5 Powerful Non-Writing Activities
On Monday, I introduced the idea of re-launching your business, including new ways to bring in clients and take your business to the next level.
Yesterday, we talked about three simple things you can do to get started by shifting your reinvention into high gear.
Today, we're going to take a brief respite from writing.
Instead, let me suggest five things you can do when you're away from your work that will have a powerful, synergistic effect on your writing, your freelance business, and your life.
They don't require any money, special knowledge, or resources. Just brain power and the discipline to use it actively.
I'm not talking about watching TV or movies. I mean observing people and taking mental notes. I observe people shopping, ordering food, working on their laptops, and exercising at the gym. It's amazing what you can learn about people just by watching.
Writing application: Any copywriting project involves writing to your ideal prospect. Instead of imagining him, seek him out! Writing for a fitness product geared toward 65-year-old men? Go to the gym at 1:30 PM on Tuesday and watch Carl work out. Find out how long he stays, if he looks like he's enjoying it or not, and how exhausted he appears afterward. You can pick up a lot of clues that give you a better picture of who your prospect is.
This takes the watching suggestion one step further. Start eavesdropping on people. (Not too hard these days as people have private cell phone conversations in public all the time.) Coffee shops are great for this or bars at happy hour. Student unions if you live in a college town. Women already know that the beauty salon is the best place for listening to conversation, right?
Writing application: Listening to conversations can almost take the place of a focus group. If you need to understand what 40-year-old mothers with kids think about, go to where they congregate (a soccer field on a Saturday morning?). I'm listening for talk about their hopes, their fears, their frustrations. When I had a project for a long-term care insurance company, I hung out at a coffee shop where old ladies drank coffee while they knitted. I heard all kinds of stories about their friends in assisted living and nursing homes, and had everything I needed to write the package. My own focus group, and I didn't have to recruit them or pay them!
Keep up in your niche, of course. But try to read outside of your normal areas of interest and outside of your specialty, too. Sometimes getting the opposite viewpoint is helpful. If you're liberal, read The Wall Street Journal. If you're conservative, read The New York Times. (Great writing in both, I might add.) I'm a big fan of Vanity Fair, USA Today, TheAtlantic.com, and Salon.com for getting insight on the overall psyche of Americans.
Writing application: As author Stephen King says in his book On Writing, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." I agree. The real value of reading a lot is it helps you get a sense of style, rhythm, tone, and what works and what doesn't. The best writers I know are also avid readers.
A favorite essay of mine from The Daily Reckoning investment newsletter highlighted the habits of wealthy people, including Warren Buffett. He said he spends at least six hours a day reading (supporting point #3 above), and an hour or two a day talking to people who know what he'd like to know. After reading and talking on the phone? " … and then the rest of the time," said Buffett, "I think."
Writing application: This one is easy. You need serious thinking time if you're going to generate good ideas for your writing. I find it easiest to think when I'm not distracted with the Internet, iPod, cell phone, TV, or radio noise. Try unplugging for best results. I find quiet spots like the public library or Barnes & Noble are perfect. I think being surrounded by books helps, even if I'm not reading them!
Now, I know I said today was a break from writing, but if you want to maximize these non-writing ideas, I'd strongly recommend keeping a journal of some sort with you whenever you're watching, listening, reading, or thinking.
There you go. Four powerful non-writing activities. What's the fifth? Well, this one turns ideas into profits. You'll have to read my article "Seize (and Profit from) Your Cubic Centimeter of Chance" to get the scoop.
Do you have a favorite activity for boosting your writing chops that I missed? I'm always looking to apply new ideas that will help me enjoy the writer's life even further. Let me know by posting a comment below.
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