I refuse to mention the word Christmas – damn – but on this first day of November, some things do change and the year is canted toward its end. Plus you know that January is for making resolutions, February is for breaking them and March is for admitting that you actually broke them within a day and a half. November has a purpose too and it’s you.
Back in January you were under all this pressure to declare your plans for the year. Nobody’s asking you to do that in November and actually fewer people are asking you to do anything. Depending on your industry, this can be a slow time and that’s typically true of freelance writing. When you do get work in then stuff everything I’m saying to you and go do that. But when you don’t, do this instead.
Look for some new places to pitch your work. A couple of Novembers ago, I made a list of ten companies I quite liked the sound of and only one of them listened to me. But they became a major source of income, they’ve accounted for maybe a third of the money I’ve earned since then. So you can say that my list of ten was rubbish and worthless and pointless, you can say that I should’ve just gone to this lot. I definitely did say repeatedly that this was a rubbish idea as I worked through the list and nothing was happening. But I still remember the moment, sitting in a Costa Coffee, when I hesitated over whether to bother continuing.
I think that nine failures made my approach to the last lot better or at least more practised. I also think that nine failures meant I wasn’t hoping for anything with the tenth and that I therefore had a busy, an un-needy attitude in that approach. I also know that if it had taken a lot of time I wouldn’t have bothered.
Whereas I think it probably took me two hours over the course of a week to compile that list of ten places; I expect that it took me less time than that to approach them all, and it made a huge difference to my productivity for the next two years.
The trouble is that you don’t think you’ve got two hours to spare over this week. Very often you haven’t, but as we head toward the end of 2016, you’re going to find the time. And if you don’t, if you’re so busy that you haven’t got the time, take it anyway. I’m not saying lie to your client or your employer about how you’ve just spent the last two hours, but only because they might hear me.
I’m pretty sure I was actually at this TEDxManchester talk: it was a few years ago and the presenter’s doubtlessly done it many times, but it stands out to me. Actually, it stands out most for the opening 90 seconds or so. Among all the other things that Carrie Green discusses in her talk, I took away the very first point about just doing something.
We are all remarkably hesitant about things we don’t know, experiences we haven’t had and about how we will appear to others. About whether we will cope with something. I can’t put words into Green’s mouth but what I believe she’s saying is that the time we spend hesitating is wasted and the fact that we hesitate blocks us from things we would enjoy.
Plus, if we then don’t enjoy them, we’ve got ‘me over with quickly instead of stewing about it.
Have a look at her whole talk but especially the opening minute and a half or so.
I believe that splitting your concentration and even – gasp – multitasking means you end up with lots of things not finished. Probably not as good as they could be, either, but chiefly unfinished. Writer James Clear argues that there’s more to this one-thing-only approach, though, and he starts with trying to prove its value:
If you want to master multiple habits and stick to them for good, then you need to figure out how to be consistent. How can you do that?
Well, here is one of the most robust findings from psychology research on how to actually follow through on your goals:
Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”
Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior.
Sorry for the dramatic headline but I think it’s true. Have a read of this:
Most people see the snooze button as a luxury that promises just a little more energy, but in fact, it screws up the morning and beyond. Hitting snooze may offer a temporary sense of relief, but there is mounting evidence that it also keeps us from starting our day with a feeling of purpose.
In his book, The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod explains that the danger of the snooze button is that every time you hit it, you are implicitly saying that you don’t want to wake up to your life.
If you’re thinking, “Meh, not such a big deal,” think again. There are graver conditions than apathy associated with over-snoozing – the most insidious of which is depression. Repeatedly hitting the snooze button in resistance to rising gives you the sense that you have nothing to look forward to, leading to feelings of purposelessness and passivity very similar to what depressed people feel.
That deeply chimed with me because I’ve been doing the snooze a lot lately, including this morning, and I can see directly how my mood is different to when I get up at 5am as planned. Read the full piece.
Sometimes it’s not the tools, it’s you. More often, it is the tools. But then just once in a while, it’s not neither you nor them, it’s when you first tried them. Writer Ken Armstrong used to be firmly against the use of index cards for planning out your scripts but last week found a new approach.
Rather than doing what everyone says you should and actually planning out what the script will be, how the script will go, he wrote the script first and then wrote index cards. One card per scene. He says:
As I wrote them and laid them out on the floor it was almost as if the play stepped a little further out of the script pages and closer to some kind of reality. That sounds strange, I know, but it’s true. The script itself is a rather bulky tome and the only corporeal form it has is a stack of pages or, worse again, a series of digital imprints on a computer screen. On the floor, the little cards, so loose and so tenuously askew, look like they might dance and sing a little. They look like someday they might actually turn into something real.
So there’s another rare writing tip from me. If index cards work for you at the outline stage, well done. If you hate them, like I did, try them once more right at the end.
This morning I went straight to the keys and wrote a Writers’ Guild email newsletter that had to go out. Then I had breakfast. So it was around 11am when I ate and now, a couple of hours later, I’m putting off getting lunch.
This could be why I feel a little ill.
You know that you should eat regularly and if you didn’t know it, you hear it often enough. But there is a reason you hear it often, there is a reason why it’s important and in case it takes just one more push to get you to do it, hello. I’m pushing.
I’m pushing you because eating regularly, even though it takes time away from your work, means you can work better.
And I’m pushing you because that will push me. Let us work together. Hey, let’s do lunch, okay?
Actually, there are elements of the freelance life in existing courses: I’ve been booked to talk to students about writing for a living. But The Freelancer website’s Danielle Corcione has written a funny, incisive and rather smart prospectus for a proper course. It begins with a module on Self-Care for Emotionally Unstable Writers before it goes into practical issues of money.
Have a read. By the end, you’d sign up for this course if she ever really ran it.
I love the phrase “next crisis”: it’s a quote from Battlestar Galactica and in the context that’s in my head every time I say it, it’s about coping with storms and pressing on. My wife Angela Gallagher loathes it: she visibly winces every time I say it and to her I think it’s defeatist, maybe even revelling in defeat before having tried something. She’s right, I’m wrong.
That doesn’t mean I can shake the phrase or that I enjoy it any less, but we’re heading into the part of the year that is particularly busy for a lot of people and I found myself thinking the words so often that maybe it is damaging. For I can’t say I particularly noticed the summer but apparently others did because it went quiet for a while and now it’s all back getting busy, which has to be great, doesn’t it?
I have so much to do in September and October plus the tiny bit I’ve got arranged for November is pretty certain to balloon out. I’m a freelance writer and I live for my work so this has got to be a fantastic time for me: I hope it’s a fantastic time for you.
But I also hope that you don’t see what’s coming up as a series of crises. I’ve gulped at my calendar yesterday and actually it seemed an overwhelming thing, I wondered how I could do everything and I wondered if I could please go hide away for a bit.
Yes, you’ve got a lot on but if you don’t take time to enjoy it now, you never will. Hang on, that could be an idea for a film.
Sounds like a plan to me. Jensen Karp – if he were any more famous you’d have heard of him – is a writer and producer who spoke with Fast Company about doing a gigantic amount of work at the same time. I read this and conclude he’s young. But give the article credit: it uses the word ‘myriad’ correctly.