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Friday, December 31, 2010

Monthly Assessment: December 2010

What I'm reading downstairs: The Civil War: A Narrative (Vol. 1 Fort Sumter to Perryvile) by Shelby Foote

What's on the iPod: Rain by Scott Blasey

Oh, don't we hate having to answer to ourselves when we have a lousy month? It's no surprise that December was going to stink. It's rare that a December is busy unless it's a December in a great economy and clients have money to spare at the end of their fiscal year. It happened once. Not since.

I guess that's enough cushioning of the blow. I don't know who it is I'm preparing for it - you or me. No, it's me. Definitely.

Queries -
Can I just say slews of queries? A plethora? A whole big bunch? It felt like I contacted everyone on the planet. I sent out mostly LOIs, but there were a few actual queries to magazines. No word yet. Notice I said yet. Despite the dismal nature of this month's earnings, I remain a pathetically optimistic soul.

Job postings -
One seemed to fit, so I sent off a query. Since that was two days ago and I received an out-of-office response, I can't say if there's a match.

New clients -
Are you kidding? I'm still trying to cling to the existing clients. No new clients showed up beyond the initial contact from one. I hope January nets some results.

Earnings -
That whimpering sound? That would be coming out of me. It wasn't quite as bad as November thanks to a late-month set of projects, but I'm still well under my earnings target. I expected to be a little off, but not by this much. Still, on the heels of the rotten November I had, it's an improvement.

Bottom line -
Two projects in the works will bring in new streams of income in 2011, no doubt. I was almost thankful for so much free time this month because it gave me the chance to concentrate on these projects, which will help me get to my new earnings goals for next year.

Marketing will continue, with much more follow-up on the LOIs. I'm starting out January with three projects for sure, two more tentative, and two clients who funnel ongoing projects to me. This may have been a crummy month, but January is looking much more promising.

How was your December?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Nine Posts of 2010

What I'm reading: Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro
What's on the iPod: Backwards Walk by Frightened Rabbit

It's usually against my nature to be a joiner of trends. However, this one I can't resist because it reflects what you are interested in seeing here. It's the most-commented on blog postings here on this little blog. These things got you talking.

Common themes:

If it's about Demand Studios or any low-paying job, your passions were quite evident.

You seem to like my random brain dumps.

My misery indeed attracts company.

Feel free to add your comments to these older posts if you feel inclined, or just leave comments here.

If Freelancers Worked Like This Apparently shipping rates and lack of service are enough to make anyone go, well, postal. This was the most-commented-on post this year.

Totally Random Thoughts Proof of your passion over the content mill debate. I mentioned it. A debate followed.

Up for Bid Wow. You really don't like bidding sites, either. And people who appear to have sold out also earned your anger.

Is Mediocrity the New Benchmark? Oh, how we hate grammar gaffes and typos! But we're much more forgiving on blogs, amen.

Just Call Me Hooka Again, mention content mills in any form (in this case someone defending them staunchly) and we can't help ourselves. We have to set the record straight.

Beyond Demand On hearing the news that content generator Demand Studios was losing money, I gave suggestions to those still working for them on how to transition to another job. But the mere mention of the company raised the discussion to some great levels.

Monthly Assessment: November 2010 Apparently, my career misery had you commenting both support and your success stories. Amen. I'm glad some of us had a good November.

Freelance Screw-offs We don't like a screw-off, let alone a freelancer who takes the low road. It was a fun thread, even with one anonymous commenter who wasn't too positive.

Why Your Writing Blog Sucks The tips came pouring in for bloggers - here's a comprehensive list of what readers do - and don't - want to see.

What blog posts (on any blog) stayed with you?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When to Stop Listening

What's on the iPod: The Last Wine of Winter by Chris Bathgate

Last week we touched on advice. I'd had that encounter with a writer not long ago where asked-for advice was met with some heavy resistance and "I know how to do that." Weird reaction to someone answering your question, but some people cannot admit they don't know everything.

Ashley said about receiving advice in her comment: "I'm actually more guilty of the opposite: believing whatever anyone tells me about my writing - good, bad, indifferent." And she's expressed that now she's confident enough to know when to take it and when to leave it.

Yet how many of us starting out (or even years into it) take that advice verbatim - even the bad advice? I have. I remember being hired for more than one project where the point person suddenly morphs into a point committee where everyone's opinion is expressed and viewed as the way to handle the project. And in each case, the project became a hot mess. It's partly because the clients allowed too much intervention by others, but it's mostly because I didn't know when or how to filter the advice (or the number of people with input, for that matter).

Lately my own reactions to advice do vary. It depends on who's giving it, if it was asked for, and if I think this person has any basis for giving it. For example, I'm not about to start taking grammar advice from clients when the goal for them may be to worm a rate reduction out of me. However, if the advice comes from an editor - a working editor - you bet I'll mull it over.

Note that I didn't say I'd take it verbatim. Even editors can be wrong. But what I won't do is shun the advice instantly, even if it's obvious it's nonsense. If I stop and think things over, removing emotion from the thought process, I'm more sure of whether the advice is valid or not. And even in cases where it's obviously not, I'll give it some thought so I can respond to it cordially and with my reasons clearly outlined.

How do you know when to stop listening to advice?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Random Holiday Tidbits

What's on the iPod: Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

We woke up yesterday morning to about 6 inches of snow, more or less. Unlike the city to our east, we were spared the remaining 12 inches. Not that it makes me happy to say that - I love snow from the first flake right down to the shoveling. Well, maybe not the shoveling. But the snow made a beautiful blanket for the yard.

