Sunday, February 20, 2005

Keep 13 In Play

by C. Hope Clark

Keep 13 in Play is my mantra. It serves me well. “Keep 13 in Play” represents my program of keeping at least 13 queries submitted at all times, come rain or shine, sickness or health, youth or age, dinner or no dinner. The system makes me write and keep article ideas distributed so those little checks coming in that put food on the table and the roof over my head.

Why 13? I don't know. Thirteen has never been unlucky for me and I thought it could be a number I'd easily remember. I began 2003 as a newly retired government manager without a goal or a schedule to keep except that which I inflicted upon myself. So I set my first goal by requiring I juggle at least 13 queries or manuscripts at all times. I was naive, new and needed direction. This was simple and easy to remember.

When I reached 13, I could concentrate on other things like a new novel or improved web site. When the number fell due to rejections or acceptances, and hopefully a few checks, the rule was I had to immediately stop and resubmit to rebuild the magical number.

I found one small press needing short ebooks, so I submitted six queries at once. Six tick-marks off of thirteen felt great until I was asked to write all six at the same time. I buckled down and wrote them, but then I was faced with six gaps in my thirteen point plan. I learned from that experience. I learned that diversity keeps a more balanced schedule, and my thirteen now does not repeat editors or publishers if I can help it. I gained six projects, but also gained six gaps in my plan – a total of a dozen obligations all at once! Now I play the field keeping my workload more balanced.

Then I let the program evolve into two-dozen queries to buy myself some serious writing time on a book. By “buying time” with extra queries, I could tackle other projects. I could let the acceptances or rejected trickle in without dropping what I was doing to reach 13 again. The system had turned into a time management tool that not only controlled my writing efforts, but my income as well.

But the best lesson I learned is that the frequent writing slowly improved my writing quality one article at a time. The more I wrote, the better I liked my work. The requirement to maintain a number was a requirement to write almost daily to honor the goal.

Initially I posted a sign across my monitor saying “Keep 13 in play, what’s your story today?” Today, I have no 13, no posted sign, and no notes telling me to write. Instead, I have a three-sheet spreadsheet system that follows my submissions by date, publisher and article. I no longer need a visual to know that 13 forever hangs over my head.

What started out as a New Year’s Resolution to write over a dozen articles, has turned into a habit carved in stone. As an acceptance or a rejection comes in, I adjust the spreadsheet watching the tally go up and down, but never down to 13. My muse just will not accept dipping down to that old goal number.

The system works for me, and those that I advise have told me it works for them as well. Find a number that attracts your attention. If ten is easier to remember, use it. If you are quite the prolific writer, use twenty. Pick your birthday or anniversary date, but pick a number and send enough queries out there to keep you busy. I'll bet you a month's freelance wages that your income will improve.

Stop what you're doing right now. Pick a number between ten and twenty, and type this out in big bold letters...KEEP 13 (or whatever) IN PLAY...WHAT'S YOUR STORY TODAY? Print it out and tape it to your computer. Make yourself look at it each and every day. Follow it for six months then tell me how it worked for you. If I don't get a handful of success stories from this lesson, I'll eat my keyboard, because it’s a sure winner for me!

C. Hope Clark is founder of and author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success. /

Copyright 2005 C. Hope Clark /