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Has this ever happened to you?: You’re writing a piece for a client or editor and that piece is singing to you. Your mind is fizzing with fresh ideas; the words are flowing, smooth as milk. Every time you meet an obstacle, you battle it like a knight and leave its steaming carcass in your wake. You almost hate to let the piece go, you’ve enjoyed working on it so much, but it’s done, finished. You look it over, hit send, and off it goes to the client/editor.
Now it's time for your personal writing projects!
But your creative well has abruptly gone dry. Composing every sentence feels like pulling a live tooth. Each obstacle you meet looms big and scary and it whispers really mean things about ability as a writer and the pointlessness of your task. Your mind starts to wander. You start tweeting random stuff. But then – you remember that there’s another assignment you could be working on! One for a paying client! You quickly abandon your own project and start working on the other assignment. Amazingly, your energy is restored, the words are flowing, and every challenge you face, bested.
If that’s never happened to you – respect. But I’m sure there are more than a few people out there who know what I’m talking about. I had one of those days last week. But as I put away my own stalled project to be fruitful with someone else’s, I sighed: I wish I could be my own client.
Cue the thunderclap, light bulb, choir of angels or whatever imagery you prefer to use when you have a revelation. Suddenly, I realized that there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t offer myself the same attention and creative power than people who pay me. I just had to figure out how. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Don’t just set goals – set a deadline.
Write down every task you need to do for your personal project: research, writing, interviews, etc. and then set a firm deadline for each one. I have never missed a deadline for a client/editor. The very idea makes me feel ill. Meeting deadlines is the bare minimum of professional conduct, right? Why, then, are we so willing to push off personal deadlines? If you want to be your own client, you need to start holding yourself to the same professional standards.
2. Keep the “big picture” in mind as you work.
When you’re working for someone else, it’s easy to keep the “big picture” in mind. The big picture is usually a paycheck. Or exposure. Or building a portfolio and what have you. Once you’ve done the work, you know immediately what you’ve gained. It’s not so easy to see the big picture when you’re working on a personal project. You know what you hope to gain, but you also know that it may be a long while before you reap the fruits of your labor. Find some way of keeping the big picture in front of you as you work. It may be as simple as putting a big Post-It note on your computer screen saying: “Fame & Fortune” if that’s what you seek. Or “Financial Independence.” Or “I’m Quitting My Day Job.” You could also find a picture that embodies whatever it is you aspire to through your personal writing and put that on your desk. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s something physical and in plain view so it can constantly remind you of your ultimate goal.
3. Obtain feedback on your work.
The nice thing about working for people other than yourself is that you usually receive feedback on your work. Of course, it’s always lovely to get positive feedback, but sometimes even critical feedback is welcome. When working on personal projects, you often get no feedback at all. This can make you feel as if you’re working in total darkness, groping and feeling your way forward. And who wants to work like that? Get some feedback on your work. Form a writer’s group. Join a writer’s forum. Get out there and let another writer you trust to shine some light on your project.
4. Praise yourself when you’ve done a good job.
Of course there will be plenty of times when you know you’ve done a good job without anyone telling you. And when that happens, don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back or publicly acknowledge the good work you’ve done. After all, you’re the client. And when you’ve made the client happy, you deserve to feel good.
What would you add to this list?
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