Just as the storm started on Sunday, my daughter's friends were sitting on the sofa when one said, "Hey, when did you get a dog?" Then he realized he was looking at a fox. I've seen many foxes here, but this gal was beautiful. Her coat was full and glossy and her tail was even fuller. She hung around for about ten minutes, so I was able to get a photo of her.

I suspect she was looking for food for her kits, which is why she was roaming around in the daylight. Food here is hard to come by as there are plenty of wild animals and not too many natural enemies to keep the numbers to a healthy level. There must be plenty of foxes around - our squirrel population has dwindled noticeably.

We spent last night at Temple University watching Cirque de Soleil. In a word - spectacular. This particular show received lukewarm reviews, but to us, it was magical. The entire show, start to finale, was just breathtaking. I loved the gymnastics especially, but the ribbon acrobatics defied not just gravity, but description.

Today I hope to get some work in. I'm feeling a little sore in the throat and extremely tired despite my nap yesterday and long sleep last night. I have an article due and a pile of articles to get ready for a client newsletter. Plus marketing. Always marketing.

How is your holiday week going?

Monday, December 27, 2010

What to Call Yourself

What I'm reading: Justine by Lawrence Durrell
What's on the iPod: Swim Until You Can't See Land by Frightened Rabbit

Was Santa good to you? We had a great weekend filled with cooking, collaboration, stories, and laughter. Probably the most stress-free holiday yet. It didn't start out that way with kids appearing (re-entry is toughest on me, I think), and there were some tense moments, but they all cleared up and the day was just divine.

Went to the Episcopal service at Valley Forge Chapel on Christmas Eve, which was beautiful. A lovely choir and a pastor who gave a heartfelt sermon that welcomed everyone at once. Then home to wait for Santa.

I was tooling around the writing forums and came upon a discussion about what writers should/should not call themselves. One writer thinks using the "freelance" title implies someone waiting around for work, while others think it's the perfect title to describe their careers.

I can see both sides of this discussion. How we perceive ourselves is as important as how we conduct business. If clients are seeing the word "freelance" and equating it with someone twiddling their thumbs or dying to walk through fire for a measly paycheck, then maybe there's something to the argument that it doesn't belong in our titles. Besides, if it helps someone starting out to call themselves business owners in order to get themselves in that mindset, I say drop the freelance title.

For someone like me who has been at it forever, the word doesn't do anything for or against me. I don't use it, but it's because I prefer to have just "Writer and Editor" on my business card. I've not really been a big fan of hanging the word "free" anywhere near my professional name anyway.

Here are some ways I've described myself:

- Writer
- Writer and Editor
- Business owner
- Entrepreneur
- Principal
- Subject matter expert

In each case, the word "freelance" never appears. Why? Because this is my business, my profession. To me, it just never occurred to include a qualifier. It's also why I'll never call myself a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) or even a SAHW (stay-at-home writer). Frankly, that never belongs in any writer's description of the career. It has nothing to do with writing. It's a state of being, not a description of your talents.

So what do you call yourself? How has that evolved over your career?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Season's Blessings

What's on the iPod: Oh! Holy Night by Perry Como

May you enjoy the holiday season with family, friends, and all you meet.

And may you avoid those Grinch-like feelings.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't Ask, Do Tell

What's on the iPod: 4th of July by Steven Kellogg and the Sixers

Yesterday being a fractured work day, I expect today to be utterly boring. I want to try contacting these associations that keep ignoring my emails. I need one more quote for an article and I don't want to have to think about it next week.

I realized that for a blogger, nothing is worse than a life with nothing going on at the moment. That's where I stand. Lots of things going on in the lives of those in the house right now, but nothing noteworthy. One is in Brazil. One lives in northwestern CT. Another is home until after the new year, and the youngest is home until after her Disney getaway. We parents are enjoying the company of those with us, missing the others, and trying to sit down uninterrupted.

But what do you blog about there? How exciting is that? For them, it's great. For us, it's a line item.

I was listening to a writer lament recently about one aspect of putting together a project. What struck me was that the answer was right there, but this writer, instead of embracing my suggestion, said "I know how to do it." Yes, you may. But you don't know how to do it effectively.

Worse was the complete shutdown to my response. It struck me as very strange. Here's someone helping you and you take the "I don't need your help" stance with something you obviously do need help with. I don't know about you, but when I'm presented with a problem that someone has asked very clearly "How do you do it?" and I give my response, the comeback (for that's what it felt like) is out of place. It reveals to me a writer who will never take suggestions - even those asked for - because that would be admitting not knowing something.

I've seen just a handful of writers who do this - they ask for help or complain about their situation, but won't hear anything that could improve their lives a little. What is that? In one case, the writer was a working writer. In others, beginners who are still enamored with their own prose or who still hear their mothers praising them without question. It's great to love your work and get compliments, but what if you could improve your work? Why not hear someone out and take that under consideration?

One writer in a writing group of mine years ago had a 20K-word children's book. I gave her an hour's worth of suggestions on how to fix it. Trouble was she apparently didn't think anything was wrong with it. She took offense at the suggestion that 20K words wasn't the standard children's book, and that she should stop using the phrase "They began to..." as it was too wordy. Just get to the point, I told her. She did. The point was she wanted praise, not feedback. I never heard back from her. (This was in the days prior to email attachments, so this was done via regular mail).

