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How to Get Started & Write Your Book

How to Get Started & Write Your Book

Books, JS, Medium

Breaking down the process.

When it comes to writing a book, there are a lot of misconceptions.

Some people think it’s super easy (it’s not!), some think it’s too hard (nope!), others think it’s unnecessary or there are too many books in the world (never!), and still others just don’t know where to start.

And if you have a book in you but don’t know where to start, that is where a book coach comes in.

A book coach is a cross between an author, an accountability coach, a writing partner, an editor, and a therapist.

My book coaching focuses mostly on nonfiction works.

When I work with authors, our first couple of sessions really focus on creating an outline and coming up with a complete idea, a beginning, middle and end, and making sure the outline reflects what they want to say in the order they want to say it, in addition to hitting all the important takeaways they want the reader to get.

I’ve certainly spoken before about the importance of having an outline to when writing your book. And I will reiterate here: outlines are super important! They help you map out your book, keep you on track and focused, help you guard against writer’s block, and will allow you to finish your book much faster.

After putting together a cohesive outline, it’s time to start writing!

When it comes to actually writing a nonfiction book, there are dangers in being the expert!

Experts tend to want to write and discuss every little detail of their industry and experience and knowledge. After all, that’s why they are the expert writing the book!

But when it comes to putting it together into a book, you have to be able to step back and think about it from the reader’s perspective. Is this a beginner-level book? If so, that is entirely different from writing it for more advanced readers who are already very familiar with your topic, the lingo, the industry, and the background of it.

Beginners need all the acronyms explained, the concepts spelled out, and more examples given in different ways. The same way any newbie to an industry would. I have a plan for that.

There is also a tendency to write EVERYTHING YOU KNOW in your book, forgetting the audience and forgetting that you can always write a second book or start a blog or create a more detailed course, etc. You don’t have to get all of your knowledge out in one book! It’s also hard to sell a beginner on a book on a new topic if it’s 400 pages long and looks super complicated.

And no matter what, just start writing! It’s easier to fix bad writing than it is to start from a blank page over and over. Trust yourself and your knowledge and get started!

You have a book coach to help you — take advantage of that. Write and give the coach something to critique!

Next, I’ll be talking about the best way to break down the actual writing process.

How Saying “No” Has Made Me Successful

How Saying “No” Has Made Me Successful

Entrepreneur, JS, Medium

You are allowed to say no to work you don’t want to do.

When I first started my business, I said yes to everything. You need a press release? Sure! You want help with a sales strategy? Of course! Oh, you need me to design the information architecture for your new website? Why not!

I didn’t know how to do half the things I said yes to. But I kept saying yes.

I learned. I researched and figured it out, and the clients had no idea it was the first time. Confidence comes in handy!

Remember, being an expert doesn’t mean you know everything, being an expert means knowing that you DON’T know something are are not afraid to go find the answer. Being an expert is knowing how to find those answers.

I said yes to everything because I was at the very beginning of building my business. I didn’t have any long-term clients yet, and I was doing what I could to make money but was not completely sure what direction my business would eventually take. I also thought I needed to say yes to everything so that I could make money!

In fact, looking back now, there is no way I could have predicted where I would be now, over a year and a half later. My business has evolved, I have cultivated relationships and have clients I adore, and my focus has shifted significantly from where I started.

And saying yes to everything helped with that! I was able to try new things and discover I was good at them and enjoyed doing them. I was able to come to the realization that some things were not what I wanted to spend my time on and focus on. I recently wrote about what I learned in my first year freelancing, and it has been amazing to see the growth.

I’ve spoken before about how what happens when you’re working on things you don’t want to do, and how to break up with clients. This was something I had to learn.

I was telling my husband about how one of my clients paid well but was really pushing me into working entirely on sales and marketing projects. Things I really was not wanting to spend so much time on. But the money was good and I felt like I couldn’t turn away guaranteed income.

He looked me in the eye and said, “Isn’t the biggest perk of being an entrepreneur getting to do the work you want?”

It was like a light bulb turned on in my head. Of course, it is. That is why I became an entrepreneur in the first place!

The next day, I spoke with that client and broke up with them. It was the best decision for me and opened me up to other new possibilities.

As I continue to re-frame and evolve my business and discover new things I love to do, I am finally saying no to work. I still often say yes to interesting new things that I want to learn, but I have given myself permission to turn down paying work that I don’t want to do.

