7 Memories About Life as a Writing Student at Art School

My writing education might have been a little unconventional. For one thing, I went to art school. I tested out of having to do any math classes throughout college and chose astronomy to satisfy my one required science credit. My roommates majored in jewelry design, sequential art, and film. An acquaintance of mine wore a full, handmade chainmail shirt over his clothes every day I saw him. You could always hear him coming.

Our “campus” was scattered throughout the city of Savannah, GA. Walking across town to go between class and the dorm was better than spending an hour on the overcrowded buses with unwieldy art projects threatening to stab you at every angle. There were no classes on Fridays and the whole year was broken into trimesters instead of semesters.

People often ask “What was it like to go to college for writing?” I have no idea what it’s like at other schools. All I know is my experience being a writing student at Savannah College of Art and Design.

Improvement Through Critical Analysis

Every project, whether it was a sculpture or personal essay, went through group critique. But writing classes got very personal as we discussed whether or not we could sympathize with the characters in a story. In nonfiction writing classes, we were the characters we were supposed to connect with and our memories were the stories.

Defending the Choice to Study Writing

I couldn’t count the number of classmates I had who considered all writing to be what they’d been doing since their third-grade English classes—namely writing a cookie-cutter five-paragraph essay about what someone else wrote. But no one went up to the students in fashion design and said, “Psh, I could do that.” Funny enough, the same people who insisted they could also write constantly wanted writing students to read over their essays or help write cover letters.

Midterms and Finals Weren’t a Thing

Oh, I had a Spanish midterm, an 18th Century art history final, and a final project in “Design 4: Time and Space” (which sounds made up but was a required class for my degree). But in writing classes, they simply didn’t exist. We weren’t tested on anything. You wrote your piece, you had your critique, you critiqued others, and then you did it all over again for the next one. And absolutely none of my writing classes ever required writing a research paper.

Minimal Collaboration

Aside from the dreaded group projects, we didn’t collaborate on many things. We had our critiques, the occasional public reading, discussions over coffee or in the smoking circles outside the class building, and maybe some texts or emails to bounce ideas off someone. For me, there were no homework groups or creative co-working sessions. Some of that came down to personal choice and the financial constraints of having scholarships to an expensive school, no job, and only enough money for required textbooks and art supplies.

Genre Stigma

The stigma against writing any kind of genre fiction was very real in my writing classes. Many classmates had similar dreams as me—to write fantasy and/or science fiction novels. We want to write what we love to read. Unfortunately, some professors only wanted you to write what they wanted to read. One even threatened my grade after I submitted one fantasy short story and warned me to never do it again.

Becoming a Jack of All Writing Trades

The writing program had a practical approach to our chosen field, focusing more on practicing the kinds of writing that would help us get jobs to pay off those hefty student loans. Grant writing, journalism, general business writing… Then we’d theoretically get to work on those novels we wanted to write. Or double down and go for the MFA, where you can write a novel or memoir as your thesis.

It Sometimes Felt Like Being the Outcast among Outcasts

During my time as a student at SCAD, the building where I had most of my writing classes was very plain compared to other school buildings. The classrooms had blank white walls, maybe a painting in the very back. We shared the same limited computer labs and printers with all the English, art history, and gen-ed classes crammed into the same building. It sometimes felt like we were denied any visual stimulation out of spite for not being visual artists.

Additionally, all the lectures and guidance on making visually stunning portfolios, resumes, business cards, websites, etc. often felt irrelevant. We were pushed to shun conventional designs and go wild at every opportunity. It was fun in a college setting but had zero practical use in the professional world.


I originally came up with this list in May 2015, when I was maybe one week from getting my degree, as a response to a blog post I saw by a freshman that offers another perspective of what it’s like at SCAD. It has since been polished and improved by 5+ years of maturing and reflecting.

3 Tips for Fighting Overwhelm When Work Gets Chaotic

Whether because I was too busy or finally starting to learn from my patterns, I wasn’t surprised when it happened again. I got my routine figured out, my tasks organized, and an actual plan in place. Blog posts, social media experiments, and writing time are all planned for maximum productivity. But then some freelance work came in. It started as one quick article and soon became five. Then it finally warmed up enough to do all the spring yardwork and planting that needed doing. And so my carefully crafted plans were set aside. My blog and social channels languished in silence—except for a few procrastinating tweets and pictures from my garden.

It’s the exact situation that would have been fixed by a content calendar and a cushion of scheduled content. The exact things I had planned to get ahead on over the last month and a half.

When you’re trying to build your brand through social media and a blog, any absence or deviation from your schedule can feel like a failure. It’s worse on platforms that can punish a creator’s reach for any decrease in posting frequency—looking at you, Instagram. This is one of many factors that can lead to social media feeling like a drain.

