News & Notes – August 2017
How Freelancers Can (And Should!) Take Regular Breaks
From PWA Managing Editor Jen Adams
“Apparently DEATH is the only way to get time off…”
The subject line of Doberman Dan’s email this past week made me laugh.
He was writing about an issue we all face as freelance writers — the high pressure to be constantly available. If we’re not actively working a project or “on call” for a client, then there’s pressure to be networking, marketing ourselves, practicing our techniques, or reading the latest copywriting books.
It’s a fast path to creative burnout… or even an early grave.
But as a freelancer, if you don’t work, you don’t make money.
Or at least that’s the commonly held belief.
Talk to successful writers about their top-performing projects, on the other hand, and you’ll find that there’s often little to no correlation between “hours spent” and “results achieved”.
Now, let me be clear… I’m NOT saying you don’t need to put in real effort to be a successful content creator or copywriter. You do.
It’s just that the QUALITY of your work matters a whole lot more than the amount of time you spend doing it.
And if you want to create high-quality content or sales copy, you can’t be an exhausted, strung-out mess when you sit down to write. You need to be mentally sharp and able to clearly communicate your ideas to your target audience.
What makes that possible? Adequate rest and good self-care habits. Or to put it more bluntly… enough time “off” that you’re the best possible version of yourself when you’re “on”.
It’s not rocket science, but there is hard science across multiple disciplines —neurobiology, psychology, and sociology, to name a few — that supports taking strategic breaks to unlock higher levels of mental and physical performance.
All this month, we’ll dig in to the science, with a focus on the most practical take-aways for you as a working writer. Annette Annechild, founder of the Healing Arts Center and creator of a special Hypnotic Meditative Technique sequence for writers will be joining us near the end of the month for a special “Ask the Expert” session. Mindy McHorse, mother of four and editor of Barefoot Writer magazine, will be sharing a series of case studies and tips from her personal experience juggling a six-figure career with a full plate. And, our book club selection, Stealing Fire, offers the latest research on what it takes to strategically switch your brain off and on as a creative soul.
By the time September arrives, you’ll know exactly how you can build more time off into your creative life… and know exactly how to do it without feeling like you’re missing out. It’s going to be fun, and I’m looking forward to talking about it with you in our PWA LinkedIn Group (Not yet a member? Request access by clicking here).
I’ll also be excited to see all of your entries as our “Summer of Clients” writing challenge comes to a close. More on that later — along with fresh job postings, encouragement to you on your journey, and special details about how you can save all month long on a unique meditation program created exclusively to “power up” writers like us.
It’s Time… Send In Your Entries For Our “Summer of Clients” Writing Challenge And Win Cash!
Time has flown! The active experimentation part of our “Summer of Clients” writing challenge has ended, and it’s time for you to send me your write-up of your experience.
What’s at stake? Cash prizes! There’s $1,000 in prize money total available, and it’s very much burning a hole in my pocket. I can’t wait to award it to deserving PWA members.
Remember, you didn’t need to land a new client to have an experience to write about. You were putting a tactic to the test, and we’re all just as interested in learning what doesn’t work in various niches as we are in learning what is working right now. So please, share your experience freely, however it turned out!
To be considered for a prize, send your entry to me as a Word (.docx) attachment at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight ET on August 15th. Use “PWA Summer of Clients Challenge” as your subject line. Be sure to include your full name and contact information in your email.
All summaries received on time, in the correct format, will be eligible for challenge awards.
As a refresher, this final write up (2,000 words MAX) should cover:
- What you chose to do
- How your prospective clients responded
- Any new business booked or clients won
- What you perceive as the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of the tactic you used
- Any shifts in your ongoing marketing you’ll make as a result of your experiment
- Any tips or takeaways for other writers interested in trying a similar approach
For reference, the full details of the competition are right here. Put that August 15 deadline on your calendar now, and know that I’m very much looking forward to reading about your experiences.
