Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Resolutions? Really?

Here it comes! Are your plans in place?
Image by Salvatore Vuono

It's that time again.  Time to make a bunch of promises to myself that I will surely break by January 3.  Maybe I can try calling them something different.  How about goals?  Ugh.  That just reeks of rah-rah you-can-do-it life coaching strategies.  All that positivity makes me ill. Can we call it a plan?  That sounds pretty good.  I like to make plans. I probably would have made a good project manager.  I make the plan and someone else has to follow it?  Sounds good to me!

Back to the topic at hand.  My plans for the new year contain many of the old, perennial favorites, but I'm actually heading in this year with some decent strategies in place.  I just need to keep up the momentum.  Here's my PLAN for the 2012:

1.  Live healthier (and hopefully drop some weight).  I've already put this plan in action.  I bought a book from someone about dealing with all that inner junk, to help work on the outer junk.  I know that I definitely have a lot of baggage in this arena, so hopefully this will help.  Can't hurt, right?

2.  Get my money issues in order.  This is an ongoing project over at the other blog.  It's at least something that I'm always conscious of, so hopefully that will keep things going in the right direction.  

3.  Keep the house in better shape.  I am a terrible housekeeper.  I just don't know what it is, but I just plain loathe housework.  And the poor house reflects it.  I don't quite have a strategy for this one yet.  Obviously the simplest strategy is "pick up as you go," but just like the simple strategy for weight loss is "eat less and move more," there's something getting in my way.  If it were that easy, there wouldn't be a whole shelf in the library dedicated to it, right?

And now the writing goals:

1.  Get that stupid city license.  I have the paperwork I need for it (finally), but thanks to holiday money issues, I wound up having to wait.  First paycheck in January is paying for that darn license.  Then I'm going to put my local marketing plan into action!

2.  Finish editing the novel.  Ugh, I know.  I've been saying this forever.  My poor baby is just sitting there, neglected.  I need to just get over it and get it done.  I find it harder and harder to work on projects that aren't actively paying me at the moment.  I need to set up a plan for that darn thing and make it happen.

3.  Start marketing magazine articles more aggressively.  My first real printed magazine article is coming out in March.  At that point I'll have a solid clip.  I plan to drop that clip all over town.  I'm thrilled that I have cultivated a positive relationship with the magazine.  They want me to do more work for them and I'm really excited about that!  Speaking of which...

4.  Get that e-book done. The magazine wants to promote it.  A nationwide ready-made audience ready to read my work?  What the hell am I waiting for?  I think there's a fear factor here, and I'm going to need to deal with it.

5.  Keep working on improving my productivity and efficiency.  It's getting better, but there's still work to be done.  I found a nifty little toy yesterday.  An online stopwatch.  So simple it's almost stupid.  But it kept me focused for long stretches of time, and I really got stuff done.  Good deal.

What will you be working on in the coming months?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Talents I Don't Have

Yeah, I can't do that either.
Photo by maya picture

I usually try to avoid holiday parties.  I’m not one for enforced frivolity, so most of the time I wind up sitting in the corner, clutching a soda and chatting with the one person I know (other than the host, who is usually never seen).   I attended this one for a few reasons: 

  1. The hostess was someone I wanted to get to know better.
  2. My husband’s band was scheduled to play.
  3. I was actually encouraged to bring the kids.

The party was intended to serve two purposes.  Not only was it a holiday celebration, it was also a kind of housewarming.   The couple who were hosting had purchased the house about a year ago, for a steal.  Of course, when you purchase houses for a steal, you also know that you are going to be renovating the heck out of them, and this was the case here.  When I heard stories about how bad the house was when they bought it, it blew my mind. 

The house was gorgeous.  Restored hardwood, high beamed ceilings and so many wonderful, decorative touches all over the place.  Our hostess is an artist.  She makes the most beautiful handmade dolls you’ve ever seen.  As I received my tour of the house, I couldn’t help feeling jealous.  I wanted to live in this beautiful house, but I know that if I had been in the market and had stumbled across it, I wouldn’t have been able to see the possibilities it presented.  I simply don’t have an eye for that kind of thing.

There’s a lot of talents I don't have:  

  • I am not artistic.  I cannot come across some random object and imagine a new way I could use it to decorate my home.  I can't even draw, past a quick sketch.
  • For that matter, I have a terrible time keeping my home picked up and free of clutter.
  • I am not musical.  I cannot imagine new music or tunes I haven’t heard before.  I can’t sing either, although that doesn’t stop me from belting along with the radio.
  • I can’t play first-person shooter video games.  I get lost and confused, and I have a terrible time trying to aim.

But there’s so many things I can do, and when I’m feeling envious of someone else’s talent, I need to remember the ones I have:

  • I can turn a phrase and create readable and enticing prose.
  • I have a good eye for detail.
  • I have a logical approach to life, allowing me to solve problems with little trouble.
  • I make friends quickly and easily.
  • I can solve logic puzzles that other people see as indecipherable.
  • I can cross-stitch, creating my own beautiful works of art. 
  • I can cook delicious dinners for my family, embellishing as needed.

That’s not half bad, actually.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Tragedy of Errors

If only it was this easy...
Image by Salvatore Vuono

I was so disappointed in myself recently.

I was looking over my website and seeing what needed to be updated and what needed to be changed and deciding whether to add anything when I came across a HUGE error.  While that might not be a big deal to some, for someone who edits for a living, having a glaring spelling error splashed across the page is not exactly a great advertisement, y'know?

I thought back on every time I had laughed at a flyer advertising "proffesional proofreading" and winced.  Bad karma, indeed.  I quickly fixed the error, but I wonder how much damage has been done?  How many times has someone considered me for the job, then seen my website and that horrible mistake and laughed at me?  Maybe posted my error on some social network for others to see and laugh at?  Ugh.

I have a couple excuses, of course.  One, I can't work on the website in Google Chrome (my preferred browser).  One of the many excellent features of Google Chrome is that it has a spell-check function.  It helps me catch dumb errors that I make before they go out to the world and embarrass me.  (See how I spelled "embarrass" right?  Yeah, thanks Google Chrome.)  Currently there's a red squiggly line under my misspelling of professional up there.  It's just taunting me.

My second excuse is that it's just really hard to edit your own stuff.  I think that's the worst part.  I would have caught that error in someone else's work.  But because it was my own work (and we all know editors are infallible), I completely missed it.  I didn't check it as carefully as I would have checked something I was being paid to check.  Or even something I was volunteering to check.  I guess that isn't really an excuse.  It's just what happened.

I fixed the error.  I'll have to go through the whole thing again with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything else that might have slipped past me.  Maybe I can pretend someone else wrote it.  Or put my pride aside and ask  someone else to look at it and find errors I've missed.

Oh well.

When have you been "caught with your pants down" (so to speak)?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gifts for the Writer on Your List (hint hint)

Got a writer on your list this year?
Photo by Naito8

Ah, December.  That wonderful time of year when everyone panics, trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list.  Perhaps one of those people is a writer?  Check out some of these -- your favorite writer is sure to appreciate them!

