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Oh No! Fixing Errors From “Between Worlds 1: The Move”

Lori Wolf-Heffner with an "oh oh" look on her face

Reviewing Between Worlds 1: The Move after it had been released was exhilarating and depressing. Not only had I finally published my first novel, but I also found a few errors. In addition, several kind souls pointed out some inaccuracies to me, and I also learned a few new details as I researched Between Worlds 2: The Distance. I won’t be able to go back to each novel and fix mistakes after the fact, but improving the very first book in the series made sense, especially because I was switching distributors, anyway. Curious to know what was changed? Well, then read on!

World View

One of the hardest things about recreating Semlak as accurately as I can is the simple fact that this agrarian village has not left much written material about it. So, for example, I don’t really know the general world view of the Germans in this village. After an online acquaintance read the first edition, he wondered if Semlakers would have indeed known who Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was. Therefore, I removed this part from chapter 2:

“If Kaiser Wilhelm hadn’t attacked France, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“He got greedy and wanted more.”

Elisabeth frowned. From what her father had told her, war could rarely be blamed on just one side. That was why so many dignitaries were spending so much time on the other side of Europe, in Paris, sorting out the mess the war had made.

Between Worlds 1: The Move, 1st edition

The villagers of Semlak would have been aware of their own political leader, King Ferdinand I for this series, but likely not of leaders of other countries or empire. And if they did know, there’s a good chance they may not have cared. I’m still trying to deduce just how much reading material was actually consumed by these people, but so far as I know, they got their news via the mailman, who announced several headlines and perhaps gave a quick summary and/or answered questions from the crowd.

Time-Traveling Characters?

Lori Wolf-Heffner looking worried
Did they notice?

Despite best efforts, Elisabeth suddenly showed up on page 55 in Juliana’s timeline. I’ve made a few changes to my editing process now to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Sorry about that!

Historical Accuracy

I knew indoor plumbing didn’t exist at that time, so I assumed each household had a water pump. It wasn’t until I researched the home space more for Between Worlds 2: The Distance that I discovered the well. When I then returned to old photos I have of the village, I did indeed find one with a well off to the side.

In addition, a character named Adam Pinczes in the first edition has been renamed to Adam Krehling in the second. The various church congregations usually married within their own membership, and Pinczes is one name that is recorded only in the Reformed (Calvinist) church, not the Lutheran church that features in the series.

Medical Accuracy

When I wrote The Move, I knew Sophie would be blind and simply assumed she would have no vision at all. However, the more I read, the more I learned that the blind community faces many challenges, one of which is the assumption that someone can’t be blind if they don’t “look blind.” One blind friend of mine in university had no vision, I believe, and another had some. By the time I sat down to outline The Distance, I had found an appropriate condition for Sophie and realized that I needed to make the few descriptions of her visual impairment more accurate.

It’s in the Numbers

Unlike Canada, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had switched to metric in the previous century. So although these German communities had some of their own measuring units, other units were already in metric. In the first edition, I used imperial.

Or My Head

Lori Wolf-Heffner looking worried, again.
Will my readers forgive me?

I didn’t realize until Between Worlds 2 went to print that I had renamed the dance studio. Of all the things! I had written from memory instead of referring to any notes and didn’t double-check that before sending everything off. So I changed it, too. Advice for those of you want to write as a career: create a style guide for your series!

Elisabeth’s Journey

Another difficult aspect of writing about characters who lived long ago is putting yourself into their context without falling back on stereotypes, especially ones about village life. (There’s actually an entire genre in 19th-century German writing called the dorfgeschichte, which presents village life as idyllic, regardless of whether it actually was. It was inspired by Maltese writer Sir Walter Scott.) So I made some minor changes about Elisabeth’s journey into womanhood.

Do You Need to Buy the New Edition?

No. None of these changes affect the plot in any drastic way, and Between Worlds 2: The Distance was written with these corrections in place. However, if you do have a copy of the first edition, consider keeping it. There are only about 80 or so in existence, and who knows? It might be worth something. (I do have 14 left in stock, so if you’re in Canada, you may be able to order one from me, signed.)

Between Worlds 3 is tentatively scheduled for release at the end of March. To stay up to date on plot developments, get a sneak peek at the new cover design, and get coupons for discounts for in-person purchases, sign up to my email list.

