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Six Tips for Choosing Assignments Wisely

Photo by -Reji [1]
Photo by -Reji

Today, we’re excited to have Jennifer Haupt [2] join us. She contributes to a wide variety of magazines, and also hosts the Psychology Today blog, One True Thing, an online salon of interviews with best-selling authors and essays about the moments that matter most. Her first foray into e-publishing, “Will you be my mother? The Quest to Answer Yes,” includes three personal stories, one of which began as an essay that sat at a widely read magazine for three years before it was, ultimately, killed. Now she’s using that essay to raise money for a worthy cause. All author profits from her e-book during May 2014 will be donated to mothers2mothers, a nonprofit working to stop the legacy of AIDS in Africa.

Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, has this to say about Jennifer’s work:

Jennifer Haupt writes poignantly about the connections and missed connections between mothers and daughters—the love, the silence, the longing. With eloquence and grace, she shares a series of stories that reveal how our first relationship imprints and influences us forever.

Follow Jennifer on her blog [3]Facebook [4], or Twitter [5].

Six Tips for Choosing Assignments Wisely: It’s Not  Just About the Money

During the past 25 years I have cranked out brochures about widgets and portals, gone to Haiti and Africa on assignment, spent eight years and counting on a novel that may never be published, been pulled over for speeding while cursing out O, The Oprah Magazine for killing my Haiti story, sold book proposals and buried a few in the bottom desk drawer marked “graveyard”…

Well, you get the picture. (And, may I add, not always a pretty one. Sorry, Oprah!)

Every one of these projects has been, if not strategic, at least a part of some broader plan.

Marketing writing during Seattle’s tech boom in the late 90s helped to fund my trip to Rwanda, where I found the bones of my novel. Writing fiction has made me a more skilled and creative nonfiction writer. The Haiti story that never made it into O, The Oprah Magazine because there was no happy ending has served as a piece of a larger creative nonfiction book project.

Not that I consciously mapped out that plan in advance—let’s be clear about that. But in retrospect, I can see that all of the pieces of my writing life do add up. So how do you create a strategy for a writing life that is both creatively and financially successful? Here are 6 tips I’ve gleaned over the years:

1. Do what you love. Now. Devote some time every day—even if it’s only 15 minutes— to that novel you’ve always wanted to start, or that query to The Atlantic that seems like a long shot. The daily devotion is a show of faith, and over the days and weeks, you may be surprised by what actually evolves on the page.

2. Look at the big picture. It’s not just about the money (now hear me out!). It’s about how a book project, magazine assignment, or a trip where you may not even find a story to sell fits into your total vision of your writing life.

3. Diversify. If you “only” write short stories, try a personal essay—there are lots of blogs looking for content. And, if your forte is nonfiction, try taking a personal experience and blowing it out into fiction.

4. Invest in yourself. There are so many venues for expanding your craft: workshops at places like Grub Street in Boston or Hugo House in Seattle, auditing a class at your local college, or contacting a writer you admire for some one-on-one mentoring. (Even if they say no, it’s a compliment to be asked!)

5. Go ahead, take a risk! So many talented writers I’ve interviewed for my blog—both fiction and nonfiction—have confessed that every single time they sit down to a new project, they are petrified that they will fail. This may sound cliché, but it’s true: You cannot win if you do not play. (I have this taped to top of my computer screen.)

6. Be patient with yourself. Funny thing about that creative nonfiction book proposal I’m now working on (and loving): I found the bones of it in the bottom-drawer graveyard. I just needed to do some more living—and writing—to bring it to life. Sometimes, it’s the simmering that makes a story denser and richer. The success sweeter.

What are your strategies for finding a creative and monetary balance in your writing life?