Fortunately, there are a few small changes you can make to get back on top of things and feel less guilty when something comes along to throw off your routine.

Have clearly defined priorities

Defining how you prioritize different kinds of work doesn’t just help with time management. It keeps you organized and productive while staving off overwhelm. When something new comes up and demands more of your time, your priority list will help you determine which tasks you need to keep up with and which can be put off. You don’t always have to be doing everything.

Two easy work priorities:

  • Any work someone else pays you to do
  • The work at the core of your business/brand

An artist, for example, could put paid commissions as their top priority. After that could be any piece they intend to sell, followed by any practice or just for fun pieces. Making social media content to promote the work comes after—it’s more difficult to promote a project that doesn’t yet exist!

Manage expectations

If you’re the one-person army behind everything in your business, you need to be realistic about your capacity to handle everything it requires. You might want to share frequent behind-the-scenes clips of you making your product and packing them up to be shipped out. But maybe there are too many orders you have to get through. It can set you behind schedule to spend time setting up a tripod and adjusting your lighting for a quality shot.

Focus on your top priorities—making orders and sending them out. During a less hectic period in your schedule, you can set aside time to make a video that meets your standard for quality. You can also consider asking a friend for help or hiring someone to do the work you don’t have time for.

Don’t get bogged down worrying over the tasks you can’t seem to get to. Find solutions by being flexible.

Do less and don’t apologize

This might be hard advice for some, but it’s okay to do less. The focus should always be quality over quantity. Yes, your stats will probably suffer to some degree—be that your website traffic, social post reach, or sales. It doesn’t have to be permanent. You can take a break until you feel better equipped to step things up again. Or maybe you find it works better for you to have a less breakneck speed.

Your absolute top priority should be you. You are the goose laying the golden eggs. It won’t matter if you’re posting daily on every platform if it leads to burnout.

Good Habits to Start for New Small Business Owners

Owning a small business can be a very rewarding career. You get to be your own boss and generate income from your passions. When you’re just starting out, it can be overwhelming. You may be confident in the products or services you sell, and your brand’s image. But success comes over time. Incorporating these habits into your daily business practices will help you achieve better results in the long run. It won’t be long before you’re surpassing the competition and your own expectations!


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Get Comfortable Being Online

There’s no denying the importance of having an online presence. Chances are, that’s where you’re going to reach most of your clients and customers. If you’re not comfortable maintaining a personal online presence, you might not look forward to doing it for your business. But if you’re not online as a small business, you risk missing out on reaching potential customers, increasing profits, and expanding your company. Start a company blog, update your website, and review the latest social media stats so you can connect with your target audience and understand their habits in detail.

Prioritize Customer Support

Another tip for achieving better results as a small business owner is to prioritize customer support. You may have a limited staff–or no staff at all if it’s just you! In this case, it’s even more important to put your customers and their needs first. Be responsive, follow up, and provide several outlets for getting in touch besides through your company website only. Paying attention to your customers and being helpful will ensure they remain satisfied. They’ll be more likely to share positive recommendations about your products or services with others.

Have Good Time Management

You can’t overcommit yourself and expect to make everyone happy. It’s essential to have good time management skills as a small business owner if you want to succeed. Create and follow to-do lists and learn to say no when you don’t have time or energy to give. It might help to wear a watch, keep a calendar of events, or hire an assistant if you’re struggling to effectively manage your time. Being more time-efficient is beneficial to you, as well as your employees and customers.

Gather Professional Insights & Advice

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your mind. You must be able to admit when you’re out of your element and need outside help. By being self-aware and proactive, you’ll find opportunities to connect with those in your network or business community. They’ll help you achieve better results as a small business owner by sharing their knowledge and experience. Find a mentor and bounce ideas off of other professionals. It can be especially helpful if you’re feeling lost or at a crossroads and trying to come up with what your next move should be.

Conclusion

These tips will aid you in achieving better results as a small business owner so you can experience success in your career. Your first step is to be honest with yourself if you feel stuck or want to make a change. Once you are mentally prepared to do so, you can take action.

Protect Your Small Business from Cyberattacks

Protecting your business from cyberattacks is extremely important. When someone illegally accesses and obtains your data, they can do a lot of damage. They can get ahold of any proprietary product designs or other private business information. But what about your clients? Think of what information you collect from them that could be at risk: names, email addresses, payment methods. You could lose their trust along with any data that would prevent you from operating at full capacity, making recovery after a data breach that much harder. Here’s a look at some of the steps you can take to ensure your digital security efforts are as strong as can be.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Update Your Software

Updating the software your company uses is one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re protected from a cyberattack. It’s tempting to keep hitting “remind me later,” especially when waiting for the update to finish could put you behind schedule. But remember: companies only release updates when they find vulnerabilities in software. 

