Friday, September 4, 2009

Sometimes you have to slow it down

I'm a list person. I start each morning by jotting down the writing tasks I want to accomplish during the day. And because I get up at 5 a.m. most mornings -- Thanks, 2-year-old son! -- I have a lot of time to think about those things on my list.

Not only am I a list person, I'm also someone who really enjoys checking items off a list. It gives me great satisfaction to cross something off as done.

Problem is, sometimes I want to get things off my list -- which on some days stretches to nearly 30 items -- so badly, I'll half-ass some of my projects.

I'm beginning to wonder if this is showing. It's one thing to half-ass my content-writing duties. Even at 50-percent effort, I can still string together coherent sentences into coherent paragraphs. My content-writing clients still love me, as long as I turn my stuff in on time. Of course, sometimes I wonder if my content publishers even read what I send them before they slap the content on the Web.

But when it comes to pitching ideas to print-magazine clients, or when it's time to actually write a story for a newspaper or trade magazine, I have to force myself to slow down. Otherwise, the results are horrible.

This week, I wanted to pitch some real estate story ideas to the Washington Post. I'm working with a new editor at the paper -- the one I'd worked with for more then seven years retired from the paper earlier this year, and is now traveling around the world -- and am still working on establishing a good rapport with her. So instead of rushing through this item on my work checklist, I took a deep breath and ... it was painful, but necessary -- worked slowly.

I thought carefully about the real estate stories that the Post had run recently. I didn't want to duplicate them. I also considered what I could realistically cover for them; I don't live in the D.C. area, after all. It doesn't pay to shoot too high and then not be able to find all those "real people" sources the Post needs.

In all, it took me about an hour to come up with three good ideas, write coherent paragraphs pitching each one and send it to my editor. Normally, I'd try to do this job in about 20 minutes.

Fortunately, my slow-and-steady pace paid off. The editor accepted one of my ideas. I now have a new $500 assignment to show for my willingness to slow down.

It's easy to get overwhelmed with tasks that need to be completed, especially when you're working for yourself. But don't forget to slow down once in a while. There are certain projects you have to give 100-percent effort to.

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