While we’re in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, and soon to be opening our crisp new 2013 calendars, let’s begin writing on those calendars early by penciling in 12 Days of Cogitation.
Unlike the twelve days of Christmas, the 12 days of cogitation will not be consecutive. Instead, you will get to choose one day each month for your 12 days – which is why I suggest using pencil. Time has a way of rearranging the best laid plans, and the exact date you choose for this cogitating each month may at times need to be rescheduled. (Also a good reason to use a digital calendar, where changing dates should be even easier.)
And why are we doing this?
Because stimulating our brain cells once a month by thinking, brainstorming, planning, cogitating, mind mapping – whatever you prefer to call it – will provide positive payoffs:
- You should uncover some “between jobs” income to smooth out the feast or famine aspects of freelance income.
- You will re-energize any sagging “funks” that normally occur periodically throughout the year.
- You will generate new ideas that you can explore, test, perhaps even profit from.
- You will be inspired to climb out of any rut your articles, blog posts, or promotions fall into.
- When “best-laid plans” syndrome stalls your annual goals, you will discover brighter paths to explore.
Let’s get started . . .
Open up your new calendar. Go through it and schedule one day each month for “Cogitation.” You need to select days where you can reasonably expect to have a minimum of 90 minutes available. If possible, you’ll want to schedule two 90-minute periods during that day; but 90 minutes can work if your mind doesn’t wander to other things. And, yes, these days are flexible; you can move them around during the month when “other stuff” intrudes.
I like to use a red pen or red dots for deadlines, critical appointments, and such; you might consider this exciting power color for your cogitation dates. Or, if you have some meaningful color or icon to make special items stand out, use that.
Then on your appointed day each month, think about and follow through on the following:
A good month for testing the market –
- If you have a freelance editorial business to promote, use the time to list all the ways of finding and reaching new clients. Start with the usual: start an email newsletter, set up a simple one- to three-page website for your book editing services (or whatever you do best), LinkedIn groups, direct mail flyers, networking at business meetings. Then move on to Google for lists of ideas (such as “101 Ideas to Get More Freelance Work and Generate New Client Leads”).
- When you have a nice long list, select one marketing idea that you’ve never tried before – one way to reach clients that you feel you can actually do, one way that generates a bit of excitement – a “hey, that just might work” feeling.
- Test that new way of getting business – list the steps and schedule them over the following days or several weeks – to see if it is effective for you. If it is, increase your efforts. If it isn’t, try something else on the list.
(And if you are not a writer or editor or cover designer, this will be worth doing for any business that needs clients.)
Enter a writing contest – especially if you don’t usually enter contests. And if you do regularly enter contests, try something new. If you usually send in nonfiction, enter a poem; if you always enter poetry contests, try entering a short story competition. The idea is to challenge your brain cells. The writing exercise itself will be beneficial. But if you actually place – even as a runner-up – you may have discovered another “natural” writing field!
Writing contests are listed in many sources; searching for “writing contests” in Google or Amazon will yield hundreds. You might also check our Contests Listings page at , which is updated several times a week.
And a shameless plug for own Writers-Editors Network Annual Writing Competition.
Creating e-books and e-booklets – With all the free services, free product creation tools, and capabilities of current software suites, such as Word and WordPerfect (not to mention the reasonably priced services and tools), creating tip sheets, tips booklets, articles, even full-length books in PDF, Kindle, and other e-formats is now not only feasible but a no-brainer.
The brain work this month is to explore all the possibilities, select one, and get started.
Skim though all your published material and your accumulated research to come up with new ways to re-purpose what you already have in your files. Look at it in two contexts – what can you use to offer free to promote your books or your services; what can you use to sell on Amazon (or other sites) or from your website or blog.
Think about tips sheets (10 ways to …; 20 secret …) – especially good for promotion; tips booklets (50 tips for …) – useful for either promotion or selling. E-books are better digested small, according to studies, so all those travel articles may have provided you the information you need for short e-books on tips for traveling with young children, or vacation spots offering walking tours.
