Writing, re-writing, researching, and pitching take time, yet time is one of our most guarded commodities. Most writers don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted hours at the keyboard. In fact, all the freelancers I know have day jobs, families, or both. I’m one of them: I have two sons and began pursuing publication before both of them were born. However, in the midst of daily life and various pay-the-bills jobs, I managed to net several book contracts and hundreds of magazine credits.
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It’s not easy to carve out a writing career while juggling work, family responsibilities, and the rest of life. However, by breaking all-consuming tasks (marketing, research, writing, networking, querying) into manageable chunks, you can make consistent progress in your career.
Intrigued? Here are 10 steps you can take to move your writing forward, minute by important minute:
Email a favorite writer.
Reach out to someone whose work you adore and tell them so. Who knows? You might make a new friend. Freelancer Awanthi Vardaraj says, “I read a best-selling book and started a Facebook fan page for the author, who found it a few years later.” The fan/author dynamic morphed into a friendship and mentoring relationship. “Now, she’s helping me with my novel writing,” Vardaraj says.
In a similar vein, journalist and translator Julie Schwietert Collazo advises, “Read and promote another writer’s work. I like to go on Twitter and thank a writer, linking to the piece so others can read and enjoy it.”
Respond to a message.
Has someone gushed about your work? Let them know how much you appreciate the encouragement. Freelancer Molly Brown relates, “I received an email from a reader, and we became friends. Later, she promoted my work to an editor, and the editor contacted me and gave me an assignment.”
Renee Sylvestre-Williams adds, “When I accept a LinkedIn invite, I send the person a quick note, which reads: ‘Hi, thanks for the invite! How are you and how can I help?’ I’ve had some interesting conversations and phone calls. It’s also resulted in new work.”
Take a power nap.
Author Sam Van Eman explains, “I remember being stuck editing the same paragraph, over and over. No amount of willpower could shake me toward clarity. Finally, I took a nap. Later, I came back to the page and saw it as if for the first time. It was like a writing miracle.”
I’ve done the same kind of thing with walks and showers. Something can often get “unstuck” when we quit trying so hard and instead let our subconscious take over.
Writing professor Susan Shapiro, who’s the author of 10 New York Times best-sellers, once had an op-ed published in 21 different newspapers. She encourages her students to pitch well-crafted essays to online platforms with several iterations (for example, Hearst owns Elle, Cosmo, Esquire, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping): “There are ways to make it more likely your piece will be taken and go viral,” she says. “Be very timely, be provocative, write a great title, be revealing, and have either a universal twist or a slant on a universal theme.”
Draft an op-ed piece.
Because opinion editorials come from a place of deep conviction, they’re often easier to draft. I’ve written the initial draft of more than one op-ed in 20 minutes. The Op-Ed Project (theopedproject.org) is a terrific resource for this kind of writing.
Fiction writers, take note: You, too, can write op-eds. Tie the theme into the book you’re working on (or are currently promoting) to generate interest – and, hopefully, sales.
Call or text a writer friend.
Because the creative life can be so solitary, it’s important to make time for connections with real people. In fact, I’ve found that one of the best parts of writing professionally is the relationships I’ve built. Set up a time to meet with a kindred spirit in your area – and put it on your calendar.
Freelancer Farah Joan says, “I love meeting for coffee or lunch with writers and journalists I admire. I’ve also found an article that spoke to me, looked up the writer, and asked them if I could pick their brain. You wouldn’t believe how warm and open most people are.”
Not sure where to find such folks? Novelist Jolene Underwood says, “Find other authors to network with by looking for those whose messages are consistent with yours. When you develop authentic relationships via social media and website engagement, it opens the door to connection and new friendships. I’m not looking for famous people – just those whom I can relate to because we share common goals and interests. It’s a way to develop and grow…not just to ‘get something’ from someone else.”
Subscribe to a writing newsletter or magazine (like The Writer).
Instead of reading writer magazines in one sitting, I try to limit myself to one article at a time. Then I reward myself during my set lunch breaks with reading for a bit. It resets my brain and gives me a much-needed boost, especially when I’m on a stressful assignment or under the gun of a deadline.
Write as many words of your WIP as you can – without stopping.
Says Joan, “The consistent piece of advice other writers gave me is to write a little bit every day. Even if it’s just a few things while you have your morning coffee…jot down ideas about a blog, an article, or a short story. And save everything to use later.”
Register for a writing conference.
I try to budget for one conference a year, and while I’ve gone back to the same ones at times, I find it helps expand my circle (and my mind) when I mix things up. This year, I applied to teach at a fiction writers conference – on the subject of this article – and met folks I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I also came away with some unique marketing ideas and further inspiration on a screenplay idea.
Author/speaker Paula Moldenhauer notes, “Attending a good writers conference not only speeds up your learning curve, but it helps you network with professional editors, agents, and your fellow authors.”
Read a draft of a short piece out loud.
Van Eman explains: “I print off the latest section of my writing. It’s one thing to read it on a screen, but if I want to see what progress I’m actually making, I have to print it off and read it out loud…in a different location. The kitchen works…so does the bathroom.”
Market your books.
Carol Round does at least one thing every day on social media to promote her work. She also advises authors: “Keep copies of your book in your car or tote. In addition, when it’s appropriate during a conversation with strangers, don’t feel shy about mentioning that you’re a professional writer. You never know where it might lead.”
A visit with her physician led to teaching and speaking opportunities for writer Stephanie Gangi: “I am part of the breast cancer community, so now I’m leading writing workshops at the hospital that treats me. I pitched the idea to my doctor! I’ve also been asked to work with another organization and am considering doing workshops in my home. Think about your challenges and try to find ways to mine those challenges, so they can inform and improve your work.”
Dena Dyer (denadyer.com) hails from Texas but loves traveling to other parts of the U.S. and the world. She’s a speaker, musician, writing coach, collaborator, and the author or co-author of nine books and hundreds of articles.