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Friday, October 29, 2010

Churches and Stones

What's on the iPod: Awake the Soul by Mumford & Sons
What I'm reading: Recipes - I'm about to spend the next week cooking

One thing that struck me throughout all parts of Ireland was the spirituality. Pagan symbolism mixing with Christian ones were abundant. It's no surprise - there's a soul alive beneath the peat and the heath. You can feel it, breathe it.

In my meditation practice, we believe in living a sentient life. The ways in which we live our lives, from interactions with others to what we eat, impact the mind and the body in ways many of us are not conscious of. Living in a busy suburb, for example, takes a ton of effort to find that sentient life balance. Living in the country, a different level of effort, a different approach to balancing the mind and soul.

From the time we set foot on Ireland's soil, we both felt that the land was sentient. There was something spiritual emanating from it, and it's reflected in how retrospection that I found so charming about the Irish people. Living in a place that marries centuries of spiritual practices breeds poeticism and feeling. We came across that in nearly every interaction.

You'd never know from what we saw and experienced that there was ever religious strife. Then again, maybe that's why belief is so strong there - it was hard fought, lost, and won over and over. In the Republic, you can't turn a corner without finding a Catholic church, abbey, friary, church ruins, cross, holy well, or shrine to Mary. But even more interesting is how many stone circles, standing stones, and Celtic crosses were in such close proximity to these symbols of Christianity. I wasn't surprised, but the average Catholic might not see the obvious connection. It's tough not feeling your own spiritual tendencies in a place that so openly displays its faith.

And it's not a forced, church-mandated type of worship. It's that walk in the woods that turns up a holy well in the middle of nowhere, complete with offerings left by other wanderers. It's climbing to the middle of a mountain, surrounded by sheep, just to see the alleged well of St. Columba (or Columbkille in Gaelic). It's the juxtaposition of a church within clear view of a pagan standing stone with intricate Celtic carving. It's how The Book of Kells is clearly illustrated with numerous pagan symbolism as it describes the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

We saw more stone circles than I'd imagined we'd see. Forget guide books pointing you to this one or that one - just walk. At the site of St. Columba's well, there were at least three stone circles. Not marked on any map, but clearly they weren't just coincidental pilings that happened to be in circles. Within a short walk of our first B&B, an impressive stone circle that archaeologists had found what they believed was evidence of human sacrifice. Another stone circle sat in the middle of a cow pasture.

Then there were the churches. Ruins are left standing. Old churches are preserved where they can be. Abbeys and graveyards are revered. Ogham stones appear in graveyards and church ruins. These intrigued us. It's an alphabet mapped out in slashes instead of letters. Think binary code with letters. If you understand old Irish Gaelic, you can translate them quite easily. One theory is that early Christians used them to write out the language that probably wasn't easy to write out using conventional alphabets.

So many places and ways of worship, but these are two photos that attempt to capture the feel of the place. The one above is the Derreenataggart stone circle. The one below is outside of Glencolumbkille.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Faith and Begorra!

Could it be? Am I back? I am indeed. We landed at JFK yesterday afternoon and took three trains, a bus, and a car back home. Never have I gone on vacation where I didn't look forward to getting back home at the end of it - until now.

I'm enchanted. What an absolutely magical, mystical country. We saw most of it, missing maybe three counties as we went first southwest, then north and east from Killarney to Donegal to Dublin in 14 days. And in nearly every single place, stunning, breathtaking views that defy all adjectives. And the people. Never have I come across an entire country of people ready to engage you, eager to listen as well as to converse, happy to hear your journey in their country, and always ready to suggest something. And the blarney - I felt at home. My gift for gab now has an explanation. :)

We saw exquisite vistas around nearly every turn. Each time, we said "That was the BEST thing I've ever seen." And every time we explored something new, the last best discovery was topped. I didn't think it was possible.

Kenmare and the southwestern coast was a land built for postcards. Mountains and rocks and coastal vistas just leap out of your imagination and right in front of you. We walked it, meditated on it, and soaked in the highest sea cliffs in Europe, the mountain passes complete with donkey and horse carts carrying people to the top, the shores, and the sheep trading going on in the center of town. We stayed here the longest, and were reluctant to leave.

Maybe that's why Galway wasn't so impressive. We spent two days here and came away feeling like the town was touristy and losing touch with its reality a bit. A lovely place, but it took some doing to find the "real" part of the city, which was much better than the designated shopping and music streets.

Then northward we went. The trip to Donegal and the stay there was home. I mean really. You couldn't swing a cat without hitting a Gallagher or someone who knew or was married to one. We drove on back roads (I think - they all look like back roads) and found old farmsteads from when my people would have been there. We sat in Ardara, a tiny town with a big heart, and heard the most amazing traditional Irish music possible. It's where my husband met blarney headfirst when he asked where the man found the orangish sheep in the pasture. "Carrots. We feed them tons of carrots." I was laughing hysterically. It took him a moment - he didn't grow up surrounded by BS.

He found his past in Cookstown, the Ulster area, now Northern Ireland. We were able to trace his ancestors not just to Cookstown, but to fields outside of town that were most likely where they lived. And having been in an area where my ancestors were, I understood when he said "This is it." You just know.

So much to tell, so many special memories, from the best greeting ever by a customs agent, who gave my husband a taste of the connection and humor he was about to see firsthand to the way everyone from shop owner to road crew workers giving directions wanted to connect with us. It was home. It is home. The circle feels complete in a surprising way. I never realized just how much it wasn't complete.

