The Blog

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August 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How’s your August been?

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How to Come Up With Ideas for Your Blog

One of the most difficult things about blogging is the requirement to come up with new ideas week after week, month after month. New bloggers are often full of ideas for the first six months or so, but maintaining that momentum over time can be hard.

Developing editorial content ideas for my clients is part of my job. I’m an ideas person, and so this is something I really enjoy. Though that’s not to say that it’s always easy! I often get asked how I come up with so many ideas. I’d like to claim it all works as if by magic(!), but in reality there are a few tricks I use to keep the inspiration flowing.

I wanted to share some of those tricks with you.

Introduce recurring post types

Here’s a bit of good news: you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to plan your blog content for the month. If you can introduce regular types of post, a good few calendar spots will already be filled and all you’ll need to do is write new content to fit in each format. For example, at the end of each month I share a ‘Round Up‘ post with highlights from my month and favourite links from the web. Other examples of recurring posts could include reviews, how to guides, photo diaries, interviews and inspiration pieces.

Look at your FAQs

Are there certain questions that your customers or blog readers ask over and over again? Here’s a clue: those are the things they really want to know about! Often the things that seem too obvious to mention to you will actually be of real interest to people who don’t have your expertise.

Keep track of seasonal events

Seasonal events can provide all sorts of blog content opportunities. Some of these are obvious: Christmas and the summer holidays tend to provide all sorts of inspiration. But you may also find that local or industry events can be just as fruitful. Keep track of relevant world awareness days, celebrations, exhibitions and festivals for plenty of new things to blog about.

Make yourself a resource

If you’re only blogging about things that happen in your home, shop, office or studio you’re going to run short on ideas pretty quickly! Instead, consider opening out your remit to cover your industry/main area of interest. If you can open up the focus of your blog to cover news and advice related to this, you’ll have a lot more to say (and it’ll all be much more valuable to your readers, too!).

Speak to your customers

Here’s another obvious suggestion that a lot of us forget about… why not ask your customers or readers want they want to know? This is particularly helpful when it comes to advice based posts. You could do this in face-to-face conversation, perhaps just by asking people what they think is most interesting/mind-boggling about what you do. Alternatively, you could ask blog readers to email you with ideas or even send out a simple questionnaire to your mailing list.

Share guest posts and interviews

You don’t have to write all of your blog content yourself! Guest posts and interviews can be a great way to provide valuable content while giving yourself a bit of time off from idea generation. There’ll still be plenty of work to do: you’ll need to approach relevant people, chase them up, then edit posts as necessary. But this can be a great way to bring fresh perspective to your blog.

Add related topics

It can be difficult to maintain an interesting and varied blog when you’re strictly blogging about only your main area of interest. You may want to open things up a bit by adding a few related topics. Here’s an example: I’m a writer, but I don’t just blog about writing. I also share posts about books, productivity and freelancing. These related topics help to bring in different types of readers, ensure that things don’t get repetitive around here, and keep me entertained and inspired.

Any questions? Feel free to share them in the comments below or to drop me an email.

*Header photo by Andres Nieto Porras
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20 Things to Do Instead Of Picking Up Your Phone

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how much I use my phone. Over the last few years I (like many of us!) have got into the habit of scrolling mindlessly though apps on my phone whenever I’m tired/bored/at a loose end.

This isn’t a habit I’m particularly proud of. I’m also very aware that my one-year-old daughter is watching everything I do very carefully, so I’ve been making a conscious effort not to do it in front of her. This post on the behavioural analysis of a phone zombie written by a friend of mine has made me extra determined to work on setting a better example!

A lot of the time I pick up my phone because I have a spare five minutes that I don’t know what to do with. To avoid this, I’ve created a list of 20 things that, for me, feel like a better use of that time.

