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Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Not Your Job

Yesterday was a good day. I'm waiting for some client work to come in, so I had time to work on a personal project and put in some quality time over at the About Writing Squared forum. Plus there was some sort of issue with one subscriber who couldn't get in. Hopefully I cleared that up for her.

Plus Anne and I had an introductory call with the forum members where we chatted, talked about what they want and what they can live without, and got to know each other. It's great to spend time bonding with other writers.

I got my website back to where I started. Not what I wanted, but at least it's not in Flash Hell any longer. I'm back to a static, boring site. The difference is now I know where I'm going with it and I'm on it.

I've often said my best ideas come from you. Today is no exception. Gabriella said something on Wednesday (twice actually - sorry about the spam filter snafu, Gabriella) that resonated. She said a woman she'd interviewed for a job the woman was pitching said this about sticking her neck out: "I already didn’t have the job, and the worst that could have happened was that I continued to not have the job. Don’t be your own worst enemy and make something not happen because you’re scared."

What a great perspective! I don't know about you, but that's a freeing statement. You can't lose what you don't have. Likewise, asking costs nothing.

It's another case of the what-the-hell attitude - amplified.

Sometimes we need to lay off ourselves a bit. That's why this woman's attitude is so intelligent. She allows herself to try and to not get caught up in the fear of failing.

Where can you apply the "it's not my job to lose" attitude?

How would things be different if you stopped being afraid and started doing instead?


When did you jump in with both feet? What was the result?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feedback

Good day yesterday - I scored an assignment late Tuesday, so I was able to line up some interviews early. I got some marketing done, too. Always. Never stop, I say. I sent out a few Craig's List ads locally, hit LinkedIn a bit, put out feelers on Twitter, and got another query going. All before noon.

We've spent a good deal of time talking about fears and overcoming them this week. I want to expand on that theme a bit. Wendy said it yesterday: some fear the feedback. I say embrace it. Feedback is going to make you a stronger person and a better writer.

I've sought out feedback in nearly every client or employer interaction. Some went well. Some didn't. I learned a lot from it all, especially about human behavior, and my own to be honest.

In one case, I asked for feedback after an interview in which I wasn't offered the job. The editor was impressed by that, enough that he met me for coffee at the shop next to his office to tell me why I wasn't chosen. His feedback - that I still seemed strongly connected to my then-current job - was bang on. I was. I was at that time the sole employee and putting out two issues of the magazine that month. I couldn't help but be connected. But he said my asking for feedback was what impressed him. Okay, he went on to hit on me in email later, but at that moment he was giving me good feedback.

Another case was when I was still working for the magazine and looking for a job in another company. At one point I had a call from the hiring woman - could I come in that day for a follow-up interview? I wasn't completely prepared - no suit on or in the car - but I said yes. I assumed she'd understand that I had just come from a job and had no time to rush home and get a jacket.

I was wrong. When I asked for feedback, she was brutally honest. She said my attire was totally inappropriate (note that in my first interview I was wearing a suit and in my second I was wearing a cardigan, blouse, and dress pants). Furthermore, she said, I had been given a test assignment that she said I should have had at least three questions for her. I had delivered to her a result that she said was proof that "I ignored the assignment altogether." It didn't occur to her that the "ignoring" was really my misunderstanding what she'd wanted. Her choice of words was a huge red flag.

In that case, the disconnect was obvious, and I was thrilled to have dodged a huge bullet. If she's that difficult to please in the small instances, imagine working with that every day.

Feedback is essential because:

It tells you how to improve. Never fear the "I hate this" or "there are several mistakes" feedback. Usually, they don't hate it all, but can't relate to one or two things. And those "several" mistakes? In every case I've had, they've been minor things and usually just one or two. The point is to ignore the emotional delivery and focus on the points being made - he doesn't like the word "leading" because it's overused, or she would rather the press release look more like a news story. Those are things you can fix.

It tells you what personalities you can work with. I could work for the lecherous dude (there are laws that protect against that) much easier than I could work for a woman who chose to view my actions or attire as something purposefully irreverent. Clients who have panic attacks are easily calmed if you figure out how they like to receive information.

It helps you build boundaries. I will never work with someone who feels the need to belittle me or shout at me. I've had a small number of clients chastize me for baseless things. I responded by pointing out their errors directly as I was firing them.

It helps you build confidence. Good feedback gives you courage and confidence so that when bad feedback comes, you have something to show you you're not the failure this person is making you feel like. Bad feedback too can help you build confidence once you're able to read the hidden messages (like "I'm not paying you, so I'm going to tear this apart").

Do you seek feedback from your clients? If so, how has that helped you? Give examples, if you can.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fear Busting

For someone with just a little work in the in box, I was busy yesterday. I did a ton of marketing, then fussed with my domain. Let me just say this - I've proven to myself yet again that either I should take notes or pay my kid to do the mundane Web stuff. I built what I thought was a nice-enough website.

However, it was a flash site (there go the search engine rankings), it had no flexibility beyond the template, and I paid for less functionality than I had with a static site. Worse, two folks couldn't figure out that the page was actually a "book" and you had to click on it to turn the pages. There was no indication on the site, nor could I edit the template to even add "click here." It had to go.

I intend to move this blog to a more user-friendly place (Wordpress), but with the way my technical life was going yesterday, I refrained. I'm still without my website, but that's because I've yet to figure out the magic ingredient at GoDaddy.com that will allow me to put my DNS server in. I think it's there, but until the servers update, I won't know. So if you're looking for my website, you're not going to see it just yet.

I was thinking about Monday's post and how much fear factored into the aspiring-not-doing thinking. Truth is we fear things that probably won't happen. That doesn't help when you're about to pitch your article idea to the magazine of your dreams and you don't want to screw it up. It's also little comfort when you're about to tell your family you've decided you're now a writer, even though you've got just a handful of essays to your name.

