Work Backwards

As if writing itself wasn’t easy enough, there is all that pressure to gain fame and fortune. No problem, right? Not quite. We give ourselves high expectations and almost set ourselves up for disappointment. Instead, work backwards. Look at where you want to be, how high you want to climb. See yourself there, the writer you have become after so much hard work, brilliant thinking and skill with words, there you are!

Where exactly are you? What are you writing? What have you written? Which goals have you accomplished? What people helped you along the way? What resources were used to get to the top of the slushpile? What steps did you take along the way? What changes did you make in your life and your thinking?

Write all those down, every detail about the journey. Backtrack, make sure you haven’t missed any steps. Now, which of those things could you be doing? Do you already know some of the people you need to know? How many of those resources are in your grasp and which do you need to find? Where are your road blocks?

Work backwards from where you want to be to where you are now. See the steps in reverse and then begin taking them. Start the journey, don’t put it off while looking at the big picture in the distance. You still have to get there. Start today by looking backwards rather than forwards. There is so much less pressure in looking back than looking ahead and seeing how far you still need to go.

Proofreading is Boring

Proofreading is boring. If you’re a new writer I may as well give you the bad news now. It doesn’t get better with age. It’s boring even though I’ve been writing online for six years. It was boring when I began. Well, maybe not that first week when everything was new and wondrous.

Ugh! Why can’t we just get it right the first time? Is it some kind of brain blockage? Are our fingers not nimble enough? Do the words change so quickly that we can’t catch them fast enough? Is grammar really all it’s cracked up to be? I go with the nimble finger theory.

My fingers are complete klutzes. So often they aim for two keys at once. They miss the letter completely. Worst of all is when they think I mean ‘whole’ when I really meant to say ‘hole’. What’s wrong with fingers these days? I’d send them to school but I know they did that, I was right there with them, sort of watching over their shoulder. It didn’t seem to help. In fact, I remember crying over my fingers during a typing test in grade nine. We failed that course. It was the only one I didn’t pass that year. I blame my fingers.

There was that time when I had typed a whole essay for English class and my dratted fingers hit some strange key that deleted the whole thing. It wasn’t the delete key because that always gives you the chance to change your mind. I would have changed my mind, trust me! What can you do? We only get 10 fingers, no replacements, no warranties. Basically, you’re stuck with the fingers you’ve got.

So, proofread. Proofread till it hurts. Yes, it’s boring but you look like a fool if you can’t type. You see, everyone assumes the fingers are innocent and it’s YOU who can’t handle grammar or spelling. Yes, there’s the rub. No one ever assumes your fingers are the saboteurs.

Create Yourself in Your Own Image

We know about presenting a good, professional image and using effective body language. If you work in fiction you’ve likely used body language, style and first impressions to create a character. But, do you present a good image of yourself?

If you are in a professional situation do you know how to appear professional and confident. Do you look at people when you speak to them? If you look at someone’s eyes while they speak they will feel you’re really listening. Don’t sit or stand with your body scrunched or folded up. Good posture counts. Also, don’t sprawl and have people tripping over you, but – don’t be afraid to take up some space. When sitting, standing or walking don’t appear small and intimidated, talk with your hands a little, rest your arm on the arm of the chair.

Is your conversation full of slang, do you tend to use any bad language (anything you wouldn’t say in front of a 4 year old)? Coach yourself to speak clearly and avoid pauses with “ummm” and related phrases. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, sounding nervous, stop. Take a breath, a sip of water and remember you’re talking to a fellow human being not a rabid skunk, relax.

Can you carry a conversation, do you have some prepared chit chat? Avoid talking about the weather, politics or religion, come up with something a bit more interesting and uniquely you. If you have hobbies try working them in. Don’t go overboard talking about yourself, just enough to break the ice is fine. Ask questions about their own interests to pull them into the conversation. You don’t have to be full of yourself, you don’t even have to be genuinely confident, but you should appear to know what you’re doing and be at ease.

Take a look at your wardrobe. Do you have at least one ‘interview suit’? If so, do you feel confident when wearing it? If you don’t go shopping for something that flatters you and makes you feel good when you have it on. It should be comfortable to wear so you aren’t distracted by a tight jacket, a colour that makes you feel mousy or any other of a hundred problems that can come up. Yes, you want to be dressy but you don’t want to feel unnatural or inelegant. If your style of dress is casual try finding something casual in a dressy fabric. Or something dressy, like a tailored suit, in a casual fabric.

Of course, you are groomed, have brushed hair and teeth, lathered up (recently) in general. Make sure your fingernails are clean. Give yourself a check over just before the get together. Anything stuck in your teeth? Did that garlic at lunch stay with you? Any dirt, strings, or very tiny aliens, hanging from your clothes?

Writers already have a small image problem. People tend to assume writers slack off and have it easy. We work at home, may not even get dressed or out of bed all day. We don’t work at a ‘real’ job. Don’t assume another writer or editor or publisher will know better. Dress for success. Create the image you want people to have and then be there.