Here goes…

1. Read a chapter of a book

2. People watch

3. Do a yoga stretch

4. Jot down some blog post ideas

5. Get some fresh air

6. Write a few paragraphs of fiction

7. Do some meditative breathing

8. Make a cup of tea

9. Have a proper conversation

10. Enjoy the view

11. Listen to some music

12. Eat a healthy snack

13. Do a quick tidying session

14. Daydream

15. Flick through a recipe book

16. Do a ‘life admin’ task

17. Make a plan to do something fun

18. Review my work tasks for the day

19. Look at a photo album

20. Note down something my daughter has done that I want to remember

Any more suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

*Header photo by R. Nial Bradshaw
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July 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How has your July been?

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Freelance Musings on the Joy of Communication

Last week I travelled to London to run a workshop at The Training Gateway‘s Summer Networking event. I was reminded, as I always am when I work face-to-face with other people, that one of my favourite things about freelancing can also be my least favourite thing: independent working.

Like a lot of writers, I describe myself as an introvert. I’m an independent person and so the isolation of freelancing from home doesn’t phase me. I love having the freedom to set my own hours, pace and routines. For the first four years of my freelance career (before my daughter came along) I spent much of my working week sat alone in front of my computer. Whole working days would come and go without me talking to another human being. And you know what? I never had a problem with that.

In fact, it’s only when I find myself in a professional situation with other people that I actually realise what I’m missing out on. This will come as a revelation to precisely none of you who regularly work in partnership with other people(!), but there’s a real joy in being able to share and develop ideas in real life conversation. That joy is something that’s often lost to freelancers. Though we obviously do communicate daily with clients and other freelance colleagues, much of that is done via email or social media.

One of the other reasons I really enjoy facilitating training courses is that it gives me an excellent opportunity to take on another perspective. Teaching other people about what you do (last week it was a taster session on writing for the web) is a great way to remind yourself why you do it in the first place! For me, it’s simple: I love the written word. Writing is my passion, whether I’m working on a novel, a blog post, a feature article, website copy or a how to guide. Sometimes, though, I need to get away from my laptop keyboard and in front of real life human beings in order to remember just how much I love it.

So thanks to a day away in the capital and some interested delegates, I’m back at my desk this week with a renewed enthusiasm. There are more training dates in my diary over the coming months and I’m already looking forward to the next one. Solo-working is brilliant but I’m very glad that my job gives me the chance to work with new people regularly too!

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June 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How has your June been?

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The Daily To Do List VS the Weekly To Do List

As many of you know, last year I cut my working hours in order to spend time with my new daughter. Doing ‘the mum thing’ while continuing with my freelance career has been ideal for me, though at times it has felt like a slightly precarious balancing act.

There’s been some trial and error involved in fine tuning my working practices in order to be as productive as possible during more limited hours.

One of the most helpful changes was actually a very small one: I switched from a daily to do list to a weekly to do list.

I’m still using Nozbe, my beloved to do list app, but now I use the scheduling feature to make all my recurring weekly tasks appear on a Monday so they’re there for the week. I do the same with one off tasks and projects, as well as any little ideas that crop up. And… that’s it.

This works because:

  • My hours are less predictable now. I can’t always be sure how much time I’ll have to work on a certain day, though I know it will even out over the course of the week.
  • There’s less opportunity to procrastinate by spending time organising my list and scheduling certain tasks to certain days.
  • I can see how busy my whole week is going to be at a glance, which means no unhappy surprises at the end of the week.
  • When I can see everything that needs to be done I’m more inclined to make my week ‘top heavy’ and get more of my recurring tasks done on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday.
  • There’s no option to physically put something off till tomorrow: tasks sit there on my weekly list until they’re done.
  • I find that I’m less likely to overestimate how much I can do in a week than how much I can do in a day!

In short, having a weekly do list rather than a daily to do list primarily works for me because it keeps things simple and easy to keep track of.

It’s strange how the smallest shifts can make the biggest impact on every day productivity!

