Putting Your Best Foot Forward
Happy Thursday everyone, Winnie Griggs here. I was cleaning out an old file cabinet the other day and came across an article from the company magazine of a place where I used to work. It was titled Some Suggestions to Make a Fresh Start on the Job. I’m not sure why I held on to it – I haven’t had a regular day job for over a dozen years so it’s at least that old. And it was really just a list of bullet points. But as I glanced over the article I thought, with a bit of tweaking and expansion, it might actually have some application to the writing life. So here is what I came up with.
(FYI - It was published in the month of September which is why you'll see several references to the start of a school year.)
- Look back over the past year and pick out one thing you would like to do better. Make it a priority to improve in that area.
The takeaway for writers on this one is pretty obvious. The trick here is to take the time to do an honest assessment. What is an area for improvement that you can focus on? Is it in some area of craft like dialogue or pacing – dissect books that do it well to learn what works. Is it in marketing or promotion – find a class or mentor that can point you in the right direction. Is it in the area of work/life balance – set up a plan to address whatever issues you have with this. Whatever the area for improvement, proactively focus on finding a way to improve it. And you’ll get better results if you target one issue at a time rather than using a scattershot approach.
- Establish a new habit of leaving for work earlier so you do not have to rush through traffic to make it on time. This will give you a safer and less stressful commute.
This one I related to respecting your deadlines. When you start a new project you normally have a deadline, either editor-imposed, project-imposed or self-imposed. Set intermediate goals at whatever level works for you and be mindful of them. To paraphrase the bullet point, pacing your writing with an eye toward deadlines will give you a less stressful writing experience.
- While driving, reduce your speed and increase your awareness now that school is back in session. Watch for school bus stops and children playing near schools.
I related this one to focus. Protect your writing time and minimize your distractions, either those imposed by others or by your own procrastination. Turn off social media and limit research if possible. Find an environment that works for you and then jealously guard your scheduled time there.
- Plan your week’s work. Even if your work is organized by another and closely supervised, take advantage of the control you do have to arrange your workdays more effectively.
This one is pretty easy to relate to writing. Having a plan, whether you plot it out on a daily, weekly, monthly or some other basis will definitely keep you feeling in control of the aspects of this business within your purview. But don’t just make a plan and forget it – make sure you check your progress against it on a regular basis and adjust as necessary.
- Clean up your workstation at the end of each shift. That way it will be ready for the next shift or for you again the next day. Put away tools, discard scrap and remove clutter. Arrange your station so you can start to work efficiently next shift.
I know when you’re deep in the middle of looming deadline mode the last thing you’re thinking you have time for is cleaning up your work area. But if you make a habit of doing this at the end of your normal day-to-day writing sessions it’ll make coming back to your workspace more pleasant and will lend to the feeling of being organized and in control.
- Consider going back to school yourself in your time off… Training in computer use or trades related to your work can help you do your job better or advance to another position. Adult education courses generally start later than the children’s school year, so you may still have time to sign up for a fall or winter semester. Don’t overlook the possibilities of learning at your public library or on the Internet.
Of course we all want to keep learning our craft – after all there is always ways to sharpen our writing skills, even if it’s just to take refreshers on the basics. But in addition we should keep up to date on industry trends and changes. And look into tools that help make our life easier, either by automating some of our tasks or helping us in some area of craft, tracking or organizing.
- Put safety first, always. Continue to learn about the hazards of your job and how to protect yourself and others.
The work we do as writers is mostly sedentary which can be harmful to our health. Make sure you slot time into your schedule for breaks—even if it’s just to get up and move around for 5-10 minutes every hour or so. Stay hydrated and keep the unhealthy snacks to a minimum. And invest in setting up your workspace as ergonomically as you can.
- Consider some of the things you like about your job -- besides your paycheck -- when you plan your new priorities this fall.
This one also translates well to the writing life. Since there is no guaranteed paycheck in what we do, the other things you like about writing need to be key components to keep you engaged. So what is it that brings you joy in your writing? Is it the need to share those wonderful stories and characters that live in your head? Or do you enjoy the company of other creatives? Or is it the challenge of developing an entertaining and engaging story that truly touches readers? Whatever it is, lean into it and focus on that aspect rather than monetary gain or in comparing your career trajectory with that of other writers.
There you have it, some tips for making this coming year a more focused and fulfilling one. Do you have some other items you’d add to this list? Did any of the above items speak to you more than the others? Leave a comment and you’ll get your name in the hat for the giveaway noted below.