I'll post snippets of my visit in the coming posts, and share a photo. This one is one of my favorites. It's Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. And the rainbows were a constant companion everywhere we went.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's DAW-nee

Sure, his yellow suit with the flood pants is way too reminiscent of Elvis Costello, but his sound is uniquely Donny Iris. Or DAW-nee, as he's known in western PA, where he's considered a local hero. Note the incredibly tight afro, thick-rimmed glasses, and dorky bow tie. Not to mention the shoulder-padded, long-skirted 80s queen hanging on his arm. The video is from the 1980, but the song is still one of my favorites.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guest Post: Are Women Better Freelancers?

It takes a courageous man to tackle gender issues. It's even more courageous when he does so in terms of how women could possibly be better writers than men. Our chum Jake Poinier dives in with a style that is, well, purely Jake, which is to say purely entertaining and thought-provoking. Jake, you have moxie. And thank you for your fearless entry into gender-related waters.

By Jake Poinier

What I'm reading: The Ebony Tower by John Fowles
What's on the iPod: "Guys Like Me" by Aimee Mann

Note: The following post contains generalizations, leaps of faith, stereotypes, and unscientific assumptions, does not necessarily reflect the views of management, and should be used for entertainment purposes only. Guest blogger Jake Poinier runs Boomvang Creative Group to pay the bills, the Dear Dr. Freelance advice column for fun, and trusts Lori is having a blast away from the daily grind.

As a guy freelance writer, it can seem somewhat lonely. I realize full well that "data" isn't the plural of "anecdote," but the fact is that I can count my male freelance writer/editor friends on two hands, whereas my female friends and acquaintances who freelance number into the dozens, maybe triple digits. About three-quarters of the respondents to the 2010 "Freelance Forecast" survey were identifiable as women.

Which brings me to the question: Are women better at freelance writing?

As an editor, I started out in the golf industry, which heavily skewed toward male editors hiring male writers. When my career later diversified into healthcare, business, and other custom publishing topics, my freelance stable diversified, too. It was an eye-opening experience, from which I drew a couple of conclusions about why women are often well-suited to the profession:

Better communicators. Yeah, I know — it's trite. But it's true. My experience is that women do a better job of listening, follow-up, etc.

More skilled writers. Perhaps the best way I can visualize the male/female divide here is that they exist in two separate bell curves. It's not that all women are better, but it's a larger talent pool and on average it's easier to find a skilled writer. (Clearly, those results will vary based on topic matter.)

Deadline adherence. Women care more about this. As an editor, it's valuable.

Learning from each other. Our very own Words on the Page is a great example of sharing ideas that can help us do our jobs better. Again, 100% anecdotally speaking, it seems like more women blog about writing and participate in discussions about it.

As entrepreneurs, we have a lot more in common than we do differences. Our field of freelancing requires a balance between the savvy to get the business, and the writing and editing skill to retain it. That, of course, transcends gender...and I'll confess, I don't mind being outnumbered.

Do you think that women are generally more suited to freelancing? Or do you think there's another explanation for the female/male ratio that I've described? If there are any guys out there, please de-lurk and comment!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Post: Working Through the Noise

Today's bits of wisdom come from our own Ashley Festa. Ashley joined us here not long ago to try to improve her career options. And she's done a remarkable job of building the confidence necessary to get the job done. As a result, her client base is growing. All newbies should watch her, for she's building it the right way.

Ashley takes on the topic of working remotely. It's something that resonates with all of us who have tried escaping the four walls for free WiFi and an overpriced latte.

5 Ways to Work despite Distractions
by Ashley Festa

I work more efficiently in a quiet environment, but as a freelance writer, the silence can be deafening. We all try to find a little company from time to time, whether at a café with WiFi, at a community workspace or just in our own living room with the spouse/kids/animals nearby. Either way, those temporary co-workers usually come with their fair share of noise. We welcome it in the lonely working world of freelancing, but hey, I still have to be able to hear myself think. Here are a few ways that help me get the work done despite the distractions.

1. Bring alternate noise: The most effective way for me is to bring my own arsenal – something to drown out the noise. Pull out your ear buds and turn on the playlist you know by heart. Hearing music that I don’t actually have to listen to can drown out the noise and still allow me to think. Keep it low-key. If the lyrics break your concentration, try instrumental. But please, no Ride of the Valkyries. (And now a five-minute intermission for me to go listen to it on YouTube…)

2. Tune it out: After having worked in several newsrooms with reporters and editors shouting back and forth, the sports department cheering for the game on TV and the copy editor beside me cursing under his breath all night, I know a thing or two about trying to concentrate in a noisy environment. Now, I simply tune it out. Granted, this takes practice, but if you have kids, you probably do this all the time. If I’m on a roll, you’re going to have to say my name (loudly) if you want my attention because I can’t hear you.

3. Come prepared to relocate: I know, I know. You don’t want to give up your primo spot next to the electrical outlet. But if you make sure your laptop is juiced up before you arrive, you’ll be able to move to a quieter corner if a family with four kids all under age 6 crashes the booth next to you. And who knows, maybe you can get a free latte by trading your seat to a desperate writer who came less prepared than you. You know that frantic, my-computer’s-about-to-die-and-I’m-on-deadline look. Just don’t let it be on your face.

4. Step away: If there’s a particularly annoying person being super-loud directly in your ear, walk away for a minute or two. Clearly all those noisy customers don’t realize how very busy you are – totally rude, I know. But chances are good that if you get up, go to the bathroom or get a drink, that inconsiderate jerk will have finished his oh-so-hilarious story and you can get back to work. (Or maybe it’s a good time to listen to Ride of the Valkyries; believe me, you can’t concentrate during that song anyway.)

