There Is A “Best” Pattern for Creative Work – Find Yours

Creativity is a much-studied activity that no one truly understands. And some of what we don’t understand about it includes:

  • How it occurs,
  • What triggers it, and
  • How we can control it.

So in this post I’m intending to write entirely about my own experiences doing – and not doing – creative work.

Creativity Is A Flow

One of the first things I noticed about my own creativity is that it just flows out of me. I can have a creative thought in the shower, at dinner, walking along, chatting with friends, reading a book, watching TV or a film, listening to music, even falling asleep.

I’m not really able to turn it off. I have given birth to creative thoughts in the strangest places, at the least appropriate times, in the most difficult circumstances. Over the years, I learned to write down a lot of this stuff, because when the creative fever passes, I often can’t recall what I was thinking while I was in its throes.

I Can’t Force Creativity

Although creative ideas flow out of me with astounding regularity, the flow is not under my conscious control.

As I said, I’m not able to “turn off” my creativity, and – symmetrically enough – I’m not really able to “turn on” my creativity, either. Although I haven’t ever tried this experiment, I’m willing to bet I can’t meet the challenge of coming up with a certain number of creative thoughts in a certain period of time.

Sure, on demand I can come up with quite a few random thoughts, and you might even be generous enough to call them “creative.” But I wouldn’t honor them with such a highfalutin rubric. Most of them will probably be silly, stupid, childish, crazy, or some combination of all four.

For me, trying to fill a quota will generally not produce creative thoughts that (as they should, in my view):

  • Meet a need,
  • Point toward a purpose,
  • Exhibit relevant meaning,
  • Feel satisfying, or
  • Spark a lot of enthusiasm in others.

I Can Make Creativity Happen

Nevertheless, I have found ways to “set the table” for creativity, so I can sit down and wait to see if any ideas show up to feast.

These ways include:

  • Setting forth a clear purpose for the creative ideas I’m anticipating, which could be anything from “selling breakfast cereal” to “explaining the motivation of a character,” and beyond.
  • Sitting quietly without distractions and waiting for inspiration to hit.
  • Avoiding other activities, such as sharpening pencils or straightening my desk. If I’m there to write, I’m there to write – and do nothing else.
  • “Piggybacking” or building on any creative ideas that do show up, as a method of generating more ideas. Maybe the character needs money. (Yeah, that’s a good idea!) Maybe she needs it to pay for her mother’s life-saving surgery. (Yeah, that’s another good one!) Maybe she needs to borrow it from her boss. (Yeah, that could happen!) You get the idea.
  • Avoiding any judgment of my creative ideas. That process comes later. For now, during the “idea generation” process (part of which I described in the previous bullet), there’s no room for negativity, objections, rejections, or rebuffs of any kind.

I understand that I am very lucky to have some kind of a creativity muscle in me that has performed so well so far. I recognize that many people feel they don’t have one. I hope they are wrong. In fact, I am pretty sure they are wrong.

In my view and experience, most people of average or better intelligence can tap into a wellspring of creativity if only they have the courage to try and the techniques to support their creative efforts.

I Can Exhaust My Creativity

If you will join me in considering creativity to be much like athleticism, as in the metaphor of my having a creative muscle, you will readily see that every creative effort I make is going to require a commensurate effort at recuperation. I breathe in, I breathe out. I exert, I rest. I strain my brain, and then I make an attempt to soothe my brain.

What’s more, as with athletes, the quality of my performance as a creative person has exhibited good seasons and bad seasons, good days and bad days, even good times of day and bad times of day. There are periods when the ideas come thick and fast, then other periods when I have nothing creative to contribute. Of course, there are many periods that fall in between these extremes.

Just like an artesian well that brings fresh water from hidden sources, my flow of creativity seems to exhibit its own pace. I have never tried to plug it up, but I imagine if I did the urge to be creative would build up pressure until it would overflow.

I have occasionally tried to drain my creativity too much, and I have then found myself in a period where my creativity ran dry. Fortunately, this has lasted only for a relatively short period of time. But I have known people who have come to the end of their creativity.

It seems sensible that the creative juices can thin out and even dry up as the creative person ages – not always, of course, but often enough to warrant notice. In the same way that athletes “lose a step” in the latter part of their careers, creative professionals may similarly find themselves coming up with fewer or weaker ideas. I honestly don’t know if this is happening to me. So far, I don’t perceive any such changes. But if and when it begins to happen, I’m hoping I’ll accept the changes with grace.

You Can Find and Nurture Patterns of Creativity

All these attributes of the creative flow lead to an inescapable reality: creativity exhibits patterns. I have mine. I would expect that you have yours.

If you can chart and understand these patterns, you have a fighting chance to nurture them. This will allow you to increase both the total amount of creativity you generate over your lifetime as well as your ability to direct your creativity when and where needed in hopes of accomplishing specific tasks and meeting specific goals.

I’m not telling you what your patterns of creativity might be. I’m merely encouraging you to expect that your creativity muscle is probably subject to one or more patterns, with highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses, good and bad periods, and the like. Look for them, and make use of them so you can more fully benefit from the creative flow that emanates from somewhere inside you.

If and when you find your patterns of creativity, please let me know.

I’ll be glad to hear from you about your creative patterns, not only to help me learn more about my own creativity, but so I can share some of the joy and satisfaction I can guarantee you will feel after you have gained a little more understanding of the profoundly exciting experiences your creativity has provided you – and will continue to provide you – over the years.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Keep Your Creativity and Your Business Separate

One of the biggest mistakes that a creative professional can make is to blur the line between creative efforts and business efforts. You don’t expect a doctor to diagnose every person she meets. You don’t expect an auto mechanic to tune up every engine she encounters. You don’t expect a musician to sing every line she utters and never speak.

In the same way, you shouldn’t expect yourself to bring your creativity to every business task you tackle.

It’s Just Business, Not Personal

The brightest line between business and creative activities demarcates the simple fact that lots of people can do business, but only you can do your creative work. That’s why it’s important you learn to recognize when you are doing business, and when you are creating, and that you intentionally bring different traits and skillsets to each of these two categories of activity.

