The JRW Blog

The value of routine

As we try to find our way through this COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals and other experts are advising everyone to keep to their usual routine. People not accustomed to being confined to home will find this advice especially useful. If you are accustomed to getting up at 6 a.m. to go to work, don’t stay in bed until 8 a.m. just because you can. If you are accustomed to taking your lunch break around 1:00 because it makes the afternoons go faster, do the same thing now.

Sticking to a routine works with writing, too. However, perhaps you’re used to writing in an office environment with the hum of other people going on around you. Now you’re writing from home and it’s a whole different story. Either you are laboring away in a totally quiet room, which you find distracting, or you are trying to work at your laptop while keeping your eye on a rambunctious two-year-old.

So, what was your routine like before we were all told to stay home? I saw a funny picture of a guy in an around-the-house sweatshirt looking at his cellphone in one hand while keeping his other hand wrapped securely around the rod holding up his shower curtain – obviously mimicking his usual routine of going to work via the crowded subway.

Not all routines are beneficial. Some can be destructive if bad habits like addiction to drugs or alcohol have taken over your life. However, most people have developed helpful routines over time. You might wake around 6:00 every day. Then you shower, dress, have breakfast and walk your dog, in that order, before reporting for work.  And if you are a writer, a routine that automates some of your daily tasks will free up more time that you can devote to your creative side.

Now, sticking to routine need not be as drastic as clinging to a shower curtain rod while checking your iPhone on your way to the kitchen, but relying on a certain sameness in the things you do helps get you through the day.

If you are new to the home writing environment and feel a little out of sync, why not start a routine now?

Slow Start?

Sometimes you sit down at your computer and your fingers freeze over the keyboard because writer’s block attacks you first thing. Perhaps you have no clue where to begin on the project you’ve been given. Maybe you’re even having trouble coming up with a title. Not to worry, all writers are faced with this debilitating situation at times, but there are ways to get around it.

Switch gears

Write something else. Ease into the project by setting it aside for a bit. Exercise your mind by writing about your day, some interesting experience you had or a memorable place you visited. If the project is technical in nature, or the subject is dry to the point of putting readers to sleep, try doodling while you think of ways you could brighten it up and make it more readable. I know, doodling is childish. Unprofessional. Who cares? Getting rid of writer’s block sometimes requires unconventional measures.

Take a hike

Leave the computer. Get up and go for a walk. If there isn’t time to actually go outside for some fresh air, do some laps inside the building. Let your mind wander. Whether you can take a 20-minute stroll, or you can only spare five minutes, it will be time well spent in reducing writer’s block to a manageable size.

Frown on the deadline

Finally, don’t let a deadline defeat you. If that’s what is causing your fingers to freeze, take a deep breath, then break your project down into parts. If research is involved, start with that. If actual writing is at the top of your to-do list, choose a section and start there. If you have been pressed into writing service by your employer, remember that there are no rules that say you have to begin at the beginning.

Turn to a professional

Writer’s block isn’t picky, it preys on everyone regardless of the victim’s level of writing ability. However, those of us who write for a living are a little more accustomed to its sneakiness. We are therefore better prepared than the occasional (or accidental) wordsmith to fend off an attack.

Picking up again

Gosh, it’s been more than a year since I added to my blog. The primary reason is that I’ve been busy writing blogs for other businesses, mainly real estate companies and law firms, plus other B2B projects and magazine articles…and well, you know how time can slip away.

And then something happened that I literally didn’t see coming: I broke my shoulder. The doctors had to put me back together again with what’s called a reverse total shoulder replacement — kind of like Humpty Dumpty, I guess. I am currently in Week 10 of my recovery and rehabbing at outpatient physical therapy.

For several weeks after surgery, I couldn’t type more than a few sentences at a time before exhaustion set in. Turns out our fingers are pretty well connected to our shoulders. Until you have a return of muscle strength and range of motion sufficient to reach the keyboard and type without lip-tightening pain, writing is not something you can do for more than a few minutes at a sitting.

In picking up where I left off last year, I resolve to get back on track and be a more consistent blogger. Of course, it’s my own website: I can write as often or as seldom as I want. However, I seem to have gained a new post-surgical perspective on how I spend my time, and I am no longer content to let it slip away.

Citing Sources

To me, one of the best parts of writing is doing research, especially when you’re looking for information on a subject that really interests you.

