"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How to "Make Nice" With Your Muse & Produce More

Whether your goal is to finish a novel, start a blog, or simply cross off more items on your creative “to-do” list, you’ll achieve more inspired results when you can make your muse a willing partner.
A reclusive muse, (A.K.A. a block in creativity) can cause a block in cash flow and derail your goals.

No output means no income. No income can cause stress, which in turn can cause your muse to become even more resistant.

If you’re on deadline with editors, publishers, or clients, it can become further problematic.
Which is why a strategic approach can improve your productivity, your outlook and your bottom line.

But before we address muse management, let’s examine some of the most common reasons it can abandon us when most needed:


  • Stress
  • Deadline pressure
  • The pressure of expectations
  • Fear (of failure or success)
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of focus
Here’s a perfect example that underscores how pressure can create havoc with our muse and cause us to under-perform. Many years ago, I had to complete a timed essay for a college entrance exam. Students got to choose from about 10 topics with instructions to write a persuasive essay. I completely blanked out. Even though I had been writing professionally for many years.
I folded under pressure.

Luckily, with prayer, I was able to focus (after about 20 minutes of staring at that ticking clock) and I passed the test.
Once I regrouped and lost my fears, I was able to gain perspective.

And you can too.

With this in mind, here are 5 practices and principles to “make nice” with your muse and become more productive in 2017.


1. Try a Change of Scenery.

If you’re used to working from home, why not tote your laptop or journal to the local library, coffee shop, or park? Bird watching, star gazing, or simply engaging in conversations with others can often provide information and inspiration for that next chapter of your novel, or next blog post.

2. Color.

Adult coloring books are all the rage. If you’re thinking that they’re just for kids, retrain your brain. According to Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic: “Coloring can help slow down heart rate and respiration, loosen muscles and stimulate the brain.” Many psychologists even suggest coloring as an alternative to meditation.

In 2015, an estimated 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the United States.

3. Take a Break.

That’s right. Though this may seem counter-productive it actually works. Scheduling some “down time” helps to relax the mind, rejuvenate the spirit, and “unplug.” Make it a part of your regular routine to break the monotony and to break through to new levels in your writing.

4. Dabble With Creative Prompts.

Creative prompts serve to jump-start the brain, ignite the imagination, and get those creative juices flowing. They usually consist of 1-4 opening lines, and are also commonly used in creative contests as story starters.

Here are a few sites you’ll want to check out to get going and to give you some practice.


5. Read.

When we open a book, we open ourselves to a world of possibilities. Reading helps to broaden our perspective, expand our knowledge base, hone our craft, develop our voice, escape, and understand the needs of an audience.

To quote Dr. Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
The next time you’re stuck, simply reach for that book on your night stand or coffee table, and your muse will appear before you know it.

Though writing is said to be a solitary profession, you don’t have to go it alone. Let your muse inform, engage and guide you.

Follow these five timely tips for greater progress, peace and productivity in the months ahead.

Your turn. Thoughts?
How do you make nice with your muse when you're creatively stuck?
Let's share ideas here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

3R'S Series Delivers Recommended Reads & Leads!


Things you Should “Unlearn” to Become a Smarter Writer!

How I Handled When Someone Stole my Ebooks


40 Bloggers Talk About Their Biggest Challenge


How to Reward Yourself for NANOWRIMO


Tips to Becoming a Good Writer and Blogger


6 Ways to Overcome Your “Perfection Obsession”



End your writing year on a high note. Learn more, earn more. Classes offered daily online for writers of all levels and genres. Register for a class between now and December 31st to get a $10.00 discount. Sign up today at www.Coffeehouseforwriters.com/


With the holiday season at our doorstep, many will be seeking ways to entertain family and friends, and provide appetizing dishes and desserts. And let's face it: shortcuts can help us to go the distance and preserve our sanity.
Which is why I recently purchased a Sweet Potato Pie from Walmart, (instead of making my own), baked by one of my favorite singing divas, Ms. Patti Labelle.
Although is was a tasty treat that saved me time and money, unfortunately it didn't "make my heart sing."  I would give it *** stars. 

Your turn.
Thoughts? What's your favorite "R" of the 3R's series...the recommended reads, resources, or reviews?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Using Emotional Intelligence for a Competitive Edge

Knowledge is power.


We've all met someone who was "smart as a whip" but lacked certain social graces or was "clueless" when it comes to understanding how his words or behavior impacts others.
You know: the scholarly neighbor who bombs out at cocktail parties due to off-color remarks or jokes told in poor taste, to the alienation of others.

Or the successful business executive who publicly berates his restaurant waiter for his order, not recognizing that what he could potentially be "served" once his plate is returned from the back kitchen might be even less appetizing.

