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Good News for Writers—Upwork Removes its Skills Tests

Skills tests on Upwork are no more.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Any writer registered on Upwork to search for freelance ghostwriting projects should be thrilled to know that, as of July 9, skill tests will not be part of your record.

Upwork was one of the few job sites that offered online skill tests as a way for registered writers to demonstrate familiarity with common writing rules. The idea was that the more tests you took, the more you could reassure potential clients that you were a good writer.

Tests ranged from editing to proofreading to basic spelling and grammar, including U.S. English Basic Skills, U.S. Word Usage, Content Writing, Online Article Writing and Blogging, and several others. You could even become certified in Business Writing or Technical Writing.

Of course, most professional writers will tell you that a multiple-choice test is unlikely to predict writing or editing skills. Knowing the rules and applying them are two completely different skill sets.

Upwork explained, “Skill tests were launched as a way to measure expertise in a skill against a common standard so freelancers could better market their services. However, we’ve heard from our community that these tests aren’t an accurate measure of their talents.”

Part of the problem was that answers were regularly shared in online forums, Upwork reports. Or you could also pay someone to take the tests for you if you were nervous you wouldn’t do well on your own.

Perhaps more importantly, however, the site reported that “We’ve also heard from clients that multiple choice tests do not help them reliably predict future job success.”

According to Upwork, “Beginning July 9, we will be retiring all skill tests and removing the option to take them on Upwork. As part of this change, results from previous tests you’ve taken will no longer display on your profile.”

This is good news for professional writers, who would presumably prefer to be judged on the quality of their work, their track record and client list, or even educational background than timed online tests.

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How Often Should You Follow Up with Potential Ghostwriting Clients?

Many ghostwriters aren’t sure exactly what to do after a promising phone discussion or email exchange with a ghostwriting client.

Should they send an email expressing thanks for the prospect’s time? Would mailing a handwritten note be more effective to keep them in the running for the work? Should they check back by phone after a few days? What’s the best approach?

There seems to be a lot of anxiety and doubt about the ideal follow-up process. Probably, because the frequency and timing of follow-up message varies by writer and by client.

However, in general, I would recommend following up at least three times.

First Follow Up

Within 24 hours of a phone discussion, video conference, or in-person meeting with a prospective client, you should send a note of thanks. It’s considered common courtesy, though today so few people send thank you notes that, if for no other reason, you should do this to set yourself apart.

If you had a phone call or video chat, a short email the next day reiterating your interest in the work, restating why you’re intrigued, throwing in an idea you may have had about the project, and saying that you’ll check in next week (unless the prospect has shared their timeline for a decision already) is a smart idea.

If you met in person, a handwritten note mailed to their office or home is a nice touch. Take two minutes to drop it in the mail.

Second Follow Up

If during your conversation the potential client shared when they expected to be making a decision about their chosen writer or agency, make note of that and follow up by email the day after you thought you would hear back. For example, if you’re told that you’ll hear something by next Friday, send a follow-up email the Monday after.

Your message can be as simple as, “Dear Mary, thanks again for the opportunity to be considered for the ghostblogger role at your firm. I know you were considering several candidates for the work and I wondered if you’d made a decision yet. Sincerely, Robert.”

If no set date was mentioned as the deadline for choosing a ghostwriter, wait a week or two and then send a follow-up email to inquire about the status of the project.

Third Follow Up

If you don’t receive a response, or if you hear back that no decision has been made, I’d wait another week or two and send a similar follow-up email inquiring about the status of the project.

Some people may have taken a vacation, been out of the office at a trade show, or had a deadline to contend with that interfered with the process of selecting a ghostwriter. You probably have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes at your client’s business or home.

Meaning, don’t assume the worst. Sometimes, no news simply means there is no news.

Whether you follow up a fourth, fifth, or sixth time should depend on what you know about the project.

For example, if you were being considered for some time-sensitive article-writing that needed to be done by the end of the month, you could follow-up after the end of the month to see if there were any upcoming writing projects for which you could be considered. But once that date passes, you can probably safely assume you didn’t get the work.

On the other hand, if you were speaking with an aspiring author who had no particular deadline for the release of his or her book, you might follow up once a month until the client told you they have given up on the idea or chosen to work with someone else.