What does help is breaking down that fear into bite-sized chunks, then creating a process that helps you push the fear aside and get closer to overcoming it.

Adopt a what-the-hell attitude. It's how I got my job at the magazine - by looking at that four-page press release and figuring I'd give it a shot and fear-be-damned. Tell yourself you'll give it a shot.

Consider what you write as temporary. Open that Word document (a new one if you'd rather) and write past that sticking point in your plot knowing you can trash it, or type out a query letter imagining the editor is only paying you ten cents a word. You wouldn't care if someone who underpays you doesn't buy, would you? Use your best writing, but do it with the notion that it's just an idea and you can go on to another at any time, because it is.

Get excited about what you're writing. Let it bubble over onto the page. Clients and readers can see it, and they love it.

Change your verbs. You're no longer "aspiring" or "starting." You're "doing" and "working on." Think of your writing and your goals as already in progress in your mind. You can't help but move forward if you've told everyone, including yourself, what you're doing.

What you don't understand, study. If you're afraid to go for those press release jobs because you think they're too hard, read up on what goes into a good release. Study style, presentation, and above all, words to avoid. The more you know, the less likely you'll let fear get in your way.

How do you push past fears? What was the last fear you overcame? How did you do it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Samples

Good day yesterday. I managed to get most of the Web project wrapped up. One more element or two and we're on to the editing phase. I got some queries out in the afternoon, then off to a meditation-related music demonstration, which I didn't want to go to initially. Turned out to be amazing.

Also, I heard from a client who took the time not only to tell me where my invoice was (the one I'd just sent him a week ago), but to contact the accounting department and get an ETA. That's refreshing. This client, who is new to the organization, has made what was once a stressful, cumbersome project a breeze. The communication was amazing, which made everything run smoothly.

It seems everywhere I turned yesterday, the Internet was talking about free samples. Do you give them? Should you? On one forum, talk went to a particular job offer where the client wanted - brace yourself - 21 pages of editing using their sample. And the writer was unsure if turning yet another "sample" requirement was a good idea.

When I give free samples:

Never.

Let me restate - I don't give free samples based on their parameters. Why? Because I've had no end of people asking for "samples" that are actually the project in disguise. Get about 100 writers to complete a sample and voila! They've just finished their project for free. Okay, it will probably suck having that many perspectives, but these are people who probably don't care.

If they want a sample of my writing, I send links, Word documents, or PDFs of what I've already written. If clients are serious about your work, that's all they'll need. No client needs to see if you'll fit by getting so specific. Either you're trusted or you're not.

The same goes for an editing sample. I have plenty of projects lying around to show both before and after. There's no way I'm giving them what amounts to a chapter of edits.

In my experience, every time I've been asked for a sample it's been by someone whom I never hear from again after I turn them down or who comes back to argue why all the "top" writers or editors had no problem with it. Anyone who disappears without a word or argues the point is not my client. Chances are the pay rates were in line with the pay - meaning the more requirements, the fewer dollars you'll see. Cheapos often argue the small details and dig their heels in on price. Just try giving them your price (you should be setting that anyway, not them). Watch their reaction.

Have you ever given a free sample? Do you still consider it? Have they ever netted you work that you've been paid well for?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Aspiring

What a weekend. There's no way I could feel idle with all I managed, but somehow I had time to act like a slug. I read quite a bit, slept a little later, watched my guilty pleasures on Saturday morning (I'm an HGTV junkie), and enjoyed every minute. But I managed to vacuum, dust, clean up stacks of paper in the kitchen, totally clean and organize the space around my desk, weed the front walk area, and hang curtains. Yesterday was meditation in New Jersey, which was fruitful, then home to a football game.

We had time too to head to town for errands. We were walking into a local cafe and I overheard this: "I aspire to write."

I fought back my knee-jerk reaction, which was to scoff and only because the guy was in a cafe acting out the stereotypical scene I hate most - people sitting in cafes discussing wanting to write instead of actually doing it. Two tables away, a young man I've seen around town was oblivious to the conversation. He was busy writing. Amen to that.

It was in that sentence: "I aspire to write." What's wrong with it? I know why I first reacted, but as I thought about it that day and the next, I think I've landed on why it's the wrong sentence for that, or any, setting.

It's dreamlike. He's not saying he's moving toward it. He's saying "I dream about writing." Fact is I dream about being on New York Times' best seller list. It's just daydreaming.

It's passive. Stating it all day doesn't bring you any closer to your goal. Unless I stop talking and start writing, it's not happening. It requires no action to own the feeling.

It's self-defeating. If he'd added "I'm starting a book" or "I've jotted down some character sketches" to his statement, he'd have set himself up to continue, for now he's taken that step toward owning his dream. By just saying it, he's trying to own what he's not put any effort into.

It's echoing fear. I heard someone on the verge of professing his writing abilities, but really saying "I'm afraid to start, so I'll stay here where it's safe." No you don't - own it. Own your path and it will become your path, I say. If he had said, "I'm writing now" he'd have taken a much bigger step and acknowledged to himself and others that he's jumping off that cliff.

I sympathize with this guy. I was in that same place about 20 years ago. I wouldn't even say out loud that I was a writer even when I was. I didn't own my path, nor did I set my foot on it with enough force to declare it to others. I would say things like "I want to write" instead of writing. It took a lot of cat-and-mouse with my own fears and feelings to get me to that point of detachment; writing is just one definition for who I am, and that rejection that will come isn't a personal rejection. Once I was able to detach from the emotions of wanting something so badly, I was able to call myself a writer.

What does a statement like "I aspire to write" mean to you? Have you uttered something like that in the past?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Typo and Grammar Gaffe Friday

Busy day yesterday. I started a website project in the morning, then put it aside to get a press release draft put together. But I watched myself drag my heels on that project. I wanted to get it done well and quickly, but I was tired. Once again, my thyroid hormone levels are down, so I'm "between dosages" so to speak. Today should be better now that I'm on a higher dose.

