Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Music to Write By

There are two things I consider essential in my life: writing and music. Take either one away, and I'd probably curl up and rot away.

And to me, the two are intertwined. I can't write without music. I've tried. There is nothing more distracting to me than silence. I remember being a student and having to take tests with no other sound than the scratching of pens or pencils on paper. I think that's the reason I was never a good test taker -- the silence. In some of my earlier jobs, I had bosses who didn't believe in music, either, and let it be known radios were verboten. Looking back, I wonder if that's why I'd come home from those jobs so tense. Later, I had jobs where radios were given a thumbs up, if you could pull in a station.

For that reason, Internet radio wins my vote for best technology ever. I could listen to music I like, and because it was on my computer, I could set the speakers right next to me, turn them low, and never bother a soul in the office. Or, depending on the job, I could wear headphones.

But over the years I've learned that as much as I can't write without music, I can't write to music with words. Lyrics clutter my brain and distract me almost as much as silence. Instrumental is prefered; piano is best. I type along to the music as if my fingers are dancing across a piano keyboard -- oh if only they could dance across a piano keyboard and actually make music, but that's a different issue.

When I write essays, I close my eyes and let the music guide the words I type. Sometimes I don't know what I've written until I've opened my eyes and read, that's how much the music takes over. It's an amazing feeling. When I write long hand, I don't quite that same affect, but it still works pretty well.

The music also has to fit the mood I'm in. Sometimes I'll feel blocked, so I change the music and the words flow. Sometimes the weather will be gloomy and piano music is too bright. So I'll switch to guitar pieces or maybe violin. String instruments work well on rainy days. I don't know why.

I listen to Jim Brickman's piano music a lot. He's my favorite by far, and a few years ago when I went to see him, I took along a red notebook that I carried with me everywhere. It was my writing notebook. I asked him to autograph it. He looked at me oddly -- it was a strange request, especially when most people were handing him music books and cd covers. I said, "I'm a writer, and when I write, I always listen to your music. This is what I write in." He opened the notebook and saw the hand-written pages.

"Nobody's ever told me they use my music as writing background," he said. He was touched and excited enough to tell the other performers. And he signed the notebook cover. It sits on a shelf in my office.

I'm typing this now while I listen to Christmas music. Each letter in synch with Ave Maria. It's a very easy tune to write to.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saying No

Today I got an email offering me an assignment, based on a letter of introduction I sent to the editor. I had heard good things about the publication and pay, etc., so I was pleased to get the response.

Until I saw the information enclosed regarding pay and amount of work expected. I wasn't expecting a mint, but I wasn't expecting to sell my soul to the devil, either. It was embarrassingly low.

Sad thing is, there was a time when I would have jumped at this job. My "yes, thanks!" email would have flown through cyberspace faster than Superman. I would have been excited for any work at all.

Now, it is still hard to say no to dollars. But I've learned that some dollars make sense and others might prohibit me from doing better. I don't mind writing for less, if the job is right, and there is writing I do for next to nothing because I love the topic and want to build the platform. Yet, I think successful writers learn what their bottom line has to be to become successful. To me, this job would have been a step back on my career path, rather than a step forward.

And since it is the season to be thankful, I am thankful that I've moved to a stage of my career where I have the luxury to say no.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Yes, it is true. We have a ghost in our house. He's a friendly ghost. The kids named him Fred. There are rumors that someone died in the house long before we moved in (it's an older house), and it is his ghost. No reports of the place being haunted before we moved in.

Ghosts don't spook me. I've been attracting them since I was a little girl and saw the ghost of my great-grandmother, a woman who died when my father was a young teen and whose name I didn't learn until I was in my 20s and pregnant with my son. (Turns out, had he been a girl, I would have given him my great-grandmother's name, which is kind of spooky in itself.) Seeing a ghost then probably should have scared the living daylights out of me, but I was a stupid kid. I thought Pop's wife, as we all called her, was locked up in the spare bedroom that we weren't allowed in and she somehow snuck out that day.

How did I know it was her? Besides the fact she told me? Well, in a very Victorian way, my great-grandfather essentially banished her from the house after her death. No one spoke of her in any depth (hence, her being known as Pop's wife). Her pictures were packed away. No one ever talked about the type of person she was or what she looked like, nothing. So after my grandmother died, my grandfather was looking at pictures. I picked up a stack, all photos of people I didn't know, and said, "Oh, there's Pop's wife!" My grandfather looked at the picture and got a sad look in his eyes. "Yes, it is my mother. How did you know?" Um, well, I saw her as a ghost. No really, I said that. And he nodded and said, "I wondered. She's come to me many times, always telling me she was watching over you especially."