Recently I wrote an article about the USS Monitor, the famous Union ironclad that fought a historic sea battle with the Confederate ironclad, CSS Virginia, in the Civil War. Fascinating stuff. The information I used came from sources such as military publications and websites, naval archives, private blogs, old newspaper articles and from conversations with museum personnel.

You have probably noticed how often journalists refer to unnamed sources in the columns and articles they put out to the public on a daily basis. These writers tell us all sorts of juicy things but frequently fail to say how they actually came to know about their oh-so-interesting subjects. So, who are their contacts? Who spilled the beans? Very often they don’t name names and we are left wondering whether what they’ve written is just so much fake news.

The thing is, you need to preserve sources for the information you acquire for articles and blogs; first, so you can sift through it again if you need to, and second, so you will be able to tell anyone who asks where you got it. Sometimes publishers ask for your sources, sometimes they don’t. But even if you are just writing an article for your in-house newsletter, someone—possibly your boss—will want to know where you came up with your facts. Take notes, keep links and be prepared to cite your sources. Being able to do this makes you look competent. And smart.

Telescope Words: Just a Fad?

Our language is peppered with “telescope words,” what linguists call “blends.” In essence, this is shorthand for what is normally two or more words. So, what you have, for example, is brunch (breakfast + lunch), or that big-city staple, smog (smoke + fog). On the surface, telescope words might appear to be a relatively modern invention. Fact is, they’ve been around for ages.

Lewis Carroll, the noted author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, referred to blends as “portmanteau words.” In his world, the mid-19th century, a portmanteau was a traveling bag that opened into two compartments. One of the many portmanteau words that Carroll coined is chortle (chuckle + snort).

Going forward, famed 20th-century columnist Walter Winchell could be counted upon for creating new blends, such as cinemactress and guestimate.

Today, telescope words are in constant use, they’re part of our everyday conversation. Think advertorial, camcorder, sitcom and Jazzercise.

Just a fad? Well, faddish, maybe—but the more words we pack into our writing and speaking, the more we find shorthand useful.

Words of all kinds are managed daily at James River Writing. Whether it involves writing, editing or proofreading, we help folks get the word out, including any ingenious telescope combinations they come up with.

New Year’s Resolutions

Since this is the first day of 2018, I thought it would behoove me to write down my New Year’s resolutions as a writer and see how close I can come to transforming thoughts into actions as time goes on.

As I look around my office, I realize that I live in an environment of organized chaos. Stacks of papers are everywhere, along with newspaper clippings and copies of magazines in which my articles have appeared. There are also boxes of files, many of which I no longer need, and on my desk, scraps of paper with notations that need to be consolidated. I do keep client information well organized, but that’s the only positive comment I can make about the state of my office.

So, my first New Year’s resolution is—yep, to become better organized in my work life. That would help not only with the looks of things, but also in terms of my daily production.

And that leads me to my second resolution: At the end of each day, I resolve to make a plan for the next; to write it down and follow it. Next day, I will check off the items as I complete them. Such a satisfying way to get work done.

As people who work with words, I think we all need a certain amount of organization and planning in our lives because, as Strunk and White so aptly put it:

“Writers will often find themselves steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.”

How true.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Developing Editor Relationships

One of the perks of writing for a particular publication is the rapport you develop with an editor. By the time you’ve written a few pieces that have been accepted by this person, the editorial atmosphere becomes more relaxed, more welcoming. Happily, the responses to your queries will probably be more prompt, whereas you often have to twiddle your thumbs and wait anywhere from a few days to a few months to hear from an editor to whom you are an unknown quantity.

Here are a few of the benefits you can look forward to when you nurture your relationship with an editor:

You know what they want

The editor will take the time to tell you, sometimes in detail, what the publication is looking for, so you get a better sense of the kind of slant they want on certain topics. This gives you a leg up; it’s great for developing subject matter for a new article.

Query with confidence

Most writers sweat bullets over query letters, but once you have your foot firmly in the door with a particular publication, you can relax a bit. Your query letters should still contain all the pertinent information, but you can now go lighter on your own credentials—the editor knows what they are—and concentrate on providing clear, concise information about the article or blog you have in mind.

A better payday

Some publications will increase payment when you have written for them before. You have proven your worth as a writer and deserve a better payday for the articles or blogs you produce for them now.

Repeat assignments

Depending on the kind of publication you’re dealing with, the editor may contact you for subsequent assignments. This is a plus in my book. It’s always nice to be sought out because you produce quality work consistently.

And finally…

Some publications are a dream to work with, and that makes developing a good relationship with their editors all the more rewarding.