What Goes in Work Bags?

contents of work bags

What’s in your work bag?

Work bags are essential for freelancers. I rarely go places without mine. Not everyone can work at home all the time, even freelancers need to visit the outside world. Sometimes I’m meeting deadlines at soccer practice, cranking out words at a local coffee shop, or strategizing at a client’s office. I don’t mind leaving my home office but I do mind when I’ve forgotten something essential.

So I wanted to put together a standard ‘desk on the go’ that was always ready in case I wanted to head out the door and didn’t leave myself enough to check over the contents of the bag.

So I asked four creative professionals what they always pack in their work bags in order to get things done.

First I asked Susan Paff from Ideality Communications what she carries.

“Believe it or not I used to carry a travel file folder in my trunk. Now dropbox carries everything for me. A laptop, an iPad, an iPhone – I’ve worked from them all. Add Skype for conferencing and messaging and we can work from anywhere.”

Susan sent her answer using voice texting from Siri. I’m impressed at her multi-tasking.

Shawn Graham, who offers marketing services for badass small businesses, brings these items:

  • Laptop (with charger)
  • Tablet
  • Pen
  • Outlet
  • Internet Access
  • Table/Chair
  • Cell Phone (with charger)
  • Coffee
  • Ear buds (personal preference or if people are loud talking around you)
Both Shawn and Susan provide serious creative strategizing for their many clients. I wondered if writers have anything different in their work bags?
So I asked Jennifer Bright Reich, coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Losing Weight and
Feeling Great.

This is a great question, thanks for asking! I generally work in my home office, but each week when my boys are in karate, I usually take “the show on the road.” I have a large laptop bag that’s about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage. I always keep it packed and ready to roll! Even though there was some up-front cost, I bought duplicates of most things in my bag so that way I keep the extras in there and don’t forget to pack them!Here’s what’s inside:
Spare laptop cord
Spare mouse and my Disney Vacation Club mousepad (Will work to travel!)
Spare calculator
Pens, Post-it notes, pencils

I liked that Jennifer packs Post-it notes and I think I’m going to add that to my work bag. Local science writer Beth Skwarecki was the only one who mentioned a caffeinated beverage – maybe that’s why we make such good writing partners.

Here’s what Beth keeps in her work bag:

1. My laptop.
2. The knowledge/attitude that if I have my laptop, I have the tools I need to get work done. Even if I don’t have internet, I can draft, outline, or brainstorm.
3. My smartphone – in case I don’t have internet, I can still look stuff up. (Or take a peek at my email without getting bogged down in it.)
4. Headphones, in case people are getting loud; and a playlist that helps me tune out distractions. I like ambient music like God Is An Astronaut.
5. A notebook (and pen), or failing that, a scrap of paper. I write down things that pop into my head that I don’t have time to deal with at the moment; I also use it for brainstorming and organization. It’s like having an extra brain.
6. Extras that are helpful: laptop charger, usb cable to charge phone, caffeinated beverage or means of procuring same.
Of course everybody I talked to has some serious tech in their work bags. But old-fashioned paper snuck it’s way in there, too. It looks like almost everyone uses earphones, too, whether for phone calls or inspirational music. I feel like I’m well on my way to having a useful bag ready whenever I need to rush out the door. Of course I always have a nice selection of pens. They are so crucial to my productivity. But if you look closely at the photo at the top of the post you’ll see a funny little metal rectangle. I have no idea what it’s called but I call it a book stand or book holder. I’ve had it for years and I love it. It is always with me in my work bag, at my desk, wherever I go. It is my essential item.

 

Organize Ideas For Writing

organize ideas for writing

Tools of the Trade

How do you organize ideas for writing?

It is not easy for me to keep track of ideas. When I read, listen or run ideas and inspiration often overwhelm me. If you are a freelance writer you probably have this same problem and probably have some system in place. Maybe you’ve tried several different systems.

One that works for me is a centralized, somewhat disorganized notebook. I carry it everywhere and put everything in it. It turns out I am using a system developed centuries ago.

Do you commonplace?