Or the writer whose published blog rant comes across as immature, irrational and irrelevant to his readership.

Truth is, although Emotional Intelligence is a very important type of "aptitude" it's sorely lacking in far too many folks. Which is why learning to cultivate it can give writers a competitive edge and help to make "smarter" career choices.


The concept was introduced by psychologists Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey in the early 1990's.
Essentially it involves, "recognizing, understanding, and influencing the emotion of others."
It also entails recognizing and governing our own individual emotions.

The English Oxford Living Dictionary Defines it as : “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically:
emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success.”
Whether we realize it or not Emotional Intelligence impacts many areas of our work and ultimately our bottom line.
With clients
With editors
With readers
With buyers and customers

 In fact, research from Harvard Business School demonstrated that EQ counts for twice as much as IQ and Technical Skills in determining who will be successful!


Based upon my professional experience and myriad roles in the creative arena, (columnist, former senior editor of a regional magazine, long-time blogger, board director of a prominent arts organization, and community based arts organization founder), here are some characteristics and common practices of  Emotionally Intelligent people, I strongly believe.

  • Emotionally intelligent people realize that karma can contribute to success as much as talent.
  • They balance "Freedom of speech" with cultural sensitivity, fairness, sound judgment, and a sense of responsibility.
  •  They think before they speak; whether it's verbally, in a blog post rant, or via social media.
  • They use proper discretion.
  • They are receptive to learning from others.
  • They understand the dynamics of reciprocity.
  • They don't make pre-judgments based upon race, religion, age, creed or status.
  • They can empathize with others.
  • They "know" without being told. Call it intuition or common sense.  
  • They don't burn professional bridges unnecessarily.
  • EI people recognize the importance of good manners. Like saying thank you and please, or responding to emails from fellow writers and bloggers. 


Knowing your client's bottom line objectives, how to appeal to their core needs in your language, tone and approach. Understanding what motivates them to buy, and demonstrating your understanding of their particular "pain points". According to Michael LeBoeuf, Ph.D., author of "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life: "Despite all of the untold millions of products and services for sale in today's market place, customers will exchange their hard-earned money for only two things:
good feelings and solutions to problems."

Choosing your battles wisely, not engaging in word wars with others, being perceived as a credible resource, demonstrating an awareness of proper protocol in public forums, not "oversharing."

Understanding why people visit your site (i.e. for inspiration, to be empowered, to be informed or entertained) and creating quality content that addresses their needs and interests. Creating a community of inclusiveness in your content and comments.

By not personalizing rejection, by striving to take criticism constructively, and asking the right questions to improve future performance and dealings.


Curious about your Emotional Intelligence level? Interested in improving?

Here are a few quick quizzes to help you assess:



(I was happy to discover that I scored "above average.")

If your objective is to take your career to new heights in 2017, increase your Emotional I.Q. to increase your fan base and your bottom line.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree?

Pen and Prosper will be on break for the holiday until December 2nd.
Join me then for more opportunities, markets, and fun ideas to explore.

Have a safe, blessed, bountiful Thanksgiving! 

   Image Credit: Man with chest Freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to Negotiate Great Perks for Your Work!

Raise your hand if you've ever had to turn down a creative gig because the client couldn't afford your going rate. It's happened to me more times than a few.

But what I've learned is that pay should not always be the determining factor in whether or not to accept a potential client or assignment.

Here are some other factors to consider:
  • The mission or associated cause of the organization (.i.e. domestic violence, Cancer awareness, education reform) and whether it is in alignment with your belief system, interests or leanings
  • The initial chemistry with the client
  • Your future goals
  • How much work is involved or the hours required to fulfill the position
There is great validity to the expression, "Money ain't everything."

Accordingly, here are some other perks that you can negotiate to provide for a great "compensation package" in the future.

If you can't receive the compensation you feel you deserve, at least strive to get it in your hands sooner. In other words, ask to be paid upon acceptance as opposed to payment after publication.

A cash-strapped client may have limited funds, but they may have other goods, products or services that would be beneficial. For example, one client seeking to hire me, allowed me free membership in one of her membership organizations for writers. This saved me hundreds of dollars over the year.

I tend to be a pretty prolific writer. I'm rarely without a W.I.P.
So, for me it saves time and mental wear and tear if I'm allowed to choose what I write about; as long as it fits the clients' needs and profile.

Which can often be used to promote your products or attract new clients. This can be done through links and mentions to your other sites in your Bio.

With some of my clients I have as much as a 5 day gap in when the final work is due each month. In cases of emergency or illness, this can be a big blessing.

