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.