Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to Work

It was a Thanksgiving miracle. I finished all my work by Wednesday afternoon -- well all the work that had to be done. I was able to kick back and enjoy the holiday weekend. I was able to start on Christmas cards, visit friends, start the first of the many cleaning and uncluttering projects I have, read a book, catch up on email, all without thinking "Oh I need to be working on XXX."

Back to the deadlines and work this week. But not too many deadlines to deal with so far in December -- although I do get hit with four the first week of January, plus LASIK on the 15th of that month. But it's not crazy busy that I can't do some serious marketing and take some afternoons to do Christmas shopping when the stores are less busy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Flexible to a point

My book group met to talk about Eat Pray Love -- my book pick. This was such a wildly popular book that I was interested to hear what my friends thought. (I read it in January and didn't read it again for book group, if that tells you anything. The book I wanted to pick wasn't out in time.)

The conversation turned to the idea: if you could take a year or four months or four days for that matter to disappear and do what you want, wherever you wanted, to completely indulge in YOU, where would you go and would you go?

Which led to the conversation that only one person in the room had the luxury to pick up and go like that -- and they all look at me. "You're a writer," they said. "She's a writer. You guys can do things like that."

Hm. I know someone personally who did one of those types of retreats from the real world and wrote about it. And this person and Elizabeth Gilbert had two words in common before they left.

Book contract.

Look, if a publisher wants to pay me to do my dream retreat -- follow the life path of David Copperfield (the Dickens character, not the magician) -- I'm all for going. Or to attend Mass at all the great Cathedrals of Europe, I'm up for that, too.

But without the book contract in hand, I've got to still come up with a way to pay the bills, and that's with my regular freelance work. And I can't do that if I'm ignoring the real world.

The real world doesn't go away, either, as the people I know found out. The whole family went on that retreat away from the world, except they had to rush home at one point when a family member died in a plane crash.

Anyway, that discussion at book group was one more reminder that freelancing is a real job, even if there is flexibility to it. Yes, I can do it from anywhere, kind of. I was able to write an article in a friend's spare bedroom in Alabama and did interviews from hotel rooms in Maryland, and who knew but me? But seeing how hard it was to juggle interviews with people traveling in China and how spotty the internet connection was in my one hotel room, freelancing wouldn't be easy to do from the road for long periods of time.

Besides, I'd miss my husband . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Moment of Politics

Those who know me know that I love politics and political history more than the average bear. I study presidential politics for fun. I studied political science with the idea of getting a graduate degree because I think studying politics is fun.

Yeah, I'm opinionated. I've never met a person who isn't. And yeah, that shapes the way I look at the world and my politics. But I try to be fair, really I do (and I also try to avoid talking about politics when I think it can get ugly).

My candidate didn't win last night. That's because my candidate, the person I really thought would be the best president, wasn't on the ticket. I voted though because that is my civic duty and I had to make a choice one way or another. And even if I didn't circle the ballot for president, there were other important choices for my state that I had to make.

Today, I'm hearing a lot of talk about hopeful possibilities and a lot of talk about fear. You know what folks? It is rare when we can guess what is going to happen. I do know that the 44th president isn't going to be able to change abortion rights or take away your guns or wave a magic wand to fix health care. Some of the things social conservatives worry about will happen on the state level and then maybe go to the Supreme Court, which is going to be shifting right after four years unless there is a mass of replacements needed. A Democratic Congress doesn't mean agreement (see 1993/1994). To throw oneself into a tizzy over which candidate won is time wasted. First, maybe we should take time to rejoice that we had an election without scandal. That in and of itself speaks volumes. Second thing, take the time to really educate yourself about the way government works. It helps you understand the big picture and also the importance of your state politics.

Today is a day to look forward. As I read a few places, change isn't always good. No, but change can be exciting because it means the possibilities are endless.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The World Outside My Office

My office has been quiet lately. Some things have changed in my work world, and I'm not quite as busy as before. I've been pumping up the marketing efforts (anybody need a great writer?).

On the other hand, the downtime came at a good time. My attention has been many other places lately. All summer, as I watched my beloved Phillies play baseball, my husband would ask, "Is it October yet?" meaning that he was waiting for baseball season to be over. Well, it is October, and the Phillies are still playing. Game 3 of the World Series will be on my birthday. It doesn't get much better than that.

