Three Essential Qualities

by Jen Taggart, guest contributor

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to reflect in a Toastmasters International speech about how having cerebral palsy has helped me to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and humor. These three qualities are essential for anyone to have, especially a freelancer.

1. Empathy

Cerebral palsy has caused me to grow in my empathy for those who are struggling and those who are simply different.

When I was on a trip with my youth group in New Jersey to repair houses after Hurricane Sandy, the owner of the house my team helped repair was a wheelchair user. I saw a little bit of myself in the owner. As a high school kid, this was the first time I remember helping another person with a disability. It caused me to reflect on moments when I felt helpless and had someone to help me. It was very empowering. I decided after that trip that I wanted to live a life of purpose and be someone who makes a difference in the world. My empathy for those who are struggling has driven me to do communications work for various nonprofits and ministries and take classes to become a grant writer for nonprofit organizations.

As a person with a visible disability, it is easy to feel judged and stereotyped, and this causes me to empathize with those who are different. I would never want to be completely defined by my disability. When I interview and write about people from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, other disabilities and life circumstances, I try my best to let them tell their own life stories. I refuse to put people into boxes based on my own or my readers’ preconceptions. Each person is a unique individual created in the image of God.

2. Problem-Solving Skills 

When you have a disability, you learn how to do things differently, whether using a J-Hook to open a can of soup or a toaster oven to bake cookies.

When you are a freelancer, you also learn to do things differently. Instead of going to an office, I use my older brother’s now-empty bedroom as an office. Sometimes I have trouble getting hold of one source for a journalism article, and need to contact another source, ask for the information via email, or glean it from somewhere else completely. Don’t even get me started on finding or creating photos, graphics, or videos to accompany my stories!

Many times, with cerebral palsy, I need to try multiple accommodations to see what works. As a freelancer, I’ve had to try many different options as well. I’ve tried journalism, digital marketing, proofreading and editing, and grant writing to see what I enjoy and can make a living doing. As a relatively new freelancer, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am still experimenting and exploring.

3. Humor

When you live with a disability, you have to have a sense of humor. If you’ve seen the movie “Toy Story,” you’ll remember The Claw. The Claw is the deity-like figure in the crane game at Pizza Planet that the plush space aliens worship. Ever since I was in elementary school, my brothers and I would call my right hand The Claw.

When you are a freelancer, you also need a sense of humor. Rejection emails, typos, missed deadlines can make you laugh or cry. Take life too seriously as a person with a disability, a freelancer, or anyone, and you’ll drive yourself insane.

Above all else, being a person with cerebral palsy and being a freelancer have both given me grit. My life does not follow an easy formula as a person with a disability, a freelancer or as a person living in a fallen world. There never seems to be a simple answer to my problems, or clear roadmap to reaching my goals. No matter what your own challenges are, I’m sure you feel the same way.

Still, as freelancers, we somehow always manage to use our God-given creativity to find a way forward.

Jen Taggart is a freelancer writer in Strongsville, Ohio, and an EPA associate member.

Working from Home: Advice from the Experts

compiled by Ann Byle

Those new to working from home can learn much from those who have been doing so for years. In this post, freelance writers who are associate members of the Evangelical Press Association offer their best advice for those who have moved their work home. This is the first in what we hope will be a series of resources.

Set Up Shop

  • Allocate space for work. Allocated space is a tax advantage for freelancers. For those temporarily working from home, a distinct work space allows you to “get” to work and to “leave” work at the end of the day.
  • Work space can be an unused bedroom, a table facing a window, the end of a hallway, the little-used dining room table. Make sure there is a nearby wall plug, writing utensils, note paper, task lighting, and a storage tray/box.
  • If you must share work space, designate specific hours for each person and a place (drawer or box) for each person’s work-related materials.