I hopped on the About Writing Squared forum a few times, too. We have some lively discussions going, and I wanted to check the progress as folks weighed in. Also, we have a feature on the forum called Tip of the Week and it was neat seeing how people are handling the "assignment" so to speak.

Today is International Freelancers Day as decided by the International Freelancers Academy. Sounds like a great line-up of folks giving presentations online - Peter Bowerman, Michael Stelzner, Chris Garrett, Jason Womack.... If you're able, get on over and check it out. They say registration ended last night, but I suspect if you show up you may find a way in. If not, I'll report some of the more interesting sessions here for you.

Seems like yesterday was a day for typos. The first was more of a grammar gaffe, which I'd heard on the radio. But the rest? All typos, and all interesting, to say the least.


Radio announcement I heard yesterday for a local event:
"There will be repelling firemen...": You probably mean "rappelling" firemen, but I'm curious to see how many people leave because of those firemen and why. Do they smell? Tell bad jokes? Insult everyone?

Ad I received from a magazine:
Get a full year until October 15th: Worse, this was a corrected version of a prior email. I know what you mean, but perhaps you should say it correctly, because you can almost hear a few people saying "But that's not a whole year! That's less than a month!"

In an online sales ad:
Constructed in luxurious silk, this dress from DIANE von FURSTENBERG boasts a daringly low cowlneck and side tie belt.: Am I the only one envisioning a really low side-tie belt? It must be daring to try walking with a belt flapping around your ankles.

In an email offer from a publisher:
"The can subscribe by clicking the link below:": The? The what? Oh, you mean they. That's okay. I've made that mistake sometimes, too. However, my email didn't go out to thousands of people at the same time promoting a magazine devoted to the publishing industry, for that might mean that proofreading is dead. Oh wait - it is. Never mind. Carry on...

Have you come across interesting typos or grammar gaffes lately?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life Lessons from Dr. Freelance

Jake Poinier has no idea I'm posting about his annual Freelance Forecast. But since I'm sharing the words of others this week, I couldn't let Jake out of the mix. He's been doing something every year that holds great value to freelancers - he's taking the pulse of both writers and clients.

I participated in this year's survey. It was a great mix of questions, and Jake managed to whittle down our own responses alongside those of clients to reveal quite a picture. We writers are charging less than I imagined (really? Only six percent of us charge$91-100 an hour?), and clients were telling exactly how to work with them. If you've not seen it, check it out here.

Some surprises from the survey:

95 percent of clients find us through word-of-mouth. Suggests to me we should be working on increasing our networks and contacts.

Clients value most talent/quality of work and reliability. It's not enough that you can write - you need to deliver.

Clients biggest wish-list item in a freelancer: communication. Time to work on those client relationship skills.

Clients hate most poor quality and missed deadlines. If you're unable to make that deadline, let them know immediately. And don't hurry it and hand in sloppy work. You'll never be hired again.

The first point really stuck out to me. Word-of-mouth marketing isn't tough. It just isn't a focal point for many of us. So how do we increase our chances of getting a good referral?

Build a referral network. Start by pairing with writers and designers. Don't think you have to choose writers whose specialties lie beyond yours. I've gotten plenty of referral work from writers in the same field who didn't have time to take on one more thing.

Ask for recommendations. Ask your current clients to write your next sales letter. Just ask for a written letter stating why they love your work. Then send it out.

List your clients on your website (with their permission, of course). I once had a client hire me because he saw that I'd worked with one of his colleagues.

Befriend your PR person. It's a great way to get more contacts and even pick up work from the PR firm.

How have you increased referrals?

How much of your work is referral work?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview: Susan Johnston, LinkedIn Pro

There are some people you bump into in cyberspace that you just feel instantly at ease with. The Urban Muse Susan Johnston is one such person. I don't remember how we "met" but I've enjoyed watching Susan go from new freelancer to successful veteran in what feels like just a few short years. If you want to know how to do it right, follow Susan.

I was pleased to get a note from Susan a few weeks ago about her latest book, LinkedIn and Lovin' It Unleash Your Business Potential with LinkedIn (from Rockable Press), offering me a review copy. I took her up on it.

I'm glad I did. In 84 content-rich pages, Susan opens up a world of possiblities via LinkedIn. Every page has something valuable, a new-to-you tip that instantly brings your profile and your presence more impact. I was halfway through and already writing Susan a fan letter. Even if you think you know LinkedIn, you don't until you read this book. My favorite parts include how to use LinkedIn to find jobs and how to research using LinkedIn.

I asked Susan to share her thoughts about the book, her findings, and her insights with us. Welcome, Susan!

How long have you been using LinkedIn?

4.5 years.

What prompted the book? How did the idea come about?

I've written a few blog posts on LinkedIn, and readers seemed very interested in learning more it. There's a ton of information out there on Facebook marketing, Twitter marketing, video marketing, etc., but not nearly as much on LinkedIn. And there didn't seem to be a resource specifically geared to freelance professionals rather than job-seekers or recruiters, so I decided to create that resource myself!

What, in your opinion, is the biggest mistake people make when using any social media tool?

I'm guilty of this sometimes myself, but thinking about themselves instead of their followers or readers. It's best if you focus on being a resource instead of trying to constantly self-promote.

The book is a comprehensive guide to using LinkedIn to its fullest advantage. When did it occur to you that LinkedIn was such a gold mine, and why do you think more people aren’t taking advantage of all those features?

As I wrote those blog posts and explored LinkedIn's features myself, I discovered what a powerful tool it is. Even as I was writing the book, I discovered some very handy tools I didn't know about. Some recruiters and job-seekers are getting incredibly savvy about LinkedIn, but (with a few exceptions) it seems like freelance professionals are more focused on other tools.

You mention both how to find jobs and how to research using LinkedIn. How much of your own job searching and research come from LinkedIn?