I commonplace! And a lot of other writers I know commonplace. But I don’t think we knew we were commonplacing. I actually have several commonplace books and I think I’m going to keep commonplacing for awhile! What is commonplacing? I first learned about it in a book by Steven Johnson. Here’s his description:

Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters – just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. The great minds of the period – Milton, Bacon, Locke- were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. There is a distinct self-help quality of the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: maintaining the books enabled one to ‘lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.'” – Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

This is just what I’m doing, carrying around a notebook scribbling down thoughts and ideas that erupt in my brain throughout the day. But I admit I use more than just one notebook. I also use the Notes and Voice Memos apps on my smartphone. And I tear out pages from magazines. And I snap photos with my smartphone. And cover my wall with sticky notes. And writing up lengthy thoughts on looseleaf in my binder. And highlighting text in ebooks. And folding down page corners in print books. Sometimes I actually sit down and gather all of this information into one place and think about how it connects and leads to new insights.

And that, writing friends, is commonplacing.

This is a good time of year to think about how your organization system works (or doesn’t) and what style suits you best: plotting or pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants.) National Novel Writing Month is coming in November and you definitely want to be ready. I failed my first year but learned valuable lessons and had a great system in place for 2012 where my novel was based off of daily writing prompts. I plotted and pantsed and planned and prepared and finished the month a winner!

But organizing ideas for writing isn’t just for fiction writers. Business owners need to have some organization for their web copy, newsletters and social media content. The fancy term is editorial calendar – does your business have one?

Maybe I don’t have the perfect system in place to organize ideas for writing, but I think it would be much more difficult if I didn’t have any ideas to organize. I’d rather be overwhelmed than dry. So how do you organize ideas for writing? What systems have you tried that failed? Still using the old index card system or have you updated to Scrivener?

 

How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

how to get kids to eat vegetables

Give kids a choice

The secret

The secret to getting kids to eat vegetables is really quite simple. Give them the choice. Before you click away saying, “My kid would choose not to eat them,” hear me out. I didn’t say give them the choice whether or not to eat vegetables. Give them the choice of which vegetables and fruits.

There is real scientific evidence to back this up, but let me begin anecdotally. The photo above is from our Pittsburgh-area elementary school cafeteria. How does our school get kids to eat vegetables and fruits? They offer a choice.

And when my boys buy lunch, which is about once a week, I tell them they need to choose a fruit and a vegetable, but it’s up to them what to choose. I offer them a choice.

My second son, who is a bit picky, usually sticks with applesauce and carrots.

My oldest son almost always chooses grapes and the crunchy vegetable mix of cucumbers, celery and carrots. Choices within choices.

The science

Now for the scientific evidence. This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that offering kids a variety of vegetables and fruit and letting them choose which ones to eat led to them eating more fruits and vegetables!

The researchers observed that “children chose some pieces in 94% of snacks with variety and in 70% of snacks without variety” and “Providing a variety of vegetables and fruit as a snack led to increased consumption of both food types in a childcare facility. Serving a variety of vegetables or fruit as a snack could help preschool children meet recommended intakes.”

Think about your own eating habits. I am sure you prefer to have more than a little choice in the matter. We all love some control over what we eat. So if you are looking for ways to get kids to eat vegetables and fruits, offer a choice.

Have you given your kids choice in their foods? Has it helped? 

 

 

 

Apps for Freelance Writers

apps for freelance writers

Don’t lose that thought!

Here is a quick review of three apps for freelance writers that make my life easier.

  • Voice Memos – There are lots of audio recording apps out there but this one is included on your iPhone so you had better be using it! I use it to record ideas that pop into my head while driving but don’t hesitate to use it during interviews or while you’re exercising for inspiration. It has also come in handy when I read manuscripts as a part of the great Facebook group Readers Aloud.
  • Easy Release – Many editors want you to include photographs with your story ideas and photographs mean you need photo releases. This app costs a little bit of money, but a lawsuit costs a lot more.
  • Square – I have three self-published books and host workshops, attend events and network. And I never have cash on hand. So I make it easy for potential buyers to become actual customers by always carrying my Square card reader. I can take payments anywhere and never have to worry about providing change. There is a fee per transaction, but for me, if someone didn’t have cash I wouldn’t sell a book at all, so I’ll take the fee.

[Update about Square: If you have upgraded to iOS7 you may need to adjust your microphone in order to swipe payment cards with your card reader. The steps are: 1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone 2. Turn on the Square Register slider 3. Relaunch Square Register and swipe away!]