Manage Your Time

  • Create structure for your days with regular start and end times, break times, and lunchtimes. Answer work emails only during work hours. Avoid erratic work hours or all-hours workdays. When work is done, walk away.
  • Limit the number of personal phone calls and appointments during your work day, or “herd” them into breaktimes.
  • Educate family and pets to respect your work schedule and space. No interruptions during calls; work space is not Lego/craft/fort space. Crate the dog, shut the door, put on headphones if necessary.
  • Create a to-do list every day and cross off what you have accomplished. These acts help you remember tasks and see what you’ve done.
  • Work for several hours, then take a break. Nobody can work six hours straight.
  • Be flexible. Working early in the morning or later in the afternoon or evening can give you family time in the middle of the day when it is most needed.

Be Kind to Yourself

  • Family events, sick pets, unproductive days happen. Start over tomorrow.

To download a printable sheet with these tips, click here, and please share this post with colleagues and friends who are struggling to adapt to working from home.

 

Speak. . . what?

 

At the end of King Lear, one character laments:

“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

How many philosophical debates has this passage sparked? When circumstances cause grief, should we react emotionally or rationally? How are we, as Christian writers, to use our words?

We’d love to hear how you’re coping with the current pandemic, particularly with regard to your writing. How do you decide whether you speak what you feel or what you ought to say? Please leave a comment below.

Be sure to check this spot again next Tuesday. Randy will share some more thoughts on what to do when our words have trouble flowing in times like these.

 


Don’t miss: The Benefits of Being a Freelancer in a COVID-19 World

The Benefits of Being a Freelancer in a COVID-19 World

by Ann Byle

While the world reels thanks to a microscopic virus, we freelancers are in our element. Nobody is questioning our life choices anymore. In fact, we are about to become the experts on how to balance work and home. The benefits are legion.

  1. The learning curve doesn’t exist. We figured this out long ago, so there’s no need to learn how to balance work and family. Been there, done that.
  2. Introverts are no longer weird. Now that so many people are working from home, the world may finally get it. We like working this way, and that’s okay. As Jim Reeves sang, “Welcome to my world, won’t you come on in?” As long as you practice social distancing.
  3. Our workspace is already set up. We’ve got our home office well organized, whether it’s a dedicated room, a corner, space under the stairs, or the recliner chair. We’ve got writing utensils, paper, space for a hot beverage, chargers, and dark chocolate all set.
  4. We can do phone interviews with ease. We’ve been calling folks for interviews for years, so it’s no big deal to pick up the phone and talk, not text.
  5. Email as a professional tool is old news. Freelancers have been emailing interview requests, professional communications, and queries to editors for as long as we’ve been working. Nothing new here.
  6. Interruptions won’t kill us. Working from home can be an exercise in overcoming interruptions, but we’re used to it whether from humans or animals. We simply move on and keep writing.
  7. We can provide excellent content without interruption. Our work continues because content is still king. While our editors may be moving home, they still need the content we provide in a timely manner. We’ve done so for years and that’s not about to stop.

While our worlds may not have changed that much, let us keep others and their needs in our hearts and prayers.

 

 

 

Enlarge the Circle

If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.

Richard Rhodes

The Best Way to Be Creative (it involves coffee)

by Anita K. Palmer

As writers we’re diligent not to plagiarize. It’s a clear no-no. But what about ideas? When is it okay to copy an idea and “adapt” it for our own purpose? Is it a compliment, stealing, or a smart move?

I regularly listen to the NPR show/podcast TED Radio Hour. Host Guy Raz, who is leaving after seven wonderful years, is airing his favorite shows as he says goodbye. In today’s broadcast, “What Is Original?” from 2014, Raz interviewed thinkers who have given TED talks on the subject of invention and creativity. Their answers were fascinating. (Listen for yourself at https://bit.ly/30WXNdR.)

Raz’s premise is that every invention, song, piece of art, or idea is built on something that came before. So that pretty much answers the initial question. “Nope. Nothing is original.” He didn’t bring up Ecclesiastes but he could have:

“Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new” (1:9-10 NLT).