Case-in-point: I spoke with an aspiring author more than a year ago and I check in about once a month to see if he’s ready to get started on his book. I’m fairly confident at some point he’ll want to move ahead, so I don’t want to stop checking in with him.

In some respects, follow up should be a cycle. Check in a minimum of three times, or until you learn whether you’ve been selected or not. Whether you decide to check in more than that will depend on how interested you are in the work and how likely you think it is that you may be selected.

Sometimes the issue really is timing and not uncertainty about choosing a particular writer. That is, the client may have a full schedule for several months and won’t be available to get started on a new project until the fall.

If you continue to follow up, to remind the prospect that you’re available, when they’re ready to get started on their white paper, article series, blog posts, speech, or book, you should be top-of-mind and more likely to get the work.

How often do you typically follow up?

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The Top 5 Things Your Ghostwriter Website Must Have to Bring You Work

Make sure you have these five elements on your ghostwriting services website.

To become a well-paid ghostwriter, you need a well-designed website – one that will attract the right kind of attention and put to rest any questions about your skills and experience. Beyond being professionally designed, which demonstrates your willingness to invest in your business, your website must have the following five elements to have the best chance of attracting serious clients for your ghostwriting:

  1. Your contact information.

Make it easy for prospects to get in touch with you if they’re interested in exploring possibly working together.

Having a separate Contact Me page with those details is smart, but you also might consider including your email address and/or phone number at the bottom of each and every web page. That way, your website visitors don’t have to click away to a new page to find out how to reach you.

  1. A photo of you.

Potential clients are considering spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars with you, so they need to feel that they have a sense of who you are. That includes an idea of what you look like, which helps build trust.

In your photo, do you look professional and put together (meaning are you at least in business casual wear)? Are you smiling kindly? Did you invest money in a professional photographer or did you take a candid shot with friends and crop them out?

  1. Proof of your expertise.

Clients who are thinking about hiring a ghostwriter generally don’t have the time to do the work themselves – that’s why they’re looking to outsource it, after all – so reassure them that you’ve done this before. They want to know that if they hand over that special report project or the blog they’ve written for years, you’ll know what to do to deliver a terrific product.

So tell them how many books you’ve written, speeches you’ve crafted, articles or blog posts you’ve penned, or white papers you’ve cranked out. Name drop, when possible (meaning you’ve been given permission), who you’ve worked with, or what publications, websites, or corporate clients you’ve had the pleasure of supporting.

  1. Benefits of working with you.

This should actually be a two-part section: 1) What are the benefits of hiring a ghostwriter, generally, and 2) What makes you so special.

Potential clients need to understand why they should spend a lot of money hiring a ghostwriter to write something for them. What’s in it for them? More time? A better quality product? Less stress? Lay out those benefits.

Then address why you’re the best choice for their particular needs. Talk about your process and your competitive advantage. What are you especially good at? Make it clear why you’d be worth their money.

  1. A freebie.

The only way to know who has visited your website is to give them an incentive to reveal themselves, or at least their name and contact information.

One of the best ways to do that is to create a downloadable report or checklist or publishing guide that would be of interest to your target audience. Offer it  prominently on your homepage in exchange for your prospect’s identity. Have it delivered immediately after your potential client enters his or her name and email address.

Your ghostwriting website can be a major source of new work, as long as you make sure you’re providing the information potential clients are looking for.

What other “must-haves” do you think today’s websites need?

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Keys to Writing Successful Cover Letters that Get Ghostwriting Gigs

Writing an effective cover letter increases the odds that your resume will be viewed. (Photo credit: Pexels)

One commonality across nearly every ghostwriting opportunity you uncover, hear about, or are referred to is that you’ll need to put together a cover letter designed to get the recipient to hire you. Some ghostwriters have more success than others, however, with a few members of the Association of Ghostwriters asking me to explore what separates those who are chosen for projects from those who are not.

So I went to the experts – people who regularly hire ghostwriters to work on client projects – to get their advice. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts that they shared in the hopes of helping you up your success rate.

Leah Nicholson, production and editorial director at Jenkins Group says:

“Don’t ever (and I mean ever) send a form letter as a pitch letter. Just don’t do it. Don’t even send a form letter to indicate your interest in the job. I do understand that many writers apply for many jobs they don’t get. So, it may not be in their economic best interest to spend time crafting something personal for each job. I understand. If you want to send form letters to prospects you get from Craigslist, that’s your choice. Don’t send them to me. It’s an immediate fail in my book and your email goes right into the ‘no’ pile. 

