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Major Keys to Freelance Writing Success

A side-effect of ghost- and contract-writing for companies that are way hipper than I am is spending a lot of time on social media and hearing from a lot of social media experts.

Despite my best efforts to glide off raw, natural talent, I have to adapt to their voices and trends and jargon and metrics and whatnot.

I mean, srsly, we all know that if I wrote from the heart every post for every client would be like 8,000 words long and wandering and full of references to goodness knows what. Yet somehow I keep getting work, so I must be doing something right.

As I take a break between some contract writing assignments today, as I reflect on this side-career, I feel like I’ve really landed on some secrets to success in this field. And if there’s one thing experts like to write about, it’s how to be good at things!

Without further ado, then, here are my keys to success (if measuring by my life, which I absolutely don’t recommend as #goals-worthy):

Silence is the enemy, or, Background Noise is your muse.

Options include:

  • Music (preferably Black Keys or Disney Soundtracks)
  • Period Pieces on Netflix (Jane Eyre, Mansfield Park, etc.)
  • Coffee shop chatter. This one is the worst, obv, but it’ll do.

Fill your mind with inspiring things.

Recommendations, by medium:

  • TV: Gilmore Girls, Frasier, New Girl, X-Files
  • Movies: Anything made out of a book by Austen, Tolstoy, or some other dead classic writer. Also things starring Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, etc.
  • Books: Lewis, Rowling, also anything by a dead classic author. They’re so good.
  • Radio: Classic hip-hop, alternative, or top 40 sometimes, you know, when it’s like Adele or whatever. NOT country, though. No.
  • Internet: Buzzfeed, but only the quizzes (v insightful), social media BUT only read Twitter, the rest is just for pretty pictures, amirite?

Caffeine

All of it.

Exercise

Or a lot of candy. Maybe both. Probably both.

Own a puppy

Plz note: not conducive to productivity, but v helpful to combat the sometimes soul-killing aspects of content writing.

Hopefully this list has inspired all of you aspiring freelance writers greatly. Or at the very least, deterred some future competition away!

PS… I’m putting together a curriculum with some ACTUAL, practical tips for freelancing and contract writing. Stay tuned!

Parent Teacher Conference Data

25 conferences in

4 hours plus
1 IEP meeting plus

1 impromptu
1-on-1 work session to catch
1 student up (which we did!)
5 more conferences in
30 quick minutes before
30 quick minutes of snack/water/caffeine/bathroom break then
1 student and her
1 mom waiting
0 energy left but
“You’re the famous Mrs. House! Well, famous House in our house. Every day I hear more about you. You’re the reason Maddy wants to be an English teacher! And the reason I think she can do it!” And there’s
1 more reason that adds to
1 promising meeting that adds to
1 student willing to work in the middle of a conference-filled lunchroom that adds to
86 more reasons to keep putting forth
all of the effort for
each and every of my
89 students.

Here I Am

Do you ever post things online without really thinking about the reaction they’ll get?

Rhetorical question, really. We all do that.

It’s no secret that I go back and forth on how much I share, how much I save for in-person moments. I shared something yesterday morning in one of my “fits of overflow;” when I learn something so important that I feel I must share it.

Screenshot 2016-01-27 at 10.06.52 AM

And then I felt weird about it. I felt awkward that I didn’t write the perfect words to accompany it. That I described a Bible-in-one-year plan as some novel concept, when *scoff, scoff* as a preacher’s kid I know all the ways to read that book, and I’ve read it all before, and so on and so forth. I felt like I was showing too much yet not showing enough and it was uncomfortable.

Yet, in spite of that…In spite even of the really not that aesthetically pleasing image I’d created with an app, I feel like it’s important for me to document this phase of my faith journey.

Later that day, I wrote the following, as a means of processing my feelings. There’s this generational movement of my fellow church-raised people. Of trying to reconcile what we were raised to believe with what the world tells us with what at the end of the day we find when we look the bare bones of Christianity in the face – as stripped of doctrine and added rules as we can. If we can.

****

I am always a child before You.

A legacy of being your daughter, a princess familiar with your court, to use the familiar royal analogy. A sense of pride; I’ve known you forever! You held me together in the womb and in my infancy, when death seemed certain. You showed me an angel as I cowered, a confused little child.

