Find your writing “why”

Psst. I haven’t published in this space in a long time, but I do send weekly newsletters here. Below is this week’s newsletter. If you want more of this straight to your inbox, sign up to get WTH Weekly every Sunday.


When I made a career change and launched into a full-time, non-writing job seven weeks ago, my mother, a writer, said that this would be a defining moment for my writing life. Whether I make the time for it now would likely dictate whether I continue showing up years from now—and continue to be a writer. Gulp. Dose of reality. (Why is my mother literally
always right? It’s maddening. Love you, mom.)

This unsolicited advice didn’t come from nowhere. My mother knows me well. She knows my tendency to procrastinate and let my soul-sustaining habits—like writing and exercising—fall by the wayside when the rest of life feels all-consuming. So then I did solicit her advice on finding the time and motivation for writing, even though I knew exactly what it would be. “Ass in chair,” was her Anne Lamott-esque response.

My mother walks her talk. Her years-long routine of 5 a.m. writing sessions before heading off to work while raising three daughters still has me in awe. If she can do all that, certainly there’s no excuse for me.

Like me, many of you are not full-time writers. Or for some of you who are, what you write at work doesn’t elicit the same passion that your at-home writing does. To varying degrees we likely all experience stretches of productivity, but periods of inactivity can creep up fast and lead to major guilt feels. But guilt has no place in writing. Guilt doesn’t put words on the page. Guilt doesn’t get books published.

Guilt has no place in writing. Guilt doesn’t put words on the page. Guilt doesn’t get books published.

At work, one of the owners gave a class and spoke about the importance of finding your “big why”—the thing that motivates you to show up and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. The same can be applied to our writing. What keeps you coming back? If you struggle to stick with writing, you’re gonna have to get more specific than “I need to.” What, specifically, are you doing it for? What’s the desired outcome of a day’s or year’s worth of writing?

It helps, too, to have your own writing metric to strive for and attach to your big why. One that’s ambitious but realistic and that suits your definition of a successful writing week, not someone else’s. Many published authors insist that you must write every day, and while that would be ideal, I don’t believe it’s realistic or helpful to impose that standard on every writer. Instead, your metric could be a page count or number of writing hours per week. Whatever works. That part you’ll have to figure out, possibly through trial and error.

Author Karen Russell said it well in this interview:

“I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time, when I did not leave my desk, didn’t find some distraction to take me out of the world of the story?”

Many of us have big goals like, say, to write a novel. Big goals are fine, but to be successful and ensure you’re going to make the time to write—especially on those crappy days when you don’t feel like it—you have to break the big goal down by months, weeks, and possibly days. Think of National Novel Writing Month: The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month, or 1,667 words per day. Without breaking down that large goal into smaller chunks, do you think so many people would actually “win” at NaNoWriMo?

Whether you write daily or not, revisit your big why daily. Meditate on it, write it on a piece of paper and stick it on your bathroom mirror, say it out loud.

Then lose the guilt. Make the time. And write.

Holiday hiring slump: how to network & be productive when business is slow

Holiday hiring slump: how to network & be productive when business is slow

December is notorious not only for its icy freezes, but for hiring freezes, too. (Unless you work in retail. In which case, I admire you for your strength.)

And that can be a pain for those of us looking for work. (Though what job-seeker wouldn’t be a bit panicky at the thought of starting a new gig at the height of the holiday season?) If you’re on the market for new employment but aren’t getting a lot of leads, you can still use the holiday season to get ahead on your networking game.

Here are nine ways to polish your online presence, make new connections and maybe even open up doors that will lead to employment. (You know, for when you’re not last-minute Christmas shopping or sipping seasonal cocktails):

Update your bio or about page. So you have a website that you update regularly. But when was the last time you even looked at your bio page? Is it collecting dust? Does it still say you’re overseas teaching English to penguins who are probably dead by now? (First thing that popped into my mind.) Don’t let your first impression give the wrong impression—refresh that bio, and update your headshot while you’re at it.