“If you’d like to put your best foot forward, you need to actually pitch yourself. Tell me why you are truly the best person for the job. I just received an excellent pitch letter. The writer didn’t have an extensive background with the subject matter, but the way the letter was crafted made me see that this person is a top-notch story teller who would do a great job with the project. 

“There are some pitch letters that rise above the rest. Creativity counts. Writers should use every trick they possess to skillfully, artfully craft a pitch letter. You may also consider providing your ideas on the project. If you have a potential marketing idea or a way the book could be organized, share it. It’s a risk, but it’s also a way to draw attention to yourself as someone who has carefully considered the project.” 

Carrie Jones, director of production at Greenleaf Book Group wants you to make sure you get right to the point:

“Since I usually only spend less than 10 seconds reading the cover letter, I’d advise making them short and to-the-point. If [you] are applying for a specific project, summarize [your] experience, highlight anything within [your] experience that may apply to that project. Keep it to two paragraphs maximum.”

Kevin Anderson, founder and CEO of Kevin Anderson & Associates offers some specifics about what you should definitely mention:

“When writing a cover letter, you need to show that you know about the client and their project (so do a little research!) and that you care. Don’t go on and on about your own accomplishments, but show your excitement for the project itself and explain why you’re excited about the book and believe in the project. If you’re discussing your expertise, be sure it relates directly to the project at hand and not general boasting (that is important too, but that’s what your résumé is for). You definitely want to share if you’ve done similar projects and showcase your expertise, so I’m not saying to ignore that completely, but I suggest including a cover letter that only mentions that briefly (and only the most important and relevant projects).

 “One short intro sentence about your excitement for the project. One-to-two sentences about credentials and experience that showcase you’re the ideal candidate for the subject matter (i.e. bestselling books, notable clients, work experience in the field), the rest of the opening paragraph should show that you understand and care about the client and the book concept. At some point in the cover letter, invite the reader to review the many other accomplishments found in your résumé.”

And as for turn-offs that are likely to relegate your cover letter and résumé to the circular file, Anderson lists five:

“As we’re in the writing business, it’s incredibly easy to see if you’ve copy and pasted the content from a previous cover letter. I know it takes time, but unless your résumé is full of bestsellers, your application will quickly be discarded if it’s clearly just a generic cover letter.

“No published titles (or anything we can review).

“Anything that seems off-topic or irrelevant to the subject matter of the book or the client.

“Grammar mistakes and typos. You’re applying for a job in the writing industry. It always baffles me when cover letters from writers/editors contain typos, even though it happens all the time. You need to put your best foot forward. How can you possibly expect us to trust you with writing or editing if you can’t even take the time to ensure that your application for the job is error-free? Of everything you’ve ever written or edited, the cover letter should be your best.  

“Misrepresenting self-published/vanity press books as traditionally published.”

Anderson’s colleague, Alexandra Napolitano, who is managing editor at Kevin Anderson & Associates (KAA), offers some tips specific to landing work at the firm:

“When I pitch a project to writers and request statements of interest (SOIs), I’m looking for a few different things,” she says, “some because of how we utilize the SOIs and others because I want the best person on the project.

“We want the cover letter or SOI addressed to the client, not to KAA management. This is very important because we’ve already hand-selected a few people to pitch the project to based on a variety of factors, so if you’re offered a project you don’t need to sell KAA on assigning you, you need to convince the client that you’re a good fit.

“I want to see genuine interest in the topic. The best SOIs are those that clearly show the writer has spent a few minutes Googling the client or the company (for business/nonfiction/etc.) or in the case of memoir/fiction, that they can relate to the story and connect with what the client wants to share.

“We don’t want too much of someone’s résumé or work history in the SOI. We share a bio with the client, and that should be contained there. I usually ask that people only mention past projects that are exceptional and relevant.

“Because KAA handles all the finance/contract/etc., anytime I see discussion of rates, links to personal websites, or anything similar, it immediately puts me off. When you’re a writer working with KAA, all of those details and discussions should go to us, not to the client, and have no place in an SOI. If a writer was interested in the project but the rate was too low, then that should be noted separately and never in the SOI itself.”