I am making really good money now, and am in a position where I am able to be aligning everything with what I WANT to be doing. I don’t need to take low-paying projects to make ends meet anymore, and I don’t want to.

When a prospective client says to me, “Well that is too much money for this.” Instead of negotiating like I did at the beginning, I simply say, “Ok, what is your budget?” And if there is no compromise to be made (less work to fit within their budget) then I walk away.

You are allowed to say no to doing things that do not fit your business model.

You are allowed to say no to someone who wants to pay you far less than what you are worth.

You are allowed to say to people you don’t want to work with — for any reason! You allowed to choose who you do and DO NOT want to work with. If someone treats you badly, or yells at you, or does not appreciate you, guess what? You have the power and authority to hop on the Nope Train and not work with them.

As my business continues to evolve, I am able to continuously find new and interesting ways to stretch my talent and grow as a person and as a business owner.

Most importantly, I continue to find things I love to do, say no to things I don’t want to do, and work with amazing people.

This allows me to also be able to work on passion projects like writing and publishing my first book 6 months ago or putting together my second book, where I have been able to put together an anthology based on the #metoo movement.

Allowing myself more space in my business to do the work I want and the projects I love has been perfect for me and allows me to continue to be creative while also continuing to grow my business.

How did you learn to say no to work? Has this been beneficial to you and your business? If you have never said no to working with someone or on something — why not?

Some Freelancers Pitch to Publications, I Pitch to People

Some Freelancers Pitch to Publications, I Pitch to People

JS

Grinding It Out versus Growing A Business

There were two separate stories about pitches on my main Medium feed this morning. One about pitching to journalists and writers about THEIR clients for publicity purposes and the other one was about pitching your article to online publications.

They both had some excellent points — keep it about the person you’re pitching to. How does it benefit them? Don’t get bogged down in filler words and useless information. Provide a draft/additional information if needed.

But the pitch article I see missing is the one for full-time writers and editors who don’t want to do one-by-one blogs and articles.

I decided at the very beginning of my writing career that I was not going to spend the bulk of my time trying to get individual articles into major publications.

The main reason for me is the time and effort required versus the results or money.

When you look at people who talk about the money they make pitching individual original pieces to Forbes, Business Insider, Inc, etc, they are often making very little money — or even doing it for free for exposure.

Now, the exposure is awesome, and when I happen to have a perfectly well-suited article, I sometimes take 5 minutes to email a pitch to a magazine.

But the grind of putting out separate individual pieces in the HOPES that one of them will take it, and if they do, then waiting 4–8 weeks for publication and even longer for potential payment is not something I want to do.

That is just me, personally.

There are a million lists online of websites who pay for articles. Here is one from Carol Ticeanother from Bamidele Onibalusi, a long one on Freelance Writing Gigs, one from the Penny Hoarder, and this one by David Trounce.

This is not a BAD way to go about making money. Clearly, there are plenty of websites willing to pay for articles.

But let’s break it down:

If each site pays on average $50 per article and you want to make $5000 per month (a $60,000 annual salary), you need to write, pitch, get accepted, and get paid for 100 articles each month.

If you only want to work Monday through Friday, that is 5 articles per day you need to research, write, find publications if you don’t have one in mind, and pitch. This does not include following up on payment or the ones who don’t pay until it has been up for a month, or any other restrictions.

In contrast, I made $8,000 last month with 6 clients.

Instead of pitching myself to individual publications or writing one article per website, I went directly to clients.

I pitched myself to small companies and entrepreneurs. Right now, my 6 clients are:

  • An online publisher (monthly blogging, book editing)
  • An entrepreneur and business coach (email marketing, web copy)
  • A global public speaker (monthly blogging, email marketing)
  • A startup technology company (blogging, managing blog)
  • A medicinal cannabis business (weekly blogging, managing blog)
  • A small digital marketing agency (weekly blogging, press releases)

As they come and if I have time, I also take on editing books, ghostwriting, and book coaching.

I work Monday through Friday and only on the weekends if I have a special project or major deadline coming up.

All of my clients are longer-term. We have contracts, I charge one monthly retainer, and they pay every month. I have built a relationship with these clients, meaning we work together even better over time, they rely on me and trust me, and I know what they need on an ongoing basis.