When to Wear Your Creative Hat

Obviously, you’ll want to wear your creative hat when you are fulfilling a creative impulse, or a creative contract. This includes the times when you are actually working, but also such times as when you are:

  • Planning the work,
  • Contemplating the work,
  • Researching or investigating the work,
  • Gearing up for the work, and
  • Polishing the work.

These are among the times when you’ll be drawing on your professional training and experience, tapping into your innate creative resources, and generally “letting rip” your creative powers. You’ll be in or near – or trying to achieve – a state of flow. You’ll be making your own professional choices and decisions. You’ll be enjoying yourself in what will often become a “peak” experience.

During these times, you need not – and should not – be thinking about business considerations.

When to Wear Your Business Hat

But at other times, you’ll want to doff your creative hat and put on that more practical, more hard-headed, more logical and material hat that denotes your emphasis on a “business” frame of mind.

When you wear your business hat, you’ll almost pretend that your “creative” side belongs to another person. You’ll stop trying to solve problems in new ways, stop trying to “send a message” or “deliver meaning” to an audience, stop trying to draw on those creative talents and innovative ideas that others just don’t have.

Instead, you’ll put into practice some basic, simple functions that reflect a well-defined collection of black-and-white guidelines and practical policies that have been shown to maximize your level of success in the world of business.

These include times when you are:

  • Pricing
  • Billing
  • Collecting
  • Marketing
  • Negotiating
  • Networking

Let’s take a closer look at each of these, in turn.

Pricing – As a professional writer, you produce output. This output is worth money. How much money it’s worth depends to a large extent on the value you set for it, and your determination in sticking to that valuation.

Pricing is a purely business function that depends primarily on how much “supply” you can deliver, how much “demand” there is for your output, and what range of values “the market” allows for your work.

For example, if you can crank out a professional-quality piece of work in a day, you’ll probably be satisfied to take less for it than if the same work takes you a week, a month, or a year. What’s more, if you can find only one buyer for your work, you’ll probably be forced to take less for whatever you write than if 25 buyers are clamoring for everything you can produce.

In the same way, the market sets a range of prices for your work based on the number of suppliers, the number of demanders, and other key market factors.

To illustrate: if your competition charges $5,000 to $10,000 for a certain kind of written item, you’ll probably be hard pressed to get $20,000 for something similar that you generate. But you’d almost certainly have an easy time getting $2,000 for it. Pretty much the same situation obtains for work that falls into all different price ranges.

Given all this, the Holy Grail of pricing professional work is to find the price that brings you the most money. This could entail selling lots of lots of material at relatively low prices, selling very few pieces at very high prices, or – for most of us – selling many pieces at prices well within the range established by many other professional writers.

Setting a price entails very little creativity. It is much more like practical experimentation. If buyers are reluctant to accept your price, that’s a signal it may be too high. If buyers snap up your work, that’s a signal you may be pricing it too low. For most of us, the goal is usually to find the “Goldilocks” price that’s just right.

Billing – As a professional writer, you ask for money for your work. This entails not only setting a price, but drawing up an “invoice” of some kind that states the item you are selling, the buyer of it, and the price you’ve established for the work, along with any relevant conditions such as rights or royalties.

You might also establish other conditions, such as how long you’re giving the buyer to pay, how the money is to be paid, and so forth. Billing also entails communicating this information to your buyer. There’s little or no creativity involved in this work, yet it’s important to do it well, on a timely basis, and to keep track of who you have billed for what.

Collecting – As a professional writer, pricing and billing are only two of the business tasks you’ll need to accomplish in order to receive payment for your work. Collecting is perhaps most important, because without the act of collecting the money you’ve asked for through pricing and billing – particularly when buyers are slow to respond to your routine billing efforts – you may never get paid.

Collecting begins with checking the bills you have sent out and determining your next action on each of them. For relatively fresh bills you’ve just sent out, you’ll probably decide to wait and do nothing extra.

But as a particular bill “ages,” there will come a time when you’ll want to consider contacting the buyer to see how far along she is in paying your bill, then later perhaps sending the same bill again as a “reminder” that you’re still waiting to get paid, and eventually taking more drastic steps. These might include cutting off any further deliveries of your work, charging interest on the unpaid balance, asking a professional “collector” to go and get your money, or taking the buyer to court.

I don’t see any need for creativity here. Do you?

Marketing – As a professional writer, you’re interested in selling your work. Naturally, you can’t sell unless you can find buyers, which automatically brings you into the realm of marketing.

While there may be some creativity involved in marketing efforts, you don’t need to expend any of your own creativity in this area. Very intelligent and creative people have spent many years developing lots of interesting and effective ways to find buyers, and to persuade them to buy. All you have to do is study the world of marketing and emulate what the most effective marketers do.

Marketing itself is beyond the scope of this article. But it’s well within my scope to suggest that you include marketing as a prominent part of what you do when you’re wearing your business hat.

Negotiating – As a professional writer, you’ll regularly be making deals with buyers who want to obtain some of your work. As soon as someone expresses interest, you’re a denizen of the world of negotiation. You’ll want to reach agreement with each buyer on the terms of each purchase, including your obligations to the buyer and the buyer’s obligations to you.

Although there are some “industry standards” for the sale of professional writing, there remains a great deal of latitude within the areas of rights, promises, remedies for broken promises, deadlines, parameters of the work you’re selling and more.

As with marketing, you don’t need to invent any negotiation techniques. Simply study and learn what the best negotiators do, and add those skills and behaviors to the repertoire you draw on when you’re wearing your business hat.

Here’s a link to something I wrote previously about negotiating for professional writers.

Networking – As a professional writer, relationships are frequently central to your success. Relationships bring you opportunities to sell your work, to learn new skills, to expand your creative powers, and more. These relationships have to be started and cultivated, which is precisely where networking becomes important.