My takeaways from these ghostwriting prospects are to avoid copying and pasting from previous letters, demonstrate I’m familiar with the topic or the author/client, and express interest and enthusiasm for the work to be done. If you can do that, it sounds like your odds of moving on to the next step in the selection process will be much higher.

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Authors, Why Limit Yourself to Local Ghostwriters?

With professional ghostwriters located across the globe, why restrict your pool of candidates solely to your zip code?

At least once a month, the Association of Ghostwriters receives a query from an aspiring author in search of writing help who wants to work with someone “local.” For some folks, local is within a one-mile radius, for others local is the major metropolitan area in which they reside.

While I understand the desire to be able to sit down face-to-face and meet with a professional who will be responsible for telling their tale or explaining their unique message, requiring that a ghostwriter live in close proximity means that your options will be severely limited. Severely. Meaning, there may not be an experienced ghostwriter anywhere near you. 

And, perhaps more importantly, the best ghostwriter for the job may not live in your city, or your state, or even your country. 

Sure, you can probably find a college student or part-time writer to assist you, but if those are your options – a less experienced writer on the next block or a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter a couple hundred miles away, the choice should be simple.

Go with the experienced ghost.

The truth is, thanks to technology, you really don’t need to live anywhere near your ghostwriter to be able to produce a top quality product. Whether you’re working on a series of blog posts, an industry white paper, or a book, it’s fairly easy to share background information and ideas via phone, video, and email. You don’t need to be sitting across the table to effectively convey your message.

Some clients are leery of such an arrangement, which I understand. You’ve never met the other person so you don’t know if they’re trustworthy, you may think. And yet, being able to shake their hand in person isn’t really going to reliably tell you whether they are trustworthy either.

Another factor to consider is cost. Requiring that a ghostwriter meet with you in person requires additional time and expense that you will be expected to pay. That can up the project cost by at least 25%, if not more, due to travel time and time out of the office. And yet, in many cases, it won’t impact the quality of the deliverable one iota.

The only exception I can imagine is if the client had a particularly personal story to share. Being able to witness the author’s emotions as they relay the details of the story could help the ghostwriter better understand their experience. I’m not saying a one-on-one meeting is critical to those types of stories, only that it’s possible a personal meeting might help the ghostwriter do his or her job better. But I’m also not convinced.

So if you’re an author on the hunt for a top ghostwriter to partner with in sharing your message, don’t limit your candidate pool based on geography if you want the best chance of a top quality book. Your best option is very likely not in your backyard.

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Don’t Give Up on Freelancing, Look Into Ghostwriting

Before you go back to a 9 to 5, look into ghostwriting. (Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.)

I’ve been surprised by the number of established freelance writers who have recently opted to accept full-time jobs.

There’s no judgment here – I get it. Many folks grow tired of the feast or famine cycles typical of freelance writing.

A steady paycheck for a set amount every two weeks sounds really appealing after a dry spell. No more working 16-hour days or weekends when client work suddenly comes pouring in, due on Monday, of course. The ability to budget effectively, because you know how much money will hit your bank account on Friday. And fewer sleepless nights worrying about whether that client really did put the check in the mail.

Freelance writing is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

And yet, if you can build up a steady stream of well-paying client work, the freelance life couldn’t be better. Work when you want, where you want, on projects you choose – if you can reach the point at which you’re generating a regular cycle of projects.

That can take time.

And yet, there are lucrative writing niches that can produce incomes that make it possible to work less and still earn more.

Yes, ghostwriting is one of them. (So is writing about technology, white paper production, and corporate marketing communications.) Develop expertise in those areas and you may be able to stack client projects to provide that paycheck we all envy of salaried employees.

But if ghostwriting sounds intriguing, here’s what you need to know about it.

Demand for ghostwriters is rising. You might be surprised to hear about the number of job postings members of the Association of Ghostwriters receive each month.

Aspiring authors, bloggers, and national speakers are increasingly realizing that farming out writing to a professional makes a whole lot of sense. Not only will they get better quality output, but while the ghostwriter is penning their articles or book, they can be doing what they do best at work.

Pay is typically higher because the writer’s role is anonymous. I say typically because, like everything, clients and their budgets vary.