For me, this is a reliable, more stable income, without having to grind out a bunch of articles every day.

It also means I can really build a rapport with these people. By doing so and focusing on maintaining a real relationship, it has resulted in all of my current clients being referrals from previous ones.

This is how I have built my freelance writing into a business. A real, thriving, stable business built on clients, not pitches to individual publications.

Now, this is simply what worked best FOR ME. I am under no illusion that my way is the only way or even the best way. It’s just what works for me and MY business and my life.

What have you found works best for you? Is it all one or the other, a mix of both, something I didn’t even mention? I’d love to hear and learn from you!

Tarana Burke: Continuing the #metoo Conversation

Tarana Burke: Continuing the #metoo Conversation

JS, Medium, writing

Tarana Burke was the honored guest at Stony Brook University on Sunday, January 28, 2018, where she met with politicians, students, and held a open forum to answer questions from the public.

NY State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn were at the event to discuss efforts in legislation for women, children, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“It’s so important to ensure that this hashtag turned viral moment turned movement, turns into lasting social and cultural change that will actually reduce victimization,” said Hahn, who revealed on stage that she was also a survivor of sexual assault.

The goal of the event was “to turn awareness into action.” Coordinator Cindy Morris of The Benson Agency and CEO of i-tri, a local organization which promotes women’s and girl’s empowerment through triathlons, worked tirelessly for weeks organizing the event, the sponsors, partners, speakers, and raising money. It came together beautifully.

Tarana Burke spoke about community healing and her work over the last 20+ years in working with survivors and finding and being a resource for healing and on-going coping and survival.

Ms. Burke shared her journey, her work, and what she is doing to help people. She spoke about her feelings on the sudden explosion of the hashtag #metoo in October 2017, saying, “Honestly, I was terrified.” and explained how she spent the next month making decisions about being involved and becoming part of this huge groundswell after spending so long working on a grassroots campaign.

While friends were trying to get her to step up and take credit for the movement, Burke was focused on making sure the movement had direction and that people understood what it was all about, and not just about the original discussions of sexual harassment in the workplace, which the first Me Too posts on Twitter were talking about. On October 15, 2017, Burke posted a video on Twitter explaining what Me Too is and what the movement’s goals are and have been for the last 12 years.

“I had to decide, am I going to be in conflict or in service? There was no direction, it was just getting bigger and I had to make a choice to be involved. I did it so there was a direction and a shape to the movement, so people could know exactly what it really meant.”

Ms. Burke has gotten a lot of attention for being the founder of the Me Too Movement.

“I appreciate the accolades and recognition for founding me too. But what I know is there are thousands of us across the country…I acknowledge all those who do what they have to do to make it work.”

One question for Ms. Burke talked about men and whether they are ‘allowed’ to say me too.

“I am not going to be the person who looks at a man and tells him he isn’t allowed to say ‘me too’ and discuss his sexual assault. 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted or abused, most of them while they were just children. This is for all survivors.”

When talking about empathy and breaking the silence, she discussed how sharing your story is a roller coaster of emotions. It is not just about relief, it’s also about reliving the experience, and having fear about putting it out there, and healing.

“Every time we break the silence, we give others permission to, as well.”

On sympathy and empathy.

“When we tell our story, the first thing people say is, ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ They don’t mean to, but they are putting space between the two of them. Often, the survivor ends up in the weird position of trying to comfort the other person, saying, ‘Oh, no it’s okay…’ What we need to be doing is simply asking the survivor, ‘What do you need right now? How can I help you?’ Bring each other together, not separate.”

In her mission to continue the conversation, Ms. Burke absolutely succeeded. The audience of a few hundred hung on her words and were actively engaged in the discussion.

Ms. Burke was incredible. She is so grounded and real and very intentional in her work and how she speaks to people. She was a joy to listen to and I left the event feeling more ready than ever to be a part of the conversation and the solution for ongoing healing.

The #metoo event at Stony Brook University was sponsored by i-tri, L.I. Against Domestic Violence, Protect NY Kids, AFT, TD Bank, The Safe Center LI, VIBS Family Violence and Rape Crisis Center, Crime Victims Center, and the Association for Mental Health & Wellness.

You Definitely Need An Editor

You Definitely Need An Editor

Editing, JS, Medium

Even great writers need editors. Here’s why.

