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Monday, June 30, 2008

Work is Happening

It's happened - work has begun piling in right about the time I was thinking it would be nice to go fishing in Ontario. Yes, I just returned from a nice few days off. So what? I work my tail off the rest of the year and frankly, given my seniority at this job, I think I deserve four weeks of vacation time and a few personal days, right? Sick days are another matter. I'd work through nearly any illness if I can sit upright.

Two calls on the cell phone while I was gone - both work-related. Both new projects, so that assuaged my guilt a bit. Why do we writers feel the need to justify our time off with ourselves and others? We work hard. We make money. We survive and yes, even thrive once in a while. We can do what we like. Isn't that why we took this job in the first place?

Anyway, I'll be busy this week meeting two immediate deadlines, but I'll try to post something useful. Start with this. What's wrong with this sentence?

"Listening would help to diffuse the argument by allowing the other person to feel heard." Well, besides it being a crappy sentence, what's technically wrong with it?

Back later.....

Friday, June 27, 2008

Random Friday Riff-Raff

On a short hiatus this week. I actually took off on Wednesday afternoon, but decided not to mention it until today. Surprise! It was a side trip to see his friends and to somehow celebrate my getting one more year older (like I care - just pretend I'm still in my 30s, okay?).

On Wednesday I woke up and announced to my husband, "I think I'll be stubborn today." Hey, why not? It's a valid emotion, and I gave fair warning. He found it amusing, and something really interesting happened - I felt quite able to put my foot down or disagree and he laughed at nearly every instance, reminding me of my declaration. What a way to act how you like and disarm ahead of time! I think I'll bottle this approach.

When I have free time, which occasionally happens, I surf Entrecard to find new blog haunts. It's amazing the crap that's out there. One blog actually named itself "My big world of crap" blog. Truer words have never been written. There's one called The Junk Drawer, which is a lovely woman's musings about whatever floats her boat. There are anime fan sites, real estate sites, photography sites.... basically if you can dream it up, there's a blog about it.

What really unnerves me is how many comments these blogs get. I mean, one post, random things about the poster, got 43 comments. Seriously? Forty-three comments on how many years she was a cheerleader? Jealousy? Envy? Me? Damn right! The crap blog is getting about 1,600 views per day! Come on, someone. Tell me what I'm doing wrong here!

Perhaps I should talk about random stuff, like how my husband isn't allowed to say the word "bulghur" around me. I hate that word. It sounds, well, it rhymes with "vulgar", doesn't it? Or maybe I should blog about the words we invent. "Stop being persniferous!" Would you like that? To me, that's not why I read blogs. But I seem to be in the minority.

So tell me - what are your favorite blogs? Why? Which ones do you head toward first? What characteristics do they have that keep you going back, and compell you to respond?

And tell me - bulghur is vulgar, isn't it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Revising the Back-Up Plan

So I learned a few things during our power outage on Tuesday, which by the way lasted until 3:30 that afternoon. Because of the experience, I'm amending my back-up plan in light of my latest discoveries.

Libraries are lacking two things: quiet and power outlets. My library is great. But there are exactly two outlets in the entire library sitting area. I had to share my outlet with a man who then handed me something to help me along my "walk with God." Also, librarians are noisier than the patrons. Just try writing an article on sovereign wealth investments while the librarian is diretly behind you, reading a book jacket to a young patron or worse, carrying on a very loud conversation with one of the regulars. Can you shush a librarian? I mean really. But I did overhear a hilarious conversation in which the librarian was playing her own painful version of "who's on first?" with a stubborn patron.

Not all locations with wi-fi have a clue. When I got tired of trying to think over the librarian, I went to Burger King to get some food and a free connection. Here's the thing - shouldn't someone there have some idea how that free connection works? I tried connecting to no avail. It wanted a password. Asking two employees - one the manager - how to connect got me this cryptic message: "It's probably asking for a password because the power went out." Uh, do you mean last night? Now? In a past life? Clue, please?

Laptops are a must for an everyday computer if your power goes out a lot. This isn't the first time I've been without power. It's one of the longer times in this suburban location, for sure. It's starting to make much more sense to me to have a laptop as a main computer so I can unplug and go should I be left without a kilowatt. I was fortunate that I could remember a few critical email addresses in order to get back-up copies of projects. But seriously, how much easier to cope when your files are portable?