She's never come back to see me. Fred though. Fred's always around. Everybody in the house has seen him. He's okay. Mostly he walks around the outside of the house. I see him go past the front window all the time. He used to sit on the edge of my bed while I slept, but he doesn't do that anymore. He's been known to open the bathroom door when we're gone so the dog can go in there and eat up toilet paper.

I've got tons of ghost stories, really. No hobo stories like Patti, though.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Space -- Kinda

I wasn't quite bit by Patti's DIY bug, but I did decide the office needed a little revamping. This room isn't very big and I just couldn't imagine it actually being a bedroom (which is how it was advertised when we bought the house). And I pack a lot of stuff in here. But I was tired of the setup and the men complaining about how they always knocked things off the shelf when they came in here. (It kept them out, that's for sure.)

When we hooked up the new phone, which involved nice husband upgrading the phone line into the office, I had to move things. At that point, I decided to reconfigure my space. Instead of an L-shaped work space, my desks are parallel, and I moved my stereo so I could have that tiny table. I still have to set up the milkcrates that act as shelves and storage units. That will be where my stereo will go now, rather than the middle of the floor where it is now. I may even get the urge to finally head to Goodwill with the box of stuff that has been sitting here nearly forever. It still needs a lot of work. Or maybe I need less stuff. Lots to think about.

But coming to work today had that feeling of something new, and that was fun. It made work a little more enjoyable.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Nano Nano

Eight days into November and I'm over 5000 words (actually pretty close to 6K, I just haven't updated the numbers yet). Last year when I attempted this, I barely got to 8K, so I'm doing pretty good.

I didn't think I'd have much time, looking at my writing and editing schedules. I thought maybe I'd be burned out like I ended up last year from spending my days writing and my nights writing some more. (I've noticed that people I know in non-writing jobs seem to have higher word totals at this point than the full-time writers I know. I don't think that is coincidence.)

But this year, the Nano piece is fun. It is a step back in time for me and the words just flow. It's meditative in a way.

When I was in high school, I would take a notebook and sit in a corner somewhere while I had a few minutes to spare while waiting for a bus or for my activity to begin, and I would write. No Walkman or iPods back then, but I would be so engrossed in what I was doing that I could shut out the whole world. I'd come out a writing jag with glazed over eyes and had a little trouble reentering the real world but it was an exhilarating experience. I've tried yoga. I've had massages. To me writing for fun has the same healing and restful qualities. More so.

I asked a man who wrote for a living what he liked to write for fun. He looked at me as if I had grown two heads and said, "No one writes for fun. It's a job." Poor guy. He hadn't a clue. Sure, writing is a way to make money. A beautiful way to make money. But it can also be enjoyable, spirtually freeing, fun.

And if you want to keep up with my progress, cheer me on, or let me keep up with you, feel free to add me to your buddy list. My nickname is grumpifrog and just drop me a note to say hello.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What I Love about Freelancing, Part 724

I had an article due this morning. Yesterday afternoon got away from me for various reasons, and I don't write well (don't do anything well) in those first hours I'm awake. So I sat down at 2 am to write, crawling into bed at 4:30, sending the article before I did. I had nothing on my calendar and no boss to answer to, so I could get real sleep.

Editor emailed me at 8:30 to say she thought I did an excellent job and offered me another assignment. I really enjoy working for this magazine and editor, too.

I love being able to work when I'm most productive and not during an artificially set "work day" standard.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What Do You Think?

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to sit down with a couple of entrepreneurs (who are also lawyers) and discuss a website they are launching. This site is meant to get writers/authors in front of potential readers. For a $12 annual fee, you can post a couple of pieces of your work (and for more dollars, more work) so readers (and as the business owners said enthusiastically, editors and agents) will discover you.

I have a lot of issues with this venture. I can't get over the idea that the writers have to pay, but the readers can read for free. I don't mind the idea of free readers, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of having to pay someone to read my work.

But an even bigger issue is the owners of the site duping writers into believing that posting there will get them discovered. That getting published is as simple as writing to an editor and saying, "See, 1000 people came to read my work and half of them liked it. You should publish me!" (Seriously, that's one the one guy said would happen.)