You pulled me back from the edge, countless times, showing me your truth. Ever increasingly, ever undeniably. Reintroduced to my own Father and friend through new cycles of life.

I feel I should sense shame as I put vulnerability out there, as I admit at 30 that I’m approaching the throne I’ve known all my life as if it were there for the first time…but therein lies the beauty. I know my dirt, I always have. I understand it more now, however. What it really is. I’m done retreating to primp in the hallway outside of your court, fussing for perfection before re-entry. I’m also done listening to the whispers of “the dirt is all there is.”

I’m ready for you to throw open the doors, throw open your arms, and hold me. (Again)

I’m here and I have my dirt and that’s that. You can wash it away, but you’ll use me in it. You’ll put words in my mouth and a staff in my hand and I will go, I will speak, I will share what I see.

And some may know I’ve been your daughter all along, and observe casually as if nothing’s changed. And some may think it’s all beginning…

But it always is. Always was.

Thanks to Josh Wing for sharing this video – I think it explains well how timeless the cycle is. 

Effective Questioning to Increase Student Engagement

Doesn’t that sound like fun? I mean, I already ask A TON of questions when I teach, so this will be easy, right?

That’s basically a snapshot of my thoughts when I signed up for my first ever Big 6 area during the spring of 2015. I wanted to increase student engagement during direct instruction, and this seemed like a natural fit. I envisioned learning about all of the things I was already doing super well and basically patting myself on the shoulder a lot. Considering I’m reaching a level with Effective Questioning where I feel ready to move on almost a year later, it’s safe to say I underestimated this strategy.

Effective Questioning (EQ) is a challenge, for the teacher and the students. The research stage showed me very quickly that while I did ask a lot of questions, I didn’t vary them enough, and I was selling my students WAY short on the opportunities inherent in answering strategies. I had some habits to break.

Questioning Habits

How many of you repeat your students’ answers immediately after they finish? It feels so satisfying for some reason. Validating for them, to have your amazing teacher voice broadcast their answer. And validating for you, to have repeated knowledge for the benefit of those sponge-like ears in your classroom.

What about when students are wrong? How many of you cringe a little while murmuring, “Oh thanks! Good try! But no.” and then move on like a racehorse, desperate for the correct answer that means the finish line?

It was clear very early on that I need to break those habits. Thankfully, the EQ research stage (and the resources and help from a coach and model teacher) offered solutions and strategies.

Strategies: Awkward but Awesome

There are a lot of strategies that you can implement to make EQ work in your classroom. Question guides, wait time, repeat-reduce-rephrase-reachout, active listening – you get the picture. The one you really need to be prepared for, however, is wait time. It should probably have a warning label:

Warning: Wait Time will be AWKWARD.

Wait time refers to both the time we wait between asking the question and calling on a student, and the time we wait before responding after that student has answered. It needs to be at minimum a few seconds (which feels like 5 minutes).

The first wait time isn’t so bad, especially if you implement question guides. The students get used to guides pretty quickly. They know to write an answer, and be prepared to answer. (Pro tip: Draw names at random to answer to reinforce that anyone could be called at any time!)

The second wait time, however, is a doozy. This is where you realize that 3 seconds is long. Really long. For the visual learners, you as the teacher will look something like this:

Why would we want to do this? It’s actually very magical, when it works (which is most of the time). It allows the student the space to add on to their thought. I would say 7-8 times out of 10, the real meat of their answer comes during our second wait time.

Like I said, it’s going to be awkward at first. I’m pretty sure the only way to make it work is to just own up to the students. Something like, “Hey, students. I’m working on my teaching skills. I’m going to wait a while when asking questions! Here’s why…”

Trust me: the students will get used to it, and more quickly than you might think. They will be prepared to answer questions, and if not, they will learn to “phone a friend” or rely upon one of the other RRRR’s that you will be equipped with. Your students will start to answer thoughtfully!

From Strategies to Solutions

There are a lot more strategies, which you can learn more about in Big 6 breakout session, from your coach, or even from me. It’s going to take a little time to wrap your head around the intertwining components of EQ. It’s going to take your students some time to adjust to the strategies, too.

But eventually, you are going to find yourself naturally fitting the strategies into your daily planning. Your wait time will become a matter of habit. Your reaction to student answers will shift from repeat-mode to facilitating student discussions. Your students will find themselves prepared to discuss, equipped to discuss, and, of course, engaged in learning.

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