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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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Writing for Me vs. Writing for My Clients

Writing for Me vs. Writing for My Clients

Copywriting, JS, Medium

It can be difficult to separate them!

 

Writing is…

Cathartic

Emotional

Real

Symbiotic

Percussive

Strong

Difficult

Mine

Life.


Writing for money, especially for other companies and authors, is a fantastic career.

And because most of my writing is ghosted, I have had to learn to keep my personal feelings and opinions out of the pieces I write.

Especially when I disagree or find their references suspect.

It can be difficult to compartmentalize. To separate my personal feelings or opinions from those of the author/company I work for.

Not that it is ever anything heinous. None of my clients are people I fundamentally disagree with. None of them are white supremacists or anti-vaxxers or litterers (as far as I know).

It’s more that everyone is unique and different and we each hold our own opinions and feelings based on our pasts, education, hobbies, and experiences.

Everyone is unique and while that is a magical, beautiful, wonderful part of being human, it can make writing passionately about certain subjects difficult!

When it comes to my personal writing, my own personal opinions run rampant.

And it can be sometimes hard to turn that off.

For me, it’s all about stepping back and taking a breath and remembering that it’s not about me. It’s about the client. I am usually easily able to shake it off and get in the right mindset, but it can sometimes take moment.


How do YOU turn it off? Whether it is switching between highly personal writing like your book or a diary and more professional writing like clients or even LinkedIn posts. How you switch mindsets?

The Hardest Part of Writing a Book

The Hardest Part of Writing a Book

Editing, JS, Medium, writing

I see this question many places — on Quora, in articles about writing, when I’m asked directly.

“What is the hardest part about writing a book?”

I understand why people want to know, but the truth is that just like everything else in life, what is most difficult for me may be easy for you and vice versa.

Here’s what I can tell you from my own experience. I have ghostwritten a few books and recently published my own.

For me, the hardest part of writing a book is knowing when I’m finished.

I started with my trusty outline, I wrote everything, I reread several times, it FELT complete.

The moment I sent it to the editor, I had ideas for things I could have expanded on or written differently.

I managed to keep it together until I got it back from the editor, at which time I ended up adding an entire case study and about half a chapter.

I sent that part BACK to the editor.

And I made myself stop writing.

The moment it hit the virtual shelves for sale, I recounted my mistakes.

I could have added more, made it better, given better examples, used a more formal vocabulary.


For me, it was never anxiety over whether or not I was qualified to write a book, or if people would think it was silly, or if it was poorly written (some of the top fears expressed to me when people talk about writing).

I have confidence in my writing and I was building off of content I’d previously written and gotten solid feedback on as a blogger.

My anxiety came from feeling like it wasn’t complete.

A feeling of “Nooo! I forgot to tell them this amazing advice on how to get the higher-end clients!”

And I don’t mean to say that I think that information could only come from me.

But my goal was to write a really helpful, practical book to help people find clients, market themselves, and build a freelancing business with no initial investment, and I just truly wanted to provide as much a framework as humanly possible.

Even now, I sometimes think about what more information I could have added to it.

But I have mostly moved on. I’m thinking about my next book, focusing on my clients, and continuing to build, grow, and refine my own business.

And all of these experiences will help me on the next book!


What was the hardest part of writing a book, a paper, a blog, anything, for you?

Sign up for my occasional mailing list here and check out my book on how to find clients & make money freelancing!

How to Stop Procrastinating

How to Stop Procrastinating

JS, LinkedIn, Medium, writing

Working from home doesn’t make me more likely to procrastinate, it’s just easier to get away with it because no one is watching.

In the corporate world, procrastination is there, it’s just slightly less detectable. Facebook and Twitter in between clients, Instagram while you go to the bathroom, texting all day. Reading the news is the easiest way to procrastinate at work because it seems that it is the most “acceptable” non-work thing to do.

It’s unlikely that anyone will sit at a desk in front of a computer and work nonstop for 8 solid hours with no distraction or rest.

