Freelance writer and Web designer Monica Shaw

- by Dara Girard

Tell us a little about your background.

Writing has always been a big part of my life, but it took me a while to realize I could make writing my career, too. I studied math in university and always thought I would go on to be a scientist, but after getting my Master’s degree I realized that math research wasn’t really my thing – I wanted to be out in the world.  So I got a job in Austin, Texas writing math courses at an e-learning company, where I was surrounded by writers, designers and other creative types – I loved it.

Life eventually led me to London where, for some crazy reason, I thought I’d give math a real go, so I got a job as a statistician at a big bank in the city.  The job was soulless, and I realized that the only thing going for it was the part where I had to write about my work.  In fact, writing has always been the part of my jobs that I liked the most.  So after a year at the bank I decided to give full-time writing a real go.  That was almost two years ago and I haven’t looked back since!

Math and writing seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum.  How do you find your math knowledge helping with your current career?

Math has turned out to be extremely useful in my writing.  Like math, writing is a logical process, and all that practice solving math problems has made it easier to break down my writing into logical, manageable pieces that fit together at the end.  Also, knowing a bit of math has opened up a world of writing opportunities.  There’s huge demand for people who can write about math in a way that non-math folk can understand.  And math is so universally applicable that it gives me a good basis for writing about a huge range of topics, from health and fitness to business and marketing.

How did you make the leap to offering services for other freelancers?

The “leap” came out of my own experience starting out as a freelance writer.  Early on, I decided that I wanted a website to promote my new career. I couldn’t find an easy solution, so I hacked away at WordPress and made do with a blog/portfolio type thing. Trust me, I would have rather spent the time pitching articles and writing stories, but the effort paid off – I got my first commission, for a national newspaper, after sending the website address to an editor who asked to see some writing samples.

My partner (a software engineer) and I figured there were lots of writers out there who wanted a fancy website, too, but didn’t have the knowledge or the patience to put one together. So we decided to team up and create a service that would help writers get a website going quickly and easily. Visit http://writersresidence.com to learn more.

What are some easy ways to drive traffic to a website?

Website traffic is all about links.  The more links that are out there, the more people will come to your website, and the more prominent your website will in search engines.  One place to start is with your profiles on social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, where you can add a link to your website in your profile.  But to really get the links rolling in, you need to take this a step further.  Talk to your fan base.  Comment on blogs.  Ask people to link to you.

Basically, be a part of the online community that is interested in the type of work you do, and link to your work whenever you can.  Getting traffic isn’t easy.  It takes time and consistency, but it’s time well spent.  Think about it as part of your marketing campaign.  You’ll also be getting to know your readers at the same time, which will give you a better idea of what they like and how you should present yourself on your website.

What’s the most important thing a writer needs to have on his or her website?

First and foremost, the website needs a clear call to action.  For authors, this means a link to buy their book.  You also need a gripping sample from the book that will draw people in.  The homepage is a lot like the cover of your book:  it needs to have a blurb that pulls people in and compels them to click on the “buy it now” link.  There’s a great interview on my blog with book marketing expert Penny Sansevieri that addresses this specifically and I encourage your readers to check it out.

What advice would you give for tech-shy writers who want to get involved in the blogosphere?

Start simply.  Your blog doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, the simpler it is, the better.  Use a hosted service like Blogger.com or WordPress.com – both are user friendly and have free accounts.  Try not to worry too much about getting the design just right.  Instead, stick to your strengths and focus on the writing.  Then, read what other people are writing and leave some comments.  Soon enough, people will be visiting your site and commenting on your posts, too.

Many of our members are being urged to do more with social networking.  What uses do you make of these sites?  Any downsides you’ve found?

I have accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but have found the latter two to be most useful for my writing.  For example, I’ve used LinkedIn to get in touch with editors for interviews on Writer’s Residence, and I’ve used Twitter to connect with other freelance writers.  Twitter can be a great source of advice and useful tips if you follow the right people and ask the right questions.  The only downside is that it’s somewhat addictive and can lead to a lot of wasted time if you’re not careful!

You also blog about health and fitness at Smarterfitter.com, something many writers could use help with.  What do you wish writers would do to take care of themselves?

Like many writers out there, I work from home, and it’s all too easy to spend the entire day just sitting in front of a computer, giving my fingers a workout but nothing much else.  I encourage writers, and anyone else who works from home, to plan some moving-around time into the day.  The easiest way is to go outside and take a walk.  Research continues to show that exercise helps people be more productive, reduce stress and improve concentration.  I could be stuck on a problem for hours, then I’ll go for a walk or a swim and by the time I’m done, the solution to the problem seems plain as day.

You’re involved in several different blogs and businesses—can you share some tips about time management and life balance?

Unfortunately there are no tips or tricks.  You have to care enough about what you’re doing that you just get it done.  Sure, there are some techniques, for example, at this very moment I’m using a bit of time boxing to avoid spending all day languishing over every word in this interview.  I also use Google Calendar religiously, I keep all my lists in TaskPaper, and I get up early every morning because I know that’s when I’m most productive.

To keep myself sane, fit and healthy, I always give myself a little bit of time every night to read for pleasure, I prioritize exercise and almost always cook at home.   But the only real reason I do all of this stuff is because I care about it more than anything else.  So the only real trick is figuring out what you care about so much that you can’t help but do it.

Find out more about Monica at http://monicashaw.com.

Thanks to Elaine Isaak for the fabulous questions!

One comments

  1. What’s Up! Just had to chime in. I truly loved your post. Keep up the great work.