Write with a Green Thumb: Cultivate Your Story

Like growing a houseplant, writing a story isn’t difficult per se, but it does require dedication, continuing education, and giving it the best growing conditions possible. And while some days you may find yourself simply wishing it would grow itself, it can also instill a ton of pride seeing it growing from just a seed (an idea) to a mature plant (or finished book). It’s also easy to draw landscaping parallels between the two ideas. And since once upon a time I used to do a little landscaping myself, it’s easy to apply similar principals.

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I have been known, on occasion, to dabble with growing a houseplant. And now that I’m between growing anything (I plan to again soon, with all of that free time I have) I see certain parallels between making sure something grows and blossoms, and crafting a story.

Just a couple of nights ago I found out that a former coworker of mine, Kimmy Pagnotta, is self publishing her own comic book. Which is incredible! And it also got me thinking about my own struggles with my story, The Autumn Mage.

Like growing a houseplant, writing a story isn’t difficult per se, but it does require dedication, continuing education, and giving it the best growing conditions possible. And while some days you may find yourself simply wishing it would grow itself, it can also instill a ton of pride seeing it growing from just a seed (an idea) to a mature plant (or finished book). It’s also easy to draw landscaping parallels between the two ideas. And since once upon a time I used to do a little landscaping myself, it’s easy to apply similar principals.

Trim the Dead Growth

This one is always intimidating at first, because anyone who starts a new project has that feeling that whatever they write is perfect. It’s not. Whether you’re on your second draft or your 20th, if something isn’t advancing the story, it’s gotta go.

But it’s my favorite part of the story!

While I’m sure your creative genius is without rival, cut it. You can always recycle an idea later, but if it doesn’t help the story, it hurts it. When a plant has a dead limb, you have to hack it off with a nice, clean trim. Doing so allows new growth to take place, as well as reallocates resources allowing the plant to grow healthier. Same rule of (green) thumb applies here.

Prune the Overgrowth

This is similar to the first tip in both regards. With landscaping, trimming is more cutting off the bigger stuff that has to go, which in writing may be whole subplots, paragraphs, scenes, even characters. Pruning, on the other hand, is more of a pinpointed removal of smaller problems.

Pruning is done to plants to help aid its overall shape, like with bushes and shrubs, and to allow better growth with trees and the like. When too much growth is allowed to take place, branches and leaves can start blocking out the sun, which leads to a vicious cycle of the healthier overgrowth on top stealing away food from the rest of the plant. By cutting it away it allows the tree as a whole to grow better.

In the same vein, if your have unnecessary portions of a story, it’s only going to bore readers. It may be well written, but it only takes away from the meat and potatoes of the story. No matter how well you crafted it, taking it out will lead to a healthier body.

 Feed the Roots

Many amateur gardeners think that growing a plant is literally a Just Add Water! scenario. Unfortunately, like any living thing, that’s not enough. Sunlight acts as plant food, but more often than not they need a little help with fertilizer or other added nourishment.

Doing this feeds the roots, not the plant directly. Feeding the roots allows it to distribute the vitamins throughout the body, strengthening it as a whole. This is akin to having someone else edit your story. They’ll show you where you can improve, what works, and what doesn’t.

Find Your Own Way

When you go online for tips on a subject, you’ll always find a message board where Expert 1 is arguing with Expert 2. The Internet is great for sharing information, but sometimes people confuse opinions for facts. While a little bit of the right advice goes a long way, you should also find techniques that work best for you.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Everyone starts somewhere, and everyone needs a little extra help or mentoring. Whether it be the employee working the garden center or a club or group online, it’s always a good idea to find something with helpful tips.

I am always available with writing and editing services! And if you’re working on a project and you’d like to feature it, just ask!

If you have any other writing (or gardening) tips to share, sound off in the comments below! I love hearing what works for others in their creative process.

The Needs of the Few: Using the Pareto Principle

So a few weeks ago, I was jam-packing my schedule, which is preferred considering I’m a freelance writer and editor. I would rather have too much work than twiddling my thumbs. However, I went almost three weeks solid without a break. I was burning myself out and wasn’t necessarily getting any further ahead.