As with marketing and negotiating, there’s little advantage to you expending your creative energy on developing new and better ways to network. Simply recognize the need for it and utilize the well-established best practices of networking, which you should do on a regular basis. This is an important task for the times you’re wearing your business hat, and you should consider it so.

Over the years, I’ve found great pleasure in watching talented writers grow from timid souls who feel that the “business side” of our profession is “not their cup of tea” to marveling at the raw power and financial benefits these same writers can produce by putting a little elbow grease into the mechanics of business, without ever compromising their inborn creative capacities.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

 

The More Unique and Popular You Are, the More Your Compensation

How much does a writer for your local advertising weekly earn? How much does J.K. Rowling earn?

What’s the reason for the difference?

In my view, there are primarily two reasons.

First, popularity. A lot more people read Rowling than the advertising rag. It’s only natural she earns more.

The second reason is a little more esoteric: uniqueness. Almost anyone who can string 50 words together can write for the advertiser. Only Rowling was able to deliver more Harry Potter.

If you think about it, this same paradigm is pretty much true of pretty much every other career path:

  • Unique and popular musicians earn more than cover bands.
  • Unique and popular actors earn more than extras.
  • Unique and popular visual artists earn more than those who only copy the Great Masters.
  • Unique and popular historians earn more than high school history teachers.

And so forth.

Let’s be clear here: I’m not telling you what to write. I’ve worked with lots of people and I’ve never told any of them what to work on next. I’m just saying that if I like a certain kind of material, and I can get similar material from a hundred or a thousand different writers, I’m going to pay relatively little for the next installment of that material.

I’m going to pay a lot more for the next installment of material I can get only from one writer.

Is this just another argument for you to find and cultivate your own voice? Absolutely. That’s one of the main reasons I encourage you to strive with all your might toward becoming the best version of your creative self that you possibly can be.

Is this another hurdle on the road to success that you have to leap? It doesn’t have to be. Many people I’ve worked with start out fearful that finding and developing their unique voice is a terrible obstacle that’s difficult to overcome. As I’ve coached and mentored and counseled them, I’ve helped them recognize that it’s really an opportunity. In fact, it’s a privilege and an opportunity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Negotiating Techniques for Writers

You can’t negotiate your birthday. But pretty much everything else is susceptible to discussion and change, provided you’re open to such a conversation, and you know how to proceed.

What is Negotiation?

Negotiation is very simply a method people of good will often use to discuss their differences of opinion or choice and – under certain circumstances – to determine a way forward that all parties are willing to accept.

Since (as a writer) you generally have little or no power over your subjects, your sources, your collaborators, your publishers, your clients, or anyone else involved in your professional projects, negotiation is one of the primary tools you have available to try and produce the outcomes you want.

While negotiation sometimes produces a deal that’s far less advantageous than you may have hoped, it can also produce an acceptable deal in a situation that at some point seemed hopeless.

Important Notes:

  1. Fundamentally, negotiation is the process of reaching an agreeable way forward (often through compromise or consensus, two very different things) without the use of force. In other words, when we negotiate, we all choose to participate and we all choose to abide by the result. If one party needs or uses force to get another party to comply, it’s no longer negotiation.
  2. Negotiation works only among people of good will. If you’re dealing with someone who isn’t willing to be fair or isn’t willing to abide by a negotiated agreement, there’s no point in trying to negotiate.
  3. Just for the record: I doubt I can motivate you in this short article to want to negotiate for more than you think you deserve, but I know for certain I can help you – as I have helped many others – improve your chances of getting all you want through negotiation.

How Do You Start Negotiating?

The best way to begin negotiating is for both sides to make a plain statement of what they want. In the best-case scenario, there may be no need for negotiation because each side wants something the other side can easily and willingly provide.

If there are important differences in desired outcomes, and also a willingness to negotiate, it’s helpful for each side to supplement their plain statement of what they want by specifying more detailed “must haves” and “would like to haves” in rank order.

In other words, if I make a plain statement that I want you to write a million words for a hundred dollars, maybe I will supplement that with a “must have” of half a million words rather than a million. If you make a plain statement that you want a million dollars for a million words, maybe you will supplement that with a “must have” of half a million dollars.

Now we’re getting somewhere, because if we both feel OK with these “fall back” positions, there’s a neat and natural point of agreement: I’ll be willing to pay half a million dollars and you’ll be willing to write half a million words.

The negotiation is complete. Congratulations.

But if there is no immediately neat and natural point of agreement, we can nevertheless continue to negotiate our way through our differences, which can fruitfully be viewed as some combination of obstacles and resistance.

How Do You Negotiate Through Obstacles and Resistance?

“Obstacles” are best thought of as relatively non-negotiable differences in the agendas and goals of the negotiating parties. I need to get half a million words. You need to get half a million dollars. As the negotiation continues, we may find ways to get past those obstacles, or ways to accept those obstacles and move on.

“Resistance” is best thought of as a relatively negotiable difference in the agendas and goals of the negotiating parties. For example, I may be resistant to working with a writer I don’t know very well, particularly if I’m asked to pay an advance. You may be resistant to working on a project without getting half the payment up front, particularly if you’re working for a client whose track record on payments you can’t ascertain. We are far apart, but we may be able to negotiate through these points of resistance.

One of the first steps in completing a successful negotiation is to establish and build a relationship of trust with the other party. You can start doing this, even during preliminary phases of the negotiation, by such actions as:

  • Talking on the phone or in person, and getting to know more about each other,
  • Making and keeping commitments, such as to exchange documents or share information,
  • Asking for and giving personal or professional references from reliable people,
  • Negotiating the small stuff – such as the meeting place for the serious negotiations, the shape of the negotiating table, the number and qualifications of other people who will be in the room for the negotiations, and so forth,
  • Fully and honestly stating what you want, what you “must have”, and what you “would like to have” from the negotiation.

An important aspect of negotiation is to be clear about your own bottom line. For example, if you are absolutely dead set on not writing a word until you have received some money in advance, then you will find it easier to cut through the chatter and understand whether the negotiation is advancing, or at a standstill.