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Getting Back on Top of Your Goals

It’s Not too Late

The first quarter of 2018 is almost over. So, I’m going to ask that ominous question, the one that sounds like the monster that’s been hiding in your closet all these years, whose presence you keep denying to yourself.

How are your New Years’ goals coming along?

Ouch. Did that hurt? Did you feel an arrow fly into your stomach? Or maybe into your head as you suddenly remembered you even had New Years’ goals?

I’m certain you’re not alone, and I’ve got news for you: it’s not too late to start the pursuit again.

Review the Last 3 Months

This might be painful, but quarterly reviews clarify for you what’s going on. What’s really going on. They break the safety bubble you live in, because you’re faced with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly when you review your progress of the past three months. But keep this in mind: In my experience, the more honest I am with myself and my progress, the easier pursuing my goals becomes. Why? Because I fear less.

When you review your last few months, ask yourself these questions:

Am I where I want to be?

If so, what did I do that got me there? (And continue doing it.)

If not, what did I do that didn’t work? (And find a new way of doing it.)

Get Support to Reach Your Goals

If you’re on track with your goals, you probably don’t want to mess with things. But if you’re off track, then it may be time to get help.

Here’s what happened to me last year: For the first time during my annual review, I calculated how much the time I’d spent on marketing efforts, multiplied it by the hourly rate of what I’d earned for the year, and used the total as a measure of how much money I’d “spent” on marketing last year. I then reviewed how much new business I’d won over the year. The final figures weren’t pretty. In fact, they were pretty devastating. So, I contacted a marketing consultant to do an audit on my efforts and set me on the right path.

But that’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, haven’t reached your word goal, or still have the same number of customers as last year, get help! Either join a group, see your doctor, find a good therapist or coach…Whatever your means allow, now’s the time to get a little assistance.

Do You Need to Re-Align?

The beauty with checking in on your goals every quarter like this is that it gives you a chance to re-align them with where you are now. Remember, you created your New Years’ goals in a certain frame of mind, at a certain time in your life, under a certain set of circumstances. If your situation has changed, you may need to adjust how you achieve your goals.

That’s okay!

What if you planned to write 1,000 words a week but the serious diagnosis of a loved one rammed you off course? It doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.

What if you wanted to quit smoking but in the meantime lost your job, leaving you with more stress than your non-smoking self can handle? That  doesn’t mean you can’t regain your footing. You adjust. (And, of course, get help so you can make it through.) Remember, every little bit helps, so don’t discount small, regular steps towards your goals. Not everything has to be achieved by leaps and bounds.

Don’t be Afraid

Looking at progress is a powerful motivator to help you move forward. It’ll help you figure out what’s gone wrong and hopefully inspire you to plan your next steps to get back on track.

They say every journey begins with a step. Take that next step now to get back on the path you dreamed for yourself this year.

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Get the Best out of Your Goals: Join a Group

Joining the right group can help you achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself this year. Not only can group members help you stay accountable to your plan, but being around others with similar goals can really affect your ability to stick to your own plan. I belong to a professional writing association in Canada, and it has kept me going over the years. But how do you know you’ve found a good group?

Speaking from Experience

I’m a writer and therefore belong to a profession that has an unusual trait: it invented a term for when you run out of ideas: writer’s block. I forget who said this, but it seems writers are the only ones who’ve done this. Have you heard of doctor’s block? Sales rep’s block? Politician’s block? Writers can easily spend an entire evening talking about how they have no ideas.

But I pay $250 a year to belong to a group of professional writers. You can bet I don’t want to spend my evening talking about not having ideas! Nor do I wish to spend an entire meeting lamenting about industry changes, bad clients, or the like. With my group, even if several members have had a depressing month, there’s always someone there to say, “Yeah, but did you know there’s a way to deal with that?”

Groups That Raise You UpTeam-building fist pumps over a table.

The catch is that you want to surround yourself with people who are moving forward. Even if these people fall three steps back, they find enough energy to take one step forward. If they then fall back five, they still get up and take one forward. You get the picture, right?

No matter what group you join to help you with your New Years’ resolutions, it’s the you-can-get-past-this attitude you’re looking for. The last thing you want is for everyone around the room to nod their heads in understanding and then start sharing similar stories. By the end of the evening, you’re all depressed. What good does that do?

So now you may be asking, “But I’ve had a rough time since the last meeting. Am I not allowed to talk about that?”