I'm not one to dole out advice unless I'm asked (this blog being the exception). I will make a suggestion now and then if I think it will help someone. After I while, I've learned who can hear it and who can't. In a few cases, I change the subject. Nothing is worse than listening to someone complain about an issue you can help them clear up but knowing they don't want your advice.

How do you walk the fine line? Do you even need to?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Late Starts

What I'm reading: Justine by Lawrence Durrell
What's on the iPod: One Last Drink by Enter the Haggis

Late start today. I went for tea this morning with a friend, then as I came through the door, he pulled me back out to go shopping with him. Then back here to put the final touches on a press release. I have to interview one more person for an article, but I don't see that happening today. I can't work from home when he's working from home. We both require solitude. Our desks are on opposite walls. It's just not happening today.

I'm still marketing like there's no holiday coming, though I'm getting a lot of "out of the office" notices. No matter. I'm reaching out. It will give me one more reason to reconnect with these people after the holiday break.

We've talked endlessly about client issues, marketing stuff, etc., but I don't think we talk nearly enough about what it takes to be a good writer to our clients. I'm not talking a talented writer or even a writer whom we can face in the mirror. I'm talking about a writer whom clients want to work with. So I compiled my own small list:

Good writers ask good questions. I could ask you a million questions, none of which pertain to you or your project. Or I could ask you a handful of questions that help me deliver a project you describe in a voice that mirrors yours.

Good writers communicate. It happened twice that writers I'd hired stopped talking. In both cases, they'd found the work too involved and decided to drop it. And in both cases, I had to scramble to find copy for a big hole in the magazine. Don't be that kind of writer. Tell your clients if there's a problem.

Good writers meet deadlines. Bad writers are consistently missing deadlines or worse, disappearing without a word. To be reliable is to be trusted with more work.

Good writers push back gently. If the client's idea is awful, the writer should give feedback on the written portion of the project when they feel the project as it stands is detrimental to the client's business or goals. Good writers view the project as a partnership. Having that vested interest brings out the best in many writers.

Good writers take the time to learn your business and your goals. A bad writer will throw together a press release or a brochure with the same worn-out wording that's been used to death within your industry. A good writer will find those unique features of the business or client and make those shine.

What attributes do you think make a good writer golden for his/her clients?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bragging Rights

What's on the iPod: Rocking by Roger Whitacker

Today's my first day typing with the fingerless gloves this year. Not that I haven't needed them all this month - it's been in the 20s during the day. But today is the first my hands are feeling it. So back to getting used to typing with wool on my knuckles.

The daughter's graduation was wonderful. The day was frigid (low teens to start), but the excitement of all those new graduates warmed everyone. There were stories of how some of them came to the university and how both traditional and nontraditional students found their footing and excelled. The speeches by the faculty and administration were blessedly short, and more interesting than expected. Plenty of bright kids getting honors (my own missed Cum Laude status by a mere .02 points on her GPA), and a few perfect GPAs. Amazing school, amazing kids. And my amazing kid now has a BA in Communications Media and a minor in English.

As we drove home late last night, I listened to my daughter's stories of her professors who inspired her. In particular, one writing class was led by a professor who took exceptional interest in how his students progressed. In his initial meeting with her about her ideas for her writing portfolio, he went over what was problematic with her fiction. He got personal. He asked her questions about a particular event in her life. She relayed that it was quite painful. He shared his own painful experience - a divorce - and how writing had helped him come to terms with it. He then said, "Put it on paper. You can't really tap into your fictional writing until you embrace your self. It may be painful, but it's real and it's going to help you grow as a writer."

She shifted her portfolio focus to nonfiction and began exploring her feelings. Her portfolio scored 425 out of 400. His advice was golden to her. Those are the professors who change lives. And that school - Indiana University of PA - is chock full of teaching talent. Over 15,000 students all getting that kind of attention. Just amazing.

In fact, I asked her who inspired her the most of all her professors. She listed several and had very solid examples of how they inspired her. How often does it happen that so many inspirational people are there to help put words and shape to your goals?

We arrived home around 12:30 yesterday morning, the shiny new graduate and me. And now she has a life to plan and I have the distinct pleasure of watching her take wing. How cool is that?

Who has inspired you in your life?

Monday, December 20, 2010

If Freelancers Worked Like This....

What I'm reading: Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro
What's probably on the iPod: Mary's Boy Child by Harry Bellafonte

By the time you read this, my daughter will be a day-old college graduate. :) I'm driving back home with her today, so I'm not around to comment until possibly tomorrow. I hope you're enjoying a holiday break, as well. If not, I hope you're earning oodles of cash.

I mailed out two packages last week. Because the one didn't have a proper box, I took it to UPS. It had small items in it, so it came in at just under 3 lbs. I asked how much to ship - 15 bucks and change for regular ground or 39 bucks and change for expedited. I said, "Well, as long as it's there by the holidays, let's go with the cheaper."

And here's where it got interesting. I'm standing in the UPS office on December 15th. The young people behind the counter both said, "Oh, it may not be there by Christmas."

Of course I asked why. "That's 10 days from now."

The littlest chirpee said, "Oh, it's so busy right now that a lot of the time the guys can't get all the packages on the trucks. It could be sitting in the back here until after New Year's!"

They were young and had absolutely no clout (or clue), but I couldn't resist messing with them. "Then tell me exactly why you're in the shipping business if, as you say, you can't guarantee you'll ship."