Your Motivational Minute
You are 100% worth it
As I started digging into the reasons most of us don’t take the breaks we need, I dropped into many of the more popular writer and copywriting forums and groups on the web.
And when I talked to other writers about their schedules — how much time they took off, and how they felt about it — most told me they wished they did give themselves more of a break.
So why didn’t they?
There was one major justification that stood out…
They didn’t think they deserved that break.
They hadn’t earned the time off.
Basically, they believed they weren’t worth it.
Just sit with that for a moment, and what it says about us as a community of creatives.
Here we are… professional working writers, masters of our own destinies, controllers of our own schedules and client loads and rates… completely independent business owners with the full power to stop at any time and say, “I’ve done enough for today.”
But we don’t.
We work ourselves into the ground… burn ourselves out… and live on the constant edge of a nervous breakdown as we try to do more, more, and more (and I’m certainly no exception).
That doesn’t serve our higher purpose of living a rich, fulfilling life on our terms.
In fact, that sounds a lot like the kind of draining drudgery that motivated many of us to try to leave the regular 9 to 5 world in the first place!
So let’s try to fix things… especially since we really, truly are our own bosses and taskmasters.
Here’s what I recommend, and what I’m trying to do myself:
- Take a deep breath and try to tune in to your creative conscious.
- Assess how you’re feeling.
- Do you feel like you’re “on point” or like you need a break?
- Feel like you need a break?
- Take that break!!!
I know, I know… easier said than done. Or is it? By insisting on “earning” a break or some personal standard of “deserving” a break, we maintain the belief that we’re not worth the absolute best self-care we can give ourselves. And that’s simply not true.
Let’s all look in the mirror and repeat this together (right before having a nice break): You’re an amazing, powerful creative soul. Unlocking that power is possible when you’re at your best… so never forget that you’re 100% worth the time it takes to rest up and be the best you can be!
PWA’s “Creatives in Business” Book Club
The goal of our “Creatives in Business” book club is to give you the insights and tools to improve your skills on the business side of the writer’s life, so you will have more time to focus on doing your best work and enjoying the benefits of a successful creative career.
I’d planned for this month’s book club to focus on success systems and bouncing back from failures, using Scott Adams’ lovely How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big as our guide.
Then I picked up a copy of Stealing Fire.
The full title of the book — Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work — might have you thinking this is some dry, academic tome.
Far from it! Stealing Fire is a fascinating look at how we can use science to control our minds, giving us new insights, more energy, and better creative performance. In particular, I fell in love with the way the first part of the book — Chapters 1, 2, and 3 — focused on flow states.
As writers, being able to drop into your own personal flow state is the key to rapidly creating high quality content or sales copy. After all, as we’ve all experienced, when you sit down to write and you are not feeling it, it’s not just difficult to put words on the page. What you do get down often isn’t your best work, a very frustrating and less than ideal situation…
But when you sit down and you’re on fire? The words come at lightening speed, and the quality is outstanding. It’s pretty much the dream come true…
So how can you achieve that valuable flow state faster, or even on demand? That’s the focus of Stealing Fire.
The authors even provide a very helpful metric for assessing your personal flow status. True flow, which they also call “ecstasis”, is marked by four key elements they abbreviate with the acronym STER.
STER represents a state marked by:
- Selflessness: You’ve lost sense of your physical self, and your brain is no longer actively providing you with a non-stop commentary or critique pattern. You’ve hit the “off” switch for your inner monologue and monitoring system, and instead can view the world with fresh eyes and engaging completely with a new experience or project.
- Timelessness: Here, the constant ticking of the clock is no longer a factor. You check out of the normal anchor of past, present, and future to enjoy what researchers refer to as “the deep now”. In this state of being, all the energy you were using to process time around you can be repurposed for focus and attention, letting you crunch through information and build connections in a super-fast way that paradoxically makes time seem to slow to a stop.
- Effortlessness: This one is my favorite… in this aspect of flow, the work stops being hard. You get going and the amazing feeling of making progress and creating new things effortlessly launches a self-perpetuating cycle that you want to come back to again and again.
