Editor’s Notes: A Deadline is a Deadline for a Reason

WHERE ARE YOU???

I’ve dealt with a lot of nonsense from writers over the years. Not being able to meet deadlines is probably the most common frustration. For some reason, writers think it’s okay to combine a lazy excuse, an ETA and an apology for not doing their work on time – and many managing editors simply let it happen.

Everyone’s editorial preferences are different – just because I don’t think it’s acceptable doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong. I come from a teaching background – meaning, I’m used to teaching college students what it’s actually like to write in the real world. I consider consistent tardiness a flaw that needs correcting. That’s just my viewpoint.

However, I do think it’s important that all writers understand why editors give them deadlines. Because, more and more, it seems to me their response is, “Well, as long as I get the work in within 24 hours of when they told me to, it’s fine.”

It’s really not. And I’m going to explain why, from a few different perspectives.

As a freelance editor, I am pretty much hired on contract to copyedit and format articles for a website. This is only one of many different clients I juggle throughout the work week. I have a very limited amount of hours to work with each client (depending, honestly, on how much they can afford to pay me weekly). So let’s say I have about three hours each week to assign, edit and publish one writer’s articles.

It’s much easier for me to break up work in such a way that I only work with one client several days out of the week, so I can concentrate better on what I’m doing. Typically, I leave one day for editing and another for publishing and assigning new articles. I have to leave writers enough time to research and write, so the same day they turn in their work, I edit.

Except when they don’t turn their work in on time.

Then my whole schedule is off by a day. Which sounds a little selfish, I guess, until you realize that I have other clients who don’t give me assignments until I log in that morning. So I don’t know 50% of the work I have to do tomorrow until it’s already tomorrow.

I can’t afford to wait for your work. I am on a tight schedule. If there is a problem, I need time to fix it. If you didn’t do a good job, honestly, I’m going to have to rewrite a portion of what you’ve already written. And since you clearly already rushed to turn in your work (late), the chances of there being significant flaws in your product are much higher.

Apologizing for the inconvenience also doesn’t help, because it’s still an inconvenience. Giving me the same old excuse is just annoying, because as much as I would LOVE to care, I have work to do, too, and I’m depending on you to do your job. It’s nice when a writer gives warning ahead of time that there’s a problem, but it usually doesn’t happen. I shouldn’t have to chase after you, wondering why my inbox is empty.

There are also publications that work on a very strict and tight editorial workflow. At the magazine I worked for in college, interns turned their work in on Friday. Editors had 48 hours to do full content and copy edits, and writers had 24 hours after that to fix them. We literally could not afford to accept late work, so we couldn’t. Do you think that went over well with a bunch of college students? Yeah, no. People expected to be allowed to turn work in whenever they wanted. I wonder where that assumption came from. (I really do?)

Online publishing is a delicate process. Not publishing something when it was intended to be published messes up everything, from traffic to SEO to who knows what else. It’s not because we’re trying to put more pressure on you. Our long-term success relies in large part on whether or not we are consistently publishing what we plan on publishing. If you deliver late, or not at all, you knock over the whole line of dominos. They’re never going to be put back exactly where they were before.

I don’t want to blame a writer incapable of meeting deadlines for messing up our workflow, but honestly, it’s a problem. I get really flustered when people just can’t seem to understand this.

When your editor gives you a deadline, it’s the latest possible day and time they can accept your work. Asking for your article by EOD Friday means someone is likely, for our purposes, already planning on staying in the office late to edit that article when they walk into work that morning. A deadline is really not meant to be tested. Exactly at 4:59pm, fine. Past that point, it’s the danger zone, panic alarms are going off, if they haven’t heard anything from you, it’s not good news – for anyone.

If your editor doesn’t give you a deadline, for whatever reason, give yourself one. Whenever I work with someone who says, “Can you work on this?” without giving me a due date, I struggle. The procrastinator in me just can’t get it done fast enough. So I’ve trained myself to set my own deadlines and stick with them. An editor myself, I understand that even when there’s no specific time frame, it’s better to get things done sooner rather than later – ASAP.

Always remember, as a writer working for an editor, that this process is not about you. Once your article is published and your name is on it, you’re welcome to celebrate and promote it all you want. Take pride in it, we’re happy for you. But until then, this is about workflow, about doing quality work in a timely manner, following directions, putting in all the effort you have. This is a priority. There are circumstances when emergencies do happen, and an editor will understand that. But I can pretty much guarantee your internet does not go out every single Friday afternoon when I’m expecting a submission from you.

