Saturday, January 12, 2013

7 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Procrastination

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?

Photo credit:©Stuart Mills (

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 cafés.  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?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Expat Freelance Writer for Hire!

I'm excited to announce the launch of my new website! Check it out at  Many thanks to Tanya Olander, who did an excellent job in designing the site.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Are These Habits Sabotaging Your Freelance Career?

(Photo credit: Michal Marcol;

The last time I was at “home” (in the U.S.), a book at Barnes & Noble caught my eye. It was called “Why Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women make that Sabotage Their Careers,” by Lois P. Frankel, PhD.

Even though I do have a corner office, a nice little one in the corner of my dining room, I couldn’t help but pick up the book. After flipping through it for a few minutes, I knew I had to buy it. Because even though my corporate days are long behind me, I saw some terribly, familiar habits listed in that book – habits that could be dragging down my freelance career.

Ladies (and maybe some gents), I ask you: are you guilty of any of the following five career mistakes? 

Mistake # 1 – Pretending it isn’t a Game.

Lois Frankel writes: “The workplace is exactly that – a game. It has rules, boundaries, winners and losers. Women tend to approach work more like an event (picnic, concert, fundraiser) where everyone comes together for the day to play nicely...Playing the game of business doesn’t mean you’re out to cause others to fail, but it is competitive. It means you are aware of the rules and develop strategies for making them work to your advantage.

Does this “game” mentality apply to freelancing? It should. The game is different than in a corporate environment, but still it exists. Just because our workplace is our home and we’re working alone doesn’t mean that we’re not in the midst a giant, invisible chessboard.  All those organizations and people who want us to work for free or a pittance while they're pulling down cash from our words...believe me, they know it's a game. (Let's just say that homegirl Ariana Huffington has not made this mistake.)  Magazines, small businesses, corporations, newspapers: they're all in the game.  And when you freelance for any of them, so are you.  Better make sure you're not just a pawn.

And let's not forget our competitors.  They're out there, sending queries to the same editor, bidding on the same projects. If we want to get the freelancing equivalent of the corner office (whatever that may be), we have to keep an eye on what our competitors/peers are doing, spot what we can do better or differently, and then do it, moving as quickly and skillfully as we can.

The great thing about freelancing is that pretty much all of us can get a "corner office."  As freelancers, a corner office can be whatever we want it to be. But that doesn't mean there's no game involved.  Play it, ladies.

Mistake #2 – Playing the Game Safely and Within Bounds.

Frankel writes: “Even when a woman knows the workplace is a game, she has the tendency to play safe rather than play smart. She obeys all the rules to the letter and expects others to as well.” As an analogy, she refers to her style of tennis play, how she always feared the ball going out of bounds, and so artificially narrowed her field of play. But once she started hitting the ball outside of her comfort zone, she says, she started to win more games.

I love this “mistake” and analogy. In the corporate world, I was forever seeing men play fast and loose with the rules…and moving swiftly ahead. Meanwhile, I only dared to follow the rules and hope that someone would appreciate it. (Ha! Why would they? It was the least I could do). In my freelance career, I try not to be such a “good little girl,” though it’s a struggle.

My role model is Linda Formichelli, co-author of the fabulous and inspirational book, “The Renegade Writer.” She, along with co-author Diana Burrell offer scores of valuable tips on how you can be a rule-breaker and still have a successful freelancing career. If playing the freelancing game too safely is a mistake you think you're making, definitely read this book.

Mistake # 13 – Failing to Capitalize on Relationships.

In this section, Frankel tells the story of a woman who was having trouble selling her idea for a new book to a publisher. It turns out that the woman’s father has a good relationship with an editor who could play an instrumental role in getting her idea before the right publisher. When Frankel asked the woman why in the world she didn’t ask her father for an introduction, she responded that she didn’t want to capitalize on her father’s name.

How many of you ladies out there see yourselves here? I know I do. I have an acquaintance who is an editor of a highly prestigious newspaper. I have another friend who used to be the deputy editor of a well-known women’s glossy. Have I ever tried to pitch an idea to either them? Nope. Why? Because I was afraid of being perceived as a “user” or complicating our relationship. Dumb, right?

Men use relationships to advance their interests and careers all. the. time. Frankel advises women to be unafraid to ask for introduction, referrals, or permission to use a colleague’s name when trying to get the attention of someone. Amen, sister.

(** Note- As a pat on the back to myself, let me just say that I recently asked my acquaintance at the newspaper to be a source for me on a buzz piece I’m writing. She answered my questions cheerfully and promptly. No sweat. And now I’m working on a pitch to throw her way. Yay me.)

