Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry and Happy

The past few weeks have been very busy with end of the year things -- not just work, but the typical holiday chores. And I'm not sure how much I'll be posting until the new year.

So to all my friends and readers, if you celebrate Christmas, have a blessed one. If you don't, enjoy some quiet time. And may your New Year's be safe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

End of the Year Rush

Note: I will get around to writing a post on writing communities and all that, but probably after the holidays.

Right now, my life is centered around end of year clean up. The first two weeks of December were a little insane. Editors wanted assignments earlier than usual so I was writing my little fingers off. I have a few other things to finish up before the holidays set in. It is a fitting conclusion to what has been a very busy year.

When I was a college student, I switched my major from journalism to English on the last day of my junior year. That meant piling up on English classes my senior year. To make sure I got the classes I needed, I took nearly all my writing requirements in the fall, and the lit requirements in the spring. My option was writing, so those classes were more important and more structured. I had a lot more flexibility with the lit classes.

And that meant I had papers due constantly. Even the two non-writing courses I took required papers rather than exams. At the end of the semester, I totaled everything up and discovered I had written 54 papers in the span of 15 weeks. That was over 3 papers a week, on average.

So in retrospect, the most important take-away from my English degree is the ability to balance my schedule in order to carry a busy load.

Over the weekend, in response to reading a message board post about someone who got 50 assignments in one year (and the marvel of others about doing 50 assignments in one year), I decided to count up what I wrote over the year. Well, that was a little hard to do since my computer crash destroyed my tracking system, and I didn't rebuild the assignment tracking part for January through May. But June through December, there were 54 writing assignments. I didn't count the editing assignments. Would I have liked some of them to be higher paying? Sure, but every assignment had a good per hour rate and each one moved me toward more work.

I know people who would like to write less and earn more. I feel that way -- to a point. I'd like to earn more but work about the same. I like the busy writing load. I'm used to the busy writing load. Heck, this time of year, as my calendar has a lot of white space, rather than notes about deadlines, I feel kind of lost. For the first time in weeks, I have time on my hands.

Give me the end of year rush!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Frustrated beyond Belief

Email is my life-line. I depend on it for work. It's how my editors communicate with me. I sometimes conduct interviews this way. There is no more important tool for my job.

For various reasons, I like to download my email to a Eudora client. I've tried others. I don't like them so much. I have two subaccounts through my DSL carrier, one for work, one for personal use. Oh, I have other email accounts, set up for blogs and for ordering things online and such. I have a work account that my longest-term clients still use, set up before DSL days and when I wanted a writing-related account separate from my office-job email. I learned a long time ago that my DSL carrier likes to sort my "good" mail to my bulk folder and does so randomly. So I check my work email via Yahoo regularly throughout the day.

On Friday when the husband got home, he seemed annoyed about a question I asked. "Don't you read your email?" Yes, I do, but the email that related to the question wasn't in my in-box. (Still isn't.) Isn't in bulk mail, either. Over the weekend, I got almost no mail. Monday, more mail from the husband didn't arrive, although I did get some very important personal mail. A note from the daughter didn't arrive. This was all on my personal account, which has seemed to have trouble for some time.

Then I noticed the work mail was unusually quiet for a Monday. I sent myself some emails from other accounts. Nothing. I found out later that someone sent me 4 emails that day. Two got through.

I'm expecting emails with interviews, emails about possible jobs, and emails with assignments. Mail seems to be coming in a little better today; I'm assuming there was some glitch with the DSL carrier if this was happening to both accounts that I was checking via Yahoo. I tried the DSL help desk last night. I couldn't make the friendly Indian worker understand that my problem was not in sending mail, but in receiving mail from other Internet domains.

Today I'm trying to do a little damage control, following up on work emails that might have gotten lost in the pipeline (at least one did) and providing an alternate email, just in case.

Like I said, there are reasons I like downloading my mail to Eudora and keeping with the email account I have now. It was mentioned that I use gmail, but the most important feature of any email client doesn't seem to be available on gmail. I need to filter my mail to mailboxes to keep everything separate. If there is a secret to that on gmail, please let me know.

If I sound a little stressed, I am. When my email goes wonky, it affects my whole career.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

If You Need Another Benefit to Freelancing . . .