Work isn't happening when you have to reshuffle your work location. Maybe if I worked remotely more often I'd be able to reorganize more quickly, but getting going once I connected at the library proved to be challenging. Again, this could be due to the Chatty Kathy librarian who was sitting, literally, just a few feet behind my left ear, facing me and talking. Or it could be that I had to check email much more often for the elusive files I needed to get going. Either way, it wasn't a fast recovery.

Do you work remotely on occasion? When you do, how do you organize your time in order to be most efficient? What's your prep before leaving the house? I know a few of you who do work remotely. Any words of advice?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Phrases That Are Just Wrong

Oh, you know you've come across some client gaffes and junk mail phrases that crack you up. Come on - share them here.

A few I've chuckled at:

"Highly seasoned professional" - Unless you're the main course or you're currently covered in marjoram, please. Don't. (Client's resume line)

"We're better then the rest!" - Then the rest what? Oh, you mean THAN the rest. Learn simple English. Please. (Client brochure copy)

"We search pubic records..." - Oh. My. Word. Are you an executive search firm or a pornography site? It's one of the reasons I hate Spell Check. Times ten. (Found in a brochure for a search firm)

"An end-to-end, fully scalable, robust cross-platform user-friendly solution." - It may well be. But we stopped reading somewhere around the second buzz word. (Emails like this are frequent in my In Box)

"You're child's success is in the hands of our tutors!" - And with punctuation like that, I fear for my child. Big time. (Mailer that came to my child-free home)

"Special Offer: Get One American Airwline ticket free!" - It's American Airlines. Plural. And without a "W." Try proofreading that headline once in a while. (This one came in the mail to my husband yesterday)

"Beyond Incomparable." - That's just impossible. Can one be more incomparable than incomparable already is? (In a magazine ad)

What have you seen?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Back-Up Plan

No, this is not a post about backing up your data. It's about something few of us tend to plan for - power outages. As I write this, I'm sitting in the local library plugged into one of their outlets. A wind storm last night brought down our electric and phone lines, so I'm totally awash. Had there been phone, I could've popped batteries into the recorder and conducted some phone interviews.

Luckily (or not), I grew up in an area where power outages were pretty common. The longest was 36 hours, but we were prepared for them most times. One shouldn't expect them in the suburbs, but here I sit. I'm very glad I scoped out my options beforehand. Had the library been unavailable, I had the option of a Burger King, two McDonald's, one Panera, and the last option was any one of four Starbucks (though they charge for Internet connection, the bums!). I had most of my files printed out (thanks to my lack of trust in hard drives), so I grabbed the laptop and out I went.

Are you prepared? Do you have that Outlook calendar synched with your cell phone or your PDA? See, I don't. But I know I don't have any appointments today. Otherwise, I'd be up a creek.

What are some of the tools you use or the plans you've made for power outages or hard drive failures?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Claustrophobia and the Ones We Love

It never fails - they all come home from college and I want to hide. I love them all dearly, and I enjoy the time I get to spend with them. The house is so empty when they're not around.

But it's so full when they are. Oy, so full. My 10-hour workday seems to be interrupted down to about 4 good hours and 6 really crappy ones where I have to chase them off the phone (they have cell phones, fer cryin' out loud!), field questions like, "If I'm going to the city at 5, how long do you think it would take me to get there?" (Note to all: this is too much like those math equations where two trains are rushing at each other and I have to calculate how long before they hit head on - my answer is always "Who knows? I took the bus that day."), and the inevitable "I'm taking the car" coupled with at least 4 calls from the cell phone telling me A) about the idiot who just cut her off, B) about how he needs money for gas, C) about how she's going to see her friend and won't be home for another two hours, and D) "Hey, can I have the car in three weeks?" People! I'm working here! Let's not mention the television blaring in the next room or the music she puts on in the bathroom while she's showering that I can hear from the garden outside. Having them home means I'm interrupted. And it means they expect to be waited on (I've avoided committing homicide only slightly at the mention of "When's dinner?" after a full day of trying to get through a sentence on an overdue story). Then they want to sit and chat through the movies in the evening, or get into debates about lord-knows-what while I'm reading a book. "Whatcha reading? What's it about? Is it good? Why are you reading about that, anyway? Quantum physics sounds so boring...." Then let me alone lest I bore you with the Planck's constant or Bohr's atom.

The spouse is more willing to give me my space, amen. He knows when I avoid the livingroom or I get that look on my face to shoo them away and let me breathe. But now he drops the bomb: His friends are in town from California and he wants me to take time off from Wednesday through Friday. Uh, wait. I have two deadlines and a new project coming in. I need more notice. I need more time! I need space!