When it comes to writing a book, it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain, slogging through each step. When you reach the summit and the book is complete, it is easy to feel like you’re done.

DONE!

While your original manuscript is done, you are now ready to begin the editing process.

There are a ton of reasons why you need an editor, but it truly boils down to this: An unedited book is not professional.

It is very difficult to self-edit to the standards of a professionally finished book.

For one thing, your brain will often read what you think you wrote or fill in details which either aren’t there or aren’t fully explained.

For another, you simply may not notice if you’ve switched perspectives or from active to passive voice or use a lot of repetitive words.

I am a professional writer and editor as my career — and I still get my books edited by a professional who is not me.

Editing is absolutely necessary for a finished, professional, polished book.

The Job of an editor:

  • Fix all grammar and punctuation mistakes.
  • Identify inconsistencies, missing information or plot holes.
  • Identify areas where more information or explanations are needed.
  • Readability and flow — making sure it all makes sense in order and is a cohesive full story.
  • Look for repetitiveness, such as using “very” or “big” to describe most things, when a different word would have a bigger impact or flow better.

Working With An Editor

It can be scary or frustrating to hand your baby, your book, a piece of your soul over to an editor.

Some editors take it and then disappear and a month later reappear with your book with all of the edits made and everything fixed.

In some cases with some authors, this is how they prefer to be edited. Have the book taken and made even better and then returned in completed form. Some authors find this frustrating, as they are not in the loop of any changes and may get upset that their book was changed more than they wanted, especially if any major restructuring was done.

I personally am a fan of editing books in a more collaborative way. I put the book in a Google doc and give the author commenting permission. This way, they are able to see the progress being made, see changes, answer any questions I may have (which I put in comments), and make changes they need to.

We share the document and are able to polish the book together. My clients have told me they love this process, as they feel more engaged in it and that they still have a sense of control.

Writer/Editor Relationship

When you are looking for an editor, you want to work with someone you feel comfortable with, who understands your voice and messaging, and who you feel understands you. Someone you vibe with.

Before making a choice of an editor, make sure to get quotes from a couple different ones. Don’t go with the lowest or highest bidder on numbers alone. TALK to each of them. Ask about their editing process, deadlines, timelines, and payment options. Make sure you like the person and feel comfortable giving them your book.

Discuss exactly what type of editing you want and the different costs of each.

Above all, work with someone you WANT to work with. As with all successful relationships, if you like the person and understand each other, the entire process will be easier.

8 Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Freelancing

8 Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Freelancing

Entrepreneur, JS, Medium, Sales & Marketing, writing

I got my first freelancing clients almost on a whim, on October 31st, 2016. I began working with clients in the evenings and weekends for November, December, and January.

Once I realized that being a writer was a viable career for me and people were willing to pay me, I made plans to quit my day job as a Director of Business Development at a recruiting firm.

Friday, January 27, 2017 was my last full-time day at my day job.

I was a freelancer.

Though I did a lot of research and asked many questions, I had a lot to learn. Now that I am at a year of freelancing, here are some things I have learned. Use this and make new mistakes and learn new lessons, instead of the ones I’ve made for you.

1. If someone is willing to pay you, then you are skilled enough.

When it comes to freelancing, especially something as subjective as writing, many potential freelancers question their abilities and whether or not their writing is “good enough” for them to be a writer as a full-time career.

Instead of trying to find a way to judge your writing, use your clients as a barometer. If people look at your writing samples and are willing to pay you, then you are definitely good enough.

Pack away the insecurity and focus on improving and on the work for your clients. There is no point in questioning yourself so much, and that insecurity can lead you to not marketing yourself or not having the confidence to attract new clients.

2. You are definitely not charging enough.

Pricing yourself is an exercise in frustration sometimes. You do tons of research on what other people are charging, you try to undercut them, but then you may find that the lower price makes it not worth your time.

As a freelancer, time is your commodity.

Whatever you’re charging, it’s too low. I have seen it time and again from freelancers, including myself, where we are charging one price, but then the actual time the project takes is more than we thought, or there is more research involved or the project is longer, and suddenly your “decent prices” are only getting you $20 an hour.

Charge more. The good clients will pay you for your skills.

And remember: Just because writing comes easily to you does not mean it should be cheap. If clients could do it themselves, they wouldn’t need to hire you. Your skill is valuable.