This kind of clarity helps the negotiations in three ways:

  1. Your clarity helps you understand in detail what you “must have” from this negotiation, and it saves you the time and trouble of negotiating further once it’s clear you’re not going to get it.
  2. Your clarity helps communicate your “must haves” to the other party and – more often that you might suspect – provides extra motivation for them to relent on some obstacle or resistance that has been standing in the way of negotiation progress.
  3. Your clarity fuels a unique technique: It cues you when to literally walk away from the negotiation. Physically departing from the negotiation creates an immediate sense of loss in the other party, and possibly confusion, too. You’re sending a very strong message that you’re not going to agree to their demands, and this may cause them to back down and demand somewhat less.

The good thing about physically walking away is that you don’t have to mean it: there’s nothing to stop you from immediately turning around and walking right back into the negotiations, if you wish. But you’ll often find walking away is a powerful negotiating technique that can break a negotiation log jam.

Another proven negotiating technique is simple compromise. You want a million dollars, but you’ll accept half a million. I want a million words, but I can make do with half a million. Let’s compromise on three quarters of a million – both words and dollars. “Let’s meet in the middle,” is a rallying cry that has forged acceptable ways forward through what many have perceived as negotiation dead ends. Offered judiciously, a compromise can exert great power.

Perhaps the most important technique that helps in negotiating a satisfactory way forward is to listen carefully to the other party. You can do this by letting them talk at length, by repeating what they say back to them in different words, and by a willingness to modify your demands to accommodate some of their positions. For example, I may be insisting on a full million words, but I may also be open to you delivering those million words over a 12 month period, or allowing a large number of those words to be repeated many times – effectively cutting back on the work I’m actually requiring.

I’m not going to give more examples here because that’s outside the scope of this article. But the point is simply that by actively listening to the other party and thinking hard about what they really seem to want instead of what they are literally saying, you can often find a way forward that cuts through seemingly insurmountable obstacles and resistances.

How Do You Complete Negotiations?

There are many techniques that top negotiators use to push through all the obstacles and resistances and to hammer out a satisfactory way forward for all parties. They can include any combination of:

  • Charm and charisma
  • Logical argument
  • Emotional persuasion
  • Bartering (I’ll accept your specific terms on one item if you’ll accept my specific terms on some other item)
  • Establishing a deadline for completing the negotiations
  • Shortening the term of the proposed agreement (automatically making it less onerous than a longer lasting agreement)
  • Calling for a “cooling off” period (temporarily halting negotiations and resuming later)

In addition to these, one technique I often use is to start with the least important difference and try to get it resolved, then move on to negotiating a slightly more important difference, and so on. This approach has four distinct advantages:

  1. The least important item to negotiate is often the easiest to resolve. You want to write those million words on a Mac instead of the PC I asked for? Sure, no problem. Let’s move on.
  2. Eliminating one item of disagreement simplifies the rest of the negotiations
  3. Resolving one item helps build additional trust and rapport between the negotiating parties
  4. Completing a discrete piece of the negotiating agenda establishes a point of common ground, effectively strengthening the parties’ emotional and practical commitments to completing the rest of the negotiation.

(In addition, as a writer, I just plain feel good memorializing each completed item I’m negotiating.)

Of course, there’s a lot more to successful negotiation than I can cover in this short piece. Nevertheless, I’ve found these tools and ideas generally provide writers with lasting motivation to develop their negotiating skills and use them to improve the results they’re getting as professional writers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Should You Earn More by Working Longer Hours?

There came a time, early in my career, when I was faced with a difficult situation: I needed to earn more money. But since I generated my income from publishers and others who chose for their own reasons and on their own schedules to hire me on their own terms – or not, there was no simple way I could get them to pay me more for the same volume of work I was already doing.

My choices seemed to boil down to the following:

  1. Work longer hours.
  2. Leverage the work of others.
  3. Lower my professional standards to spend less time on each piece.
  4. Automate my work to produce more material in less time.
  5. Speed up the internal processes involved in writing.

I spent many weeks contemplating the details and ramifications of each strategy, and came up with the following thoughts and conclusions:

Work Longer Hours

At first blush, this seemed the simplest answer to my problem. If I could earn (in the old days) $100 working an eight-hour day, simple math told me I could earn $125 by working a ten-hour day. What could possibly go wrong?

But as I dug into the details and implications, I began to see some of the problems this strategy would entail.

For example, I was already working as many hours a day as I comfortably could. Working longer hours would reduce the time I could spend with my wife and child. I wasn’t sure it was worth the extra money to cut back on the most important parts of the life I was working to build.

Working longer hours on paid writing projects would also leave me less time and energy for the unpaid writing projects that were dear to my heart and possibly stepping stones to a better career.

Even worse, working longer hours would require more effort, and that would tend to leave me even more tired at the end of the day. If not immediately, then eventually this additional fatigue would cause me to think and write less well. I would inadvertently begin to allow more errors – not just typos, but errors in thinking and in factual accuracy and depth – to creep into my writing. Perhaps my stylistic flair and creativity would degrade, as well.

I wanted none of this to intrude into my professional life.

Leverage the Work of Others

This approach is the basis of success in the world of business. After all, Henry Ford did not build Model-T’s with his own hands. Nor does Elon Musk actually construct the cars, rockets, satellites, and other products that are the foundation of his businesses – and his incomes.

In the old days, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and other Great Masters relied on students and apprentices to do much of the work required to move their masterpieces a long way toward completion, and today writers like James Patterson do much the same with the written work they crank out.

So it made sense for me to try and hire other writers to do at least the initial parts of some writing projects that publishers and others wanted to buy from me.

However, this strategy never worked for me, partly because I could rarely find suitably talented and/or skilled trainees and apprentices to work for me. But even when I did, I invariably felt that supervising their work took more of my time and effort than simply doing that same work myself.

Because leveraging others didn’t pencil out for me, I stopped thinking of this as a viable way forward (although I have continued to hope I’d find someone suitable).

