Sunday, 30 March 2014

Overcoming Blogger's drought

Let's face it; Blogger's Drought is our worse nightmare. When the creative muse is dead, blogging without purpose is difficult, mentally exhausting work.

I suffer with it every now and then, so I think it's a good opportunity to share my top five tips to help you pull through:

1) Don't fight it, switch off and relax your brain for a while, even just watching some easy viewing tele or socializing.

2) Use Twitter. Follow industry related people / magazines / organisations / fellow writers and bloggers. I guarantee that something someone writes in your timeline will spark an idea.

3) Watch / do / read / listen to something that inspires you. It puts you in a better place to think about the things you enjoy. Music lyrics help me a lot.

4) Make lists - five things to do when... / three tips to help with...

5) Write a word on a piece of paper. Imagine a situation around that word.

and a cheeky 6) Go to your nearest coffee bar, hide behind a paper or magazine and listen and observe the going ons around you...

Notice I didn't mention exercise. This is a great way to energise not just your physical being, but your mental state too... However, who exercises when they're depressed, fed up and tired because the words aren't flowing? Certainly not me!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Dreaded Writer’s Block

Writer's Block - that dreaded crippling mindset we all fall into at some point - where the end of our career is looming because we're never going to be able to write again... I've been there. No ideas. Too many ideas. Veering away from the outline and hitting a dead end. The story / article is going in the wrong direction and I can't bring it back. I can't link A to C because B doesn't make sense. The characters have lost their impact. I hear critics in my head. The right words have deserted me. The one great idea I had has fizzled into nothingness. A large part of text I've written needs re-writing. Nothing is flowing - the plot, characters, words...

Basically, anything like the above that hinders you from being creative, I'm classing as Writer's Block. And it sucks. Oh yes, it sucks.

But what can you do to get through it?

Writing exercises are magic. They force you to keep writing and thinking in a creative capacity.

Here are some of my favourites:

1) Write 10 potential titles of books you’d like to write.

2) Create a character.

3) Write a description of an exhilarating event you've personally encountered. How did it make you feel?

4) Write a poem about a memorable moment in your life.

5) Select a book on your shelf and pick two chapters at random. Take the first line of one chapter and the last line of the other chapter and write a short story (no more than 1000 words) using those lines as bookends to your story.

6) Rewrite a fairy tale from the baddie’s point of view.

7) Turn on your TV or radio or iTunes. Write down the first line that you hear and write something based on it.

8) Go for a coffee and listen in on a conversation. Turn what you hear into a short love story (no matter how much you have to twist what they say!)

9) Write the acknowledgments page that will be placed in your published book, thanking all the people who have helped you on the journey.

Take a detour - either by heading in a direction with another scene, or going for a long walk.

Write an up-to-date synopsis of your story scene by scene. This will help you keep track of your timeline and point out the places where you can deviate and then bring the story back in line again.

Keep the first draft as a free flow. It doesn't help me, but try writing without letting spell check, grammar check and punctuation hinder you. Those checks can come later in the revisions.

Some advice suggests to keep writing and battle through the block, but if you're literally banging your head on the desk out of sheer frustration, I'd say it's probably time for a serious break.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Fill your Inbox with answers

If you're waiting to know whether you can guest post on a website, or waiting to hear back from a magazine editor, make sure the email you sent was clear and concise to begin with.

Here's what you should be checking for, before you hit Send:

1) Don't be generic in the subject line. Guest post and Question are likely to be ignored, so try to be as descriptive as possible. Not as simple as it sounds, I know…

2) Keep the main body of the email short and concise. Avoid asking too many questions.

3) Be clear about your request. This could feature in the subject line, but at the very least it should be in the first paragraph of your email.

4) Proof read your email before sending.

5) Be sure to respond promptly once you get a reply. It sounds obvious enough, but I've been guilty of not!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Invoicing & payment

Writing great articles is only half the story - because if you're successful in getting published, you'll want to be paid promptly as well. Asking for payment is always difficult, but there are ways to be professional about it.