3. Learn to identify “bad” clients.

The clients who email you at 3 am expecting an immediate response, or who are constantly changing the specs of the project. The ones who are never happy.

The ones who harass you about your prices over and over until you offer a discount.

Just say no. It’s difficult to turn away clients, especially when you are new to freelancing, but the hassle and difficulty in dealing with them and the extra time it takes for you, on top of the lower rate, will bring you down. Not only that, but they take away from the clients who would be paying your regular rate and be great to work with and appreciate you.

Here is a piece I recently wrote about how to identify the bad or negative clients before you start work.

4. Your business will continue to evolve.

When I first started freelancing, I was doing almost entirely one-off articles and blogs for clients and charging per-word prices.

A year later, I have evolved and changed the work I do as I learned more what I enjoyed and how it makes sense for me. Now, I focus on monthly retainer clients and having long-term relationships with them instead of one-time projects, have developed a book coaching service, and have been able to try things I never thought I would — like writing a comic book!

Be open to new experiences and allow yourself to evolve and grow and change as the work you enjoy evolves. Do not force yourself to stick to just one type of work. Try new things, get creative, stay interested.

5. You don’t HAVE to have a niche.

One piece of advice I saw a lot of at the beginning of freelancing was to “just pick a niche and specialize!”

I prefer significant diversity in what I work on, so instead of focusing on one industry or type of client, I chose to be a generalist. This has allowed me to have a ton of experiences and learn new things.

I have blogged for law firms, medical cannabis companies, business consultants, life coaches, real estate investors, cryptocurrency and blockchain companies, professional speakers, and more. I’ve edited fiction, nonfiction, and even a children’s book.

As a self-described jack of all trades, I have gotten to explore opportunities I would never have if I’d just stuck to sales, marketing, and career coaching, which my 10 years of corporate experience prepared me for.

Don’t be afraid to try something new and to be a generalist! It’s so much fun having a diverse client base and getting to work on something different each day!

6. Building good relationships is the backbone of my business.

I like to know my clients. Who are they? Why do they love what they do? What are they hoping to get out of the writing services?

Creating a monthly retainer business model has allowed me to have longer relationships and really get to know my clients as people.

I have weekly calls with each of my clients to manage expectations, discuss the tasks and work for the week, and stay connected.

Having been in corporate business development for so long, I deeply acknowledge and understand the strength and use of a great relationship with the people you’re selling to.

Really make a point to get to know your clients as people. Ask questions and be kind and genuine. That relationship is so important! Nurture it!

7. You don’t need a portfolio.

Portfolios are not a bad thing, you CAN have one. But you don’t NEED one to get started as a writer.

As long as you have writing samples, you are good to go. You can publish those samples on a blog or site, or you can just have them as PDFs you attach to emails.

Much of my work is ghostwritten, so even though I have tons of published blogs and articles, none of them would be able to go into a portfolio.

When I first started, I grabbed pieces from my personal blog and wrote a couple samples, and that is all I had to show. These days I direct people here to my Medium blog!

8. Just write. Get started now.

The best thing I learned through my freelancing journey so far is that you don’t need to be super prepared or have a website and business cards and a fancy briefcase.

You can just go out and find ONE client. As soon as you have one, find another.

Figure out the rest as you go. You can research contracts and build a WordPress site later. For now, go out with your writing samples and find a client. The rest will come after.

Relationship Building for Freelancers: How to Get & Keep Clients

Relationship Building for Freelancers: How to Get & Keep Clients

Entrepreneur, JS, Medium, Sales & Marketing

Apparently, most writers aren’t good at marketing and many salespeople aren’t the best at writing. Or at least that is what people keep telling me.

I am lucky enough to be both, which has been extremely successful for me. It has truly been my superpower, which allowed me to be my own boss and get my business up and running very quickly.

Relationship building is an extremely important skill. Many people who consider themselves extroverted or a ‘people person’ may also find that they are strong at job interviews and good at networking in group settings.

However, more introverted people may find themselves at a surprising advantage in the one-on-one relationships and phone calls which freelancing often requires.

95% of my work and communication is done via email, text, slack, Facebook messenger, etc. And while I am an outgoing, talkative person, this mode of communication is fast, easy, and best of all — does not require pants. But there are ways to be great at phone calls and written communication.

Phone Calls & Relationships

When it comes to winning over potential clients, I believe in the power of a great conversation.