It wasn’t just work, either. I was taking a look at my day and just kept muttering about how there wasn’t enough time. Something had to change.

So a few weeks ago, I was jam-packing my schedule, which is preferred considering I’m a freelance writer and editor. I would rather have too much work than twiddling my thumbs. However, I went almost three weeks solid without a break. I was burning myself out and wasn’t necessarily getting any further ahead.

It wasn’t just work, either. I was taking a look at my day and just kept muttering about how there wasn’t enough time. Something had to change.

I picked up one gig summarizing books, and one of which brought up the Pareto Principle. It’s been around for several hundred years, but it goes mostly unnoticed by most people. What the Pareto Principle states is, in general, 20% of whatever you put effort in to gives you 80% of your results. This isn’t a hard rule, but I bet if you take a look at some things in your life, you can see the Pareto Principle at work.

It sounds weird, but it seems to be everywhere. If you go and and get a Big Mac, that’s the majority of your daily calorie intake from one sandwich. You probably get most of your daily caffeine from your morning coffee. Your smartphone probably hogs most of your daily attention.

If you have clients, like I do, chances are that about 80% of your income comes from around 20% of your clients. Your repeat customers are the ones doing most of the hiring. That means only 20%, roughly, is coming in from all your other efforts. By finding the areas that you excel in, and the customers that keep coming back, you can really maximize your potential.

In order to apply this, I’m taking less time at the gym. I gut my cardio time from 30 minutes with a 5 minute cool down to 20 minutes with a 4 minute cool down. I also started doing fewer repetitions with more weight. This way, I’ve cut my time at the gym from an hour-hour and a half to about 40 minutes. I’m still working up a sweat and I’m getting more time back to my day.

It also helps you take a look at leisure time. I love playing video games. However, I would rather play for an hour than stay up all night playing. The joy and fun that I get tends to wear off, but by limiting my play time I can still get some goofing off time and enjoy it.

I’m also focusing on repeat customers more than before. I still actively pursue new leads, but I understand now where my focus needs to be. Studies have shown that companies spend more money pursuing new leads than if they spend money retaining old ones.

I’ve also tried my best to reign in my work hours. I’m writing for me and my Work in Progress for the first hour before I do work. I was trying to do it after I had finished working on my client’s projects for the day, and it was leading to fewer amount of time spent on writing and generally just being shoddy at it.

So in short, saving time and working smarter is going to make you a much happier camper. A great way to save time is by letting a freelancer take on your writing and editing projects. I am available to schedule your needs today! Visit Write Now to contact me for your academic, creative, or business writing needs.

Be Phenomenal: 5 Things Pokemon GO Taught Me About Freelance Writing

It’s okay if something you write is bare bones. People think that all writing has to mimic Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. In fact, I’ve read numerous articles stating that reader’s attention spans are so bad, traditional publishing doesn’t love taking anything over 80,000 words anymore. So less is more, BUT you have to be captivating. In Soviet Russia, Pokemon captures YOU!

So, unless you have absolutely no access to the Internet and no contact with any other living being, you’ve no doubt seen Pokemon GO blow up. Nintendo’s adorable pocket monsters have once again captivated the world, and I, for one, welcome our new cute overlords.

For the handful of people who don’t know, Pokemon GO is a new smartphone AR game that superimposes Pokemon onto real life Google Maps. Using the game’s classic Pokeballs with non-traditional game play has lured millions of rabid trainers outside, socialization, and actually making people healthier. Is Pokemon GO going to be a fad? Abso-freaking-lutely. Don’t get me wrong; the game is a lot of fun. But something that comes in this fast often leaves just as quickly.

That said, inspiration can strike anywhere and from anything, and this week throwing imaginary balls at cartoon rodents actually taught me something about being a freelance writer and editor. In fact, it taught me 5 somethings:

 

Lack of Story Doesn’t Mean Lack of Quality

The Pokemon franchise has historically had very little story or plot. It’s always been “Hey, kid? Wanna Pikachu?” The game quickly gives you a rundown of the basics and then sends you on your merry way. Whether you finish the game or not is up to you. Whether you complete your Pokedex is up to you. The game really doesn’t care. They already have your money.