Once you see the prompt to update your software, do it. The update will do what it’s supposed to for your protection so you can better monitor your website for other issues and threats.

Invest in Cyberattack Awareness Training

Whether your small business has a team of one or 20, everyone on that team should learn to recognize digital security threats. Many cyberattacks find their opportunity through the negligence of staff members.

This means learning the techniques criminals use to gain information, like phishing emails. Make it a regular practice to update passwords periodically and use dual-factor authentication wherever possible.

Outsource Your Cyber Security

Protecting your data is a big job that requires a lot of your time. Maybe you don’t have time to become an expert on digital security and do it all yourself. Hiring an IT-managed service provider ensures you have the security you need, as well as time to focus on growing your business.

The Bottom Line

When you run a business, a lot of time goes into building and maintaining it. But a cyberattack can destroy what you have built very quickly. Taking appropriate measures to boost your digital security will prevent a cyberattack from crippling your business.

6 Simple Ways to Reduce Bounce Rate on Your Business Website

There’s one piece of website traffic data that always seems to stress people out: bounce rate. This number tells you the rate of people who leave your site without engaging with any part of it. The wham, bam, thank you ma’am visitors. For businesses, this number represents the number of lost conversions. It can be scary and demoralizing if your bounce rate is high, especially if it’s unclear why your site visitors are passing through so quickly. But there is good news! If you want to reduce bounce rate, there is a way.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Increase Site Speed to Reduce Bounce Rate from First-Time Visitors

How many times have you clicked on a search result and gone to a website only to find yourself stuck on a loading page? Did you sit and wait, or go back to find what you want on a different site?

Slow site speed usually happens on the hosting end of your website. If you like your hosting provider, you may need to upgrade your service with them to increase your load speed. Otherwise, you might want to consider shopping around for a new host provider. There are other factors on your end you can address, such as downsizing your images or opting for simple graphics instead of photos. This is also another area where it’s important to make sure your site is optimized to display on mobile devices.

Start Selling Products to a New Audience

If your business sells a service–like SEO support or social media management–you might think this option isn’t for you. But think about your site visitors. Your marketing efforts likely focus on appealing to people who need your service. They go to your site and quickly judge whether they want to know more or click away without going any further.

But if you add a few promotional products for sale, that changes. Promoting products draws in traffic and attention you might otherwise miss out on. One person interested in one product will probably visit other pages to see what else you offer and learn about the person behind the product.

There are overhead costs involved with selling merchandise, so this requires careful planning and budgeting. Start with a small batch so you don’t have a lot of unsold stock cluttering your workspace. But the good news is this is another avenue to generate income. Plus, every time someone uses one of these products, they flash your logo, business name, or even contact points. You just need to visit a promotional merchandise website to find out what type of products you could offer to your customers. 

Keep Content Fresh and Engaging

Content has and will always be king. But it’s not enough to put up one or two great articles and rely on those forever. If a visitor comes to your site and sees nothing has changed, there’s no reason for them to look further. This is why many businesses maintain a blog. It’s a great way to keep your audience up to date on what’s new with your business and offer glimpses behind the scenes. If you don’t have enough time to regularly generate new content for your site, consider outsourcing the work to a professional

Update Your Site for Best Practices

Updates to your site don’t end with announcements and blog posts. Upgrading your site over time includes revising your calls to action, company messaging, brand image, etc. As best practices in web design and digital marketing evolve and change, you need to adapt. Old strategies lose their effectiveness. New competitors emerge over time. If you only stick with what worked for you in the past, you could fall behind.

Better Site Structure Means Better Bounce Rate

Your website’s structure determines how your content is organized–and how easy or difficult it is for visitors to navigate. If a person has to click through multiple pages to find what they want, they’ll get frustrated and leave. Worse, if it’s not clear where to begin clicking, they won’t even bother trying! This isn’t just bad for you conversions, either. Poor site structure can negatively affect your search engine rankings, making it less likely for people to visit your site in the first place.

The general rule of thumb is to ensure visitors, customers, and clients are never more than three clicks away from what they’re looking for.

Add A Video Introduction

Finally, consider adding a video introduction to your business website’s homepage. This offers a slightly more personal connection for site visitors–especially if you feature the people/person behind the business! It can also help explain niche products or services people might not realize would help them. If you choose to add a video, it’s worth your while to invest in making it as professional as possible. You always want to make the best impression possible.

9 Tips to Take Your Website to the Next Level

Your website is one of your most important marketing tools. It’s often the first impression potential customers have of your business, so it’s important to make sure it represents you in the best light possible. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to improve an existing site, here are nine tips to take your website to the next level.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


1. Keep Your Site Updated

Make sure your site content is fresh and up-to-date. Outdated information can make your business look stale and unprofessional. If you don’t have the time or resources to update your site regularly, consider hiring a professional content writer or editor.