Revise your resume and organize your clips/samples. If you’re been using the same resume template for years, it’s time for a revision. Have you picked up any new skills or taken on new clients? Can you tighten up the language or remove a position that’s not really relevant anymore? Make those changes. And if your work constitutes having a portfolio or providing work samples, collect links or files and organize them neatly on your computer and website. This is your go-to when potential employers ask for examples of your work.

Breathe new life into a standby cover letter. They say you’re not supposed to have a “Dear X, I’d love to be considered for the X position with X” cover letter, and they would be correct. (It’s so obvious when you just copy and paste positions and company names into a generic cover letter.) But most of us aren’t rewriting each letter from scratch, either. Sit down and write out all the things that make you a great catch and then use that to draft a letter that’s inspired. If you’re stuck, this post outlines a great mind trick for writing a non-sucky cover letter.

Clean up your social media accounts. Unfollow people who annoy you or don’t follow you back, create Twitter lists of your favorites, and read through your latest posts to make sure they’re contributing to an image you want to convey. Do away with any social media sites that zap your energy or merely feel like an obligation. As Sarah Von Bargen says, you only need to be active on two or three sites that you enjoy using and that make sense for you.

Talk to people you’d like to work with online. On the subject of social media—are you following or talking to the people you’d like to work with (or for) online? Find the writers, editors, designers, marketers, public speakers or developers who are your colleagues—or who you want to be—and respond to their posts, share their content and offer up your own thoughts on the same subjects. Don’t kiss ass just to kiss ass. Engage and discuss. People will start to take notice, and you’ll attract followers in your field.

Offer pro bono work. ‘Tis the season of giving. Offer your services free of charge to a nonprofit or organization you’d like to work for or whose cause is important to you. This is especially valuable if you don’t have a lot of experience. Sometimes one solid recommendation is all you need to get your foot in the door for the next paid gig that comes along, and if you do a solid job, you’ll get just that.

Write testimonials for connections on LinkedIn. Endorse or write glowing reviews for current or former colleagues whose work you’re familiar with. It’s not only good karma, but those people will be more likely to think of you when they hear of a job that pops up. (And maybe they’ll return the testimonial-writing favor!)

Send holiday cards or “thinking of you” emails. This is not one of those emails that says “It’s been so long” and “I have a favor to ask” in the same damn paragraph. Instead, try a no-ulterior-motive email like this: “Hey X – Merry Christmas! Hope all is well. I thought of you recently when X. I just caught up with your latest project – impressive stuff!” Warm fuzzies all around.

Keep an eye out—just in case. Hey, new opportunities can come up any time. (There are a lot of good reasons why December can actually be a great time to land a gig if you’re looking.) Just ask Laura or Nicole—they both just started great new jobs they’re excited about! So have your stuff together and be ready for when that opportunity arrives. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays!

Aside from some of the above, I’m working on a brand new site design that I’m really excited about and hope to reveal for the new year. It’s a much-needed refresher that I’ll be even more proud to show off to potential employers.

Are you currently on the job hunt?

A guide to quitting your job (and why every 20-something should do it)

A guide to quitting your job (and why you need to do it)

An article I read recently urged young people to quit their jobs.

As someone who quit her first job out of college (a gig I stayed with for two years) to move across the country and go to grad school, I couldn’t agree more.

I still remember the day I told my boss I was leaving.

With multiple people on maternity leave, the company taking on new clients and other big changes, my department had been stretched thin for weeks and was about to get even busier. But I’d been keeping the news of my acceptance into grad school to myself for months and couldn’t contain it any longer—it was time to drop the bomb. So after one of our department’s weekly meetings, I asked my manager if we could speak privately—an uncommon request. Walking down the hall toward his office, he said jokingly, “I hope you’re not leaving us.” I started, “Well…” and told him my good news. And I quit.

The Atlantic article explained what a study on youth unemployment revealed about the benefits of quitting:

“Jumping between jobs in your 20s, which strikes many people as wayward and noncommittal, improves the chance that you’ll find more satisfying—and higher paying—work in your 30s and 40s.