So, how do you deal with life's interruptions?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Too Much Information!

There's this writer friend who loves to tell her book ideas to our writing group. Mind you, these are always blockbuster ideas, ones you hear and can't help but think "Damn! Why didn't I come up with that?" It pains me to hear her ideas, not because I'm jealous (I am) or envious (duh!), but because history would indicate she's never ever going to write them down. And I can't use them.

In an interesting discussion with a writing friend yesterday, he said, "But you can write your take on her idea..." I'd love to. Really. But I couldn't live with myself if I did. I cannot separate from the fact that it's not my idea and therefore, it's not my story. And he said the same thing upon reflection. "No, I couldn't do it, either." For even if that idea is never going to see the light of day, it's not mine. It's her idea. And who's to say 10 years from now she won't say, "I'm going to write that book now." Taking stuff like that is stealing. Plain and simple.

But why are these people so eager to share? There are unscrupulous souls who wouldn't think twice about lifting the idea and making as much money as possible off it (just read any newspaper and you'll see who's suing whom over this very thing). And we have short memories. We may truly believe that idea is ours once time passes.

I once collaborated with another writer on a book idea. His idea, but he wanted to partner for it because, as he put it, he was short on completion but long on ideas. When the collaboration fell through (he lost interest in finishing, surprise surprise), he said to me that I needed to finish the book and take the credit. No way. While I put a ton of writing into that manuscript, that idea was still his. It wouldn't have been right.

Technically, ideas are not copyrighted. If that were the case, Hollywood would be barren and Amazon would be selling real estate instead of books. Ethically, someone else's ideas, no matter how lazy they are about moving on them, are not yours. Therefore, hands off. Do you agree?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Potty Mouth

I was in line at McDonald's the other day (yes, vegetarians can eat there - I "eat" the milkshakes) when a surly man walked right in front of me as I pulled up to the take-out window. He tossed his sandwich back through the window at the waitress and said, "There's no f-ing tomatoes on this f-ing sandwich, and that b-tch (pointing to the first window teller) is a f-ing liar." The waitress pointed to the sign saying that thanks to the tomato recall that everyone on the planet except this silver-tongued devil knew about, she couldn't give him a tomato on his sandwich because she didn't have any to give him. His response (by now predictable): "That's bu!!sh!t. I saw on the f-ing news that McDonald's is serving the f-ing things again." (Note: I really wish I was exaggerating the language here.)

By now the manager was involved and he asked the man to calm down, and through that barrage of cursing about the waitress who'd handed him over to the manager ("you need to hire nicer b-tches"), explained again that the store had no tomatoes as of yet and couldn't accommodate him. To which the man said, "Give me my f-ing money back. Now." Then as he parted, he left them with this reassuring thought, "I ain't coming back to this f-ing store again, and neither are any of my friends." To which everyone within earshot sighed relief.

The store handled it professionally. The manager stepped in when the waitress had had enough abuse. The waitress didn't call names or respond to his verbal diarrhea, though losing a customer like that could only be a bonus for the store. What she did do was consider the young children sitting inside and playing outside on the jungle gym and removed any additional confrontation from the situation. The manager did the same, practically racing to give the man his money, and anything else, in order to get him to go away.

Was the customer right? In his words, f- no. But telling him so would have surely escalated an already irate person. Not knowing if he had any internal brakes (my guess? Not at all), they didn't want to push him into whatever new level of irrational behavior he hadn't quite reached.

While I've never had a client use such illustrious language on me, I have had a few who have questioned my abilities, my integrity, and my intelligence. You'll have them too, if you haven't already (I'm reminded of how Kristen once faced a person who questioned the frequency of her sexual encounters). How you handle them will make or break you. Mind you, people like our Rhodes-scholar-of-the-McDonald's-drive-through won't get or even hear your snappy comeback or you equally intriguing barrage of truck-stop verbiage, mostly because you don't matter to a narcissist with a potty mouth. And they so enjoy the verbal warfare. It's wrestling with a pig, and pigs LOVE the mud. So don't go there. Instead, find a professional, quick way to sever such relationships. And please. NEVER return nasty phone calls or respond to foul emails. Disengage, detach, move on. Put that energy into paying clients who can behave respectfully toward you.

What's your worst client encounter?