Just do your work, well and on time. I don’t keep my chronic procrastination a habit – I tend to put things off as long as I possibly can. But when I am working, I get my work done. I don’t give excuses. I don’t say “I’ll have it to you by six” and then don’t turn anything in. Stop doing that!

Thank you. :)


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Treat a Hobby Like a Job (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 6)

Making things is a job.

Have you ever realized how short a day actually is? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing the answer is yes. 24 hours seems like a very long time, until you factor in sleep (can’t avoid it), relationships (also can’t live without those), work (a natural part of the human existence), adulting and all things associated (…) and, of course – in addition to everything else – writing.

Writing is a thing you do. You do it when you feel like it, when you choose to act on your inspiration or because you have to.

The problem with “wanting to be a writer” is all in the title. You WANT to do this. The question is, are you willing to put in the time, and the effort – make the necessary sacrifices, within reason – to treat your writing as if you’re getting paid for it, even when you aren’t?

Because regardless of your end goal – whether you want to make money or not – you’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t actually work. Hard.

Yep – even your beloved hobby needs to be taken seriously. At least at its core.

As producer and performer Mike Rugnetta put it: “Making things is a job. Sometimes it’s a really fun job! But it’s never not a job. And the thing that’s really hard and weird and disappointing about it is that if you don’t treat it the same way you would any other job, you won’t be successful.” (The Hustle Economy, p. 57)

Wait. So we’re supposed to write, enjoy it, work hard at it, treat it like a job even when it ins’t, and still somehow balance everything else on top of that? We’re supposed to make writing a priority, even when there’s literally no more room in our lives to do that?

HOW?

Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (sorta), I had a full-time job that had nothing to do with writing. (!) It wasn’t just a nine-to-five job – it involved an hour commute into and back from the city where I worked. Especially once I started graduate school, that made for some very early mornings, and very late nights.

Yet I somehow managed to revamp my blog, work on a novel and write for a magazine (all for free) during that time – because I knew that if I treated my hobby like an unimportant series of side projects, I would never work my way up to a successful writing career.

Not that I’m all that successful yet, two years later, but I’ve made progress. I can’t imagine where I would be now if, in March of 2015, I would have just thought, “Well, I’m really busy with work and school right now. I really don’t have time to be writing all this stuff.”

First rule of earning a career in writing: there is always time.

You don’t think there is. But it’s there. There are small pockets of time all throughout your day perfect for writing. The train commute. Over commercial breaks during TGIT. The doctor’s office waiting room. Anything works, if you’re willing to make it work.

There’s no such thing as wasted writing time. I’ve spent good portions of time writing things I later decided not to use. Those things taught me more about what works and what doesn’t.

Sometimes you sit down and start writing and “know” it’s not going to be that great. But always keep in mind that you never perform as terribly as your mind tricks you into believing.

Writing is a job. I know it can be hard to believe that, when other people are constantly telling you it’s not a job if you aren’t getting paid well for it, or at all – they don’t get it, and may never get it, and that’s tough. But if you don’t prioritize it, if you don’t treat it as such, you’re never going to master the level of discipline and resilience it takes to succeed in this field. The more you do it, the harder you work at it, the better chance you have at actually Making It Happen.

Work can be fun – just because it’s work doesn’t mean you have to drag your feet about it. I consider managing this blog as part of my work day, even though I’m doing it for free (though you’re welcome to support my efforts, if you like). If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to keep up this daily schedule. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all of YOU! I enjoy it – it’s work, but I hope I never have to stop.

So, are you willing to take your writing career to the next level? Start by working just a little harder. And then some more. And then some more.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

All Writers Mess Up, Big Time (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 5)

Oops.

Disappointed.

That’s what they told me – that the spec article I’d worked so hard on left them “disappointed.”

I won’t get into how I feel about that choice of phrasing right now (people say things, it’s not personal, blah blah blah). Anyway.

This was a prospective project that was meant to challenge me, yet when I failed to deliver exactly what the client wanted (not always an easy thing to do in the health space), their response stirred something dark and unsettling inside me.

I write to impress. As you can hopefully guess, I don’t always impress. Who does? I’m just a human. I make human-like errors.

We all fail – yes, even me. It really sways your confidence, though, when you almost grab onto that bar you’ve set so high – your fingertips touch it, you almost have it – but you still end up facedown on the ground, red-faced and wanting nothing more than to crawl into a bottomless hole and never emerge.

