Writers Worth Week, Day Three: Improve Yourself

What I’m reading: Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
What’s on the iPod: Summer Nights by Rascal Flatts

I must be nuts. Riding the fumes of my business/vacation trip to Vancouver, I schedule Writers Worth Week. Then right smack in the middle of that miracle of scheduling – today – my mother arrives for a visit. I’m hyper-organized, but this may break me. I’m still fighting off the remnants of jet lag. I’ll sleep next week. Sometime.

I saw lots of you tweeting the Writers Worth Week news – thank you! I appreciate your comments and your help in spreading awareness to other writers. Keep up the good work!

And please, keep commenting. Any comment you leave this week (until Friday at 11:59 pm EDT) will put you in the running to receive one of four free copies of The Worthy Writer’s Guide to Building a Better Business.

Today’s stop on the blog tour is courtesy of Ms. Kimberly Ben, proprietor of the Avid Writer blog. Kim’s been a great friend and a superb resource for writers at all career levels. Give her some comment love.

Thanks for tuning in one more day to improve your career. And that, friends, is today’s advice – improve yourself. Whether it’s using some or all of the advice you get here this week or finding another way to improve your skills or your business prospects, your investment in yourself will pay off infinitely.

I worked with a client once who was a fantastic marketer. She could build a superb marketing plan and gain first-rate attention for her clients. What she couldn’t do was string two sentences together coherently. Her forte was marketing, not writing.

Yet she was a sought-after marketer because she recognized her weakness and found a way to compensate. She hired a writer – me – to both write and edit for her. As a result, she had stronger communications pieces and her clients gave her referrals and repeat business.

So what’s that one area of your business where you could improve? What skills don’t you have that you can learn? Here are some ways to improve yourself:

Hire a coach. Sometimes you just need a nudge. Find a trusted coach who can mentor or coach you over those lumpy areas of your career.

Take a class. If you can rock an article but hate approaching those query letters, that’s a serious roadblock. What if you can’t market to save your life? Your career isn’t going too far if you don’t know how to secure new clients. Find someone who’s teaching that skill that you’re weakest in and spend the money getting help. Often it’s more a mental block than an actual lack of ability.

Buy the book. Self-help books are one of the top-selling genres. If there’s a niche you’d like to learn, there’s certain to be a book about it handy. A simple Google search or Amazon search will turn up a guide to the very skill you’re trying to hone.

Ask. You’d be amazed how many people are eager to share with you their lessons learned. Become part of a writing community and ask questions. Mind you, if you ask “How do I start?” you’ll be met with either dead silence or outrage (it’s a lazy question). Do a little homework, then ask a pointed question, like “What’s the best approach for trade magazines?”

Join. Yes, join. Join a community, a forum, an association, any place that allows you to talk shop and rub elbows with other writers. It’s amazing the tidbits that you pick up in ordinary conversation.

Study different techniques. Whether it’s on a blog, in a book, or by simple observation, take note of various writing or business styles. Try them on. Practice using someone else’s methods. Do they work? If not, how can you adapt those methods to fit your style?

Brush up. My mother-in-law was surprised to learn recently that I still refer to grammar guides. That’s because writers often pick up bad habits without realizing it. And honestly, we are never too experienced to learn more. It used to be that sentence structure wasn’t my strong suit. By reading a grammar guide regularly, I tamed the beast. I still make mistakes, but I make fewer of them.

Writers, how do you improve yourself?

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Comments

  • Fi May 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Lori – I've tried clicking on the link for Avid Writer and it's going to something written by Ralph someone or other with stupid comments on it ??????

    Reply
  • Lori May 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    My fault, Fi. Sorry. The link will work now. Thanks for letting me know.

    Reply
  • Cathy May 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    One of the things I try to do is regularly go out and find out how to do or use something I didn't know, then blog about it.

    To make myself more accountable (because I have let this slide lately), I have an idea that I will roll out soon. I figure if I am committed to blogging about something new that I learned, I will be more inclined to follow through on that goal.

    Reply
  • Lori May 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Cathy, that's an impressive accountability exercise. And what a neat way to make yourself an expert in a new area!