Time Off

A friend of mine was saying yesterday how she's trying to use up her vacation time at work. Since leaving the company we were both at to the one she's at now, she's gone from burning through vacation days to forgetting to take them. I listened to her, completely baffled how anyone could forget to take vacation, when my husband pointed to me and said, "She doesn't schedule any vacation time for herself."

My God, he's right. Our trip to England was his idea, and I had to fight back a lot of guilt and worry before I allowed myself to go for even a week. There's something about a job you command, a business you run, that changes you. Things that seemed important to you in the regular 9-to-5 don't even hit the radar anymore. Like giving just 8 hours a day and leaving that work behind when you push the chair away from the desk. Or taking sick days, or those vacation days. Yet put us in a regular job and we search long and hard for that 2-week vacation with a 3-week vacation within a few short years. We covet those sick days and personal days, and we'd NEVER work for a company that didn't allow us time off on the weekends (unless we were required to be there and had time off during the week).

Are you prone to working through sick days and just not going anywhere? Sure, sometimes the cash isn't there to take time off, but when it is, do you?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Do You Have the Chops?

There's an interesting discussion going on over at Peter Bowerman's blog right now about becoming self-sufficient at your writing career. You can find it here.

The trouble I see, the trouble I often see, is that writers are willing to put enough effort into the career to get it going, but don't realize that it takes ongoing effort to keep the career going. I've found this out the hard way, as I suspect some of you have. You cruise along, busy as a bee, then a few days, weeks later, nothing. Not even a nibble. You market, but you're marketing to the same people, aren't you? When was the last time you widened that search? Okay, tougher question - when was the last time you widened that search beyond your comfort zone?

A few people on Peter's site were discussing how the jobs simply weren't there anymore. It made me wonder where these folks are looking, because I had a similar situation. The jobs dried up in that particular industry, albeit a temporary drought. But it forced me to make a hard choice - dare I go beyond the comfort of the familiar into uncharted territory? If I wanted to eat, the answer was yes. I did. It worked. Jobs were there and plentiful. And yes, I expect that eventually, this new area will show signs of stagnation; that's when I go into another new area.

Devon Ellington posted a wonderful response on Peter's blog. She's echoed what I've said here a number of times - if you treat this job like your CAREER and not like the dream you want to live, you'll have the incentive to work hard at it. You'll take the chances and you'll stick your neck out because your existence depends on it. It's true - if you treat this career with kid gloves, afraid to upset the uneasy balance you've created with the few jobs you've scored, you'll be juggling the rest of your freelance career, which I predict will be short. If you go into this with both feet and you have the chops to work a marketing plan, revise a marketing plan, and look for work in new places, you just might make a career of it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Inevitable Editor

I'm writing this Monday morning, though you won't see it until Tuesday. I've just run into yet another instance of the "editor" coming out in the non-editing person.

It never fails; you give someone the opportunity to edit and they're going to take it and abuse the power. A current project is proof. I asked the client to give me a little feedback on how I presented one aspect of his project. I get the document back and it's littered with changes. His right, of course, but some of his changes are just, well, insulting and off base a bit. In one section, he actually included the words "mundane and boring" in one critique of an unrelated area. And he went on to tell me how to fix it. Uh, that's the information you provided. That's the stuff you insisted stay in there. Yes, it is mundane and boring. But that would be your doing.

There's no easy way to give a little editorial leeway to a client without getting back a full-blown line edit. I've seen it time and again. I've tried sending just the passage in question, but you know once you open that box, Pandora's out and she's wielding a red pen. Editorial control is less about the editorial part and more about the control part. While I'm happy to share, I don't like it when the other party hogs the controls.

Everyone is a critic at some level. It's just a matter of whom it is you should trust with the job and who should never be allowed to give arbitrary direction. If you give a client the chance to play editor, do yourself a favor and retain your authority. You are, after all, the expert here. Don't let him become the interim-editor as you fade into the woodwork.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Union or Not?

We've all lamented the lower wages, the lack of insurance, and the general invisibility of our freelance existences. However, if there were a union of like-minded souls out there hell-bent on advocacy and group insurance coverage, would you join?

The Freelancer's Union is a 75K+ conglomeration of freelancers from across the country and across industries. Using the idea of buying power in large groups, the Union (I shall refrain from calling it by its acronym) offers access to low-cost policies for health, dental, and life insurance. The site also offers insight into the group's advocacy projects. There's also a blog and forums. Members can link to their blogs on the site, and membership allows you discounts at selected merchants, a profile page, and resources aplenty.