- Richness: This aspect of the flow state describes the hyper-detailed and vivid way the world appears when you’re in the midst of the experience. Colors are electric, insights seem to flow in from all over the universe, and experiences are more intense.
So, looking at those four aspects, reflect back on the last time you truly felt “in the zone” as a writer. What was that flow state like for you? What did you do to trigger it? And, what do you think you’d need to do to get back to that state again, on demand?
You’ll find tips in the first part of Stealing Fire, as well as plenty of food for thought about your creative health and brain state. I encourage you to read, reflect, and share your insights in the LinkedIn group, and then be ready for next month’s ongoing journey through Stealing Fire and all its valuable brain hacks!
Your Action Step for August
Give Mindful Meditation a Try
One of my favorite bonus elements of Stealing Fire is the way the authors continually slip in little brain hacks.
For example, we’ve all heard that being able to meditate increases your ability to focus and think through problems.
Yet being able to meditate really well has traditionally taken years of dedicated practice. And if you’ve got a big deadline next week, that’s not very helpful.
Except there are now shortcuts…
Send a special thank you to the research team from the Red Bull Hacking Creativity project. When they dug into what was really going on in trained Tibetan Buddhist monks’ brains as they meditated, they found very specific brain patterns being triggered. And once they knew the patterns that needed to be created, they went about fast-tracking that experience.
It turns out that if you want to boost your brain processing power (and by extension, your ability to be creative) then the minimum effective dose of meditation is just four days.
You read that right … you can taste the same peace, focus, and creative unlocking that once took up to 30 years of dedicated training in four days.
Here’s how you do it:
Opt for “Mindful Meditation”, a practice designed to help you pull yourself into the present moment.
You start by paying attention to your breathing.
In. Out. In. Out. After a few seconds, add in an awareness of your body – how you’re sitting or standing, the position of your limbs, and the movement or stillness of your actions.
Next, listen to your thoughts. See what’s running through your mind, but hold back on reacting. Be non-judgmental and simply observe, letting thoughts or images rise and then pass on.
Release any tension you may be carrying. Now that you’re aware of your body and your mind, you may be aware of sore muscles or unwanted thoughts. Acknowledge them briefly and then picture your pain or tension flying away from you.
Finally, breathe a bit longer, and enjoy the sensation of your mind settling down.
The whole process can take as little as one minute, or you can engage yourself in this experience for as long as you like. For our purposes, opt for no more than 15 minute sessions (and know you can reap the benefits from as little as one minute engaged in this way!)
- Repeat the process for four days.
- Enjoy your increased brainpower!
Given how little you really have to do to unlock a deeper well of creativity and focus within yourself with this, what’s not to love about it? Make a point of trying it out this month, and let me know about your experiences.
August Guest Writer Series
Mindy McHorse was one of my earliest copywriting heroines… I used to read her Reality Blog updates about her journey from a low writing income to six-figure success and try to pull everything I could from her experience, so that I could accelerate my own journey.
These days, I’m still learning from Mindy. She’s maintained a successful career, including serving as Executive Editor of Barefoot Writer magazine, while growing her family and being an active member of the writing community.
So how does she find the time… and energy… to get it all done?
Turns out, she’s learned the value of strategic breaks.
In this month’s guest essay series, she reveals:
- The essential reasons to step away from your work as a writer and take a “refresh break”… and you may be surprised at what some of them really are!
- Two big “hush hush” secrets that keep us all from taking the breaks we need
- How the smell of blueberry pie reminds her to keep a close watch on her work/life balance … and how it is possible to have that balance without feeling guilty or like you’re letting down your friends, family, or clients
- Where you can go to take the most effective breaks, including spots perfect for every budget and geography
- The value of mental breaks vs. physical breaks, and how you can use both to give yourself more creative juice
- How to GET PAID while you take your breaks (and yes, it truly is possible!)
Plus more… all grounded in the very practical, real-world, and hands-on perspective we’ve all come to know and love from Mindy. Don’t miss a word!