Of course you are! Whatever your goal, you’re going to hit roadblocks. It’s inevitable. And those roadblocks will at best frustrate you and at worst make you debate if your goals are worth striving for. How do you overcome these ugly monsters? You differentiate between venting and commiserating.

Venting releases the pressure that a roadblock has built up, and there’s nothing more freeing than talking with others who know exactly what you’re going through. Commiserating, on the other hand, means everyone joins in and laments with you, and nothing is accomplished.

How a Group Can Help You

In the end, you’re going to have to make a decision, and hopefully you’ve found a group that sees things the same way, because this decision really boils down to three choices:

  1. Keep stewing about the issue, wasting valuable creative energy.
  2. Let the situation go, if possible. (E.g., if you’re having a hard time paying taxes, you can’t let that go. But if some stranger said something rude to you today, you can imagine turning it into fuel for a fire and using it to warm yourself up.)
  3. Decide to change something in the situation (which often means changing something about yourself) and take your first step towards that change.

Ask your group for various options, and then commit to your next action, even if it’s that you’re going to think things through and report back to the next meeting.

Finding a Good Fit

If you’ve already joined a group that can help you with your goals, and if that group meets your expectations, then you’re doing awesome! If you’re not sure about joining a group, though, here are a few tips:

  • Check out the group’s online presence and see if it feels like a supportive, knowledgeable group to join.
  • Ask the group’s organizer if you can participate in a meeting. Then you can see how the members support each other.
  • If you don’t want everyone staring at you, ask if you can meet in person with one or two members.

There are ways to get a feel for the group before committing to it, and these suggestions are especially helpful if the group costs something to join.

Joining the right group can be just the thing to propel you forward faster than you planned. Don’t sit back and deliberate if you should join: do some research, then send out those emails and ask for more information. Do it now before the month is over.

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Time to Focus

You’ll find that one of the hardest things to accept with leading a more creative life is that you will need to focus. Despite what many self-help gurus say, you can’t have it all. (I’m not against self-help gurus, but you do need to read what they say with a grain of salt sometimes.)

I’ve been working my way through David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and it’s given me the full picture of everything I’m trying to accomplish in life. It’s quite daunting, actually. The first exercise he has you do (and I’ve blogged about this before) is to write down absolutely everything that “has your attention.” I like how he uses that phrasing, because it gets you out of the mindset of a formal to-do list and into the mindset of brainstorming all the things you’ve got swimming around in your head.

What this all means for me, then, is that I’m changing the purpose of my blog. I’ll be starting grad studies soon to further my education in German, so the time I spend writing here each week will shift over to preparing for my studies. (If you’re here because you’re looking for a copywriter, I’m still taking on clients.) As such, I’ll use the blog for announcements, book reviews as they come along, and special interviews and important topics, but I’ll no longer be blogging weekly, at least not for now. If there’s one thing that reading David Allen’s book has made clear to me, it’s that I need time to focus.

Enjoy the few days left of summer!

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3 Don’ts and 6 Dos for Attracting Good Writers to Your Company

carson-arias-197710_reduced
Photo by Carson Arias on Unsplash

If your company is having a hard time finding good writers, then read on, because I have a few tips for you.

I was recently headhunted for a writing position at a company. (Yay, me!) I did apply, but then I pulled out because I understood they were looking for a part-time employee when in fact it was a full-time position.

However, the tone of the initial email, plus other job descriptions I’ve seen for professional writers, have brought me to this week’s topic: What professional writers are really looking for when they read a job description.

What Good Professional Writers Don’t Want

  1. Don’t begin any emails to a writer with generic attempts at boosting their ego. Writers write, so they can see through that kind of writing in two seconds. For example, an email I received once said, “You probably get emails like this all the time.” (Their emphasis, not mine.) These sorts of words waste the writer’s time. Just say hi, introduce yourself, and explain what you’re looking for.
  2. Don’t say you’re looking for a writer who delivers perfect copy all the time. Professional writers know they can’t attain that. Yes, they absolutely strive for it, but I’ll bet you anything that someone will find an error in this post somewhere, no matter how often I proofread it. (Always happens when anyone, including writers, complains about writing.)
  3. Don’t toss away resumes because the writer ends sentences with prepositions or doesn’t use “whom” or uses “their” in the singular (see #1 for an example). Although the first scenario is a leftover from the days when people thought English should be more like Latin, using “who” as an object and “their” as a singular have their time and place. If you otherwise like the writer’s applications, ask them about their writing during the interview.