When a prospect is asking me about pricing and information, I don’t just shove my website in their face and tra-la-la away to my next task.

I ask them for a time to jump on a phone call. Instead of giving them a straight-up price, I explain that prices depend on needs and scope of projects, and that monthly retainers are often less expensive than paying per project, per word, or per hour. I say:

“The price depends on your exact needs and can also be impacted by how long we plan to work together. Are you available this afternoon or tomorrow to jump on a short call with me? I can do 3pm EST today or 1pm-4pm tomorrow.”

What I have done here is set them up to expect individual, customized attention and pricing for their needs, and after mentioning the call, instead of leaving it open-ended, I have provided specific time frames.

People are psychologically more likely to respond to the specific timeframes than just a general request for a phone call. It also shows my professionalism. I am available right away, but at specific times. I know my schedule and keep it. I am also punctual.

Once I get them on the phone, I’m golden. I love talking to people and it shows. I smile while I talk to them, I ask and answer questions. I show them my value by giving free information. For example, if we are discussing blogging, I’ll throw out a couple of facts and statistics about SEO and content marketing. If they want book coaching, I tell them what the process looks like and give them information on general lengths of books in different genres and discuss pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing.

Another thing I do is weekly phone calls with each of my clients. It is a chance for us to check in, update them on my work and progress, and sets and manages expectations on both sides for the week ahead. It also serves to continue to build and solidify our working relationship.

Email & Relationships

Because most communication is done over email, I make sure to let them know what I am up to or ask questions when I need. I am professional but personable over email, saying “hey” and using their first name, unless they have specified not to or are much more formal.

My clients never need to ask what I am working on or where I am at with their work because I make sure to let them know.

I offer free email support to my book coaching clients and make sure to respond to people in a timely manner.

Once they are my clients, I stop selling them. They know what my services are and if they want additional ones, they always let me know. I don’t try to promote my other services or upsell them anymore unless they ask. I might say offhandedly, “Hey, you may not have thought about it, but some social media management would work really well with what we are doing now and would promote your company faster and better. Here are a couple of examples ___. Let me know if you want to discuss it further, and I am also happy to recommend a couple of other fantastic people.”

Because that shows it’s not about ME. It is about what is best for THEM and their company. I’m not saying it just to make more money, I even offered to refer them to someone else!

That is because honesty, trustworthiness, and transparency are the pillars on which I have built my business. I am not afraid to say “I don’t know,” and then go find the answer. I am not so self-centered as to think I’m the only person who can do what I do or even the best at it.

I am selling prospects on working with me, specifically, not with a writer in general. They don’t only need to know the benefits of writing, they need to see what working with me will be like. How well do I communicate? Do I remember information from previous conversations (I do, I take notes)? Do I listen to them and understand their pain points and have ways to solve those problems? Do I talk more about them than myself?

Clients & Relationships

You should be approaching a client relationship in a similar way to a new friendship. You want them to like you and you don’t want to scare them off.

Sales is not about just getting that dollar amount. It is about getting someone who WANTS to work with you and KEEP paying you that dollar amount.

But it’s more than sales. As a solo entrepreneur, how I represent myself to anyone is literally the face of my business. I am myself, but professional. I am knowledgeable, able to show strong writing samples, and deeply understand the process and the business of writing.

Being nice, kind, a good listener, asking the right questions, showing your value — that is how you get and KEEP a client.

Freelancers & No Paid Time Off

Freelancers & No Paid Time Off

JS, Medium

If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

This has never been something that bothered me, as I have long been the type to work more than necessary and then bring my laptop on vacation and do an hour or two a day while we relaxed.

I have no problem doing a bit of work. After all, I still get the vacation — I sleep in, eat great food, don’t work out, and explore new places. I have fun with my husband and enjoy the trip. I also get a small amount of work done.

But this week.

This has been the toughest week of my life so far.

My grandfather was hospitalized, and he had been sick for a while.

I flew down on the day of Thanksgiving. We canceled the family get-together at my brother’s house and my brother and I booked last-minute flights to go see Grandpa.

We all assumed he’d get better. He spent 2 weeks in the hospital before he went to hospice and died peacefully, in his sleep, while surrounded by all his children and grandchildren. That was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

He was lucid just 2 days before.

It’s been horrendous.