Lower My Standards to Spend Less Time on Each Piece

This is one of the classic approaches to success in American business: lower production costs as a means to increasing profits.

However, lowering my standards was something that proved hard for me to abide. This is probably because – at least to me – writing professionally is only partly a business. It’s equally – perhaps more so – an artform, a product of my creative energies, and even a reflection of my personality.

Delivering work that is only “B” quality when I could have pumped it up to “A” quality not only conflicts with my personal values, it actually causes me emotional and psychic pain. For whatever reasons, I feel deeply there’s a minimum standard of writing that satisfies me, and when my work fails to meet or exceed it, I just feel bad.

Automate My Work to Produce More in Less Time

Back in the 1970s, I hung around with people who were experimenting with hobbyist computers. I was hoping that these early computers could provide a degree of automation to my writing that would reduce the total time required for me to complete at least some of the work I had on my professional plate.

But that was a pipe dream – at least until 1979, when I discovered that dedicated “word processors” were on the market, and for the most part they worked pretty well. Later, I found that home computers could run “word processing” software powerful and reliable enough to help me write better and faster than ever before.

I jumped on that bandwagon and have never looked back.

Find Ways to Speed Up the Internal Processes of Writing

Logically, this is a sensible way to try and earn more. Because of the way my mind works (I’m always looking for ways to do things faster, better, easier), this approach has long been in either the back or the front of my mind. Why not apply this same brand of thinking to the internal processes of writing?

The problem was – and remains – I don’t really know how to do this. I’m pretty certain that I have done it, but I don’t know how.

I have some thoughts and feelings on how I manage to write much faster today than I did in years gone by, but I can’t swear they are true, or that – if true – they will work for anyone else. But for whatever there are worth, I offer them here:

  1. I research what I am writing. The less I know about a subject, the more hesitant my writing becomes. Pounding away at research eventually gives me the confidence – and the knowledge – to write freely and quickly.
  2. Having fed the process through research, I allow what I’ve learned to “ripen” in my mind. I don’t try to force my writing. The best way for me to write faster is to hold off until I feel ready to write. I’ve become confident that when I’m ready the words will gush out of me quickly and well. So far, I’ve been right about this.
  3. I get a first draft done. Some writers claim they agonize over every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and page. They can’t move on to the next word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and page until every word they have already written is perfect. This has never worked for me. My method has been to write all the way through the end – using whatever words seem OK at the time in order to get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or screen). I’m going to polish the material anyway, so I find little value in holding up the flow of thoughts just because my first attempt is not perfect. My writing mantra is essentially: “We’ll fix it in post.”
  4. I have several projects in mind and in progress at once. When I bog down on one, I simply switch over and try pushing forward on a second one. Or a third. I trust my subconscious to be working on my projects 24/7, without my awareness. It’s another angle on number 2 above.

So while my title to this piece about earning more from writing asked whether to work longer hours, my answer is firmly “no.”  Once I’m working as many hours as I comfortably can, I have found it’s better for me not to try to increase my income by throwing more hours at my projects. It’s better to find some other way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

 

Daily scheduling

One of the keys to professional writing is to crank out a lot of good work. And to do that, you’ll need to put in a good deal of time.

The best way to guarantee that you’ll have the time available to accomplish a lot of good work is to develop and follow a daily schedule.

There are several elements involved in creating and adhering to a daily schedule. Let’s look at each of them in turn:

Identify Your Best and Worst Times of Day

In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, there was an ancient idea revived and developed by Wilhelm Fliess that proposed a person’s physical and emotional states fluctuated around 23 and 28 day cycles, respectively, starting on the day you were born. Later, a psychologist named Hermann Swoboda and an engineer named Alfred Teltscher expanded on this idea to include a 33 day cycle of intellectual or mental capabilities.

These “biorhythms” were thought by many to be so important and powerful that anyone should be able to predict days when a person would be particularly strong, happy, or smart, and other days when a person would feel weak, down hearted, or befuddled – simply by counting the number of days since birth and calculating where that person would be on the cycle of their relevant biorhythm.

There may be some truth to this notion, but that’s not the main point here. What’s undisputed is that you almost certainly do have periods of time when you can perform at a higher level, and other times where the best you can do is not quite as good as that.

This is the main point: you can and should take advantage of your natural ups and downs by tracking them – noting on your calendar, for example, the times when you feel your best and the other times when you feel your worst. Once you see the pattern, you can begin trying to use your periods of higher performance to do your best writing.

Whether biorhythms work on not for you, the cyclical nature of high and low performance often breaks down to something as simple as:

  • Being a “morning person” or an “evening person,”
  • Feeling better writing in bed before you go to sleep, or in the afternoon after taking a nap,
  • Waking up early and getting in some solid hours of creativity or staying up late in order to record whatever wonderful thoughts you have been accumulating during the day.

Identify Your Most Productive Patterns

Another aspect of this timing technique involves recognizing and exploiting the length of time at a stretch you prefer to work. I have found that I do better working three, four, even five hours at one sitting – the longer I go, the better my writing becomes. Other writers I know like to dash off a few paragraphs as soon as they come to mind, then do something more routine until another flash of inspiration hits them.

There’s no right or wrong here, no absolute better or worse. All I’m suggesting is that you discover the times of day, and days of the week when you are at your best, and do at least some of your writing during those periods.

Break Down A Project Into Separate, Simple Tasks

Once you know the best times to work on your writing, take the next step and figure out what you ought to be working on.

One of the best ways to do this is to have a plan for what you’re going to write, whether it’s a novel, a play, a poem, or anything else. At a minimum, it’ll have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It might have five acts. You might envision 20 or 30 scenes, seven key images, or ten important moments.

No matter how you have conceived the project at hand, if you know each of the parts you want to include in it, you can have the next part in mind as you sit down to work, and even before.

Knowing what comes next is helpful not only because it eliminates the “blank page” problem that so many writers dislike, it allows your subconscious mind to be working on the project during the interval between your last writing session and your next one.