While I understand that writers get discovered in all sorts of ways and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if someone did get "found" there and I could see a website like this acting as a marketing tool for an already published piece, the men I spoke with had little understanding of the publishing business as a whole. The idea came to them because of complaints from people they know and/or work with about how their books weren't selling or getting noticed. A great idea doesn't necessarily translate into great writing. And great writing is subjective.

Most interestingly, the person doing most of the talking kept referring to publishing being an insider business, that publishing is all based on who you know, but his examples were scriptwriting. I'm not a scriptwriter, but from what I understand, that is a business where contacts can be very important. In regular publishing? Not so much so.

Writing is a lot of hard work. Just because one writes doesn't mean his/her work deserves to be published. The forementioned gentlemen disagreed with me.

What do you think? Would you pay to post your work just to get it out to the masses or in hopes of getting discovered?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Making the Giant Leap

On another blog I read, the poster asked what led to the decision to become a freelance writer full time. Any new job can be a little scary, as well as exciting, but becoming self-employed is filled with unknowns, uncertainties, and wonders if this month will bring enough to live on.

My friends were surprised I decided to make this leap from structured regular job to unstructured freelancing. I'm highlighting the word structure there because my personality insists on order. I'm a little OCD, actually (which works to my advantage as a freelancer, believe it or not), and I need to keep to a routine in order to avoid undue stress. And trust me, my open days are my most stressful, no matter how much I look forward to them.

But on January 3, 2005, my boss came into my office and said his money was running out and unless he got a grant, we had to look for new positions. I worked at a university at the time; it wasn't unusual to be on annual, soft-money contracts that were dependent on grants and funding. When I took the job, I was told that there was enough money to last at least 3 years, which sounded about right to me. In three years, my son would be in college, and I would be ready to either move on to a different job or begin my ease into freelancing by going part time. I wasn't looking forward to going through the job search again and returning to an office where I had to show up in dress clothes and work in an open environment.

Still, I had a responsibility. I started sending off my resume and applying for jobs around campus. I got interviews and I put on my best smilie face.

In the meantime, my 20th wedding anniversary came along. I was making some freelance money on a fairly regular basis, maybe $300 a month on average. It allowed me to do some fun things and treat myself to "toys" like my first laptop. We used some of that money to help pay for our anniversary trip to Aruba. I thought it was an extravagant trip for someone in the midst of a job search, but my husband was confident things would work out. Maybe not the way we planned, he said, but the way God wanted them to work out.

Shortly after we came home, I had a job interview for what would have been a great job as an associate editor for an academic journal. At the same time, a friend sent me information about a freelance job opportunity. I applied for that. I told the husband that this might be what determines the direction I go in. I got the freelance job. I didn't get the editor job.

The husband and I had another talk. I was oddly at peace with the whole situation. "You've wanted to do this for a long time," he said. "You supported me when I wanted to go to college. This is your dream, and I support you."

It was a dream, yes, but too early for my plans. At least four years too early. I didn't know what to do. I was scared to just make a leap without knowing if I could really do this. So I arranged to go on an unpaid sabbatical until my contract with the university was officially over. Money for my job ran out on April 30th, so I through most of March and April, I took vacation time, working only a day or two a week to finish up loose ends. On April 30th, my final regular paycheck was deposited in the bank. On May 1, my freelance career started for real, and I counted on my regular freelancing gig plus this new one I had picked up.

I still bid on university jobs and still went on interviews. Then a friend told me about a book opportunity, and I pursued that. By the end of May, I had a book deal and was making money freelancing. I also had a phone interview for a campus job. I thought it went miserably and was shocked when they brought me in for a face-to-face interview. Right before I left, the contract for the book arrived, as did two article assignments. I walked into the interview, started through the same old questions, had people staring at me and writing notes. The woman in charge of the interview was a cranky old thing, and after 20 minutes I said, "You know, I think this interview was a bad idea on my part. I don't really want this job, and we're all wasting time." The cranky lady said, "You aren't working now, so it seems like you need to worry about this job." I told her I didn't think that was her business, and I said goodbye and walked out of the building feeling free as a bird.

Truth is, there were a lot of ups and downs that first year. There are ups and downs every month. But my husband says I should have done this years ago. The money is better. I'm less stressed.

Still, I never would have attempted this full time if it weren't for a boss who couldn't manage his budget and a few little successes under my belt. I figured out to structure my days, too. After all, if I don't make this work, it's off to a regular job again. And that's a leap I never want to have to make!