The eager one chimed in. "Oh, but we CAN! It's just that you have to pay for the guaranteed shipping, that's all. But with guaranteed it will be there in three or four days."

"Wait," I said. "I'm paying more than double for delivery that your company is supposed to be providing anyway? And even then my package won't arrive for up to four days?"

She smiled. "Yes! It's really busy right now."

The next package went out via the post office. It weighed over 15 lbs. I insured it for $300, and asked for priority two-day shipping.

The price: $17.95.

And the letter is going out to UPS next week.

What do you think would happen if we worked that way?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Procrastination and the Freelancer

What I'm still reading: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (almost finished)
What's on the iPod: Winter Winds by Mumford & Sons

I have a post up over at About Freelance Writing. If you get a chance, give Anne some traffic and leave some comment love.

I'm about to admit something I can hardly believe myself. Well, I have to believe it - I live it. I'm a bit of a procrastinator. It's true. Not with everything, but with articles in particular, I put things off until I'm in that hurry-up-and-get-it-done stage. I can't understand it. I sweat deadlines like they're mini childbirths. But if I'm given a long, luxurious deadline that offers me weeks instead of days, you can almost bet on the fact I'll be handing it in a day or two before the due date, if not directly on it.

My current project is no exception. I have until January 1st. I know I won't have time to get it done during the holidays. Yet I've puttered with it, toyed with it, avoided it for five days now. Yesterday I put the first serious time into it, knowing if I don't I'll spend the entire holiday sweating about it. I have 560 words. I need 1,200. Just 640 more words. They're all there. I'm just not motivated by anything pressing. And let's toss in a holiday season and kids coming home, shall we? Who can stay motivated under those conditions?

Today is D Day for it. If I don't get it done (in my mind, anyway), there will be no time to get it done by the deadline. That is my motivation, and you bet it will get me moving. I don't miss deadlines. Ever. I can't ever remember missing one, though I'm sure it may have happened.

I entertained the idea of dragging a laptop with me on the train, but I can't listen to the interviews on the train, nor can I look up facts with limited/no Internet access. Nope. Today is it.

Are you a procrastinator? What projects make you drag your feet a little? How do you motivate yourself?

Most of you aren't working steadily this month. Those who are, how are you staying focused?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bread Crumbs

What's on the iPod: Sea of No Cares by Great Big Sea

Super day yesterday. I accomplished much more than I thought I would, and I still had time left over at the end of the day to relax. That's almost unheard of - time to relax in December. I had my shopping done five days ago. I'm more than a little ridiculously punctual, so this year I decided to put it to good use. My shopping, in my mind, HAD to be done before the 10th. The incidentals are always there, but the main stuff is finished.

I roughed in an article and found some great statistics to back everything up. I did have a little troubles with my digital recorder software. I like my Olympus, but the software that comes with it is heinous. I've reinstalled it twice in two years, the second time by finding the file somewhere on the Internet. It will show you all the folders, but the minute you try to access them, they disappear. Hateful. No command in the menu bar to "open." Who the hell designs that on purpose?

That means I have either use up battery power (no adapter - again, who the hell?) or use Windows Media Player, which is like steering an elephant through a mini mart. It's enough to make me consider replacing this thing for one with acceptable software. And Olympus has known about this issue for a while, according to what I'm reading on the Internet.

I managed to get one project completed and another one started for the regular client. They handed me plenty to keep me busy through the holidays. Then I worked on something else that, when finished, will boost the income. I have two such projects in the works, so hopefully one or both will be successful. And they're fun to work on.

We were in the car the other day when he mentioned something about an article on a website and how he didn't quite believe it to be true - too sensationalized and one-sided. That's all it took. I went off on a rant about content farms that must have been bad. He tapped me on the leg at some point and said, "I think we've gone over this before." I'm becoming predictably boring.

I'm also set for my train ride. I'm taking the train back to western PA for my daughter's graduation this weekend. Let me brag a moment - she's finishing a semester early with a major in Communications Media and a minor in English. She's aced her finals to this point (and scored 425 out of 400 on her senior project). She's more frenetic about grades than I am about deadlines and punctuality. I'm proud as hell, with both my kids, because they've chosen their paths and found their happiness. That's all we can ask for.

My book for the train is Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro, and it's a poetic book that I'm enjoying getting lost in. That should keep me busy for the six-hour trip. No reading time the rest of the trip, as her graduation is the next day and our ride home is Monday in her car. I loaded the Christmas music on the iPod per her request, so there will be plenty of loud singing and attempts at harmonizing.

Today is work on the article and the special projects. I want to have the article completed this week so I can relax even more over the holiday. The other work is dependent on folks getting back to me, so the bulk of it won't be started until the new year.

What's on your desk today?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy Resolution Day

What's on the iPod: So Long, Sweet Misery by Brett Dennen

If you heard rejoicing yesterday, that would be me. Yesterday was an AMEN day. As I sat trying to get the meat of an article and two small projects completed, a favorite client came knocking with not one, but two projects due by the first week of January. I was marketing myself into a stupor, and this came along at the right time.

Another neat thing came along yesterday - a guide to an upcoming conference. Why I love these - they list presenters and sessions, sure. But they also list exhibitors, and that's a ready-made list of potential clients in an industry I already work with. Some people see it as junk mail. I see it as a big ol' pack of opportunity. Merry Christmas to me.

