5 Tips for a Creative Plan for Your Writing Life – Or Just Life

Working on your career is like working on your story. You need to ask yourself, “What is the ending for my 2018 story?”

Journey1Michelle Mercurio shared that advice during a James River Writers workshop. I found it so powerful I went home and spent a few hours journaling about it. Before long, I had three specific outcomes I wanted to see happen by the end of 2018. More importantly, the outcomes were more than words. I told a story with each of the outcomes, weaving in details and monthly plans. It’s going to be a beautiful journey.

The actual workshop was about scheduling, motivating and organizing one’s writing life, but I quickly found the advice applicable to so many areas. And yes, one of my 2018 outcomes is to have a book contract.

Here’s what else I learned:

A map is useful. Michelle urged the audience to define their buckets and then create an ideal calendar and map out how to fill the buckets.

Accountability matters. Karen A. Chase said when you regularly meet with groups you have to show up or people will ask why you didn’t attend. And when you show up, there are people asking about your progress. I’m finding that to be true with my book of travel essays. I’m making more progress the more I talk about it because people follow up and ask me how it is progressing.

Find your spot. We all need a place that inspires us. Or a place that helps us get unstuck. Or maybe a place that is simply a change of pace. I recently spent a long weekend in the Outer Banks writing. It wasn’t my house so I couldn’t be distracted by things I should do around my house. Instead I focused on my writing. It helped that the weather was lousy and I stayed indoors.

Organize. You can organize your notes and ideas by folders using dates or topics. Michelle prefers to use binders. Others organize electronically. Choose the system that works for you, and, if you need to, Kristina Hamlett said hire someone to help you organize.   

Say no. “We need to say no in order to say yes,” Kristina said. It’s important to make time for writing. That might mean turning down invitations.

With all this planning and organizing, you would think you would be set to write (or whatever your goal is), but avoid the pitfall of overscheduling and making so many lists that you aren’t writing.

“It’s safer to plan than it is to do, but choose writing,” Michelle said.

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Books to Grow Your Career

I’m sure by now you realize how much I enjoy reading. I love a good novel, especially a mystery. I also read a lot as related to my career and future success.

A recent Business Insider article about how to keep up with the evolving business landscape noted that reading a lot will keep you open to change. The author wrote, “Leaders who read can get into continuous learning loops that allow them be more empathetic and collaborative, rather than commanding and controlling.”

Ron Friedman, an award-winning social psychologist who specializes in human motivation, said one of our psychological needs is to feel competent.

“When we are exposed to new ideas and fresh perspectives that is when we feel ourselves growing,” he said during a webinar with the Career Mastery™ Kickstart 2018 event.

BooksOne suggestion he had for doing this is to give each person on your team a reading budget to purchase a book once a month or quarter. I don’t have a budget to do this but I do share titles with my colleagues and others in my network. I also participate in an informal women and leadership reading group where I am exposed to new ideas or different ways of approaching a concept.

Here are four that are on my list:

Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith He examines the environmental and psychological triggers that can derail us at work and in life and shows how we can overcome the trigger points in our lives, and enact meaningful and lasting change.

Strategize to Win by Carla A. Harris She gives readers the tools they need to get started; get “unstuck” from bad situations; redirect momentum; and position themselves to manage their careers no matter the environment. Here’s a video of her on the topic.

7 Lenses by Linda Fisher Thornton She describes 7 dimensions of “ethical responsibility” that together give us the whole picture of ethical leadership in a global society and provides a powerful framework for ethical decision-making and action.

No Ego by Cy Wakeman Ego-driven behaviors are the #1 source of drama in workplaces today, and it’s costing organizations billions annually. She provides a modern leadership philosophy that provides simple tools and techniques to eliminate drama from our organizations, deliver up employees who say yes to what’s next, and cultivate accountability, not engagement, to drive big business results.

If you have read any of these, would you share your thoughts in the comment field? And if you have other suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

Improving Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn_logo_initialsI confess I’m not always good about going on LinkedIn, let alone updating my profile. I was fortunate to participate in a webinar with Sarah Santacroce, an internationally recognized LinkedIn specialist and online presence mentor, through the Career Mastery™ Kickstart 2018 event. Her profile notes that she helps clients “breathe life into their LinkedIn profiles.”