Live Events Coming Soon…
Ask the Expert — Annette Annechild talks motivation, meditation, and unlocking your creative power
On August 24 at 12:00 p.m. ET, tune in for a very special session with Annette Annechild.
Annette is a noted leader in the world of meditation and creative restoration for writers. Her teachings first popped on my radar when I learned she was coaching Katie Yeakle and Rebecca Matter… who absolutely raved about working with her… and she made an even bigger impression when she partnered with AWAI to create an exclusive meditation program just for writers like us.
She’s agreed to sit down and share some of the biggest lessons she’s seen over the years with regards to nurturing your creative self and taking smart, strategic breaks, plus her own top tips for giving yourself more and better breaks. Be sure to make time to listen carefully to her advice.
Deal of the Month
Snap up Annette Annechild’s exclusive meditation series for writers for just $39
You can experience the mind-enhancing benefits of meditation quickly working on your own… but you’ll truly take things to a higher level with expert coaching and guidance into the world of mediation.
In her custom-built experience for writers, Accessing the Writer Within: A 21-Day Journey to Unlocking and Unleashing Your True Writing Potential, master meditation coach Annette Annechild will show you exactly how to use meditation as a personal tool for growth and creative empowerment.
You’ll need to set aside 10 minutes, twice a day, to work through this experience with Annette. During that time, the meditations she’s created in Accessing the Writer Within will help you …
- Unclutter your mind so you’re better in tune with your creative ideas.
- Quickly transition into the writer’s zone whenever you need to.
- Get deeply in touch with the most creative part of your mind.
- Silence your inner critic so you can get your best ideas down faster.
- Overcome procrastination once and for all.
- Achieve laser-beam-like focus no matter your mood and no matter the distractions that surround you.
These meditations for writers will help you achieve this and so much more.
You’ll start to see a positive change immediately … and Annette’s tools will help make it simple for you to continue to reap life-long benefits from smart meditative practices.
Take advantage of your PWA membership and be sure to snap up this special Deal of the Month by clicking here.
Jobs! Clients! Oh My!
When you need work, start with a search at DirectResponseJobs.com! Here’s who’s hiring on the site right now:
- Dr. Al Sears is hiring a full-time Director of Copywriting. You’d be based out of their Palm Beach, FL office and work in a copy chief and team-building capacity with the group. It’s a fabulous opportunity for anyone with good health writing experience.
- Christian copywriting up your alley? Group Publishing is seeking a full-time Assistant Editor to add to their Content Solutions team. Experience preferred.
- Have a background in HR and love blogging? SmartBug Media is looking for a freelancer to contribute regular blog posts to their site, with the option to also pitch for articles, e-books, case studies, and more for some of their largest clients.
Find out more about these and other writing job opportunities at DirectResponseJobs.com.
Remember, along with access to DirectResponseJobs.com, your PWA membership allows you to post a page that promotes your writing services.
It’s like having your own mini website right on our job board. This allows marketers searching for the perfect writer to find and contact you directly. To access this important PWA benefit, go to DirectResponseJobs.com and click Access Your DRJ Premium Resume.
Take the Time to Have That Break!
It’s with no small sense of irony that I put this final note about taking a break here … I’m being very guilty myself right now of working longer than I should.
I’m justifying it by admitting I have a very non-negotiable deadline hanging over me — the arrival of my second child. He’s due any day now, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to push myself to right up to my limits to try and get just a little more done before he arrives.
And yet, I see first-hand that when I over-do things one day, I’m utterly useless the next. So, I’m trying very hard to be sure I’m taking the same advice I’m giving… checking in with my physical and mental self often to see if I need a restorative break before I push on.
It’s not easy — but it does make a difference. So let’s both make a point this month to acknowledge that while time is not infinite, there’s no need — and no real benefit — to life as a 24/7 workhorse. We’re worth the break… and we work better when we have one…so let’s both make the time to take one!
To your success,