  • Writer's Market -- The most recent copy of the Writer's Market or a subscription to WritersMarket.com.  This book is practically the Bible for any writer trying to publish work in the print market, either fiction or nonfiction.  Having up-to-date information will save a writer time and money.
  • AP/MLA online style subscription -- Many writers, especially those who work online, are required to use one of these style guides.  Having an online subscription will give them the information quickly and easily, with search functions and updated information throughout the year.
  • Books -- Most writers are already readers.  You can pick up some great books about writing, like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or On Writing by Stephen King (two of my favorites, anyway), or you can get a gift certificate to a local bookstore.
  • E-books -- If your writer has an e-book, a gift certificate to Amazon (for the Kindle) or Barnes & Noble (for the Nook) can keep your writer in words all year. 
  • Digital voice recorder -- I like to keep a recorder next to my bed.  I often get ideas for articles, stories or even blog posts just as I'm drifting off.  I can grab my recorder and take note of whatever I'm thinking so I don't forget it later.  I also like to have it in the car, in case I notice a potential client.
  • Netbook -- I love my netbook.  It's nice to be able to write wherever I please, and it's highly portable. If you are feeling particularly flush this year, get your writer a netbook!
  • Conferences -- Tickets to writer's meetings and conferences can be a hot commodity and are often pricey.  Find out if any conferences are coming up that your writer wants to go to and pay their way.
  • A subscription to a literary magazine -- Does your writer read any magazines regularly (or would she like to)?  Take care of this year's subscription.  
What gifts have you given writers?  If you are a writer, what is the best writing-related gift you have been given?  What else belongs on this list?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh yeah, and I'm an editor too!

Editing = zen
Photo by ningmilo
When it comes to this blog, writing tends to get a lot more love from me.  Part of the reason for that is because I don't spend lots of time going over each post with a fine-tooth comb, looking for errors.  It's fairly embarrassing to have your errors pointed out to you in a post that's supposed to be about how to avoid errors.  It's a bit more acceptable to have errors pointed out in a post about writing because hey!  I have an editor to take care of that!


Editing my own work can sometimes be an exercise in frustration.  It's so easy to miss our own errors, isn't it?  When I worked in pharmacy, we had whole staff meetings devoted to this concept.  We see what we expect to see.  It's also why you always want your pharmacy to have someone else double-checking every order that goes through.  While a misplaced apostrophe just looks ugly in a written piece, a misplaced decimal point on a prescription can kill.

On the other hand, editing someone else's work is, to me, a game.  It's fun.  Each little error I find is a small victory.  Yes, I'm one of those people who gets a thrill out of word searches.  I adore logic puzzles.  Portal 2 is probably my favorite video game.  Solving puzzles is fun, and fresh copy, riddled with errors, is a puzzle just waiting to be solved.

When I initially got into the writing/editing game, I thought I was going to be focusing on editing.  My question was, after all, "How do I get paid to read?"  I found a great volunteer gig editing for a nonprofit news site.  My year there has almost come to an end, but I plan to stand on.  Why?  It's fun!  And I'm good at it.  I fill up my proofing form nearly every time, and I find far more errors than the other editors.

I've edited articles for other people, and I want very much to start landing some bigger gigs.  I'm waiting to hear back on the pharmacy technician certification position, but I really hope that comes through.  As fun as writing is, I sometimes find myself stressed out by it.  Editing is a relaxing sort of zen activity for me.  I'd like to do more.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Link Love!

Yours truly is a guest poster now!

Come see my post (a follow-up to "The Productivity Game") over at Anne Wayman's excellent site.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's a Matter of Degree

How badly do I really need that piece of paper?
Photo by scottchan

I don't have a college degree.  Not even an Associates (although I have enough credits for two).  For whatever reason, life has always gotten in the way and I've just never managed to pull together the right combination of credits at the right school in order to grab that piece of paper.  I do have a pharmacy technician certificate from a vocational-technical school, but that's generally not something that impresses people in the writing fields (more on this in a bit).

So what's the deal with that?  Why not just bite the bullet and get the stupid piece of paper?  I looked into it about a year ago to see what I needed.  Turns out it's not much.  I have to retake math (sigh) and I need P.E. credits (you're kidding, right?).  Unfortunately, they both have to be taken at the school where the majority of my credits are, which is now about 45 minutes away.  And apparently P.E. isn't something you can take online.

My budget and schedule simply doesn't allow me to go back to school, at least not that school.  I still want to finish that technical writing certification program and hopefully I'll have the opportunity soon.  So what does all of this have to do with writing?

When I'm applying for freelance writing and editing positions online, so many of them want the candidates to have a Bachelors in English.  Sometimes they don't even care what you have a Bachelors in, so long as you have a Bachelors (which is frankly kind of ridiculous, since I've known plenty of people with a PhD. who can't spell or punctuate their way out of a paper bag).  I've always been skittish around these, and backed away.

I'm generally pretty confident in my skills.  I think that writing and editing is something you don't necessarily have to have a fancy piece of paper for. Either you can do it, or you can't.  As strange as it is to think about, it's kind of like auto repair.  Are you going to take your car to a mechanic who has a framed piece of paper on the wall or are you going to take it someone who can get the job done?  And if your mechanic can get the job done, does it matter whether those skills were learned at a tech school or by hands-on tinkering and discussing the craft with other mechanics who love their jobs and want to pass on knowledge?

A while back I posed the question to Anne Wayman at Aboutfreelancewriting.com, who has been in this business for a while and has considerably more experience than me.  She was kind enough to respond, indicating that she doesn't have a degree either, and that fact hasn't gotten in her way.  In a way, her response gave me "permission" to go ahead and give these openings a shot after all.

Shortly after this conversation, I ran across a request for freelance technical editors to edit pharmacy technician certification exams.  In their ad, they required a Bachelors.  I promptly responded back and, without mentioning education whatsoever, told them that I had worked in the field for nearly 10 years.  Yesterday, I heard back from them.  They sent me a short sample exam to edit and fact check.  After all, what they really want, more than a Bachelors, is someone who can do the work.

Who would have thought a pharmacy technician certification would have come in handy in this line of work?

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Writing Thankfulness List

Sometimes they're the hardest words to say.
Image by digitalart

This has been a strange and challenging year for my family, no question about it.

Making the transition from full-time hourly employee to freelance self-employee is something that I had never anticipated before this year, and some days I still wonder if this crazy experiment is going to work.  I know now, though, that working full-time on-site is no longer an option for me.  Everything I've read has told me that the key to a successful freelancing career is dedication and determination and heaven knows I've got those in spades.

I've been playing the thankful game on Facebook.  You know -- the one where everyday you have to come up with something you're thankful for.  The first few are easy, but once you make it past your family and friends, things get a little more challenging.

I take so many things for granted.  Either that, or I'm grudgingly grateful for them.  For example, I'm grateful that there's a roof over my head, but I wish that it wasn't this particular roof.  I'm grateful that I have a car that runs and gets me from Point A to Point B, but I'm frustrated that the heater is going out and that's going to be expensive to fix.

I hope that I haven't been taking my writing opportunities for granted.  Or those who have encouraged me along this rather circuitous and strange route.  While these might not make the Facebook list, I feel like they should be shared here:

  • I am thankful for everyone who has supported me and who looked interested when I told them I was planning to write.
  • I am thankful to editors who gave me a chance.
  • I am thankful to editors who not only gave me a chance, but then gave me the ultimate complement of requesting more.
  • I am thankful to everyone who has left a comment on this blog.
  • I am thankful to everyone who has left a comment on my other blog.
  • I am thankful to people who have read the comments I left and followed me back here.
  • I am thankful for volunteer opportunities that opened the door.
  • I am thankful to those whose blogs I avidly follow for teaching me so much.
  • I am even thankful to the low-paying "beginner" markets out there for being a place for me to stretch my wings and giving me the confidence to seek out bigger and better things.
I am proud to be a part of the vivid online freelance writing community.  Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The First Line Blues

Despite our fears, the possibilities of a blank page are endless.
Photo by nuttakit.