5. If all else fails, give in: Sometimes I just can’t fight it. The conversation is too good to be ignored, and really, I needed a breather. Think of it as a stop at the freelancers’ water cooler. Get it out of your system, and then buckle down again. You won’t be distracted anymore, and the break probably brought you a fresh perspective and a little inspiration, didn’t it? I thought so.

That’s what works for me. Do you work better in silence or with hustle and bustle around you? Have you found other ways to focus despite the noise?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Guest Post: What's Your Writing Dream?

Many thanks once more to dear friend Anne Wayman, who has given us two great posts this week, this one included. I love Anne's approach to writing - she brings it from her soul.

What’s Your Writing Dream?
By Anne Wayman

Because I have a blog about freelance writing ( and because I also coach writers, I end up talking one way or another with lots of writers, new writers and would-be writers. It seems the would-be writers and the new writers fall generally into two camps:

1. Those who think writing for a living sounds cool and maybe even easy.

2. Those who want to write no matter what.

If you fall into the first camp, forget it. While there are jobs that are harder than writing, including digging ditches, writing isn’t easy. When Gene Fowler said: “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead,” he knew what he was talking about.

Oh, if you were watching me write this it wouldn’t seem all that hard. After all, I’m sitting comfortably at a desk, with my fingers tapping pretty quickly on the keyboard. Or I’m pausing, staring closely at the screen, maybe moving the mouse.

Sure, I pull at my hair every now and again as I struggle to express the difficulty of writing (this is getting recursive!), and gaze out my window at a beautiful view I often don’t notice, but I’m not sweating blood or bullets or even grimacing much. And I sure don’t feel “cool” at the moment.

What you can’t see or feel unless you too write, is the years of experience and the millions of words that have gone before this article. I love writing for a living, but I’m part of the second group.

If you’re one of those, however, who want to write no-matter-what, you will find a way. You’ll write at midnight or at 5 a.m. You’ll write while your kids are napping. You’ll write at lunch or sneak some writing in during your regular working hours. You’ll carve out an hour or two over the weekend even though you’ve got a family’s worth of chores to do around the house.

Because you write, your writing will get better if for no other reason than it’s hard to get worse at something you practice. In fact, writing is a practice, a discipline if you will. And if you really want to be a writer – that is, earn your living as a freelance writer, you’ll find a way to market your work.

You’ll also be open to all sorts of paid writing. Being a successful freelance writer isn’t limited to bestselling books or regular publication in major consumer magazines or becoming a 6 figure blogger. While all those are possible, maybe, don’t overlook the less glamorous, like corporate writing, or copy writing, or tech writing, or writing for trade magazines, or writing for some of the better websites, or… well, the list is probably endless.

Assuming you’re one of those who must write, your freelancing life will be easier if:

• You write lots and lots.

• You read lots – all sorts of things.

• You set some measurable goals.

• You’ll market to those goals.

Small steps, measureable goals, consistency and persistence in both writing and marketing can make your writing dreams come true.

What’s your specific and measureable writing goal at the moment?

Anne Wayman is a ghostwriter, writing coach and blogs about writing. One of her websites is:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Heart Singer Songwriters

I love the Susan Boyles of the world - those people whose unassuming looks hide real talent. This guy is just like that.

Brett Dennen's solo version of his song "She's Mine."

Share some of your favorite artists. Who are you listening to?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Post: The Letter of Introduction

When I put the call out for guest posts, there was one person I contacted directly. Paula Hendrickson, better known for her ongoing knitting extravaganza over on Paton's Blog is a work horse. Okay, more than I think she should be, but hey, if she has the energy, who am I to say? She's a successful freelancer and a fun person to have as part of this community and as a friend.

Paula's been teasing me without even knowing it. In her comments here, she's talked about LOIs - letters of introduction - for some time now. Since I rarely send them, I wanted her to tell us about LOIs and how to use them as a way into a company or magazine. As I fully expected, she's delivered.

A Positive Impression
By Paula Hendrickson

While the term “letters of introduction” sounds like something that (even when carried by the most loathsome of individuals) would impress the likes of Jane Austen’s infamous Mrs. Bennett, the fact is a simple, well-written letter of introduction (LOI) can help land a long-term client.

How do LOIs differ from query letters?

They’re easier because you’re selling editors, publishers or potential clients on your abilities, not your ideas. Since you’re not trying to convince them to let you write a great article their readers are sure to love, the only research you need to do is on the company or publisher you’re approaching (something you should be doing when preparing a query letter, anyway).

Several years ago, a publicist I knew sent me the contact information for “special reports” editors at the top two daily trades of an industry I cover. She warned me that freelancers can work for one or the other, but not both, due to the publications’ long rivalry. I sent nearly identical LOIs to the editors she’d told me to try. A quick glance at their editorial calendars gave me enough information to add a line to each LOI highlighting my experience with subjects that fit well with their upcoming reports. Along with each letter I sent my resume, a list of where my work had been published, and several clips.

The result? Both editors responded within days. One offered me an assignment on the spot. When the other called with an offer, I was already working for the competition (and still am).

Why did they both reply so fast? I had plenty of experience covering that industry and had great clips, but I’d also demonstrated my potential value to them by alluding to contacts who might prove useful for one or more of their upcoming reports.

LOI 101: Be brief. Try to keep your LOI to three short paragraphs, tops.

1. Who I am – Tell them your name, what kind of writing you do, and list a couple of credits. If someone referred you and said to mention them, say so.

2. How I can help you – Keep the focus on their needs, not your own.
If the editorial guidelines note an upcoming wildlife issue and you have experience covering migratory habits of waterfowl, tell them. Even if your experience isn’t an ideal match, look for similarities. If you’re contacting a construction trade magazine but don’t have much knowledge about plumbing or construction, mention trade publications you’ve written for: “One thing I loved about writing for Commercial Smelting Magazine was speaking with industry experts and learning about advancements in their field.”