Here are a few tips I picked up. If you want more, Sarah provides videos and coaching through her site.

Headline

The section of LinkedIn that she says is the make or break section is the headline, the line underneath your profile picture and name. Most people share their functional job title and company. Others note they are looking for work.

What I learned is that I should be sharing what I’m good at, what I do or which industry I have experience in. And key words are critical because that is what recruiters and hiring managers are searching for.

Profile Photo

Santacroce also encouraged everyone to use a profile photo, something I always emphasize in personal branding courses I teach. Santacroce said, “If you don’t want to put your LinkedIn photo up, you might as well not be on LinkedIn.”

Connections

We all know that on some sites we should only accept invitations from people whom we know. On LinkedIn, it sometimes can be beneficial to connect with people you have not met. Deciding with whom to connect is dependent on your goal, Santacroce said.

If you are a job seeker, she said to keep your network more open. If you aren’t looking for a job on the other side of the world, it’s probably not in your best interest to accept a request from someone halfway around the world. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you can help the person or whether they can help you. If the answer is yes to either question, you should connect, Santacroce said.

Recommendations

Recruiters look for credibility, and recommendations help. When you reach out and ask someone to write a recommendation, Santacroce suggested providing bullet points about items the person might include. She also suggested reaching out to the person by email first so the request doesn’t come out of the blue.

I’ve been spending a lot of time since the webinar improving my profile. When is the last time you worked on your profile?

Communicating Complex Information

My colleague Sunni Brown recently spoke on the topic of communicating complex information. She would know because her beat includes most of the STEM-related majors at a university. STEM, if you aren’t familiar, is science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

That’s actually one of the tips. She has several more for turning complex information into readable material.

Avoid acronyms. Yes, acronyms make it easier on the writer, but definitely not easier for the reader. Too many acronyms read like alphabet soup, which is always murky, and, therefore complex.

Ask lots of questions. Asking “how” and “why” questions will help you understand complex topics. Dig beneath the surface of what is being told to you. If you don’t understand, you need to keep asking questions. As a spokesperson, I need to know enough about the subject to be able to answer a reporter’s questions. As the person writing about a subject, I need to understand the topic to convey it simply to my readers.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand. It can be intimidating to meet with an academic who lives and breathes their area of expertise and then have to admit that you don’t understand it. Sunni has a sure-fire way to not be intimidated. “I ask the professor to explain the topic to me as if I were my 5-year-old son,” she says. “I’ve found that to be a laughable ice breaker, and the professor rarely seems put out that I need a lot of help understanding their project.”

Read your release or pitch out loud. When you read copy out loud you often stumble upon areas that need improvement. If you pause or trip over a word or phrase, Sunni says that’s a sure sign that you need to revisit that spot.

“I feel the most proud when I get media interest on a complicated topic that I’ve worked to uncomplicate.”

Sunni Brown

Ask others to read your copy. Another set of eyes is key. Says Sunni, “I’ve had someone write back highlighting a word and asking, ‘What the heck is this?’ That’s exactly why I wanted them to read it.”

When you succeed at making your content understandable – whether it’s pitching the media or writing an article – you’ll have a great win. “I feel the most proud when I get media interest on a complicated topic that I’ve worked to uncomplicate,” says Sunni. “That means I’ve done my job well.”

Personal, Professional Growth Provide Reasons to Join a Group

I think I have finally finished paying my yearly dues for the various groups to which I belong.

I’m not complaining. The dues are worth it because of the various experiences and skills I gain through my memberships.

I’m also currently serving as membership director for Virginia Professional Communicators. A new member said it best,

“Treating myself to the gift of personal and professional growth this year is a wonderful thing.”

What can you gain from joining a group?

Encouragement and confidence My mystery writers group (Sisters in Crime Central Virginia) provides me with encouragement and confidence. Many of the members are published authors, some of whom have made the best-seller list. All of them have offered tips and advice as I work on my manuscript at my pace. Because of them, I am confident that one day my book will appear in print and reside on a shelf or an electronic device.