The fear of the dreaded first line can paralyze me for hours.  It seems like every source on writing warns you that the first line of whatever you write is the most critical and will make or break whatever you have written, whether its your fiction magnum opus or a quick bit of advertising.  Screw up that first line, you are warned, and you've completely lost your reader and (it is implied) probably your career, your home and your first born.  With that kind of pressure, no wonder it can sometimes be tough to get going in the morning!

Plus, think of all those amazing opening lines you are probably competing with:

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."  Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

"It was a pleasure to burn."  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."  The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

"The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."  The Gunslinger, Stephen King

These are a few of my personal favorite opening lines from novels.  Despite the difference in genres, they all have something in common -- they really make you want to read the next line.  Who deserves to be called Eustace Clarence Scrubb?  What are we burning and why is it so enjoyable?  What in the world is a hobbit?  Why is the man in black fleeing -- and who is he?

So when I first face that blank Word document (or Blogger New Post screen), I sometimes falter.  What do I want you to do?  I want you to understand what I'm saying, stick around for the entire post, hopefully want to hear more from me.  If I'm writing for a client, I want the reader to be interested in the client, look around the website and, ultimately, buy something.

The English language can be an overwhelming tool to use.  But the next great opening line is just waiting to be written.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finding Time for the Fun Stuff

Is it possible to find time for play without feeling guilty?
Image by Idea go

I've found that one of the biggest challenges of working at home has been finding time to do something fun without feeling a bit guilty about it.  The feeling is probably understandable.  I've spent most of my employment life working in a public place with supervisors peering over my shoulder, making sure I'm actually working and not goofing off on the company dime.  My ears are still attuned to the clacking of high heels as a supervisor attempts to sneak up behind me.

So when I'm at home, regardless of the time of day, I feel a little bit guilty if I'm sitting on the couch sharing a snuggle with my daughter, taking the time to mess around on facebook or playing the new video game I just picked up.  My computer is right there, calling me.  "Wooooooooork," it tells me.  "Time's wasting!  You could be doing something productive right now!"

Yes, I probably could be, but we all know what all work and no play does to writers, right?

I've dropped some of my computer games.  I feel slightly less guilty sitting on the couch with an Xbox controller than I do playing WoW on the PC.  That just smacks too much of "goofing off on the job."  It also helps that I can justify playing the Xbox as being "work."  (I know, my life is so difficult, right?)  After each days Skyrim session I'm writing up a journal that is going to be posted at Comics Bulletin as part of our new game coverage.

Reading is another place where I have trouble.  Like the games, I can sometimes justify it as part of my job, but what if I'm just rereading a favorite that I have no intention of reviewing?  Reading can be time consuming and it takes away from time I could be working.

I suppose, just like scheduling my work to be more productive, I could also schedule my "fun." But then it feels too much like work!  Establishing actual "office hours" might be an answer, that way if I'm playing Skyrim and it's three in the afternoon I know perfectly well I'm wasting company time.  Except that part of the reason I work at home is to keep my hours variable so I can deal with the numerous crises that might occur throughout the day.

What is your solution for balancing work and play?

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Productivity Game

Still looking for that magic feather...
Photo by scottchan

Too many mornings I've sat down at my desk, ready to get started raking in the dough... and instead found myself goofing off on Facebook or looking at funny pictures of cats.  To anyone looking in, it might look as if I have nothing to do when it's really the total opposite.

Do I start on the article for the client?
Do I work on a post for this blog?
Do I work on a post for the financial blog?
Do I update my website?
Do I work on some marketing?
Do I work on my e-book?
Do I edit the novel?
Do I query some articles?
Do I write that game review on my back burner?

I could actually keep going on this list.

If I have a pressing deadline, that can usually point me in one direction, but once that's done, I'm caught back up in what my mother calls the "paralysis of analysis."  Too many options, and no idea which should take precedence over another.  Plus, I still have books and blogs to read, classes to take, games to play....

I didn't realize how much it was bothering me (or how much it could potentially be losing me) until I actually had a dream about it the other night.  I dreamed that I had downloaded some kind of magic worksheet that allowed me to properly prioritize my projects, put things into perspective, and allowed me to quadruple my daily output.  I was a writer on fire!  When I woke up, I actually hit Google trying to see if such a magic productivity worksheet actually existed.  Of course, in this same dream I had gorgeous straight hair and looked like Sarah Michelle Gellar, but I figured at least part of it might be a possibility.

Alas, such a worksheet does not appear to exist.  I did find a book called The Productive Writer, and a number of worksheets that go along with it, and I downloaded the book onto the Kindle.  Unfortunately, my Kindle decided to go belly up so I haven't made it past the introduction yet.  The kind people at Amazon are sending me a replacement and I'll hopefully have more insight at that point.

In the meantime, I'll continue using my workaround.  I make a list of my options, attempt to rank them by importance, and dig in.  Perhaps, in time, I'll invent my own magic productivity worksheet.  I doubt I really need it, though.  It's likely something along the lines of Dumbo's feather -- all I need is the belief that I can fly, the feather just helps to focus that belief.

Although it would still be nice to look like Sarah Michelle Gellar.  Oh well.

How do you organize your projects?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My e-Publishing Quandary

There's a difference, whether we like it or not.
Photo by Maggie Smith

I go back and forth a bit on e-publishing.  On the one hand, it feels like a way to cheat yourself into a status you haven't really "earned," but on the other, it's a way to quickly get your voice out there when it's needed.

My biggest problem with e-publishing is that the channels are quickly becoming clogged with crap.  Just like anywhere else online, the challenge lies with the potential reader to separate the diamond out of the piles and piles of coal.  People who clearly will never could be published anywhere else can just publish themselves, maybe make a few bucks as their loyal friends and family purchase a copy out of the kindness of their hearts, and then the "book" just sits there forever, forgotten.

And it's mildly offensive to me to have someone claim that they are a published author when they just paid a fee to have their writing listed on a website.  To use the same word to describe someone who went through that minimal process as is used to describe someone who went through the trouble of querying agents and publishers and finally had their book accepted, went through numerous edits, and so on and so forth is, in my opinion, cheating.

I have written a novel.  I am not a published author.  Even if I decided to self-publish, I would never feel right calling myself a published novelist. I would know the truth.  I will be a published writer come March when the magazine featuring my article comes out, and I'm excited by that.  But all the web content in the world that I posted myself does not make me a published author currently.  Perhaps we need a new word.  We all know what a "blogger" is.  What can we call someone who writes and exclusively self-publishes?

Publication gives a piece of work a legitimacy and an authenticity.  It was accepted and deemed "good enough" by someone in the know. When you are the one to authenticate your own work, there's a distinct difference. It's kind of like awarding yourself first place in a contest.

So how do I figure that e-publishing has its place?  Well, because it does.  Sometimes you have a controversial topic and no legitimate publisher would touch it with a 10-foot pole.  Sometimes you want to get your work out quickly and traditional publishing would delay your work reaching its intended audience for a year or more.  Sometimes you want to spread the word about something important and don't want people to have to pay a fortune for it.  Sometimes you just don't want to go through all the frigging hassle.

This week has been a strange one.  I've seen e-publishing used as a shortcut and also decided how I'm going to use it for myself.  Normally I would be participating in NaNoWriMo right now. I'm not going to be working on that this year... well, sort of.  I'm doing my own modified version.  I have something very important to say, and I want to make sure I can say it on my own terms, as quickly as possible to as many people as I can, hopefully by the end of the year.

