Posted tagged ‘LinkEds & Writers’

“Nose to tail”—saving extra versions and outtakes

March 10, 2015

While some writers are meticulously organized, there’s a stereotype that we’re disorderly pack rats who never throw anything out because “it might be useful someday.” I admit to falling into this category. And I’ll have you know that some things I’ve saved have indeed been useful someday, and I was glad to have kept them for just that use.

This idea extends to words. Pieces I’ve cut out of article drafts—from phrases to whole sections—have come in handy later. The soonest was the very same story, when the editor asked whether I happened to have run across any information on X. I had, but as it didn’t fit the assigned themes, I’d cut it. Luckily, I’d also kept it … just in case. Another time, I simply realized that some research would make a good sidebar. I suggested it to the editor, who agreed, so I wrote it.

Other times, I managed to use research in other stories—or in story pitches. A source for a Scrap article last year went on about ways to recycle electronic goods. I couldn’t use that depth of information in the immediate article but was sure there’d be another opportunity. Recently, another editor requested queries on the theme “green living.” Bingo!

(And then there’s my future files, or ticklers, where I keep bits and pieces that might turn into articles or parts thereof. Every class hears the tale of someone’s Washington Post profile of Heloise, which I tore out and kept in my vegetarian file on the basis of half a sentence buried in the middle. Two years later, I was poking through the file in search of inspiration. The result: a back-page Q&A with the famous hint-meister in Vegetarian Times, one of my favorite clips.)

“Save Your Content!” was the slug on a recent discussion in LinkEds & Writers, the online group I’ve found so useful. This time authors and book editors debated where and how to save their draft deletions. There wasn’t any discussion of whether to save.

Several authors add and delete scenes throughout the writing process, saving the pieces in a file labeled “outtakes” and reviewing it for subsequent books. Some do this in longhand.

Another edits as he goes along to the proper word count—a habit developed as a news reporter—but creates a “save as” copy (Story.1, Story.2, etc.) if an editor asks him to make revisions. He also saves files containing notes, research, edit directions, and so on. “I can always go back to the original file to retrieve copy if I need it, and I’ve always got a backup in case my ‘final’ version is lost for any reason,” he says. (Smart man.)

In a variation on this, another writer saves a baseline copy of every version as a pdf. Then he starts over on the Word file from the beginning. “With this method, I only ever have one Word file in the folder, and it’s always the most current version,” he notes. “I incrementally number the pdfs so I have a retrospective of the development of the story, and I can always recover the last draft if there’s a disaster with the Word file. Periodically I burn everything to a CD for backup.”

So writers save their versions and outtakes in various ways, often with an eye to using them in a future article, book, or query. And then there’s what an assignment editor does with his: “On a slow day when things aren’t coming, I look back through the printed snippets and may pick up an idea for something entirely new. Must write something every day!” Sounds like my tickler file.

Which brings me to the title of this blog entry: nose to tail. It’s the concept of waste not, want not, whether in hunting or general frugality. Use everything, or at least think in terms of everything’s use. It really might be useful someday.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

How to stay productive during the holidays

December 12, 2014
christmas holly clipart

It’s holiday time, when too many of us go into paroxysms of busyness. Since mid-November—heck, since October, even—certain people have told me they won’t have time until January because of the holidays. It’s our all-expansive, all-excusing excuse for losing our calm and clawing hold of control. (No, I don’t believe either that anyone whose fiscal year doesn’t end December 31 is that busy or that “the holidays” is the cause.)

But let’s stick to getting through this period ourselves as communications professionals. Especially when we depend on those other people to answer questions or supply part of our work or keep deadlines moving along.

The members of the LinkEds & Writers group see planning as the answer whether they expect a holiday rush or not. Planning, they say, is the key to coping with any situation, including too much work or too little.

Some members see more assignments this time of year as offices empty and deadlines pile up. “There are always a few clients who look around and panic because the end of the year is coming,” says a health and medical writer. “I start gearing up in the fall because I know there is always going to be a rush around the holidays. I try to finish assignments before Christmas so I can have the holiday and the week before New Year’s Day free. Most of the time I manage it.”

On the other hand, several group members experience fewer assignments and responses late in the year because editors and managers are distracted or away. How best to use the extra time? Some answers:

–Recharge. You may not want a vacation, but if you’re forced to take one, make the most of it. “I plan for downtime and at least a week off,” says one writer/editor. A friend of mine arranged her work to take three weeks off and get out of town with family.

–Get organized to organize. “I’m making a daily schedule with time for book promotion, writing, revising, and chilling in my easy chair with a great book,” says one writer. “Reading puts me in the mood for writing.”

–Update your website. “All year long, I put my stories and photos in Dropbox for my editors. Now at the end of the year, I would like to take those stories and assemble them,” writes a farm writer.

–While you’re at it, clean out your Dropbox, too, along with email and so on.