If you don’t have a smartphone and you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, the cost of the phone may seem prohibitive. But I have found that my smartphone makes it easier for me to make money and better serve my clients. I do contract work that would not be possible without my RingCentral and Dropbox apps. I use my camera all the time to snap photos of magazines I want to query, possible sources I want to interview, or something that inspires a fiction piece.

I’m not claiming you can only be successful as a freelance writer if you have a smartphone and rely on technology but I do think there are serious benefits.

There are many other apps for freelance writers that are useful. What app do you use the most?

Kids Lunch Box Ideas (by kids)

Do you frequently look for kids lunch box ideas? Do your food choices differ from what your kids would choose?

For a school assignment my six-year-old had to draw what he would pack in his lunch box if he were in charge:

kids lunch box ideas

A pretty healthy lunch!

When he explained his drawing, I was pleasantly surprised. He ‘packed’ a Nutella sandwich, rice cake, square pretzels, a green apple and a water bottle.

I love these lunch box ideas.

My husband and I enjoy the convenience of the school lunch but I prefer to have a little more input on what my boys eat, at least until I can really can an understanding of how healthy our school district’s lunches are. I’m learning more from Let’s Move Pittsburgh about how to understand what is offered by our school’s food services program.

But for now, I want our boys to pack more often than they buy. After seeing this drawing, I feel like my effort to teach them about healthy food choices is having some good results. I like that when they are told to make their own choices, the choices include at least one fruit! That’s not too bad! I feel like I can give my boys some input on their lunches and I can continue to present them with good options.

I’m hopeful that we are building healthy kids lunch box ideas!

Storytelling and Story-selling

storytelling; stories sell products

Storytelling that works.

Let’s talk about storytelling and story-selling.

Take a moment and click on the image above and read the text on the back of these three bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.

Storytellers weave magic with their words and transport their listeners to other lands, ignite dreams in their hearts, bring out tears and laughter, desire and rage. Storytellers move worlds with words. Storytellers exist in every age, every culture. In the modern world, some of the best storytellers are in marketing and business writing.

Not too long ago I read two excellent books about the art of storytelling and how it applies to marketing. Both The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era and Ogilvy on Advertising hammered home to me that good ad writing is really storytelling that makes consumers want to buy the product, or as I like to call it “story-selling.”

Whenever you’re writing for an audience, you’re selling something. You’re selling the premise of the book, the authenticity of the characters, the believability of the climax and the satisfaction offered by the ending. The same goes for when you’re writing copy for a product or an argument in an article. The writer must sell the story.

That’s why I snapped a photo of these shampoo bottles from our hotel in San Francisco. The story on the back of these tiny bottles sold me on the product. I kept them to remind that even with an extremely limited space careful word selection can suggest powerful emotions. Consider Hemingway’s iconic six word story: “Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.” So moving, so evocative, so short. (I love it so much I hosted my own six word story contest.)  Also, those shampoo bottles made me laugh. People love to laugh.

What’s the shortest but most effective story you’ve ever written?

Fun Family Dinners at Skinny Pete’s in Pittsburgh

Join us for the first of many fun family dinners at Skinny Pete’s (click on Events) in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, September 16, 2013 starting at 5:30pm. Parents get to enjoy a peaceful meal while their children are happily engaged in creating a  a self-portrait flatbread from healthy, fresh, local ingredients!

We know the more that children encounter fresh foods, the more they are involved with cooking and selecting the ingredients of their meal, the more likely they are to try something good that’s good for them!

All kids also get a copy of My Food Notebook to record what foods they tried.

Fun family dinners aren’t just a dream – they are happening right here in Pittsburgh! Join us!

Fun Family Dinners this September!

fun family dinners Pittsburgh

Enjoy a great meal with the family!

Fun Food for Your Picky Preschooler

I know it’s tough to to the parent of a picky preschooler. They are not at the age when you can reason with them and their tastes change so quickly, it can feel so frustrating. But there’s another way to approach the challenge: make it fun.

I was so lucky to visit a Bright Horizons class this summer and bring one of my Tasting Party workshops. There was more than one picky preschooler in attendance. I was bringing some new foods to them to try so we decided to make it fun. Making pizza on a stick all by themselves was a delightful adventure. Take a look at these brave little faces!

picky preschooler

Do it yourself – it tastes better!