We'll see how it pans out.  I can promise you this, though:  When my book is for sale, I will not be referring to myself as a published author.  I will refer to myself as "the author of _________ available for sale at Amazon.com."  See the difference?  I will not claim an honor I have not earned.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Work-at-Home Parent vs. Stay-at-Home Parent

Do you find a way to blur the lines between
working at home and staying at home?
Photo by Carlos Porto


This post is in no way intended to insinuate that one of these should be construed as "better" than the other or more noble in any way, shape or form.  For that matter, the same thing goes for parents who work outside the home.  As a parent you are the only one who knows what is best for your family and situation and nobody ever has the right to tell you otherwise!!

Okay, climbing off the soap box now...

As much as I would like to claim that I ditched my full-time job and went into freelance writing out of some romantic starving artist notion, it simply isn't the truth.  While I didn't go into this kicking and screaming (and rather enjoy it, in fact), it was a decision that involved a lot of discussion, testing and compromise.

The driving force behind the decision was the fact that I was needed at home.  My son has special needs and I am frequently needed to deal with situations at the school.  When you work outside the home, phone calls from the school and leaving frequently to pick up a child from school isn't exactly the best way to score points with the management.  An FMLA is helpful, but it can't solve every situation.

As the situation got stickier and stickier and I spent more time "visiting" with human resources, I realized that I was going to have to make a decision.  At the time, I had started dabbling in freelance writing and I'd had some success earning money.  Could I do this full time?  I wasn't sure, but I suspected I was going to be finding out soon.

I took a sabbatical from work in May to try and see how leaving work would go.  I felt lighter almost instantly.  Having the ability to get up and go whenever I needed without running it past my boss, which usually involved a great deal of anxiety on my part, complete with hammering heartbeat and dry mouth, was such a freeing experience.  I knew right away that, for the sake of my son and for my own sanity, we were going to have to find a way to make this work.

For many families, the story would end there.  One parent stays home to handle the situation with the child while another goes to work.  In our case it wasn't quite that simple.  One paycheck simply doesn't cut it.  Bills still have to get paid, especially since our medical bills can be quite high.

I'm fortunate enough to have a talent and a desire to work from home.  But I've found that separating "work from home" with "stay at home" isn't quite as simple as I initially thought. I've indulged myself numerous times, starting work late, taking the kids to the park, procrastinating to watch a movie with my daughter, stopping work to play a game with my son...  everything still gets done on time, but I could probably get a lot more done if I would do better about buckling down.

And then I remind myself that my daughter won't always be three, and she won't always think that snuggling on the couch with mom is a great way to spend a morning.  My son won't always want to show me his new guitar chords or his latest science experiment.  So maybe it's okay to blur the lines between working at home and staying at home.

So maybe it's not such a black and white issue after all.  Maybe it's a spectrum, like this:

Stay-at-home                                                            Work-at-home

And I'm happily somewhere in the middle.

If you are a parent working home, where do you fall on the spectrum?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Art of the "No"

When should you turn down a request for help?
Photo by Tungphoto

I confess to having a weak spot for a person in need.  I've certainly had to rely on the kindness of others more than once in my life, and I like having the opportunity to pay it back whenever I can.  Since I generally don't have a lot of cash handy, I usually offer my time.

Here's the problem with that.

I sometimes forget that time is just as valuable a commodity as that green paper you keep in your wallet.  (Notice I said that you keep in your wallet.  There's certainly none of it in mine.)  And others forget that work at home doesn't equate play at home.

Recently I got myself into a situation where I was way over my head.  A friend asked for help and I did my darndest to oblige.  A month turned into three months and I soon found myself exhausted and frustrated by the favor I was doing.  And I had no idea how to get myself out of it, since their livelihood depended on my assistance.

I was complaining and moaning about it, but I couldn't find the guts to simply say "no."  Or rather, I did, but the friend came back with a counter offer, and I said "okay," cursing myself the entire time.

Finally last week I had an epiphany.  I was putting my friend's family's needs over my own family's needs and certainly far above my own needs.  A favor was fast turning into a full time job.  I took a day to get my guts together and then the next day I sat her down, ready to hand her my awful verdict.

And got the surprise of my life.  She had already solved the problem in a way that would no longer require my assistance. She had already realized that she was asking for too much and had taken the steps to fix the situation, not wanting to feel like she was taking advantage of me.  I was incredibly relieved, since I was worried that saying "no" could put a strain on the friendship.  But instead, she gets to keep her job and I get my life back and all's well that ends well.

So what does this have to do with writing?

1.  If you work at home, before you agree to help out with a volunteer commitment that is likely to take up your time, remember that the keyword is "work."  Any job you take on that doesn't directly contribute to your income (and even some that do contribute to your income) is likely to cause your income and productivity to take a hit.  Trying to recoup that income is likely to leave you stressed and exhausted.

2.  Before agreeing to help out, consider the reality of the situation.  How much time is this really going to take?  Will helping out cost me money?  In my case, I learned that four kids really are not just as easy as two, and feeding the ravenous hordes was digging into my grocery bill.

3.  Negotiate.  Sometimes a trade can be more valuable than cash.  When someone needs assistance and can't offer you money, try to set up a barter system.  Everyone has a talent.  Sometimes a favor in the future can be beneficial.

Just to be straight -- I'm not saying never help out a friend in need and never volunteer.  Volunteerism is good.  The world would be a better place if people gave of their time and money more freely.  But do so on your own terms and don't overwhelm yourself with duties.  Burning out benefits no one.

I actually just offered my help in another arena last night.  I'll probably never be an expert on the art of saying "no."  But I did do a much better job assessing the time and energy commitment.  And if it gets to be too much, I will back out gracefully, standing firm in my decision.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Patching the Holes

Caution -- Work in Progress
image by Idea go

I have a tendency to jump into things feet-first, learning as I go, and fixing errors when needed.  Although I'm good at research, I am often impatient.  Plus, sometimes I never realize how challenging certain tasks can be and I bite off far more than anyone could possibly chew.

But I think one of my better qualities is the ability to take a step back, analyze the situation, find the mistakes and fix them.

When I decided that freelance writing was something I wanted to pursue, I jumped in feet first, as per my norm.  Need a website?  Got it!  How about a blog? No sweat! Out went the query letters and I started plugging away.  Then reality smacked me upside the face.

1.  I have no web design skills at all.
2.  I didn't know what direction my blog should take.
3.  I had no credits to impress potential clients with.

Well, that's a problem.

So I got to work fixing them.

I tackled #2 and #3 first.  I now have a stable-full of credits, even some ghostwriting work that clients were nice enough to let me use.  One of my biggest annoyances is that some of my work is still stuck on a "content farm" site.  I didn't want to make my blog a "catch-all," and I like to write about different things, so I'm still trying to decide how to approach that.  I'm writing more and more about Asperger's, since that's a topic rather dear to my heart, and I'm toying with the idea of creating a blog that deals specifically with that.  Then I would have a place to post those articles.  I've also got some pretty decent stuff up over at Comics Bulletin, and I need to find a way to showcase that better.

This blog has consolidated itself and found its purpose in the last several months and I'm glad for that.  An occasional off-topic post is fine, but I prefer stable subject matter.

This morning I went after #1.  I was hating my website.  It looked crummy and bland and had pretty much no visual interest at all.  I dug around and played with different features, and this morning I actually have a website I'm proud of.  It still needs some work, no question, but it's getting there.  I need to figure out why some of the links are green and some are grey (does it just show like that for me? I can't tell!), but it looks a lot more professional.  I want to get more visuals up there, but it's going to take some more playing and fiddling.  I tried to add a picture of me, but it got all weird and stretched out, so that's going to take some figuring out as well.