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10 Ways to Make Yourself Feel More Creative

1. Take a walk somewhere pretty

2. Read something you admire

3. Do something practical with your hands (I like sewing, crochet and baking)

4. Visit somewhere new

5. Listen to some music (my current work favourites are Iron and Wine and Berlioz)

6.  Daydream

7. Sit in a coffee shop with a notebook and a pen

8. Open a blank document and fill it with words, any words

9. Watch the world go by from a park bench

10. Listen to creative people you admire (I love these talks by Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling)

*Header image by thinkpublic

 

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5 Myths About Freelancing That I Sometimes Wish Were True

There are a lot of myths about freelancing. Most centre around the idyllic lifestyle us freelancers are supposed to enjoy as we drift from coffee shop to coffee shop. Hardly any mention that most of us work extremely hard to sustain that lifestyle (and that it doesn’t always include coffee shops, boo!).

Here are five myths that I sometimes wish were true…

Freelancers don’t have to answer to anyone

Working on your own doesn’t mean you work in a total bubble. I may not have a line manager to report to, but I do have clients. The relationship may work differently, but those clients set deadlines, require work from me and hold me accountable in a very similar way.

Freelancers watch TV all day

Erm, no. Sorry. Though we freelancers do have more freedom to set our own breaks (and better access to the TV during them) we do actually have to get our work done. Though in theory it’s nice to imagine sitting on the sofa all day and marathoning Nashville/Game of Thrones/Scandal, in reality I imagine it would lose it’s novelty pretty quickly, especially when the work stopped coming in.

Freelancers have some magical way of motivating themselves

When I talk to employed people about being self-employed, many of them assume I must have some huge secret that keeps me motivated. The truth is that my motivation comes from pretty much the same place as theirs: a) I love what I do, and B) if I don’t work I don’t get paid. Sometimes I like to turn this one around and point out that their motivation seems pretty impressive to me: ‘you mean, you actually make the effort to leave the house in order to go to work?!’

Freelancers are desperate for a chat during the day

Yes, it’s nice to have colleagues. Yes, it’s nice to have a chat now and again during the working day. Most freelancers, however, are not sitting around feeling lonely during office hours. Instead, you’ll usually find us getting stuck in with whatever project we’re in the middle of. Let me tell you: chatting may be fun but you get an awful lot more done without it.

Freelancers earn a lot more money

Though freelancers definitely have the potential to earn more than their employed counterparts, sadly there’s no guarantee. Many of us are able to command a higher hourly fee from clients than we would from an employer, but it’s key to keep in mind that not all our work is billable. We have to find time for tasks like administration, finances and marketing on top of our client work and we don’t get paid for any of that.

Better go, I’m off for a TV session in my pyjamas. Oh, wait…

*Header photo by Brew Books
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A Quick Tip for More Successful Editing: Print it Off

The reality of being a professional writer is that don’t spend all of my time writing. In fact, I spend most of it editing, rethinking and rewriting.

There are a lot of different ways to approach this process: it’s all about finding the routine that works for you. I’ve developed my editing process through years of trial and error. It differs very little whatever I’m working on, from fiction and children’s fiction to client work.

One part of that routine has been particularly helpful to me, and it might work for you too. Here it is.

Don’t try and edit on screen: print it off.

There’s a lot to be said about having a hard copy of whatever it is you’re working on actually in your hands. Text that seemed fine on screen suddenly seems very different once it’s on paper. I think this is because once it’s printed out it seems like something real that you’re reading, not something you’ve written yourself. And there’s the secret really: if you can approach a piece of work as if it’s something that someone else has written, you’re well on your way to being able to edit it successfully.

When I did my Creative Writing masters course one of my tutors, the writer M.J Hyland, shared an editing tip along these lines. She suggested that we change the font to something ugly before we printed off our work. This might sound a bit silly, but the idea of making your work look different (or even unattractive!) helps to build that wall between the piece that you have written and the piece that needs an objective editor.

Some people like to use the ugly font trick. Some people believe in leaving a draft for a certain length of time. Some people like to hear their words read aloud. The real secret to successful editing is to find a way to separate yourself from your work. For me, the quickest and most effective way to do that is to get my hands on a hard copy.

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