I've also decided that yesterday - not January 1st - was my resolution day. Mind you, I'm not a fan of resolutions. I'm a fan of action plans. But since some people's eyes glaze over at the thought of another "plan", I'll call it whatever gets your attention.

Why did I choose yesterday? Because every day is a chance to start anew. Every single day presents the opportunity to refocus your energies, restyle your plans, and head into new areas. If we waited until January 1st, chances are our business plans would look like "I want to double my income - oh, and lose ten pounds." The business shouldn't be an afterthought, nor should it be mixed in with personal goals.

Even the "I want to double my income" is sort of a personal goal, isn't it? It would be better instead if you said something like "I will increase my business income 10 percent by these methods: .... " Doubling the income - hey, even my mother wants that. Doubling the business income, and attaching a modicum of a plan, keeps you focused on the business, and gives you a headstart on how you'll do it.

So, instead of waiting until January 1st, tell me right now. What are your resolutions/action plans for your business? See if you can frame it in a business-y way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Freebies, Systems, and Busy Work

What's on the iPod: In Between by The Clarks

Yesterday was fun. I managed one project before life interrupted. Because I work from home, I get tagged to let the work people in for appointments I knew little, if anything, about. This one was the annual termite inspection. It usually takes about ten minutes, but this guy was a talker. Really, he rivaled me. An hour later, he's gone and I have to dash to the bank. In holiday traffic. And while I'm out, I should stop at the store and get that one gift for my son.

That's where the time went. Not one thing done on the article. If I can't get this finished by Friday, it could be weeks. This weekend is my daughter's graduation (college - yay!), and my step-daughter will arrive as I'm leaving. We'll be back Monday (a Sunday graduation - really?). Then the shopping for food, which I hope he'll do while I'm gone. And then finishing up whatever was forgotten.

I had a request (more like an "I need") from a client. An unpaid request. As much as I want to help, I can't. There's just too much paying work being ignored right now. Not that I'm inundated with work, but I do have it and it is more pressing that a freebie. I hate when long-time clients ask the impossible. It leaves me in a position to break their hearts and possibly sever the relationship. But making business decisions requires that. I can't make money of an "atta girl!" and I need to make money right now.

Today is the article. Swear to you, it's going to be done or nearly done today. I have the outline in my head Hint: your questions to your interview subjects? Those are usually great subheads. I'm just saying. If you set it up right at the very beginning, you eliminate a lot of guesswork.

Let me leave you with these questions:

Do you ever give good clients free work? If so, what's your limit?

How do you make your job easier for yourself? Do you have any particular tips or tricks that keep you from wasting time?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Surviving Weekends

What's on the iPod: Wishing Well by The Airborne Toxic Event

It was one of those weekends where I'm glad to be sitting here working today. Mind you, it was full of fun, but it was full. We met friends for dinner Friday night. Then we went out Saturday to the annual Firebird Festival to celebrate winter solstice. It sneaked up on me this year - I had it pegged for at least another week or so away. There were so many people I wanted to invite. Alas.

This year's "sacrificial" bird was another work of art. And once again, it drew thousands who wanted to watch and chant "Burn that bird!" while the drums played and the fire dancers swirled around it at a safe distance. If you have a few minutes, watch the video below. The excitement in the kids' voices is priceless.

We then spent the rest of the night listening to an amazing little band, apropos of the evening - Burning Bridget Cleary. Superb musicians. Those girls can fiddle with the best of them.

Amid all this I'm trying to decorate the house, the tree, finish a few last shopping details, watch football, and make our Christmas cards. He took over the cards, and I'm glad he did. They turned out beautifully. They'll go out today, along with some gifts, after the termite inspector is here and gone. Odd time for that to be scheduled, but they chose the time - we didn't.

Today I have some projects to finish. I finished one last week, and the client was happy with it, amen. It has to pass muster with an editor yet, but I think I've kept it general enough. The two remaining projects are a small one I get nearly every day and another article, due the 1st of January, but I know what it's like when the family comes home. No time to think. Get it done now.

The rest of the day's time, if there is any left, will be spent marketing and wrapping more gifts. I have one more item to buy - that's it - and I'm finished. I wanted to be done by December 10th, but there are always little things you forget, aren't there?

And I'm taking time for me. I received a bonus from a long-time client (a Starbucks card), so I'm going to get some liquid tranquility later.

How is your work day looking?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top Five Writing Roadblocks

What's on the iPod: Where the Streets Have No Name by U2

Still on temporary work sabbatical (meaning I'm not in the office) as I try to get projects completed before the holiday. Add to that my daughter's college graduation next weekend(I'm so proud!), a holiday, and more marketing, and you can just take the white flag from my limp hand.

So while I'm typing away in another corner of the world, I leave you with the top five things that are getting in the way of your career:

1. Social networking. They're only tools if you know when to stop. If you find yourself tweeting for more than ten minutes, step away from the computer.

2. Your home page. Do yourself a favor right now - switch from Facebook or Yahoo! to the generic Google search page. You don't realize just how much those news items or friend requests waste time until you avoid them.

3. Inertia/laziness. But it's so much easier to work for a content farm than market! you say. Way to kill your writing career before it gets going. Welcome to a lifetime of earning one-tenth of what you could be making elsewhere - and at about one-tenth the effort you're putting into those $5 articles.

4.Blindness. Not literal blindness, but blindness to the opportunities in front of you. When was the last time you talked with an interview subject and followed up a few weeks later asking if they might also need writing help? Never? My point is made.