Mostly I use LinkedIn for research, like when I need an expert with a specific area of expertise in a specific geographic area I can do an advanced search to find just the right person. I have a number of steady projects so I'm not actively looking for more. However, I mention the jobs tools for freelancers who might be more proactively searching for clients.

How can writers capitalize on the tools LinkedIn provides?

By keeping your profile current and interacting with other users through, for example, LinkedIn answers or groups, it's much more likely that you'll get contacted about new opportunities and be seen as an expert, so I think that's really key. You get even more functionality out of a premium account, but most of us do quite well with the basic (read: free) one.

What do you think is the book’s most important takeaway?

I interviewed several freelancers and recruiters about how they use LinkedIn, so I hope that readers understand there isn't one single right way to use LinkedIn. There are lots of different strategies, but almost all of them include being active on LinkedIn, just in ways that make sense for each individual.

Feel free to pick up Susan's book here. It's a super resource.

Any questions or comments for Susan?

How do you use LinkedIn or social media tools?

Which social media outlet works best for you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Worthy Tip: This Job, Not That Job

Yesterday was somewhat productive. I managed to wrap up and invoice that large project. What pleases me is it was done in record time and with the least amount of hassles imaginable. I love when clients know what they want, convey what they want, and read fully my emails. No overreactions, no stress - my kind of client!

Anne and I did some puttering at the Five Buck Forum. We're enjoying the interaction with so many talented writers, including newbies. So far, I'm pleased with the amount of info we're providing and the environment that's being created.

I did a little marketing, too. I sent out two queries and put up a Craig's List ad. I heard back on one query. This is how it should be done - they sent a note stating they'd received my query and would be in touch within five weeks. If not, they're not buying. Clearly stated, simple to understand. If only all publications would work that way.

While I was on Craig's List, I noticed some pretty heinous offers. Obviously, that means it's now time for This Job, Not That Job.....

Here's one of the worst offenders:

Hello,

I need someone to write 10 articles for me. They do not need to be written from scratch.

There is an existing website I will send you and I basically need 10 pages of this website re-written (so the content can be unique for my website). That means it cannot be plagiarized and it has to be at least 50% unique (or the search engines will flag it as duplicate content).

If you have an article spinner that is okay too, I just need you to edit so that it makes sense.

I can pay $2.50 per word document, so I can pay $25 for the total gig. Each document is roughly one page.

If everything works out, I have about 100 pages more I need written.

If you're interested, please email me:
1. Your name
2. Your email
3. Your phone number
4. Links to any work you've done
5. Please tell me about your experience & tools you use.

Thank you,

Matt


Well Matt, where do I begin? How about the "they don't need to be written from scratch" line? So you're promoting writers to recycle copyrighted material in order to fill your pages? Risk plagiarism and copyright infringement charges so you can get it on the cheap? Oh but wait - it can't be plagiarized because you'd be in trouble then, wouldn't you? So it has to be 50 percent original, which means someone is still stealing content for your site, but maybe you're off the hook.

And let's talk about cheap - $2.50 per document? $25 total for 100 documents? Any chance you could go lower there, Matt? That's just nuts. Let me ask this - would you accept those rates, Matt?

Instead of Matt's incredible bout with insanity, try writing for someone who will pay you a better rate. Something like this may work:

Early American Life

Needs stories on history, architecture and decorating, antiques, studio crafts, and travel. Pays about $500 for a first feature from a new writer. Features run from 750 to 2,500 words.


That way, you can use someone else's original work as research for your historical article.

What else would work? What have you seen that's worthy of a guffaw or worth a second look?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guest Post: Working Remotely

Happy birthday to my brother! Today he's - well, he's still older than I am. And being a good sister, I'm definitely going to point that out. Remember when that was a good thing - to be older than your siblings?

I'm excited. I've been a fan of Sharon Hurley Hall for a while now, and I've followed her (short of stalking, I swear) and have been impressed with her business sense. Sharon is the master mind behind the Get Paid to Write Online site. It was thanks to Google Plus that I finally connected with Sharon. We were linked on Twitter, but Google + gave us the chance to actually connect.

I'm glad we did. Sharon's a dynamite, friendly person and a super writer. Through our chatting, we managed to get on the topic of blogs. She honored me by asking me to write a post for her blog, and that thrilled me for many reasons, not the least of which was because now I could ask her to reciprocate. Please welcome Sharon to the blog!


Working Remotely: Tips and Tools


How do you stay organised as a location independent writer? Here are some of the tips and tools that work for me. Whether you're working from a local coffee shop or from a completely different country, the trick is to have everything you need with you. I don't know about you, but I don't like carrying lots of stuff around, so I've optimized my computer setup to minimize the number of items I need to have when I travel.


Desktop Organization


Let me step back a bit and talk about my desktop setup. Although I'm location independent, I have a home base, and I decided to get a desktop so I could have more processing power and a bigger screen when I'm working from home. Organizing my writing business is as simple as creating a few key folders. Each client has a separate folder where I save all their work, with sub folders for particular projects or periods of time when needed. All of these are in a bigger writing projects folder, which also has folders for invoices, bids, contracts, blogging work and other key aspects of my writing business.


The writing projects folder is the one I need access to wherever I go, so I ensure that it is backed up (I use SugarSync for set it and forget it backup) at all times. I also (just because I'm paranoid) do a weekly hard drive backup and transfer the whole folder to a USB stick and my laptop before any trip. I'm not taking any chances on not having access to my stuff. And the good thing about an online backup tool is that you can usually view and edit files on the web if you need to make changes in a hurry, then have it synced back to your main location when you get back.


Browser Optimization


The second key part of my organisational strategy as a location independent writer is to optimise my browser for use in multiple locations. My browser of choice is Google Chrome, which has built in functionality to synchronise bookmarks, extensions and more. Before a major trip, I download the latest version of Google Chrome portable, put it on a laptop and fire it up. I log in with my Google account, enable synchronisation and wait for it to magically update all my extensions.


