Monthly Archives: January 2014

I knew that I should always have a few articles “in reserve” as a just-in-case something really came up and I was unable to get to my blog or newsletter one week. But knowing and HAVING are two different things!

This is my big, beautiful executive desk. In my living room. Flipped over on it's top with the bottom in the air!

This is my big, beautiful executive desk. In my living room. Flipped over on it’s top with the bottom in the air!

So please, this week, use my chaos as YOUR lesson!

Two weekends ago, on 1/18/14, I was robbed while out hiking. Now that sounds all dramatic and I assure you it really wasn’t! To make a long story short, I was learning how to rappel (fun) and went down into the headwaters of the Verde River by rappelling down a damn. Once down, I wanted to take some photos. But then I realized my camera’s batteries were dead. So my honey, Ben, and I headed out to explore a bit.

On our way back, I realized that the “hikers” we had seen on the old railroad bed that ran over the canyon had climbed down our rope, stolen my camera and prescription sunglasses, climbed back UP the rope and then stolen the rope!

Don’t worry, it’s not that hard of a free-climb back out!

But at the end of the day, I still was dealing with the Sheriff, my homeowners insurance, and needing to get new glasses. Why am I telling you this story?

Well, two reasons:

1. It pushed back all my projects from two weekends ago to last weekend. Which totally messed up my project calendar.
2. Because it ties into LAST weekend’s story!

So, we know I was firmly behind coming in to last weekend. And like so many of the self-employed, I rely on my weekends to do the big projects I just can’t get to during the week! Saturday went really well; I was really rocking on my project. Sunday, I had plans to finish up some video scripts, shoot the video for my upcoming launch, and then work on client projects.

Instead, I walked into my office and heard “Squelch, squelch, squelch!”

Yep, completely flooded!

Again, not from anything dramatic! We’ve been getting up into the 70’s during the days here in NORTHERN Arizona, barely dipping below freezing at night.

Nope, this was a hot water pipe that had been slowly leaking. It had actually been causing water damage (and mold!) in my office for some time but it just wasn’t enough for me to notice. But sometime in the night on Saturday, the pipe split and completely drenched my office.

Which meant that I spent Sunday dealing with it! Huge thanks to my honey, Ben, my folks, and my friend Eddie (a plumber!) who came to help me out! And to make matters worse, I could tell on Sunday that I was coming down with the dreaded CRUD.

Fast forward to today, Tuesday. I spent Monday pretty much in bed with The Crud (aka, the flu) except for the morning at dad’s tax office working. Today, I again had to venture to the tax office for more project work that HAS to be done early this week, (Hello, IRS!) and then curled up in bed with the Vicks.

Here it is at 7:30 PM on Tuesday; the day I update my blog and the day I send out my newsletter. My editorial calendar is all shot to heck because I didn’t get to finish my project on Sunday, I still feel like crud, and oh, I STILL have client projects I’ve promised out today!

And AND! I’m working on an itty bitty table in my dining room because my house is in chaos from one end to the other because the carpet is pulled up in my office!

I ordered this computer in June of 2013. And I didn't get a wireless nic card! Thankfully, Ben had an extra and installed it so at least I can work. Finally!

I ordered this computer in June of 2013. And I didn’t get a wireless nic card! Thankfully, Ben had an extra and installed it so at least I can work. Finally!

Now, I’m hoping that you’re giggling along with me about all of this. Because trust me, I’m just laughing about it all. You can’t make this stuff up!

Throughout this I am completely counting my blessings from my great family, patient clients, and fully-stocked freezer. I know that things could have been so much worse (robbed while I was standing there instead of around the corner of the canyon; electrical fire from the water; my beautiful desk could have been ruined instead of just a bit damaged; had to face the drama all on my own; stomach bug instead of just the flu, etc!)

But where I’m going with all of this is that it is a STELLAR idea to write a few evergreen articles and hold them for weeks like this. (There was no way I could have pulled a guest post together in time!)

If you’ve been blogging long enough, you can also re-publish a popular article from your archives. But let’s be really honest, shall we? I’ve only been seriously writing articles for this business since August. I think that’s just too short a time frame to bring out an “oldie but goodie” from my archive.

And I’ll be adding “Write a few evergreen articles” to my February to-do list!

What's left of my office.

What’s left of my office.