–Clean and perk up your workspace. This one comes from Shon Bacon of the Blood-Red Pencil blog. “Create a beautiful, bright, active atmosphere that will spark beautiful, bright, and active writing,” she says.

–Start on your taxes. When winter starts in earnest, you’ll find me at the dining-room table, surrounded by calculator, receipts, financial statements, and so on. It’s got to be done, so why not spend these dark, cold hours when you’re not otherwise working rather than a beautiful spring weekend or two when the pressure’s on?

–Find an accountability partner. Also from Bacon: If you need a kick in the pants to get work done, “hook up with your accountability partner (AP) now, each of you telling the other what you’d like to get done between now and the week after the first of January. Be reasonable and realistic. You know how much holiday work you have to do, so don’t overtax yourself—but do keep creativity in your life. Make weekly check-ins with your AP to make sure the creative work is getting done.”

Bacon is thinking about more creative, self-generated work than the outside assignments most of the LinkEds & Writers do. Nonetheless, we can probably all benefit from some of her year-end advice: “Use [the] first and last moments of your day to get in touch with your creativity.” Happy productive or relaxing holidays!

Copyright 2014 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Procrastination (it’s making her wait)

May 9, 2014

A friend of mine (no, honest!) has an assignment she really, really doesn’t want to do. I’m not using names here to protect the guilty. And distracted. And frustrated.

We’ve all probably been there, whether 9-to-5-ers or freelancers, but those of us without a boss have to provide our own motivation—at least immediately. She and I were chatting a few nights ago, and she asked what I do when unmotivated to work on a piece. “Besides think of the payment or look at the deadline?” I said.

Okay, that was glib. I’ve certainly had my share of less-than-enticing assignments, the kind that remind me of eighth grade and staring out the window at a gorgeous spring day, aching to be free rather than hunched over some miserable exam.

Part of it is what I touched on here last fall when discussing inspiration—how you have to grab those butterflies before they flit off and how “cooking” the elements of an assignment in your subconscious often leads to a partially or fully formed result the next day. But the problem here is more prosaic. My friend hates this piece, and I can hear her fear through the phone as the clock ticks down. Loudly.

I followed up my glib response by saying that my typical work hour includes five minutes to get a snack, use the facilities, do jumping jacks, etc. Also, it’s good to have what you need close at hand or you risk distraction when you get up to find it.

Not having time myself for more, I turned it over once again to the LinkEds & Writers group online. (Let’s give them a diversion from work, right?) Here are some comments:

—“Failure can be a great teacher. Experiencing the ‘or else’ once in a while is a great source of motivation on what not to do the next time.” (Harsh!)

—“I’ve found that in the late afternoon, as the available hours diminish, I often get a sudden burst of energy and discipline and can make some real progress. Usually it’s not so much of an issue the next morning, once I’ve gotten my teeth into it. Sometimes I offer myself rewards—if I work on it for X time, I’m allowed to do something I like.”

—“She has to learn which portion of her (creative) writing process is predictable and needs no difficult input. That is to just get started. Hopefully enthusiasm will come soon after that.” (This sounds like my “You don’t have to begin at the beginning” from a year ago.)

—“Sometimes it can help to take a short break, do something pleasant, then promise yourself a longer break and a bigger treat when you’re done. Or try to balance easy and repetitive tasks with difficult and creative ones (I often ease into a project by doing the references and an initial/tentative TOC check first, so by the time I have to grapple with the text, I already feel familiar with it). Or break it into smaller tasks and focus intently on one at a time, starting with something—anything—that you have less resistance to.

“It might also help to try to see what lies beneath (without turning endless navel-gazing into just another way to procrastinate, says one who knows ;-). When I get into that mode of helplessly watching myself procrastinate, fortunately rare these days, it’s almost always because I’m either (1) overtired (e.g., check my log and realize it’s been over a week since my last day off) or (2) intimidated by the project (in which case, just identifying the problem and giving yourself a monster pep talk can help—enough to get you going, anyway).

“Also, just changing your physical situation can help (e.g., walking around and gesturing and talking out a work task out loud, or lying down and talking to the ceiling). Or just getting started, and knowing that your first few minutes will produce junk but that’s OK.

“Above all, good luck, and she shouldn’t feel like the Lone Ranger!”

So there you have it. I checked in with my friend to pass along some of this advice, but she didn’t answer the phone. Uh-oh. I dropped her an email. A few hours later came a note. “Can’t really reply; sorry,” she said. “I’m really booking on this ______ piece.”

Good answer! I’ll have to find out what got to her. Meanwhile, I’ll save these suggestions for when she’s free—and for when I need them myself.

Copyright 2014 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

When you and a client fundamentally disagree

April 16, 2014

Years ago, a nonprofit approached me about some work on its magazine. I was surprised and briefly conflicted: I welcome new clients, and the work was simple; on the other hand, the nonprofit promotes a viewpoint to which I am diametrically opposed. It was only proofreading, though – I wouldn’t be furthering the cause – and adding its name could help my resume look philosophically balanced. So I took the job.