Mistake #50 Being Modest.

Frankel writes: “Both boys and girls are taught in childhood to be modest – but women take the lesson way too far….When people fail to notice major accomplishments, it’s your job to illuminate them…Completely, totally and permanently erase the words, “Oh, it was nothing” from your vocabulary.

Sigh. Right again, Dr. Frankel. Ladies: are you downplaying your accomplishments? When you’ve done amazing back-flips for an editor or client, are you letting him or her know? Are you asking for testimonials? Are you displaying these testimonials in a prominent way? You don’t have to become a braggart or start boring people by endlessly recounting your successes, but when you have accomplished something brilliant, don’t be afraid to take credit for it – and let others know what you’ve done.

Mistake #59- Asking Permission.

Frankel writes: “Have you ever noticed that men don’t ask for permission? They ask for forgiveness. My hunch is that women ask permission more out of habit than from really needing someone to give them the green light….by seeking permission before acting, we are less likely to be accused of making a mistake – but we’re also less likely to be viewed as confident risk-takers.”

This is a variation or natural consequence of mistake #2 – playing the rules safely and within bounds. We women, I think, are particularly afraid of making a mistake. We often worry that any error we make could be attributed to our gender and reflect badly on others in that group.  Time to get over this fear.

When you have the urge to ask permission of a client or editor, take a look at your motivations. Are you playing it safe? Or would you be genuinely acting out of bounds? Frankel advises women to inform others of your intentions, not ask. In other words, say, “I just wanted to let you know that….” instead of  “Would it be all right with you if….” -- an important distinction.


I could just keep going here. Mistakes #36 “Ignoring Quid Pro Quo,” #39 “Letting People Waste Your Time,” and #55 “Being Invisible,” are other important mistakes I'd like to draw attention to.  But I'll stop now.  If this post speaks to you, I highly recommend buying the book. After all, with 101 tips, there’s bound to be several that will make you squirm uncomfortably, even if these don’t.

Readers: what mistakes/habits might be hindering your freelance career? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finding Balance in Life

 (Photo credit: Michelle Meiklejohn,

I couldn't decide where to put this post because I think the advice is useful for both moms and freelancers.  So, I'm doing something I've never done before and cross-posting it at my other blog, International Mama.  Wherever you're reading it, I hope you find it helpful! 

Last week, the Urban Muse posed the question: what is your biggest challenge as a freelance writer? Many of the responses, including my own, concerned finding a suitable work-life balance.  Because we freelancers don’t have to punch the clock, it’s all too easy to allow one aspect of our life – usually work –to dominate the other.
But you know what?  One day, last September, I did it.   For about, oh, four hours, I understood my life to be in perfect balance. Don’t laugh!  As far as I'm concerned feeling that the world is perfectly aligned for four hours is an amazing achievement.  As an expat, I am perpetually seeking – consciously or not – to find a balance between my own culture with that of my adopted country.  Because I’m married to someone of a different nationality, I have to do the same in my marriage.  Throw a couple of young kids and a new career into the mix and you’ve got one off-kilter lady.

But last September, for that brief period, it all worked.  More than worked – it flowed.   

That day was no less busy than any other.  I had to drop my three-year old off at school and then pick him up three hours later.  I had two big assignments due that I hadn’t yet begun.  The baby had a doctor’s appointment later.  My husband was out of town for the week, so, I’d have to handle the exhausting evening rituals (dinner, bath, bed) by myself and then pray that the kids would stay asleep so that I could work as late as I could, then get some sleep myself.  Normally on days such as this, my mind is constantly abuzz, skipping ahead to the next task on my list before I’ve completed the first one.  But  on this day, as I picked up my son from school, my mind grew quiet.  

As we walked down the street, I noticed that the sky was a deep, pure blue and that the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn yellow-brown. I became aware of the pressure of my son’s hand in mine, of the sweet, singing quality of his voice, and of the rush of pleasure these things gave me.  I enjoyed the way the autumn breeze made my open trench coat flap slightly as we walked, and the tapping sound my boots made on the pavement.  With every step we took, I grew more and more connected with everything around me, as if I were beginning to see my place in part of an enormous, smoothly functioning machine. For once, I wasn’t borrowing time from the future or the past. Every moment belonged to itself. I was wholly – in New Age parlance – “in the moment.”  

This sense of connectedness lasted until we got on the metro, and then slowly began to dissipate. But I didn’t feel any panic or depression as the feeling left me.  Instead, I felt both relaxed and empowered. I suddenly understood the key to having a balanced life: being truly present. 