I’m the first to admit I think playing games on my Kindle Fire is a BAD IDEA. I figured out pretty early on that I get “addicted” to an activity pretty quickly; there’s no such thing as “just five minutes” for me. Knowing this, I uninstall the games that come with my computer and avoid Facebook games like the plague. Since I know I can’t quit once I’ve started I just don’t start at all.

When I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tablet two weeks ago I knew I would need to avoid the game section of Google Play. After all, the tablet is a tool and I bought it for one purpose in my business. And then my honey showed me “Pop Star” on his iPad. I knew that I would love it. I tried for three days to avoid downloading it to the Galaxy but I finally have in and downloaded a similar game, “Crush Star”.

(Same game rules, different scoring.)

I’ll admit it, I lost a fair amount of my weekend to the game. I used every excuse under the sun to play including that I was “stuck” on a project and needed to clear my head. Yeah right! I’m just avoiding the project.

Then I realized something. First off, the game isn’t challenging anymore; I’ve found the pattern that lets me win more than I lose. But what I realized was that this pattern, this philosophy, a way of looking three steps ahead, is actually something that completely and totally translates to writing books.

I felt no small amount of vindication that my “lost” hours really weren’t lost!

So let me introduce you to “Crush Star”.

The Rules:
The goal is to get rid of all the colored squares. The more of one color you can put together, the more points you earn. You have to earn a certain number of points per level to move on. When you crush the blocks, any blocks ABOVE the ones you crush move down. If you clear a whole column, the remaining columns move to the right. And you can only “crush” the squares when two or more are touching. (Diagonals don’t count; they have to share a common edge.)

As you can see from this game board, there is a large block of blue squares. When I first started to play, I would happily crush the blue squares and then move on to hunting down and destroying groups or two to three. I liked the graphics, the music, and the sound the blocks made as they were eliminated.

But I was pretty much getting stuck at about level 5. I just couldn’t earn enough points to move on. So I started paying attention to how the points were awarded.

2 blocks – 20 points
3 blocks – 45 points
4 blocks – 80 points
5 blocks – 125 points
6 blocks – 18- points
7 blocks – 245 points

As you can see, the more blocks you crush at one time, the more points you earn.

And then I figured out the REAL key:

You have to think long-term about how the blocks will slide together was you crush certain blocks. Sometimes you have to crush a two- or three-block group to make the biggest grouping of same-colored blocks.

Beginning game board.

Beginning game board.

Move 3.

Move 3.

Move 4

Move 4

Move 5

Move 5

Move 7

Move 7

Move 8. Worth 1,280 points.

Move 8. Worth 1,280 points.

Wonderful!

Wonderful!

By looking ahead, and knowing the end goal (blue blocks together) in just seven moves, I was about to create a SIXTEEN block group. That group alone was worth 1,280 points.

So how does this relate to writing a book?

When I work with my clients, often times we work with the content THEY ALREADY HAVE to create their book. It’s a lot like the starting game board: a large chunk is already done. A few key (new) chapters later, the pieces of the whole book slide in to place.

Okay, that’s a pretty metaphor. But GETTING to the place where the book slides in to place… There are two ways:

Way One: When you have ENOUGH content already written for other things: blogs, newsletters, articles, white papers, etc., the book will become self-evident. Patterns, themes and similar topics will become noticeable and THAT will become your book. And depending on the volume of content you start out with, you may have enough for a few books.

This is like hunting down the groupings that the game board just GIVES you.

But eventually you run out of the “stuff” you’ve already created. Sooner or later, you’ll need to start from having SOME content but not a lot. Then, you’ll write strategic articles that will start to create the framework of your book and fill in the gaps. THIS is the top-level game play.

Way Two: You have the outline of the book. You start writing the articles that you have to write anyway but instead of random articles about your topic, you’re driving toward a goal. Every piece of writing becomes strategic; either THIS book or the NEXT book.

When I first started self-publishing my books I had a HUGE backlist of articles. I had six years of newsletters and blogging under my belt. When I did an inventory, I discovered I already had 20 campfire stories, 90 recipes, 12 articles about trout fishing, and 30 camping articles.

I took the content I already had written to create:

  • 2 books of campfire stories, fifteen stories each (I wrote ten new stories)
  • 3 cookbooks of 33 recipes each (I had to create about five recipes to fit into my categories)
  • 1 book about trout fishing (about 30% new content to fill in the gaps)
  • 1 book about beginning tent camping (about 40% new content to fill in the gaps)

I then created my blog’s calendar so that I was writing a new campfire story every month; I published my third book of campfire stories six months later. (Many of the stories can ONLY be found in the book.)