The name is rarely on my resume now, but the dilemma looms larger with a newer client. Not long ago I had the opportunity to do a great deal of work for a nationally prominent organization. The contract offered creative expression, improved skills, and the chance to try some new areas of marketing. I’d only vaguely heard of the organization’s off-center reputation.

As I delved into this enormous project, that vague “rumor” slowly became more of a question, then a strong suspicion. Suddenly, perhaps 10 days into the assignment, something major happened in the news. Rattled, I mentioned it to a contact at the organization. “Oh yes,” she said casually, “that was ours.” The organization, to my horror, had helped orchestrate an event that changed history.

I wanted to scrub my hands – but this organization had filled my dance card, and the dance was fulfilling. Was this a case of public accommodation, take all comers, “will write / edit / strategize for food”? Or would potential clients I liked give me the hairy eyeball because of my association with this one?

For perspective, I turned to fellow members of LinkEds & Writers, a LinkedIn discussion group. “Ever fundamentally / philosophically disagree with a client?” I wrote. “I don’t mean over an assignment. Do you refuse work from a company/organization you can’t abide? Do you turn down work once you realize a client stands for everything you don’t – morally, politically, ethically, etc.? Do you figure everyone’s money’s green and just leave the ‘bad’ ones off your resume? Or have you decided that a diverse client list is a good client list?”

This brought dozens of interesting responses. People have turned down (or not renewed) work on objectionable political campaigns, on pornography, for fracking companies and defense contractors, and for individuals who were misogynistic, homophobic, and / or xenophobic. Other thoughts:

—You can separate private views from professional duty … “If it’s a matter of certain people at a particular company whose philosophies (generically speaking) I am at odds with, I find that it doesn’t affect my ability to do the work. In fact, if I get assignments with content that I am opposed to (for whatever reason), I find that I often do a better job with the substantial editing portions as I’m more likely to be critical of the content / how it’s worded.”

—Or use them as contrast … “I frequently play devil’s advocate, questioning the validity of ideas I don’t agree with in nonfiction work. My questions sometimes lead to fascinating exchanges with my clients, in one case new insights and whole new direction for the author. But those kinds of questions are usually ignored. :-)”

—Or place the client along a continuum … “I prefer to work for companies and organizations that share my basic values and social and political views, and these are the accounts I actively pursue. However I will and have represented clients that have different social and political views than mine as long their conduct is ethical and their goals do not conflict with my fundamental beliefs. So, for instance, I can work for moderate Republicans even though I am a Democrat, but I will not work for an organization that is racist or opposes a woman’s right to choose, to cite just two examples.”

—Or draw a line you will not cross. “Yes, a couple of time I’ve had to ‘not take on’ clients whose products or systems with which I did not ethically or morally agree. When job discussions got to a point where I understood what was what, I said ‘I realize that I won’t be a good fit to work on this project with you.’ That was that.”

—You are your own boss; you decide. “Part of the reason I have my own business is so I can decide what I do and what I stand for. That means that I do turn down assignments and clients who I morally, ethically, politically, etc., disagree with. At the end of the day, when I look in the mirror, I need to be able to look myself in the eye. And that has nothing to do with a ‘diverse’ client list – I’ve done content for financial people, restaurants, yoga instructor, lawyers, and more.”

—It helps to have multiple specialties or clients. “I don’t see that having a diverse client list and refusing work from clients who you philosophically don’t agree with is a mutually exclusive proposition. Part of the benefit of having a diverse client list is having the ability to turn down work from those you don’t agree with or don’t respect.”

—Sometimes needs have to balance with wants. “Honestly, how willing I am to turn down work depends on how hungry I am at the moment. So far I’ve only ever turned down one job based on a political disagreement (a book praising a presidential candidate who had recently said or done something even more reprehensible than usual for him). If I’d been desperate, I would’ve taken it anyway, and I still would’ve been able to look at myself in the mirror – the candidate didn’t have a chance of winning. But it was nice to be able to say no.”

—You can also decide what to do with your clips. “If you’re concerned about what other potential clients would think, can you skip using it as a sample? We pick and choose what samples to show all the time. Is it possible for you to not use this one without the absence causing you problems?”

Ultimately, as one poster put it, “I would have to think long and hard about how important my convictions are to me, what the possible damage to my reputation and career might be, and what the damage to my self-respect would be before deciding how to handle the situation.”

That’s what it came down to for me. The project is done, the contract complete. Now it’s up to me to scan my resume each time it goes out and decide whether to include this client. I consider before every meeting whether to include certain pieces in my portfolio or to explain them in context. I can honestly tell people that the massive project was a worthwhile learning experience and had many benefits. One of those benefits is that I can make a different choice the next time around.

Copyright 2014 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.