Is it for you? I don't know, but it's free to join. Remember, it's not just for writers, but for all freelancers. I'm a member. I might even get the t-shirt ("1099 for Life" - I approve!).

Thoughts? Concerns? Ideas?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Dream Meme

Bob Younce over at The Writing Journey has taken on a lot of memes lately. One standout: the Dream Meme. The rules, which I lifted nearly verbatim from Bob's post, are as follows:

Write a short paragraph describing your dream. What is it that you want to accomplish? It doesn't have to be career-related, though it can be if you wish.

Identify three tangible goals you can accomplish in the next year that will bring you closer to fulfilling that goal.

Describe one action that you will take today to work toward your goals. No doubling up - just one action.

Link back to this post if you're moved to do so.

Feel free to post a link in the comments back to your post.

Tag people (note: if you want to keep friends, don't tag. Just post.)

So, here's mine. I want to become financially comfortable by the time I reach retirement. I want to do it on my own. I don't want to rely on anything I may get from my spouse, either. Spouses come and go, as I've found out in the past.

My three goals: to grow business 25 percent this year (and successive years) through more aggressive marketing; to stretch into more lucrative areas of writing and editing, taking on topics others avoid; and to save 10 percent from every check toward my retirement fund.

My action toward that is to purchase a house on my own. I've located some options, and I'm considering it now before interest rates climb.

I've linked back to Bob above, and I won't be tagging anyone. So, what's your dream? How are you going to get there?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I Hate Bidding Sites, and Why You Should, Too

There are some pretty crappy job postings out there on the Internet, and a few of them prompted more than one post from me begging you to avoid job posting sites. Yet even with the $4-an-article job posts we've all seen and avoided, there are some job postings that are worse. Yes, worse. Kathy Kerhli posts this one, and it's by far the worst of the week, if not the month.

What's amazing is that these jobs even get posted. Here's an obvious crap job paying 5 cents a question, yet the bidding site didn't see fit to say, "No, wait. That's just stupid." I think we all know why, too. They don't care what's posted as long as someone pays the fee to list. That's right, kids. Those sites, which should be much more particular in what they post lest we all collectively wise up and move on, care much more about the fee paid by the poster (and the fee paid by the member writer) than they do about bringing you those "quality" jobs they promised at membership time.

I've bemoaned my experience with Guru. My letter to them asking them to police these things a bit more garnered the "We don't discriminate because there are people who bid on these jobs" response. To which I say they are just as guilty as the pseudo-employers for creating the feeding frenzy that some hungry new writers get into by bidding their lives away in order to get a worthless clip.

If you are a paid member of a bidding site, I ask you to do this: Cancel your membership. But before doing that, go over the terms of membership and read very carefully any promises these sites have made. Print them out. If you see one instance of a guarantee that high-caliber work will be yours for the paid membership, sue. I'm serious. I know one site in particular that doesn't necessarily promise better quality job postings, but does say that paid membership allows you to access those better job postings. It's yet to prove true.

Okay, if you don't want to sue, how about writing a letter to the powers-that-be asking exactly where these great jobs are, and explaining in detail why you're cancelling your membership? These sites are harming our careers by painting the false portrait that all writers will take nearly anything in order to work. The screening process is absent in lieu of the money the site owners are making. They don't care about our careers, nor do they care about being partners in our success. They care about the money they're making on both ends of the equation. Time to call them on it. And if you see writers bidding ridiculously low rates for these jobs, call them on it, too. If you stop one person from throwing away a perfectly good career on trash jobs, it will be worth the effort in the long run.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Revisionist History

I have a friend who is a wonderful person, but whose memory of the past is steeped with imagination. Recently, she took a piece of personal history and revised it to sound like one of our mutual friends, who was approaching a business deal very cautiously, was an absent-minded putz. I had to remind her of the original situation, which clearly shows that friend taking extreme caution in this business deal, not signing specific contracts, in order to ensure there wasn't a misstep that could cost him later. If I know her, it won't register at all. I have a few friends and acquaintances like this and to be honest, it makes for some uneasy conversations, for I'm afraid to reveal anything too involved lest the story become a glorious work of fiction.

Had a client like this once, too. That, my friends, is a much more frustrating situation, for now you're working against a paying customer's faulty recollections. In the case of clients, however, we have a weapon - it's called email. I'm careful to save my emails for a good three years. The reasons are plentiful - on the plus side, a client could love your work so much and want you to repeat the job "for the same amount we agreed to" or using similar parameters. Also, these people are your clients - saving their email addresses helps you to market to them again.