So my question for you --

Are you a feet-first person, patching the holes as you go?  Or do you research all the details and hire a professional for the things you aren't 100 percent sure about?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The "Go with the Flow" Phenomenon

Ever made a decision and had all the pieces click into place?
Image by Danilo Rizzuti

Life is full of choices.  Some are small ones:  what to have for breakfast, which socks to wear, whether to buy that book you want in paperback or on Kindle.  Others are potential life changers:  the decision to go back to school, change careers, have kids.  Often we simply have to make a list of the pros and cons, pick a side and hope like crazy that we made the right decision.  

But I've found throughout my life that the world has a way of telling you when you've made a good decision.  This can be ascribed to any number of conditions:  some may call it fate, others may think of it as God's will, others may consider it the balance of the universe.  The label doesn't matter, but I call it going with the flow.

Have you ever made a big decision and watched pieces click into place in a way that felt like it couldn't be an accident?  I've seen this many times in my life.  For me, it's the clue that I'm on the right path and doing what I'm meant to do in this world.  Or have you made a decision and been stymied time after time, with every turn a challenge and nothing working out like it should?  I've experienced this as well, with decisions that I've looked back on later and wondered what I could have possibly been thinking.

Ten years ago I was a single mom, separated after leaving a horrible relationship and responsible for a 1-year-old boy.  The only job I could get was a minimum wage gig working the checkout at a local drugstore.  I lived in a one-bedroom barely there apartment.  I knew I needed to make a change, for the sake of my son if nothing else, but I didn't know what to do.  I got to talking to one of the women who worked in the pharmacy as a technician.  It seemed like something I could do and it paid twice what I was making.  I made the decision to get pharmacy tech training.

And things began clicking into place.  I made phone calls to find a program.  Every school was full, but I got put on waiting lists.  A week later, one of the schools called to tell me that an opening had come available and I would be starting the following month.  I qualified for a grant that would not only pay for my schooling but would also help with some of my living expenses.  I was able to set up an arrangement with daycare and family that would allow me to go to school eight hours a day and follow that with a shift at the store.  After I had been in class for three months, the drugstore moved me to the pharmacy so I could start my training back there.  This came with a pay raise and nights that weren't so late.

I was where I was supposed to be at that time in my life.  I moved to a pharmacy in a grocery store and then took a contract job at the University.  After I had my daughter, when money was tight, the University called me at exactly the right time to see if I wanted to come back and work for them.  They bought my contract and I worked there for the next three years.  

When I realized I wanted to do more and wanted to use my writing and editing talents, the same coincidences started happening.  A Google search landed me a volunteer gig web editing, an easy way to gather experience.  I found inexpensive classes to work towards a certificate in technical writing that fit into my schedule.  I found websites brimming with advice that pointed me exactly where I needed to be.  And I had the pieces in place when my life took a turn and I needed to leave the cushy University position.

My husband has observed this phenomenon as well.  He says that once he met me, the relationship felt "effortless" and things went smoother than any relationship he had ever been in.  When I interviewed a friend for an article, she mentioned the same phenomenon, without any prodding from me.  She decided to open a kid's consignment store and all the pieces started clicking into place.  A year later, she is a successful small-business owner.  

Have you ever experienced this in your own life?  What do you call it? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maintaining Professionalism While Working from Home

You're not going to get your best work done in your slippers.
Photo by:  winnond

For those of us who work from our homes, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep up our professional demeanor.  After all, it's hard to feel like you are at work when you have Dora the Explorer yapping at you in the background!  But if you don't put yourself in a working mindset, you are unlikely to actually get anything done.  Feeling professional can help you stay on track during the day and increase your productivity, ultimately leading to higher paychecks.

1. For Pete's sake, get dressed.

You are not going to feel professional sitting at your desk in your robe and bunny slippers.  Nobody is asking you to wear a dress suit or a tie -- although I wouldn't fault you for doing so -- but at least get out of the sweats and put some shoes on.  Fixing your hair and putting on a little makeup will help you feel more professional as well, if that's your thing.  Basically, dress as if you were planning to meet people today or were planning to go to work at a casual office.  

2.  Schedule your day.

Remember that calendar I told you to keep here?  It's about to be useful again.  Every evening before you close up shop for the day, check your calendar for the next day and the upcoming week.  Use a spreadsheet or even just a piece of paper to draft out a schedule for the following day.  Take note of which projects should have priority.  While making your schedule, include personal things that need to get done during the day.  Household maintenance activities can be done while you work from home, but put them in your schedule so that you know when they are to be done and when you can forget about them for awhile.  Include breaks and other predictable activities in the schedule as well.  Don't be overly rigid, but try to stick to your plan as much as possible.

3.  Keep your work area clean.

Having papers covering your desk is a surefire way to guarantee you will be distracted.  Keep papers filed away except for the immediate project you are working on.  Don't mix "work stuff" with "home stuff."  If this means separate filing cabinets, so be it.

4.  Get off the Internet!

Okay, so you probably need a search engine open to look up information or research your project, but that's it!  Fine, and maybe one for music too, if it helps you work better.  I personally can't write or edit well with music playing, but some do.  But for the love of all that is holy step away from the Facebook!  Every time you click over to find out what your friend thinks of your dog or play the Sims you are stealing valuable time from yourself.  Not cool.  Think of it this way:  Don't do something that you would fire an employee you were paying for doing.

5.  Be professional on the phone.

You should have a phone that is dedicated to work when you work from home.  Don't make it your home phone, since other people are likely to answer it.  Make your cell phone your work phone or, if you can, have a completely separate cell just for work.  Answer it professionally and judiciously.  If your son or daughter is home with you and the phone rings while they are having a meltdown, let it go to voice mail.  It is better to return the client's call later when things have calmed down then to try to have a work conversation over the sounds of a screaming child.  It's probably old hat to you, but imagine what that sounds like from the client's end.  Are you likely to hire someone who appears to be working in such a chaotic environment?  Come up with fun activities to keep your kids quiet and self-entertained while you work.  If you can, hire a sitter.  It might seem strange to have someone else watching your kids while you are at home, but if your kids are especially rambunctious it might be the best option.

Women, Writing and Money

Not a measure of self-worth, but you should charge what you are worth.
Photo by: worradmu

An excellent conversation is taking place over at AboutFreelanceWriting.com.  After an article discussing the ways to get paid what you are worth and the value of directness in pricing, I had a question.  "Are men more likely to be direct about getting paid then women?"  Writer Anne Wayman took the time to explore the question, believing it to be tied in to self-worth, rather than gender.  As she points out though, isn't that a bit of a gender issue as well?  If you can, by the way, take the survey to express your opinion.  I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

I think this is a really important subject to address.  It's well-known that women are still earning less than men working in the same position.  In 2010, TIME Magazine reported that women only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

What on earth is going on here?  While on the surface it appears to be a bias issue, the bias wouldn't be allowed if women weren't willingly settling for less.  Granted, wages aren't usually something that is talked about -- I know people who would happily report all about their sex lives but would never tell me what they made last year -- so it's hard to compare.

Are women as a whole more willing to accept a first offer?  Do some of them feel grateful to be hired at all?  Do they not feel worth more?

I'm the first person to confess to feeling a sense of gratitude when someone wants to hire me.  Sometimes the validation that I'm not a crappy writer gets in the way and almost becomes part of the payment.  I'm also still rather new to the game.

I've been working jobs that paid crummy wages for the past 20 years.  The idea of making $50 an hour frightens me.  Could I possibly be worth that much?  I have no college degree.  Enough credits for two separate degrees, but not in the right combination and not at the right schools.  According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, the average yearly pay for a woman who has only a high school diploma is $25,000 per year ($32,900 for men -- couldn't you just cry?).  At the job I left earlier this year I was making about $40,000 annually.  So, statistically speaking, I was doing really well for someone with no associate's degree.