I saw an article on CNN today about people who go to work sick and spread their bug around to their officemates. Different people interviewed admitted that they felt they'd be "punished" if they took a sick day.

I know the feeling. When I worked at the university, my benefits included 12 sick days and 24 vacation days a year. Now, it was broken down that I accumulated 1 sick, 2 vacation days each month, so say I used everything up by the middle of October, I knew that come November, I'd have new days coming. The sick time could be accured forever, but you could only hold a balance of 30 vacation days. When I left that job, I had over 100 sick days in the bank, none of which would be reimbursed to me like vacation.

And still, I went to work when I had the sniffles or felt kind of crummy. Why? Because it was universally known within the system that if you looked for a new job internally, one of the first things they looked at if you made the initial interview cut was your sick time. They didn't care if you used vacation. They did care if you used your sick time. If you used too much -- and no one ever deemed what that was -- it was a strike against you. Even if you weren't looking for another job, it was brought up in performance reviews. There was one year I had a lot of dental work done, and to save me stress, the dentist did mini-marathon sessions on a Friday morning, and that was all she wrote for me for the rest of the weekend. Jammed in there was also some major dental surgery that took out a week of my life. I used all my sick days for that year. My direct supervisor knew why, of course, but hers did not. And when he wrote back with my raise, it came with a note "concerned about heavy amount of sick time used this year."

Nowadays, it's tough for me to be sick because I have no one to pick up my slack and it seems like every day comes with a new deadline. Of course, I don't get sick as often because it's just me and the dog in the office all day. At my evening activities, people are more likely to stay home if they feel yucky. But if I need to sleep in or take a nap or do a minimal amount of work while wrapped up in my pajamas and a warm blanket, who is going to know? And if I happen to sneeze while I'm writing, well, I'm pretty sure that kind of virus hasn't figured out how to spread through cyberspace.

Monday, December 3, 2007


One of the things I like best about freelancing is that I work at home alone. It only took 17 or so years in an office setting to realize that interaction with people from 8 to 5 M-F was way too stressful for me. Add to that weekends that were usually packed with social engagements and weekday evenings of bowling or choir or whatever . . . I didn't realize how stressed I was about all that people time until a week or so into freelancing and the kids mentioned how calm I seemed now.

Anyway, working alone doesn't mean working isolated. If you ask me what I think a writer's most valuable tool is, my answer is networking.

Networking, pure and simple, leads to job opportunities. There is no way I'd be where I am today without not only talking to other writers, but listening. The beauty of the internet and on-line groups is that you don't have to be actively involved in a "conversation" to come away with something. I found out about places to submit essays or the names of editors to pitch thanks to listening and paying attention.

And expand your networks past writers, too. You never know who might be of help down the road. A conversation with the mother of one of my son's friends led to one job. Spending time with my husband's co-workers gave me the skills and confidence to write for engineers. Even an old professor of mine remembered I was a writer and editor, and she called me to help her with her most recent book. With the holiday season and its multitude of parties, I plan to do some networking and see what happens.

But the bulk of my networking is done during the day when I'm sitting in my office. Here are some of the things I do regularly to help me network and keep me from feeling too isolated:

* Keep my IM open during the day. Doesn't mean I can always chat, but it sure is good to be able to talk to someone who understands the life of a writer. And sometimes my friends will see a job and send me a link. In fact, it was during an IM chat that a friend suggested I try writing for the construction trades, telling me to use my work background.

* Email my goal buddy every day. This keeps me on track, and she's sent me job ideas.

* Join a few writer's groups/lists and cultivate friendships there. This is a big one. I can't stress how helpful it is to be in contact with experienced writers. This is the equivalent of hanging around the coffee pot in the morning at an office job.

* Read blogs. I learn a lot from reading blogs. And don't forget to comment so you can start a nice dialogue with other writer/bloggers.

* Reach out to editors. I like to drop my editors a quick note periodically, if I haven't heard from them in a while or sometimes even to say hi.

Good things have happened to me because I've networked, and because I've been willing to share my own expertise and experiences. Back in my office days, I'd never want to network because I was too frazzled from other regular interaction. Now it's easy to smile and be friendly and reach out -- and people smile and are friendly and reach back to me.