An impressive reference or testimonial can go a long way in gaining future business. It's a great form of "social proof." Ask and you shall receive.
Here's an example of some of mine.


As a business grows, or a client is able to become more profitable, often there is the possibility of a  future pay raise. Sometimes it's six months after the sign on date or maybe a year. It's always worth discussing as an option, to sweeten the deal.

These are just a few ways to create work arrangements that put you in the driver's seat and that enable you to be "enriched" regardless of pay.
Make sure to consider them, (and when possible to include them) in your contract negotiations with clients for 2016/2017.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree?  Which is your favorite?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review for Nonfiction Writers


by: Noelle Sterne
Most of us have heard of or have read, and probably crave to get published in, one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul (CS) books. They follow a successful formula. Each has a specific theme with stories by contributors, writers at all levels, of their experiences and insights. The stories are about 1,200 words long, easy to read, with one or more life lessons, and most often a motivating lift.
Simply Happy, though, is a hybrid, the first of its kind in the series. Amy Newmark, the author, has been the peerless editor of the CS series for eight years and has produced over 100 volumes during that time (an amazing feat). In this book, Amy has accomplished what she has long desired to do (sound familiar?)—write a CS book of her own.
She follows the formula—sort of. Short chapters, each with a lesson and inspiration. But the differences are what make this book unique—and the book provides not only life lessons but writing lessons, especially for nonfiction authors.
Writing Lesson 1: Your Point?
Newmark’s purpose is telegraphed in the subtitle: “A Crash Course in Chicken Soup for the Soul Advice and Wisdom.” No guessing about her point. It’s clear and promising. For your own self-help book, practice writing out, and refining your main point.
Writing Lesson 2: Attention-Getting Titles
Each of the twenty-six chapters has catchy, funny, or provocative titles. Chapter 2, “A Smile Is a Boomerang”; Chapter 12, “My Mother Is an Alien”; Chapter 19, “The Power of No.” Like the other CS books, we can scan the table of contents and flip to whatever appeals or meets our need at a given moment. As authors, we can hone our chapter titles for wit, creativity, and similar reader captivation.
Writing Lesson 3: Take It Away
Extremely appropriate in a nonfiction self-help book, in Simply Happy every chapter has a direct takeaway nugget (and a handy recap in the “Afterword”). For Chapter 2 on smiles: “”They’re free, they’re easy, and they change your whole day.” For Chapter 12 on questionable motherhood: “Dare to be different when raising children.” For Chapter 19 on no-ing: “De-clutter your calendar and home to make room for what matters.” We can quickly seize such forthright directives, one lesson at a time, and start or continue to change our lives for the better. In your book, what are the nuggets you want your readers to take away?
Writing Lesson 4: Give Credit
Newmark doesn’t just sermonize, though. She gives credit for reaching her own greater insights. This too sets her CS book apart. Within every chapter, she relates stories from previous CS books that have moved her and she has learned from. She names names, reprints bios in the back, and generously praises other authors. (Disclaimer: She alludes to one of my stories, about friends and frenemies, and I am thankful.)
Writing Lesson 5: Honest Sharing
Combined with what Amy has learned from others, her transparency is unflinching. In the context of each chapter, she shares her life, humanness, and frailties: her acknowledged one percenter status living in a “pretty fancy town,” her messy clothes closet, mistakes raising her children, her “normal” marriage (she doesn’t reply to her husband’s questions until he“’needs to know’ because he won’t listen to my answers anyway.”). What can you share with your readers about yourself?
Writing Lesson 6: I’m Like You
Amy’s tone is of mutuality. We may not have a swimming pool like she does (a to-be-envied rarity in the Northeast). But she shows us that, whatever one’s “privileges,” we all need goals and meaning. For her, the meaning is in the CS books and “changing the world, one story at a time,” as the website proclaims. She also shows us that she gives back. She volunteers in neighborhood activities, opening herself to criticism from other demanding one percenters.
As readers and writers we can identify with Amy’s passion, goals, dedication, hard work (few weekends off), and absolute caring about the written word. She also expresses great generosity and gratitude for others (good reminders to us)—her husband and family, friends, CS team, and business experiences. Express your gratitude to the people and events who have helped you grow and are now sharing in your book. Everyone wins.
So, I recommend Simply Happy—it’s a great gift for yourself and for others. Personally, you’ll learn a lot, will be encouraged to reflect on your own life, and gain tips and ideas for greater satisfaction and even happiness. Professionally as a writer, you’ll become more aware of the ingredients for a truly helpful, popular, and successful nonfiction book—and you may be inspired to start this book you’ve always wanted to write!
NOELLE STERNE Author, editor, writing coach and soother, dissertation nurturer, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes writing craft, spiritual articles, essays, and stories in print and online publications. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle assists doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, her current handbook addresses these students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties. Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle’s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com
Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, November 7, 2016