What Good Professional Writers Want

  1. Do mention that you’re a workplace that understands how to balance the company’s needs with the writer’s desire to produce good copy. In other words, you won’t expect a creative, well-researched, 15-page whitepaper in one day, but you do need a writer who can occasionally pump out a 100-word eblast in an hour (after appropriate company training).
  2. Do move language requirements to the very bottom of your description, because listing them at the top of your description sounds like it’s the most important thing you’re looking for. Consider these questions: What style of writing do you want? How much experience? In what industry or industries? What kind of personality would fit your team? Those are more relevant to a professional writer and should encourage more suitable applicants to apply.
  3. Do list a pay range. Pro writers know what they’re worth, and it isn’t $15/hour (even in USD). Listing an appropriate range can help you attract writers who believe their value is in that range. (You’ll also get bad writers who drool at the dollar signs, but you’ll see them from miles away. They’re the ones who start off with “I started writing at the tender age of 5” or “Writing is my passion.”)
  4. Do emphasize the co-operative nature of the team the writer will be working with, so long as it’s a true statement. E.g., “We expect a high level of writing, and in return, we offer you team members who proofread each other’s work. It’s how we all learn and create copy that is as close to perfect as we can get.” (Now, that would attract me.)
  5. Do feel free to ask for company-specific writing samples, but only once you’ve whittled your selection down to those you’ll interview. Asking for company-specific samples during the cattle-call phase signals to pro writers that you have little respect for their time, and many believe you’re just looking for free copy for your website. Ask for applicable portfolio samples first and then a company-specific sample later.
  6. Do understand that many (but certainly not all) writers are introverts. Offering a quiet corner where your new writer can work with relatively few disturbances would be incredible.

Just as job searchers can increase their chances of getting hired by customizing their job application to your company, you’ll likely increase your chances of finding good writers if you follow these tips when trying to recruit a good pool of applicants.

*I edited the order of the top paragraphs before the first headline. Sorry – saw a better way to order things.

*And I edited the entire post for point-of-view consistency. I apologize for that, too.

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You Get Inspired By Someone/thing and Want It: Consider Reconsidering

eric-didier-245518-reducedI’ve read over the years how the brain doesn’t fully mature until age 21 or 22. I also read a Quora response from someone (I’ve lost the reference, unfortunately) who said that he had reached his dream (house, car, wife, kids, dog) by age 39 and only then realized he was living the immature dreams of a teenager.

As teenagers, we try on different identities, experiment with things we shouldn’t be experimenting with, and, of course, swear to God that we know everything while ignoring the advice of usually well-meaning adults.

Many of us exit this phase with some level of maturity. But one trait mysteriously remains: we still believe that copying others means we’ll have the same effect on people as those others.

Huh?

For a writer, that’s a pretty clumsy sentence. Let me explain what I mean.

We look at a celebrity’s hairstyle, love it, and then want it for ourselves, even though we don’t have her face, cranium shape, or body type. We also don’t have a hairstylist backstage all day to fix it for us or two hours each morning to do it.

Many women love elegant shoes, which usually involves a high heel. They find a pair of these elegant shoes, put them on, and then forget to dress to match. Or worse, they don’t know how to walk to match and unfortunately look rather clumsy.

There’s also the stereotype of the middle-aged man who’s suddenly worried about his hairline and pot belly and makes weird attempts at turning back the biological clock.

What Do You Bring to the Table?

I think we’re going about this all the wrong way. Copying others and trying out different identities is what we did as teens. (Or, if you were like me, what you shied away from as a teen, too scared to take the risk of connecting with your deeper self, which, by the way, wasn’t the angsty, wish-you’d-get-kissed-by-a-vampire self.)

Several years ago, I came across this saying: Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. When I heard it, I lost an invisible skin I didn’t know I had, the one I grew in my teen years but couldn’t shed after they passed, the one that quietly urged me to try and be like others, even well into adulthood. I consciously fought this skin, but it hung on like a hangnail: you pick at it, and it hurts a little, but true to its name, it hangs on.