Am I crazy to want more?  Am I crazy to think that I am worth more?  I have a skill.  I can write and edit.  I can research.  I can put thoughts together in a logical stream.  I can do these things well.  I had an inkling this was something I might be good at, but until I jumped in and began getting feedback from those who had no reason to coddle me, I could only suspect.

And here we are again.  I thought I was good at writing but I wasn't sure until other people told me so.  As a writer you won't succeed unless other people think your writing is good enough to buy, so there's certainly a point where other people have to think you're good.  So how do you deal with this issue when your creative process must have a dollar amount assigned to it and that dollar amount is determined by whether someone will purchase it at that price?

I know this is a point that has been bandied about for several decades and one blog post isn't going to solve the problem.  It's probably also a good question for my therapist!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

When Life Gets in the Way of the Writing

Coping with the rainy days.
Photo by:  Vlado

Life happens.  This is a fact.  And sometimes events transpire to take us away from our careers as writers -- maybe for a couple of days, maybe for a month or more.  As self-employed professionals, we don't have options like FMLA to fall back on, so what can we do to make sure we still have a career to return to?

Before a crisis ever happens, it's important to establish good record-keeping habits. You should always know which clients you are working for and when their deadlines are.  Don't try to trust this to your memory.  When the you-know-what hits the fan, the memory is the first thing to go and you are bound to forget names, dates and topics.  Do yourself a favor now and create a calendar of deadlines you can easily refer to and keep it updated.

When the Crisis Happens

1.  Check your calendar.  Do you have deadlines in the next few days?  Can you realistically get any of this work done?  If you are going to be away from your desk to deal with the situation, it is unlikely. It is also unlikely that any work you produce in the midst of the crisis is going to be your best, which means you would be shortchanging your client who is paying for your best work.  Additionally, having a looming deadline while you are coping with chaos is also likely to ratchet up your stress level and that's the last thing you need.  Work is important, but so are you, and you need to take time to manage your own needs.

2.  Contact those clients.  Send out an email to each client whose deadlines fall during this period.  It doesn't have to be long, but you absolutely must contact them as soon as you possibly can.  Let them know that you will not be able to make deadline.  You don't have to give them the gory details -- these are clients after all, not your closest friends.  If you give them all the details you are apt to scare them off.  However, it is okay to let them know that a personal situation has come up -- as long as this isn't something that happens every week.  If crises are happening day after day, you will get a reputation for being flaky, and you do not want that.  Clients are human beings, though, and will likely be understanding when you ask for an extended deadline because of an emergency.  Why send an email instead of a phone call?  A client on the phone may try to convince you to "just do that one piece."  In a vulnerable state, you may feel guilty and accept, adding to the stress of the situation.  It's harder to lay a guilt-trip by email.

3.  Enlist help.  Your clients may have their own deadlines, and you don't want to put them in a bind.  If any of the deadlines cannot be moved forward, the work must get done.  Contact any freelance writer friends you have and pay them to do the work.  Yes, you may lose out on some cash, but you will retain the client.  Services like Textbroker may help out in a pinch, but don't go too cheap.  Hire the best.  Your client deserves it.

4.  Stick to the new deadlines.  You've bought yourself some time to deal with the immediate crisis.  If you and the client have agreed on new deadlines, you absolutely must make those deadlines.  Try to push them back again and you will lose the client.  Get help if you need it, but do whatever you need to do to get the work done.

5.  Write.  This may sound contradictory to all the previous advice, and perhaps a little callous, but a crisis can provide incredible fodder for a writer.  Writing, after all, is what we do.  It's who we are.  If you have learned something from a crisis, pass it on.  Others will, eventually, cope with the same thing.  Even if all you write down is titles for future pieces, get them in your notebook.  You may even find it therapeutic to write out your feelings about what is happening, and sometimes detaching enough to write a "how to" article can give you perspective to cope with the unfolding chaos.  Plus, writing a little every day, even just a paragraph, will keep the gears well-lubricated and ready for when you get back to work.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Covering Your First Press Event

I recently had the opportunity to cover my first press event.  It was a fun and exciting experience and I now have a ton of material (which will be displayed over at Comics Bulletin -- check it out!) on a subject I'm passionate about.  I also learned, primarily through trial and error, a great deal about covering an event.

Want to Cover an Event?

If you write for a hobbyist site, or even your own blog that has regular followers, you should consider applying for a media pass for local conventions and other events.  Most hobbies and interests and conventions and shows and reporting on these will not only drive traffic to your site, but will also help you make connections in the community and maybe even score you some additional writing gigs.  Whether you are into gaming, quilting, dog grooming, or flower growing, you can find something interesting to report on.

Applying for a Press Pass

To apply for a press pass, which usually includes a free ticket to the shows and sometimes access to special guests or promotional items from vendors, check the website for the show you want to cover.  They may have a link specifically for press.  If not, contact the people charge (usually found under "contact us" or something similar).  Ask if press passes are available.  Smaller shows will be thrilled to get the coverage and will bend over backwards to accommodate you, while larger shows that attract plenty of press will have much stricter guidelines.  Be prepared to link back to your work to show that you are a knowledgeable resource on the topic of the show.

Vendor Communications

Once you are signed up as press or media, you may begin receiving emails from vendors who are hoping to schedule some time with you.  Take advantage of these! Scoring exclusive interviews with vendors and guests will provide your readers with information they can't get anywhere else.  Schedule your time carefully, making sure to weave the interviews in between any panels or demonstrations you are hoping to see.  Make sure to allow time for meals, getting lost and exploring the show.  Have good etiquette and show up on time for interview.

Heading to Your First Event

Ready?  Take a few deep breaths.  Everyone has a first time and nobody is going to point and laugh.  Remember, the vendors want to talk to you.  You are their best advertising!

Before you head out the door, check your supplies and make sure you have everything you need.  Your list should include:

  • A digital recorder so you can review your interviews later
  • A camera (but always ask permission before taking photos)
  • Your press pass, or your ID to pick it up
  • A notebook or small laptop so you can take notes or draft articles during any downtime
  • Extra pens
  • Business cards to trade with vendors so they can reach you later
  • A carefully plotted out itinerary

Prepare ahead of time for your scheduled interviews, and even any unscheduled ones you are hoping to score.  Check out the vendors' websites and test their product, if possible.  Avoid asking questions that are answered on the vendors' FAQ pages. If the vendors are selling a product that you are personally interested in, ask questions about product from a personal standpoint.  What do you, as a consumer, want to know about the product?  Chances are, if you have a question, so do your readers.

If the product isn't something you know much about, talk to family and friends who are familiar with it.  Ask them what they want to know.  Check in with your readers, and see what questions they have.  Social media can be a great resource for this.  Post the question on a site like Facebook and you'll get all sorts of interesting questions.  The key here is to have unique questions.  The vendors answer the same old questions all day, every day.  Grab their attention and you might just score a scoop.  


Shows and conventions are one of the best venues for networking available.  Bring plenty of business cards and pass them out like candy.  Vendors who like your style may follow up with you and give you the first details on upcoming specials and releases -- a huge boost for both your rep as a writer and keeping your readers informed on the things they really care about.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Being a "Good Reader"

Books.  The nectar of life.
Photo by:  Surachai

When thinking about the skills needed to be a writer, what normally comes to mind?  Chances are it's a few of the following:

-- A strong vocabulary
-- An intimate knowledge of commas
-- Knowing where the darn apostrophes go
-- Understanding the difference between "they're/their/there"
-- A wild imagination

I would argue that one of the best skills a writer could have is being a good reader.

