Monday, July 30, 2007

A Numbers Game

Numbers aren't my forte. Oh, I did okay in math in high school because the math program was strong and as a competitive person, I wanted to do as well or better than my classmates. But I've always been a word person. Numbers now give me a headache. I can't even do simple math without messing it up.

So becoming a freelance writer is the logical step for a non-numbers person. Oh how wrong that is. I fuss with numbers more than I have since my last math class in college. Why? Because, it turns out, writing is a numbers game.

To get noticed, to get assignments, you have to send a lot of queries and letters. Once upon a time I wrote an article on the Rule of 13 (published in Writing for Dollars -- I should search for it, as it was sage advice). The idea is for every 13 pieces of work you have in circulation, you should get at least one assignment. Thirteen isn't some magic number. It means that you have a healthy amount of bait out there and eventually luck will fall in your favor and the fishies, er editors, will take a nibble or a big bite. Why 13? Because 13 is better than 5 or 10 but not intimidating like 20 or 25. Thirteen means you are really putting your work out there.

Since I've been doing the query challenge with my writers' organization, I've been sending lots of letters. This past week alone I sent 55. From that I've gotten about 10 responses, all positive nibbles but no assignments yet. One is very likely. Yes, the numbers I produce are high, but to get the type of work I want, I have to make sure my output is great.

Another numbers thing I have to do is be my own bookkeeper. That's tough. I can't balance a checkbook (no, I don't need anyone telling me how easy it is to balance a checkbook because it is not). Thank goodness for Excel spreadsheets. Otherwise, I'd be screwed. But I've learned to look at my business professionally, with a ton of information recorded so I can keep track of where the work is coming from, as well as my income and outgoing. It's tough, but I learned at tax time exactly how important it is to keep the numbers straight.

The biggest number thing? Hours in a day. There just aren't enough.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Come Talk to Me

Today is an interview day. It's one of the weird cycles I've discovered in my writing life. There are days or entire weeks where it seems I do nothing but interviews, to be followed by an entire week where I do nothing but write. In the winter, I had a week where I did nothing but interviews, sometimes 5 a day, and the following week, I had 8 or 9 articles due. I really don't mind having an article due per day. It puts the day into a nice rhythm -- do interviews and other work in the morning, sit down to write in the afternoon.

When I was a kid, I used to love to talk on the phone. But only when I had complete privacy. I wouldn't call my friends if someone was home, as we only had one phone and it was in the kitchen. But the moment I had the house to myself, I was dialing away.

I'm still like that about the privacy. When I worked in an office, I tried to make my phone calls when no one else was around. I like working at home alone because of all the calls I make now. The husband was home sick earlier this week, and I waited until he fell asleep until I made any calls. How weird is that?

One thing that has changed though is I've come to loathe the phone. I make my work calls, do my interviews, but once 5:30 comes and my cell phone shuts off signalling the end of my work day, the last thing I want to do is make or take phone calls. I especially don't want to talk on the phone right after my work day ends. I need the downtime. I've trained my family not to call during the day unless it is an emergency, but a few of my extended family members think calling me at 5 is just fine and dandy because my work day is over.

One of the (few) things I miss about working in an outside job is the commute home. Now, living where I do, it isn't much of a commute. Most of the time, I rode my bike, which would take 10-15 minutes, depending on traffic and my energy. That was still a nice break where I could take a few deep breaths and separate myself. Now what I like to do at the end of my day is watch Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. I get very cranky when the phone rings during that half hour. It's my commute home, if not physically, at least mentally.

Now I'll have a little more coffee, have lunch, and prepare myself for an afternoon of phone calls.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No Motivation

You know what I wanted to do today? Sit on the couch and finish reading Pigs in Heaven for my book group.

What I did do today -- not much. Stared at my computer. Answered a couple emails. Searched for sources. Stuff I needed to do, but it didn't make a dent.

It was one of those days. I'm tired because I think I'm coming down with the husband's cold. Or at least his sore throat. I'm cranky because I got some emails I didn't want to deal with. I'm staring at writing but my brain isn't functioning. I don't like days like this.