Develop A Productive Working Routine

One way that has helped me be a productive writer over the years is to reserve certain times for writing, and nothing else. During my self-scheduled writing hours, I don’t allow myself to straighten my desk, sharpen pencils, answer the telephone, read, doodle, or anything else. I’m there to write. If I feel stuck or can’t muster the energy to work, my only alternative is to sit idly until I can start working on my project.

I have found that sitting idly during these intended writing times is so unpleasant and boring that I quickly start my writing engine and begin putting words on paper.

Another trick that many writers use is to stop writing in the middle of a passage that’s coming easily and feeling great. The idea is that later, when you come back to the project, you’ll find it relatively easy to pick up where you left off and start producing good material right away. The corresponding fear is that if you finish that great passage and then stop writing, when you come back to the project later on you’ll face a difficult time getting started again.

Either of these ideas may or may not be true for you, but there’s no doubt that if you regularly sit down to write during your “high performance” periods, you’ll produce better work than if you work at random times or – worse – when your performance level is on the downswing.

Follow Your Schedule

Any or all of this may seem great, but I can assure you that it’s helpful only to the extent you actually put it into practice.

If you don’t have enough self-discipline to follow your self-imposed schedule, understand that becoming a professional writer requires more of it.

Stay Flexible

Having said all this, I want you to remember that creativity should never be a chore, never a drag on your time or energy, never a task to get through so you can do something else that’s more fun. Creativity should be your most enjoyable activity.

That’s why it’s important that your working schedule – no matter how carefully laid out and how many great techniques and ideas it incorporates – should be more of a “guideline” than an implacable routine.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Developing a Business Plan

If you want to be a professional writer, then you ought to treat your work as a business. And that means you ought to develop a business plan.

If you’re just starting out to become a professional writer, you probably won’t need a complex one; you may be able to scratch out a totally adequate business plan on the back of an envelope. If you’ve got some experience under your belt, or you have major ambitions, you’ll benefit from a more robust, comprehensive, and heavily detailed plan.

Either way, having a business plan gives you a road map for what to focus on, what to do next, what to expect in the future, how to handle the unexpected, and how to assess the progress you are making toward your goal of becoming a professional writer.

What Will You Do?

The first part of your business plan should contain a simple but complete, high-level statement of your planned professional activities:

  • What products and services will you offer?
  • To whom will you offer them?
  • How will you make yourself known to these potential buyers?
  • What performance milestones will you aim for?

Do some clear thinking as you write this part of your plan, but be ready to come back to it with refinements after you finish fleshing out the details in the sections to follow.

Products and Services

In this section, try to nail down the work you expect to be doing in more detail.

Start by naming and characterizing each of your products and services (Scripts? Novels? Booklets? Plays? Speeches? Or what?). Then specify the relevant details, such as word lengths, audiences, and formats.

While you’re at it, try to identify the benefits of your products and services. What’s special about you and your offerings? Why should anyone hire you, or buy what you can produce? What differentiates your products and services from those of your competitors?

Incidentally, if you think you don’t have any competitors, you’re almost certainly wrong. You probably haven’t found them because you haven’t done enough research into the market(s) you plan to enter.

Sales and Marketing

In this section of your business plan, try to include all the important details about how you will obtain clients, customers, buyers, or whatever you want to call the people who will pay you for your products and services.

  • How much do you hope to charge for each product and/or service?
  • Will you advertise? Where? How often?
  • Will you participate in trade shows or display at conventions? Which ones?
  • Will you mail or email sales and marketing materials? To whom? Saying what?
  • Will you make hay within your network? Where? When? How?
  • Will you get sales and marketing help from an agent? A publisher? A collaborator?
  • Will you develop a “web presence”? How? With what sales and marketing messages?

Try to list, describe, and specify enough details so that you could – if you wish – simply hand off this information to a sales and marketing agency, and afterwards feel confident they could implement your plans without having to guess or find their own answers.

Practical Matters

Since you are starting a business, you need to work out in advance several practical matters that will effectively translate your dreams and rough ideas into a tangible business entity. Think about and decide such matters as:

  • Where and when will you work?
  • Who will do your billing? Accounting? Taxes?
  • What’s the name of your business?
  • How is it organized: A “sole proprietorship”? A “limited liability company”? A “corporation”? In what state?
  • Who will own the business?
  • How will you ensure compliance with applicable laws, and get answers to the inevitable legal questions?
  • Do any existing contracts or agreements (non-disclosure? non-compete?) limit your ability to do what you are planning? If so, how will you handle these limitations?
  • Where will you obtain the start-up capital you will need?

Management and Decision-Making

Who will run your business? You alone, or you with others, or just these others? What powers will management have, and not have, to impact your everyday work and your ability to make deals (and other business arrangements)?

Will you have any advisors, partners, or collaborators? What power will these people have to control your work, your deal-making, and your business activities?

Growth

What’s your plan for growing this new business? Will it always be just you, or will you bring in others as contractors, employees, partners, coaches, or people in other roles to help you grow your business?

How will you measure your business’s growth? In terms of income? Number of people doing the work? Number of items sold? Some other way? Remember that whatever you measure is generally what changes, so be sure you’re measuring what’s important to the future of your professional writing business.

It’s often interesting and useful to include goals for the future in your business plan. Consolidate your vision of how big you want this business to be in a year. In five years. In ten years. Twenty.

Since the most important constraints tend to be internal, don’t be shy about detailing the success you’d like to achieve as a professional writer.

Finances

No business plan is complete without a financial section. Here is where you detail the amount of money you’ll be dealing with during various time frames.

Start with your first year of business activity: how much money will you need just to survive (you’ve got to eat and sleep) and also to start and operate your business. How much in each of the following four years? If you don’t have enough money on hand, or you can’t raise it, then include reasonable interest charges on the loans you’ll be taking out to keep afloat.

Once you’ve calculated these expense figures, start adding up the money you can realistically expect to earn as a professional writer. Take into account the prices you can charge, and the quantity of products or services you can realistically expect to sell each year. Since you can’t nail this down to the exact dollar, work with a range of likely minimum to likely maximum income during each of the first five years you’ll be in business.

