How to Manage Creative People: Part One

As writers, we have a unique perspective into creativity because we have to filter our inspiration through a funnel to write and organize words in order to convey a message. Because of the nature of writing, many writers run the gamut between “out there” creative or scientifically rational. The difference, of course, is not necessarily in the output or written work, but in how the writer “thinks.”

Whether you’re a creative writer or have a comfort zone writing computer manuals, different types of writers require different types of management – both on the job or through leadership on any project. I’d like to share with you some of the techniques I’ve experienced in my career that work, as well as some of the ways I’ve shaped projects with other creative writers to achieve great goals.

    Funnel creative energy instead of trying to stop or control it Creative professionals can continue working, shaping, and brainstorming on projects for hours or days at a time. Instead of stopping the creative flow of energy, allow for bursts of group creativity within a controlled setting like a meeting or an online group discussion. To get more out of these meetings, mention what the topic of discussion is and request that people bring their brainstorming ideas with them. This way, creatives and non-creatives alike will have a chance to do a little bit of brainstorming off-line in the way that is the most comfortable for them and will allow and encourage your team members to keep producing.

    Know what you want before you set expectations and goals There is nothing more confusing than not understanding when a project ends or what the goal of the project is. From deadlines to color schemes, by knowing what you want you will prevent the angst and heartache that will turn any employee or freelancer “off” from working with you. If you aren’t sure about the “end goal,” or if there will be last-minute changes due to licensing, budget, or third parties, try to communicate that up front as much as possible to your team. It is much easier to give leeway to a manager, to support them, if information like this is shared – provided it doesn’t interfere with company policy. Remember that anything that may interfere with payment, rights, or other things that can potentially damage a writer’s reputation and career should be disclosed up front. If not, you are literally courting disaster.

    Only have one person responsible for one piece at one time If you think about what writing is, it’s actually one of the last “true” crafts. Writers write to “produce” a project like many other artisans, and editors help to shape those projects. In order to effectively manage multiple persons on a creative project, assign mini-projects to your team in order to create a sense of ownership for that phase. Then, when that part is completed, you can then keep the flow of work moving to other folk. In this way, you can easily identify who is running behind, who can handle more work, etc. Otherwise, it’s just one big massive mess of work that will be hell for an editor to figure out and “fix.”

In part two of this article, I will cover more tips for managers and team leaders so you can read about some other ways to manage creative professionals.

Setting More Achievable Writing Goals

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy setting goals for what you want to get out of your career. From writing short stories to novels or non-fiction articles, if you’re passionate about freelancing you’re pretty aware of what you enjoy writing and what market you may have the best chance of breaking into.

Like a lot of different mediums, writing really has an ebb and flow to it. Some months you’ll write a slew of words – others you’ll barely get one page written. Every time you put down your pen or close your laptop, you’ll have to reassess your goals at some point, which can be pretty daunting if you feel you haven’t measured up to your own expectations.

When you’re setting goals, the sky is usually the limit because you’re not necessarily thinking about the time required to complete said goal, you’re simply excited about the possibility for your future success.

So set them. Write down everything you want to accomplish, from hitting the best-seller’s list to working for a top ad agency. Then, calculate the time required to achieve your overall goal. Can’t fathom it? Here’s where the goal-setting gets really interesting. Now, you can take your major goal (aka writing a best-selling novel) and break it out into what I call “mini-goals” or “mini-tasks.” Calculate the time required for these smaller steps by setting limits for your networking and being realistic about how fast your write and when.

Next, you’ll want to have your planner handy. Mentally schedule the hours for your tasks by week and by month. Make sure you leave yourself some wiggle room (i.e. “worse-case scenario” show-stoppers) so you can be more flexible. If you find you can’t achieve every goal, prioritize them in order of importance and map out how long it will take you to get there.

Remember, if you do one thing for yourself or your career every day (email counts!) you can achieve your goals!

On Writing by Stephen King

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing.

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Now available in paperback.

How Writers Can Help Themselves this Holiday Season

During this time of year you’re probably busy with family and friends, celebrating the holidays. With merriment and socializing, however, also comes stress as you wistfully look at your laptop and wonder, “When am I going to get back to writing?”

My approach is to stop fighting the holidays, embrace them, and take an hour here or there to do other (“business-related”) things in order to boost my career. Let’s look at other ideas for how you can spend a free hour of your time to help your freelancing career.

