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6 Strategies Every Writer Must Use To Be Successful

It’s been a while since I (Brad), the owner of this blog, sat down to churn out a new post. While I didn’t expect that to be the case, I have to admit, I have been less-than-organized about my approach here for some time. That will no longer be the case. 🙂 It’s not a […]

How Libraries Are Handling The New Normal | Writer’s Relief

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How Libraries Are Handling The New Normal | Writer’s Relief

With so many people now at home, we’ve all turned to books to pass the time. As a result, libraries are dealing with increased demands for ebooks and books in general. In this article Writer’s Relief found on npr.org, librarians state that book requests are running 37% higher than this same time last year. And weekly library e-book lending across the country has increased by nearly 50% since March 9. Some libraries have begun offering curbside pickup similar to the way restaurants and retail stores have been accommodating customers.

To learn more about how libraries are handling the increased demand for books, read here.

 

The Price of Vagueness in a Pandemic

As a child, I would often draw out the syllables of words in my head as five-point stars. A whoosh of satisfaction came with creating neat, star-shaped statements. It never became overwhelming or fixating; rather, a gentle psychic tick that was always with me in the background. The urge would be stronger when I had to make some kind of decision. If I was asked what I wanted for dinner, I might run the choices through the system and choose the option that made a star when I said it to myself.

Lasagne and salad. Six syllables. One star, one extra line. No.

Pasta and pesto. Five syllables. One star. Yes.

To this day, when faced with an important decision, in a filo-thin layer of my consciousness, faint stars start to appear: a silent, reassuring metronome still keeping me company in my thirty-sixth year.

A psychologist might say that this syllable counting is a system used to seek a sense of order and control, employed by a brain with a propensity for anxiety. When presented with choices – particularly when emotions were running high, as they began to at a certain point in my teen years – this process helped nudge me towards decisions.

 

We frequently associate having a large amount of choice with happiness, freedom and satisfaction. But is this really true? In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, the American psychologist Professor Barry Schwarz explored a disarming but resonant theory: that having too much choice doesn’t actually seem to make us happy. Choice can be very stressful. Disabling, even. ‘Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder,’ he writes. ‘And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.’ I think often of Schwarz’s theory as the months of 2020 roll on. With each day bringing more confusion as this mysterious virus holds us in its grip, cognitive dissonance is everywhere.

Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist, formulated the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. The core principle is that human beings have a strong drive to keep our beliefs and behaviours harmonious. We are compelled to avoid inner discord because it feels awful. Where our beliefs and behaviours are inconsistent, Festinger believed we have a motivational mechanism to change something – known as the principle of cognitive consistency. I love bacon is dissonant with I know that pigs are intelligent, emotional animals and that farming often places little value in their welfare. To alleviate this dissonance, the pork-eater must either forego the bacon, or devise a justification: I will educate myself on food labelling and only buy organic, free-range, high-welfare pork. Even if the steps made to reduce the dissonance don’t work, the impulse to make them is very strong.

As the pandemic lockdown measures are lifted, desperate questions abound for many: When can I see my family? When will my children go back to school? When can I reopen my business? Will I have a business anymore? When will I have sex again? How will I survive another lockdown? The tide of unknowns can feel debilitating. I have pushed my face hard into the fabric of my sofa during many long afternoons, the days that feel like sinkholes, in fits of sheer unwillingness to engage with the news. Or the idea of what life will look like in a week’s time; a month’s time; a year’s time.

During this pandemic, our individual decision-making not only implicates our own health, but that of our communities. Being frustrated and desperate to return to normal life is understandable. Our human needs, wants and desires are clashing with what we’re told – or not told – is safe by our governors, and the paradigm of ‘normal life’ will, in all likelihood, shift beyond recognition for some time.

 

I want to go to a restaurant with my friends is dissonant with, None of us have been tested for Covid-19 or the antibodies; what risk do five people from separate households sitting in an enclosed space pose? Any information that implies our actions would be dangerous increases the dissonance. So how to rid that knotty feeling?

After eight weeks of isolation, nearly sixty days of basic existence with no human touch, my mental health began to suffer. I live alone and the loneliness bled out into big, existential thought storms that made me wonder if I wouldn’t go mad. There is the dog, though; caring for her purpose and warmth, and, if I think about that line in Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Wild Geese’ – ‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’ – I know that the soft animal of my body loves and needs the soft body of a four-legged animal.

