what goes around comes around

March 22, 2012 2 comments

A short post from me today… Last night, a fellow writer did me a HUGE service. She had bought and read my ebook, Valhalla, and loved it. She wasn’t shy about telling me so. Then she wanted to know what she could to do to help promote it. I asked if she’d post a couple of sentences about the book on Amazon, and what she wrote completely blew me away.

She compared me and my book to Marion Zimmer Bradley!

Let me be clear about something: I’ve never met this lady face-to-face. We’ve had the occasional email exchange, almost always in a group setting. It’s not like we’re BFFs. This was a simple matter of one writer supporting another.

So this morning, I made sure to write up a short but descriptive review for a book I read recently. The author of this particular novel is well-known and probably doesn’t have trouble attracting new readers, but I figure if I want people to review my book it’s probably not a bad idea for me to keep posting thoughts about the books that I’m reading, too.

What other ways can you think of to support the efforts of your peers? You might just end up bolstering your own career as well.

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays

sphere of influence

March 8, 2012 Leave a comment

I imagine that many journalists don’t have a clear idea of how much influence they have on a daily basis through their work. When an article I’ve been working on is written and submitted, I turn to the next project. I do check in to make sure that the piece is published on-time and that the interview sources know how to find it, but I generally don’t hang around to see if any online discussions are sparked or how many shares the article gets on Twitter and Facebook.

Faux Sunrise Sphered

Still, there are some random moments when I come face-to-face with my own sphere of influence. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always striking when it does.

Last fall when I was in Ireland, I very serendipitously ended up on a day tour of Brú na Bóinne with another couple from Portland. (It turns out we live in the same neighborhood and shop at the same grocery!) The three of us got to talking about our lives in Portland, and I mentioned that I’m a freelance journalist. They asked if they might have seen anything I’d written, and I said that I write about long marriages each month for the newspaper. The couple got excited and told me they read that monthly series regularly and love the stories!

I do get email from readers about this series from time-to-time, but I never expected to be standing on the street in a foreign country and have people want to talk to me about stories of mine they’d read back in Portland.

I was reminded of this sphere of influence again this week when I went to my library’s website to renew some books I’d checked out. After interviewing Jaime Mathis about her upcoming hike along the Camino de Santiago, I checked out a copy of Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino. I’d first picked up that book was it was newly in-print — it’s a gripping read — and Mathis’ passion for her journey made me want to seek it out again. Since the book had influenced Mathis on her quest, I mentioned it in the article, too.

There were a couple of copies in the library system, none checked out, all available. It’s an older book, and I guess there wasn’t much demand for it. I had a couple of other titles I was already reading, so it took me a week or two to start in on this one. When I went to renew it, I expected to have the due date pushed out another three weeks.

Nope. “This item has been requested by another patron,” the system told me. In fact, there are suddenly nine hold requests on the library’s two copies. I wondered why the book was suddenly so popular. Then I remembered my article, published not quite two weeks ago. Did that story inspire readers to seek out this title, too?

It can often feel like I’m writing in a vacuum. I research and interview other people for the articles I write, and have conversations (mostly in email) with my editors about them. Sometimes there’s a photographer to confer with over images to accompany the story. Other than that, though, it’s just me. It can be really gratifying to know that people are actually reading what I’m sending out into the world, and that a story of mine brightens someone’s day with some good news or prompts them to go to the library to read more.

My question to other writers — journalists, tech writers, authors, bloggers, all: Where and how do you encounter your own sphere of influence? How does this impact or inform your work?


Creative Commons image by madpoet_one

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays

the plan: co-working on Thursday, 8 March 2012

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The plan is for ONI to be back at Java Nation this coming Thursday morning, beginning somewhere in the neighborhood of 9:30 or 10 a.m.

Since my favorite Portland co-working spot — Caffe Autogrill — closed down, Java Nation (which had been a close second) is now my go-to spot for productivity outside my home office.

Non-ONI folks are welcome to join us. We’ll just be hanging out at various tables and working — sounds like a blast, eh? The benefit of doing this in parallel is several-fold: the physical proximity makes it easier to share resources and leads and to brainstorm ideas; I’ve also found that being around other people who are being productive inspires more diligence and focus in myself.

THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, this Thursday morning does kick off the beginning of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament. So although I do have a few writerly projects to attend to, it’s just as likely that I’ll be sitting in the coffee shop watching Wake Forest v. Maryland on my computer. (With headphones on, of course.)

Anyway, I hope this outing will mark a more regular return to co-working at Java Nation. ONI folks still do show up at The Collective Agency from time to time, also.

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays

on (not) doing it all

March 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Journalists know their beats. Even when they’re specializing in multiple topics — like international politics, vegetarian cuisine and online gaming — they know everything about what’s going on in their beats and everyone else’s beat, too. They’ve read all the latest books, essays and articles. They keep up with blogs, court cases and military incursions. They know everything about everything.

Or at least, they seem to. And I have no idea how they do it.

Hanging out with other journalists during my fellowship last fall, I was astonished by how connected and knowledgeable everyone else was. They were talking about South American elections over coffee, debating African health initiatives in the elevator and discussing the latest books about journalism and mass media on the Metro. I didn’t even know how to participate in those conversations.

So maybe I’m not that kind of journalist and writer.

I realized I’d been spending a great deal of my time trying to keep up with news sources, blogs, book reviews and more. The stress of trying to know everything and stay on top of what was happening — everywhere, all the time — was simply exhausting. And for someone who’s easily fatigued, I just can’t afford that kind of pursuit.

I’ve accepted that I can’t know everything all the time, but I can break down what I want to know and track into manageable — and more sane — chunks.

I have a list of blogs, websites, authors and news sources that I want to follow, but this list has been seriously pared down from what I tried to keep up with in earlier days. And I don’t visit every site every day. I’d like to say that I have a schedule for checking in — e.g., Salon.com on Tuesday, Wired.com on Thursday — but my solution isn’t quite that elegant just yet.

For now, I’m comfortable with the fact that I know more about what makes a 70-year-long marriage successful than I do about election campaigns in Egypt. I know a lot about e-book publishing, but not as much about the latest hepatitis vaccines, and that’s okay. I may not know all the details of the latest crop of Android phones — seriously, I still don’t have a smartphone — but I have a close understanding of the issues facing religious minorities in the U.S. and Ireland.

Despite the media’s attempt at convincing all of us that if we’re not doing it all then we’re failing, I’m learning to be more comfortable in the niches I’m carving out for myself. This goes hand-in-hand with a writer’s need to specialize in a single or a limited handful of topics, but it goes deeper than that. This is about recognizing and embracing limitations, and choosing balance over driven mayhem. I can’t do it all, and I’m not going to try to. Instead, I’m working on being more conscientious about where I invest my time and attention, and doing my best with what I choose to put in front of myself.

So I’ll throw this question out: How do you manage information overload and pressure to “keep on top of everything”?

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays

contacting journalists

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

This is not what I’d intended to blog about this morning, but there was a message in my inbox that I found particularly alarming.

The sender is a PR guru, and she’d sent this message out to her mailing list to promote a new teleseminar. The message began:

You know that journalist you’ve been hoping will write about you?

Do you know her dog’s name?

If you do, and you can tie the name into an email pitch you’re sending, it will
make her snap to attention and ask herself, “I wonder how this woman knows Cupcake’s
name?”

It sounds nutty, but it works!

Yeah. I couldn’t let that go. My response:

“Actually, as a working journalist myself, I can tell you that your proposed tactic sounds pretty creepy. Journalists attract stalkers at an alarming rate, and simply putting a journalist’s personal details into an email heading or text could — and very likely would — come off as obsessive and alarming.

“I think what you’re looking for instead is finding commonality with the journalist you seek to approach. For instance, if you and the journalist you’d like to contact are both interested in rock climbing, you can send an email about bouldering or equipment to ask a question or share a tip. Then you can add a section about what you’re trying to promote.

“But emailing a press release that has the title “How’s your dog, Cupcake?” could easily be construed as a threat against the journalist’s dog and/or home. As a journalist who has been actively stalked, such an email would definitely make me “snap to attention,” but not the way you’d hope. I know many others in my field who have had — and/or are having — similar experiences.”