What does this mean?  What makes a good reader?  Does it mean you could pass the "reading for context" test you were given in the second grade?  Does it mean you were consistently placed in a higher reading level than your actual grade?  Does it mean you slogged successfully through War and Peace before graduating high school (and actually understood at least half of it)?

Maybe.  Although I admit that I still have not read War and Peace and, frankly, have no desire to whatsoever.

Here's what I think it means to be a good reader:

-- You love books and would rather be reading than doing anything else.
-- At any given time you have a book somewhere about your person, "just in case."
-- You get so involved in a story that you stay up until at least 2 am, just to see what happens.
-- You love books the same way you love people.
-- You spend hours wandering in a bookstore.
-- You get involved in conversations and arguments about characters in stories, and feel personally invested in the outcome.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Family legend has it that I was taught to read at three years old by my grandmother.  By the first grade I was reading chapter books by Beverly Cleary.  I read "Animal Farm" in the fourth grade (and understood it).  At fifth grade I was tested and found to have a "fourteenth grade" reading level (i.e. college level).  I read anything you put in front of me (almost), both fiction and nonfiction.

From the very beginning, I was surrounding myself with language.  I learned quickly all the ways it can be manipulated, understood instinctively the difference between an adverb and an adjective, got a feel for the rhythm of punctuation.

When I'm writing, I'm just interested in getting the information out and on the page.  But when I edit, I become the reader.  I read the work out loud, to get the feel of it.  And I can "hear" whether it's working or not.  Sentences "sound" awkward.  Commas "feel" misplaced.

You can't teach this in school.  Studying nouns, verbs, transitional phrases, modifiers, participles...  it doesn't help you "feel" the language.  Even if you are writing about something as "dry" as heart attack symptoms.  Do it right, and your reader cares.  And as writers, we are all about the readers.  Right?  Want to be a better writer?  READ.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Start Your Own Business in Five Simple Steps

Do you know how many books are written on this subject?  It's a little bit terrifying.  I've found that you can actually boil it all down into five simple steps:

1.  Come up with an idea.
2.  File your business license.
3.  Order your business cards.
4.  Read everything you can find on the subject.
5.  Panic.

Wait, what?  Panic?  It's funny how easy it all seems at first.  Truth be told, there's a lot of work to do.  I've been busy laying my foundations.  I'm getting a bit more done everyday, and things are falling into place.  Instead of becoming overwhelmed by how much I have to do, it's time to focus on how much I've already done and what I've managed to accomplish.

Here's what I've done since I first started looking at this whole crazy plan, way back in November:

  • Written nearly 600 separate articles on every subject under the sun (it seems).
  • Received glowing reviews from many clients, including this one a piece today:  "Well written and fast. Thank you so much for a great article."
  • Hired for a steady stream of direct orders.
  • Been promoted to Senior Reviewer at DailySource.
  • Earned a certificate in professional proofreading.
  • Picked up as the gaming columnist for Comics Bulletin.
I'll be heading to PAX Prime with media credentials (and I have the schedule for that all blocked out -- going to be some great articles coming out of that one!).  I have interviews booked with a number of gaming outlets, and I've figured out which panels I plan to see (Helllooo, Wil Wheaton!).

So what's left?  Here's what's coming down the pike...

  • I'm creating a report about attracting customers to small businesses.
  • I'll be offering up a monthly newsletter (send me an email or comment and I'll add you to my mailing list).
  • A series of letters offering my services to local clients.
And that's where things will get interesting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Skills to Pay the Bills

Last Friday was the last day of my steady, dependable, 9 - 5 (technically 7:30 - 4) job.  I won't get into all the reasons for leaving the position here, I know many people might think I was nuts to leave a decent-paying job with plenty of security and good health insurance.  Rest assured when I tell you that I have my reasons and that they are excellent.  I didn't leave the job to be a full-time writer, although that will be the end result.

Change is frightening and can feel like you are not just stepping off a cliff but soaring off of it, taking a dive with arms held out over the head, and hoping like crazy there is a nice deep pool at the bottom, or at the very least a very large trampoline to break your fall.  I am hoping that writing will be that deep pool.  I've done my research, gathered my resources and built my network.  The ducks are in a row, as the cliche goes, and now it's time to put my plans into action.

I recently applied for a writing job and was extremely pleased with the portfolio I have managed to accumulate in a mere six months.  I have a solid set of articles written in my own name that are ready to be linked to at a moment's notice, over 200 articles in my ghostwriting tool set, including a growing complement of direct clients ( one of whom is perfectly willing to let me link for sample work), credited editor on two websites, two blogs, a website, a member of several sites that always have work available, and recently named Video Games columnist for Comics Bulletin.

So what's next?  Next week I am planning to get my business license and business cards and begin a more direct approach -- actively seeking personal clients.  I am going to contact small business owners with an explanation of how SEO content on their website can increase their traffic and sales and try to convince them that they should hire me.

Writing is my full-time job now.  I intend to make this work.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oh Noes!

Blogger appears to have had a bit of a burp during the night.  I've lost my list of blogs I am following and I'm not so thrilled about that.  I'll try to find everyone again, but if I miss you, drop me a line!

Monday, May 9, 2011

What I'm Reading -- Prehistoric Edition

The Land of Painted Caves -- Jean M. Auel

Spoilers Abound!

I've always been a pretty precocious reader.  When I was about 10, I tackled Auel's classic, Clan of the Cave Bear.  I loved that book and to this day it remains one of my favorites.  It was brilliant.  I cared about the characters, I learned a lot about the prehistoric landscape, I thought the information on medicinal herbs was fascinating.  The book made me cry even back then.  Now that I am older, I understand a lot of what happened much better than I was when I was 10.  I've become a mother twice during that time as well and just thinking about the ending of the book brings a lump to my throat.  Actually reading it still makes me sob.

My mother forbid me to read the following book, Valley of Horses, so of course, 13-year-old me couldn't resist it.  Again, good story, lots of explicit sex (I get why my mother forbid it!), not too shabby.

Somewhere along the line, Ms. Auel jumped the shark.  Fast forward 25 years.  I'm a bit of a completionist when it comes to reading.  I even made it through all four Twilight books.  I can choke down damn near anything.

Even this mess.  The overall feeling I had while reading this was, "Where the hell was this woman's editor?"  It felt like she was writing from a template.  Pages and pages of repetition.  Yes, we know.  The Zelandonii have long introductions.  Good lord, woman, do you actually to write them out every single time they happen?  Everything (and I do mean everything) was re-explained over and over.  Ayla meets people.  They are blown away by horses and wolf.  She introduces them to horses and wolf.  She cures someone.  She loves Jondalar.  Jondalar loves her.  Begin long soliloquy about how far he traveled and how many people they met and blah blah blah.  I ceased to care two books ago.

And let me tell you, if you have seen one painted cave, you have seen them all.  I imagine in person they are pretty spectacular.  I went to see the Lucy exhibit when it came to the Pacific Science Center.  I know how overwhelming and powerful it is to be face to face with history like that.  But reading page upon page of description.... I was skipping ahead and skimming, trying to get to some sort of story.  But it wasn't there.  Just a bunch of people I had ceased to care about walking all over ancient France looking at cave after cave after cave.  It felt more like a research paper, and not even a very well-written one.