Shedding that skin didn’t cause my personality to flip around. I didn’t turn into a party animal or suddenly take up smoking, but rather, I became much more comfortable with myself. In other words, I finally began to understand the context that made up Lori. This moment of  enlightenment came with an added bonus: I began to see other people in their contexts. (Well, as best as I could: what I know about even those closest to me is only a fraction of what makes up the whole person.)

Context: It’s Not Me, But It’s So You

Coming back to my initial thought, I think when we copy others, we’re missing part of the context that makes each of us an individual. Many writers know this, for example: there are, really, no new stories. What makes stories appear new, though, is the context the writer brings to it.

A skilled writer infuses the milestones of an age-old story with their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A story about a family torn apart by the matriarch’s death, in which the protagonist searches for the meaning of her own life, finds love, and then comes to a realization she didn’t expect, will be one story in the hands of the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a much different one in the hands of a woman who had spent 20 years in prison.

Now Ask the Right Questions

So what does this mean for the haircut we want or the house we so desire? Don’t ask yourself how you can look like that or how you can earn like crazy to have a house like that. Instead, look at the feeling your object of inspiration has awoken in you. Is the celebrity haircut new and fresh, and you’ve had the same one for five years? In the hands of the right stylist, the request “I’m tired of my old haircut, and I’d like something new that brightens my face more” will have the same effect as the celebrity haircut has on that celebrity.

Just the same way, a talented interior designer can probably give your home the same feel as a mansion for a fraction of what it would cost to move to a new, much larger home. (It’ll still cost you something, but it should be much less.)

Do be inspired by the things and people around you! But if you’re looking to have that same effect on others, you won’t achieve it by being like the objects of your inspiration; I believe you’ll achieve it by using the context that makes up you in a way that achieves that same feeling. It’s how celebrities get the attention they do, how writers create new stories from old, and how that charming little home down the street looks just as perfect as the mansions on the other side of the tracks.

It all comes down to you.

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What’s the Point of the Arts?

annie-spratt-253799 reducedI do believe the arts are a spiritual endeavour, one that’s not always easily put into words. But when I read about cuts to the arts in schools, or run into someone who asks what the point is of studying literature or fine arts, because, hey, no one can understand that stuff, anyways, it frustrates me for two reasons.

For starters, the arts in almost any capacity feeds humans just as the sun does. It’s obvious to me and I don’t see why people don’t get it.

Second, the moment someone complains, my throat closes up because of the frustration in that first point. It’s a weird thing I have: I get frustrated, and then the words disappear into a jumble in my head I can’t quite dislodge and unpack to calmly explain my point of view to someone.

So, without delving into scientific evidence (there’s lots out there, I just don’t have time to review a chunk of it and spit it back out to you in 800-1,200 words), I’m going to tackle the question from a individual viewpoint, which, I’m learning, is a very Romantic-period way of solving such problems.

The Arts are Expression

The arts (and that includes music, dance, drama, visual arts, and everything in between and across disciplines) by definition are about expression. Not allowing a human self-expression through the arts is no different than plastering their mouth shut with duct tape.

In essence, individuality is at the heart of the arts. Many artists hope to make a living with their work, but many use it as a hobby and outlet, writing away stories no one will ever read, or strumming on a guitar for the sheer pleasure of soothing the nerves. When we always approach the arts with, “How will you make money off of this?” we miss the true value for the individual.

The Arts are Culture

Moving past the individual, we come to our culture. There are most definitely songs and paintings out there I don’t like for one reason or another, and yes, I do sometimes wonder who was paid to produce “such a horrible piece of work.” You will also have your preferences for stories, music, and concert dance.

What I feel, though, has been forgotten is that freedom in art helps underpin our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the first groups of people dictators try to control is artists, everyone from painters to writers to all the specialists involved in the TV and movie industries. (The other main group they try to silence tends to be academics.)

Cultural Appropriation

There is a dark underbelly arising in the arts, though, and I’m not entirely sure what to think of it: cultural appropriation. As I understand it, it means using another culture in your own creation. Part of me revolts at the thought that someone has a right to dictate to artists what they can and can’t do. At the same time, being someone of German heritage, my back went up when a puppet on a kids’ show was wearing a Bismarck-era military helmet, faking a German accent, and pretending to be the bad guy. (Couldn’t he at least wear lederhosen and be happy while dancing a polka?)