Spend the time negotiating a clear contract right from the outset

I've worked in contracting in the Adventure travel business for the last 10 years and trust me, any loop holes will come back to bite you in the bum at a later stage if they aren't ironed out from the beginning.

Organise your invoice and billing system

Build an invoice template to include the following:

·      Your name
·      Your company name (if different to your name)
·      Your company mailing address
·      Your email address and phone / fax numbers
·      VAT number if VAT registered
·      A unique number for identification - which will be useful to reconcile your accounts at a later stage
·      Company name and address of the company you're invoicing
·      Space for itemising services and expenses with a final total
·      Invoice date (the date you create or send the invoice)
·      Supply date (the date the goods or service were provided)
·      Payment date (the date you expect to be paid - usually 30 days from receipt of invoice)
·      Acceptable payment methods

Find out who pays the bills, and when

Be sure to ask where to send your invoice and who needs to receive a copy of it, then make a note of your contact in case there is a delay with payment.

Keep a ledger to track your outgoing invoices and incoming payments

It's really important to know where you are at any given time.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Think worldwide markets

Don't just think about writing for your own country's magazines - think bigger than that.

Think worldwide markets!

With more and more submission guidelines allowing for emails, you don't even have to worry about postage costs.

I've recently signed up to Worldwide Freelance, a mega useful resource on the thousands of markets available.

This link will give you a taster:

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

How to avoid content failure

Sometimes there will be disappointments when great content you've worked so hard on will fail to impress. This blog post will pinpoint the areas to watch out for and help you overcome the obstacles.

The subject matter hasn't been targeted
I cannot stress enough the importance of researching your market and audience. You may have the best idea in the world but it will fall flat if you send it to the wrong magazine, or don't pitch it correctly to potentially the right magazine. The best advice I can give you is to read that magazine from cover to cover first and make a note of style, content, word length and article topics as you go through. Then while it's still fresh in your mind, build a readership profile.

Rubbish title / headline
Creating eye catching titles and headlines is an art and for most of us it doesn't come naturally. A great title is one that is actionable, brief, clear, definitive, and intriguing. Spend some time working on this. It's like anything, you'll get better the more you practice.

No attention to detail
Don't let a great piece of work go to waste because you didn't spell check it! Proof and edit your work preferably with the help of a friend.

These next three are more related to blogging / website content, but still worth a mention.

Lack of promotion
There's a whole world of people out there and it's right on your doorstep courtesy of the internet. You took the time to write the piece, so now make the time to share your content with your friends, family and colleagues through social media sites Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Blogger - to name a tiny minority.

Not socially enabled
What the heck does that mean? Basically add social media buttons to each post you write so people can click on them and share your content. This will give you more exposure.

Ok, now we're getting really techy and I've probably lost you...! I've talked about Search Engine Optimisation before. People will find your website by searching for you in Google, as an example. On a simple level, your website needs to be sprinkled with key words to help search engines pick up those words and therefore pick up your website.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Writing a feature article

So you've chosen your subject matter and the magazine you're looking to submit to. You've also done your research and found a new spin to develop - your working theme and the crux of your article which you can sum up in a sentence or two...

And you've found out the Editor's name...

What happens next?

Before you put the meat of your article together, draft a query letter. This is the equivalent of a sales pitch and should contain these five key ingredients:

Write a paragraph introducing yourself and introducing your subject matter.

Editor's requirements
The second paragraph focuses on the Editor's needs. This is some basic detail about your article based on the general editorial policy of the magazine and the target readership.

Paragraph three briefly outlines the content and appropriateness of your article and why the publication’s readers would want this information.

The fourth paragraph explains why you are qualified to write this piece. Your credentials and your knowledge of not only the subject matter, but the magazine as well.