Instead of policing an employee’s every move, it should be understood that some distraction can be a good thing. Leaving a task and coming back with fresh eyes is great and can catch errors you may have missed before. Refreshing yourself and coming back to work with renewed vigor is great!

Working from home, I have found that I can just as easily get into Facebook for half an hour as I can stop and sweep the house or take pictures of my cat.

4 Tips to Stop Procrastinating

  1. Schedule tasks. If you know you need to do specific things on Tuesday or have them done by Wednesday, put them on your calendar. Schedule an hour to block off specifically for “edit Client A’s Chapter 2–3.” And then keep to your calendar.
  2. Close out of social media. When focusing on a specific task, close out of all social media websites and put your phone face down. It is a simple way to remove distractions.
  3. Get in the right mindset. Instead of thinking, “Shoot, I have to do this task.” Consider trying a different perspective. Try, “I am going to knock this out and be done with this whole task in only 45 minutes!” It’s been shown that changing your mindset affects your attitude and even likelihood of success.
  4. Just start! Stop trying to think of why you don’t want to do something and just start. It will go faster than you think, and you’ll wonder why you spent so much time complaining about it or procrastinating when you could have been done that much sooner.

What do you do to get started on work? Do you find yourself procrastinating a lot? How do you accomplish your goals?

Never Work For Free

Never Work For Free

Entrepreneur, Medium, writing

A friend of mine is also an entrepreneur. She was asked about possibly doing a whole new project for one of her clients. She wasn’t super familiar with the details but knew she could do the main part, so she said she was interested.

The client didn’t even ask her to, but she spent several hours researching information and details about parts of the project she wasn’t as familiar with — but hadn’t firmed up a price or a contract with the client yet.

I told her to stop. The biggest thing about being an entrepreneur is you only get paid for certain work. It was the client’s responsibility to take care of some of what she was researching, and even then, only if they agree to move forward.

Protect your time.

As the expert, your time is your most valuable commodity.

Time spent doing “just a quick little favor” for a client that pays by the minute or researching something for someone you don’t even work for any more than 10 minutes should absolutely be paid.

If you are wondering what this includes — literally everything. It is up to your discretion to give advice to your family or close friends for free. Anyone else should be paying.

There is a REASON you are able to make a living freelancing and that is because you are really good at what you do.

Which means you deserve to be compensated for it.

Don’t work for free.

I will occasionally give discounted pricing to people if it’s a trial blog post or something. But even then, still not free and that is my own choice.

The times when I have not charged for advice or help are when I choose to do so in a community, such as Reddit or Quora, where people are genuinely asking for help and no one is under any obligation to give it. I like helping people, and other writers are a fantastic group of people!

How To Be Inspired Today

How To Be Inspired Today

JS, Medium

Creativity begets more creativity. Inspiration can be found from anywhere, but it can be easy to get so mired in and forget or be unable to find the beauty in the world.

Stop what you’re doing. Right now. Just take a moment, put down the pen, the phone, remove your fingers from the keyboard. Just stop.

After you read this sentence, close your eyes and take a deep breath and hold it for 5 seconds. With your eyes still closed, think of the last thing that made you laugh. The last thing that made you cry. Picture yourself in your happy place. Now, open your eyes and go read.

Read the news, read blog posts, articles, a book, whatever you want. By exposing yourself to new ideas and articles, you’ll immediately start thinking of topics or be reminded of something you’d planned to write about.

Why the close your eyes exercise? 2 reasons. 1, because it’s expected and 2, because it works. By putting yourself in a positive mindset, you are more likely to be open to inspiration and new ideas and then feel positively towards them.

My happy place is a gorgeous beach on crystal clear water. I can taste my frozen strawberry margarita, hear the waves crashing into shore with that sound that is a cross between a crowd cheering me on and a tremendous crash. I can see the boat waiting for me offshore, a small sailboat that I can take out fishing or scalloping or diving. Next to me is a stack of books I’ve been wanting to read, and my phone is nowhere to be found. I can feel the sand in my toes and the wind in my face and the slight tingling of my skin starting to get pink.

