel writer as an expat, even if you don’t actually travel much. Plenty of magazines and websites will pay good money for to know what’s happening in your backyard.  This is how I got my first clips as a freelancer: writing 100-word reviews of Paris attractions and restaurants.  No travel greater than a metro ride was required. 

Reason #3: Wider Client Pool
Today’s freelancer can work with clients all over the world – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to tap into a client pool in another country.  Unless you live there.  As an expat, I can market my copywriting services with facility to both France-based business as well as those in the U.S. (particularly those in my hometown).  In a sense, I’m a “local” in both locations – or at least, that’s how I spin it.

Reason #4:  Cool Office
Expat freelancers have some of the most exotic offices in the world: tropical beaches, mountaintops, or, in my case, sweet little Parisian caf├ęs.  And if I chose to work at home? I’ve got a kick-ass view of the Seine and La Conciergerie, the tower in which Marie Antoinette was imprisoned.  I admit, I often take the beauty and history of my adopted city for granted, but when I remember, it gives me a shiver of pleasure, privilege and gratitude.  (But you know what? When I’m in the U.S., writing at my favorite Starbucks, I’m pretty thrilled too.)

Reason #5: Positive influence of local customs 
As an American it’s hard to turn off that compulsion to always be productive, to never be caught slacking.  But, as I noted in the intro to this post, living in France has been a good influence in that way. For better or worse, here, there’s no shame in just kicking back and enjoying life at the expense of productivity.  I have no doubt that my work-life balance is more evenly distributed than it would be if I lived in the U.S.  I guess you could say that being an expat helps puts the “free” in freelancer.  (Sorry – couldn’t resist!)   Just make sure you chose to reside in a country more laid-back than the one you live in!
Are you an expat freelancer? What do you love about your career/lifestyle choice?