Oh wait, part three had some story.  But it felt tacked on, an afterthought.  And if you've read The Mammoth Hunters then you already know the story.  I'll give you a hint. The books end in the exact same way.   Just substitute your favorite Zelandonii names for the Mamutoi names and they are exactly the same.  I mean, really, Ms. Auel.   I did the math.  I know you are 75 years old now.  But if you can't come up with something new, why bother?  Wouldn't it have been better to just leave the series as it was?  And it's not as if there was every any sort of resolution.  There are still a bunch of pieces left hanging.  I'm wondering if the series is going to be picked up and carried on by other writers, a la Flowers in the Attic.

I thought it was sad to leave the series on such a low note, when it had started out so promising.  I had some ideas of where I thought it could have gone and how she could have redeemed herself.  I had hoped that other things might have happened.  I would have liked to go back and explore the Clan some more since that's where all the most interesting things happened.  But it was not to be.  My regrets, but I'm recommending skipping this one and treating yourself to a re-reading of Cave Bear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Need a Job and I Want to be a Paperback Writer

If you want to ever publish a piece of work anywhere other than your own blog, a query letter is an essential document.  It can be a challenging place to tread, full of hidden pitfalls that you might not have thought of.  Several pieces are essential, and some ideas and strategies should best be left behind.  

Writer's Market has a clinic within its pages to help craft the perfect query letter.  An excellent writer of young adult fiction, Rosemary Clement-Moore, has a section on her blog devoted to helping budding writers avoid the most common mistakes.  I thought I'd do something a little bit different... an analysis of the world's most famous query letter.  Never heard of a famous query letter?  I bet you have.  It was written 45 years ago by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  I thought we'd take a look at it and see what works... and what should have been left behind.

Dear Sir or Madam, (not off to a good start here.  It is essential to target the specific editor or agent who will be looking at your work)

Will you read my book?  It took me years to write, will you take a look? (needy much?) It's based on a novel by a man named Lear (Are you saying this thing plagiarized or what??)  And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer.  (Don't start off a sentence with a conjunction.  It's bad grammar and you are trying to get a writing job for pity's sake.  Also?  You sort of said that already.

It's the dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife doesn't understand.  (We need a bit more of hook to know what this story is really about.  This is pretty vague.)  The son is working for the Daily Mail, it's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer.  (So is this a novel or an autobiography?)

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few, I'll be writing more in a week or two. (An editor or agent isn't going to be the least bit interested in a book that isn't even finished yet.) I can make it longer if you like the style, I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer.  (Believe me, if there are problems that need fixing, the editor or agent will be making you change it around. Oh.  And I believe you said that already.  You should never admit in a query letter that you are a beginning writer or that you have never had anything published.)

If you really like it you can have the rights,  it could make a million for you overnight.  (This is a bit over-enthusiastic.  The writer seems really focused on making money.) If you must return it, you can send it here (hope you included a self-addressed stamped envelope or you aren't getting it back) but I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer.  

Paperback Writer is a great song (one of my favorites, can't imagine why) but it quite frankly fails as a query letter.  Bummer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Line-Up

Today I met with my advisor (eee! That sounds all cool and ... and... collegiate!!) and we laid out my plan for my classes and electives.  So now I know what I have to look forward to for the next couple of years.  My class plan is thus:

  • Professional Editing I (enrolled, starting in April)
  • Fundamentals of Technical Editing (will be taking the online course that starts on May 9)
  • Fundamentals of Document Design (I need to get a grasp on InDesign for this, so I'm going to need to acquire a copy of "InDesign For Dummies" or something like that... anyone feeling generous??? I just refuse to pay $450 for a course when I'm pretty sure I can get a handle on it myself.)
  • Writing Web Content that Works
  • Writing White Papers
Those are my required classes.  Here's what I chose for my electives:
  • C# for Technical Writers
  • Intro to XML for Technical Writers
  • XHTML Level 1
  • Designing Effective Websites
  • Project Management for Technical Writers
Whew!  This is actually (technically, haha, my little joke there) more credits than I need for my certificate, but I'm okay with that.  It should make me pretty valuable and diverse (look out you software geeks,  soon I will be able to SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE BWAHAHAHAHA...... ahem).  I decided to take a web-heavy route, which I think can only help me in the long run.  The word on the street is that tech writers will need to have some serious web skills soon in order to compete.  So why be behind from the get-go, right?  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rarin' to Go!

Last night I went to my "information session" for the Tech Comm program that I'm starting.  Oh, you guys, I'm so excited! I'm not a complete twit, I know it's going to be a lot of work, some of it very hard and frustrating, but finally having the chance to make this major life change just has me jumping to get started.  I wish I could start tomorrow! 
It was an interesting mix in the group.  We had a journalism student who was coming to some harsh conclusions about the reality of journalism these days, a former tech writer for Microsoft who was coming back after a ten-year hiatus and realizing that none of his skills were marketable any more, two former construction workers whose coworkers were tired of them correcting their grammar all the time and decided to find greener pastures, an executive assistant from California who had been out of work for two years and couldn't find anything in her field, and a library student in her late fifties who was simply bored.  And me. 
One of the speakers was a tech writer from Microsoft who gave us a breakdown of what it was really like on the job.  And the thought that kept running through my head was, I can do this!  I can really actually truly do this! 
Besides the overall Tech Comm certificate I will have at the end, each class has its own individual certification.  And each class has a portfolio project so that when I'm done I will have a "real" portfolio (instead of the barest scrapes of one that I have now).  Things are looking up!  It's nice to be able to look towards the future and not just see more of the same. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Shady Side of Writing

As I branch out and learn more and more about the weird world on online writing (SEO optimization? keyword frequency? whosit whatnow?) some of the things I'm finding out are causing me to question a lot of assumptions. I've always had a healthy streak of cynicism, I've been scammed my fair share, and working in a pharmacy has certainly caused me to never take anything at face value.  But recently, I've learned a lot of truths about things you might read on the web.

Here is the truth that I have learned:  Everything is BS.  Okay, maybe not everything.  But you are going to have a hell of a time separating out the crap from the gold.

Guess what?  There are companies who pay writers (not even well, I might add) to write blogs that will be posted under another person's name, who will ask writers to essentially plagiarize an article so they have fodder for their website, to write product reviews for items that they have never tried, to provide controversial commentary on an article.

On one of the sites I have been writing for (not going to name and shame here, sorry!) a writer on the forum was asking for opinions from the other writers about a job that he had recently picked up and was being paid for.  A company wanted him to write a number of "articles" about their product, and was calling it marketing and promotion.  But what they actually wanted him to do was write glowing first-person reviews that were going to be distributed around the web on various review sites.  He was feeling this was a bit sketchy, but decided to do it for the paycheck.  Several people chimed in, verifying that they too had done this sort of job. And not just the glowing reviews!  Some had even been hired to write BAD reviews about competing products!

The upshot?  Don't bother researching product reviews on the web.  You have no way of knowing if they are authentic or if they are bought "opinions."  The ones who defend this practice claim that it's no different than a TV commercial where a paid actor gives his "testimonial."  But this isn't exactly true, is it?  A TV commercial will have a disclaimer somewhere on it that says "Paid Actor."  Also, there is a certain level of expectation involved.  I know perfectly well when I see a TV commercial that it is being paid for by the company that makes the product being advertised.  I take whatever is being said with a grain of salt.  However, when I read a review on Amazon, or Yelp, or wherever, my expectation is that an actual customer is posting based on their actual experience with the product.  Well, it just ain't so.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Would you be willing to write a review for money for a product you haven't even tried?

**** Disclaimer-- All posts on this blog are conceived in the brain of Amelia Ramstead.  Which probably explains a lot, actually.