I was bored. Freelancing hit a mundane patch for me, so I decided to stretch myself a little – thinking, of course, that I could do just fine.

That particular piece of feedback really messed me up. Not for long – not to the point where I considered quitting and settling for a different career path – but doubt is not friendly. It twists things around and makes you feel like you’re doing everything wrong, even when you’re not.

It scared me. Really. I remember thinking, “Are people just lying to me? Am I a terrible writer, and people are just being nice because they don’t want to hurt my feelings?”

I mean, for all I know, that could be true. Ignorance is bliss. I just don’t like doubt being the one thing that forces me to think about potential realities too hard.

Fear and doubt and self-consciousness brought on by negative commentary – these are the most dangerous obstacles for writers. They’re manipulative and suffocating. Bad, bad, bad.

But leave it to film editor Farah Khalid to say exactly what we all need to hear in situations like this:

“Fear can be an indicator of when you need to push yourself harder. When were you last afraid/uncomfortable? Not recently? Well then, are you really growing as an artist?” (Hustle Economy, p. 49)

Oh. OH. So I was on the right track, then? I did a good thing, even though I almost burst into tears because I started having flashbacks about that one time I disappointed my mom in like, middle school?

(Understand, this is the way the brain of an Anxious person works. I know a client’s feedback has actually nothing to do with me personally. I can’t think rationally when I’m Anxious.)

I was nervous about that spec assignment for days. I put it off for over 48 hours, something I never do when I’m writing to impress. It wasn’t that I was in over my head – it was just stretching me beyond what I was used to.

You see, you get too comfortable when you spend too much time at the same level of writing. I write for a few blogs, which, honestly, means they’re not always too picky about how many scientific studies you mention in your posts. I got a little lazy. I got a little cocky, maybe. And when I thought, “I need a challenge,” I sprinted headfirst into a brick wall of shame and disappointment. Awesome.

You can’t grow unless you work harder than you did yesterday. But you also can’t grow unless you fail – and unless you’re willing to look your mistakes in the eye, learn from them and move on.

I probably could have pushed myself a little harder to impress that client. I could have spent more time on that article. I could have asked more questions, could have put what would have felt like excessive effort into a trial assignment (I’d already spent more than two hours on it – more than usual for cases like this). There are plenty of things I could have done differently. The reason we fail is because we remember how much failing hurts – and we, hopefully, don’t continue to make the same mistakes when something like this comes around again.

I messed up. My biggest fear is messing up. So I’m really glad it happened. I’m not saying you should go out there and purposely make mistakes just to learn how to be a better writer – it’s never purposeful. Just don’t get discouraged when things like this happen (because they will).

We think we’re working as hard as we can, right up until it’s suddenly not quite good enough anymore – oops! Failure is a chance to return to your last checkpoint and evaluate whether or not you did everything you could have before you missed the bar. You’ll try again. Maybe you’ll fail a few more times. But you’ll work harder and harder each time, until you succeed. It’s how you earn the title of ‘writer.’ It’s not always fun. But it teaches you a lot about yourself along the way.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Why We Continue to Doubt Ourselves, Even As We Improve

You are, and always will be, your harshest critic.

Have you ever just stared at a thing you just wrote and thought, “I’m not even good at this?”

Chances are, you’re probably pretty good at it. At least compared to your skill level when you first started writing.

We doubt ourselves way too often, and it inhibits our confidence – sometimes, even our success. But why? Why is it so easy to believe we’re bad at what we do, even if we’ve been doing it forever?


It’s hard to judge your own progress

Whether you realize it or not, you’re a better writer now than when you started. Even without formal training, writers learn how to write better – through reading, through watching and playing and doing – and yes, through the critiques and suggestions of others.

But it’s hard to notice you’re improving. You have a very limited perspective on your skill level. As your writing improves, it just seems like the same old writing to you – because better writing has gradually become your norm. Without anyone telling you how different your writing is now than it used to be, it’s easy to think, “Well, I haven’t made much progress, so what’s the point?”

This is why rereading your previous work – as much as it might make you cringe – is, in my opinion, an essential part of growing as a writer. Look back at where you’ve been. You may not be as good of a writer as your favorite author seems to be, but you’ve definitely moved at least a few steps up from that weird blog post you wrote back in high school.

We come to expect negative criticism

Many people don’t know how to give constructive criticism. At least, I didn’t, back in college when I marked up my roommate’s English paper with red pen (sorry, Olivia). When they’re told to critique someone’s writing, many people assume that means they have a free pass to be overly critical – and not necessarily in a kind and/or helpful way.