But it is also football season, and football Saturdays rule this household. I can't quite explain the beauty of tailgating all day Saturday. Even some of my friends who enjoy tailgating don't understand how I, the anti-morning person, will crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn in any weather to sit outside with 100,000 of my closest friends, eating sausages from the grill and drinking a few adult beverages. But to me, it is almost like a vacation. I carry no mental baggage to tailgates. I refuse to discuss work. I don't think of problems in my life. I really truly live in that moment, for that day, and nothing else. We'll watch football on tv and then head to the stadium to watch football then back to the parking lot to watch football. It is pure bliss.

Then there is the Thesis of husband's, my essay class, which needs more attention, the impending trip of mine, the impending visit by the daughter and grandbaby.

With all this life going on, I'm grateful beyond words for the work I have, but equally grateful that I'm not in the deadline hell of September.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mixed Bag

That's how it's been around here lately. A mixed bag. Work is good. Work is frustrating at times. Life is good. Life is frustrating at times. That's how it goes.

Today has been an unusually quiet day. It almost feels like the day before a holiday weekend. My email box had a flurry of busyness in the morning but has pretty much stopped now. No interviews scheduled. No phone ringing. I was able to get caught up on marketing stuff, and am working on a larger project today. And watching the birds outside my window. With fall coming, the landscape at my feeder has changed considerably. Not just the species of birds showing up but also in the look of my regular birdie friends who will be around all winter. They are all puffed up and fuzzy in their winter feathers. A woodpecker has begun to show up at the feeder. It's beautiful. I'd never seen a woodpecker that close up before. The blue jay has returned, too. He is beautiful, and every time I see him, I think of an old friend, Terrie, who passed away from cancer. She was a birder and during a visit with me and another PA friend, a blue jay perched in a tree outside the window of the room we were in. Terrie had never seen a blue jay before and you could tell it was a highlight of her visit to the east coast.

Yesterday I made that always tough decision to part ways with a client. It was evident we were no longer on the same page, and an incredibly rude email sealed the deal that had been spinning in my head for a couple of weeks. I always get nervous about moving on, but each time I find that something better has come my way. And in fact, since sending that letter, I got two positive emails about potential work opportunities.

Now to get a little something done before happy hours arrives.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Helping Our Own

If I was working in an office today, I'd find an envelope on my chair with a note to please donate what I can to help a coworker in need.

Well, my "coworkers," my fellow writers, are spread throughout cyberspace. So if you haven't already seen this, please consider it the envelope on your chair.

Lori Hall Steel is a single mom battling ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)and chronic Lyme disease, who faces the loss of her home to foreclosure within days because she's too sick to work. She has medical bills totaling more than $50,000, which may ultimately reach $120,000.

As a freelance writer Lori has published more than 3,000 articles for > local, regional and national publications. In September 2007 she > mysteriously lost the ability to move her feet. The paralysis later > spread to her legs and arms. Lori is now confined to a hospital bed > and is dependent upon a Bi-Pap breathing machine. Lori is only 44, and she is determined to fight this disease with all her strength.

You can learn more about Lori at http://www.hallsteele.blogspot.com.

If you care to donate to save Lori's house, or send a supportive > message or get any media publicity that might bring in more donations, please do so.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I finally decided

On my book for book group, that is. I went with Eat, Pray, Love. I'm not a huge fan of the book, to be honest, but I think it is one that would make an interesting discussion. If I know my group would do it, I'd love to compare and contrast the subject of the memoir with The Year of Magical Thinking. I found myself thinking a lot about how two people reacted to a major loss in their lives. Granted, one loss was a boyfriend relationship vs a multi-decade marriage coupled with another life-threatening situation, so I would expect one recovery to be much more difficult than the other. Yet, both authors did essentially the same thing: she hid from real life. But getting my group to read one book in six weeks is tough enough, let alone two!

The choice was well received and one person said she was going to choose it for her next book.

Now I have about 10 months to think of my next book, but I've got it narrowed down to 50 or so already!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Finding time for everything

I was joking with a writer friend that my work is doing well enough that it is starting to feel like a job.

When I worked full time in an office, it seemed like 95% of my day was dealing with busy work -- necessary busy work, of course. The busy work would take a few minutes to deal with, which on the surface seems like nothing, but those few minutes begin to add up: answering the phone, answering emails, putting out fires, running an errand down the hall, etc. By the time I wanted to settle into the larger tasks at hand, it would be 5 o'clock, and I'd either put them aside for the next day or bring them home to work on in the quiet time of the evening.

That's how my past few weeks have felt here, too. I'm not complaining, mind you. I love being busy and all the work challenges. But this week, my days have been spent loaded with interviews, answering phone calls about articles, sending and answering emails that needed to be addressed during work hours, and by the time I'm ready to sit down and write the article, it's 5:30 and my schedule needs to move on to other non-writing tasks on my calendar. Writing comes later at night, when the house is quiet again. I write best in the afternoon or the wee hours of the morning, which is a good thing because the wee hours of the morning seem to be the one time of day I'm not busy!