However, let's get down to the real reasons why I save emails - protection. A client could come back and charge that you never finished a project or didn't sign off on it, and you owe them more work. More seriously, if someone's going to litigate, they have two years to do it.

In an odd twist a few years ago, a man who did a project for me sent me a note, a year later, blasting me for never paying him for his work. Never mind the fact that he was to invoice the employer (I was the client in this case), but amid his accusations that I never signed off on the project and his name-calling rants, I was able to produce emails that showed very clearly I'd signed off, very clearly that our arrangement was me as the employer's client (therefore, you putz, your invoice should've gone to the employer). That he never sent me an invoice spoke volumes about this man's schizophrenic approach to billing - wait a year and bitch and moan. Had I not had those emails, I couldn't have shown him the error of his ways and directed him to where he needed to get his cash, though honestly his demeanor made me want to leave him hanging. The point is he had his own view of history, and those emails were my salvation.

Beyond emails and contracts, what methods do you use to cover your assets?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Havin' a Heat Wave...

Who wants to work when it's sweltering out? Sure, I'm sitting in an air-conditioned house, but the study is on the southern side, so by noon, I'm going to be marinating in my own sweat. That I have to interview someone at 1 makes it tougher to be in this room, but I can escape with the laptop after that, amen. I'd never make it in Phoenix.

On to other things - when do you know it's time to quit a job or a client? My youngest is having this dilemma as we speak. She's debating and trying to work around some fairly stationary road blocks at the job she's had for three years. However, even in her remarks, she's already gone. She's on a crew consisting of high-school kids. She's trained most of them, and she's constantly going behind them cleaning up their messes. She's spoken to management with no results. She's also asked for a raise since she's making as much as the new hires - nothing doing. They won't train her to wait tables because she's going back to college in August. Time to leave.

In her case, the signs are there. No room for any advancement in salary or position. Mind you, she is working just summers and school breaks, but she's reliable and hard working. Her managers love her. But either she's not making herself clear in her needs or they're not listening.

What if this were your client? There was some talk on other blogs the last few weeks about when to raise rates and how to inform your clients. I'm of the opinion that rates go up. My doctor doesn't inform me beyond a note at the reception desk. Nor does my HVAC repair person, nor my attorney nor my dentist nor my mechanic....

Does your client deserve notification? Is that inviting a debate or a negotiation? If so, how willing are you to negotiate to keep your clients? When do you know it's time to cut bait?

Let's discuss.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday's Favorite Blog Posts

Forgive the late posting here today. I was tied up with a complex project all morning and just managed to sign off on the first pass. Somehow, I now feel like another vacation is in order...

I was tooling around the blogs this week and found some real gems. First, on CatalystBlogger: The Benefits of Blogging (Hint: It's Not What You Think), Jennifer gives us real reasons to keep doing what we're doing despite the groundswell of opinions that say blogging for others like us is pointless.

Next, Rebecca Smith does it again. Her post Writing Lessons I Learned from my Dog is pure inspiration. What a fantastic angle, and I'm jealous as hell, mostly because my life dog is 12 years gone now, but also because I didn't think of it first.

It never hurts to have a little extra cash, right? Susan Johnston shows us how to earn extra money from our writing.

Writer's Digest's Maria Schneider provides us with the link to WD's 101 Best Websites for Writers. Are your favorites on there?

How about you? Any blog notables you'd like to share?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Leaping

Rogue Ink's Tei and some of her posters on her latest post about Taking the Leap lamented that jump from preparing to be a writer to actually being one. Ladies and gents, I feel your pain. We all do. We've been there. We still visit there once in a while. This post is for you.

That leap into your career is the most terrifying thing you've ever had to do. It's like jumping into the water from the deck of a cruise ship - you're not sure if the water's going to be warm, cold, or if the engines will just suck you in, churn you up, and spit you out like chum for the sharks. Scary stuff. Well, I'm here to say you've got a built-in life vest, a metaphorical set of water wings. It's called your talent.