I had no idea if my response would be read by a live human being, much less be taken into consideration. I do understand that there are small business owners and others out there who are desperate for press coverage in order to keep their livelihoods afloat right now.

But journalists are people, too. We’re generally not as powerful as some people make us out to be — it’s our editors who make the final decisions on what goes into a magazine or newspaper or up on a website, though we can suggest topics. If we don’t — or can’t — write a 2500-word feature about your new venture, please don’t take that personally.

And please, if you’re going to follow what this PR guru appears to be advising and start digging up personal information about the journalist you want to contact, be mindful of how you use this information. Put yourself in the journalist’s position and ask yourself what it would be like to receive that “How’s your dog, Cupcake?” email from a total stranger who has actively dug into your life and knows a great deal more about you than you do about him/her.

The good news? I did hear back from the PR guru: “What you are suggesting, Jennifer, is exactly what I meant. There needs to be a logical tie-in. I am explaining that on the webinar today.” I hope so, because from the marketing message that was sent out to who knows how many people seeking publicity, this wasn’t clear in the least. I remain concerned that too many recipients either can’t or won’t tune in to the seminar for this clarification, but will instead take the original marketing message to heart.

Journalists absolutely want to hear from people in the community. We love being alerted to ideas for stories and being informed about upcoming events and projects that otherwise we may not have known about. But let’s dial down the creepy, okay?

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays

guest post: time management with Rachel Horwitz

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Today for ONI’s Thoughtful Thursday, we have a guest post from Rachel Horwitz!

I’ve always been a pathological planner. It’s not that I’m obsessed with organization, one look at my desk and you’ll discover papers strewn about and a vortex of missing items behind my printer. What I do is plan. I write my plans on calendars; I tell them to my friends and family; I pace around discussing them with myself. Even after I obtained a planner, I still felt the compulsion to manage my time perfectly.

As a busy person, the need to plan is a curse. Appointments and projects to schedule on top of that nagging meeting that always changes times. As a writer, it’s a blessing. I’ve noticed how plenty of my creative peers struggle endlessly to find time to write without other priorities getting the top billing. New writers have it the worst. They flounder about their commitments, gasping for air, when in reality, time management is one of the simplest things an aspiring author can do. And you don’t have to be in a state of constant planning like me. Here’s how in five easy steps:

  • Step 1- Review Your Schedule. Take a look over your current obligations. The times you work. Your dates with friends. Bringing children to sports practice. Whatever your current plans are, be aware of them, but not afraid of them. Even if your time seems full, there is also room for writing.
  • Step 2- Make a Writing Strategy. Stick to it. Time to plan writing into your routine. Do you only have room Saturday afternoon? Pen it in. Yes, in pen. Once you choose a time to write, much like exercise, keeping to the schedule will eventually build the habit into your life and it will no longer feel like a chore.
  • Step 3- Treat Writing as Priority #1. It is easy to complete the first two steps and fall off the wagon. If you treat writing as a hobby, a relaxing little game, then you will likely have trouble finishing your book. Writing is now your job. You don’t skip out on plans to write, just as you wouldn’t miss an important conference at work.
  • Step 4- Responsibility and Accountability. The story won’t write itself. As awesome as that would be, it won’t happen. You are responsible for achieving your dream. And since your adventure in wordplay is a solitary quest, don’t be afraid to find support and accountability in friends and family. With others cheering you on, you’re more likely to stay on track.
  • Step 5- Commit to Deadlines. With all your brilliant planning, finding time to write and keeping at it should be second nature at this point. Marking when you will write is one thing. What you must do now is choose your own deadlines. Want to finish that chapter by next week? Or the book by Thanksgiving? Do it. Don’t make excuses. Set your deadline and see it through.

Keeping your writing schedule up-to-date and revising it for new deadlines will ensure your work-in-progress is accomplished in a timely manner. Not only will managing your time organize a realistic plan for your writing, but it will facilitate the juggling of your various other commitments. In the end, you’ll have brought the kids to soccer, made lunch with your college roommate, bought groceries and presented your quarterly figures to the board. Let’s not forget, finished your book.