“People who switch jobs more frequently early in their careers tend to have higher wages and incomes in their prime-working years,” said [Henry] Siu, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics. “Job-hopping is actually correlated with higher incomes, because people have found better matches—their true calling.””

I certainly hope that’s true. And in my experience, I’ve found other benefits as well.

The act of quitting your job builds courage. There’s nothing scarier than giving up your paycheck—possibly the first steady source of income that allowed you independence—and telling your boss you’re leaving. It takes bravery to decide it’s time to move on to something else and then act upon that realization.

It also requires serious planning (and soul-searching). You’ve hopefully put a lot of thought and consideration into why you’re quitting your job and what you’re looking for wherever you go next. If it’s more money, no shame in saying so—identify exactly how much money and put into writing the steps you’ll take to earn it. If it’s room for growth, fine—make a timeline of where you expect to be in five years and talk with potential employers about how you’ll reach that goal. If it’s not having to answer to a boss, make sure you can be productive working on your own and are comfortable playing multiple roles in self-employment.

If you’re going to quit your job, a few words of advice:

Give fair notice. No matter how uninspired a job might be, unless your work conditions are unsafe or completely unprofessional, it’s not fair to walk out on a day’s notice. Don’t burn bridges by going out in a blaze of glory. Ask your boss for a private meeting (be kind—don’t do it on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon) and give at least two weeks’ notice. Because I knew the department would need me, I gave my boss seven weeks’ notice and helped train my replacement.

Don’t focus on the negatives. Unless you’re in the tough position of quitting a job you just started (only to realize it’s completely, 100 percent wrong for you), don’t talk about what you didn’t like about your job. Maybe you were bored as hell, maybe the job wasn’t what you thought it’d be or maybe your boss’ managing tactics grated on your every last nerve—quitting time is not the time to offer critiques. Unless specifically asked what about the job could be improved or convince you to stay, speak only about what you learned or got out of the experience in a positive way. It’ll soften the blow of your departure and make you look like a class act.

Say thank you. Handwrite letters to your manager or boss, the coworkers in your department, the CEO and whomever else you worked closely with or for as a way of showing thanks. These are the people you’ve worked alongside in an important stage of your life. Thank them for being part of it. The handwritten part will floor anyone who thinks Millennials don’t value old-fashioned etiquette.

Above all, don’t quit your job if… You’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. You don’t have something else lined up. You genuinely love your job. (If so, congrats! And why are you still reading?! Go to happy hour with your coworkers already.)

When I quit my job, I realized no one is irreplaceable.

After what felt like an eternity (but was probably only a minute or so) of my rehearsed resignation, I was relieved to see my boss smile as he congratulated me on getting into school. He was sad to see me go but said he pegged me as someone who was itching to do something a bit more creative and might not stay around forever. And I realized then that quitting isn’t more of a shock to anyone else than it is to you. Do good work and as long as the industry is sound, you can probably hang on to the same gig for a while. (And in an economy like this, we should be thankful for any job.) But unless you’re lucky enough to land the dream gig—or close enough to it—in your 20s, if you can afford to risk it, why not try on a couple of things until you find the right fit? You’ll never say you wish you did when you had the chance. And if it leads to bigger paychecks in the future, even better.

Have you ever quit a job? What did you learn?

How do you prioritize?

priorities

When you think about your top priorities, do a dozen different things come to mind?

If so, we’re a lot alike. But I’ve realized what I call “priorities” pretty much encompass my entire life—everything from school to relationships to my health to this here blog make up all of my top focuses, which in fact makes it pretty darn hard to focus on anything, really.

Nicole wrote a very insightful post that made me reconsider what my priorities were. This particularly stood out to me:

“Before last week, since my mental health wasn’t my clearly identified top priority, other ‘priorities’ such as training, social and family stuff, and even work would often slip into that top spot and monopolize my attention. I didn’t have an iron-clad priority, which made everything seem like the priority, but the truth is that a priority isn’t a priority if you have 50 of them.

Simple, right? It was refreshing and kind of a relief to read this. I realized I wasn’t failing at life because I struggled to balance grad school, two writing jobs, my health, a social life, and my blog. I was just a normal person who had a lot on her plate and felt like she had to do all the things when in fact she should’ve focused on the first thing on her list: grad school. Are the other things still important? Absolutely. Are they the most important? Well, no. Not right now.

But how do you stick to one priority when other things are still important?

Obviously relationships and health shouldn’t go out the window just because school or something else gets top billing. The most helpful way I’ve come to think of it is to schedule your top priority in ink. Schedule the rest in pencil. 

In other words, plan time on your calendar that’s dedicated to whatever’s most important and stick to it no matter what. That way, even if you only accomplish one thing on your list, it’s the most important thing. Allow yourself to be flexible on the rest, and you won’t feel guilty if today’s cleaning session becomes tomorrow’s instead.

If you’re a master procrastinator, it also helps to identify your biggest distractors and schedule those, too. For me, scrolling through Twitter, Instagram and my blog feed is how I procrastinate. That not only takes away time from my top priority, but from my downtime, too. Now, I’m setting a limit on that time to 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening and 15-20 minutes at lunch. And blogs? I can catch up on those over the course of an hour on the weekends. That’s plenty of time to stay active and engaged online—but most importantly, that also leaves plenty of time to be active and engaged in the real world.

By keeping your number-one priority in mind every time you have to make a decision about how to spend your time, you’re a lot more likely to make the right decision and stay focused on the main goal. It helps to keep expectations for other aspects of our lives in perspective, too. In my case, that means from now on, I plain to aim on publishing two blog posts per week instead of three here at WTH. I have a lot of other writing responsibilities, and if I get too ambitious with my secondary goals, I’m unnecessarily setting myself up for disappointment if I fail to reach them.

August has been amazing and filled with lots of travel and quality time with family and friends, and now I’m ready to get back in the blogging groove—albeit at a different pace than before. Now that I have more realistic goals in mind for this space and can focus on grad school, there’s no mistaking what my top priorities are any longer.

How about you? What’s your top priority, and how do you work toward it every day?

On isolation, authenticity & failure with One Woman Shop’s Cristina Roman

We hear a lot of words like “authenticity” and “failure” thrown around when talking about careers and businesses.

But these words are often used in big-picture terms, as though someone just starting out in her career should know what we mean when we use them. Today’s Q&A is part two of a career mini-series (see part one from last week here) that focuses on words in the context of careers and really getting specific about them.

I’m chatting with One Woman Shop founder Cristina Roman, whose community for creative solopreneurs addresses one word in particular: isolation. See what Cristina has to say below.

self-employment

Briefly tell us your story and how you came to become so laser-focused on what you wanted to pursue for a career.

I think my friends and family would crack up if they heard someone call me “laser-focused”! I’ve always struggled with being pulled in a ton of different directions. Luckily, there’s a name for this kind of person, which I really identify with: multipassionate. It’s for those of us who love to dabble in various projects, always have our fingers in many pies, and love to learn just about everything.

That being said, I have found the common thread in my various projects and interests relatively recently: working with young women to find and thrive in careers and businesses that they love. Even more specifically, I now work almost exclusively with women who are starting or running their own solo businesses.

I do this through running One Woman Shop, a resource hub and community for female solopreneurs and freelancers, and offering business and career coaching and consulting, e-courses, and seminars through CMR Strategies in the areas of digital marketing, productivity, and personal branding.

And of the best parts of running my own business is that I can incorporate in any new interests I have willy nilly. That’s how my Unique Hobbies blog series and my Cultivating Happiness email series both came about, for example.

One thing your business touches on is something many people don’t talk about in entrepreneurship—loneliness and isolation. How does self-employment lend itself to those things and how can entrepreneurs combat them?

I would say that’s the number-one complaint of solo business owners and is how our tagline “going it alone doesn’t have to be lonely” came about. Entrepreneurs often start out working alone, either by choice or by necessity, and this can lead to a feeling of isolation, especially if friends and family don’t share the same passion for discussing the ins and outs of email marketing, the pros and cons of different legal designations, and the best strategies for finding a virtual assistant!

It can be tough working from home alone day in and day out, often going to a coffee shop doesn’t have quite the same feel as being in an office, and coworking spaces (shared office spaces for freelancers and entrepreneurs) can be expensive.

My advice for combatting this feeling of isolation: Meet other solo business owners in your area through Meetup, Twitter (try using FollowerWonk to search by area), and other local events; plan work dates and coffee dates to get out of the house; collaborate with other solopreneurs on projects and events, and set up periodic phone calls with people who motivate and inspire you (some of my most productive days have come after early morning phone calls that lit me up!).

We place a high value on authenticity in business these days, but that can seem like a double-edged sword for anyone just starting out who doesn’t want to offend potential clients or employers. How can any entrepreneur or corporate ladder climber walk that fine line while keeping her personality intact?

I think it comes down to making a decision: if there is a part of you that has the potential to offend or alienate someone – like your dirty jokes, your strong religious beliefs, or your political affiliation – and you choose to bring that into your business or the workplace, you need to own all of the possible repercussions. That could include not getting hired by a certain client or a company you want to work for.

Some people have made very successful careers for themselves by being 100% their “not suitable for work” selves – like Ash of the Middle Finger Project. This works for them, but it doesn’t mean you need to be the same way. It’s not inauthentic to have slightly different versions of yourself in your everyday life and your work life, as long as you don’t feel weird about it.

One Woman Shop

People talk a lot about failure as a positive thing. But what do you think they mean by that? Is there good failure and bad failure, and how can we use both to our advantage?

Failure sure is having its heyday, huh? It’s a complicated discussion because failure is all about perspective. For example, a $10,000 product launch could be an utter flop for one business owner, while it’s a gold mine for another. It’s also a matter of attitude – what one person considers failure, another may consider a learning experience. Basically, I think it’s all subjective!

The idea behind thinking of failure as a positive thing is that if you are putting out there over and over, you’re bound to fail sometimes. If you’re not failing occasionally, it probably means you didn’t really put yourself out there. In my opinion, it’s not absolutely necessary to fail, but it’s important to not be afraid to fail. And when you do fail, it’s crucial to learn from your mistakes.

At the risk of sounding too cheesy, we can use every failure to our advantage by learning from it. For example, I offered paid membership on One Woman Shop from the very beginning and exactly one person became a member in the first six months – pretty big failure, right? I learned that I needed to have a solid base of active individuals, prove that I provide valuable content, and poll my audience about what they were looking for in a paid membership site. Now that we’ve done those things, we’re relaunching our paid membership component!

How can someone just starting out build a community (online and in the real world) that will give her not only the audience, but the relationships necessary for upward growth?

Great question – we’re actually launching a coaching program around this idea! I think the first step is to cultivate resourcefulness and the ability to see the opportunities around you. Once you realize that opportunities to connect are everywhere, things get rolling pretty quickly. Another important piece is to make building a strong community around you a priority, not just something that falls to the wayside.

I firmly believe that community building is not a one-size-fits-all thing; for example, some people love online networking, while others thrive on making in-person connections. Some people build community through blogging, while others have find Instagram to be more suited to them. It’s all about finding your fit while still being willing to experiment.

Hands-down, my #1 recommendation is to get incredibly comfortable with direct outreach, whether it’s to ask people to join your email list, be a guest on your podcast, let you speak to their organization, or partner with you on a collaboration.

At One Woman Shop, we’ve been putting a lot of effort into high-impact activities, such as guest posting on sites like Design*Sponge, setting up a pop-up on the site, doing direct outreach to women we think would be a good fit for the community, and partnering with solo business owners on things like our 28 Tips for Growing Your Community freebie.

 

Thanks, Cristina!

Enjoy what she had to say or have any thoughts of your own? Let us know in the comments. And if this series hasn’t touched on something you’d like to see covered, let me know that, too!