Ghostwritten book projects pay anywhere from $10,000 and up, with most above $20,000. Blog posts can range from $.25/word to $1+/word. Your expertise and track record have a big impact on what a client is willing to pay.

But not requiring a byline is worth a premium to clients who need to attach their name to content.

You need to be able to write in someone else’s voice. We all have our own voice, or style and pattern of writing. When we’re given an assignment, we crank it out in our voice. But a ghostwriter needs to be able to explain concepts and tell stories in the client’s voice.

That means matching their speech patterns, using words and phrases they prefer, and putting information together in a way that sounds like them and not you.

That’s the most challenging part about ghostwriting, really. Adopting someone else’s voice takes skill.

Partnering with a ghostwriting agency can lead to steady work. With more ghostwriting and independent publishing firms cropping up to serve the growing need for content, it is becoming easier to line up a steady stream of projects. Check out Kevin Anderson & Associates, for example. Or Gotham Ghostwriters, just to name a couple.

When that happens, you have the best of both worlds – more predictable cash flow and the flexibility and independence that freelance writers love so much.

Under what circumstances would you take a full-time job?

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When your income slows to a snail’s pace, take steps to land some new clients. (Photo by invisible power from Pexels.)

Any ghostwriter who tracks their monthly revenue can spot normal slow-downs, and mid-summer is a fairly typical time of year for work to drop off – often dramatically.

It’s common for clients to take a vacation and put their projects on pause, or delay making a decision about their ghostwriting needs until they return a couple of weeks later. Others compress their work week down from five days to four during the warmer months and some planned projects get short-changed.

It happens. In fact, I’d say that the summer slow-down is a normal fact of life for most ghostwriters.

Of course, realizing that this occurrence is typical and dealing with the negative cash flow ramifications are two very different things.

If you know that every July your workload shrinks by 50% and you plan around it, such as by taking your own vacation during that time, you’re much less likely to be impacted than if you forget that July is generally slow and start to panic as your accounts receivables dwindle.

So what can you do to counteract the lack of new work? Here are a few activities to jump-start your marketing and help bring in new projects now and this fall:

  • Keyword use. To help prospective clients find you, make sure you’re using appropriate keywords to describe the writing work that you do. If you make most of your income from ghostwriting, the word “ghostwriter” should be all over your website, email signature, and social media accounts. It should be crystal clear to anyone who comes across your bio that you’re a ghostwriter – or a medical writer, technical writer, speech writer, or something else.
  • Scour writing websites. Even during the slower summer months, there are still plenty of writing projects out there. To find new sources of work, spend some time browsing jobs at sites like Upwork, Guru, and Flexjobs, among others. Craigslist is another to scope out. Yes, there are plenty of projects that pay peanuts, but not all. Two weeks ago I landed and completed an article through Upwork in a few short hours that paid $1/word and netted me well over $100/hour.
  • Register at ghostwriting sites. You’ve probably heard of Gotham Ghostwriters, Scribe, and Reedsy, right? Have you registered at them to be notified of potential projects? If not, do that.
  • Follow up. Are there prospects you spoke to earlier this summer? Check in with them. Maybe they haven’t made a decision yet and could use your help. Find out where things stand. Do you have an agent? Ask him or her if they have any projects in need of a writer. Email any editor friends to see what’s on their desk.
  • Work on your own pet projects. Make use of your free time to work on your own book, or to crank out some blog posts for your website, which will likely catch someone’s eye. Reach out to colleagues to see if they might be interested in a guest blog post, and then write it. Make sure your personal profile on any professional organization websites are up-to-date and include your contact information.

Summer can be a stressful time financially but the more you do to take back control of your workload, the less stress you’ll feel.

What do you do when you need to find work fast?

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Letter to a Ghostwriting Client

What I wish ghostwriting clients knew about the process. (Photo credit: Pexels)

Dear ghostwriting client,

I may not say it enough, but I really enjoy working with you. Although we may not have met in person, if we’ve spent any time working on your project, odds are good I consider you a friend. That means I want only the best for you. I want your project to be successful, whether it’s a book, a high-profile magazine article, guest blog post, speech, or something else.

I want you to attract a lot of positive attention, generate new business or media opportunities, and to make good money from our work together.

I’m here to lift you up and support you in achieving your goals.