5. You. If you've ever not marketed or avoided a particular client because you've convinced yourself you can't do it, congratulations. You've just shot yourself in your own foot.

What roadblocks have presented themselves to you and how have you overcome them?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Finding Inspiration

What's on the iPod: You're No Good by Linda Ronstadt

If you've not signed up for my semi-regular e-newsletter yet, go to the left of this post and register. I don't use your info for anything beyond the newsletter, so your info is safe with me.

You'd not know it by the posts, but I've been out of the office for a few days and technically until Monday. Yesterday I lunched with two writer friends, which is always refreshing. Writers need to spend time with other writers on occasion. It rejuvenates us, and makes us feel less alone in a solitary craft.

I'm also working on numerous personal projects alongside my paying projects. The paying ones come first - they must. It's nice to be working remotely when there's so much to do. The phone doesn't reach me, and email is something I check when I feel like it. Putting up an "Away" message is often a great way to carve out time to complete those pressing projects.

The poetry is flowing right now. I've found the more I write poems, the more the ideas come rushing in at any given minute. I was in the car driving when the latest poem came to me. Allowing the fun side of you out to play, in my opinion, heightens your senses and awakens you to seeing your surroundings in new ways.

Here are some ways I've found to unleash creativity and tap into inspiration:

- Swing on a swing.

- Study one person or one situation as an outsider.

- Imagine "what if" when you hear something on the news that gets your attention. Actually, that "what if" exercise resulted in my first full-length book manuscript.

- Open a book, point to a word on the page, and imagine a story around it.

How and where do you find inspiration? Do you even do writing for your own pleasure these days? If so, how do you make time for it? If not, where can you find the time to put yourself first?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Domino's Guide to a Tasty Career

What's on the iPod: Ten Thousand Things by The Avett Brothers

Busy day yesterday. Interviews in the morning and book work in the afternoon. I put up the "Away" message on my email and avoided. I have projects due and I needed the uninterrupted time.

I was busy two nights ago putting together a last-minute client project (a forgotten piece the client just discovered). It was my night to cook. Great. I went to Domino's website and ordered dinner. Maybe it was because it was late and I'd been sitting at the computer for 12 straight hours, but I realized that Domino's order process is brilliant. Here on the "Pizza Tracker" page were all the ingredients needed to run a successful freelance career.

Don't believe me? Then you'll probably not believe my theory that Star Wars was a glorified version of The Wizard of Oz, but I digress.

Here's how pizza baking translates, in my opinion, to a strong freelance business:

1. Order Placed. You've leapt into freelancing with either tons of trepidation or little thought at all. But you've made the decision and you're ready to rock.

2. Prep. No career starts out at the top. Prep your career. Arm yourself with knowledge of your practice area, your clients, your profession. Put time into learning the basics as well as ways to improve your own business. Build marketing and business plans. Network. Ask for referrals.

3. Bake. Apply your marketing "recipe" every day. Make sure to pay attention to what efforts you're putting into your career and how effective they are.

4. Quality Check. Ask for feedback and referrals. Keep learning new things. Improve your writing with coaching, courses, workshops, or self-study.

5. Delivery. Deliver your best every time. Become the go-to writer who is known for reliability and accuracy. Your reputation is your best asset.

Okay yes, so I was tired. But how can you apply the Domino's delivery process to your business? And can you see how C3PO is the spitting image of The Tin Man?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Seven Things You Should Never Say to Your Client

What I'm reading: Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro
What's on the iPod: Hicktown by Jason Aldean

For some reason I was thinking about George Carlin over the weekend. I was remembering some of his earlier stuff, which at the time we thought was drop-dead hilarious. I listened to a little of it again. It still is. His material contains enough truth and recognition to allow people to relate to it. He says things you wish you could say, like those Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV, though I think a few of them have made it onto cable, if not prime time.

The concept works. There are things we need to segment from the general population, including things we should separate from our business practices. I can think of at least seven things you should never utter to or in front of your clients.

1. Your project sucks. Go ahead - get fired. Tell them the project they've just presented to you with their eyes filled with wonder and pride is the dumbest thing you've ever heard proposed. You'll be replaced faster than a weeping contestant on The Bachelor. Instead, compliment them on their hard work, then ask to make some suggestions for improvement. Or thank them and tell them it's not a good fit for you.

2. You're an unprofessional jerk. While it may indeed be true, you can't go there. Even if the client has just called you a whiny baby or set your house on fire, don't go there. Ever. You can respectfully disagree, but that's a strong as you should ever get when dealing with an unruly client. Channel that anger instead into your invoice collection process.

3. Do you talk to your mother with that mouth? Meaning, don't make it personal. Ever. A few writers have been subjected to accusations about their abilities and even their sex lives, but that's gutter talk. As much as you should never tolerate it, you can never engage in it.

4. I don't know how you manage to run a business. They may be lousy at working with contractors, but super at operating a successful business. Or they may suck at both. It's not up to you to point out the obvious, for you may be making unfair judgment. Even if you're right, it's not your job to inform them.

5. This was the worst experience of my life. That may be true, but saying so to your client is not only unprofessional, it's an effective form of career suicide. Just thank them for their business, cash the check, and turn down future projects.

6. Pay up, you cheapskate! Yes, tell them to pay outstanding invoices. No, don't qualify it with anything other than a litigation or collections notice (if it's gone longer than 90 days). You can be firm and assertive, not angry and attacking.