But going to read a book when I should be working? I don't know if I could do that. I took a nap once because I was up 3 hours earlier than usual and wiped out. I'll take a few hours in an afternoon to go downtown, but I'm usually on a mission to meet up with other writers or write. I know the beauty of freelancing is the ability to say, okay, it isn't working for me today, and I don't have deadlines, so I'm going to take some me time. And I need me time. But it's still hard to do it during the day.

I guess the trade off is, I knock off early this afternoon and then maybe I'll have the energy to write tonight. Play time, the way I see it, needs to be made up somewhere.

I'm a workaholic, is the bottom line.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Thinking about Books

I always think about books. What I plan to read next, mostly. I started a book group among my friends so we can talk about books. Sometimes I actually think about books I'd like to write.

I tend to read a lot of biographies, although in the past year, most everything I've read is fiction. My dream book to write is a biography. I know who I want to write about and what the focus of the book is. I've done some research. It will take a lot more research. In depth with serious travel involved. I always put it off because of working a full time job. Now I realize that I would have been better off taking two weeks of paid vacation to do the research. It's hard now to do it and still have an income. Unless I apply for a grant or something. Or write it in a different way than planned. I've become someone who jumps on doing, but this is still my great hurdle.

I dabble with fiction, but I suck at it. It's fun writing, relaxing writing, but it isn't good writing. I have a novel that is nearly finished, a clever premise, I think. It would have promise, if I had any fiction talent.

Last night as I was falling asleep, I got thinking about my cousin's wedding and that led from one thing to another, and ended up as the plot to a book. Will I do anything with it? Maybe. Who knows. I suck at fiction. No one would speak to me again if I did it as a memoir. Probably good I suck at fiction because no one would speak to me if they read that book, either.

But mostly I was thinking about The Three Musketeers and how much I loved that book when I read it. Sometimes a book surprises me. I'm not adventurous with my reading -- or anything in my life for that matter. I like what I like and I really don't want to stray. I don't read books about murder or made up worlds. I don't like mystery or fantasy or horror. But I like books that are well written, and I'll put up with a lot in a book that is well written. Like The Three Musketeers.

If I want to read bad fiction, I'll pull out my own stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Extra Effort Pays Off

I don't know if I'm a perfectionist, but I am the kind of person who hates leaving an answer unsolved. Supposedly, that's the Scorpio in me -- part detective, part passionate sex-crazed fiend.

The detective part comes in handy when I need to track down sources or information or figure out the solution to a problem. It came in handy last week when I was having trouble lining up an interview for a quick-turnaround article, just like it has come in handy countless of other times when I've got to find out some details for an article.

I kept my editor informed. I told her that I was having some trouble reaching the initial source but I found his co-researchers. I found their contact info, and I was in touch. Hopefully, I wrote, all will fall into place before my deadline.

The editor was grateful. I got my interviews done and my article written and sent off by deadline. Editor was happy.

Next day, my email brought me another assignment from the editor. Bigger and better. I can't say for sure, but I'd like to think it had to do with my sleuthing.

To be honest, I don't pull out all the stops for the reward. I do it because it's my job and because I don't rest until I have an answer. But it is nice to see how my editors appreciate the effort.

Now, off to track down some more sources who are in hiding.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer Heats Up

It's gotten warm here. That makes me happy.

Work has also begun to heat up. I look at my calendar and see all those days that are blue-inked. Blue ink means I've got a deadline on that day. Deadlines are good things. They mean I have work. Work means an income. All very good.

What a difference between this summer and last summer. Or the summer before for that matter. I had work, but it was sporadic. This summer, the work is steadier, the number of clients increasing. Even better, the income from the clients is increasing.

I feel like this is a summer of change. In every facet of my life there has been change. A grandchild. My baby off to college. The Phillies on local tv (yeah, that's a big change for here). My business growing.

These are happy times.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


There's an old Cosby show where Cliff takes Rudy for tap dancing lessons, and while Cliff is waiting, the old dance teacher challenges Cliff to a dance-off. The dance teacher, whose real name I don't remember, would dance a few steps, and then yell, "Challenge!" And Cliff would do some goofball moves, Cosby style.