3. Appreciation / Contact Information – Thank the editor, publisher or potential clients for allowing you a chance to introduce yourself and say you look forward to discussing how you may be able to help them meet their editorial needs. Be sure to include your contact information.

Do LOIs really work? For me, LOIs often work better than queries, especially when approaching trade publications which often assign their own ideas. Case in point: A friend recently suggested I contact the publisher of a trade she writes for. I hadn’t covered that particular industry, but it overlaps a bit with another trade I once contributed to. I e-mailed the publisher an LOI including links to some of my older trade articles. Within 24 hours he called to assign a 1,600-word article. And yes, we discussed additional ways I can help meet the editorial needs of several of his various publications.

When was the last time you sent an LOI, and what was the result?

You can reach Paula at phendrickson AT sbcglobal DOT net.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Artful Delivery

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl break up. Boy sees girl afterward in bar.

This song wins the award for best delivery of an emotional meltdown. Listen to the whole thing. The whole song is just brilliantly executed to convey the emotion. It's the reason I started listening to The Airborne Toxic Event.

Love it? Hate it? Meh?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest Post: How Much Time Do You Really Spend Writing?

When the call went out for guest posts during my vacation, Anne Wayman was one of the first people with her hand up. I was excited to see what she'd provide because I've been one of her not-so-secret admirers for a while. Per usual, Anne has delivered a thought-provoking post.

How Much Time Do You Really Spend Writing?
By Anne Wayman

I was listening to a new writer complain the other day.

“I spent days on that article, only to have it rejected.”

“How many days?” I asked, curious.

“Oh, I don’t know exactly,” she said. “A couple of weeks.”

“Sure,” I thought, knowing she’d not spent nearly enough time on it. It was the sort of article that a professional could have written in an hour or so. A newbie might take twice that, or even three times that amount of time, but not nearly a week, let alone two. Not if she were telling herself the truth.

In theory a workday has eight hours in it. That means a workweek has 40. Working “most of the week” would mean, what 25-35 hours and, of course, two weeks would double that. The article didn’t show anywhere near that proficiency. But the writer sounded sincere.

In fact I’m convinced she really believes she spent that much time on it; I’m also convinced that the actual time she spent putting words on paper and rewriting and editing those words was far less. It’s so easy to fool ourselves! Here’s what I mean:
I just spent maybe 10 seconds looking out my window as I decided what I wanted to say next in this article. But that’s all. Then I was right back putting the words down.

On the other hand, a few minutes ago a friend called. We chatted for maybe 10 minutes. I was not writing during that time, even though I was still seated at the computer with this file on the screen. In a few minutes from I have a scheduled phone call that will last about 30 minutes. I won’t be writing then either, but unless I’m careful, it will be easy to add that time to my mental tally sheet because that 30 minutes is part of my work – but it’s not writing.

I know from my days working inside at both magazines and newspapers that most people spend far less time actually writing than they believe they do. You see it there in sharp relief as people yak on the phone or stand talking with cups of coffee. Sure, some of that can be necessary, but it isn’t writing.

When I began to freelance my attention would wander at an instant. Gradually I’ve learned to really focus and write when I’m writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t glance up, or take a sip of tea. I’m not a fanatic after all. But I am careful not to count as writing the myriad of other things that life brings, like email or watching birds, or… well you name it.

I’ve also worked off and on to track my time. I’ve used paper and pen to simply write down how much time I’ve actually spent writing and how much I haven’t. It helped. There is also time-tracking software. One of the better ones I’m told is FreshBooks – that software also generates invoices. They have a free trial, so take a look.

But don’t lie to yourself about how much time you actually spend writing. You’re only fooling yourself and setting up to give yourself an excuse or several. That’s not the way to freelance writing success.

How much time do you actually spend writing in an average work day? Do you know?

Anne Wayman is a freelance writer, ghostwriter and writing coach who blogs about writing at:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Expanding Your Musical Horizons (Or Not)

While I'm gone, I thought it might be fun to introduce you to some of the music you see on my iPod updates. Just an attempt to share my favorites and maybe expand your music library a bit. Or make you glad you didn't pick up my iPod by accident. Either way.

I came across Frightened Rabbit when I followed an iTunes "listeners also bought" link. There's something about them that I can't get enough of. I first became interested because they were Scottish. But their collective talent keeps me coming back.

What do you think? Yes? No?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guest Post: Life Lessons from Project Runway

By the time you read this, I'll be in Shannon, on soil that's been calling me since birth. Hard to explain it, but I've never felt quite "complete" before. I've always felt there was a home I needed to get back to, even before I realized how Irish I was. Listen to the instincts.

I want to thank all who volunteered to help me out during my vacation. I hate leaving a blog idle. It seems unfair to the readers and friends who gather here. So thank you, everyone, for continuing to drop by and for giving some blog love to our guest posters.

Today's guest post is from our very own Cathy Miller, who shares more than one passion with me - she's also a fan of Project Runway. I'm thrilled to be able to share Cathy's experience and wisdom here.

Mondo Life Lessons from Project Runway
by Cathy Miller

I was thrilled to hear that Lori shares my love of Project Runway.

Although I hate reality TV - just so much drama and backstabbing - I do appreciate shows that celebrate creativity.

That's what hooked me on Project Runway. Come on, outfits out of trash bags? And they look great - genius.

Episode 10 that aired on September 30 was full of drama. Rather than reaching for the remote to turn it off, I was a weepy mess.

My first crying jag started when Project Runway surprised the remaining seven contestants with visits from their families. As a middle child of seven, I understand family - warts, love and all.