At a certain point, I resolved a degree of dissonance with prioritising my mental health. In a pledge of allegiance with a pack of surgical masks, I began seeking more human contact; I visited my family by the sea and began engaging more with people in my local community. A neighbour who has become a friend asked if I wanted to form a ‘bubble’ with her and her daughter. She made me Kotosoupa Avgolemono; Greek chicken and lemon soup. A whole chicken simmered in heavily seasoned water for six hours, then came some wizardry with lemons and gently poached egg yolks that she kept hidden behind a smirk. Sipping the broth and chewing the slippery bits of orzo that settled at the bottom of the bowl, I felt more connected and whole than I had in some time. Food made by someone else; a different living room; platonic intimacy. When we drift from the stabilisation that social bonds give us, it becomes more and more difficult to tolerate uncertainty.

Dissonance is most painful when the evidence we’re weighing up goes to the core of how we see ourselves. My mask is uncomfortable and makes me feel claustrophobic is in conflict with If I don’t wear a mask I’m putting others at risk. If we believe we are compassionate and clever, when we make a decision about how and where to wear a mask, we may start defending our decision based on these values – finding evidence to reject the other options. Equivocation gives way to conviction. We are generally resistant to changing our minds as a species, too; if a person believes they are compassionate and clever but chooses not to wear a mask, they have to find a narrative powerful enough to resolve the dissonance and preserve those beliefs. I can’t breathe in a mask. My freedom is being violated. Elevating the liberty of the self to a point where the ethical act of wearing a mask could be seen as performative – or some kind of fascist doctrine – is dazzling, but not unexpected.

This dynamic is why conspiracy theories can become so seductive, too. Covid-19 is a hoax. If we connect with others who agree with and validate these thoughts, it becomes harder and harder to admit we might have been wrong from the start. Self-reflection requires the hard work sitting with the feeling of dissonance instead of springing up to self-justify.

Any government managing a volatile pandemic should be aware of the power of cognitive dissonance and work to address it by simplifying the rules.

There is no clear ‘right thing to do’, instead there is an amorphous cloud of options; millions of different value systems clashing and changing all the time, causing all kinds of conflict. The problem is that the mantle of ‘common sense’ (‘good, solid British common sense,’ said Boris Johnson) has been handed back to the public. The absence of leadership from our government, the mixed messages, the defiance in the face of science, the paucity of clear instruction – all this adds up to a population who feel like it’s up to them. A political tactic that ensures, when the second wave hits, the public can be blamed for flaunting the rules – rather than the government not making or policing them clearly enough. But any perceived freedom we have to make up our own minds is a seductive trap.

 

One of the biggest challenges in life is tolerating uncertainty; a fact of human psychology that has been wilfully overlooked in the management of the pandemic in the UK. Chaotic instruction has resulted in increasing numbers of people turning their gaze inwards, rather than towards their communities. People are more likely to view things in terms of ‘us and them’; heretics see gullibility, rule-observers see egocentrism, and on it goes.

Covid-19 took flight in societies already polarised by a neoliberal agenda. All Conservative governments since Thatcher have cultivated individualism – the moral worth of the individual – while steadily attacking anything that takes soft relationships seriously. Time with a GP who has known you for years, a conversation with a librarian, a teacher that takes time to get to know you as an individual, the friendly faces in a children’s centre if you’re a single parent and feel completely at sea; all these have been sacrificed to the god of efficiency. Losing ties to the local community leads to a diminished feeling of belonging, which leads to loneliness.

The UK government has wielded its scalpel on public services and the welfare system. We haven’t been ruined by this virus; it has revealed the gaping wounds already there. There have been reports that a tsunami of mental illness is building as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. However, the stressors we associate with the pandemic – illness, job loss, bereavement, loneliness and socioeconomic inequality – existed prior to the virus, and are among the most robustly evidenced causes of mental distress globally. Covid-19 has merely amplified their effects.

Emotional turmoil does not always warrant a medical label; the anxiety, sadness, frustration and anger so many of us feel at the moment is understandable – we are in the middle of a global pandemic, the likes of which very few of us have seen before. So much is uncertain. Although many people may feel as though they can’t cope, particularly those who are already vulnerable, many psychologists are publicly denouncing the idea of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems triggered by the crisis, because the emotional turmoil of grief, unemployment and loneliness is understandable, real and human. It makes sense that more than half of those treated in hospital for Covid-19 have experienced complex emotional difficulties at a later stage, but the language of ‘disorder’ does not reflect what other underlying factors may be contributing to such distress.