So since you hired me for my writing skill, expertise, and experience, I hope you’ll accept the following advice in the spirit in which it’s given – to make you more successful.

Stick with the tried-and-true approach. I understand that you want to make your work stand out or make a splash in your industry, but opting to do go against conventional wisdom is risky. I’m talking about decisions like what color font to use for your blog post – always black, not red or green or purple – or selecting a title that is a double entendre, when your book is a business guide.

In both cases you’re likely to attract attention, but not the kind you want.

Don’t cut corners. Hiring an interior page graphic designer from a low-budget site like Fiverr, who is charging you $10 to lay out your whole book, is unwise. Sure, you’ll pay the designer very little but it’s also likely that you’ll have to pay someone else even more to make it right later.

And I’m not knocking Fiverr – I love it! It’s just not the first place I’d turn for services related to an important project.

Some of my ghostwriter colleagues have similar advice, based on their experiences with clients.

Keep the medium in mind when writing. Thousands of words on a topic is great for a book but less appropriate for a blog post, which is exactly what Debby Kevin explained to her client. Unfortunately, the client insisted on throwing everything but the kitchen sink in and made the post less readable.

Serve your audience. You know your audience – certainly better than your ghostwriter – so you’ll want to be sure to write in a way that will help them make the best use of your material. Richard Lowe Jr. tried to help his client by recommending that he tone down the technical jargon in his book. Unfortunately, the expert “insisted on going down to very detailed technical descriptions in a book intended for CEOs and other c-level managers. It made the book a little schizophrenic as he switched back and forth between detailed technical talk and manager talk,” says Lowe.

Listen to the experts you’ve hired. When you hire an advisor to assist you in marketing your business, promoting your book, or crafting a new logo, listen to their recommendations. You paid them because you believed that they knew more than you did, right? So get the most from your money by following their advice.

Discount advice from non-experts. Be careful about asking for input from people who don’t know your field or who don’t know anything about publishing, says Sandra Beckwith. “Your spouse, roommate, or cousin may have opinions about your content, but if they aren’t communications pros, I’d give more credence to feedback from those who are.”

I know it’s tempting to solicit advice from a wide variety of sources when you’re working hard on an important initiative, like a book or big article. You want to do all you can to increase your odds of success. I get it. Just know that I’m on your side, too.

To your success,

Marcia

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Generate Ideas for Blog Posts with the Help of Photos

Mike Wicks is the author and/or ghostwriter of seven print books and five eBooks. Latest publications: Building Vancouver Island for 100 Years (Vancouver Island Construction Association); City of Langford: Living the Lifestyle; The Financial Navigator with Tim Paziuk (a highly controversial book on the financial industry). He also wrote the award-winning, Fire From the Sky: A Diary Over Japan.

Guest Post by Mike Wicks

If you’re a regular blogger like me, you’ll know how difficult it is to sustain originality both with topics and creative approach. I sometimes fear my well of ideas might actually run dry.

I’ve read countless articles, such as 101 Ideas to Inspire Your Next Blog Post, but still I search for new approaches, angles, perspectives. And there is always an overwhelming, pervasive feeling that I’m going to become predictable – the blogger’s sin of all sins.

I’ve tried many things to stimulate my creativity. I trawl British and Australian, as well as North American websites that cover my areas of interest looking for inspiration, I read random magazines and the outpourings of top bloggers such as Seth Godwin, all to see if I can grab hold of a kernel of an idea. I’m not talking about plagiarising something, just looking for a topic that I might have something interesting to say about, or where I might offer a unique approach.

The other day I was given 40 royalty-free photographs – a completely random selection of images – and I came up with an approach I’ve not seen mentioned in any of those blog post ideas articles. Looking at my folder of new images I thought of the eMagazines I publish and wondered how on earth I would could use this bounty; none of them related to the subject matter covered in my publications. I thought of my blog posts and realized that I always write my post first and then search for an appropriate image to complement the sentiment espoused. My idea was, what if I reversed that and started with the image?

My free images included shots of bread, burgers, a forest, a giraffe (close-up), an ancient building, windswept Shetland ponies, a shepherd with his flock of sheep, three camera lenses, the Mona Lisa, a rose (close-up), and the leaning tower of Pisa.