Just before this point in the show, one of the contestants, Mondo Guerra, revealed a secret he had kept for a very long time.

With the clever editing of Project Runway, it appeared viewers knew the secret before any of the contestants or judges - even before Mondo's mother.
Mondo is HIV-positive.

In the ironic twist of art imitating life, Mondo's confession came on the heels of the tragic story of the suicide of a teen violinist, Tyler Clementi.

Tyler's roommate allegedly posted a video of Tyler being intimate with another man. That act apparently sparked Tyler's suicide.

Episode 10 of Project Runway delivered a challenge that turned out to be the catalyst for the revelation of Mondo's 10-year secret.

The challenge was creating a textile with images or symbols that represented something deeply meaningful to each contestant.

Mondo created his signature color textile, but with a large, black plus sign graphic, repeated throughout the design.

The plus sign represented his HIV-positive diagnosis. But, it represents so much more, like the positive way Mondo has chosen to live his life since the diagnosis. He is following his dream - despite the odds.

At first, Mondo did not reveal his secret on the runway. He merely said the pattern was a symbolism of his life and it was very personal.

Ironically, the guest judge found Mondo's inspiration of where he had been in his life, as inconsistent with the design. She felt the pattern was too perfect for representing life and said, "I assume no one's life is perfect." Wow.
Mondo found the courage to reveal his long-held secret.

At this point of the show, I am leaking buckets. The episode held too many life lessons to list. Here are just a few.

• You never know the burdens another person bears
• There is freedom in acceptance
• Sharing opens eyes
• You decide if you want to live life
• Don't think good or bad - think different
• Different creates life

Episode 10 was reality. In our life, in our work, we can all benefit from a few lessons like these. What are some of your greatest life lessons?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the Search for Leprechauns

What's on the iPod: Rain by Scott Blasey

Today is the last post you'll get out of me until the end of the month, but stick around. Plenty of folks have helped fill this blog with excellent information and advice.

I spent yesterday putting things in order. Let me say I LOVE AT&T Wireless. Setting up the cell phone for international service was so easy. Even more, they reminded me that 800 numbers can't be accessed overseas, and that I should get local numbers for my bank should I need them. That's customer service you don't often see. And it's welcome. Make that two companies in two weeks to do something right. I had been worrying out loud when they acquired Cingular, because I loved Cingular. So far, so good.

We'll be on a plane tonight at 10 pm. Somewhere in the middle of the night here, I'll be setting foot on Irish soil. Excitement is a mere word compared to how I'm feeling. We've tried planning the trip around the purported homelands of my ancestors, but lord, there were so many ancestors! We're heading to the counties of Donegal (Gallaghers), Mayo (O'Malleys), Armagh (Fergusons - the Scottish contingent), and around Lough Erne where the Carrs and Mulligans may have been. And he's looking up his side, too. I knew there was a reason I was drawn to him - it does a heart good to know there's Irish blood beating in that man's heart.

Got the invoices out, the queries out, the away response up, and the work done for now. The notebook is going with me, but only to let the ramblings that start to pour out find a soft landing place. This will be a vacation of discovery, and I don't want to miss nor forget a minute of it.

For now, slán. I'll be back before you know it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let's Be Consistent

What's on the iPod: Sweet Sophia by Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers

Many thanks to my camera company, Fuji, which responded quickly to my call asking for help. I'd sent the camera in for repair and had received mixed messages on when I'd get it back. I explained calmly but with a little "oh dear" in my voice that we'd purchased my camera for the vacation and if there was any way they could help me get it back before Wednesday... a brand new one arrived on Friday. Let's just say Fuji is a company whose employees still care. Rare these days!

Yesterday was quiet. Too quiet. I had planned to have small projects due today to work on. None were there. So instead I sent out queries and got some research done on other companies. I need to have something lined up for November. At the moment, nada. I do have checks that will probably come in while I'm gone, but that leaves a dry December. If you've ever gone through a slow late-November/December, you know you don't want to do it again.

Today, I want to go back to our discussion about marketing. I think what gets me is the stigma that has developed around marketing. People write books, hold seminars, and basically train us their tried-and-true method of marketing and sales. There's a lot of "This is THE WAY to do it" talk, a lot of "You CAN'T fail with this plan" and the like. It's hard to know whose plan to follow. Who's right? They all are.

Last week, blog chum Mridu Khullar said in response to the post on why marketing is simple that she "targeted everyone I could think of - publishers with editing needs, magazines, newspapers, ad agencies, etc. Needless to say, I quickly found myself back on track again."

What did Mridu do that the person who prompted the thread did? She stuck with it. Consistency got her the job, and then some. And to be totally honest with you, that's all it takes. Marketing is deciding what you want to go for and then going for it. Consistently.

What if you're rejected?

You move on. Don't take no for an answer. Okay, that idea didn't work for that client. Tweak it and take it elsewhere. That industry isn't hiring - find another one. Just keep going. Do what Mridu did - target everyone you can think of. Or target everyone who interests you. Don't let the word "no" define you or your business.

Look for new methods. A friend of mine just described her incredible luck with finding new employment. She'd responded to a job listing on LinkedIn, and within minutes had three more plus an introduction to one of the hiring managers in her LinkedIn mail box. All that response from just one application. It proves that contacts and your next clients are just about anywhere you can connect with another human.

Do it consistently. Marketing isn't throwing one idea out to twenty people and then giving up for six months. It's about contacting clients every day via email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, telephone... Every time you reach out into your network of friends and contacts, you're marketing.