    Reply
  • Irreverent Freelancer May 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Just helped spread the word. Have I told you lately how awesome you are?! LOL

    Reply
  • Ashley May 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    This is brilliant because it's so simple. Sometimes we as businesspeople get so involved in the business that we forget to make time for ourselves, which would make us more valuable to the business. I do several of these suggestions regularly to improve my skills. Being a part of your community, Lori, has been amazing, and I'm also a board member for the local chapter of the Association for Women in Communications. I've met so many wonderful people who are really supportive, and that has been the smartest thing I could have done for my business so far. That, and I try to make time to read something to improve my skills every day. It's been hard to keep up with that lately, but I'm getting back on track.

    Reply
  • Lori May 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Kathy, thanks!!

    At least you didn't say I was the wind beneath your wings! LOL

    Super advice, Ashley! And you're right – we don't invest in ourselves very much. We work our hours, then switch off work altogether.

    Reply
  • Paula May 11, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Since I was a baby, I've been known far and wide as Patient Paula. Patience can be a virtue, but it can also be a roadblock. That's why the area I've struggled with the most is holding others accountable.

    I like to assume people will do as promised. The publisher who owes me for work done several months ago certainly didn't. I've been contacting him every week or so about payment, and have found myself growing increasingly impatient with him. Funny how that impatience finally got him to act. A couple weeks ago I said I would be forced to seek other means of collecting my fees if he didn't reply. He replied within minutes, saying I'd be paid the next week. I wasn't, so yesterday in honor of Writers' Worth Week, I sent a follow up e-mail, opening with, "Happy Writers' Worth Week! What a wonderful time to prove how much you value the writers whose words fill the pages of your magazines," and asking for a status update. He replied this morning saying he cut checks last night and mailed them this morning. I'll be patient a few days longer, to give them time to arrive.

    I'll never be a micro manager, since 95% of the time people really do as they say. But I know I need to be more assertive with the 5% who keep dropping the ball.

    Next up: My phone company. One year ago they hiked my DSL rates. When I complained they promised the new rate would be frozen for two years. Guess what? They raised it again.

    Reply
  • Lori May 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Paula, I think patience has its limits, and you've done exactly the right thing. Now if he comes back saying "I don't understand why the check didn't arrive", that's when you insist on an overmighted check at HIS expense or your attorney will be calling. Watch him move then!

    Reply
  • Kimberly Ben May 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks again for sharing the awesome guest post today Lori. 🙂

    Reply
  • Ronda Levine May 11, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I think that it's important to work on professional development – especially when you're a writer. No matter how long you've been working, you can always learn more and improve. I read widely, and I try to work with other writers so I can learn about what works well for them. I'm getting ready to apply to MFA programs so that I can further hone my fiction craft.

    Reply
  • Wade Finnegan May 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I know marketing is my weakness. The social media is overwhelming and sending queries is daunting, but I'm learning. I leaned on Lori today for some help and she came through immediately. Thanks Lori! I'm going to take some patience from Paula and apply it to myself. I find myself frustrated that the money isn't rolling in faster. There is a learning curve and it takes awhile to climb it.

    Reply
  • L.C. Gant May 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Paula, I'd be happy to take some of that patience off of your hands. Lord knows I could use it! I've been struggling with the lack of it quite a bit lately.

    In a way, that's one of the advantages of living in the writing world, I think. It's a more level playing field than most. We're all working on something, or at least we should be. No one ever gets to the point where they truly "know it all."

    Reply
  • Pamela Moeng May 12, 2011 at 8:11 am

    I can attest to the reading and asking advice. Self-teaching works for me. I type 60 wpm now. Years ago, I taught myself to type using my late dad's dog-eared, yellowing army issue typing manual – a leftover from his army days. Being never-too-proud-to-ask has also helped me tremendously. My longtime friend Damaria is also a writer and her advice, along with that gleaned from other writer friends and writing publications has assisted me to improve my skills and broaden my knowledge. This week your site, Lori, has given me new ideas and motivated me to work even harder at improving as well as marketing myself as a writer. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Lori May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Blogger hates me – all my comments are disappearing. I'll be back when it's behaving. Sorry. 🙁

    Reply
  • Anne Wayman May 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Asking for help is my favorite these days… people truly love to help and I sure need help so it works for all concerned.

    hugs

    Reply