So when people do come around that know how to critique properly, we unknowingly jump to the conclusion that they’re out to try and bring us down. About a year ago, I submitted something for publication. When the editor came back basically suggesting I rewrite the entire article, I’ll admit it, I was kind of mad. I didn’t understand why they were being so mean to my starving artist heart.

Criticism is an important component of growth. In the real world – most of the time – those who professionally give feedback on your work aren’t doing it in the form of a personal attack. So you can’t approach every writing assignment afraid you’re going to fail. You might, and probably will at some point, fail. But that’s part of this complicated game we’re all playing. We try. We fail. We learn, and we keep learning until we stop making the same mistakes. Then we make new ones. And so on.

We’re told it’s bad to be proud of our accomplishments

I used to be embarrassed every time a teacher made a good example out of my essays in school. I know I’m not the only one. For one thing, I never understood why they were singling ME out. I just wrote a thing because they told me to – what’s the big deal? And for another, especially in that two years of hell sometimes referred to as Middle School, being singled out for being good in school – at least, back in the day – was SO NOT COOL. Hello – my reputation is at stake here. Leave me alone.

I can’t say for sure when all this stopped being embarrassing, but eventually somewhere along the way someone taught me it’s not a crime to be good at something – and share that something with the world. I’m not embarrassed to share my articles on Facebook or wherever – if I were, honestly, I wouldn’t have learned to be brave enough to pitch my ideas to TOTAL STRANGERS. GASP.

Even if you’re not at all confident about what you’re publishing – act like you are. Promote it like it’s the best thing anyone has ever written. The more confident you pretend to be, the easier it gets to actually believe in your ability to do something well. Who really cares what anyone else thinks?


You are good – as good as you can be, right now. Just because you’re not 100 percent sold on what you’ve just written doesn’t mean someone else won’t be. You are, and always will be, your harshest critic. Don’t let that hold you back. Strive to improve – but be proud of how far you’ve come, and where you stand now.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Writing is Always Work – But That’s Good (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 4)

Want it? Work for it. Write what and why you want to.

“Consider the creation of an individual human and all the processes and events required for this new person to exist… conscious life as we know it, is just a culmination of a bunch of random separate entities that got what they wanted. So while you certainly can kick back and enjoy the life… you can’t knock the hustle.” – Adrian Sanders, cofounder of Beacon (Hustle Economy, p. 40)


Some of you write professionally. Many of you don’t. There are a lot of people who work extremely hard to use their words to pay for necessities. I’m proud of you. You’re working very hard. You know you are. You feel it in your bones. It kind of aches. But it’s an ache you put up with, because survival is essential.

There are also many people out there who write for fun. I applaud you, all of you. You’re also working very hard, and you don’t even realize that’s what you’re doing.

Working.

It’s still work, even when it doesn’t feel like work. Writing a novel? That’s work. Blogging? Work. Poetry? Work. At the end of a long writing session, you feel drained – yet elated. The adrenaline wears off, and you migrate toward your bed – even though you’re extremely proud of what you’ve just done.

Writing, whether you know it or not, is always work. You are creating something out of nothing – a story, a product that could potentially be sold. You are developing a skill you may be able to someday offer as a service to someone who doesn’t want to do all the writing themselves.

It doesn’t feel like work because it’s the kind of work you WANT to be doing. All that effort is so much more likely to pay off, because you’re giving it all you can give – yet you’re having fun (almost).

We all need to work, writing about things that fulfill us and encourage us to create change in the world. I see no reason why we can’t – all of us.

Now you’re yelling at your screen: “This isn’t possible for everyone! Some people don’t have the option to do writing they enjoy!”

Well why not?

Because I’m pretty confident that if you really wanted to – if you were willing to do whatever it took to earn a successful writing career – you’d do it. You’d make the necessary sacrifices.

Surviving in this industry is about doing whatever it takes. Setting aside things that are blocking your way. Making it work, whatever that means for you.

Making time for writing things that matter to you.

Keeping your eye on what your seemingly small, insignificant effort could turn into.

I’ve always said writing is like raising a child. Maybe the baby-making analogy works too. You put in the effort to make something, you give up whatever you need to give up to let it thrive, you just keep working until there’s an outcome, because that’s what hustling is.

But the hard work doesn’t stop when the outcome plays out. What if I’d just stopped blogging once we hit 50 followers? 100? 300? Where would that have gotten us?