The app has even less of a story. You have one single human character who tells you what is happening (sort of) and then the rest of the time is spent frantically spending your monthly cell data chasing after Pokemon. But just because there isn’t a story doesn’t mean it doesn’t enthrall people.

It’s okay if something you write is bare bones. People think that all writing has to mimic Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. In fact, I’ve read numerous articles stating that reader’s attention spans are so bad, traditional publishing doesn’t love taking anything over 80,000 words anymore. So less is more, BUT you have to be captivating. In Soviet Russia, Pokemon captures YOU!

People Will Freelance Anything

I love what I do. I get to work from home, and I use God-given skills to help people, and in exchange I earn a little money. But some days I look at myself in the mirror and go “Is this my life? Proofreading final exam essays for college kids? Is this a thing?”

I know other freelancers have similar thoughts. And you know what? This week I was officially able to stop being hard on myself for my career choice. You know why? Because out of the Google and Facebook machines came numerous articles of Uber drivers and Craigslist ads of people offering to drive you around town and/or use your device or login credentials to assist you in catching Pokemon.

That is people use really real money to pay people to help them play a smartphone game that has no ending. It became abundantly clear that people will hire a freelancer to do absolutely anything.

Play to People’s Nostalgia

Every time I see a “only 90’s kids will remember!” post I want to punch someone. And yet, there’s a reason these stupid posts keep blowing up my newsfeeds: people love nostalgia. This is not a new concept. Hollywood has been forcing unnecessary reboots for years hoping people will be nostalgic enough to spend $10-$20 on a crappy movie because it involves the name of a beloved childhood franchise. And no matter how bad these movies are, they just keep making more because people can’t refuse nostalgia.

Pokemon GO does this. Every kid who had a Gameboy has dreamed of catching Pokemon in real life, and until scientists decide to find a way to electrify mice, this is as good as it gets. Grown adults are gleefully running around capturing Pokemon because it makes them feel like a kid again.

Am I telling you to rip off an existing franchise? Absolutely not. I can guarantee Michael Bay will not be happy about you doing a better job than he ever could with a fraction of the budget. What I am saying is take a moment to reflect on why you keep going back to certain childhood franchises. What makes you love them eternally, and what can you apply from that to your own work?

Find the Right Business Partner

Augmented Realty has been around for years, and it just never seemed to quite take off. Which is ironic, considering how AR-heavy futuristic movies and video games are. Unlike Virtual Realty where the user takes on a peripheral to enter a virtual world, Augmented Realty does the opposite, bringing the virtual to life in our world. The developer of Pokemon Go, Niantic, was originally a startup owned by Google. Google released them into the wild, and Niantic developed the popular AR game Ingress. Chances are you haven’t heard of Ingress, but it’s their predecessor multiplayer AR game sending people running around real towns to collect and interact with other players.

So why is Pokemon GO so much more popular? Besides nostalgia, Niantic teamed back up with Google and video game powerhouse Nintendo. Together the three companies have created an immersive AR experience, and chances are we’re going to see a lot more AR apps pop back up. Sometimes when you can’t pull something off yourself, you just need to find the right partners in crime.

Make Sure Your Product is Market-Ready Before Launch

Dear sweet Lord is Pokemon GO riddled with technical problems. Server crashes. Hours upon hours in which you cannot play. App crashes. GPS not working right. Pokemon not showing up anywhere.

I have never heard of another game on any system that has been so flawed that still has such a positive fan base. Any other game would have been ripped to shreds. They’re lucky people are so crazy for Pokemon because otherwise this would be their Titanic.

You have to make sure, whatever you are selling, is ready to be purchased. If reviews start rolling in that your product is only halfway finished, you’re going to be labeled a scam artist and laughed off from Amazon.

Your story might be good, but I can guarantee it isn’t Pokemon-level good. If your story has typos or plot holes or other mistakes, people are not going to be happy that they spent money on your product.