Stealing from a Samurai

One guest, Kirby Ferguson, had given a TED Talk called “Everything Is a Remix.” In it he played songs that Bob Dylan, one of the most influential singer-songwriters of our time, knowingly appropriated for his own melodies. According to Ferguson, Dylan was doing what folk musicians had always done. What people had always done.

“I think human beings aren’t really capable of coming up with something from nowhere,” Ferguson said. “Like, I think we just do not do that. We build out of materials. We use tools to make things. That’s what we do.”

Ferguson went on to show how George Lucas stole from a filmmaker of samurai films in the 1950s and 60s he admired named Akira Kurosawa. Think of how the Jedi dress; consider the shape of Darth Vader’s helmet. There’s even dialogue in the Star Wars films lifted from the Japanese movies.

That led Raz to ask, where’s the line? What’s copying and what’s building on something that came before? Ferguson replied that the line is between how much you “borrow” and what you do with it.

“So if you take a large chunk of it, to me that is where you’re being derivative. You’re being unoriginal,” said Ferguson. “I think you need to be transforming the things that you copy. You need to be recontextualizing them. . . . You need to be, you know, transforming and combining those elements in exciting ways.”

No Solitary Geniuses

Ferguson next talked about Steve Jobs—ever heard of him?—who announced in 2007 a new technology called multi-touch. Then he ran a tape of a guy named Jeff Han—ever heard of him?—speaking in 2006 about the same technology and saying it wasn’t new: people had been playing with it since the 1980s.

But here’s the thing: The multi-touch patents that Apple filed were for the small parts they had arranged in their own way. And then they went on remixing elements—touchscreen technology, GPS, the internet. And while there were at it, they they changed the world.

This isn’t the story of one genius inventing one amazing thing all by himself, is it? The individualistic narrative is easier to understand and repeat than the incredibly complex process over time involving multiple dreamers and inventors and leaders, culminating in a brilliant new thing.

Where Innovation Happens

What’s this got to do with freelance writers?

Raz interviewed another thinker, Steven Johnson. His TED Talk was called “Where Good Ideas Come From,” which is also the title of a book he published.

Johnson told the story of an 18th century British fellow named Joseph Priestley. He was friends with American founders like Benjamin Franklin. Priestley made huge breakthroughs in science, especially chemistry (for example, he was the first person to realize that plants were creating oxygen). Then he would share them with his friends. They’d talk together for hours, mashing up ideas, challenging one another.

From this, Johnson moved into a final thought, and it’s going to lead to my point, I promise. It has to do with something we’re all familiar with: the coffeehouse.

Did you know that coffee had a big role in the birth of the Enlightenment? Up to this point, water wasn’t safe to drink. So all day long, people drank ale and wine. You basically had a civilization of drunks. Think about that for a moment.

That is, until the rise of the coffeehouse.

“And then you switched from a depressant to a stimulant,” said Johnson. “You would have better ideas. It’s not an accident that a great flowering of innovation happened as England switched to tea and coffee.”

But Johnson wants us to note where this was happening. The coffeehouse. A public gathering spot. “It was a space where people would get together from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise. And an astonishing number of innovations from this period have a coffeehouse somewhere in their story.”

As writers we tend to work in isolation. An original idea, though, most often does not come in a lightbulb moment. No “eureka!” Good ideas need a community.

“More often than not,” said Johnson, “[ideas are] cobbled together from whatever parts happened to be around nearby. We take ideas from other people, from people we’ve learned from, from people we run into in the coffeeshop. And we stitch them together into new forms, and we create something new. That’s really where innovation happens.”

So, there you have it. There is nothing truly original in this world, just like the writer of Ecclesiastes said. But we get to “borrow” and remix all the melodies and dialogues and discoveries and images of our culture and come up with our own creations.

But not alone. So turn off your laptop. Get out of your office. Grab a fellow writer or four and go have coffee. Set up a regular gathering with other creative folks. Together, let’s change the world.