Closing statement
This final paragraph is very short. Think of it as your action statement telling the Editor what you plan to do next. Indicate you will call to follow up and state when. Unless specifically requested, don't wait for the Editor to call you.
Whilst you wait to follow up, keep researching. If you get a rejection, you'll be best placed to re-work the article for another magazine with a quick turn-around.

After the research has taken place, organise it all. Make the time to do this. Many writers don't.

When you've taken a deep breath, or two, now is the time to piece the article together and write it. If you've ordered your research, this process will be a dream. 

Draw up a quick outline first: Intro, three main points and a conclusion. Keep it simple. Depending on the article length, I'll add more main points if the word count demands it. Write a grabbing intro that makes the point of your subject matter, use your main points to prove it and then wrap up all the detail of the article in your conclusion.

Finally, revise and edit your work. Look for typos, grammatical errors, repetitive words and awkward phrasing. Get someone else to proof for you if your eye keeps missing things. Another technique is to read the piece aloud.

All of this hard work and careful prep will pay off when the Editor requests to see the finished article. If you follow my advice above, you will get to this stage.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Challenge your ideas

When writing for a magazine, the key is to be original - bring a fresh take to an old topic. You want to stand out from the crowd to ensure a regular stream of assignments (and income).

Can you introduce a new idea or concept that hasn't been tackled before?

Will the target market (readers of this particular magazine) connect with the subject matter?

Do your research and put together a readership profile for each magazine you want to work with. File these for quick and easy reference later on.

Will it hold the reader's attention? 

Make sure your article has substance and keeps them wanting more.

Surprise your readers with an amazing fact, figure or funny anecdote, but avoid going out of context and sidetracking them.

Can you bring it home to the reader? 

The point of any type of writing is to make an impact. Give your reader something to think about.

Be sure to challenge each new idea using the above guidelines, so you stand a fighting chance of avoiding the dreaded Editor's slush pile!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Staying focused

When you finally come to sit down to do some serious article writing (because this is where you'll earn as a freelancer - if you're good), take some time to brainstorm your favourite topics.

When you have a list of all the things you think you might like to write about, pick your top two and run with them for a while. Any writing or research activity that sits outside of these top two subjects should be left on the shelf for the time being.


At the end of each week - in preparation for the next - put together a marketing plan for that week. Keep your top two in mind when doing this and brainstorm what I call your "spin offs" - ideas that come from ideas. Remember, the aim of all this is to put a new spin on an old topic. Start studying magazines that relate to your top two either at your local book store or library - or both - and analyse the articles they publish. To target these publications, you need to be able to write in a similar style and with similar content. Start by finding out the name of the editor/s and writing queries to a few of your chosen markets.


Include in your marketing plan how you will network with other businesses and other writers each week. This is an integral part to staying focused, but one that is often overlooked (and I'm guilty!) However, thank god for Twitter... Contact with fellow writers will keep your passion for writing and freelancing alive and networking with businesses might just result in a few leads or assignments.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Working from home

How do you fight isolation, disorganisation and lack of motivation when you work from home?

Here are 10 pointers to combat these negatives:

1. Create your work space

2. Stick to a schedule

3. Ensure other people stick to your schedule

4. Keep the variety in your writing alive

5. Get out and meet people - network

6. Take breaks

7. Massage your creative brain

8. Exercise and eat right

9. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done and celebrate

10. Have a life outside of your work space

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The conundrum

Photo credit Shutterstock

This is what it all boils down to:

Focus on the things that pay at the expense of the writing projects you feel so passionate about


Take the plunge and risk investing all your energy into something that might or might not pay off

If you can sort out the practicalities, then I believe Life is too short not to pursue what really matters to you.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Frame of mind foundations

Here is my five point foundation for staying on track during freelancing:
  • Create your own definition of success based on what is important to YOU
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices
  • Don't panic if you lose your mojo, it happens! Bring yourself back to the status quo gradually
  • Surround yourself with people who will support you
  • Keep the vision clear so you keep moving forward 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Society of Authors

Consider joining the Society of Authors. They work to protect the rights and further the interests of authors in the United Kingdom.