My grandpa was larger than life. He was a builder, a fixer, and a creator. For as long as I’ve been alive, one of my most vivid memories of him has been seeing him out on the mower or the tractor or any other of the heavy machinery littering his garages and driveway.

He was always under a car, tinkering. Or building something. He would pretend to be reluctant, but he adored helping any of us 3 grandkids fix things. He picked out my first car. He built us a treehouse when we were 8 or 9, then handed us nails and some wood and tried to teach us how to make furniture for it.

He was a self-made man who lived the true American Dream. He started with nothing and created a business of used truck parts and a junkyard, and grew it into an empire. He and my grandma got to live the retirement they wanted, traveled often, and loved us all.

He and Gramma were married for 61 years since they were 18 and 21. I can’t even imagine that type of relationship.

The funeral was Tuesday.

He would have hated the funeral. He didn’t like being the center of attention or religious ceremony. He would have hated seeing people get so emotional and cry over him.

But I guess the funeral isn’t meant for the dead, but for the living. To say goodbye, to pay respects, to have something to see, to hold on to.

I’ve never lost anyone so close to me before.

It has been a blur of family, tears, and yes, even some laughter.

When all the cousins get together, we enjoy it. We love hanging out and haven’t gotten the chance to see each other much as we got older and moved away and started new traditions.

We played Grandpa’s favorite game — poker — with his own poker chips.

We drank his favorite whiskey and we shared our funniest stories of him.

It won’t get easier for a while, but it will someday. He continues to live in my heart and his name will leap off my tongue at the oddest moments. “You know, your great-grandpa used to love this…” to my niece and nephew and to my own hypothetical children.

And while I mourned and grieved and ate bagels with my family, I still had to pull out my computer and do some work here and there. Do the tasks that I do daily to keep my business running and my clients happy. I let them all know what was going on so that they could cut me some slack for this week.

But the stress of this week, the anxiety of the flights, the breaking of my meticulous routine, and the worry over not doing work for my clients has been a bit overwhelming.

I smoked some cigarettes even though I quit over a year ago. I drank even though I’m not a big drinker.

And I didn’t write. This is he first thing I’ve written since it happened.

I will remember Grandpa as the Godfather of our family, I will continue his legacy by living by his teachings and by telling his stories.

Hey, have I told you about the time he took me fishing and we caught a shark…?

How to Be a Better Writer

How to Be a Better Writer

JS, Medium, writing

It mostly comes down to practice.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, and at 31.5 years old, I have spent at least that long writing, scribbling out, rewriting, and editing my work over the years.

Working on my own writing and with other writers, here are a few ways I have collected to improve writing skills and exercises you can do to continue to practice.

  • Write a lot. Write daily. Write different things.
  • Get critiqued.

Exercises:

  • Go somewhere like Reddit, which has a whole sub for writing prompts (r/writingprompts) and get tons of different prompts and styles to try and get inspiration and ideas. You can even write a response to the prompt in the thread and get comments and critiques from other Reddit writers.Many of whom are quite good!
  • Try writing in different styles and from different perspectives. For example, write a short story however you want and then come back and write the SAME story, but from a different character’s perspective. An amazing example of this is how Gregory Maguire wrote Wicked from the wicked witch’s perspective in The Wizard of Oz. Long before it was a huge Broadway show, it was an extremely good book.
  • Write a story in the third person and come back and write the same story in the first person. Ask yourself: What does the character not know that the narrator knew? How does knowing her/his thoughts (but not the narration) change what the reader knows about her/his motivations?
  • A similar exercise is to rewrite a story you read somewhere (an existing story) from the perspective of a non-main character. Sometimes you see successful series authors adding additional books in a series this way. One example is Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. She came back and wrote from Four’s perspective, who ended up being a much loved (but was not the main) character from the original series.

If you are looking to improve nonfiction writing skills, one way to do this is to start a blog. You’ll write often and if you gain a following, they will often ask for additional information or clarifying questions, which will show you where you can improve.

Another way to improve nonfiction writing skills is to attempt to write a book.

Though I was already a profitable full-time writer, writing my nonfiction book truly helped me improve. Committing to writing a whole book is a huge undertaking and required me to really focus in on how I explained things, giving good examples, and making sure I truly understood the subject well enough to write it and teach others in the first place.

