If you want to write, write.

I want to be a ______________.

Fill in the blank and then ask yourself: are you doing what it takes to be what you want?

In Ze Frank’s thoughts on the creative career, he touches on what other creatives have said before when giving advice: “If you want to be something, start being it. Not tomorrow — today.”

To be a creative professional, you must start somewhere, and starting is hard and uncomfortable. But ultimately, doing what you love is worth it. So what are you waiting for?

If you’re in a creative rut and need help getting started, here are three techniques for getting unstuck.

Honest business card exchange

I still remember the thrill of getting my first set of business cards. Seeing my name and title in print made me feel like a professional. But I have yet to get used to actually handing them out, and it’s only when someone gives me theirs that I remember I have my own. That awkwardness is perfectly captured in this video about what really happens during a business card exchange with the Director of First Impressions. Now…who wants to fax me?

Writing connections

writing-connectionsThis week we’re celebrating the fifth annual National Day on Writing, an event started by the National Council of Teachers of English to draw attention to the writing we do every day, whether on paper or online.

And this year, the National Day on Writing celebrates the online with the theme ‘Write to Connect’. From the impact of digital tools on how students write and are taught to write, to choosing writing software that matches your writing style, to how (and how much) we revise, there is no doubt that technology continues to change how we write — and how we connect.

Join the conversation by sharing how writing helps you connect in a tweet, a blog post, a status post, or a photo tagged #write2connect and #dayonwriting. What connections will you write today?

Editing in demand

From The Guardian‘s Ten ways self-publishing has changed the books world:

The copy editor, a traditionally marginalised figure, is now in strong demand. If you are well-connected through social media, can isolate what your writing has to offer and get the message noticed by a reading public, you can probably manage the marketing of your work. The one thing it’s really hard to do is self-edit. Long ago publishers outsourced copy editing, relying on the freelance labour market – and freelancers are now being actively sought by self-publishing authors too. The price for services for which there is both high demand and scarce supply tends to rise.

It was only a couple of years ago that typos abounded in both print and electronic books. I’d be interested in seeing recent data on whether or not quality has improved since 2011, as well as how much of copy editing is outsourced by publishers. But at least it sounds like editors are being valued more — maybe this is what editing making a comeback looks like.

Google Fool

Google has a couple of tricks this year for April Fool’s Day. Check out Google Nose, the latest addition to Search that will have many stopping to smell their screens. Afterwards, hunt for treasure in the new layer of Google Maps. Be sure to zoom in to street view to get the full experience.

What’s your favorite tech fool this year?

For love and money: balancing life as a writer

When I decided that Professional Writing would be my major, I did it for many numerous self-fulfilling, positive reasons. I wanted to be a novelist but I couldn’t count on that. I still loved writing, just didn’t want to major in creative writing and get stuck teaching it. I wanted a major that would get me a job I would love.

Professional Writing was the obvious choice.

And now, out of school and working full-time in Greenville, South Carolina, I have a job I love working as a Project Manager in the Marketing department of a mega-church. It’s crazy how life turns out. I spend four days a week (I know, I get three day weekends because I work 10 hour days, it’s basically the bomb) managing and organizing the Marketing department. I do everything from doling out work and keeping the schedules of our designs to ordering items to writing synopses for the CDs and DVDs we sell. And that’s maybe an eighth of what I do.

But here’s the thing—I still want to be a novelist. I still want to, someday, become a self-sufficient writer career wise, and if that’s going to happen I have to work toward it on a regular basis.

Let’s face the facts, people. I work 4 days a week, sure, but they are 10 hour days. I don’t get home until 6:30 – 7pm, and if I go to the gym let’s make that 8pm. I’ve sent anywhere from 80 to 100 emails that day (I am not exaggerating), and the last thing I want to do is sit down and write a novel. I’d much rather eat some ice cream and catch up on How I Met Your Mother.

But I have goals. I don’t have time for any of that.

Here’s what you might be asking—not just how do you find the time, but how do you stay inspired? How do you balance being a professional writer at work and come home and do blogging, book reviews, and creative writing?

Determination. And time management.

That’s the short way to describe it. It helps that I love writing, and if I get myself in the right mindset I can force myself to write. And after about ten minutes of forcing myself to write, eighty percent of the time I’m not forcing myself anymore. I’m deep into whatever I’m writing and I’m excited.

Sometimes this might take a beer or three. Sometimes it takes a cupcake. Sometimes it takes watching How I Met Your Mother before even attempting. And sometimes it takes determination.

Time management is incredibly important for me. When I get home, and let’s say I haven’t worked out so I’m home at 6:30, I need to eat. By the time I’ve finished and done dishes, it’s 7:30. I’m mentally exhausted, so I watch 30 minutes of mindless TV. The hardest part is forcing myself to turn it off and get to work. From there, I always say that I’ll just write for a little bit. Then I pick the thing that I want to work on most, and I dive in.

Some days I get about one hundred words in and give up and go back to my library book or some TV, but most days I’m in it for the long haul. I write for a while, usually until I know I need to do some other stuff. Then I work on stuff I didn’t really want to do. Maybe a blog post, maybe some blog reading about queries (who likes to read about queries?). Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I try to do a little French, since I’m trying to pick up the language again.