Could these provide inspiration for a blog post? Well, for a start, they inspired this one! But that would be cheating. I challenged myself to focus on my own two blogs, not ones where I ghost-blog for clients, and find a way to write about small business and freelance writing using these images.

Here are a few examples:

·       I thought about bread and the fact it needs a leavening agent – it won’t rise by itself. This made me think about how developing a marketing strategy is a little like making bread. It needs a leavening agent – something that will develop public interest, a unique selling proposition along with a sweetening agent to stimulate growth. You get the idea.

·       The three camera lenses got me thinking about the idea of a post on writing an article. This centered on taking the rough concept and jotting down three different perspectives from which the article could be approached. It’s easy to build an interesting post around this foundation.

·       The Mona Lisa? Eyes that follow you around – the enigmatic smile? This made me consider a post on how one could write an article based on why this painting is so popular. How could one write like the Mona Lisa looks? Okay, I realize this is a long way from being a concrete idea for a blog post, but it’s a starting point and often that’s all we need. A creative launch-pad.

·       The burgers were also interesting to me. I looked at the multiple layers and this got me thinking, each layer has a job to do, there has to be a good balance between filling and bun, the flavors need to be in harmony, it needs to look appetizing, it needs to be constructed and cooked well. Now, I had the basis for a blog post on structuring a non-fiction book!

So, you get the idea. I challenge you to choose one of the other examples listed above and see if it could be used as the basis for your next blog post. Perhaps the rose, with its large petals on the outside and getting smaller and tighter as they get closer to the centre might be just the inspiration you are looking for?

Next time you’re stuck for a blog post topic, simply take a look at your photo-library.

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Why a Passion Planner is This Year’s Must-Have Planner for Writers

This is the view I keep open most often, to ensure I’m keeping the big picture in mind as I plan each day.

I’ll admit it, I’m a planner addict. I buy several new ones each year so I can try out different approaches to managing my workload and time. I’ve probably tried more than 25 in the last few years.

Time management is a major focus for me as a freelance writer, because I know that the more work I can get done in less time, the more revenue I can generate.

This is true for any service provider – the more you can accomplish in a given hour, or given day or week, the higher your income potential.

For most people, the trick isn’t working faster – rushing will not yield your best work – but making better use of your time.

Finding a planner that provides enough structure to help me develop better time management habits, as well as the flexibility to organize my day and my week as I see fit, has been challenging. Some are too simple, with wide open spaces for days and nothing else. Others are too complicated – have you tried bullet journaling? Anything that requires an index to use is way too complex for me.

So when I heard about the Passion Planner on Kickstarter three years ago, I was intrigued. I liked the page designs, which include a monthly view and then a weekly view, and a daily schedule broken down to the half hour. I’ve found that this approach helps me set long-term goals and then break them down more easily into smaller, doable chunks.

The Passion Roadmap, which is a section at the very front of the planner, is where you strategize and break down your goals for the coming year. To me it looks sort of like a mind map, but I like that asks you to think about your goals for your life, three years hence, one year hence, and three months out.

The Passion Roadmap is your goal-setting space.

Then it walks you through how to define and make progress on your GameChanger – the one thing right now that would have the most positive impact on your life. I appreciate the simplicity of zeroing in on that one thing I can do right now that would make the biggest difference in my business.

That’s the forward-looking work that you do before you even get into the day-to-day planning.

I also like that it’s sturdy, with a bound faux leather cover, a bright green ribbon to mark your page, and an elastic band to hold it closed or to mark another page.

The classic cover holds up through the months and is professional enough to bring to meetings.

While some people focus on daily tasks, I always work from a monthly view, so I want spaces on the monthly page to be large enough to note appointments.

I attach washi tape to the edges of each month so I can quickly flip to the monthly view.

That’s how I keep track of who I’m interviewing today and also what the rest of my week looks like. This allows me to quickly spot days where I’ve already overloaded my schedule and days where I have time to fit in a rush assignment here and there.

I like that the week starts on Monday with this planner.

On this two-page spread, I can record a number of key pieces of information. Because I’m a visual learner, having reminders right in front of me at all times is very helpful.

So up in the left-hand corner, I set a monthly work and personal goal. These are the single activities in those two areas of my life that will make the biggest difference in my business. This month, for work, my focus is hitting the half-way mark on a client’s book. On the personal side, it’s getting the house decorated for Christmas. So anytime I feel confused about what to do next, I look at that space on the planner to reorient myself.

