Tools Of Success for the Solo Communicator

Working as a solo practitioner can be daunting given that the marketplace is crowded with lots of award-winning journalists.

That’s what Robin Farmer, a former reporter for the Richmond-Times Dispatch (Va.) discovered when she first went solo.

She realized she needed to do something to set herself apart and to ensure her success. She shared her tips during a recent Virginia Press Women conference.

The first thing she did was attend a seminar presented by SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. The seminar helped her determine the structure of her business and how to set up her website.

She also hired a business coach, who helped her write effective pitches.

What I really appreciated was how Robin organized her work week with each day having a specific focus.

Monday is for marketing because as Robin notes, “You have to constantly look for work.” She uses Marketing Monday to write letters of introduction and to send pitches.

On Thankful Tuesday she writes handwritten notes to sources and editors. She always includes two business cards – one for the recipient and one for the recipient to share.

Work It Wednesday is Robin’s workhorse day. She sets up her interviews and transcribes notes, for example.
Invoices are sent and contracts are finalized on Track It Thursday.

The last day of the week is Fiction Friday or Fun Friday.

Writing Process Blog Tour

I’m posting an extra blog this week. It’s not because I’m ambitious. It’s because I forgot to utter the word, “NO!”

I’ve been working on saying “no” more often so I would have more time. More time for what? Anything or nothing. But sometimes, I forget and I over commit.

I say yes to a writing process blog tour.

A writer I know reached out to me as asked if I would be part of this writing process blog tour. Shawna Christos is a writer with several books in various stages of dress and is currently working on a mainstream commercial fiction book. A long-time volunteer and supporter of James River Writers, you will find her at a lot of the JRW and local book events. She’s also great at encouraging writers – like me – who need reminders to keep working on their book.

And she gets some of us into trouble by getting us to say yes.

20140413_152050I had to answer four questions. I think I was also supposed to identify other writers and have them do the same, but I don’t think that part is going to happen. Not because I don’t want to hear from others, but because I’m going to run out of time. At the least, I will answer the questions, which were picked by someone unknown to me.

What am I working on?

I started a mystery several years ago, and at some point, I will pick it up and finish it. Right now I like to say it’s marinating.

In the meantime, I post regularly to this blog and do lots of writing in my professional job. I’m thinking about collecting posts from the blog and publishing a book for those early in their career. I’ve had several students and young adults tell me how hopeful the posts are and another friend has encouraged me to do this. Now, I just need to commit to doing so.

I also am involved in my local library so I get to meet lots of great writers and am part of a book club so I’m reading great writing. All of this, I hope, will enable me to be a better writer, and, at some point, a published author of a mystery.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

My mystery does have a unique protagonist. I can say this because I met with an agent several years ago at a James River Writers conference, and she told me this. She was quite encouraging. I think that scared me!

I once worked in law enforcement and some of what I learned will make it into the book. That, I think, will help make the story more real. I guess time will tell.

Why do I write what I do?

I love mysteries. From the earliest age I was reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Then there was Agatha Christie. I consume mysteries. If I get a new book by Janet Evanovich, I’m finished in a day or two. A new Michael Connelly novel puts my life on hold until I finish it. When my book is finished, I hope it has the same effect. Reading is a great way to disappear into another world for a short time.

I started my blog as a means to communicate with members of NFPW when I was president, 2009-2011. I continued the blog because I had gained a following and heard from many that the posts were helpful. I also found the discipline of researching, writing and posting twice weekly beneficial to me as I continue to grow as a writer and leader.

How does my writing process work?

Since I haven’t worked on the book in some time, I clearly need to develop a process. I do clip news stories that could become fodder for story lines, and I keep a journal of sorts that outlines chapters and keeps the details of each character.

A friend pointed out to me that because I now have leave between Christmas and New Year that would be an ideal time to make significant progress on the book. She’s right. So ask me again in January 2015 how the book is coming. A former colleague gave me a card that asked me how I was coming along with the novel. I keep it on display as a reminder.

I’m much better with the blog. I create a schedule each year for the days I will post and then I identify relevant topics, such as conferences and national days (Sunshine Week, for example). I am always reading and researching and as a former reporter, I know how to find and develop stories. I always say that if I have attended a workshop and can’t get a blog from it, then it was a bad workshop.

Of course, like any good writer there are those days where I just can’t get it together and I’m scrambling to get the post written by my self-imposed deadline, or, in this case, by a deadline that I should have said no to.

Having said that, I had fun answering the questions. I’m sorry I didn’t work to get other writers to participate, but I know there are several of you out there who read this blog. If you’re game, please participate by answering the above questions and posting on April 21. If you send me a short bio and a link to your blog, I’ll post on Friday with links to those who will participate in the tour.

5 Tips to Enter a Communications Contest

This past weekend I attended a conference where communications awards were handed out. I was fortunate to receive several.

Contests can validate your work, and the judge's comments can help you improve your work. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Contests can validate your work, and the judge’s comments can help you improve your work. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I enter contests to validate my work. Often communications is an overlooked area within an organization. Earning an award for your work lets the company know that you do good work and that others respect it. I find judge’s comments hugely helpful in improving my work.