The problem is most new writers (of which we were all at one time labeled) have difficulty separating the job to be done from the fear of not being accepted. Why? Because writing's a strange thing - we somehow connect our egos and our self-worth with the job. Surgeons do that, too. And plumbers. And bank managers. And yet they all manage to separate their egos from the job at hand. Okay, maybe not surgeons, because if a surgeon has a bad day, someone dies. But he's still a surgeon. He still went to college for a gazillion years and went through residency to earn his way from cutting through bananas to cutting through humans. But the stakes are a tad higher for him than for a writer who misplaced a modifier or dangled a participle.

And plumbers, they have bad days, too. But you don't see them throwing down their pipe wrenches and lamenting, "I'm the worst person in the world because I can't fix Mrs. Horowitz's leaky faucet!" No, you don't see that. Instead, you see them heading to the hardware store for a new seal or for stronger pipe dope.

Rebecca posted on Tei's site this insight: "But after that comes the 'sending out the call'. Inviting, no, make that begging people to judge you and your work." Ah, dear Rebecca. Therein lies the problem. You're looking at this from an entirely different perspective. You're waiting for people to judge you as a person, to validate your existence, to say, "Okay, you can be a writer." Note two things here - first, how you're setting yourself up for others to say you've failed; and second, how you're giving entirely too much control over your career to strangers. You own that career. It's yours. It doesn't belong to the guy who wants you to rewrite a website, nor the woman who expects you to provide sales letters on a monthly basis. It's yours alone. You get to determine if you're good or not. These people will have opinions, yes. But as my dear father says, opinions are like a-holes: everyone has one. What's your opinion about your talent and your career? That's the voice you listen to. The others may influence if you choose to let them. But they don't define you.

Here's how you should view it, and forgive me for editing your sentences, but in this case, it's necessary: "Inviting, no convincing, people to believe that my work is drop-dead fantastic and they'd be colossal fools if they don't hire me, because I rock." That's the way to approach the launch of your career. Change your perspective. You write because you can. They hire you because they can't. You are valuable to them. They know it and expect you to know it, too.

To veteran writers, I ask this: Remember that moment in your fledgling career when you were about to hit the ground running, but you were afraid to make the leap? How'd you manage it? Help a new writer or two out by sharing your thoughts here. Let's push some of these talented, teetery birds out of the nest and watch them fly.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Things I Learned on My Vacation

1. You cannot sleep sitting upright on a moving plane. You just can't. It's the head-bobbing thing. Unless you have a rubber neck, it's not happening. And the seats just don't recline enough. Nap before you leave.

2. They call them pounds for a reason. Just try walking with a pocket full of them. It's why most older people in the UK list to one side or walk hunched over. Old ladies with big handbags are carrying the equivalent of a sack of bricks.

3. Shorts are pointless. Don't bother packing them.

4. Bangers and mash do not describe an accident scene or pornography.

5. People who do jumping jacks on an airplane are annoying.

6. Not everyone is considerate enough to not bend over in the aisles of the plane, and stay that way, with their butts in your face.

7. Most cars in the UK are manual transmission. And you must shift with the other hand.

8. It rains. Take an umbrella or a hat. Expect bad hair the entire trip. Learn to love the frizz.

9. Act as the natives do. If they're not whooping it up and talking loudly, resist the urge to laugh out loud. They hate Americans as it is. Don't give them more ammunition.

10. They eat lots of meat and potatoes. They have tons of footpaths. They have even more benches. But don't expect to find a litter bin anytime soon.

11. Clotted cream - just consider the name and go without.

12. Tea time is habit forming.

13. Don't expect to find anywhere to eat between 2:30 and 6 pm. If you're hungry, find a grocery.

14. If you hate the thought of paying over $4 a gallon for gas, spend a week in the UK paying $10 a gallon for the same gas.

15. The reason I came home relaxed: Garmin nuvi 660 GPS equipped with a European map. It took us to the most remote of B&B locations without a single hitch. I have a makeshift altar set up if anyone else cares to worship the electronic dynamo.

16. The Brits refer to American tourists in this manner: "If it's Wednesday it must be Great Britain." Apparently, they think we travel too much. Yet I don't think they realize when they come here, they do the same thing. I say I'm spending money in your country - why do you care where I'm going tomorrow? It's jealousy. I'm convinced of it. :)

Monday, June 02, 2008

I'm Baaaack...

... did ya miss me? :)

We landed on American soil late Saturday afternoon. I much prefer the flight home to the flight there - if you can catch a small nap on such a crowded flight (not likely with the row mates I had bouncing in and out, digging under the seats, reaching into the overhead, hitting the loo every half hour....). The flight was two hours late in taking off, but Heathrow isn't lacking for some nice coffee shops. We checked email and watched people. I played a solitary round of spot-the-almost-celebrity. You'd be surprised (or maybe not) how many men over there do resemble Prince Charles and Prince Phillip. In a really odd moment, I saw my mother's younger look-alike.