7. You did not ask for that! Don't ever argue with a client over what they supplied, didn't supply, wanted, didn't want, or any of the above. If something is missing or incorrect, fix it. Just because they're steeped in office politics and the blame game, don't get sucked into it. Put aside the he said/she said and do the job.

What things would you never say to your clients? And confession time - have you ever said anything inappropriate to a client?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Integrity and Writerly Boundaries

What I'm reading: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
What's on the iPod: Wishing Well by The Airborne Toxic Event

Are they making weekends shorter these days? Not that we didn't cram a week's worth of things into two days, but Monday is here way too quickly. We had our meditation group over on Saturday morning, then we headed off to a holiday craft fair, where I spent very little. I've been budgeting hard this year, and so far, I've manage a very nice stash of gifts for relatively little money.

Yesterday I got up and made a tea bread - I was expecting a visit from local Jehovah's Witness folks (yes, I invited them - I like hearing about others' religious tendencies). I waited until 3, when he and I headed off first to the local clothing shop in town, then to listen to traditional Irish music. The visitors showed up five minutes after we'd left. Of course. My fear was they'd arrive as I was sitting down for football. Luckily, my game was on last night. And what a game it was. My team won, but it was back and forth and hard-hitting, nail-biting football all night. That's probably why I didn't sleep well.

Today is a combination of articles and one small project. Then more marketing. A few more gifts will be bought - online. I've done most of it online, and it's been easy to find free shipping and everything in stock. It pays to put an arbitrary deadline on your holiday shopping.

As I was watching my team's quarterback walk off the field last night, blood streaming from his nose, which was suddenly on the opposite side of his face, I thought "There's a job I wouldn't take." It got me thinking about other jobs I wouldn't take, but more importantly, writing jobs I wouldn't take. There have been a few, and each has been steeped in issues beyond my capacity to effectively deal with them and get the job done right.

Beyond the obvious - the lack of decent pay, the posse of pesudo-editors, or the 24/7 oversight by the clients, here are things I will turn down every time. I will never do these for any client:

1. Lie. I will talk about your product or service in honest terms. I will not say what isn't true. Nor should you even consider it, client.

2. Work for just royalties. I work for real money, not pipe-dream money. That may seem odd since I may be the one writing your book or your article, but I'm a writer, not a psychic. I can't know what publishers want at any given moment since I don't specialize in ghostwriting or publishing. They could reject your book manuscript for any number of reasons not related to the writing (they have budgets, too).

3. Work without a contract. No exceptions. Magazine work comes with an email contract - our mutual agreement in writing to the terms. All others come with an email or paper agreement or I don't start work until it shows up. If that upsets you, client, understand this isn't a personal decision. It's a business decision.

4. Write something against my personal beliefs. It's a biggie. I won't write for you if your project steps on my boundaries. That includes writing something that bashes another segment of the population or is in such bad taste as to reflect poorly on another person or group of people.

5. Work for companies whose practices are unethical. Thank Enron for this. I won't knowingly be connected to any company practicing in an unsafe or unethical manner toward their employees or their customers.

6. Work for someone who acts unprofessionally. Be it shouting at me, dressing me down, or questioning my personal integrity, I will not tolerate it. Chew me out once or even hint that I don't know what I'm doing and we're finished. I do know what I'm doing. The first draft is just that - a draft. Mismatched thoughts are not cause to say things about my character or abilities. Tying my hands with time or monetary restrictions and then fussing about the end result is not acceptable. We work together or we don't have a deal.

How about you? Where do you draw your boundaries?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Putting the Wow in Your Business

What's on the iPod: Just Another Girl by Pete Yorn

Yesterday was fruitful. I managed an interview, an outline of one article, and contact with a few folks regarding some potential work. Things are coming together, amen. Even managed a little holiday shopping, which means I now have just two people to buy gifts for. I'd set a deadline of December 10th for all my shopping. I'm loving it, too. If I think I can't possibly shop beyond that point, I'll get it done. And the thought of having a few stress-free weeks ahead of me is the gravy.

Today I'll be doing more marketing (of course) and working on some personal writing.

I talked with an interview subject yesterday and we got on the topic of how independent contractors can create more work for themselves in a tough economy. She said exactly what we'd been dancing around yesterday in the comments - you have to make a personal connection with your customers. They want a real person who has bothered to get to know them.

Isn't it true? When was the last time someone went out of their way to make sure you were satisfied? I bet you could name the place and circumstance. That's because mediocrity has become common practice. So if you want to wow your clients, here's what you need to do:

Check back. That means not just doing what you say when you say you'll do it, but making sure the end product is what your client wants. You can't fix it if you don't know there's a problem. Follow up.

Offer more. Call it value-added services if you must (I hate the term), but if you provide more than your clients expect, they'll remember. Writing an article for that new magazine? Why not provide a chart or sidebar with additional information? Give them what they've asked for, but also what they haven't asked for, when appropriate.

Tell the truth. Do you think your client's message is confusing? Don't just write it up the way they want it - say something. Listen to their explanation and suggest alternatives. Do as they ask, but not without expressing your concerns and offering to help them change the focus.

Engage. Who wants a writer who's all business? I sure don't want clients who are all business. Befriend your clients. Be genuinely happy to hear from them and get to know them beyond the project. People are aching to connect. Let them. They'll remember you because you bothered to care.

Admit mistakes. Oh sure, you screwed up. Guess what? The sky won't fall if you admit to it. No one enjoys listening to someone weaving fantastic tales in order to avoid blame. Admit it, apologize, fix it, move on.