Author Bio: Rachel Horwitz is a recent graduate who weaves tales of sci-fi, spec and fantasy. Her current project is a young adult fantasy series that is being queried. She also blogs about the delights and challenges of writing at rachelhorwitz305.blogspot.com. You can find her on twitter @rachelhwrites.

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays

take a break before you need one

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

In the days leading up to our departures for the International Reporting Project fellowships this past fall, IRP Director John Schidlovsky treated the ten of us fellows to an informal pizza lunch and a discussion about “what was keeping us up at night” about our upcoming trips.

As we went around the table and each one of us described our last-minute scrambling for accommodations, fixers and other resources, John reminded us to take some time off during our five weeks overseas to simply relax and enjoy ourselves.

No one needed to remind us that these fellowships weren’t simply an opportunity for an extended international vacation. But I did see a lot of us around that table sort of smile and nod at John’s advice, knowing that we’d completely ignore it.

That’s what I did, at least. And it was a big mistake.

You’ll only get the full benefit of time away from work if you take that step back before you actually need it. If you wait until you’re burned out or so stressed and tired that you can’t see straight, chances are you’ll need a lot more than a day or two away from the grind to fully recuperate and get your balance back.

So what happened in Ireland? At the tail end of my very last day in Dublin before flying back to the U.S., I was so wiped out that I couldn’t even think straight. I’d worked every day since I’d landed five weeks earlier and pushed my body beyond its somewhat fragile limits. As I was heading to the bus stop on O’Connell Street to go back to the airport hotel where I was staying the night, I saw a curious sight that I still can’t get out of my head:

A group of Muslim students had set up a table with informational pamphlets and cards, while a few yards away around the corner, a Christian evangelical stood on a small platform with a PA system, screaming about the moral and mortal dangers of Islam. I am not making this up.

What was particularly interesting to me was that the Muslim students were actively engaging with people who came up to their table to start conversations. There were lots of smiles and handshakes, relaxed body language and calm voices. It seemed that the Muslims were there just to answer questions that any passersby might have.

Around the corner, however, the man with the mic was shouting with a hate-filled edge to his voice. Even the sound was offensive, and I noticed that not a single person stopped to listen to him. Instead, the crowds seemed to hurry past as quickly as possible, as though trying to avoid a hornets’ nest.

So you know what I did? Nothing.

I did not pull out my Zoom and record the shouting evangelical. I did not approach the Muslim students and ask about what they were doing. I did not stop anyone on the street to ask what they thought about all of this.

Because I was flat-out exhausted. I was completely drained. I had just enough mental energy and focus to find the right bus stop, and that was it. So that’s what I concentrated on: getting myself back to a space where I could just collapse and try to recover a bit. Even though that’s honestly the best I could do in that place and time, I’m still kicking myself over that missed opportunity. The luck of running across that strange juxtaposition of religious expression was surprising. What a spectacular way to round out my five weeks in Ireland talking to people about religious minorities! But I didn’t have even half-an-ounce of energy left.

So. I hope I’ve gotten better about recognizing when I need to take some downtime. It’s easy to get so caught up in the individual project or the larger opportunity and find yourself feeling obligated to squeeze as much out of the experience — and out of yourself — as you can. But what about the next day, or even the next hour? If you’re not leaving yourself enough juice to think about anything other than work or even to take a deep breath, then you’re ultimately hurting yourself and the project.

Writers are driven by deadlines, and we’ve all burned the midnight oil more often than we’d like to get a story done — and done right — on time. But slamming yourself as you jump from one frantic deadline to the next is a fast road to burnout, and possibly worse. I’m still learning how and when to schedule breaks for myself. It’s really not difficult to get up from the desk a few times a day to take the dog for a walk, relax for a few minutes with a good book, listen to some music I enjoy. It shouldn’t be hard to take a full weekend away from my computer, but you’d be surprised. Part of this is time management, to be sure, but I think a larger part is giving myself permission to take time away. It’s okay to take a break. It’s actually necessary. So do it.

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays