What made you the free-lance writing maven you are today?
Well, I don't know that I'm a maven, but I have established a successful career. I think part of it is that I always set specific goals that kept me on track, and that I've tried to adapt my business to both the current economy/markets and my own interests. I don't think any writer can do the same thing over and over without burning out.
You seem like a writer who's got it all together. Were there some early career mistakes you don't mind sharing?
I focused on selling one idea at a time instead of developing steady clients, and I focused too much on simply making money rather than the "big picture." You can do both!
We wish we could listen in on your talks about Time Management. How do you balance the work of writing, with that of selling what you write-and still maintain a personal life?
Well, I protect my writing time. For example, I'm answering these questions in the evening, after dinner, while we're watching an episode of The Simpsons. I have a sitter who comes to my house 10-15 hours/week and that's when I write and conduct interviews; things like research, email, etc I save for "off-time" such as in the evening, etc. I also prioritize my day and focus on the things that must be done that day, and go from there.
Writers are notoriously sedentary. What's the top priority for the deadline-pressed writer to work toward a more healthy lifestyle?
Take a break at least once an hour and get up from your computer. I never sit in one position for longer than 45 minutes or so, and I build a lot of activity into my day. Personally, I just don't feel good if I don't work out, so I run or lift weights first thing in the morning or over lunch. I feel it makes me much more productive and less stressed.
In addition to your health & writing non-fiction specialties, you also have some novels out. Which do you find more fulfilling-or do these different types of writing complement each other?
For personal fulfillment, nothing beats fiction or essays for me. But I do fiction for fun--my bread and butter is nonfiction writing. I still do some magazine writing in addition to writing books, and I also ghostwrite and collaborate on book-length projects.
What does it mean to be a Contributing Editor at The Writer Magazine?
It just means that I'm a regular freelancer for the publication; I've been writing for The Writer for years.
In your recent article about writing goals (The Writer, December 2009), you gave a simple mnemonic for making an achievable goal-could you re-cap for those who may not have seen it?
I'm not sure who originated the acronym but it's SMART:
Each goal should be:
- Specific. Don't just say you want to write "for magazines"; pick three that you'll go after. If you're writing to make money, set a specific financial goal.
- Measurable. Will you track your progress by the number of words you produce, the number of articles you sell, or the number of editors you approach with your work? Quantify your goal so you can measure it-otherwise, how will you know whether you're making progress?
- Attainable. You're a talented poet? Great. But if you know little about science and care less, you're not likely to write for Discover or Scientific American, no matter how polished your prose.
- Realistic. The more time (and energy) you have available to write, the more ambitious your goals can be. Unfortunately, most people get carried away and set goals that are all but impossible to achieve-and then get discouraged when they fail. A small "I-can-do-this" goal" is a better approach.
- Time-based. How often will you write? For how long? Give yourself time goals and deadlines, even before you work for a publisher or client.
Do you have any goal-setting advice for mid-career authors who may be between contracts and are looking to make a change?
I think it's a good idea to think five and ten years' from now. For example, I knew that I didn't want to churn out magazine articles forever, so I started writing books as well. Now, it's more difficult to sell a book unless you have an established platform, so I've focused more of my business on ghostwriting and collaborating on books as well. But I think every writer has different priorities and different goals, so I suggest imagining your "dream life" as a writer and then figuring out some steps to help you get there.
What are some of the pitfalls of resolutions or goal setting?
Honestly I don't think there are any. I think most people think about setting goals but don't actually sit down and figure out what they are, write them down, and track their progress. That's why people don't achieve them--they don't commit to them.
What are some of your goals for 2010?
Good question! I want to write at least three books (including ghostwriting and collaborating) in 2010 and continue to build my ghosting/collaborating business...while working 15 hours or less a week. I have a four-year-old so I choose to work part-time while he's little.
Find out more about Kelly James-Enger on her website: www.becomebodywise.com. She's the author of books such as Ready, Aim, Specialize!: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money! (Marion Street Press, 2008) and two chick lit novels: White Bikini Panties and Did you Get the Vibe? (Strapless/Kensington, 2004 and 2003).
Thanks to Elaine Isaak for the fabulous questions!