If that image doesn’t inspire you, then I don’t know what will!

Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere. Your daily experiences and the people you interact with, the news, other blogs, and more. A picture that makes you laugh, a meal you love, experiences you enjoy.

The best way to find immediate inspiration is to read. Whenever I read through my Medium feed, I see titles and posts that remind me of things I want to write. Or that is a differing point of view than my own, and I want to discuss why. And sometimes, they are a list of topic starters and ideas which give me something to write about.

 

Where do you find your inspiration? Do you actively go looking for it?

 

Photo Credit

How to Have a Great Editor/Author Relationship

How to Have a Great Editor/Author Relationship

JS, Medium, writing

I see authors getting frustrated. “Just tell me how much editing will cost!” They cry, annoyed at vague or incomplete answers.

The editors are sitting on the other end of the email chain despairingly, grumbling in annoyance, “How long is your book??”

As an editor, an author, and an employee of a publishing firm, I think I can clear this right up.

Authors: there is no set cost for editing. Editing depends on many factors, but the two main ones are:

  • Wordcount (length of book)
  • Type of editing desired (there is more than one)

These two things are extremely important. A 30,000-word book will take far less time to edit than a 100,000-word book, which is why there are significant price differences.

Generally, the cost of editing comes down to how much TIME it will take the editor to completely edit your book. They will estimate number of hours for the project, multiply that by their hourly fee, and that’s your price.

There are two main types of book editing that happens after the book is written.

  • Copyediting: This is general proofreading. Correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word usage while preserving the meaning and voice of the author. Checking for overall clarity and consistency of format and style.
  • Substantive/developmental Editing: Sometimes these words are used interchangeably. This is a more in-depth edit, including checking for plot holes, asking questions, looking for plot consistency, suggestions on word changes, restructuring paragraphs or sections, asking questions of the author to create better clarity of the story, and can even include consulting on titles, cover design, and more.

Editors: the authors don’t understand editing as well as you do, have patience. They are also incredibly nervous about handing over their book — a piece of their soul — to someone and not knowing what happens next.

How can you alleviate their fears?

First, be open about your process. Tell the authors exactly what they can expect from you, how your process works, the types and number of check-ins and progress updates you’ll do.

Second, take the time to really discuss the different types of editing with your authors and your timeline and deadlines.

Thirdly, remember how it was for you, and be open to answering a million questions and getting to know your author. Ask questions, be honest, and really be a part of the process of their book, not just a side quest.

Try to be collaborative. I like to edit in a Google doc, so that the author can pop in and out, make suggestions, answer questions from me, and be constantly aware of anything happening to their book.

This has served me well and allowed a symbiotic author/editor relationship. It also makes sure that the author is not surprised by any changes I make, as they can see it happening and make the final call.

Your editing is great, but the final product needs to be something the author is excited about and proud of, too.

 

Authors: You are allowed to say no to editor suggestions (though not if it is a grammatical error. We feel strongly about those.). When it comes to style and wording, your preference wins.

Editors: Authors are allowed to say no to suggestions in style and wording, and you’re not allowed to feel bad or take it personally. Their book, their story, their voice.

 

Is this helpful? Do you have questions? What is your relationship with your editor like?

 

Photo Credit

Don’t Call Me A ‘Woman Entrepreneur’

Don’t Call Me A ‘Woman Entrepreneur’

Entrepreneur, JS, Medium

I think we can leave my gender out of my job title.

Yes, I am technically a female business owner, a woman entrepreneur, a lady boss, and a chick, broad, lassie, dame, gal, maiden, and a wench in some moods.

My womanhood effects many things, from the size of the pockets in my jeans to the expectations of labor division, and the attraction my husband has for me.

Guess what it does not effect?

My ability to do my job effectively.

I am a writer. My perspective is certainly a female one, I’ll give you that.

Can we all agree that you can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of gender? I am a business owner, an entrepreneur, and a writer.