Continue reading “The Best Way to Be Creative (it involves coffee)”

2020 Vision

The last day of 2019. Hard to believe, isn’t it? 

Most of us are probably taking some kind of inventory of the last year, reflecting on what we accomplished, where we failed, how we grew, what we learned. . . and hoping to do better in 2020, whether in our personal lives or in our writing careers.

Here at the Christian Freelance Writers Network, we’re looking forward to growing this blog and making new connections! We have some individual goals as well.

Joyce has shared three things she wants to focus on in the new year:
1. Submit more magazine articles for both adults and kids.
2. Complete a middle-grade book project she has started.
3. Devise a workable social media strategy she can be consistent with.

After years of neglect in her personal life and a foggy professional focus, Anita has been reinventing herself. She’s starting to feel whole again—and wholly dedicated to being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to landing a collaborative book deal, drumming up a magazine assignment at least once a month, and expanding a B2B client base. Her attitude? “Yahoo!”

Randy does a lot of different types of writing, including playwriting, and he’s been cooking up a couple of ideas in that genre.  One of his goals is to move forward with those. Sounds exciting!

Ann has chosen “NEW” as her word for 2020. Her goal is to create a book proposal for a new project. She’s also signed up for a Writer’s Digest class, something new she’s never done before. She’s also thinking about a second nonfiction book project, which she says would require some new actions on her part.

I (Ann-Margret) took a bit of a sabbatical from writing in the latter part of the year so that I could take time to read and reflect and let my well fill up, so to speak. My goal for 2020 is to pitch fresh queries to some of the publications I’ve written for in the past and approach a few new ones as well.

Have you set any writing goals for the new year? Do any of the targets mentioned above spark ideas? We’d love it if you shared them with us in the comments section below. Don’t forget to sign up to follow this blog, and visit us weekly for new articles and tips.

From all of us at CFWN, Happy New Year!

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

 

The Search for the Perfect Coffee Shop

Sometimes a writer needs to get away, but where?

My longing for a coffee shop has little to do with caffeine. I am an addict, but not an aficionado. Folger’s is just fine for me, and I make my own each morning. What I want is a place—a table where I can spread out a little, a bit of natural light, and a dim buzz of activity that I can ignore.

South Jersey—the region where I live and write—has many fine attractions. For instance, I’m five minutes away from an authentic Revolutionary War battleground. I’ve never been there, but if I ever feel the need to visit an authentic Revolutionary War battleground, five minutes, I’m there. In the opposite direction, there’s a mall. This mall is so popular, they built four other malls around it. We are thoroughly malled up.

Yet in all that commercial potential, there is not a decent coffee shop.

I’ve tried libraries. No coffee, but they do have, you know, books. My problem is that there isn’t enough buzz. I like knowing that human communication is going on around me, even if I’m not in on it. As a writer, I want to keep my finger on the pulse of society. The library doesn’t have much of a pulse.

We have more diners than we need in South Jersey, and there are times when I have sought solace at a diner when I grew weary of the search for a coffee shop. Diners do serve coffee, and they have tables. Their waitstaff also displays a unique charm. They generally call me “Hon,” an endearment I don’t receive at the library. Still, I need more.

For years I hated Starbucks, on principle. Their overpriced coffee was one thing, but it was probably their steady drive toward world domination that bothered me most. I still laugh when I remember a joke I heard years ago from Conan O’Brien. “It is now illegal to open a Starbuck’s inside another Starbuck’s.” And yet now I find that Starbuck’s is usually my best option. Coffee. Tables. Buzz. The only problem is that the nearest one is twenty minutes away, and that’s twenty minutes I could be spending at home complaining about the lack of coffee shops.

So if you have entrepreneurial skill, come on over to South Jersey. There’s a wide open market for the perfect coffee shop. And a cool battlefield. Or so I hear.

Randy Petersen