I'm doing a challenge right now. A query challenge. It's through one of my writers groups. I'm the type of person who likes -- who needs -- a challenge. I like competition. You get points for sending out queries and the like and more points for assignments. I found a lot of my work this way last year. I found a great network this way, too. It helped, too, that last year my team won, and I have a lovely sweatshirt as a prize.

I feel like I'm slacking so far this year, though. Unlike last year, there is a lot more work on my plate that needs my attention NOW. I'm working hard to build up chatter and commoraderie among my teammates, as that was so important last year. I have gotten some positive responses so far, which is good, which is what I want. But I need more.

I need someone to do a few dance steps and then yell, "Challenge!"

Monday, July 9, 2007

Blissfully Hot

I like the heat. No, strike that. I love the heat. I live for the days when it is hot and humid.

When I first started freelancing, I was so excited for the opportunity to work outside on the hot and humid days. Me, my lap top, sunshine on my shoulders . . . I could make phone calls outside. I could write outside. I could live outside. Anything was better than being stuck inside in air conditioning, the bane of society.

Except, I don't get many days outside in the sunshine. My laptop doesn't like it. It's impossible to read the screen if I'm out in the yard, very difficult to do it while sitting on the back porch under the roof (although I will manage that). I learned quickly that it is very difficult to do interviews outside. The wind whistles through the phone. Kids are noiser outside. So are birds and bees and trucks going down the street.

Today was one of those days I wanted to be outside, but I had to spend most of my time inside with phone calls. I have a small break here where I need to do a little research for an interview and could do some marketing, but it isn't worth the hassle to move the laptop outside to bring it back in again 30 minutes later.

Tomorrow, however, my phone calls are early in the day. I have a big editing project to do. The weather is supposed to be even warmer. I'll be able to move the office to the porch.

At least we don't have A/C in the house. There's a nice breeze coming in my office window. The water is cold and refreshing. I can wear weather-appropriate clothes and know I won't freeze when I go inside. It might not be the great outdoors, but it is a hell of a lot better than being in an office controlled by someone else.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


I don't do it enough. Relax, that is. That's the biggest problem of working at home. The commute is great, the boss is great, the hours are ideal, the coffee is always the way I like it. But I never leave work behind. When I worked in an office, I could shut my office door, hop on my bike and (usually) leave everything for the next day. Now, if I go to the bathroom, there is my office door, and I'm reminded of more work I could be doing. I could get ahead. I could market. I could answer some email I forgot to answer.

My work never goes away. Shutting the door to my office doesn't help because I can see the door. Sometimes I need to come in here for something. Sometimes I want to listen to the baseball game that isn't on TV and my work email will tempt me.

But in moments, as soon as I hit the publish button on this, I'm going to have a late lunch and then I'm going to head out to the lawn chair my husband kindly got out for me. I'm going to read the next book for my book discussion group. I am going to relax in the sunshine.

Monday, July 2, 2007


Life is full of changes here.

The daughter is moved into her new place across the country, and it will be months until we see her or the baby in person again. Thank goodness for web cams.

The son is moved into his college dorm. We'll see him frequently, I'm sure. We moved him in yesterday, and he's already called home a bunch of times (to tell me that our Flyers picked up an important free agent, of all things) and came home this morning to pick up the things he forgot to pack.

And then there is my work. I don't want to get cocky and think it is all wonderful. It is good, and I appreciate how good it is. I know it can change at a moment's notice.

But with that in mind, I wonder if it is time to end a contract with my oldest client. Once upon I loved writing for them. Now it takes every ounce of energy I have to pull together an assignment. Where they were once my major source of income, they are now usually the one assignment that pushes me over my goal -- although last month, I made the most money ever and never sent an article to them.

There are clients I work with that pay less money, but for a per hour rate, that less money is more (if that makes sense). My other clients require fewer interviews and fewer headaches for the same number of words. What takes me two hours for my other clients takes 3 or 4 or more with this client because of the interviews.

A side issue to working with this client is the people I deal with while doing those interviews. It isn't uncommon for me to do an interview and get 10 follow up emails or phone calls starting the next day about whether or not the article was printed. As if I have nothing else to do than surf the web to see if articles have been published (if they had even been written yet).

I like the client. I like the editors I work with. I will miss the money and the safety net. But I keep getting this nudging feeling that it is time to move on.