So how do you go about entering a contest? The first thing to know it that you don’t have to have it all figured out up front. You can start the process and edit as you go.

Here are a few tips:

Keep a folder or list throughout the year of work of which you are proud. With so much work available online now (and most contests are electronic, too) it’s helpful to keep a list of the possible entries with the URL. Save PDFs of your work into a folder that you’ve labeled, “Contest Entries.”

Check categories and identify the ones in which you think your entry would fit. If you aren’t sure, ask the contest coordinator. Help is almost always available – by phone or email – and it will prevent you from entering your work in the wrong category, which could disqualify the entry.

Print the rules – and more importantly, read them. You want to be sure that you are entering the correct category and providing the necessary supporting documentation. You may have implemented the best public relations campaign, but if you can’t find the research you did, you won’t be successful in entering the category. You should note the deadline and build in plenty of time to complete your entries.

Spend time on the summaries. Many contests require a short summary addressing key areas on which the entry will be judged. You want to address each of those areas, providing the required supporting material.

Start early in your submission preparations. Doing so gives you additional time to think about other metrics to support your work. This is crucial for public relations entries. If you are entering in writing categories, you may remember that you wrote several articles throughout the year on one topic. Now instead of a single entry, you could enter in a theme category.

For the contest I entered this year, I set aside an afternoon to compile my entries, including the supporting material. I then made a master list with the category name and the title of my entry.

A week later, I officially entered the contest. That extra week provided me with time to find additional supporting material and to be sure I had everything I needed before I started uploading my documents to the electronic contest.

Once you have double-checked your entries, it’s time to submit them. Good luck!


6 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Reading good writing -- in any form -- will make you a better writer. (Photo illustration by Cynthia Price)

Reading good writing — in any form — will make you a better writer. (Photo illustration by Cynthia Price)

Writing a book is easy.

The hard part is sitting down to write it. Or sitting down to write the article that is due in two hours… or the speech that is due on Monday.

Whenever I hear bestselling novelist Adriana Trigiani speak, she always tells would-be writers, “Just write.”

It’s great advice.

Here are a few tips for writing or improving your writing:

  1. Write every day. You can write in a journal. You can write a letter to a loved one. You can write one page of your novel. At the end of the year you would have 365 pages.
  2. Don’t write to impress. As a college student, I knew how to turn a short sentence into a longer one so I could hit my word count. I liked using large words – the better to show off my vocabulary. Readers don’t care about that. They want a good story.
  3. Read good writing. Some of the best writing I know comes from writers for Sports Illustrated. Think about it. There are two teams or two players. One wins, one loses. This happens over and over. How do you make it exciting? Read Sports Illustrated and you will find out. Read the classics. Read anything and identify what you don’t like and why. Then don’t do that. If you find something you like, strive to be that good.
  4. Shorten what you wrote. After I finish writing an article, I check the word count and then attempt to delete 10 percent of it. Almost always, the writing becomes stronger and more powerful.
  5. Check the verbs. Passive voice is quite dull to read. If you aren’t good at this, take a highlighter and identify every very. Then you can change the passive verbs to active. You’ll see a difference in your writing.
  6. Read for inspiration. I aspire to publish a mystery. I read lots of mysteries and now know the specific type of mystery I want to write. I know the setting of the book, too, and so I read travel books from that location.

Now stop reading this and go write. And yes, I know I need to take my own advice and finish the novel!

4 Tips to Avoid Distractions

The other morning I experienced the luxury of sitting in the lounge of the service department where I bought my car, which was due for an oil change.

I say luxury because I was told the service would take 45 minutes to an hour. I deliberately did not turn on the Wi-Fi and no one knew where I was. During that time I opened my computer and began writing an article I absolutely had to turn in at day’s end.

The past few weeks I had been busy with other deadlines and constant interruptions. Sometimes, I simply spent time responding to emails or chatting with colleagues, avoiding writing the article.

By the time the technician approached me and told me my car was ready, I had completed my story.

Posting a sign on your cube wall that you have a deadline may help cut down on distractions. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Posting a sign on your cube wall that you have a deadline may help cut down on distractions. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Why was I successful? I followed a few basic rules to keep myself focused.

Turn off notifications. Because I had no Internet, I wasn’t receiving emails, which kept me from responding each time a new one arrived in my inbox. In the office, you can simply turn off the sound. Even better, you can close the application until you have met your deadline.

Avoid distractions. At the car dealership, no one knew me so no one came over to where I was working to chat. That’s not always so easy at the office. If you have a door, close it. If you work in a cube put up a sign that lets everyone know you have a deadline.

Make a list. Sometimes I get distracted because I’m thinking about all of the other things I still have to do. To avoid this, take a few minutes and make a list. This way you won’t worry about forgetting something that is critical and you can focus on the thing you need to do at the moment.

Set a timer. The technician told me I had no more than an hour before my car would be ready. I opened a blank Word document, reviewed my notes and began writing the story. Tick tock… the clock was ticking so I kept writing and didn’t worry about typos or transitions. I put the story down and discovered I still had some time left so I went back and did a quick edit. By the time the technician approached, the story was finished.

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