2. Use High-Quality Images

Poor quality images can make your site look unprofessional and leave a negative impression on visitors. Use high-quality, professional photos whenever possible. If you can’t take your own photos, consider using a paid image service like iStockphoto or Shutterstock for additional options.

3. Optimize Your Site for Search Engines

Make sure your site is designed with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. Smart web design techniques will help potential customers find you when they’re searching online for businesses like yours. Use keyword-rich titles and descriptions, and make sure your site’s structure is easy for search engines to crawl.

4. Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly

With most people accessing the internet from mobile devices, it’s important to make sure your site is optimized for smaller screens. This means using a responsive design that scales to fit different screen sizes or creating a separate mobile version of your site.

5. Use Calls to Action

Make it easy for visitors to take the next step with calls to action (CTAs) throughout your site. Whether you want them to subscribe to your newsletter, download a white paper, or make a purchase, CTAs should be clear and concise, so visitors know what to do next.

6. Include Customer Testimonials

Social proof in the form of customer testimonials can be helpful in convincing visitors to do business with you. If you don’t have any testimonials yet, consider reaching out to past clients and asking them to write a short review of their experience working with you.

7. Use engaging visuals and videos

Engaging visuals and videos are a great way to hold visitors’ attention and keep them on your site longer. If you’re not sure where to start, there are plenty of free resources available online, like Canva for creating custom images or Pixabay and Unsplash for high-quality stock photos.

8. Make It Easy to Contact You

Make sure your contact information is prominently displayed on your site, and consider adding a contact form or live chat option so visitors can get in touch with you easily. Include your email address, phone number, and social media links so visitors can reach you in the way that’s most convenient for them.

9. Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool that allows you to track your website’s traffic and performance. This data can be extremely helpful in understanding how visitors are interacting with your site and what areas need improvement. If you’re not already using Google Analytics, sign up for an account and add the tracking code to your site.

In Closing

By following these tips, you can improve your website and make it more effective at attracting and converting new customers. Just remember that a website is never truly “finished” — there’s always room for improvement, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things!

Is Dark Mode a Proven Step Toward Digital Sustainability?

To make our online businesses more eco-friendly, we can’t ignore our digital contributions to global warming. The data centers that keep the internet running and store our texts, photos, videos, music, apps, and other software use a lot of energy for us to enjoy constant access to our data. The path to digital sustainability requires a lot of learning and commitment to better practices.

One simple step in this direction you might have seen lately is the push for website designs with a dark mode. The claim: websites with darker backgrounds use less energy. Better for the environment and better for your device’s battery.

If you’re considering redesigning your website with a darker background, there are a few things you should know about how dark mode affects energy usage and accessibility.

Is dark mode more energy-efficient?

Depending on the type of screen a site is viewed on, dark mode can reduce the amount of energy used–but not always. LCD screens see no difference, while OLED screens do.

What’s the difference? LCD screens have a single backlight, so the light is always on no matter what colors are on the screen. On the other hand, OLED screens feature a tiny LED lightbulb for each individual pixel that only lights up when needed. This is why OLED screens use less electricity when displaying dark colors. You can check if your device has an OLED screen by checking OLED-info’s list.

On an OLED screen, black uses the least amount of energy while white uses the most. That said, blue pixels use about 25% more energy than red and green. If you’re choosing new colors to represent your brand, consider opting for a more energy-efficient color palette.

Does dark mode make sites more accessible?

Sometimes, but not always. On average, dark text on light backgrounds is easier to read. But it’s not true for all users. Finding the right combination of low eye strain and high color contrast is difficult and depends on your target audience. It’s best to offer users the option to toggle between light and dark to suit their preferences. Before picking one or the other, learn more about the accessibility claims made about dark mode.

In 2020, Nielsen Norman Group published a review on whether dark mode had benefits for users. The final conclusion suggested users with normal or corrected-to-normal vision had a better visual performance with light mode, while some people with conditions such as cataracts had a better experience with dark mode.

Even so, the review strongly recommends users be allowed to switch to dark mode for three reasons: “(1) there may be long-term effects associated with light mode; (2) some people with visual impairments will do better with dark mode; and (3) some users simply like dark mode better.” It goes on to say “applications meant for long-form reading (such as book readers, magazines, and even news sites) should offer a dark-mode feature.”

Unfortunately, not every site has the built-in capability to offer a dark-mode option. For WordPress users, there is a dark mode plugin you can install. The only catch is you either have to use WordPress.org or pay for WordPress.com’s business or e-commerce plans to use plugins.

What’s the point?

The internet contributes to global warming due to the large amounts of electricity used by data centers, networks, and individual user devices. Reducing waste and recycling can only do so much to address the problem. If we want to commit to more sustainable practices, we have to embrace them at every opportunity.