Whatever your view on the subject, one thing is certain: if artists didn’t use their voices to produce their work, we wouldn’t be having these discussions about culture, power, colonization, and the like. It’s because of the arts that voices are being heard on these very difficult subjects.

The Arts Belong in Schools

Because of the high emphasis on self-expression, learning the arts in school helps children find outlets for their own personality. For those who have difficulty doing so in words, they may find comfort in music, drawing, and dance. For those who feel physically awkward, channeling their energy onto paper may help them share their feelings and release that tension.

But where’s the monetary value? The economic incentive? This one always gets me.

The entertainment industry is perhaps one of the largest industries in the Western world, and people still ask where the monetary value of the arts is.

Every business needs talented people whose gifts for creating are needed for marketing, communications, and even product development. Again, you don’t get that talent by not nurturing the arts.

Every scientist needs to present findings in a way that others will understand. (The most popular scientists, in my view, seem to be the ones who can in one moment speak to other specialists in their field and in the next, to laypeople, and convey the same information in a way each audience understands.)

Art and Peace

Our world is huge, and there’s no way I can humanly know all its history. But my general impression is that artists don’t start wars. They may start disagreements, and these disagreements may turn into huge arguments, but I’m not aware of them starting wars. I believe artists, through their vocation, study the human condition (with some exceptions). They see the value of human life and honour the exchange that occurs between us when we communicate our true selves. I believe artists are often more comfortable than many of us in dealing with human emotions.

Support the Arts

So it makes no sense to me that we cut back on the arts in schools and label them as useless. I know teachers only have so much time and training, and they themselves are also only human. But I don’t think we can afford to keep cutting back on the arts – humans need to express themselves, and what is school if not a place to help kids grow into an adult, one who is ready to participate in this world as a fully realized and actualized human being? And how can this goal be fulfilled without teaching the students the many different ways they can share themselves with the world around them?

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How Writers Fit in Exercise

bikeyellowbuildingThe downside to writing, as with many seated jobs, is the lack of movement. Having grown up a dancer, I was constantly moving. Getting into adult life wasn’t too bad – I walked a lot. But getting into family life, unless I was running after a toddler, I wasn’t doing much. Everything I read kept emphasizing the need to exercise to stay healthy, but exactly how was that going to be possible? Between a full-time job, cooking, and kids, exercise seemed elusive.

At first, the answer was easy: I had only one kid, and my work had conveniently relocated to near my home. There was a daycare on the same property. I don’t drive, and walking there was easier than taking the bus.

But by the time my youngest was a toddler and his brother had started school, I realized that, no matter what was going on in my life, I had to make room for exercise. My kids certainly weren’t going to offer me the time. My husband also worked opposing hours to mine, so I couldn’t ask him to mind the kids in the evening and on weekends while I worked out, either.

So my main piece of advice to you is just that: it’s up to you to push it into your schedule. But exactly how you do that is up to you. Below, I’ve collected some advice from other writer friends on how to exercise when kids are around.

Free and Easy

When all else fails, use your own house if you have to, but getting out to walk is the simplest, cheapest form of exercise. Montreal-based writer and translator Kathe Lieber used to get up at 6:00 AM to walk with two other women who had small kids. Rising that early meant her child hadn’t awoken yet, either.

Helen Lammers-Helps, an agriculture writer who lives in Waterloo Region in Ontario, loaded her kids into a stroller or wagon and walked all over the neighbourhood. “It’s a great way to get to know your neighbours and being outdoors is good for my mental health,” she says. And when her kids got older, they hiked on local trails or biked.

Shake It Up

Lammers-Helps also found joining the local YMCA helpful: she made use of their babysitting while she did Aquafit classes or used their track. If her kids had hockey or swimming at the local rec centre, she walked around the centre’s track.

Lieber says that, if getting to a gym isn’t feasible, try finding a second-hand stationary bike or cross-trainer and store it in your basement or bedroom.

“My kid has left home, but I still find this the best way to shoe-horn exercise into a busy schedule. My stationary bike is by the window, with an interesting view, and there’s a TV and a radio in the room – so I’ve called my own bluff, basically. And my Kobo balances nicely between the handlebars. No excuse for not exercising.”

Virginia Heffernan, former field geologist turned writer, suggests having exercise equipment near your desk so you can squeeze in some movement. That can include a mat, a Theraband, free weights, or even a stationary bike as Lieber suggested.