Too often, because the medical model of mental distress still holds such power, we struggle as a society to interpret emotional difficulty without clear, scientific-sounding labels – despite the growing consensus that psychiatric diagnoses are ‘scientifically meaningless’ and tell us little about the individual. In his pioneering book Governing the Soul: Shaping of the Private Self, British sociologist Nikolas Rose argued that those who perceive themselves to be ill are easier to manage than those who feel their distress is a result of societal injustice. Given the vast patterns of injustice that Covid-19 has exposed, it seems particularly brutal to ascribe medical language to stark real-life problems. Real-life solutions would be addressing the wealth divide, radically reforming housing and reinstating lost community services; an evidence-based prioritising of a nation’s health above all else. Perhaps this is too big a paradigm shift for a government so defined by individualism.

Emphasising the importance of ‘I’ is at the root of much of our distress. Many models of psychology agree that we’re born with some biological predisposition to form attachments. Social contact can reduce physical pain, but social pain also serves an evolutionary function in making us seek connection. We are not meant to be pulled apart from one another. Loneliness is a biological injury, associated with increased blood pressure and heart disease. Survival among social mammals depends on having robust bonds within the pack – being on the edge, isolated, makes an animal glint in the eyes of its predator. Except Covid-19 is an invisible enemy. We know that, if it does get us, we have to isolate. It is the most disconcerting shake-up of human nature in recent history.

The walk from my building door to the nearest green space is strewn with plastic containers, bags of terrible dog excretions, chicken bones and pizza boxes. I have seen more people dropping litter this summer than ever before in my life. I thought this would wane after the first flourishes of freedom that came with lockdown easing and the rush to enjoy public spaces, but it isn’t stopping. I wonder if the litter is a kind of cache for public frustrations and the breakdown of trust; an obstacle course of fuck you. More people have died in this pandemic than in the blitz and if people don’t feel they’ve been looked after with clear, reliable messaging to keep them safe – alive – then these blasé acts of disrespect can, on some level, be understood.

If we can so easily disregard the fact that another human being will have to deal with our trash, or the staining of a beautiful public space, what does this say about our collective psyche and what narrative we’re going with to resolve our dissonance? About what we feel we’re worth? Who do we choose to believe as we make choices about how to live now? If the message continues to be, It’s up to you, from the stretching roots of public dissonance will spring radical shoots.

 

Image © MB

The post The Price of Vagueness in a Pandemic appeared first on Granta.

Write Like Studio Ghibli

Write a scene or story based on one of these premises inspired by Studio Ghibli.

Photo: Matt Popovich on Unsplash

This week’s writing prompt will take inspiration from Studio Ghibli films, because they are some of the best films ever made and have been keeping my spirits up during quarantine.

Creative writing prompt: Write a scene or story based on one of these premises inspired by Studio Ghibli.

A child discovers something in the forest. (My Neighbor Totoro)

Pollution by humans turns a forest poisonous. (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)

A young witch sets off on her own. (Kiki’s Delivery Service)

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

The Success Code Is Out!

The Success Code is now available to read in all of its Amazon Kindle glory! 😀 Pick up a copy and after you have a chance to read, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Happy reading, and here’s to your massive success!

Here’s a Better Way to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates

When you first set out to become a freelance writer, you charge whatever you think is “normal.”

In the process of determining that rate, you consider the pay scale of jobs you’ve worked in the past, consult industry pricing sheets, and read every “How much should I charge?” resource you can get your hands on.

And after reading all of those blogs and getting pep talks from the best writers out there… you still turn around and charge $15 or $20 an hour for all kinds of writing services.

I know why you do it. I was there. I started my writing business charging $35 an hour and I felt pretty darn lucky to get the business that came in (and, truth be told, I was indeed lucky to get it because I was just getting started).

Because no matter how many articles I read telling me to charge more, I never quite understood why I should charge more, or how I should go about it.

Well, new writers, your day has come! Here’s a look at the real consequences of charging $20 an hour to write and how to make the switch to a more profitable rate you deserve.

What’s a good hourly rate for a freelance writer?

The truth of the matter is that a minimum writing rate is however low you’ll go when you need money.

It’s important to know that number for business purposes, but using that number to guide your pricing is a huge mistake. It points the nose of your plane at the ground and limits your ability to earn from the get-go.