Just because you do happen to get what you’ve been working so hard for doesn’t mean you can quit. All your dreams coming true is a sign you should keep up the pace. Keep building upon your successes and learning from your failures.

Whether you write for someone else for a paycheck or yourself for free, writing is work. Make the work good. Interesting. Make it count. Put in the effort. Don’t just sit back and wonder what to do next – get up and do it. Hustle. Even if you’re having the time of your life and it feels easy and you’re not stressed. Keep writing. It’s worth it. Always.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

What Happens When You Send a Character Out of Their Comfort Zone?

I know good character writing when I see it.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who loved Thursday night’s midseason Grey’s Anatomy premiere, and those who wished it never happened.

Granted, this is a serial drama and I don’t expect every viewer to over-analyze characterization in every script. It’s not their fault they’re upset about not having their expectations met (do we really still expect that from TV?). But I can’t help myself. I over-analyze everything. I’m a writer. It’s what I do.

I’m not going to spend this entire post on a Grey’s rant. But I do have a point to make. Bear with me.

The majority of negative commentary following the episode related to an argument I’m not going to get into right now. But a lot of it also criticized the writing. They did not like the environment, or the characters. It was not what they were used to.

The episode took place in a prison instead of a hospital for reasons we’re not fully certain of yet (I can guarantee that will become clearer – because TV shows do random things to make you come back next week, because it’s TV).

As I expected, this drastic change of scenery meant the three familiar MCs we followed throughout the episode were completely out of their element, even in performing a medical procedure.

Especially notable was the general criticism of Dr. Miranda Bailey and how she “did not act like herself.” Many – far too many, in my opinion – blamed this on “bad writing.” Assuming that anytime a character does not display familiar behavior, it’s a poorly written TV episode.

I’m not an expert in TV writing by any means. But I do know a little something about good character writing. It would have been disappointing if, put in a completely new situation, every character acted the exact same way they always do. That’s flat, it’s unrealistic, and I’m glad they had more sense than that.

Bailey acted strange. Sure. Because this was not a typical day for her. Change changes people. It may be a fictional story, but it’s supposed to be as realistic as possible. Right?

This was not bad writing. I won’t exaggerate and call it brilliant, but it was no mistake.

We saw a character already being put through challenge after challenge pushed to her breaking point. We saw her in an environment in which she was not in control – a place where her uncertainty, long buried beneath the shell of her comfort zone, exposed. And even throughout a single episode we saw her begin to adapt to being in this position she did not want to be in.

This is called character development. Driven by plot, it shows (in this case the viewer) how a beloved character is still flawed – vulnerable – imperfect, even after 13 seasons. The moment we stop challenging our characters, they become uninteresting. We stop caring.

“This is not the Bailey we know and love.” Well of course not. This is not the place she calls home. What did you expect?

Do you think and behave the exact same way at home as you do at work? Are you always confident – or always shy, especially when put in a completely unfamiliar situation? No. And neither are your characters.

Everyone has their comfort zone, and in order to write dynamic characters, you need to take them out of that comfort zone. That is how you facilitate growth – by forcing characters into uncomfortable circumstances, over and over again until they have no choice but to adapt.

That is my challenge for you this upcoming week. Write down things that make your round characters uncomfortable. Then figure out how to launch them into a journey of development and self-discovery by putting them through the exact things that make them feel doubtful, afraid, self-conscious, etc. That is a core writing principle that we all need to implement into our stories more often.

Dynamic characters are affected drastically by the plots that surround them. Every setting should bring out different behaviors. Personalities shift – sort of – depending on where a person is, who they are with, what they are doing. That is how it works in the real world. The same thing needs to happen in stories, too – because characters need to be relatable. Realistic.

Write good characters. Challenge them. Make them uncomfortable. It’s fun, once you get into the habit.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Earn a Career in Writing – Part 3

Work your butt off.

A single success is just an open door. It is not a free ride to happy town. Anything worth doing is tons of work… When that door opens, that is when you start working your patoot off. And when your patoot falls off, staple it back on until you work it off again.

– Ben Grelle, internet comedian, writer (Hustle Economy, p. 32)

I have successfully answered to the (loud, terrifying, unwanted) call of my 6 a.m. alarm for nine days in a row.

I do not particularly enjoy emerging from my pillow and blanket haven this early in the day. Currently, it is still dark out when my alarm goes off.