This also means that my secure password extension. LastPass, is also up to date wherever I go. I never have any problems logging into WordPress dashboards or other sites, which makes it easy to manage personal and client blogs.


I use the portable version because if I need to change computers for any reason, I can run it from a USB stick. It's always good to be prepared for the unexpected.


Email and Communication


If you're a writer on the move, then good communication is essential. I always find out about internet access wherever I'm going to be staying. I prefer to have it on the premises (with free Wi-Fi so I can use my laptop in my room), but I'll take a decent internet cafe if that's the only option. I use Google Apps mail (just like Gmail but on my own domain) and I always access it through the web interface, wherever I happen to be in the world. That means I always have an up to date record of client communication. (Of course, I back it up to both Outlook and Thunderbird, but I don't use those tools for any other reason.)


Other Key Tools


I can't mention my favourite tools without talking about Skype. This is pretty much an essential for running my online writing business. I don't have a Skype phone number mainly because my business is split equally between the US and the UK so one set of clients would lose out. Instead, since most of my clients have Skype accounts, I just talk for free and absorb the hit for the few that don't.


Other key tools I use include:



  • Google Docs for editing on the go, though I have to admit that I couldn't live without Microsoft Word.


  • Feedly for keeping up with RSS feeds


  • Windows Live Writer for blogging


  • Workflowy for outlining and planning


  • Todoist for my to do list, which I loved because I can colour code jobs


  • Paypal for payments and invoicing, along with Excel


  • 30 Boxes/Google Calendar for calendar management


  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking for dictating articles and blog posts. This last one is a real time saver and really boosts my productivity. When next I update my phone, I'll be able to use the smartphone app for dictation on the move.

With very few exceptions most of those tools work in the browser which means they are accessible wherever I go. What tools are in your writing toolbox?

Bio:


I'm Sharon and I was born to write and blog. I’m a word nerd, a Scrabble fiend, fanatical about grammar, and am fascinated by learning new things. I've been mentoring other writers at Get Paid To Write Online since 2005 to help them improve and build sustainable and successful writing careers. I also blog professionally; check me out on sharonhh.com

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tenseness and Time

Don't forget to check out Anne's and my new Five Buck Forum, the most affordable members-only sharing, caring, and business-building site to date. We're so happy with all the features of the forum, the Webinars, the courses, and of course, the cameraderie and networking. For the price of a Happy Meal, you can be part of it.

One thing we're not so happy about are the technical issues we had yesterday. My theory is this - the amount of time spent testing links and connections is directly proportional to the amount of time spent fixing them after the launch. We had a few glitches - more than a few - but we've either fixed them or found work-arounds for them. If you're trying to access the forum and can't, send either Anne or me an email and we'll get you in.

Today I intend to finish the large project, spend time in the forum, and get some marketing done. October is coming into view and I want at least two projects in line before that happens. I have a lot of money coming in the pipeline, but nothing here yet, so the goal is to really increase the revenue so that the holidays will be smooth sailing.

It's a late start for me today. I was at my writers' group meeting last night, which when we get together, runs late into the night. We discussed a lot of things, such as writing from the past (not in the past) and keeping it relevant to today. It's a problem a lot of us have, especially when we're fictionalizing something from our memories. We also talked about my problem, which was how to build the right tense into a poem. I tend to write things literally, which is a bad habit in poetry if I'm getting too caught up in the facts. One poem in particular had these lines:

"I'd driven those three hundred miles, each one bringing me closer to
Dread, to the reality of a world that didn't have
You in it..."

What the other writers didn't like was the past perfect, which added entirely too much switching of this moment in my poem that was now in a different moment. I was going literal, they were wanting more immediate emotion. They're right - it was too much and unnecessary. That's why I love hanging out with these people. They help me develop into a better writer.

One poem none of us touched was one I wrote in my usual fashion - last minute. Because I'm about to dig out from under a large pile of work, I'll leave you with it in hopes it inspires you to create something of your own, even if it's the last minute:

The five pm artist

Writes poems frantically

Hoping to make sense, seeking out

Coherence and cohesion amid

Ihavetogetdresseds and shitit'salmosttimes

So much pressure to create when

the job is to create but when it's

Lefttothelastminute and the words just

Spilllikewateron a pieceofpaper,

Saturating, threatening to tear the center

Outandthewordstumbledownontothefloorand

Fall between the cracks.


How have you introduced time into your writing? Do you translate your tense literally, or are you able to shift gears? When was the last time you wrote something for you?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Announcing....

It's here! Introducing the Five Buck Forum! Built by Anne Wayman and yours truly, the forum is a comprehensive meeting place for writers and creatives that offers support, advice, resources, and discounts on Webinars and ebooks.

Anne and I have built it with you in mind. We've talked to you, heard what you've said, and created a membership space that attempts to meet your own personal wish lists. It doesn't matter what level you're at in your career - we've got something for you.

It's a password-protected, members-only safe haven to discuss everything from finding work to dealing with clients and business difficulties. Members will receive discounts on various products and services including coaching, ebooks about writing, and Webinars offered by Anne and me. Also, we'll be providing exposure to well-known writers, live Q&A sessions, editor Q&A, and weekly tips and exercises that will give you ways to generate ideas and score assignments. The forum has been designed to provide a safe, friendly moderated place where writers can ask for help, offer help and generally share ideas and inspiration as well as the occasional whine.

When we set out to build this space, Anne and I kept one thing in mind - would we pay money for this? The result is something that offers a ton of value for just five bucks a month.

We'd love to have you join the community. Sign up here to share in the support, camaraderie, and resources!

The Winning Partnership

Yesterday was productive. I spent a good deal of time working on my personal project, my project with Anne, and another chunk of the large project that hit my in box around noon. If all goes well, I should be able to bill for the large one this week, which means I'll surpass my monthly earnings target early. Yay!