I use the weekly view to note upcoming assignment deadlines and milestones I want to hit on larger projects. Many Passion Planner users go crazy with creativity on these pages, jazzing up their daily schedule with washi tape, colorful markers, and stickers. I love dressing mine up, too, but only when I have the time to relax and have fun.

Some planner users affix stickers, use colorful pens, and washi tape to jazz up their weeks.

Like the monthly view, each week you can set a specific task to focus on or theme. And you can easily track what went right on the left, which I like. (I’m also one of those people who will write a task down that I’ve just completed so I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off my to-do list.)

I like that each day of the week has a schedule that runs from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm, with 30-minute increments. At the top of each day there is also a spot to note the day’s focus. For me, that’s usually the one project or task I absolutely have to get done.

Since I think of my work week as running from Monday to Friday (and sometimes Saturday and Sunday), I was thrilled that for 2018 you have the option to choose from a week that starts on Sunday OR Monday. That was the one thing I didn’t really like in previous iterations of the Passion Planner.

At the bottom of the page is a grid for your “Personal To-Do List” and “Work To-Do List,” which helps me highlight those must-do’s for the week. There’s also a spot to list necessary errands, but my errand list never fits in those spaces, so that’s one thing I don’t usually use. On the right is a blank space that I use to jot down phone messages and other ideas that pop up. It’s a catch-all, essentially.

At the end of each month are “Monthly Reflection” pages that are a useful place to record your big wins, or at least that’s how I use it. I note major accomplishments, lessons I learned, and what I can work on next month. It’s a nice wrap-up that helps me make incremental improvements each month.

Taking stock of what went right at the end of each month is a great way to start the new month.

And at the end of the planner book are blank pages, as well as pages with grid lines, that I often use to note appointments scheduled for next year, editing rules I’m always looking up, and prospects I need to follow up with. There are at least 20 pages, so you could certainly designate whole pages to tracking various aspects of your life.

I use one page as a repository for ideas for future guests to interview for the Association of Ghostwriters and another as a place to jot down ideas for entrepreneurs I want to collaborate with on books.

I think since writers are often in reactive mode, waiting for assignments to come in or to get the go-ahead on proposed work, or waiting for client feedback, it’s easy to feel that your schedule is not your own. That’s why I love the Passion Planner, I think. Because it gives me a sense of control – as much or as little as I want – over my work.

Some days, when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I’ll map out tasks in 30-minute increments in an effort to reduce any time-wasting that will prevent me from finishing that blog post that’s due or wrapping up the research I need to be able to finish a client’s book chapter. It provides structure when I need it, and freedom when I don’t.

It’s also fun to go crazy with sticks and colorful washi tape, to make it visually appealing rather than stale and black-and-white.

You can find washi tape in many bright colors and patterns to dress up your pages.

Each year Passion Planner designer Angelia Trinidad comes up with new cover colors. I always buy the black version, but this year you can also choose covers in Vintage Brown, Golden Dream, and Blue Blossom, and Rose Gold Blossom. There are even more options if you want to just buy a reusable sleeve to wrap around an Eco version of the planner, which you swap out at the end of the year. There are two sizes, the Classic, which is 8.27” x 11.69”, and the Compact, which is 5.83” x 8.27”. I like to have lots of space to take notes, so I always buy the larger Classic. But if you want sometime to take with you in your bag, the Compact might be more convenient. And you can get the planner with all the dates filled in or the undated version, which allows you to start at any time and organize your weeks however you prefer.

I’ve always been a paper-based planner user, so this works well for me. At the moment the Passion Planner is not available in electronic form, so if you prefer to manage your schedule on your computer, this may not be as good a fit.

Another benefit of choosing the Passion Planner is that you can get access to a free PDF version of the planner immediately, so you can start charting your path now, rather than having to wait until it hits your mailbox. You can also print out the PDF and give it a test run before you even decide if you want to buy it, which I think is great.

Click here to learn more about the Passion Planner. If you decide you’d like to order one, if you use my code MARCIAT10 you’ll get 10% off through December 31st.

What’s your favorite planner?

*I became an affiliate for the Passion Planner this year because I love the product. If you use my code you’ll save money and I’ll receive a small commission.

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