This morning, I was dreaming about impressing a former professor with cupcakes (#cookingforagradescarredmeforlife).

I’m doing squats daily. My butt is very confused and would prefer for me to move as little as possible for the next 72 hours.

I would have gladly returned to my warm and comfy sanctuary. But I didn’t.

People who say you have to wake up early to be successful are wrong. I don’t do it because it’s somehow magically going to get me a job or win me awards or something.

Nope. I do it so I can spend six uninterrupted hours every night watching Netflix.

Netflix is not work. I don’t generally talk about how many hours I spend per week streaming shows, because it makes me sound lazy.

Except I’m not. Because when I wake up at 6 a.m., I spend the first three hours of my day in preparation – making lists, reading, journaling, exercising (squaaaaats), caffeinating – not working. But working my way up to working.

And then, from nine to five, guess what I do? I work.

Sometimes I spend an hour after that on what some would call “passion projects,” but I prefer to call them, “things I’m going to launch at some point but still have no idea what exactly they are so not yet.”

The point is, I spend a solid eight hours working – meeting the reasonable demands of my clients, hunting for small projects to take on, keeping this blog on the radar, slowly (sloooooowly) still trying to finish novels from the past two Novembers.

Work. I work. Hard. And then I give my brain (and butt) a rest. Because, right now, I am very fortunate to be able to do that – leave some space in the schedule for myself.

Here’s the thing about work: no two people work in the exact same way. So what I’ve just told you might be interesting, but it’s probably not the way you prefer to do things. And that’s OK.

You might love sleeping in. Someone who works from home, as I do, has the luxury of doing that. You might be completely fine not starting your work until lunchtime and working late into the evening. There is nothing wrong with that. That is what works for YOU.

So far in this series we’ve talked about working for free and about finishing what you start, whether the work is good or bad. But now we have to talk about the work itself – or the process of working, rather. Because you have a zero percent chance of success as a writer if you do not work to earn what you want.

You have to work the way that works for you – and I mean REALLY works. If you can only find time to do the bulk of your writing on weekends, then the generic non-inclusive advice to take weekends off from working does not apply to you. As long as you are spending that time doing quality work, and you are proud of that work, then keep working like that. It’s no one’s place to say you can’t.

The more you work, the more likely you are to earn one success. And once you earn one success, you have a choice: let it go to your head and get lazy, or use the momentum to kick your work up a notch.

I could probably work more than 40 hours a week if I wanted to. I would make more money and publish more content. But that is not what is going to work for me right now. I spent the past 20 years in school and I deserve a few months of not having to constantly staple my butt back on, thank you very much. But this is not typical for me, and I don’t plan on letting squats alone kick me into shape for long. There will come a point when the work that I am doing now pays off in a very small way (slow and steady), and when that happens, I will have built up enough stamina to take off running again, stapler at the ready. Not now. But soon enough.

People don’t like figuring out for themselves what they need to do to make work work. I’m not completely sure why that is, but reality check: if you’re not working the way that works, you’re not going to want to keep doing it. Going back to last week – giving up happens when you’re not willing to follow through. Hard work ALWAYS pays off. Not always immediately, not always in the exact way you want. But your success is a path unlike anyone else’s. No one has succeeded in the way you will before. The more you work, the more efficiently you organize your work, the further down your own personal path to success you will go.

Here – these are all the resources you’ll need to get better at working. Work your butt off. Or if you’ve just literally worked your butt off, take a short breather, grab your stapler and get back to it. It’s your work. It’s your success you’re going after here. You have to make the conscious decision to go for it, to make the necessary sacrifices, to earn it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How an Amateur Writer Becomes an Expert

The four phases of becoming an expert in your niche.

Here’s the thing about writing: everyone starts at the bottom. Some work their way up to the middle. A select few manage to climb to the very top. That’s how it is with any profession. You have no idea what you’re doing. You start to figure it out. At some point you probably come to a crossroads, where you decide how much of a priority you want writing to be in your life. Do you want to advance – or are you happy at the level you stand on now?

To move from the very bottom to the very top – a beginner, all the way to a expert – every writer moves through a series of phases. Like riding a bike, they start out wobbly and terrified. They start to get the hang of it. Maybe eventually they start teaching other people how to ride bikes. It’s a process. A long, frustrating process.

How does this work? Let’s break down the phases, starting with the copycat phase.