Riding the metro home, I had no urge to check my cell phone, check my to-do list, make notes on an article, send out a tweet,  dwell on my crammed schedule or engage in any of my usual multi-tasking habits.  I was simply happy to sit and listen to my son tell me how he “drew a picture of my belly” at school (no, I wasn’t pregnant – thanks kid.)  

When I got home and turned my son over to the babysitter, I sat down to work without guilt and without anxiety for the tasks ahead.  Time felt different to me; both more precious and more plentiful. It occurred to me that we generally view time as something that is forever slipping away from us, not as something that we always have.  But we do always have time.  Maybe not time enough to achieve every task on our list, but time enough to fully appreciate the things we can accomplish. 

Since this revelation, can I now claim to always have a perfectly balanced life?  God, no!  But now, whenever I feel overwhelmed with work or life, I take a moment to recognize that it’s not necessarily my work-life balance that needs adjusting – but my attitude.  Multi-tasking, letting my mind wander, worrying about anything except the matters in front of me can make my whole world spin.  

Taking a good look at the advantages, opportunities and beauty of the moment helps to set it right again.

How about you? What helps you to find balance?

Monday, March 28, 2011

7 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Help Your Freelance Writing Business

(free-stock Paulus Rusyanto)

As far as I'm concerned, no one needs a virtual assistant more than the expat freelancing mom.   Man, do I want one.  I’ve dreamed of having one long before I ever heard the term.  

In my fantasies, I imagine this person to be sort of a doppelgänger: an alter ego who lives the freelancing life that I would if I were back in the U.S.  While I’m here in Paris writing in various cafes with a café crème at my side, my virtual assistant would loiter at the magazine rack Barnes & Noble, sipping a Starbucks chai tea latte, checking out new magazines and potential markets. While I’m snoozing away  or tending to a sick kid at 2am, she’d be listening to and taking notes at a freelancing webinar that takes place at 8pm EST.  Between the two of us, we'd make one whole freelancer!

Now, I realize that this could happen, at least in theory.  Even a quick perusal of the internet reveals a number of virtual assistants that specialize in assisting freelance writers.  What’s more, there are even freelance writers that have a “virtual assistant” component to their business. These are the ones I’d hire.  The most efficient virtual assistant would already be familiar with the freelance writing world and its networks, sources, terms, and perspective. 

But, alas, I can’t afford a virtual assistant right now.  Even though apparently prices can start as low as $25/hour (although I imagine that most cost more), I currently employ a real assistant without whom I could not do one. single. thing: a babysitter.  In a couple of years, when the kids are both in school, I’ll definitely reconsider the matter. 

If you’re short on time and have a few bucks to spare, here’s 7 ways a virtual assistant could help you  be a more efficient business person  -- and free up more time for you to write. 

1. Find markets/jobs.  God, wouldn’t I love this one.  A virtual assistant could trawl job boards, review magazine databases, or otherwise search for publications that would be a good fit for your ideas.  He could also help unearth writer’s guidelines and find out the names and email addresses of the appropriate editors for your pitches.  

2. Create a database.  As your VA does the above, she could (and should) create a database containing all this information so that it’s always at your fingertips.  Make sure the database is a flexible one that can be easily updated with your own notes regarding each publication.  

3. Fact-Check.   The very idea of getting my facts wrong scares me silly.  A VA could double-check your research, giving you a little extra comfort before hitting “send.”  Your VA could also check out the background of someone you’re considering using as an expert.

4. Attend conferences or webinars.  As I indicated above, I’m forever finding interesting webinars and conferences that are at hideously inconvenient hours or locations. Your VA could occasionally serve as your eyes and ears.  

5. Research potential clients.  You want to do a direct mail campaign but want to tweak each letter/email so that it’s tightly targeted?  Your VA can help dig out key details and fact to flesh-out potential clients so that you can add that personal touch to each letter.   

6. Interview Transcription.  Got a recorded interview?  No need to spend an hour or more transcribing it, when you’ve got a VA to take care of it!  

7. Administrative Tasks.  And of course, a VA can do the standard assistant type stuff: sending out invoices, contracts and other correspondence for you.  He can also keep track of payment status, scheduling and even take phone messages.  I imagine this last aspect can be particularly useful for an expat freelancer with clients in the U.S. – they get to hear a human voice even if they call at an inconvenient hour for you. 

Freelancers: Have you used a VA?  Care to share your experience? 

7 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Procrastination

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 ...