That’s why I offer a full range of freelance writing services including editing, rewriting, ghostwriting, and content writing. From professional needs to creative writing solutions, you can hire me for any need. Visit Write Now today to schedule me!

Happy hunting, all you Pokemon Masters!

Agree to Disagree: the Dreaded Agreement Talk

I love being a freelance writer. I truly do. There is very little I do not like about the job, and even those things are very minor annoyances at best. It is a job I enjoy doing and it’s work that I am proud of and passionate about. I honestly can’t see doing any other type of work that would make me this enthusiastic about working.

And as you’ve been expecting, there’s a “but” to that sentence: the signed written agreement. People get weird about having to sign a dated agreement. Clients act as if by signing a piece of paper that literally says “I am going to write the thing and then you’re going to pay me” that I’m somehow tricking them into purchasing a car.

The signed agreement is necessary. As a freelance writer I am my company. I am my boss. I am my employees. The work I do is in a Word document and then emailed. My works does not leave much of a paper trail and every transaction, even from those I have worked for already in the past, carry with them the small possibility of someone getting over on me.

I have not even seen the majority of my clients. 99% of my job is done via receiving an request from my website, discussing the terms over email, and then me completing the job. It’s a fast process; I would venture to say much quicker than hiring someone to perform a service at your house even. In a matter of hours I have the job done. And if I don’t have something in writing holding them responsible for payment, what’s to guarantee that I’m getting paid for my work once I hit “send”?

If you have not used a freelancer before, please understand that signed agreements are not used because we think you are untrustworthy. We do not ask you to sign a contract because it’s the wild west and you’re clearly looking to screw us. We do it because we’re professionals and we need that safety net should something happen. Conducting business online contains a lot of variables. We’re just trying to element one of them.

If you take your car to the mechanic they’re going to review what you need, go over the work and how much it will cost, and then they make you sign an agreement. They aren’t worried that you’re going to peel out of the parking lot with smoking tires as Anthony comes running out covered in motor oil waving a wrench and shouting “AW MAN, NOT AGAIN!” They do it because they are professionals and any type of service should come with a written agreement signed by both parties. It keeps both sides honest.

If you are a freelancer and you are not at minimum using a signed agreement you really ought to. You may not have encountered a problem yet, but it’s honestly only a matter of time. I make everyone sign an agreement before any work starts, and I mean everyone: college students looking to have a paper typed, the owner of the company looking for content pages, a sole proprietor looking to launch a new website, everyone I am going to be doing work for.

Written agreements seem to have a negative connotation, and people need to understand that they are very positive things. By you signing the agreement you are legally stating that you agree to the terms of work and payment. When I sign it I am legally agreeing to the work. It’s the closest equivalent I can have to a firm handshake with eye contact.

Don’t be afraid of the written agreement. Embrace the contract knowing that a professional like myself is actually looking out for your best interests by having you sign it. With it completed I now have the confidence to work on your academic, creative, or professional business writing gig and you now have the confidence to know that I am going to do the best job possible.

Contact me today for your writing needs today. Yes, there will be a written agreement, and it guarantees fast reliable service you can trust.

 

Part 2: 5 Things Your Good Guys Can Learn From Jedi

Welcome to Part 2 of my two part special on what your characters can learn from Star Wars! Part 1 was here, and it dealt with what your villains can learn from the Dark Side.

So first, what are the Jedi? The Jedi are the peaceful group of Force users in Star Wars who assist those in need. The recruit young and teach the ways of the Light Side of the Force. They are not controlled by any government but have a quasi-government themselves, with the most senior members forming a council that advises the rest of the Jedi Order on how to operate.

Welcome to Part 2 of my two part special on what your characters can learn from Star Wars! Part 1 was here, and it dealt with what your villains can learn from the Dark Side.

So first, what are the Jedi? The Jedi are the peaceful group of Force users in Star Wars who assist those in need. The recruit young and teach the ways of the Light Side of the Force. They are not controlled by any government but have a quasi-government themselves, with the most senior members forming a council that advises the rest of the Jedi Order on how to operate.