We traveled the southern coast mostly - Penzance (but saw no pirates, go figure), Port William (a smuggler's village), Boskednan, Plymouth, Fowey (pronounce "Foy"), and Mousehole (pronounced "Mowzel"). Never have I seen so many flowers - they were growing out of cracks in walls, in the bows of trees, in sidewalks, around nearly anything that has a thin layer of soil or peat. All in bloom, all gorgeous thanks to the nearly constant rain or drizzle. Odd sight - palm trees and magnolias. It never gets cold enough to really freeze. Our one B&B owner was growing figs on her patio.

We did some touristy things - visited St. Michael's Mount, which was well worth the boat ride and the pounds to get in. There I met a very bow-legged tabby cat who sauntered up to me, rubbed against my leg, and then flopped down in the sun beside me, flicking her tail and closing her eyes. Cat Valhalla. We also visited Minack Theatre, which was a stunning venue, and we stayed for the first half of a Cinderella remake before retreating to the warmth of the car (very cold!). We also made a hasty trip to Stonehenge in what I call our drive-by henging - the Brits have realized the value of commercialization, and have fenced off the area and now charge folks to walk close to the henge. We walked up to the fence, held cameras over it, and took photos. Enough henge.

Spent wonderful nights in lovely places, and had only one awful experience, naturally on the last night. We stayed in Salisbury at a lovely old inn/tavern right on the edge of a fast-moving river. However, the inn part is directly above the tavern part, and apparently this was the drinking side of town. A surprise party for the owner had the noise LOUD and constant right below our window until 2 a.m. When he couldn't take any more and went down to complain, the very drunk owner (understandably, as it was his party) was unsympathetic and totally unhelpful. He refused a refund, refused to break up the party, and when he said all he could do was find us another place, my better half said, "Fine, then do so." Dumbfounded, the dude feigned making two calls and said he couldn't find anyone awake. Hell no - these people were asleep, as we should've been! We left at 6:30 a.m. very tired and very ticked off, and my review has already landed on Trip Advisor, where I saw others had a similar experience.

We came back to warmer temps and gorgeous flowers of our own. And now back to work. One funny thing - at the customs desk here in Philly, the dude asked what I did for a living. When I said, "I'm a writer", he was impressed and said, "Are you a creative writer?" I replied, "It's all creative writing!" He loved it. :)

Now back to the grind. I have two deadlines and a few interviews to tackle in the next month, and I'm totally refreshed. Remind me of that in a few days when I get vacation withdrawal. :)

Meantime, check out yesterday's pre-written post for a bit of a career tune-up. It's just below this one.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Your Mid-Year Report Card

Remember those resolutions you made 6 months ago? Remember January 1, 2008? Remember how fresh and new that day, that new year was? Remember feeling like reinventing yourself or your career? So how are you doing with those?

Thought I'd forget about them, didn't you? Not a chance. See, I don't do resolutions per se. I do reassessments of how I've done in the past 6 months, where I want to be in the coming 6 months, and how I plan to get there. It happens every 6 months or sooner, if necessary. I look at my previous workload, my present workload, and what I'll need to secure in order to reach my financial or other career goals.

But you, you made resolutions. And now I'm calling you on them. Do you even remember what they were? Yes? Great! It's time to assess how well you're doing. Did you set earnings goals? Did you resolve to market more often? Have you expanded your business, gotten a handle on your accounting/invoicing, developed a better collection process, searched for more client opportunities, or called on regular clients more often? Yes? No? If you said yes, you're probably too busy to continue reading this post. If you said no, read on.

If you haven't thought about those New Year's Resolutions since January 1st, it's not too late. Dig them up (hopefully you wrote them down). Start applying your efforts to them now. As we head into summer, a lean time for some writers, you need to look into different approaches or new areas in order to keep continuity in your work (and in your checks).

If you're in the habit of making resolutions and not bothering to follow through, you might want to rethink that approach. Inertia is your biggest enemy right now. So go on - do something. Any movement toward your goals is a move in the right direction. Plus, I'll be asking again in 6 months. It's my way of helping - by making you accountable to someone other than yourself (even l'il ol' me).
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