The Society has over 9,000 members writing in all areas of the profession. Whatever your specialisation, you are eligible to join as soon as you have been offered a contract from a publisher, broadcaster or agent. Services include the confidential, individual vetting of contracts, and help with any professional queries. In addition, the Society organises a varied calendar of events, publishes a quarterly journal, The Author, maintains a database of members’ specialisations, and administers a wide range of grants and prizes such as the Authors’ Foundation, which is one of the few bodies making grants to help with works in progress for established writers.

And they have a free tax helpline!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Tax IS taxing

"Tax doesn't have to be taxing..."

Despite what the adverts say - it is.

I remember doing my homework the first time round and the blind panic when I thought I’d missed the tax deadline.

Then I came across the following on the HMRC website:

If you have been working for yourself for less than 12 months, you will have to choose your accounting date (and you usually keep to that date each year). You can choose any date you like (I did) but as the tax year ends on 5 April you may find it easier to use 5 April. The beginning of your accounting period, that is, the period (usually a year) from one accounting date to the next, covered by your books and records, will be the first day of your business or trading year.

Here's some more advice:

A tax return lists your income for the year and all of your allowable business expenses and capital allowances. Deduct the latter from the former and you get your taxable income. The online system automatically tells you exactly what you owe and then you pay it.

You need proof of everything so keep good records and receipts. Enter every job and expense into a spreadsheet on a daily / weekly basis, and buy everything that could constitute a business expense on plastic.

Internet banking and online statements come into their own when trying to work out your expenses!

What you can claim:

Business travel - including petrol, train and bus fares and even taxis

Office expenses - if you rent an office or a space somewhere you can claim this cost, but what happens if you work from home? You're entitled to claim some of your home running costs as long as you only claim for business usage. Use this as a guide - you will spend a third of your time working in your home if you do an eight hour day, so work out a third of your bills such as electricity and gas.
However, you have to account for the fact that your work space is not your entire home, and you can only claim for the space you use – for example one third. So a third of a third might be the amount you could claim as an expense. Say I spend £90 a month on gas and electric, I can claim £10 a month on my expenses. Also ensure every household bill is in your name - if you're looking to claim on your home.

Phone costs – same rule applies as office expenses, you need to work out what is spent on work and personal use if you don’t have separate lines. Broadband costs can also be claimed. If you use a mobile smart phone to run your business (like me), you can claim that too.

Misc expenses – paper, postage, repairs, stationary are all tax deductible, provided they are needed for your business and you have receipts.

There is a difference between your running costs and fixed assets, like computers, a car, printer or photocopier, which you can claim under capital allowances.

Each year you can claim 20% of the cost or value of new equipment and machinery as an annual allowance, meaning you do not claim it all in one year.

NB: In your first year you can claim 100% of items that fall under capital allowances definitions.

HMRC states:

Box 48 Annual Investment Allowance
You can claim a capital allowance called an Annual Investment Allowance (AIA), if you bought equipment (but not cars) during the year up to an annual amount of £100,000. Add the cost of all the equipment together and, if the total cost is £100,000 or less, you can claim 100% of that whole amount as your AIA. If the total is more than £100,000, then you can claim up to £100,000 of the total as your AIA. Where you use an item of equipment for both business and private purposes, the AIA claimed has to be reduced by the private use proportion.
Gordon buys some tools for £5,000 and a van costing £10,000. The tools are used only for the business. The van is used 60% for business and 40% for private motoring. As the total cost is less than £100,000, Gordon can claim the full amount as AIA.
However, because the van is used for private purposes, Gordon must restrict the amount of AIA that he claims on the van to reflect his private use. This means that the AIA he can claim for the van is £6,000 (£10,000 less 40% private use).
His total AIA claim is £11,000 (£5,000 for the tools plus £6,000 for the van).

For more information on tax deductible items, visit here.

Visit HMRC for help and information about your tax return.