What the Cubs Taught me About Perseverance

"Maybe this year," I would often hear. My mom would sit glued to the tube-- week after week, month after month, year after year. As a true blue die-hard Cubs' fan.
And frankly, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry about what appeared to be delusional thinking.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that she was fighting a losing battle. To remind her that she had predicted victory the year before and the year before, and the year before...you get the picture here.
So, sometimes I would sit with her, snacks and herbal tea, and watch the game to support her and spend quality time. 
But this year, much to my surprise, she called me at about 12:30 a.m. last week singing, "Go Cubs go, Go Cubs go! Hey Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna' win it today!"
And by God, they did!
The Chicago Cubs had scored big: winning the 2016 World Series and millions of hearts as well.
Never say never.
Though I'm not a huge sports fan, their epic win truly taught me a thing or two that could be applied to the game of life and writing in general.
I hope these lessons will inspire you to stay in the game, and aspire to greater heights, in this last "inning" of the year.


1. You can overcome your "curse."
Legend has it that the Cubs were cursed by a billy goat. Yet, they reversed the curse! And you can, too. Whatever you perceive your "curse" to be: a dysfunctional family, an unsupportive mate, poverty, age, or disability.  
Remove those limitations, (self-imposed or real). Get your head and heart in the game!
To quote the lottery commercial: "You can't win if you don't play."
2. Stay focused.
Life is filled with "curve balls." You're doing well in your career, then you're hit with an unexpected legal issue, or a health challenge, or a sick loved one, or a financial bomb. Sometimes the worst happens to the best of us. Keep your eye on the prize. Stress is a distraction. Pray and keep going. Remember your "end game."
3. Suit up! 
That's right. Mentally and physically prepare for the battles that lie ahead. With positive thoughts, courage, determination, and a strategic game plan, you can go the distance.
4. It's possible to prove the doubters wrong.
The Cubs were the under-dog. Some of us can relate. True?
Remember the editor who thought you lacked talent? Or the teacher who told you that your ambitions were too ambitious? Show them what they didn't see. Work hard. Don't be bitter, be better.
5. "Good things come to those that wait."
Just like the Cubbies (and their fans), sometimes being patient pays off.
Here's a case in point. Some time ago I hired a designer to partner with me on some publishing projects. He did excellent work; which often caused him to be busy, creating frustrating wait times.
One day, I decided to try another service provider to save time. Bad move.
The other guy provided a quicker turn-around, (as promised). The problem? His work was of poor quality, and he lacked the sophistication in execution that my regular designer had. I ended up losing time from going back and forth requesting revisions and providing excessive instructions.  
When the situation dictates... take a chill pill.
6. Team support can enhance our efforts.
Whether it's the collective help of fellow bloggers, the encouraging words of blog readers, or the collaboration of creative partnerships, remember, "there is strength in numbers."
If you're seeking to be winners in the game of life (and in your creative career), these timely lessons provided by the Chicago Cubs can help you to become a "quick study."
This post is dedicated to my mom and to the Chicago Cubs. 
Thoughts? Any Cubs' fans out there?
Image Credit:

Saturday, November 5, 2016










My new Ebook has arrived!

No matter what you write, clients are crucial to your success as a freelance professional.
You can't survive economically without them.
That's why you'll want to read my guidebook to gaining and maintaining the "write" clients for optimal results.

Here's what you'll discover in this title:
  • Insider's tips to help you screen clients and evaluate good writing gigs
  • How to handle disputes and creative differences
  • A listing of places to locate freelance work
  • A client gift giving guide
...And more!

Get your copy today and end 2016 on a high note, with brighter prospects for 2017.
Simply remit $3.99 to PayPal Gemsjen@yahoo.com, or click the link in the bottom right-hand margin. Easy, peasy.





Adult Coloring Books

I see them practically everywhere now. From TV commercials, to online products offered, to places where I shop in my area. So, I was curious to find out if these crayon companions could actually provide a creative outlet and relieve stress (as touted).

It just so happens that they have a pretty wide assortment at various Dollar Tree Stores. I figured that it would be a smart way to shop and approach things with minimal risk.
The version I selected had the theme of religious crosses.

For about a month, I've been coloring off and on, as I watch TV or when I am about to retire before bed.
The verdict? I do think that they offer a pleasant distraction, and that perhaps over an extended period of time could enhance one's creativity and contribute to a calmer state of mind.
But for now, it's too soon to say for sure. More on this later...

Have a great week ahead.

Thoughts? Comments?