I do not need those to be clarified by my girl-ness. The fact that I have a uterus is useless to my ability to form cohesive sentences, build a story, or help you write a book.

Some day, I hope that we can all get past the fact that *GASP!* a woman can have her very own business, without a man. To help get to that point, instead of having headlines or discussing “Female Entrepreneur NameName is Launching A New Whatever!”

Perhaps try “NameName, Owner of Company, is Launching New Whatever!”

Simple fix, new connotation.

Feel free to not work with me based on personality, my stupid hair, and my work, but don’t do anything based on gender alone.

What a waste of a whole person, to reduce them to just a boy or girl.

Where Do Freelance Writers Find Clients?

Where Do Freelance Writers Find Clients?

Medium, Sales & Marketing, writing

One of the questions that I get asked the most and see on writing forums all the time is “where do you find clients?”

I’ve talked about this before, discussing ways to start making money right away as a writer.

But something I keep seeing even more of recently is this: “I got my first client! The pay is terrible, but it’ll be a professional piece for my portfolio!”

It’s awesome that you got your first paying client, but you have to get out of the mentality of doing something for low to no money just for your “portfolio.”

I am a full-time professional writer and editor, and I do not have a portfolio. I have writing samples and links I can send people, and even PDFs.

Instead of focusing on needing pieces for a professional portfolio and spending the time and energy even making a portfolio, start with having a couple of articles completely written, edited, and finished. Even if you’re just posting them on your blog, or your Medium page, or holding on to them as PDFs.

Write a couple of samples. That is IT. Once you have a couple articles, you can use those as samples when marketing yourself to new clients.

Things that are a waste of time before you have any clients: a professional website, a fancy portfolio, a marketing budget, and professional headshots.

I spent exactly $0 before getting my first 4 clients.

I spent $0 before getting the next several clients after that. In fact, the first money spent on being a writer was getting a new laptop once it was clear that I could make money as a writer. And I only got a new laptop because I was using my husband’s computer and he wanted it back.

Marketing and a professional website are useless at first because no one is searching for you or knows who you are. Don’t spend your time (or money) on that yet. Eventually, you’ll want a website, I’m not saying it’s useless! You just don’t need it to get started.

Respond to ads on Craigslist and Reddit. Give them your writing samples. Same goes for reaching out to people on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media.

Here is a message I was sending:

“Hi, I’m Jyssica and I am a professional writer and editor! I am located in NYC and am available for new projects immediately. My 10 years of sales experience means I write well-suited-for-marketing copy and can work with you to create website or ad copy, blogs, and more. I also edit books! I noticed your website’s blog has not been updated in 6 months. Would you be interested in a couple of blog posts? I can provide writing samples. When are you available to talk?”

Bam. I have introduced myself, given an example of why I am an expert, identified a specific area I can help them with, offered writing samples, and asked to set up a call.

Sales 101. Identify a specific need and offer a solution.

I sent variations of that message directly to businesses over social media, especially LinkedIn and Instagram, and got a good response rate. Most people answered, “what are your rates?”

My response was ALWAYS that the rate depends on their needs, as I can charge per word, per project, or monthly rates, and they depended on the scope of the work and their budget. My next sentence was always “Do you have 15 minutes today to talk? I can get an idea of your needs and we can discuss prices.”

By giving people individual attention and focusing on their needs, I found new clients quickly. And for free.

Don’t undervalue yourself just to make $10. Spend an extra few days finding clients and marketing yourself and make more money.

Market yourself. Most writers don’t make their salary from content mills. Instead of signing up for a content mill and calling it done, do that as only one tiny part of an overall strategy for finding clients.

Making money as a freelance writer is absolutely possible, and it can be a sustainable career choice. But if you decide not to market yourself or try to find clients, you will find that it will be a much slower process to making a decent living.

I’m not just throwing words around for no reason. This strategy worked for me.

I was making just about the same salary from when I was in corporate sales by my fourth month of being a freelance writer.

Photo Credit: http://bsnscb.com/money-wallpapers.html