 

 

 

Fun for these kids means hands-on and the opportunity to examine the food options as much as possible before tasting it.They looked closely at the food, smelled it, touched it and then finally nibbled and tried! More than one child tried tomatoes for the first time. Not everybody liked them but they were giggling and chatting and no one whined! Can you imagine that kind of dinner?

picky preschooler

No one can resist food on a stick

Recipe for Success: Best Brain Food for College Success

Understanding the importance of brain food is not rocket science. Enough research has proven the value of breakfast and a balanced diet not just for kids but for adults, too. I do believe what we eat can impact our total well-being. If you want your kids to do well in school and if you want to get through work or a workout without feeling like a total zombie, then you must pay attention to what you put in your mouth.

So when Nicole from The Best Colleges contacted me about this infographic and asked me to review it, I happily agreed. And I felt that her advice was useful not just for college students but for anyone looking to do their best.

I was dismayed to read about the amount of fast food college students eat but relieved that coffee and dark chocolate (in moderation) can boost memory and reduce stress.

Since my own children are still in elementary and preschool, I control most of what they eat and include a lot of brain food. But parents of college students have to trust their children will adopt or continue good habits. I remember reasonably healthy options offered in my college dining hall, but when I moved off-campus and had to cook for myself an unhealthy amount of pepperoni Hot Pockets entered the picture. And what about campuses in big cities that might be in food deserts?

Did your nutrition get worse when you were in college? Does anyone know of colleges including farmer’s markets or increasing fresh produce options in campus eateries?

 

freshman 15, brain food

Boost Your Brain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Bedtime Books

I recently joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and my first few meetings have me thinking about my favorite bedtime books. I have a quite a few. In fact many of my favorite bedtime books have no words! But instead of making a list of which books I love, I am actually going to discuss a style of book that I don’t really care for from the perspective of a parent at bedtime: the list book.

I don’t mind these books during middle of the day quiet time, car trips, in waiting rooms, etc. But I do mind their lack of plot, story arc, characters, and most importantly the lack of an ending. At bedtime, I need stories to end. That’s one main reason the Can You See What I See and Where’s Waldo books – while fun!- are not approved bedtime reading, at least with me.

Reasonable Bedtime Book

a good bedtime book

An example of a good list book

Some list books are great. For example, Richard Scarry produces the absolute best and manages to incorporate a gentle, funny storyline that guides readers through his adorably illustrated pages.

Here’s an inside spread from The Best Word Book Ever. I love breakfast, so I chose this particular page showing Kenny Bear waking up and enjoying a hearty meal to start the day. Delightful!

Scarry’s other books, especially Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, do a nice job of combining huge lists of recognizable objects and easy words for children to learn with an entertaining and light-hearted storyline. If I were so inclined to write a list book, this would be the style I’d choose.

Ridiculous Bedtime Books

Here are two examples of list books that drive me crazy:

children's bedtime book about cars

Don’t touch the flaps.

not my favorite bedtime book about cars

Sparkle no substance.

In the first book by Fisher-Price, we get to see toys in action in a little town. There’s barely any text but there are lots of flaps to lift, pull and tear. My kids do rip the flaps and then cry and beg me to repair them but later they pick at the tape and tear them again. Also, struggling to open the flaps prolongs the agony of reading this list book at bedtime. (And I absolutely cannot help my child lift the flaps or they freak out because they want to do it themselves!!)

The second book is irritating to me from the perspective of an aspiring writer. Some publishing company out there (more than one, truthfully) churns out these books and sells them to kids and grandparents who can’t resist the sparkle and cashes checks. While many writers I know work hard to get their excellent writing  recognized. And writers like me wonder if there is any hope for a good storybook in today’s market.

My favorite bedtime books don’t just keep kids busy and they don’t push learning shapes, colors and numbers on kids – but there is a place for those kinds of books. Just not at bedtime.

Truly, my favorite bedtime books capture the imagination but also speak to what a child really knows and feels in their world. It’s an art and it’s magic and it sends them off to sleep and dream, while I head off to write and dream!

Are there books you absolutely won’t read to your child at bedtime?