Now compare your anticipated income against your anticipated expenditures. How long will it take until you’re breaking even? How long after that until you recoup all the money you spend while your income ramps up to that break-even point? How long until your new business is profitable and you can start saving for your retirement? If five years aren’t enough, then project your estimates of expenses and income even farther out, until you do get to a profitable level of operation.

Be aware that your new business might accumulate significant value as it grows. For example, any assets it owns might become valuable, including its contracts, its relationships with solid customers, its inventory and unspent earnings, its real estate or other property, and so forth.

All this work to develop a business plan can be fun, as you run through all the possible scenarios and contemplate your potential success as a professional writer. But that doesn’t prevent it from being a meaningful exercise.

If you don’t get the business plan right, you’ll be depending on luck for your success. And it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the one in a million writer who lucks into success as a professional. If you do get your business plan right, though, your chances of success take an immediate leap into the realm of the possible, the do-able, and even the likely.

One Final Thought

Many people make the mistake of thinking that just by stating a goal, or writing it up as a business plan, that you’re a lock to achieve it. Totally untrue. Any goals you state – and intend to achieve – are simply distant milestones to help guide your direction. To achieve them, you must actually do the necessary hard work, and do it as well as you can.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Please join me for a very educational webinar, June 22 at Noon, Pacific Time

June 22, 2019

Time: 3:00 pm Eastern

Webinar: Wake Up the Professional Writer Inside You
with Robert Moskowitz, NAIWE’s Professionalism Expert

Cost
NAIWE Members: $10
Non-Members: $30

To register:, please send an email to admin@naiwe.com along with your name and telephone number. You will receive an invoice for payment.

Here’s Why You Should Attend: Almost everyone can write. Heck, nearly every high school graduate can cobble together some words and call it writing. Some people can even earn a few bucks as a writer. But if you really want to pursue the writing life, you’ll find you can do it only if you succeed at becoming a professional. Many years ago, I had a dream of writing professionally. I even got a job as a writer. But it was just a job. Two years later, after too many job interviews in which pretty much every 9-to-5-er I met expressed massive regret at having to give up their dream of writing in order to earn a living, I found myself undergoing a three-month epiphany that helped me transform and commit to the writing life. This webinar is informed by that transformation, as well as by my decades of successful professional writing. It will help you determine just how much “fire in the belly” you have around becoming a professional writer and will help you make the adjustments and develop the attributes you need to get there. We will leave the writing itself for another time and emphasize the professionalism involved in a successful professional writing career.

  • Exercises to help you know yourself better
  • Business lessons for the professional writer
  • Opening the pipeline to your creativity
  • Turning good ideas into finished material
  • How to more fully trust your talent and your know-how

Hope to be with you then!

Pricing Your Work

One of the most difficult questions you’ll ever be asked about your work is: “What’s it worth?”

Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the road to becoming a professional writer involves navigating the intricacies and trade-offs of this difficult question and coming up with answers that lead to advancement toward that goal, rather than retreat.

The intricacies of that difficult question involve issues that are practical, economic, competitive, and emotional. Let’s take a look at each of those sets of issues:

Practical Issues

The first set of issues you encounter when setting prices for your work involves practical matters:

  • How much money do you have on hand?
  • How much do you spend each month or each year?
  • How much money is coming in?

The bottom line of all this is simple: How long can you stay in the writing game before you run out of money and must quit writing to put that time and energy toward other means of earning a living?

Pricing is one way to directly change that bottom line result. If you can adjust your pricing to increase the amount of money coming in, you can stretch out the time remaining in your career as a professional writer. If you can increase the amount of money coming in substantially enough, you can keep writing professionally for the rest of your life.

Most times, to increase your writing income you’ll need to raise your prices. But this calculation can lead you to lower your prices, too. The point is to maximize the income you generate from the combination of two factors: the amount of work you sell and the price you earn from each sale.

For example, suppose you’re now selling ten pieces of writing per month at $100 per piece. That’s $1000 income per month. If raising your price will not lose too many sales, you might be able to sell eight pieces at month $150 per piece. That would earn you $1200 per month total income.

On the other hand, if lowering your price will result in extra sales, you might be able to sell 15 pieces per month at $90 per piece. That would bring you $1350 per month.

A great many factors go into determining the most lucrative “price point” for each item you sell. Sometimes, you won’t know the best price point until you experiment. But the basic fact is that changing your prices is the first, and often most practical, way to increase your income as a professional writer.

 

Economic Issues

If you lived in a vacuum, or in a static world, you could raise and lower your prices however you wish and expect to receive a mathematically calculated result. But you live in an economy which has its own ups and downs independent of you and your wishes.

That’s one reason professional writing can often be a case of “feast or famine.” During good economic times, you might sell all the work you can produce at prices you enjoy. During bad economic times, you might struggle to sell any of your work, and have no choice but to accept prices you wish were higher.

Your pricing decisions should therefore recognize and take into account the current economic climate in which you are operating. You should be alert not only to current economic conditions, but also to upcoming changes in the economic climate. Looking ahead, you can strive to position yourself – by means of pricing changes (and perhaps other ways, as well) – to take maximum advantage of the economic hand you will soon be dealt.

 

Competitive Issues

Just as you live in an economic climate, you also live in a competitive climate. If you’re the only one capable of writing a particular piece of work – say a Katy Perry song or a best-seller on White House intrigue – you can pretty much write your own ticket as far as income from that work is concerned.

However, if you are cranking out the same kind of boiler plate that’s available from ten thousand other writers, it’s hard to price your work outside of the competitive range the market has established for such work.

This has two implications for professional writers:

  1. Don’t expect to earn more from highly competitive work than the vast majority of your competitors are earning. Your prices and to some extent your income will be tightly constrained by the market.