Writing skills I’m also working on my writing skills thanks to James River Writers. In the coming months I’ll learn how to organize my writing life and how to build a publishing resume. I’ll have opportunities to learn about the power of word choice and how traditional and indie publishing can work together.

New skills My involvement with VPC and NFPW enables me to hone skills in areas that I don’t work in every day. This year, for example, I’m co-director of the national communications conference for NFPW. Not only will I be doing some serious networking as I work to identify speakers and sponsors, but I also have to focus on collaboration and organization.

Leadership opportunities I began to develop my leadership skills serving on committees. Eventually I served as president of both my state affiliate and the national organization. I also led a strategic planning workshop for NFPW with another member.

Friendship As an added benefit, I have found that in all of these groups I have made some lifelong friends. Almost anywhere I go, there is someone I know. That’s a nice bonus.

Jump Start Your Career in 2018

I spent part of my winter break thinking about all aspects of my career. Although I’ve worked in communications for many years, the landscape continues to change. I want to stay current. I also aspire to be a published author and career coach.

chess pieces

What  moves are you making to ensure career success? (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Here are 5 things I did to set my priorities and make changes to my career journey:

Paid my membership dues. Before I paid the dues, I considered each organization and whether I was benefiting. I elected not to renew one of my memberships because while the programming was strong it was geared toward individuals at a different place in their careers. Another group has been super encouraging, and I even received a handwritten note from one of the members encouraging me to stretch even further. I renewed that one.

Take a course (or two). I suspect I will always be a lifelong learner. Learning about new platforms, the latest apps and different management styles is important. I’m always looking for webinars, seminars, conferences and classes. I’ve signed up for a WordPress certificate course. I know the basics for my blog, but I’d like to improve my website and find out what I don’t know. For fun – and maybe to help with my mystery writing – I decided to take a course on the “FBI in Movies.” If nothing else, I think I will get to watch some good movies. Anyone for “The Untouchables?”

Network. We all know the value of networking but too often we think of it only in the context of a group setting. I try to have at least two networking lunches a month. One is with a colleague within my organization. I like learning about someone else’s position. An added bonus is that because I work in communications, I almost always also get a nugget for a story. I also network with someone monthly outside of my organization. It allows me to see how other companies and sectors operate.

Entered an awards competition. Each year I look to see if I have anything to enter in a communications contest. My colleague and I review our body of work. I’m reminded of some good work. I’m also reminded of some work I could have done better. And I get ideas for other projects. It’s a great process to prepare myself for the coming year.

Updated my resume and LinkedIn profile. It’s important to do this yearly to ensure everything is up-to-date. I note key projects I worked on in the past year and double check keywords. I also reached out to my references, updating them on my career and to find out what they had been focused on.

Are you ready to jump start your career?

Communications Contests Add Value to Your Work

AFI002-award-awards -trophy-trophies-statue-beelden-motivatie-motivation-teamwork-oscar-oscarsAward season has kicked off for Hollywood. The same is true in the communications world. I have several opportunities to enter my work in communications contests and learn how I stack up.

Communications awards can provide validation. They may improve your work as you consider what to enter, and whether it is your best work. Judges’ feedback also is helpful. And, the recognition should make you feel good about the work you do.

What do I mean by validation? If you’ve worked hard on an article, a campaign or a project, when it’s finished you, your team and your boss may acknowledge for a moment, but you are usually already hard at work on the next thing. An award for the article, campaign or project validates that you did great work and that others recognize that effort.

When my colleague and I reviewed our work, we made a list of possible entries. A few days later, we reexamined the list. In one or two instances, we deleted the work from the list because while it was good, it wasn’t great. If we are going to enter a contest, we want to enter our best work. We discussed how we could have made the projects stronger and have noted it for future efforts.

I always appreciate the judges’ comments. I take the time to read them. Most often they offer suggestions that would have made the work I submitted even stronger if I had had their tips or advice in advance. I find that useful as I embark on the next project.

Winning an award and being recognized by one’s peers is always nice. Who doesn’t like to hear, “Job well done”?

I have a few more days to finish my entries. I’m already thinking ahead to next year and determining how I can do my best work this year.

Note: For tips on how to enter a contest, check out this post.