How are they similar and different from their evil counterparts, the Sith?

1) They surround themselves with people.

The Sith like to operate with only two members at a time, a Master and an Apprentice. This way they can stay hidden in a galaxy because it is like finding a needle in a haystack. The Jedi try to increase their numbers. Their headquarters in the prequel trilogy was on the busy planet Corusant, which is a singular giant city teeming with people and aliens. They are not necessarily outgoing people and are very reserved, but they do seem at home around others.

2) They resist negativity and the seduction of power.

As we learned last time the Dark Side is a pathway to achieve power faster through using anger and other passionate emotions, but it is not necessarily faster. True Jedi know this and resist the urge to fall to the Dark Side. This is why in Episode III we see Darth Sidious, who it is assumed that he has been trained in the Dark Side for a few decades, whose fight with Jedi Master Yoda, who is nearly 1,000, end in a stalemate. The Jedi prefer slow and steady to quicker and a corrupted body and mind.

3) The Jedi are spiritual.

As has been noted time after time, there are some very strong Buddhist overtures in Star Wars, or the very least the Jedi Order. In fact, this list points out 10 references in Episode I alone, and it’s easy to see that Yoda’s appearance was based on Master Buddhist Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche.

The Sith are more political; they want to enslave the galaxy and then put into place a military unit to keep them in power. The Jedi want to teach and protect. They do not use the Force as a weapon and they want to bring peace to the galaxy. They typically dress in simple beige or white robes, like a monk, and spend a great deal of time meditating and becoming one with the Force, which connects all life in the galaxy.

4) The Jedi are dogmatic in their belief.

The Jedi have a strict set of rules, and they do not tolerate deviation from them. They do not allow marriage or feelings of love or affection towards others. They do not allow anger or hate. They hold fast that they are the “good guys” even though much of the time they are seen as meddlers. They do not see that they can be viewed as a cult-like military that is not held accountable by any government entity. Basically, it would be like if the Church of Scientology had its own military force. Chances are they don’t want to start any trouble, but at the same time it would make a lot of folks nervous.

5) The Jedi are hypocritical.

The Jedi do a lot of great work for the galaxy. But they have a lot of rules that are frankly contradictory. Firstly, the statement that only a Sith deals in absolutes. This feels like a very firm line in the sand that could lead to paranoia in the group. Also, that statement feels very absolute. Not to mention that the Jedi have a lot of black and white rules that they love to pull.

The Jedi want balance, but wouldn’t balance include the Dark Side? Wouldn’t living in harmony with those who use the Dark Side be balance enough? No. They consider all Dark Side users evil, whether or not they truly are, and meet them to either convert them or kill them. Again, fairly absolute and not very peaceful.

Thirdly, they pick and choose when to become involved in the affairs of the galaxy, and it’s usually to their benefit. In Episode I we see Qui-Gon Jinn cheat his way to freeing Anakin from slavery, but does nothing to save his mother from the same fate all because Anakin would make a potentially good Jedi.

 

The Jedi are a group of protagonists who want the best for the galaxy but do have their flaws. And this makes them human. Take some of these notes and apply them where you can to your good guys, and thank the Maker later!

Happy writing and may the Force be with you!

Do or Do Not, There is no Try

So with this, my first actual post about writing, I open with the famous quote from Yoda from what is arguably the best Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back:

“No. ‘Try’ not. *DO*. Or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

So the first thing you’re going to learn about me is I’m a huge nerd. And I don’t mean the “Oh, Star Trek? Yeah that’s my favorite Chris Pine movie” sort of nerd. I’m from the last generation of nerds who were bullied over liking nerdy things and not being obsessed with football and blonde women like every RED BLOODED MURRICAN BOY should be. We didn’t have Chris Hardwick to be Ryan Seacrest’s hot nerdy younger brother to guide us through zombie-related emotions and Star Wars jokes. We had a Game Boy Color and emotional scars.