I also learned more in the editing process. I was able to see mistakes I made, she asked clarifying questions, which forced me to look at things from a reader’s perspective and write it in a way that made sense.

It was an incredible learning experience!

Even when writing comes naturally, learning and growing and improving and polishing your skills is a lifelong task. You should never stop growing and learning. I think if we stop learning or lose our curiosity, we die, or at least those skills stagnate and wither and die.


What has been a great learning experience for you? What do you do to improve your writing skills? Do you have any other interesting writing exercises? Share them with us so we all grow!

#MeToo the Book — Share Your Story

#MeToo the Book — Share Your Story

Books, Entrepreneur, JS, writing

I have been deeply inspired by the sharing and bravery of the people who told their story while #metoo swept social media in the last weeks. I have also been a victim of sexual harassment and assault, and I think it is more important than ever that we continue to talk about, continue to provoke conversation, and refuse to be victims.

I am putting together a book of stories based on the #metoo movement.

Are you interested in telling your story?

Hi, my name is Jyssica Schwartz. I am a 31-year-old writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. If you’d like more information about me, please feel free to check out my websiteblogInstagramTwitter, or book. This is a sensitive topic and I will be open and honest with all of you. Reach out to me with questions, concerns, and stories.

I have been very open about writing about mental health and my anxiety in my entrepreneurship journey and I continue this refusal to be a part of stigmatizing difficult topics with this book. As an author, I have the capacity and ability to put this project together using professional editors, cover designers, formatters, etc.

Submissions

If you would like to participate, please submit your story (no minimum length requirement, but please keep it under 3000 words) either to me by email at jyssica.schwartz@gmail.com or uploading it to upload it to Google drive here.

  • Make sure you include a title (if you want one), a first name, age, and location either in the filename of the document or at the top of the document itself.
  • I have been asked if contributors can be anonymous – YES. Use a fake first name or just “Anonymous,” but please still include your age and location.
  • This is open to ALL genders, ages, races, nationalities, everything. There will be no discrimination. If you submit, you will be included.
  • You are NOT being asked to pay anything at all. It is 100% free to be involved. I am currently planning to self-fund this project.

There is no length requirement, but here are some things to consider:

  • Think about not just the incident itself but the way you felt afterward, what steps you took, and why you did or did not report it.
  • Were you raised hearing things like “boys will be boys” or being told not to wear certain things because it might “distract the boys” or cause problems?
  • What might you do differently now or tell people now about these situations?
  • Your story is subject to general editing (not for content).

It could be anything from realizing we’re raised to expect it to how you feel about harassment to anything deep or light-hearted. I genuinely want different perspectives and views. It can be short or long, but I am looking for raw honesty. You would not need to be fully identified.

This movement has certainly highlighted the fact that almost all women are harassed so often that we ignore it and don’t talk about it, but I think we should.

This project is open to both men and women and you can stay anonymous with just a first name (even a pseudonym), age and country as the location.

This book

  • Will be open to all ages, genders, and nationalities. Diversity is encouraged and completely welcome.
  • Does not differentiate between types of stories. If it was verbal harassment or something far worse, your story deserves to be heard.
  • Will be self-published and available as both an ebook and a paperback.
  • Will be professionally edited.
  • Will have a professional cover and interior formatting.
  • Will have an introduction by me, likely based on a blog post I recently wrote about this topic (Unless someone more famous [which is basically everyone] is interested in being involved and wants to write a foreword/introduction!).

This book is for all of us.

A Few Statistics

  • 70% of sexual harassment incidents in the workplace are not reported (source)
  • An analysis of 55 representative surveys found that about 25 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment, but when they are asked about specific behaviors, like inappropriate touching or pressure for sexual favors, the share roughly doubles. Those numbers are broadly consistent with other survey findings. (source)
  • In 2015, 6,822 sexual harassment claims were filed with the EEOC. 17.1 percent of those cases were filed by men. (source)
  • Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. In fact, out of every 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. (Source)
  • Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 2 out of 3 go unreported. (source)
  • Members of the military: 43% of female victims and 10% of male victims reported. (source)
  • In 2016, the EEOC released a comprehensive study of workplace harassment in the United States, which concluded that “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”
  • Almost two-thirds of male and female college students interviewed said they have encountered some type of sexual harassment while attending a university, about a third of which included physical contact such as being grabbed or touched in a sexual manner. (source)

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