So go through those files – list all the possible topics for new e-booklets and e-books. Select one and schedule in time for writing/editing the content, then for putting it into an e-format, then how best to offer it as a bonus or to offer it for sale.
Mine your content – an extension of March’s e-booklets – this time you’ll think not just about making a new e-version of your content, but more about how you can extend that content by adding more to it, attacking from a different angle, or simply explaining it further.
Go back through your articles, blog posts, book chapters, booklets, whatever you have produced. Think of how you can extend each one. For example, if you wrote an article for mothers, can you now adapt it to the same topic for fathers. Do you have a series of articles that form the foundation for a book? Does your “10 tips” article or blog post now warrant more in-depth treatment – perhaps as a white paper or booklet. Are there pieces in several different places that could be used as a starting place for a totally new article or book?
Make your list as you go through your content. Select one and run with it.
Study something new – perhaps a new field (SEO copywriting, video script writing, children’s writing, white papers) – perhaps a new subject area (family health, an area of history, digital devices, dog training).
Brainstorm what’s happening or being talked about and also piques your curiosity. List several things you’s like to know more about.
For at least a month, start your day with 30 minutes of reading articles, blog posts, sample chapters from books on Amazon on that “new something.” By the end of the month, you’ll know if this is indeed a field you want to get into or a subject you want to get serious about.
Tackle an admin “need-to-do” – hey, we can’t spend all our time on the fun stuff. We do need to clean out or verify those files (paper or computer) periodically – even if only to keep the clutter to manageable levels.
So this month’s cogitation is about what needs to be weeded out – or updated. Think about your files and your computer programs. What’s been nagging at you – “I ought to clean out that computer folder – or that file drawer. Or how long has it been since you checked to see if all those little programs and apps are up-to-date – or even still of use to you?
Make a list of what needs to be cleaned out or updated, then pick one and schedule it to be worked on every week through the end of the year. One neat thing about A-Z folders is that you can do one folder a week for the second half of the year – 26 letters; 26 weeks.
I’ll use one of my admin clean-out “projects” as an example to get you started –
I save all those PDF books, mp3 files and videos that offer tips and advice on writing, publishing, blogging, etc. to an e-book folder. Over the years, it has grown to hundreds of files – some of which are no longer worth keeping, simply because technology has made them obsolete. Others need to be grouped together into new subject sub-folders. So each week I set aside a half hour or so to quickly open the “A” files (for example), determine if it’s still worth keeping, and if so, whether it can stay put or should be moved to a sub-folder and whether it needs renaming. Actually, this one needs 27 weeks, so I can start a week early and do those files that begin with a number. Within half a year, with little fuss, a large unwieldy folder gets organized and is now actually usable.
Spin off your material into additional articles.
List the topics you are currently researching and writing about (e.g., poisonous plants, driving safely, saving time, investing, making extra money, weekend family trips, using e-readers). Select one topic that would have appeal or value to multiple groups of people (e.g., parents, grandparents, truckers, salesmen, teachers, clergymen, small business owners).
In the front of Writer’s Market, you will find a list of various market categories. If you don’t have a copy handy, you can go to Amazon and use the “Click to Look Inside” feature, then go to “Table of Contents” and scroll down to the Consumer Magazines and Trade Journals listings.
Take your basic idea or topic, and run through all these categories, asking yourself, “Will this group of magazines (readers) be interested in my idea, and if they would, what angle or slant would they like most?”
You should be able to come up with at least three categories; most ideas will have 8 to 15 possible slants or spokes (as some writers call them) or spin-offs.
List those categories that might possibly be markets – along with the possible slant for each category.
Read through magazines listed in each category, noting each one that might like something on the idea. Position according to likelihood of using your article specifically (or freelance material generally), amount of payment, whether paying on acceptance or publication, and any other information that you use to prioritize markets.
(Note: This is excerpted from 10 Keys to Selling Magazine and Web Articles, which expands upon this strategy.)