I did get news that the project I was waiting for did go to another editor. Not sure what that's about, but I suspect there was a question of paying for me versus using internal editors (it's a publishing group). Too bad. It sounded like a fun job.

Today will be spent on marketing and working with Anne on our joint project. She's a dream to work with, and we mesh on many levels. I've worked with just a few writers as collaborators and I've been fortunate every time. Great people turn into great partners - that's rare.

If you get the chance to team with another writer or business person, how do you know it will work?

The personalities should complement. Notice I didn't say "match." Matching personalities can be a nightmare, especially if you get two passive people or two fiery temperaments. Best is when you two get along for different reasons.

The strengths should bolster the other person's weaknesses. I could build a website if I had to, but it's not where I excel. I'm much better at marketing and advertising.

The relationship has to be equal. You can partner with a client, but if that client's holding the lion's share of control, you're not collaborating. That's why I turned down a partnership with a client a number of years ago. He offered a relationship in which I'd have to pay him to be his partner. The utter lunacy of that request aside, he was calling all the shots. My voice in the process was completely missing.

The goal should be shared. Anne and I share a similar (if not identical) vision. So did Devon and I when we put together our Webinar. If I'd gone into either collaboration with different end results in mind, it would have been a hot mess and an uncomfortable relationship.

Each voice has to be heard. You can't run a business venture and share the work successfully if you're not both contributing opinions, ideas, and constructive criticism when needed. The Type A personality may want to run things, but the quieter partner had to be encouraged to be part of it. Otherwise, there will be resentment and possibly failure.

The partner has to have integrity. I've seen some pretty strange partnerships and collaborations, ones in which I think one of the partners has on blinders or the other one is simply superb at bullshitting anyone into anything. Before you join forces with someone, make sure it's someone who's operating with integrity and even the same level of professionalism you aspire to.

In your opinion, what goes into a good partnership? Have you ever had a collaboration? If so, was it successful and why/why not?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Charging for Consulting

Look for big news from Anne Wayman and me tomorrow - to get notified directly, sign up here. No spam, I promise.

We had a great tweetup yesterday afternoon. Thanks to those who could make it and to those who spread the word. It was a nice manageable group, and we had a good time, per usual. If you'd like to see the conversation, just search the #writingsquared hashtag.

One question that came up was how and when to charge for consulting. Good question, in fact, and one I'm betting most of us haven't had to face. Here are my own guidelines for when a conversation has become a consultation:

If it's not our first conversation. Truth is most clients will require at least one phone call or email to get the details and parameters set for the project. I give that one up for free because it's necessary for me to be able to give estimates. And it's just smart business.

If the client asks for something more. The minute a client asks for anything beyond an estimate in that first conversation, I'm consulting. That includes research, meeting with staff or colleagues, or providing advice or direction.

If it's more than the contract allows. Because there are clients who will talk me to death otherwise, I build contractual boundaries. I state how much consulting comes with the project, and I'm clear on what additional consulting costs and when it will kick in.

If the client wants to brainstorm with me. Yes, it's happened. I've had clients ask me what my thoughts are on this particular graphic or what caption I'd use with that particular photo. That's work disguised as an innocent question, and I do attach fees to that.

If it's beyond the scope of the contract. I'm happy to do more to help get the project completed, but more has its limits. I won't, for example, talk with your senior management team because they want to bounce ideas off me or shoot holes in the project to leave their mark. Well, I will. But it will cost you.

If the relationship is specified as a consultation. Sometimes clients just want to get advice or brainstorm. I'm open to that. So far my consulting has grown from existing projects, but I do have prices for consulting relationships, including minimum charges.

Have you consulted in the past? If so, at what point does your writing cross over into consulting? How much consultation time do you allow before you charge?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ideas and How to Use Them

Time once again for a tweet-up! Anne and I are hosting one this afternoon. To join, head to Twitter and use the #writingsquared hashtag. (Best way is to make a column in your viewer just for that hashtag.)

Yesterday was productive despite a "travel hangover" and the lack of several promised files. I worked ahead in hopes of reining in some of the copy I have to deliver. The clients hope to have this by this month. We're nearly halfway through the month. While I'm keen to meet client deadlines, my hands are tied unless I get the changes soon.

Also, I spent some time reviewing a book for a writer chum. It will launch soon, and I'm itching to get her here to talk about the topic. Maybe next week...

Some of yesterday I spent putting some ideas down on paper. Just the ideas - I'm not ready to generate queries from them. But sometimes a great idea walks up and taps your shoulder. Here's what I do:

Write it down. I've learned long ago to stop relying on memory. Or at least I think I learned (can't remember!). Now I take paper with me everywhere. I keep paper and pen next to the bed (oh, the ideas that come out of that quiet time is amazing!). I underline and print whatever appeals. Plus I leave notes on printed stuff so I'm able to remember what it is I liked about it.

Create a file. If you took Devon's and my course this year, you were blessed to hear how Devon organizes her ideas and creates an idea file for her fiction writing. If not, find some way of bringing your notes into a cohesive, singular area. My nonfiction file is a manila folder with papers and notes inside. That requires me to look in it once in a while, so....

Set up a time to review. Maybe in a few weeks, you'll be ready to look through that folder. Set up an Outlook/Lotus/Thunderbird reminder and stick to your appointment.

Dig deeper into each idea. Don't try sorting them all. Just browse the folder, find one that draws your attention, then explore that topic. What's on the Internet that can inspire that idea to grow?

Think of who needs it. Answer the unanswered question: what will this mean to my chosen audience? For example, suppose your attention was drawn to an article on El Nino/El Nina cycles and extreme weather. What does that mean to say surfers, the fishing industry, or people who love to eat seafood? Figure out whom you'd like to target with that story, then try to answer the question from their perspective.