Exercise and Television

Lisa Bendall, a feature writer and book author who lives Toronto, says that Just Dance on the Nintendo Wii system is her ticket to exercise: “Fun for the whole family and a great workout!”

Alison Palkhivala, a medical journalist in Montreal, plays boxing on her Xbox with her son. “But my son accuses me of cheating whenever I win,” she says.

When the Kids Are a Bit Older

Palkhivala says that once the kids turn 12, there are many family activities you can do together. In her family’s case, they started taking family martial arts classes.

“We’ve made martial arts a family affair and I joke we’re training to become the Incredibles,” she says.

The Most Important Thing to Remember

I’ve been a mom for almost a decade now, and I’ve learned that you have to change as your kids change. We did evening walks in the summer when the kids were easy to fit into a stroller. Now, they’d rather play with their Lego instead of go for a walk.

Be flexible, and change with your kids. Once I went on mat leave with my second child and my work moved back to its original building, I had lost my two 30-minute walks a day and had to find something else.

However, I also went through periods of doing nothing – it happens!

Now, with my split work day (part-time employee, part-time freelancer), I walk home from my employed job four days a week, a total of 20 km. I recently added a one-hour workout four days a week, and I had to ram it into my afternoon schedule. For the sessions during the week, that meant getting creative with supper and finding recipes that needed a long time in the oven, for example. If you’re adept with a slow cooker, this would help, too. I tried morning routines, but as of late, they just don’t work for me.

When it comes to getting yourself to move, know what motivates you the most, and get creative. After all, if you’re already creative in one area of your life (otherwise, why would you be writing?) then you can certainly be creative in other areas.

So, get a move on!

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Keep Your Online Presence Simple

sarah-dorweiler-127187-reducedThe downside to being creative is that your creativity can show up when it’s perhaps not as beneficial to your day-to-day running. In my case, it happened with my online presence: two websites, a blog, and five domains (those three plus two more). Thankfully, I stopped getting creative at the social media stage: I only have four accounts there, and one I’ve almost laid dormant.

However you spend your creative life, whether it’s for fun or as a career, managing your online presence shouldn’t be time-consuming: After all, you want to spend time on your writing, dancing, music, art, etc., right? If you’re freelancing, you’d rather be earning money than frequently managing your online presence.

I’m now unifying everything into one website, and I’m trying out a new theory.

People Want to Know Me

Two months ago, I wrote about how artist and freelancing websites need to differ: an artist website needs to focus on portfolio and expertise, whereas a freelancing website needs to emphasize the services you offer (and also include your portfolio and expertise).

I still stand by those differences. But over the past six months or so, I’ve been working through some marketing advice from Kristen Lamb, a freelance and indie editor, and a book by Michael Port, a business consultant for service providers (which freelancers are).

Lamb focuses on indie authors. In her blogging workshop (excellent, by the way), she emphasized how important it is to market myself as a person, because people who share my interests are more likely to read my books. If someone is looking for a horror, then a blog about dance, life, and marketing will signal that I’m not that author.

In Book Yourself Solid, Port describes how to make your marketing fit you and how to find customers who jive with you, which is why I love his book. As a service provider, and one who does all the writing herself, I’m not interested in getting millions of hits to my websites, hundreds of calls a week, etc.; there’s only so much in my workload I can handle. Port’s promise is to help me find the right customers for me, and in his opinion, I can help that process along by being me. (I add one caveat, though: Professionalism is still important. Putting up drunken party photos of yourself is not what he means.)

Simplifying My Online Presence

Returning to my new website, that means shining a brighter (but still professional) light on who I am. That doesn’t mean I’m going to have my bio on my homepage: that won’t be effective in my case. But having my homepage reflect who I am will let me unify both sides of my writing.

But what prompted all of this? It wasn’t just the time I was spending on my websites and blog, it was feedback, and likely not the kind of feedback you’d expect for such a change.

My current copywriting website got compliments from several writers I respect, but I received almost no inquiries through it. Those who hung around the website long enough to read up on my pricing also didn’t jump off at pricing; they jumped off elsewhere. So if my website was so good, and pricing wasn’t scaring people off, why wasn’t I getting much business through it?

Design for Your Audience, Not Your Colleagues

That’s when I realized that everyone who had complimented me on my website was a writer. Save for content strategists and some marketing managers, most people looking for my services won’t be writers themselves.