How consistent are you with your marketing? How can you improve on that? What's your marketing plan look like?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Of Weekends and Strong Drinks

What's on the iPod: The Clowns by The Clarks

With weekends like the one I just had, I'm glad to be able to come to work and sit for a while. Not only are we preparing for a vacation, but let's throw a party in there three days after we get home. Oh, and four house guests. The bedrooms are clean, beds made, towels bought (needed an extra set), and today I'll figure out what to feed them for the six or seven days they'll be here. I love all these activities - separately. Combine them and it could be migraine-inducing - oh yes, got to buy Excedrin.

We spent all day yesterday outside. Glorious day to weed, mow, prune, and play with the neighbor cat. Carl is becoming an unofficial member of the family. I think with a cat that fickle, that's a good position. He wants your attention when you have no time. When you want to pet him, forget it. He's not interested. Must be an Aquarius.

We were so busy we skipped the chance to go see President Obama, who was in town. Yes, we realize the few chances anyone has to see a sitting president, but we were that overwhelmed with things to do. And for once, our list didn't grow (at least not yet). You know how it is - you start with something small like "We can put someone in the basement on the sleeper sofa" and soon you're gutting the basement and hauling out mounds of trash. Actually, we did that last weekend after the flooding, so I guess we pre-empted our own predictability.

Work today is thin. I did the majority of it last week so I could save the extra time these next two and a half days to get packed and get food in the house for the fish and for the remaining Bean (well, MacBean). Also, we'd gone to one of the local pubs to watch the Phillies/Reds game last night and that Long Island Iced Tea was potent. I have a head the size of a wrecking ball this morning. I like a little sip of something, but if it makes me feel that badly I'd rather have tea.

I've got some great posts lined up for you while I'm gone. Thanks to all who volunteered and supplied guest posts! There's some great stuff here and you readers won't be disappointed.

How was your weekend? What are you doing all week?

Friday, October 08, 2010

What I've Learned the Hard Way

What's on the iPod: Ah! Leah! by Donny Iris

Yesterday was great. I managed to finish a lot of blog posts for the entire month of October for one client, and tried to get some work lined up for when I return. I had time to get some invoices filed and get some work papers off the desk. Always a good thing.

Also, I was able to visit blogs I'd been wanting to read for a while but hadn't had time. As I looked through the comments, I realized just how far I'd traveled from newbie freelancer to where I am now. I did a lot of learning the hard way, and I suspect I have a lot more to learn. Still, if I have anything to teach a new freelancer about my road to a full-fledged career, it would be these things:

I've learned to charge like I was serious. When I started out, I was afraid to ask for a raise, negotiate a fee, or even demand payment if the check didn't come. As a result, I was underpaid and in one case, lied to by a publication, which bought a portion of my story then printed the whole thing verbatim. That taught me another important lesson:

I've learned to read contracts thoroughly. I've learned from being burned to look out for words like "Client is purchasing a minimum of 500 words." It happened once. That was enough.

I've learned to never work without a contract. It took just one client to stiff me on a payment for me to realize that piece of paper was much more than a nuisance - it was necessary protection.

I've learned to trust my gut. I should have walked away from one book editing deal when the author's mannerisms and behavior made me feel unsettled. That it ended badly when he became belligerent was no surprise.

I've learned that chasing the paycheck results in lower earnings. I worked hard for a handful of clients. I was so focused on the paycheck that I didn't focus on finding more clients and building a career.

I've learned that regular work is as fleeting as youth. I thought I had it made when I had five regular clients. I sat back and did little, if any, marketing. And I suffered when three of those clients disappeared in the same month.

I've learned that my work is my business, not my ego. Rejection used to reduce me to rubble, and I would take any criticism personally. I didn't realize then that it's a business and my skills are a service. It wasn't personal on the side of those clients saying no. Even if it was, that rejection didn't define me or change my abilities.

I've learned other people getting involved in my client's project kills it. The first time I had to face the wrath of the posse of wanna-be editors made me realize that the moment friends give opinions, it casts doubt on my skills and creates an impossible situation of trying to please everyone.

I've learned that lower rates equals bargain shoppers. Having tired of clients debating every nickel, I decided to raise the rates. I lost those clients, but I gained serious ones who paid without expecting a discount.

I've learned that marketing when you're busy means you're going to stay busy. I rarely marketed, and when work was finished and nothing new had arrived, I panicked. I didn't practice marketing enough, and I had to relearn it each time I was without projects.

I've learned to stand up for my business. I was too eager to please in the beginning, which meant I rarely questioned a client's terms or motives. As a result, my earnings suffered and I was burned a few times.

I learned more, but these were some of the more important things.

What have you learned?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

You, Sued

What I'm reading: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
What's on the iPod: Happiness Is by The Airborne Toxic Event

Yesterday was one of those days. I was motivated enough, but couldn't stay focused on the projects. Thank goodness there were only two small ones. Never thought I'd rejoice in the lack of work. Daughter called with an upset, one I can't and won't handle, but she needed to talk it out. I can't go into detail, but let's just say sometimes family can be one's greatest source of pain and frustration. She's on better footing and hopefully things will come out in the wash, as they say.

I had an interesting conversation with my writer chum about blogging. He was relating a story about one more blogger being sued by a company for posting negative comments. Mind you, the blogger's facts were correct (except one, which he quickly changed and apologized for), so the judge had no sympathy for the company, but it does raise an interesting concern. How are your blogging activities exposing you to liabilities?

This intrigues me. Maybe it's because this is my area of specialty - insurance and risk management - or maybe it's because I blog. I'm careful to make sure I don't state untruths or erroneous facts when I'm complaining about a company or a service or a client. In fact, most cases you won't see a name attached to my complaints. It's embarrassing for those who have allegedly done me wrong, and there's always the chance that we may work things out, in which case I don't want to shut the door prematurely. Also, I recognize the potential liability. Journalism school taught me that much.