So with this, my first actual post about writing, I open with the famous quote from Yoda from what is arguably the best Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back:

“No. ‘Try’ not. *DO*. Or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

I’m in that transitional phase between that quiet kid who likes to scribble in his notebook at the back of the class and that kid who actually sent their stuff in to magazines and newspapers while you were at home playing Super Smash Bros. I am “trying” to go from writing just for the heck of it because it’s a hobby and putting together something that I think people will enjoy, something that hopefully they would be willing to pay real actual money for.

It’s scary for a few reasons. One, you become proud of what you’re doing but at the same time (especially if you have diagnosed anxiety like me) you have a constant sense of doubt about what you’re doing. Hey man you’ve spent months of your life working on this, are you sure it’s any good? No. No you are not sure. But you have to BE sure. The Internet has become a welcome place for people to crank out bad fanfic; if you are working on a legitimate story to be published it has to go beyond bad dialogue leading up to graphic gay fantasies involving Benedict Cumberbatch.

Second, you are going from just an obscure nobody to someone who will be putting themselves out there for all the world to criticize, some of whom you are actually going to be paying. The thought of handing my story over to an editor petrifies me. I am so worried they are going to go “You spent actual time from your life that you are living producing this garbage?” I also have some very strong writer friends who, as tough as they are, can’t help but reel from a super negative customer review of their work. Creative works are more than just “stuff”; they bear the creator’s soul. To criticize a work is to criticize the person themselves because a part of them lives on inside what they made. And it’s hard for me to take negative criticism, so that part scares me as well.

Finally, it scares me knowing some of my friends and family are going to read what I put out. The people closest to me are going to have a window to my soul. I stay fairly aloof; it’s hard for me to get close to people. So to give them an in into my mind, to let someone go John Malcovich on me and see part of who I really am, is really personal and intimidating.

Now, as for the “doing”; that is hard. Some days I can easily crank out 2,000 words without batting an eye. Other days, maybe 3 sentences. I’m assuming I’m not the only one. The main factor I have seen, however, is going beyond “trying”. I used to wake up and go “Well, maybe I’ll try to get some writing done today.” NO. TRY NOT. Because on days where I would “try” to get “some writing done”, I never did. How much matters less than actually doing it. Now, obviously, more than two or three sentences are preferred, but it doesn’t have to be five-chapters-today-or-else-you’re-a-failure. Some days are harder than others. Some days you just aren’t feeling it. Listen to your body and your mind and your heart; if you “literally can’t even” today, recharge. Go walk, read a few chapters of a book, drink some water, and try again. But as long as you follow Yoda’s and Shia LeBouf’s advice, you can do it. And I have discovered a few tips that help me:

1) Set the mood. Sometimes the lighting just isn’t right. Sometimes it’s too hot. Sometimes it’s too loud or too quiet. You’re going to be settling in for a while so get comfortable. Play some music to help block out the world around you, which leads to :

2) Listen to the right music. I love a lot of different music, and this includes rock and metal. Now, is it generally conducive to try to write when I have RAWRFAWRGWAR screaming into my ears? Sometimes, but rarely. You may want to opt for something lighter. Classical, jazz, I even find EDM helps my focus. I can’t confirm it, but I heard listening to video game boss battle music helps you focus. I have tried it myself, I say it’s inconclusive.

3) Focus on the here and now. It doesn’t matter what others are going to think. You need to write this ultimately for you. If you do not enjoy your writing no one else will. You have to love what you do. And if you honestly can’t stand your story, scrap it and write something different. I have, and it’s really freeing. It’s like quitting a job you can’t stand going to anymore. Do what you love and success will follow.

4) Write right now, edit later. DO. NOT. EDIT. WHAT. YOU. ARE. CURRENTLY. WRITING. Bang it all out, and then edit later. If you write a paragraph and then go back through it and then back again and then write the first line of the next paragraph and bounce back to editing the one before…it’s exhausting. And you won’t get anywhere with the story. Edit it later. It’s like writing a paper for school: set up the outline, write the first draft, and then edit the whole thing. You’ll thank yourself later.

 

Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and if you feel so inclined share with a friend!