Phase 1: Playing the part

This is the beginning of the beginning. These are the days of mimicking and “do as they do.” A phase 1 writer’s style typically shifts back and forth depending on what they are reading, watching or listening to at the time. They have yet to develop their own style – ideally, they’re still learning how to string sentences together in a way that works.

As an editor, I frequently read drafts that are written awkwardly – as if the freelancer is writing something that sounds the way a writer would phrase something (because that tends to happen unintentionally). This is a clear sign that this writer may not quite be at a high enough skill level to be doing the work, but that’s what an editor is for, I suppose.

It’s sort of like being nine years old and trying to act the way you think a teenager acts. You have no idea how it works yet. You’ll get there eventually – but for now you’re acting on what you know from what you’ve seen/heard. It’s not bad writing – it’s just generic. Sentences don’t flow easily from one to the next. There are a lot of words that don’t belong. You’re a tiny human at this point, if we’re going to compare it to growth. You’re just starting to learn.

Phase 2: Finding the voice

At some point, if a writer keeps up with their hobby long enough, they move into phase 2. There is no specific moment this happens – no visible evolution in which you burst through your cocoon and start fluttering your wings. It just … happens. You read. You listen. You watch TV. You absorb. Different writers and voices influence you in different ways. You learn the kinds of writing you like – and the kinds you don’t. Everything comes together to form your voice – your style – the way you prefer to phrase things, the words you use, the formality (or lack thereof) with which you address your audiences.

Every experienced writer has their own style of writing completely unique to them. You can’t identify your own voice – it’s just the way you write. When you say, “I love the way so-and-so writes,” you’re essentially falling in love with their style. I am literally hypnotized by anything Shonda Rhimes writes. I can’t explain it – but the first time I listened to her TED Talk, I sat completely still for 20 straight minutes, barely breathing. Some writers’ voices connect with specific readers on an extremely deep level.

Sticking with it, every writer eventually develops their unique form. It comes only from writing consistently – which is how you learn to translate ideas from the content you consume and create a piece of writing out of them that is all your own, instead of transcribing someone else’s style – a very phase 1 thing to do.

Phase 3: Developing the knowledge foundation

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or you’re a journalist or you write essays in your spare time: everyone has their own knowledge foundation. Possibly even before a writer hits phase 3, they start to develop a personal theme – a common thread that runs through everything they write. Mine is health. I don’t know when it started or when exactly I finally figured out it was something I needed to grab onto, but it was there, and I pursued it.

So what did I do? I picked up a second college major. I landed my first position as a health writer. I eventually specialized in health communication as a graduate student. There is some kind of health-related underlying message in the majority of things I write, but I am able to back that by my education and my experience. In other words: I know what I’m talking about, I have the credibility to talk about it, I do not mess around when I am not just playing, but acting in the role of expert health writer. And that is how we advance to the fourth and final phase.

Phase 4: Earning the title

You have the right style and the right skills – now you need the experience. Experience = credibility. A phase 4 writer starts writing for free – blogging, guest posting, interning – and slowly moves into paid professional writing. And even then, they’re still the lowest of the low on the professional writing hierarchy. Many writers make money. Experts have a following – they are known for writing a specific type of thing, often. They are trusted. They are asked all the cliche questions writers hate to be asked, even though they remember what being in phase 1 was like. They never forget.

I only recently changed my profile headlines. Calling myself an expert health writer while still a first-year writing intern wouldn’t have made sense. I didn’t have the experience or the trustworthy publishing credits, and definitely not the income, to have earned the title of ‘expert.’ It wouldn’t have even made sense to expert-ify myself a year ago. But I didn’t stop at phase 3. I kept working. I dealt with rejections – or worse, never getting a response at all. I dealt with things I published reaching absolutely no one – until they started to. And continue to.

I don’t think there’s a specific time frame in which someone has to write in a specific format or genre before they can promote their expertise, but it does require moving through all three phases, as well as publishing – a lot. Blogs, websites, magazines, books, videos, podcasts – the number of ways a writer can gain a loyal following on and offline keeps growing. You have to get out there. Transform yourself into an authority figure – a legitimate one. Educate yourself. Do something so many times over that people can’t logically call into question anymore why you matter.


There’s no time frame, sure – but it takes a minimum of years to go from amateur to professional. I wrote for over 10 years before I first published something. This is why I always tell writers to be patient. You cannot go from point A to point B in a year. It probably won’t take you 10 – unless you’re 7 years old as you’re reading this, as I was when I discovered the joy of writing for the first time. But it will take time. Let me repeat that: IT WILL TAKE TIME.