But what of others and their blogs? Some aren't so lucky. Like these folks:

- The blogger in North Carolina sued for $20 million for exposing what she alleged was a scam by a company that approached her to include her in a documentary, which eventually led to them asking her for $25K in order to include her in said documentary.

- The real estate blogger sued for $25 million for defamation of character by a high-profile developer.

- The book review blogger sued for $15 million for claiming a book was factually inaccurate.

- The blogger sued for comments left on his blog by other people.

- And a myriad of bloggers sued for libel for untold amounts of free opinions.

In most cases (can't vouch for all of them), courts have thrown out lawsuits or decided in favor of the defendant. But it's a level of stress we self-employed don't need. It's hard enough planning for estimated tax payments - who wants to be planning for settlements or judgments?

There are a few ways we bloggers can protect ourselves (with thanks to Bob Calandra for some of the ideas).

Incorporate. This saves your personal effects, and those of your spouse, from being targeted for settlement payout.

Get insurance. Professional liability insurance is a great place to start. Go with a reputable company - one with at least a AAA rating or an Excellent rating. Think household names. And go with a company that specializes in your profession. Also, consider adding advertising and personal/brand injury coverage.

Join an association. Some of the best offer legal services and group liability insurance for paying members. Research them well and choose one that fits your needs.

Double check everything you say. If you can't verify it, don't write it. If it's a personal experience, alter the details to protect those who have ticked you off. While what you're saying may be true, you may be harming someone's reputation or career. That's never cool.

That's not to say you can't openly disagree with someone. That's personal opinion. If you say "I don't agree with his decision to sell his work for $1 an article", that's completely different than saying "This guy's a complete jerkwad and he should fry in Hell for his stupid business practices!" That may be what you're thinking, but you need to temper your response for public viewing.

Did your blog ever get you into trouble? How concerned are you with this risk? Did you ever read something you thought was a lawsuit in the making?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Why Marketing is Simple

What I'm reading: The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote
What's on the iPod: Wasted Words by The Allman Brothers Band

In case you missed it, I have a post up over at About Freelance Writing. Check it out and join the discussion.

Busy day yesterday. Between vacation plans and trying to stockpile work, I didn't move from the chair much between 7:30 and 5:00. I did take a break and run to the store to get a new umbrella and some socks for the hiking shoes.

A commenter on my post over at About Freelance Writing was wondering out loud how to sell articles for $1,500. She had struggled with trying to sell her ideas and had come up empty. To someone who's not getting any work from her efforts, it must be confusing to hear someone like me label marketing as "simple." But it is simple. Rejection? Yea, not so simple. Well, it is, but it's not so simple to accept.

A few things may be going wrong with this poster's marketing. She indicated she was targeting ad agencies. I like her approach - targeting a particular industry - but that industry has taken a huge hit in the pocket lately. As she found out, budgets for freelancers are not there.

But the larger issue may be this - she's limiting herself to one market, one industry. Had she said "I've tried magazines, ad agencies, corporations, and small businesses and I'm coming up dry" I'd have said something in her approach may need tweaking. I'm assuming for the sake of argument her approach is fine.

This gal was so disheartened she went right back to ELance. Not the right choice. Instead, she needs to aim at a different market. In fact, she needs to aim at several different markets. This week, concentrate on magazine queries. Next week, focus on press releases. The next week, corporate work. The more queries in circulation, the better her chances of hitting her target.

If you try once at marketing and fail, welcome to freelancing. If you let that failure stop you from trying again, your career is going nowhere. Get up, dust off, and keep going. Think about where you want to be this time next year. Envision the clients you'd like to be working for. Then go out and get them.

How do you recover from marketing that doesn't hit a target?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Rallying Around the Cause

What I'm reading: The Pearl by John Steinbeck
What's on the iPod: Just Another Girl by Pete Yorn

Maybe someone can explain to me why companies tend to say one thing and do another. My new digital camera went back to the company for repair on September 15th (flash wasn't working). The website says 10-15 days for warranty repair, which this is. However, the human I spoke with said four weeks. Excuse me, I said, but this is a warranty item. Why isn't it following what the posted repair schedule says? She reiterated the four weeks and said it's because they're trying to determine the problem. Okay, if you can't figure out the problem in a day, give me a new camera. I'm furious. And it was the brand I'd requested, which makes me even more furious.

From now on I will no longer honor their "Don't take it back to the store" policy. By doing the right thing, I'm minus a camera during the most anticipated trip of my life. Thanks, you putzes. Next time I buy a product (and you can damn well bet it won't be yours), it's going back to the store. None of this "Save us money by returning it to us!" nonsense.

On to writerly topics.

File this under music to my ears: Thank you to the infamous Yolander Prinzel for alerting me to the movement by the National Writers Union , which putting together a task force to "lay the ground work for organizing writers who work for these low-wage Content Farms [Plantations]." The goal: to set a "new minimum standard" for content mill workers in the writing profession. If you're interested in joining their cause, contact them at Please. I beg of you.

It feels like validation. To all those who argued until they were chartreuse and vermilion that content mills were such a peachy-keen place to hang out and become a real professional, gosh darn it - you've got a large organization now fighting for you (and probably against a few of you slower ones). Those rights you're not quite up for standing up for? Yea, they're going to do that. Oh, but they want your help. So help them. Join their cause. It's a great first step in building a professional persona. And please stop wasting air trying to convince me and other like me that $10 an article is such a swell deal. It sucks and you know it.

That begs the question - what would you consider to be a minimum standard? I know my personal minimum standards. But what works for me may be too high/too low for others. Although if I'm too high, you might want to rethink your own rates, you know? And if I'm too, vicious cycle about to begin.