For some, it’s thrilling to surpass the minimum wage at $15 per hour, and it beats unemployment. Many others, including myself, realize after a few months that charging this low rate is not the equivalent of a full-time writing job, and is simply not sustainable.

Beyond the threat of going out of business because you aren’t making enough, charging too little makes freelancing stressful and hard. It makes you work overtime, and on projects (and with people) who don’t feed your love of writing.

If you love freelancing and you are getting great feedback from your clients, the time has come to raise your rate. But trust me, if you go from $20 to $100 an hour, you’ll lose all your clients.

So how do you do it without alienating the people you want to work with?

What’s better than hourly freelance writing rates?

Here’s the rub: Raising your prices when you work hourly is extremely difficult. Going from $20 an hour to $50 an hour will feel like an unwarranted hike for your clients and you’ll feel the need to justify every dollar of that increase.

And worse yet? It still won’t help you achieve the freedom you want to achieve. Even charging $100 per hour (which few clients will pay for writing) won’t disengage you from the need to be active in your business 40 hours per week, because of all the unpaid time spent invoicing, marketing, paying taxes, and hunting down new work.

All hourly pricing turns your time into a commodity. Instead, you need to shift to the most profitable way of charging for you and the most convenient form of billing for your clients: Project or value-based pricing.

Transitioning to Project Pricing

When switching your current clients from a low hourly rate to an equivalent project rate, you don’t have to make it a huge deal.

Simply translate how much you’re billing your client hourly right now and match it with the tasks you’re performing. Then round up to get a “project rate” for the assignment.

For example, let’s say you’ve been writing four blog posts for a company at $20 an hour and you’ve been invoicing four-to-six hours each month for the past few months for a total invoice of $120. Simply take the six-hour rate ($120) and turn it into a per-post rate of $40 for each of the four posts.

Boom, you have a project rate.

Here’s a simple email template you can use to switch your clients to a project rate in that scenario:

Hello Client,

Thank you so much for paying [most recent invoice]! I really enjoyed working on this project, and I can’t wait to get started on [next assignment].

Regarding my future invoicing, I am shifting my business to a project rate model. This won’t affect our relationship very much — in fact, this will make it easier for you to predict your invoice each month and we won’t have to track pesky hours all the time.

Instead of charging $20 per hour, I’ve analyzed the data from our invoices the past few months and set an equivalent project rate of $40 per post. Moving forward, I’ll bill at this itemized rate so you can know exactly what you’re getting into with each new project.

Let me know if you have any questions — I’ll be happy to discuss this with you over the phone!

Sincerely,

[You]

Now that you have this project rate established, you can start implementing the secrets all high-earning freelance writers use to maximize their income: Learn to write faster (thereby increasing your hourly income) and (over time, of course) raise your project rate so you make more with each project.

You can also pitch new kinds of more valuable work (ghostwriting jobs, email copywriting, white papers, and website copywriting) at a higher project rate, thereby avoiding the discussion of hourly rates altogether as you grow your business.

Why should people pay writers this much?

One of the deepest issues writers have with charging a high rate is confidence in what you do. You naturally love to write, after all, so who are you to charge for something that comes easily to you?

I cry baloney!

Listen: Businesses make money selling ideas to their customers. Those ideas are expressed in words on their marketing material, websites, blogs, and product descriptions. Therefore, the only way any of these businesses ever makes money is…

You got it. Through the words they use.

If a business is successful or unsuccessful, it’s because it is communicating its value — with words — to clients who agree to buy. If you’re a part of that process, you’re a valuable business asset that is worth investing in — and paying more than $20 an hour.

And if you can help a business understand this process by pricing your rates according to the value you bring, they will begin to understand why investing in the best writer for the job at a market project rate is in their best interest.

Do you absolutely have to stop charging $20 per hour for your writing? Only if you want to stay in business.

Take this post as an opportunity to sit down and think through your pricing strategy so you can get on track to succeed as a freelance writer today.

What strategies have you used to determine or raise your freelance writing rates?

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via JKstock / Shutterstock 

The post Here’s a Better Way to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates appeared first on The Write Life.

Jax Miller: Switching From Fiction to True Crime

In this post, Miller shares what inspired her to switch writing genres (from fiction to true crime), move to Oklahoma, sit with convicted murderers and in meth labs, and more!

Jax Miller is an American author. While hitchhiking across America in her 20s, she wrote her first novel, Freedom’s Child, for which she won the 2016 Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle and earned several CWA Dagger nominations. She has received acclaim from the New York Times, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and many more. 