  • Get a Grip on your Finances It’s way too easy to lose track of your accounts during the holidays, because celebrations and gift-giving can be expensive. Take the time now, to prepare yourself for the New Year, by sitting down and figuring out expenses, deposits, and your assets. Tax season isn’t that far off.
  • Do a Year-in-Review Grab a small notebook to take with you wherever you go. When you’re waiting in line at the checkout or patiently trying to get a table, whip out a pen and start writing about your major accomplishments and disappointments this year. After you’ve finished, post your notes on your fridge to help you get a realistic look on where you are as a writer.
  • Make a 2008 Wish List Like any other company or business, you’ll want to set goals for yourself in 2008, but before you can do that — you’ll have to get an idea of what you want. Maybe those goals are related to word count or types of publications you’re targeting; maybe you’re planning a vacation or taking a seminar. Gather your thoughts together on slips of paper, an outline, or your organizer to assist your goal planning.
  • Utilize Old Business Cards This activity can be a lot of fun; take a peek at some of the online social networks like LinkedIn or Writer’s Net. Then, see if you can’t locate some of the people you’ve collected business cards with the last year. For about twenty minutes a day, you can reconnect with people and increase your network.
  • Give, Give, Give Hopefully, the holidays are a time of light and laughter for you. But if they’re not, and you’re afraid you’re going to fall into writer’s depression, then you’re in a very tough spot. The holidays are challenging, especially for creative people, because there is a lot of emphasis placed on the “ideal” version of what these festivities are “supposed” to be about. In reality, the world can be cruel.So what can you do to avoid falling into a self-deprecating trap? Give. No, the gift does not have to be financial or even grandiose, by doing little things for other people over the course of the next, few weeks you can get back in touch. If sentiment is not your cup of tea, then think about it like “reaching out to your readers.”

    Since time is an issue for all of us, here are a few “giving” ideas you can do that will take you less than half an hour:

    • Hold the door open for someone else
    • Let someone skip you in line
    • Visit The Hunger Site
    • Don’t fight over the “perfect” gift
    • Listen to someone else’s woes or stories
    • Visit Do One Nice Thing
    • Do something for someone you don’t necessarily care for
    • Give yourself an hour of free time
    • Mentor an inexperienced author

    Amid the glitter, baubles and glitz the holidays can be frustrating for everyone so don’t be disappointed if your actions go unnoticed. After all, the “gift is in the giving.”

So there you have it. A few things you can do to wrap up another year of joy and sadness. I hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday break, and that all of your words be meaningful (and profitable).

The Writer’s Conundrum

As a writer, you often have to be a chameleon, in order to prove your ability to write for a particular topic or that you have “specialized” in a genre, discipline, or market. Writers know that if you write about widgets, you can probably also write about lipstick, simply because you’ve spent the time to hone your craft or, in other words, the ability to put words together in an appealing and grammatically-correct manner on the page in order to convey a message or a call to action.

Unfortunately, most non-writers do not view authors, novelists, copywriters, or journalists as having the “same” expertise — even though in many cases I’ve known several writers who could spin a press release, write a product review, and write short fiction exceedingly well. Now, that is not to say that every writer understands the different types of copy; that level of understanding is not limited by a writer’s ability to write, however, but by his (or her) ability to correctly read the market that they are writing for.

The writer’s conundrum is my way of describing the challenge every writer faces when trying to find work. Simply, it is the question of whether or not a writer should “specialize” in a particular topic in order to achieve “expert” status. Do so, and you limit your ability to find work in other areas. Don’t, and you run the risk of not being able to find work at all.

Personally, I don’t think that puzzle will ever be one hundred percent resolved — for any writer, including myself. Many writers follow the work, weathering the massive changes that have taken place within the publishing industry. Others complain that specialization is often hard to accomplish when many businesses won’t recognize their value as a writer, often lumping together several responsibilities into one, underpaid position. (Take a look at the classified ads; you’ll often find that writers exist within hybrid positions related to everything from marketing to financial analysis.)

So what is the solution to your writer’s conundrum? I don’t think there is “one solution,” because it depends upon what kind of career you want and what you are willing to put up with. What market you may want to write for now may change in six months, because business is that volatile. On the other hand, if your love is writing novels and you do publish a few, then you also need to consider what happens if your novels don’t sell. One example of a writer who had to switch genres in order to keep up with the market is Laurell K Hamilton, who was interviewed on Flames Rising.

For me, having flexible goals is a “must,” because in this day and age, writers have to be. No one will ever treat writers, as a group or as individuals, the same way. Instead, it is up to us to steer others’ perceptions of us (and our work) one way or the other. As frustrating as this is, only the “mutable” will survive, especially when there is so much controversy over “how” we should earn our qualifications, “what” we should get paid, and “when” we should be respected as professionals.

Although I’ve started off talking about the fundamental problem that writers often face, if you have kudos or accomplishments as an author, feel free to post them here in the comments or shoot me an email. I hope that I will never turn a blind eye to other writers; may all of your assignments be fulfilled, and may all of your endeavors be successful.

After all, if we don’t support one another, who will?

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