By the time I’m done, it’s usually 10 – 11pm. Time for a shower, maybe a little reading, and bed. Then I wake up and do it all over again, but not always in the same order.

Something that is incredibly important for me is inspiration. And so is taking the time to find it. For me, inspiration comes in all forms. Reading is the big one—anything from blogs to novels to poetry. A blog about how a certain writer approaches outlines might inspire me. A poem about a cat might make me think that I want to write about a cat. Pinterest is another big source of inspiration, both writing and not writing (cooking and DIY stuff I will probably never do). I’ve always found photography to be hugely inspirational, and many a time if I need a prompt to write something I pick a photo and write the story behind it. If I feel blah or stupid or like my writing is dumb, reading helps, and so does Pinterest, and sometimes so does wine.

There’s no right way to balance your work ambitions and your personal ambitions—everyone does it differently. I write lists. I check things off. I read blogs (a lot of blogs) about writing and the publishing industry, trying to keep up to speed. I’m always thinking about the next step, both professionally and personally. Being lazy is okay sometimes—the other day I spent a whole three hours watching That 70s Show. Such things are necessary. Reading for fun is necessary too. How else am I going to get inspiration for everything on my to-do list?

For me, the key is balance. When I’m at work for 10 or often 11 hours, I spend about thirty minutes a day working on a blog post that isn’t about work. It frees up my brain halfway through the day and allows me to unwind, and when I jump back into work I’m so much more focused. It helps me be able to make the switch from professional to creative writing that much easier. Not everyone has time to do this, but I highly suggest it.

One thing I’m still working on is waking up an hour early to write. I can barely wake up ten minutes early to do my makeup nicely. Someday I’ll be badass enough to do it and not complain.


About the Author

Vanessa-Levin-PompetzkiVanessa Levin-Pompetzki is an alumni of the Professional Writing program at Michigan State University. She currently works as the Marketing Project Manager at Redemption (please excuse the website, they’re redesigning) in Greenville, South Carolina. Tweet her at @vanessalevpom or check out her blog.

Collaborative storytelling

gaiman-calendar

What kind of stories can you tell with the help of 1.8 million Twitter followers? That’s what author Neil Gaiman is finding out through a new partnership with Blackberry. Gaiman, who tweets @neilhimself, is tapping into his community of readers on Twitter to create stories and art for charity.

The result will be A Calendar of Tales, a print (and possibly digital) calendar with stories by Gaiman that were inspired by tweets in response to questions. For example, when Gaiman asked, “What is the most unusual thing you have ever seen in July?” this is the tweet he selected to prompt his writing:

Gaiman then spent a few days writing all 12 stories, which are now available for download (PDF).

The project is now in stage two and people are invited to submit artwork inspired by the stories:

Whether it’s a sketch, photo or doodle, using paint, ink or collage, upload your artwork for a chance to feature in the digital showcase and the printed, limited edition of A Calendar of Tales.

This is a very creative way to demonstrate the power of collaborative writing and art. The many tweets generated by Gaiman’s questions are moving, funny, clever — and great writing prompts. I encourage you to browse through the #KeepMoving and month-specific hashtags if you need some writing inspiration, and head over to the project’s site to read the stories, share your art, and get involved in this creative collaboration.

On making

Want to make art but don’t know where to start? Check out Good Life Project’s interview with Lisa Congdon about her career as an illustrator, artist, and author. In telling the story about how she became an artist, Lisa touches on the importance of being open and not letting low moments stifle creativity:

I don’t want to be blocked, I want to be open. And part of that is being in a place where you just let yourself be whatever you are that day. […] Being in a place where you’re feeling good about your work and confident about your ability to execute your next idea is important, especially if you’re in the business of making art for a living. We need to draw from all these different parts of ourselves to make what we make every day.

The interview is 45 minutes long, but it’s definitely worth watching (or listening to — GLP offers an mp3 as well).

To check out some of Lisa’s work, I recommend starting with her most recently completed Daily Project, 365 Days of Lettering, which is being published in a collection in 2014. Also, keep an eye out for this year’s project, The Reconstructionists. It’s a collaboration with Maria Popov of Brain Pickings that combines illustrated portraits of trailblazing women with hand-lettered quotes and micro-essays.

The necessity of risk

The Great Discontent recently interviewed design great Debbie Millman, who shared her experiences from 30 years in the business. Here is one passage that particularly resonated with me:

I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?

The first ten years of my career were very much organized around avoiding failure, but my inadequacies were completely self-constructed. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do something; nobody told me that I couldn’t succeed; I had convinced myself and lived in that self-imposed reality. I think a lot of people do this. They self-sabotage and create all sorts of reasons for not doing things under the misguided assumption that, at some point, they might feel better about themselves and that will finally allow them to take that risk. I don’t think that ever happens. You have to push through it and do it as if you have no other choice—because you don’t. You just don’t.

Debbie talks a lot in the interview about dealing with rejection, fear, and failure — things we all have to deal with, but don’t like to talk about. And yet in sharing her own moments of self-doubt, Debbie shows that great things come from taking risks — a valuable lesson for creatives at all stages of their career.

For more on the necessity of risk in creative work, check out iA’s Story of a Beautiful Failure and Seth Godin’s Risk, fear, and worry.