Be low maintenance. Borrowing this one from our own Dr. Freelance Jake Poinier, don't be the writer they have to "deal with" or that one who introduces issues on top of the issues they already have. Just do the job correctly and on time.

What else can you offer your clients that will wow them?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What Your Clients Want (and Deserve)

What I'm reading: Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro
What's on the iPod: Small Town by John Mellencamp

Nice day yesterday - I actually had enough work to keep me busy through the day. It was refreshing. And now I feel back on task. And of course, I'm fretting imaginary deadlines. I have an interview this morning and a smaller project, plus some work this afternoon on another article assignment. Then more marketing. Just because we have something to do doesn't mean we can stop marketing, right?

We've talked quite a bit lately about asserting ourselves and drawing boundaries with our clients. And we've discussed at length what to do when faced with bad client situations or just bad clients. But what we haven't talked about for a while is how we should be behaving so that our clients - the good ones - can receive the best possible service for their money. Let's face it; you can't justify your price if you're not doing your utmost for your clients every time out.

So let's pretend we're each other's clients. If I'm looking to hire you, here's what I'm wanting from you:

Results. Look, I'm not paying you to just warm up the same old leftovers. I can do that myself. I'm paying for someone to listen to what I want, understand, and deliver beyond what I can imagine. Because if I can imagine it, I can do it myself.

A little leadership. Assume I've never handed over a writing assignment to anyone. I'm going to need help. I'm going to look to you to ask the right questions and give enough guidance to ensure that the project I tell you I want is the one I really want, and that you understand what I need. Take charge of the work process. I'll be happier for it.

Timeliness. If you tell me you'll have it to me in two weeks, I'm going to expect it in two weeks, not four. If you can't meet deadlines, I can't trust your word. If I can't trust your word, I can't trust you with my project, and I'm spending my money elsewhere.

Communication. I love working with people who are available. Not that I expect you to be at my beck and call, but I appreciate same-day responses to emails or phone calls. If you wait three days or more to return my call, it may be because you're busy, but I interpret it as you not caring about my project.

Collaboration. I want to work with a writer who will work with me, not just sit there saying "Yes, Ma'am" or "You're out of your freakin' mind!" Make suggestions if you think it will improve the end product. I may not take your suggestion on, but I'm grateful you're thinking about my best interests.

Consistency. No surprises, okay? Just do the job at the price agreed. Don't suddenly decide your aunt's cat's surgery is infinitely more important than my getting my annual report revised for next week's big shareholder meeting. And don't stop work on my project unless I've not paid you what you're due, and certainly not without an explanation.

Your turn. You're hiring me. What do you want?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Worthy Tip: This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: Jersey Girl by Bruce Springsteen

A new month, eh? I know it's not January 1st, but even December 1st can be a turning point. Hey, in my world, turning points occur on November 6th, March 19th, July 23rd, etc. I'm going to say it - every day is a new chance to turn your career around.

But since we have the beginning of a month neatly packaged for us, let's make the most of it. Let's examine two very similar jobs and see which one would be more beneficial to your career. And to those content-mill cheerleaders who complain we working writers never give you any direction, consider this post and the ones just like it your direction. I'll write it. It's up to you to read it and apply it.

Saw this ad this week:

(Religious website) is an online publisher of multi-faith inspirational prayers for women. We're looking for writers to assist in producing prayer poems for the website. This is a perfect opportunity for stay-at-home moms, students, or retired folks. Spend part of your day being uplifted by beautiful prayers and help start a movement of prayer power, where we honor diversity of beliefs.

You can work at home and network with our team via email. Writing prayers for us can also lead to other writing opportunities within our circle, such as bloggers and article writers.

Compensation: $10 per accepted prayer submission

Maybe this is a good time to point out some red flags. First, any posting that lumps your professional writing career in with "stay-at-home moms, students, or retired folks" is insulting your abilities. Not that those people can't write, but that phrase has become a euphemism for "you're not getting paid decently."

Also, the job posting offers you such perks as networking with their team, and maybe - just maybe - get more work within their limited circle. A hint - if you have never heard of the place before, chances are slim any others have, and even slimmer yet are the chances they're well connected and able to imply such offers.

So, how can we better that beyond working at the mall this season? Easy. Look for the same thing higher up the food chain (or should I say the prayer chain?):

The Christian Century's website guidelines say the magazine is looking for articles, book reviews, and poetry. Their article parameters: "We seek manuscripts that articulate the public meaning of faith, bringing the resources of religious tradition to bear on such topics as poverty, human rights, economic justice, international relations, national priorities and popular culture. We are also interested in pieces that examine or critique the theology and ethos of individual religious communities. We welcome articles that find fresh meaning in old traditions and that adapt or apply religious traditions to new circumstances."

The pay - $100-300 for assigned articles, $50 for poems of 20 lines or fewer.

So in one job, you've quadrupled your invoice for that poem. Mind you, the jobs aren't identical, and you do have to examine the magazine much more thoroughly to understand what it is they're looking for. But why wouldn't you if the pay is four times more than what you'd originally thought to settle for? And if you decide to write an article for them, not only is the option there, but the pay is up to 30 times higher than that one prayer poem. Unless you really like writing prayer poems and can crank out 30 of them....right.

So writers, what job do you have currently that you can improve on? Or what job in the past did you replace with a similar one that paid much better?
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