 

  1. There are major advantages to stepping out of the competitive rat race and into some niche where competition is relatively scarce and where your natural talents help you become a leader – or even a “one of a kind.” There are lots of genres and markets out there. Which one fits you better and offers you a greater chance to earn the living you want as a professional writer?

 

Emotional Issues

So far, we’ve covered three practical, objective, external issues that tend to influence how much you can earn from your work. But the most important issues are internal:

If you don’t feel worthy of big bucks for your work, you won’t ask for them. And if the market nevertheless insists on offering you those big bucks, psychology tells us you’ll find ways to screw up, or even to lose hold of those big bucks very quickly after they are forced on you.

If you don’t work at improving your pricing, you’ll set your prices at less than optimum levels. The result: you’ll leave money on the table, money that could have been yours.

If you don’t build up the psychological strength to withstand the inevitable stresses, losses, and – yes – even failures you will experience not only on the road to becoming a professional writer, but more generally in life, you will burn out, quit, or otherwise settle for less. Without sufficient inner resilience, you’ll be far less likely to last long enough to accomplish any of your most important goals.

The road to becoming a professional writer is much easier to travel when you recognize that however large and unyielding the external barriers to success may seem, the barriers that are most difficult to surmount are the internal ones.

Having said all this, I recognize and understand that you may not make the same choices on pricing as I make. But I still challenge you to price your work as close as you can to its full value. It’s a difficult challenge to meet, and a continuing one. Yet optimum pricing is a central aspect of becoming a professional writer, and also a key element in earning a good living from your skills and your craft.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

 

How to Harness the Power of Your Dreams

Aside from the actual craft of writing, one of the best ways to improve your work (and generate more personal satisfaction and income as a result) is to harness the power of your dreams.

In this context, let’s use the word “dreams” to include those stories you tell yourself while you’re sleeping, of course, and also your waking daydreams, your fantasies about how life could or should or would be, plus those many “what if” scenarios you dream up in response to real life situations that strangers helpfully play out in front of you.

All of these ideas, scenes, set pieces, snippets, and snapshots may be sparked by external reality. But they nearly always feed off some of your innermost feelings, drives, and desires. As such, they are normally connected to strong emotions that, when woven into your writings, will tend to attract and captivate others much more powerfully than the relatively dry stuff that spills out from your comparatively cerebral creative processes.

It has often been said that if you are not crying while you are writing, you’re not doing it right. Starting with material from your dreams will make crying – and other high emotions – a more commonplace part of your writing process.

Here are some tips to help you harness the power of your dreams:

1. Keep Track of Your Dreams

The first step in harnessing the power of your dreams is to capture as much of this raw material as you can. This requires you to keep a “dream journal” in which, every morning on first awakening, you immediately note what you can remember of any dreams you’ve had during the night. At first, you might remember just a few disconnected snippets of your dreams. But as you continue with this practice, you’ll get better and better at remembering the details of what you dreamt the night before.

But don’t stop with nighttime dreams. Carry some kind of note-taking mechanism with you – scrap paper and pencil, a bound journal, your smart phone, a tape recorder, or anything else you can comfortably tote all the time – and use it frequently. Record random thoughts, complete ideas, simple stories you make up during the day, human interactions you witness, and any other fodder for writing that you encounter as you go about your daily business.

Don’t try to vet these items for quality, relevance, or any other virtue. Capture them all as they come to you. Later, you can decide whether a particular note has enough merit or potential to warrant further work.

2. Brainstorm On Your Dreams

You can think of dreams that pop into your head as “first generation” material, because it comes unbidden to your mind. But equally valuable is the “second generation” material you intentionally manufacture using your “first generation” material as starting points.

There are many rules to aid in brainstorming, the full range of which I won’t bother to discuss here. But I will cover just two: free writing, and pyramiding.

Free writing is a simple exercise designed to uncover lots of ideas that your native internal editor would normally try to keep hidden. It consists of starting with an item of first generation dream material and then writing whatever comes to mind, without stopping or thinking or editing, for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. If you have nothing to say, just write “I have nothing to say” over and over again until you do have something to say. The result of this free writing exercise is to “clear the pipes” and uncover subconscious material that often reveals additional thoughts, feelings, memories, and ideas tied in with your strong emotions.

Pyramiding is a more conscious process in which you start with an item of first generation dream material, then intentionally and logically build on it. Say you originally dreamt of an umbrella. You might pyramid on that idea by thinking of umbrella uses, such as shielding a person from rain or sun. You might think of other items that are reminiscent of or associated with umbrellas, such as awnings, tarps, tents, and porch roofs. If you start with an item of clothing, you might build to whole outfits or trending fashions. If you start with a snippet of human interaction, you might pyramid from there toward an entire play.

The discipline and practice of brainstorming applied to your first generation dream material is helpful because it produces further raw material on the basis of which you may later write something wonderful.

3. Refine Your Dream Material

Although your first and second generation dream material provides the valuable ore containing hints of golden promise, you extract the most value from this raw material when you refine it into ingots of first-rate creative expression.

To do this, sift through your dream material in search of nuggets, grains, or even flecks of worthwhile story material. Look for elements like a great line of dialog or description, a powerful conflict, a memorable character, a captivating visual, an exciting journey, an enthralling plot, or something better.

Collect and organize these as the basis for the most “writerly” part of this process:

4. Edit Your Dream Material Into Story Ideas

Here’s another place where we separate the “wannabes” from the professional writers. Anybody can think of a great line of dialog or an enthralling plot. It takes a professional to craft such elements into a complete idea for a story.

Take, for example, “Proof of Life.” It’s a compelling film based on a magazine article prompted by the actual practice of gaining freedom for hostages taken by terrorists. Lots of people knew about the practice; thousands more read the magazine article. The raw material was sitting out there in public view, just waiting for a professional writer to do the work necessary to wrangle the raw idea into a story.

Steps one through three, above, will regularly provide you with a treasure trove of raw dream material chock full of powerful elements from your own life, mind, and unconscious.

From that point on, you will have endless opportunities to use your writing chops to crank out a great story. Or more than one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.