I’ve published an additional 20 new recipes; I’ll have a fourth cookbook late spring.

And then there’s this blog: I put the eventual book(s) plan into place before I posted a single article. I’m looking long-term and making sure all my “crushed blocks” are moving me closer toward my next book.

And now, I’m off to download Angry Birds!

Do you ever have one of those projects that you just struggle and struggle with? The type that no matter what you seem to do, it just keeps falling apart?

When I’m working on a writing project, 95% of the time, it just flows. Pretty much effortlessly. (It’s okay, you can hate me now!) But I’ve come to realize that when a writing project DOESN’T flow, it usually mean that something isn’t working in the pre-work of the project.

011414-Scowl

Here are my seven tips when a project isn’t working:

1. Do you have all your research compiled?

A lot of the time, when I’m fighting the words, it’s because I haven’t researched my material enough to know where I’m going. This research may be the typical type: Googling facts, reading articles, blogs, magazines, and books, interviewing experts. Or it may be the thought exercises of thinking, outlining, and planning.

2. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired?

Seriously, this matters! There is one chapter in “Pitch Your Tent: A Family’s Guide To Tent Camping” that I just struggled and struggled with. Then I realized I was trying to write this long, technical chapter late in the evening, night after night. I dedicated an afternoon to it and BOOM! Written. The same goes for when you’re brain isn’t functioning at peak because you’re hungry or thirsty. Brain snacks and plenty of water!

3. Take a break & walk away.

Sometimes we need to get away from the project to gain some perspective. This may be as simple as watching a couple funny online videos. Often times, I actually need to leave the computer and do something different for a while and let my brain re-charge. I always get great ideas around water so I’ll do the dishes, take a shower or chase my dog, Lily with the hose. (No, I’m serious, she LOVES it!)

4. Write it out long-hand.

Still stuck? Writing a portion of the project out long-hand with pen and paper can really get the brain juices flowing. There’s something about how the brain hemispheres connect to your hand to the act of moving it across the paper. Frankly, I don’t care about the science behind it. All I know is that it works.

5. Sleep on it.

Like taking a break, sleeping on where you’re stuck can give your subconscious a chance to work on the problem. I’ve lost count of how many breakthroughs and moments of inspiration I’ve had while “sleeping”. Jot the idea down as soon as you have it so you don’t lose it in your sleep addled state!

6. Try a different approach.

I hate writing introductions. Remember the 5-paragraph essay from college? How am I supposed to know what I’m going to talk about BEFORE I write the paper?! So I used to write the whole paper and THEN write the introduction. A lot of times, I’ll start in the middle and write to the end then go back and write to the middle.

7. Trash it!

I give you permission to just throw it away. Like I said, 95% of the time I DON’T fight with my writing projects. But sometimes, I just can’t get the words out on paper. I ramble, I say nothing, I repeat myself. There’s a point where you can’t “work through it” and you just have to give it up as a bad job and try something completely different.

Here’s a real life example of this this week:

I use an editorial calendar for my blog writing. I had a great idea for this week’s article. I was so excited to write it. And then I wrote for a solid hour and just COULD NOT organize my thoughts. I did a bit more research. Still no dice.

Loaded the dishwasher. Nothing.

Had dinner. A snack. Ice cream. And I realized I’d just written myself into a corner and I wasn’t making any sense even to me!

Jotted ideas in my business journal. Tried a paragraph or two. Resisted the urge to BITE the notebook. Or throw it.

Went to bed. And this morning, I woke up with a different approach: it’s a GREAT idea but the format is all wrong for a blog post. And I came up with writing an article about what to do when the article just won’t work.

BTW: I am trashing most of what I wrote! I’m keeping the idea and completely modifying it.

I think that part of my challenge is that I have another project in my life that just isn’t flowing. I’ve been trying for two weeks to get my video studio set up and some videos recorded and edited. I’ve pulled out all my tricks and I STILL can’t get this project off dead-center.

So what’s my plan? Radically changing the part that’s making me crazy. If I can’t get the background to work, maybe I just need a new background!

What about you? What do you do when you can’t figure out how to write an article or chapter?