What do you do in the meantime? You keep writing. You keep studying and reading. You experience the world. Writing doesn’t happen unless you make it happen. Expertise doesn’t happen unless you earn it – legitimate expertise, anyway. You CAN do it. You CAN productively wait it out. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to wait – you don’t have a choice. That’s how this business works. It’s slow. It’s exhausting. But it’s breathtaking. Worth the effort, 200 percent.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Never Miss Another Deadline – Tips for Staying Focused and Getting Ahead

Never submit something late again.

In the real world, deadlines are law. Turning something in late means it doesn’t get published, and you don’t get paid. Timeliness may not always be rewarded, but the consequences for not being able to keep up with deadlines are severe – especially if whether or not you get picked for a writing job depends on recommendations from people you have written for previously.

Working on deadline, and getting ahead, are learned habits. There’s no better time to start learning than right now.

Here are a few things you can do to stay focused while writing and get more work done ahead of time.


Go Cold Turkey

When I took a week-long vacation at the end of 2016, I did nothing but spend virtually every hour of every afternoon on Netflix, YouTube or Steam – which was fine, when I was on vacation. But I found it extremely difficult to climb out of that hole when the new year started and I had to get back to work.

The internet is unforgiving in many ways. Sometimes you need it to write, but you see one BuzzFeed article pop up and you’re doomed for the next hour and a half.

Enter Cold Turkey – a Mac desktop app and web browser extension that lets you choose specific websites to block while leaving others fully accessible. You choose the duration. You have no choice but to avoid the websites you’ve completely blocked yourself out of and do something else – something productive. At least, that’s what happened to me.

Download. Install. Block. Boom. I can’t go on Facebook, I can’t stop “just to watch one video” on YouTube. I can’t hit my 3 p.m. slump and just decide to call it quits for the day, diving into yet another Netflix binge.

When there’s nothing left to do but work, that’s what you’ll do. I didn’t think that would be the case – but it turns out that if it weren’t for my biggest online distractions, I could have most likely gotten twice as much work done last year. But I didn’t – because I had no idea how distracted I actually was.

If the internet isn’t your biggest distraction from writing, then you probably need to choose a different writing location, and/or consider writing by hand, or using Cold Turkey Writer, which, as you can probably guess, allows you to do nothing but stare at a screen and write.

Work in intervals

Everyone works differently. Some people prefer to work by time, using methods to “power work” for a certain amount of time, taking a break and repeating the process. Others work by project, focusing only on work from one client until it’s done before moving on to the next thing.

However you work, do so in intervals so you don’t find yourself working for hours straight without giving your brain a rest period.

I try to work for two hours in the morning, take a break to work out, work for two more hours, take a lunch break, draft a blog post, then work for two more hours, take a shorter break, and so on. Working without breaks is both unproductive and dangerous. The longer you work without stopping, the more you concentration and the quality of the work you are doing deteriorates.

However, taking productive breaks are also important. Don’t just scroll through Twitter for 15 minutes and then go straight back to what you were doing before. Grab a snack, throw in a load of laundry, run an errand. The time you spend working will produce much better results. You’ll most likely work faster and feel more energized and focused, too.

Trick your brain

It’s not easy, or even always practical, to decide you’re going to stop procrastinating. Not all procrastination is bad, and it’s more of a personality trait than a habit, which makes “quitting” arbitrary. For many people, it’s just who they are. Which is fine, until it starts interfering with your ability to get your work done well and/or on time.

Whether you write as a hobby or you’re a working professional, deadlines are a great motivator for getting quality work done efficiently. The less time you have to spend on good writing, the more good writing you’ll be able to do. But since waiting until the last minute can’t always be avoided, you can work around that … by changing an expected due date on your own schedule.

Never write down a real deadline. Instead, always mark it down in your calendar or planner three days earlier than the real deadline. (This way, if something is due on a Monday, you finish on Friday; if it’s due Friday, you finish on Tuesday.) You can literally trick your brain into believing that’s the real deadline, so that even if you do end up waiting until the last minute, you’ll still end up turning your work in early.

This is really hard for me – once I see a date, it for whatever reason lodges itself into my brain and it’s not easily forgotten. But I’m also a planner junkie, so if I see something is due on the 25th, I’m much more likely to finish it by the 25th. No excuses – you can train your brain to do a lot of things you don’t think you can do. This works. I promise.


How do you manage deadlines? What are some other tactics you’ve tried for staying ahead of schedule?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.