Let’s cogitate about some book ideas – It’s always good to be “working on” a book. Even if you don’t complete it, the research and writing you do can lead to articles, blog posts, booklets, and more.
Use these sources of inspiration to compile a list of potential books you would consider writing:
- your past job experience
- courses you have taught
- courses you have taken
- your life experiences
- complicated processes that you understand and can explain
- your hobbies
- related questions you continually see on groups (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook) that you can answer
- stuff you’re interested in (golf, fishing, quilting, camping, cooking)
From your list, select one subject you can get excited about – the additional research, the writing – and set aside 90 minutes on one day each week to work on it. (Only 90 minutes a week? Yes. This is a back-burner “fun” project. It will be a reward – something to look forward to that will very likely yield benefits beyond inspiration and motivation.)
Let’s cogitate some more on how to get extra mileage out of the content we already have.
Go through your prior articles, blog posts, research files and list potential “new” articles that follow the popular “Things You Must Do” and “Things To Avoid” templates:
- “9 Things You Must Do Before You ….”
- “21 Ways to Avoid …. when You …”
If you’d like to look at actual templates for this type of article, visit here.
Book promotion brainstorming –
If you have a book to promote, take an hour or so to list all the ways and places to let potential readers know about your book. Start with the usual: Tweeting, Facebook, local book stores, emailing everyone in your address book, commenting on LinkedIn and Yahoo groups reaching your target readers. Move on to Google or another search engine for lists of book marketing ideas (such as “89 Book Marketing Ideas that Will Change Your Life”).
When you have a nice long list – at least 50 potentially viable ideas, select one promotion idea that you’ve never tried before – one way to reach readers that you feel you can – and will – do.
Test that new way of promoting your book – list the steps and schedule them over the following days or several weeks – to see if it is effective for you. If it is, increase your efforts. If it isn’t, try something else on the list.
(If you do not have a book to promote, but do have a blog that needs more traffic or a longer mailing list, use the same process for ways to promote your blog.)
Brainstorm perennials in your areas of expertise.
Perennials, commonly referred to as “evergreens,” are articles (or blog posts) that do not go out of date. With little or no updating, they read as true today as they did five years ago. Because they are not sensitive to time, you can sell them forever; some evergreens have been reprinted dozens of times – think of those holiday and seasonal pieces that reappear year after year. That article you wrote on organizing a kitchen or a workbench several years ago can be just as helpful this month, next year, and the year after – as long as you don’t mention specific technology or products.
Go through your files and
- list any evergreen material that’s ready to send out as is;
- list any articles that need slight fixing, such as removal of time-sensitive references;
- list any potential new evergreen products you could produce with minimal work, based on information already in your files.
From those lists, select one “evergreen” to make ready and market each month of the coming year.
Analyze this year’s results so as to better cogitate about what to do next year.
List each freelance sale this past year according to type of material (e.g., travel, technology, business, home & garden, health).
Then compare the number of ideas queried in each field, and the number of go-aheads or assignments in each field. Next, compare the number of manuscripts submitted in each field, plus the number of sales in each field.
By comparing ratios, it may be apparent where your natural “market” is. Look for the field where you needed the fewest number of queries emailed to receive the most go-aheads, as well as the highest manuscript submission to manuscript sale ratio. If one or possibly two fields are obviously most effective for you, concentrate your research and marketing efforts in that field (or fields) this coming year.
(That doesn’t mean you don’t write in other fields – only that you invest 80 percent of your efforts in the field(s) most productive for you.
Also (or instead if more applicable), list each freelance job according to type of work (e.g., editing, copywriting, white paper, newsletter, publishing services).
If one or two stand out as more natural fits for you, concentrate in that area this coming year.
If you kept a record of how you obtained each client (always a good idea), note which marketing efforts yielded the most work so you can emphasize it this coming year.
Which of these months will you look forward to the most? If you schedule any similar thinking sessions, can you share with us your brainstorming strategies?
Image by HarshLight