How do you get the most from your ideas? What is your process for turning neat articles or cool topics into paying articles?


Also...

By happenstance, Anne Wayman has a similar post up on ideas today. Talk about universes aligning! Give her some comment love.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hitting the Ground Running

Good morning! I've been gone a total of three working days, but it feels like years. The switch in cultures from here to my favorite fishing hole is so drastic that you can notice the change even in how you behave.

It's quiet there. Situated facing the river with bays on either side, the cottage was the first one built on that stretch of river and it feels like the only one at times. The neighbors' places can be seen out the back door and if you walk toward the river (someone built a lovely little place on the island directly across from us). No one was about this week save for the year-rounders and one or two weekenders closing up or getting one last respite in before the hard winter descends.

This trip we saw river otters, beaver, geese galore, and of course, fish. The sounds at night included the owls and the crickets. It was a bit chilly at night - 8 (46 F)a few nights, which felt fantastic in the small cottage where there's no heat. Best sleeping weather ever. With enough blankets, we were ready for colder.

Then there's the air. It's just clean. Our allergies disappeared. And it feels quieter - less static, less noise, less chaos hanging in the molecules. We spent days stretched like cats in the sun - yes, sun. Unlike the rest of the eastern side of the country, Ontario is actually in need of a good rain. We arrived to a smallish storm, having been escorted nearly to the border by the tropical storm rains, then it all cleared up. Sun and warmth in the day, chilly and still at night. I could have slept for days.

We both had trouble with re-entry. As we're driving back, he mentioned how different it was beginning to feel. As we got closer to home, the weight of living among lots of people started to feel a bit confining. He thought it felt a bit askance the way we live compared to how Ontario dwellers go about their days. I see a retirement with rural living in our future. Amen. I love the city, but the suburbs can drive me nuts in a quick minute.

I'm still a bit tired despite a short nap yesterday evening after we got back. Too bad - I have a lot of work to do today. Dig in and get it done while the caffeine is still working its magic.

How was your week last week? What was the weekend like? Do you get to escape the noise? If so, where is your favorite place?

Friday, September 09, 2011

This Job, Not That Job

Just because I'm away doesn't mean we can't still have fun. So why not a round of This Job, Not That Job to placate ourselves as summer becomes a shrinking memory?

This beauty came via Twitter, where I didn't have enough characters to tell him what I really thought:

#freelance #writing #job - Make my short biography read like an super engaging story (Max. $500) - http://t.co/XWY5gAL #jobs

In the spirit of investigation, I clicked on the link, which took me to a site called Do Nanza. The rest of the posting went like this:

I am not a good writer, so I need someone to help me make my draft short biography better by: * Making it read like an super engaging story that will make readers want to read from start to finish * Write in a conversational manner * Improve the grammar and spelling * Incorporate snippets of text into my main short biography where appropriate so make it more engaging * Remove redundant expressions * Remove unnecessary bits, bits that don't add to my story * Help express the story of my short back ground better * Make my story concise and not waste a single word I have attached my draft so you can assess if you can help me. I have also includes additional snippets of my writing for you to play with and insert if you feel it makes my draft better. ------------------------------------------

Well, there must have been some questions, because this was added later:

Added 5 SEP 2011, 8:09 AM EDT Additional info This bio is to be my bio for my website and promotional materials to share with the world. It's my story and why I got where I am. I am creating a website for my boutique marketing technology advistory and training business. I help small to medium size businesses beat through the marketing myths and lies, to help them make more money using high return marketing technologies such as the internet and Facebook. I've personally know many business owners who invested their dream and life savings in starting a business, but end up losing everything because they can't market or sell.I want to help them with what I know about marketing and technology. My primary audience is small to medium sized business owners. People who are having trouble with their marketing and sales and looking for a way to improve their situation. From my perspective, my biography is for web presentation and should not be longer than 400-500 words ( about the maximum length people can read comfortably on a computer screen). I have written most of it and have included snippts of writing to be included if relevant (see attachments). So I'm thinking it should not take more than 5-7 hours of work for an expert writer. I have much content (books, speeches...etc) that I will need a good writer for so I am looking to form a long term working relationship. So please don't apply if that's not something you can do or writing is simply to make a quick buck before you move on to whatever you real dreams are. Thanks!!

And you can imagine some real writers were giving him some grief. This showed up a day after the last amendment:

------------------------------------------ Added 6 SEP 2011, 7:05 AM EDT Because I have already spent significant time writing my initial bio, I believe this job should not take a talented writer more than 5-8 hours to make it shine. At $12/h, this means my expectations for this job is less than $96. I don't know or can imagine how much can be added by spending more than that amount of time on this. So if you look to quote more than this, please give me an example to help justify your case. I suggest rewriting one paragraph to show me what you can help me achieve and I will seriously consider investing in you. I am happy to pay for quality, but I need some confidence by seeing what you can add to my draft. Thanks Desired Skills: Article Writing, Excellent English, Story Telling

Ho hum. Such a boring, repetitive offer. It has it all - low pay, extensive explanation, the need for perfection at a fraction of perfection's going rate, and justification of a low, low price. He doesn't expect $96, you see. You can write at $12. To put it bluntly, what the hell does that mean exactly? He'll be happy with crap work or he'll only bitch at a $12 rate? Hard to say.

Instead, try this:

The Business Journal
The Business Journal is a weekly tabloid covering a wide cross-section of industries. Stories are written for business people. The audience is primarily upper-level management. Open to freelancers.

Needs nonfiction articles between 700-2,500 words. Pays $175-400 per article.


It's not as much as that Twit-erer was going to pay, but it's an article in a respectable publication. The pay isn't super, but the job-to-hassle ratio is infinitely lower. The amount of work one article brings is much, much lower than writing a "short" biography of someone so scattered he can't even keep his explanation short.