Jax Miller (photo credit: Lidewy Vandermark)

She now works in the true crime genre, having penned her much anticipated book and acting as creator, host, and executive producer on the true crime documentary series Hell in the Heartland on CNN’s HLN network. Jax is a lover of film and music, and has a passion for rock ‘n’ roll and writing screenplays.

(21 authors share one piece of advice for writers.)

In this post, Miller shares what inspired her to switch writing genres (from fiction to true crime), move to Oklahoma, sit with convicted murderers and in meth labs, and more!

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Research, interview, and explore the subjects that interest you. Then write about what you’ve learned in Writing Nonfiction 101: Fundamentals. Writing nonfiction is a great way for beginner and experienced writers to break into the publishing industry.

Click to continue.

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Name: Jax Miller
Literary agent: Zoe Sandler of ICM (US); Emma Finn of C+W Agency (UK)
Book title: Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and The Case of Two Missing Girls
Publisher: Berkley/PRH (USA); HarperCollins (UK)
Release date: July 28, 2020
Genre: True Crime/Nonfiction
Previous title: Freedom’s Child

Elevator pitch for the book: An author travels to rural Oklahoma to try and uncover what really happened to a murdered family and two missing teenagers.

What prompted you to write this book?

What brought me to this story and what kept me here are two different things. At the start, I was drawn to it strictly from a storytelling point of view: It was a stranger-than-fiction story that was rich in plot and in setting (read: boundless prairies and abandoned lead-mining cities). But it was my first time writing in the true crime genre and with that came a naiveté, because once I started, I became obsessed and I had to see it through as far as I could.

(8 ways to prepare to write your nonfiction book in a month.)

Over time, I formed close relationships with the families of missing friends, Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman and many others across Oklahoma. I had the luxury of leaving any time I wanted, but they didn’t—they still searched tirelessly for their loved ones. Once I came to really grasp that concept, I wanted to sit with them in the trenches.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

The idea to switch from fiction to nonfiction came in 2014 or 2015, but after weighing out several other real-life cases, I chose the Bible-Freeman case. It haunted me for years. I was living in Ireland and I called Lorene Bible, the mother of missing child, Lauria Bible. She gave me her blessing to write the book and the rest is history. The only next logical step, therefore, was to go to Oklahoma for the first time and see what I could dig up. Now it’s become a second home.

The ideas changed constantly because the story changed constantly. I’d seen it go through different sheriffs, different agents, different suspects, so it takes a lot of mind changing and willingness to evaluate new theories that go against your previous beliefs. I’ve learned that in writing about cases that are this active, you have to be open-minded and careful not to settle on ideas.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

The process with this book was longer than what I’d experienced in fiction, mostly because of how much time it took to research. I never had any intentions of writing from a desk, so I spent several years knocking on doors, conducting interviews, being away from home. That was the most-time consuming part, especially because I took on this “When in Rome” approach. 

I didn’t want to bring this story to readers, I wanted to bring readers into the story, and to do that, I had to write from the heart of Oklahoma and become like one of them.

I’m thankful for the amazing team I had, because with such an active case, there were always changes that had to be made post-submission. “Hey, so-and-so’s no longer in prison.” “Can we make note of this person just passing away?” “This person decided to go on record.” I’m sure I drove them nuts at times.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Fiction and nonfiction satisfy two very different beasts in me: With fiction, there’s this beautiful escapism so that I don’t have to face reality, and with nonfiction, it’s a cold, deep plunge into someone else’s. Fiction is great if you need to escape (and I still write it often), but nonfiction is about selflessness and serving something that’s greater than yourself. That was something I didn’t realize until after I was in it.

(How I interviewed a serial killer and stayed sane.)

The work for this book required sitting with convicted murderers, sitting in meth labs, and getting into some sticky situations. So needless to say, that world was full of surprises. 

It did nothing for my mental health, which I open up about in the book. But I really did finish the last chapter a changed woman. Dare I say, stronger, and much of that had to do with Mrs. Bible and her to-Hell-and-back crusade to find her daughter.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope readers will start a conversation: What did happen to Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman?

On a local level, while authorities made their first arrest in 2018, there are still people with information, possibly more that need to be held accountable. Raising awareness with this story has helped garner tips and information in the past, and if this book can help in some small way, I hope it does.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

March to the beat of your own drum.