In addition, I had learned through several sources (including Lamb) that Google likes websites that are frequently updated. I update my copywriting/translating website every month or two, my website dedicated to writing about dance every year or two, and yet I update my blog – which does not advertise my services directly – every week.

To add to my troubles, the two main websites overlapped when it came to my expertise in dance. Why on Earth was I maintaining two sites with similar content?

So, I’m returning to a simpler strategy, one that will let me focus more on my writing while hopefully strengthening my presence with Google and allowing me to present a full picture of myself to potential clients and readers.

Have you found ways to save time in your marketing? Share them below.

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Squeezing Creativity Into Your Life: A Few Tips

Thin trail in medium-height grass.Creativity makes us human – our evolutionary ancestors wouldn’t have moved past the African jungles without curiosity and creativity. Yet many people say that they have no time for creativity.

Being creative, as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t about waiting for inspiration to hit and then spending hours on your novel (that you’ll finish “some day”) or your painting (that will sit on its easel for months to come) or your new skirt (speaking of which, I should start mine before the season’s over). Creativity is about purposefully fitting time into each day to explore other ideas.

Here are a few tips you can use to fit creativity in to your daily life:

Write Out Your Weekly Schedule

You don’t have to track your week, but write out your general schedule for each day of the week. You should see pockets of time where you can squeeze in an activity. For example, I spend 15 minutes on the bus and 25 minutes over lunch reading a book that inspires me to write. That’s already 40 minutes x 4 days/week = 2 hours and 40 minutes of reading about my craft, which brings me to the next topic.

Study Your Craft

Keep some key websites bookmarked, or visit your library for a book or two on your craft or project. The more you learn about how others do what you’re trying to do, the faster your own skill will develop, because you’re not spending time making beginner mistakes. Instead, you’re playing in the intermediate or advanced area, which is where you’re more likely to find your voice.

Keep a Short List of Your Creative Aims With You

I tuck a very thin 2.5” x 4” Moleskine booklet into my pocket all the time. It helps filter my commitments: If something doesn’t fit those goals, then I usually don’t commit to it. (I say usually, because, well, I’m not perfect, and I like to help people where I can. But I also do say no.)

Figure out What You Can Do When

My husband and I often work opposing schedules. So when he’s at work, I look after the kids. I’ve learned through trial and error and lots of frustration that I can’t sit at the computer whiling looking after my kids. Even if they’re playing peacefully on a different floor in the house, they have computer antennae that inform them the moment I sit down at the computer to write. I can nap on the living room couch while they’re playing in front of me, but I can’t work at the computer.

However, I can brainstorm, read, garden, and sew while in charge of the kids. If they’re in a really strong “let’s keep talking to Mommy” mood, then I’ll do something that leaves my mind free to talk to them. I could, for example, bake an easy recipe.

Split Your Project Into Small Tasks

This needn’t be formal: it can be in your head or on paper. However, if you have an idea of the various tasks you can do as part of your creative exploration, then when you suddenly have a spare 15 minutes, you can actively do something instead of spending time deciding what to do.

Cut out TV and Your Devices

I’m not suggesting living like a luddite. Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, scorned “technology” in his day when he and a friend tried to harvest several acres of farmland by hand instead of using oxen. But be mindful of your technology use. If your tv show is in a rerun phase during the season, turn off the tube and do something creative. Likewise, if your phone is constantly ringing, turn it off if it’s feasible. Turn off your email program, turn off your notifications, or use a program like Scrivener that can take over your screen and force you to focus. If you’re not convinced, read Cal Newport’s website. He gives excellent advice (and often research and his own experiences) on how to focus.

Is This Really Possible?

Everyone’s day is different from the next person’s. My typical day includes work (6-8 hours a day), looking after the kids, cooking many (but not all) meals, getting the kids to a few lessons, and spending time with my husband. And yet I manage to squeeze in an hour or two a day of creative time, because I always have a book on me, I do write later at night on the “for fun” projects, and I’ve learned what activities I can do for me but still be available for my kids.

It takes some experimenting, so take it a step at a time. Remember, though, to be flexible: as your family grows, your children will change. You want to do your best to find creative time no matter your daily grind, but stay open-minded about when that time is.

Do you have any tips on how to find creative for yourself despite family and life obligations?