What do you think of either of these jobs? Would you take either one? For the record, I wouldn't. The pay isn't within my current earnings scale, but maybe you have a different view for different reasons.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Subject Line

Still north of the US, where I hope there's less rain and even less 9/11 talk. I have my own memories of that awful day. It's nice that we want to remember. It's kind of awful (to me, anyway) that we have to make a huge television event out of it. Something very wrong about hooking this remembrance to advertising and ad revenue. Just me.

Interesting question popped up on Twitter this week: What do you put in the subject line of your email query? I suppose it depends on a number of things - the topic, your editor's preference, and your own ability to write a subject line that doesn't land in the Spam folder. For me, I stick with the obvious. "Article idea" or "article query" work just fine. It helps the editor find it later when she's able to go back and read it more carefully - and if you're the type who scan emails and then try finding them later, you get what I mean.

So what do you use as your subject line in your queries? Do you have a standard, as I do, or do you use something else? How has the response to your queries been? If you use customized subject lines, has any editor mentioned it to you?

What are your thoughts on the best subject line for an email query?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Giving in to Lethargy

As I bask in the "balmy" lake district of Ontario, I wanted to leave you with something to discuss and debate.

I have this strange work process that seems to kick in out of the blue. I get lazy. I work my tail off when I have projects that are due immediately, but give me a long deadline and I'll give you a bit of procrastination. When I should be interviewing or writing, I'm playing Word Twist or shopping.

I could be more efficient, but I don't worry it because I do meet deadlines, and I give better than expected whenever I'm able. Whenever the mood strikes, I let lethargy take control.

Do you give in to laziness or lethargy?

If so, are you able to ward it off when you need to work?

How often do you get bouts of "I don't want to go to school"?

Do you see any pattern in when it comes - what are you doing, what situations most create it, what are you feeling?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Starting in the Middle

Good Tuesday to you! Feels odd starting in the middle of the week, but here we are. Had a great week last week. How was the holiday weekend?

It rained for part of ours. My son wasn't able to come for a visit, so we decided to head to a meditation retreat at the last minute. We headed to Maryland, taking with us another "meditator" - someone from our local group. It was great to get away, even if it was just for 24 hours. My meditating was awful (too much chatter in the car for three hours, I think), but I was able to manage the devotions well enough.

Yesterday, the rain came down. We woke to a few showers, intermittent enough that I could get outside and tame the front garden and the walkway. He was able to get a bit of mowing in before it began in torrents. Good day to stay inside, so I pulled out a saucepan and made a lentil soup that was both lunch and dinner.

On Friday, I billed half what I'd hoped to earn the entire month of September. What a way to start the month! I have one large project still to finish, which will top my target, plus another project that, if it gets to me this month, will almost double what I expect. Amen. After so many idle weeks, I'm thrilled for it.

That doesn't mean I stopped marketing. On the contrary - ideas were going out on Friday, even though I was unexpectedly busy. I had planned other things, but one of the interviews I didn't think I'd be able to do was completed, and I got the article done by 3 pm. Then time for a little retail therapy, then back home. Husband and I went to see a French movie at the theater in town - Point Blank. Really good movie with some excellent acting.

Today I'm getting ready for a trip north. I can't wait. I've been promising the parents for a month now, and I'll be out of here tomorrow. The fish are calling, you know. :)

How was your holiday? What's in store for you this week?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Friday Stuff and Hilarity

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Great day yesterday. I wrote an article in the morning, conducted an interview in the afternoon, and then put that article together before five. I even squeezed in some marketing.

Today I'm devoting to marketing and my project with Anne. If I get time, I'll spend time chipping away at my personal project. I have my own deadline for that, and I refuse to miss it.

Either I will be visiting with my son this weekend or I'll be at a meditation retreat. I haven't seen the boy in a while, so that's my preference. If he's able to come, I have plans to hit the parks and the movies. Then we'll spend time with his sister here at the house. She's hosting a cookout with friends, and I'm eager to have my bairns together again.

Thanks so much to Sheri for sending this video to me. If you've been freelancing any length of time, it will all be familiar to you:



Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Definitions and Those Who Don't Get It

Anne Wayman and I are about to let you in on our secret! Don't forget to sign up for notification. We promise no spam - just notification. I think you'll be glad to hear of it.

Super day yesterday. I managed to get one more article written and another of two remaining interviews out of the way. I worked a bit with Anne on our big project, then got some work done on my own project, which I hope to launch sometime in October. Or November. Whenever.

Today I'll be writing up another article, then I hope to be hearing back from a referred client on an editing project. I love referrals. It makes my marketing that much easier.

Some definitions on my mind this week:

Irony (via Dictionary.com): the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. Example: Arianna Huffington on Morning Joe yesterday talking about how we need to create jobs to spur the economy - but she doesn't mean she's actually going to pay her writers...

Another keen definition for you:

Marketing (via Wikipedia): the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. To all you fools advertising "marketing" jobs that my kid and other marketing majors apply for, that does NOT mean cold calls or telemarketing calls. Stop lying to everyone.

In fact...

Telemarketing (again via Wikipedia): a method of direct marketing in which a salesperson solicits prospective customers to buy products or services, either over the phone or through a subsequent face to face or Web conferencing appointment scheduled during the call. Note who's doing the selling - a salesperson, not a marketing person. That's who has developed the method being used by the salesperson.

Here's a definition I'm tossing in just because:

Literally (from Dictionary.com): actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy. So when I heard them say on tv that "It was literally the last straw" I should expect to see just one more straw in the entire universe. Since I was able to get my Starbucks iced chai and there were straws left over, I'm guessing someone was misinformed.

In fact, the misuse of such words makes me...

Weary (from Answers.com): physically or mentally fatigued. I mean those words make me tired. All you who say things like "I'm weary of him because he's been violent in the past", you're actually telling me that instead of being wary (cautious) of some crazed lunatic, you're actually about to fall asleep because he bores you no end.

What definitions are working you up lately?
Words on the Page