6 Easy Online Business Tips for Newbies

The pandemic changed our attitude toward a lot of things, including the typical 9-to-5 office life. Many professionals reconfigured their lives around working their jobs from home. Others quit their corporate jobs entirely to pursue their own online business. In December 2021 alone, 4.3 million workers quit their jobs just in the US.

Maybe you want to start your own online business, or you just want to transition to doing more remote work. There are a few points to consider that will help you gain clarity and define your entrepreneurial goals.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Decide if Starting a Business is What You Actually Want

You don’t need to start a business to transition into a fully remote job. If your main goal is just to ditch going to an office, there are other options.

For example, you might consider asking your current employer if there are remote or hybrid work opportunities available. Even before the pandemic, several employers allowed this to accommodate employees with long commutes. But current estimates predict a quarter of the US workforce will be working remotely through 2025.

Another option is to become a freelancer. It’s hard to have a predictable monthly income with freelancing, so some people choose freelance work as their side hustle. However, if you are looking to enjoy the best work-life balance and maximum flexibility with total autonomy over your schedule and workload, this is your best alternative.

Launching a fully remote business, such as an eCommerce platform, offers the same autonomy as freelancing. But with a solid business plan in place, you can turn your skill and passion into a full-time source of income.

Define Your Brand, Business Values, and Offers

While you’re drafting your business plan, there are other important aspects you need to define.

  • Brand identity: You might already have a name and logo. But your brand is more than that; it’s the visual impression you make on customers and the voice that carries your message.
  • Business values. Clients, customers, and collaborators want to partner with businesses with similar values. Establishing the core values of how you run your business — and putting them on display for your audience to read — is a good way to build trust with your audience. 
  • Product/Service offers. To be a business, you need to sell something. But don’t stop with the basic idea of what you want to sell. Create a buyer persona, define your target audience, and be clear about the need your product or service meets.

Design a Dedicated Home Office Space

Deciding to start your own online business or transitioning to a freelancing life involves drastic lifestyle changes. In the beginning, it’s normal to struggle to find balance and establish boundaries between “home life” and “work life” when they’re under the same roof. 

The first step is to establish a home office space. It doesn’t have to be a whole room; you can create the perfect home office even with limited space. Just make sure your space is geared toward your productivity. Avoid busier spaces where other people might go in and out while you work. Choose decorations that inspire rather than distract you.

Establish Boundaries – And a Daily Routine

When starting to work online, it can be hard to separate your professional and personal life. Sometimes the demands of your home life can take priority, causing you to lose work time. Or you might go the other direction and forget to take breaks or take a day off. However, this can quickly lead to burnout. You can avoid this by structuring your days around a routine that makes the most of your creative power. 

Don’t forget to be patient with yourself! When it comes down to creating an entire routine from scratch, you might need to undergo some trial and error. However, once you have found the perfect rhythm for you, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of rest, family time, high productivity levels, and a low-stress life!

You Can Wear Many Hats – But Outsourcing Has Its Benefits

A common misconception about running your own online business is that you have to do every job yourself. Many people do, either because they want to or financial constraints prevent them from hiring help. If there’s an aspect you struggle with handling alone, consider bringing in an expert.

Take marketing as an example. It’s hard to reach your sales goals without reaching out to the right audience. While social media and online platforms have made it easier for small business owners to market themselves, it is a full-time job by itself. Outsourcing the expertise of a professional and working with a marketing agency can help you significantly increase the visibility of your company and reel in greater returns. And the less time you spend muddling through tasks that drain your energy, the more time you have for the parts of your business you enjoy.

Be Patient and Focus on Self-Care

Starting a business online can be stressful. Self-care for the small business owner can look like reducing your availability to new clients so you have more energy. It can also look like signing up for coaching to deal with mindset issues and get support.

Owning a business is hard work, even if it’s based on doing something you love. Blocking out days off and vacations ahead of time can help keep your mental wellbeing a priority. You can also set up days to focus on professional development to keep honing your skills.

Optimize Your Blog to Gain More Readers

Whatever kind of blog you have — whether it’s for business or an online writing showcase — one of your goals is probably to grow your readership. A lot goes into this: social media sharing, mailing lists, compelling content, and good SEO. But before you make changes to your marketing strategy, make sure your blog is set up to encourage a quality reading experience.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Work On The Design

Your first guess might be that your writing needs to improve. But before people read a single word, they take in how your site looks. Do the colors make it difficult to read? Is it hard to navigate? Are you overwhelming readers with solid walls of text? Brush up on your user experience design skills and make sure your blog’s appearance isn’t driving people away at first click.