So, freelancers. I pose the question - what would you consider a good minimum standard for the work content mills are churning out? And maybe the larger question - would any amount ever be enough to enter the stigmatized world of content mill writing? Can that business model ever fly as legitimate? My personal opinion? They'd have to stop assigning such insipid articles as How to Blow Dry Your Poodle or How To Dance Like Mr. Green Jeans before I'd consider them worthy of my time and talent.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Stress Balls

What I'm reading: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
What's on the iPod: I Want to be Sedated by The Ramones

Today starts the marathon. Time for me to inhale deeply and power through a lot of small projects so I'll have some money post-vacation. I've asked one client to double up on the projects until the day before I leave. That should stave off a bit of poverty and give me something to pay bills with in November. I'm also sending out queries for larger projects, bigger clients. I'll be gone two weeks, not two months. There's no reason why I can't line something up for my return.

Planning work around a vacation is enough. However, that's not all that's going on. We're having a party the end of the month - three days after we return. Put it off, you say? So did I. Can't. We also have house guests showing up sometime after we return and before the party. Know those wind-up monkeys with cymbals that bounce around uncontrollably? That's me times ten. I'm planning my work schedule, my vacation, the party, the house guests, the menus..... we're going to be eating out a lot, I predict.

Normally I'd wave off one or more of those things. I can't. It's his mom. We don't wave her off. She's more important than a little sanity. She's older and the time we spend with her is very precious right now. She doesn't live near us, so I welcome seeing her as often as we can.

And the party? Part of his birthday plans. He wants just a party, not a big milestone birthday bash. So honoring his wishes is important, too. Let's just say I'll need that vacation when it gets here.

So the weekend was spent cleaning. Oh, and drying out the basement. First time in ages I've seen that basement get wet, and it flooded. Naturally. Just pile on one more thing. Why not? But the flooding was more than half the length of the house, which was totally strange. Thank you, hurricane rain. So Friday morning we dragged everything out of the water and busted out the ShopVac. Saturday was putting it back, which snowballed into a major basement cleaning.

And since there was a surgery and a huge drought, the gardens were neglected. I spent three hours in the front garden getting the path cleaned, the weeds out, and trimming back out-of-control vincas and shrubs. He took care of a tree that had outgrown its space. The stump comes out the minute the rain lets up. Sunday was a combination of cleaning the house, trips to Goodwill, and football. The world may come to an end, but I'm stopping long enough to see the game.

I think I'm glad it's Monday. Work isn't this much work. But we've yet to get our car reservations or decide our full itinerary. We have a rough sketch. I'm content with it. He won't be. In my world of delegate what you don't want to deal with, he can work with it until he's happy with it. I'll go wherever as long as I don't have to clean or weed when I get there.

Happy Monday. How is your work week shaping up?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Grammar Cops Gone Bad

What I'm reading: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
What's on the iPod: Dream by Priscilla Ahn

The tickets are bought! Our official time away is now October 13-27. I can't believe it. The itinerary is sketched in, and I'm getting the details sorted here at home before leaving. Paying bills, making sure instructions are left for the fish's care and the plants, etc. We were smart this year - I asked him to buy trip insurance. Hey, you never know. And didn't his summons for jury duty come yesterday....

Also, I'll be looking for guest posts. Interested? Send me a note or leave a comment.

Yesterday was another slow day, which usually makes me somewhat nervous, but I'm enjoying the time to really explore new magazine markets and get some ideas out. For some reason, I'm feeling the consumer market lately - something that's not been in my repertoire in the past. Follow the instincts, I always say.

Irreverent Freelancer Kathy Kehrli has a great post up about what it's really like to be a copy editor. One point that jumped out at me is this - some clients will make very large cases out of very minor things, such as errant periods or what they deem to be grammatical errors. When it happens, good luck to you. It's probably the most frustrating client issue, second only to nonpayment.

Why? Because in most cases, these grammar police aren't correct. Worse, you can't convince them that your grammar choices were correct without wasting time quoting from the style manuals and running the risk of insulting said client.

If it weren't just utterly ridiculous to do so, I'd send out cheat sheets to clients detailing acceptable grammar and sentence structure usage. But if they hire me, they need to show me some trust in my abilities and judgment. Otherwise, we're not going to make it.

If I were to make that cheat sheet, it might include:

You can start a sentence with a conjunction. Forget what your high school or college instructor said - that rule has been broken and effectively buried for a long time.

Grammar Check sucks. Just turn it off. A machine cannot under any circumstance understand context, tone, and proper usage. I don't care what those squiggly lines say. They're wrong. So stop yelling at me and trust that I've had enough education and experience to get this right, okay?

Different editors will give you different results. So if Buddy in the mail room who fashions himself a writer thinks I'm all wrong, consider why he's in the mail room and I'm not. If I give your document to ten highly successful editors, you're getting back ten different documents. That's because there are variations in editing styles - one editor is a line editor, the other a context editor, the other a big picture editor. No one is completely right, nor are any of them all wrong.

Friends don't always know best. Yes, they love you, but they have not met with you, discussed your project in detail, nor do they understand the market and audience you're attempting to reach. They aren't paid to do this, nor do they have any vested interest beyond showing you how smart they are or "helping" you so they can crow about it when your book sells. If you include them in the editorial process, you'll either pay me per person per extra edit or I'm gone.

All time wasted explaining away what you think are grammatical errors will be billed And if you're snarky or mean with me, expect to pay double. The bottom line is this: trust me to do what I do best. Otherwise, we're wasting each other's time.

What would you put on that cheat sheet?
Words on the Page