Craft Some Catchy Headlines

In order to get people to read your compelling content, you have to draw them in with your headlines. A good headline will inspire enough curiosity for a reader to leave whatever they’re currently scrolling through — an email, their social media feed, or another post — to see what you’re talking about. But it’s especially important for keeping people on your site. After reading one great article, they’ll want to read another. If your headlines keep people clicking to read more, your bounce rate will get better.

Practice Your Writing

Now we — and your readers — get to the main event of your blog: your writing. The more you write, the better you get at writing. However, you need to keep in mind the context of your writing. For example, if you want to write informative how-to posts, a writing style that is simple, clear, and to the point echoes the goal of your content. If your posts contain a story, practice a more descriptive narrative writing style.

Keep It Secure & Safe

If you do nothing else, make sure your website is secure and safe for your readers. Purchase an SSL certificate. Use a hosting service like Nestify. Look into malware management and firewalls. Take a class on what your website needs to be safe and functional. You can make your content compelling and attractive, but no one is going to read it if it’s not safe to access.

How to Create a Home Office with Limited Space

Working from home is quickly becoming the new normal for many people worldwide. And while there are advantages to working from home, one of the biggest challenges can be finding a space to set up your office. If you don’t have a lot of extra room in your home, don’t worry! You can still create a functional and stylish home office with limited space.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Use the Space You Have

First, take inventory of the space you do have. A spare bedroom? An empty corner in the living room? Even a nook under the stairs can transform into a workable home office with a bit of creativity. Once you identify your potential workspace, it’s time to think about how to make it work for you.

You need to be smart about storage. For example, wall-mounted shelves can hold all your office supplies and a small filing cabinet can tuck neatly under a desk. If you don’t have room for a traditional desk chair, try using an ottoman or exercise ball. And if you’re tight on space, consider a laptop stand that can be tucked away when you’re not using it.

Convert a Closet to a Home Office

One way to create a home office with limited space is to convert your closet. For shallow closets, you can simply remove the closet doors and add a few shelves for storage. One corner or side of a walk-in closet can become a home office without sacrificing too much space for clothing. Prioritize good light to avoid eye strain; replace light fixtures or bring in a desk lamp.

Create A Partition

Another way to create a home office with limited space is to use part of another room. Set off the space with a curtain or screen to create privacy and avoid distractions. This is an excellent option if you don’t have an extra room to dedicate to a home office. If other family members might use the space while you’re working, consider investing in noise-canceling headphones.

If it’s in your budget and you need a more permanent division of space, you can hire someone (like The Patch Boys if you’re in the Pittsburgh area) to put up drywall. This can be especially useful if you need to have an office space separate from the rest of the house. By putting up drywall, you can delineate the space and make it feel more like its own room.

However, a drywall divider doesn’t have to be permanent. You can create a false wall by attaching drywall to the ceiling and then suspending it from the floor. This will complete the illusion of a second wall and make the room feel more spacious.

Be Creative with Your Home Office

There are many ways to get creative with limited space and still create a highly functional home office. With a little bit of planning and some clever design tricks, you can make the most of any room – no matter how small. So if you’re tight on square footage but big on ideas, put these tips and tricks to work and make your dream home office a reality.

Share your tips for a small home office space in the comments!

How to Be a Writer

I came across something interesting while testing out the free version of the Moz SEO toolset recently. The first search term I ran through their keyword research tool was “writing.” It’s a broad topic that apparently has over 73,500 monthly searches, but I wanted to know what about writing people were most often researching. What burning questions about my industry could I help answer? Or, gee, what questions am I not asking myself? And while picking through a thousand results, I saw it. “How to be a writer.” Clocking in at 4,950 monthly searches.

I tried the search to see what answers were out there. So many lists! Here, 10 steps you HAVE to take. There, a structured guide on developing a writing career. And don’t forget a breakdown of writing jobs and their average salaries. All of them are useful and provide valuable information. None of them mention identifying as a writer.

How To Be A Writer

“If you want to be a writer, don’t do things that will kill your writing.”

Kerri Majors, “This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World”

This is, by far, my favorite answer from one of my favorite books on tackling mindset issues as a writer. It’s followed closely by a parenthetical I also love: “I’m still going to call you Writer, because in your heart and soul, that’s what you are, regardless of the type of writing you are drawn to.”

Not all writers want to write books. Not all writers are paid. But all writers like to write in some form.

Habits to Become a Writer

Write every day. Study writing. Read like a writer. Read books X, Y, and Z. Subscribe to writerly blogs, newsletters, podcasts, social media accounts, smoke signals.

Every list of habits on how to be a writer includes these things. As if doing all these things, somehow, means you’ll wake up one day and brush your teeth like a writer. But these lists aren’t instructions on how to transform yourself from some ho-hum humanoid into a sparkly, majestic writer. They’re just general tips on how to nurture your inner writer and keep in tune with the craft.

And I’ll tell you right now: I am a writer, and I

  • don’t put words on the page every day (but there’s more to writing than getting words out)
  • have a degree in writing, which helps but isn’t necessary
  • read lots of things like a normal person who just wants to read a damn book
  • have tried to read books X, Y, and Z and didn’t enjoy them, so I stopped
  • have unsubscribed to many writerly content streams I didn’t enjoy

I tried everything every list and book said I should do. The plain truth is not everything works for everybody. I ditched whatever so-called have-tos drained my energy and made writing feel like a chore.

If you want to know how to be a writer, think more about why you want to be a writer. Figure out what drives you to write. Do things that work with your energy, not against it.

What do you do to nurture your inner writer? Please share in the comments!

Second Place Cravings and Confessions

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I won my first writing award seven years ago. I didn’t even know I was competing until I heard my name called. The journalism piece I wrote was incomplete, too. How could it win anything?

During my last year of college, student media staff members were encouraged to plan a piece of literary journalism. Something big and impressive to put on our recent-graduate résumés. My project: an in-depth feature on the school’s award-winning equestrian team.

It was a huge undertaking. Featuring several multimedia components, including embedded audio from interviews and supplemental video content, I planned to spend most if not all of the school year on it. The other editors contributed their expertise. Together, we built a fully customized microsite to host what would have been the grand finalé of my career as a student journalist.

And it would have been grand… If only I had planned my time better.

The more experienced Amanda of today would have completed all four chapters of the feature–and all their multimedia bells and whistles–before publishing a single one. I also would have started over the summer break before classes and homework ate up most of my time.

But Past Amanda was too busy to think about her own writing. As the chief copy editor at the time, I edited everyone else’s work. I spent three months of my summer break going back and forth on frustrating revisions for another writer. I gave her a maximum word count of 1500, and she sent me 4000. I took it down to 3000 and told her to cut half of it. She sent me back the original 4000 and asked me to pare it down for her.

I did. Twice.

When I finally got to work on my own project, I only completed the first chapter, which focused on one of the equestrian team’s co-captains. The second chapter would have featured the facilities and the horses–my favorite was a one-eyed horse named Gaston. Chapter three would have explored the team’s training and competitions. Finally, chapter four would have explored what sort of equestrian-related careers students at an art school were pursuing.

By the time January 2015 rolled around, I realized I was in trouble. I was never going to finish it before the winter quarter ended in March. As a soon-to-be writing program graduate, I had to hire my successor to take over in the spring. I abandoned my project and focused on helping prepare the new staff for their responsibilities.

Then, in February, our staff was invited to attend a two-day conference and communications workshop series at Savannah State University. At the end was an award ceremony. Since the only attendees from my school were myself, our advisor, and one other editor, we stayed to accept any awards on behalf of our team.

Since I didn’t think I had anything in the running, I focused on enjoying my cake and clapping for all the winners. It took me a minute to realize they actually meant me when they called my name. I went up in front of the room and got my plaque: second place winner for “Outstanding Feature Writing” in the large university division.

Then an even bigger shock hit.

The first-place award for the same category, the same division, went to the piece I spent three months of my summer editing.

It’s not a pretty thing to admit, but I felt a little cheated at the time. So much of what made that piece a first-place winner was my hard work, but I wasn’t credited anywhere. Only a handful of people knew all the work I put into it. But to everyone else, I might not have touched it at all.

For years, it was an awkward topic for me. I wanted to point to my accomplishments and be honest about my work. Instead, I worried I’d be perceived as petty, bitter, or selfish.

It’s normal to crave recognition for your efforts. It’s nice to know you accomplished something and someone else knows it.

The piece I edited and helped revise won first place. I’m proud of that. The piece I wrote and never finished won second place. That is a crazy thing to be able to say about anything! Why wouldn’t I be proud of that? Just because it came with difficult emotions that sucked for a long time doesn’t take away the accomplishment. And that’s way better than free cake.

Blog Reinvention Gets Messier Each Time

The longer I looked at my screen to assess the damage, the more I cringed. I could not delete things fast enough. This should have been taken care of years ago. I thought it was. Unfortunately, I had to go on a very unwelcome trip down memory lane through all of my oldest blog posts.

Many moons ago, I chose to buy my domain and self-host this site. A couple friends and I got on Skype to figure out how to do that ourselves in the middle of the night. As the process went on, we devolved into playing the anthem of the time on the hour every hour we worked on this. I mean, what else would you be listening to at 3 a.m.?

Ahhhh, memories.

I have no idea how long it took or how many times we asked each other what the fox says. But once it was resolved, we didn’t have to mess with the hosting or many other technical aspects of running a blog for a long time.

Until recently, when my friend let me know he was shutting down his server soon, so he’d help me get my site hosted elsewhere.

Up until 2014, my site had free hosting on WordPress.com. When I bought my domain, we essentially cloned the site and rebuilt it on WordPress.org. The old version on WordPress.com was still there, but invisible to the public because of a domain redirect we set up. Based on my needs and available options, I chose to return to WordPress.com. It wasn’t a complicated process on my end. Most of it came down to waiting for my content files (pages and blog posts) to import into WordPress.com.

I expected this to completely replace all the content that had been collecting dust since 2014, but I was wrong. Every blog post I’d ever made since 2010 was still right there. Even worse: it was the design I used in 2014.

This could have been a great opportunity to examine how far I’ve come. All I’ve learned about user experience design, basic SEO, content creation, and treating a blog as a business instead of a diary. Maybe it would have been entertaining to pick one or two to show off as an example of what it was like when I first started out.

Nope. That was disgusting.

Instead, I went on a deleting rampage.

Once that was over, I found new hurdles. All the plugins I’d gotten used to on WordPress.org? I could get some of them back maybe… if I paid for a more expensive hosting plan than I really need right now. The modern layout design theme I enjoyed for the last few years? Unavailable.

Like it or not, we’re in refine and reinvent mode over here. And it’s going to be messy.

How I Fixed My Biggest Blogging Issue

Whether you’re just starting a blog or you’ve been doing it for years, coming up with post topics can be a struggle. I frequently check out lists of blog post prompts for inspiration. Typically, only a handful spark an idea. I might jot down some initial thoughts and return to them later when I have more time. But I usually end up tossing my partial drafts because they suddenly don’t seem as interesting or like anyone will want to read them.

Even when I power through the imposter syndrome and come up with a small backlog of content to publish, it doesn’t last very long. I’m right back to where I started. My empty content calendar mocks me.

One day, when it was cold in my office, I decided to work in front of the fireplace. I grabbed a notebook and opened another list of prompts on my phone. I figured I’d make a list of the ideas I liked to go back to whenever I sat down to write a new post.

It should be easy to be inspired by a list I created, right? But as my list grew longer, it grew more daunting. Sure, I had more than enough to publish once a week for the whole year. But how would I figure out which ones to publish when? Could I even write that many posts in a single year? I tried not to think about it too much and continued writing ideas on my list.

There’s a magic to writing things out by hand instead of typing. That magic led me to stumble on a totally obvious but absolutely brilliant solution.

After numbering every prompt I wrote down (I still can’t believe I found more than 60 I liked!), I used a random number generator to pick four as a test. If I focused on just one month at a time, it couldn’t be that overwhelming. But I didn’t imagine this simple process would make planning out blog content enjoyable.

Being a one-person team managing your own brand or small business can be stressful. There’s no one to delegate tasks to unless you hire outside help. Every decision is yours to make, and there’s no one around to help gauge if you’re making good choices.

But leaving just a little bit of the decision-making up to chance made it so much easier to handle. My list is made up of prompts I know apply to me. I don’t have to sift out irrelevant ideas. Once I have my prompt, I can get to work.

And if that week’s prompt isn’t inspiring enough, I can swap it out with a different random number.

So simple.

If you struggle to come up with new content ideas week after week, I highly recommend giving this a try.

Find Support to Protect Your Mental Health

Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.

When you have to cope with things throughout the workday that can affect your mental health, it’s important to get familiar with your usual triggers. Maybe, with a few adjustments, you can avoid some stressors altogether. But if you can’t avoid them, there’s one thing to do. Figure out the support system that works best for you and ensure you have easy access to it.

Try Mental Health Support Apps

For support you can take with you wherever you are, you might consider apps designed to support your mental health. These are great for when smaller triggers come up. You can put in your headphones or take your phone to a quiet place and do some simple exercises to ground yourself. But you don’t need to be prone to anxiety attacks to benefit from one of these apps. Guided meditation, affirmations, and mindfulness programs are good ways to check in with yourself even when nothing is wrong.

Talk To Someone

Another option to cope with a variety of issues is simply to talk to someone about how you are feeling. This can be a friend, family member, or therapist. You can also write in a journal, especially if circumstances prevent you from seeking the appropriate person right away. Some people find it beneficial to write their immediate thoughts and feelings down, then bring those notes to a therapy session to process later in a safe space.

Seek Help From a Mental Health Professional

Bigger struggles need more support from qualified individuals. This might mean setting up weekly appointments with a therapist to process issues and develop actionable strategies to protect your mental health. It might also mean consulting a psychiatrist to diagnose conditions that can be treated with medication. For some people, rehab or group programs provide the most effective kind of support.

Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. has some form of mental illness according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If you’re struggling, remember it’s never too late to get the help you need.