Today, however, I made my calendar totally empty in order to spend time with a family member who is visiting. He's running late, which is fine, because I'm able to get some other things done that have been pushed to the side of my desk. But I started thinking . . . it wasn't hard to clear off this afternoon. I simply said, "I am not available for interviews Thursday afternoon." And voila, my afternoon calendar has nary a mark on it.

So I started thinking. What's wrong with keeping one day a week empty of interviews so I can focus on other tasks, like spending a day solely on writing? Nothing. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to pick a day each week that will be my writing day.

What do you do to find balance for the busy work and the bigger tasks?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So much for the empty house

I found out today that the husband will be writing his thesis at home through the month of September. The same thesis he wants me to edit.

So much for the lovely empty house . . .

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Lovely Empty House

July and August were really crazy months here. My husband had surgery and was home for two weeks. My son was home from college and often had friends here in the middle of the afternoon after his work ended. The daughter came to visit with the beautiful grandbaby. And I was out of town a couple of times.

While I like having music in the background when I work, I don't like a lot of other noise, especially talking. I can't write when there is a lot of chatter happening. And with a house filled with people -- especially when the son's bedroom is right next to the office (I can see into his bedroom from my desk) -- it is difficult to get much done.

And my family likes to pop into my office to talk to me. Even when I shut the door, they pop in. I don't often shut the door for a variety of reasons, but when I do shut it, I always thought it was a signal to the family that they should not disturb me. Apparently, I've always been wrong in that assumption because they'll open the door and start a conversation. "You're busy? You should put a sign on the door, do not disturb!" they say. I'm thinking they'd ignore that, too.

But now? The husband has returned to his regular schedule. The daughter and the adorable grandbaby have ended their visit and are back on the west coast. The son moved to his dorm room last Saturday and has begun his fall semester.

The house belongs to me again. Well, the dog is here, but she mostly sleeps on the floor next to me and forces me into a little exercise when I have to let her outside. With this empty house, I can work in peace. I can interview without interruption. Heck, I can work naked if I wanted (but that might scare away the birds at the feeder outside my window).

Wait a sec. The husband sent me an email: I'm coming home to do a few chores over lunch. I'm sitting here in my office, fingers typing away on an important email, when he pops his head in my doorway. "Am I bothering you?"

Sigh.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

After a week off to enjoy my grandbaby, I'm back at work, trying to get back into a regular routine.

The time I took off wasn't all fun and games. I had a few quick deadlines to meet and some phone calls to return. Which I did when the baby was sleeping.

I didn't begin freelancing full time until my baby was a sophomore in high school. While I always worked on my writing, I didn't even start doing any real freelance marketing work until my kids were a little older -- maybe the youngest was in late elementary school -- and I wrote late at night when they were sleeping or during my lunch hour at work. I noticed how much easier my work life became when my youngest went off to college and he was no longer rushing into the house at 3:35 each day, full of conversation, often with several other teenaged boys. I'm an afternoon writer, and without fail, his arrivals were interrupting something. Even now, he's home for the summer and when he comes home from work or class, he stops in my office to chat. Makes no difference to him if I'm on the phone doing an interview or have my keyboard on my lap -- a sign that I am writing. When he's home, he wants to talk.

I don't know how anyone with young kids manages to get anything done.

Granted, when the grandbaby was here, it was temporary, and I wanted to spend time with him. But there were a few times I came into my office while I had some emails to check and he was occupied with food or his grandpa. Soon enough, he'd come toddling into my office, all smiles, wanting to pull out all the cables on my computer or open my filing cabinet drawers or sit on my lap to pound on the keyboard. He was a pleasant distraction, but it wore me out, constantly watching his every move.

Obviously, if I had a small child, I'd be operating much differently. My office set up would be kid friendly. I'd revamp my work schedule around naps or Blues Clues. I'd have a routine. But I also know how my grown up son is while I'm working. My hat goes off to those with young kids underfoot while you try to work.

Today, the baby is back in his own home, 3000 miles away. The husband is back in his office. The teenager is packing to move back to campus in two days. And it is now time for me to get back to tackling this growing work load on my desk. One of my editors wrote to ask me if I was ready to start working again today. For the most part, I'm glad to have a regular routine and things back to normal.

But I do miss that little blonde head popping in here with a grin a mile wide as he reaches for the computer. . . .

Monday, August 11, 2008

Talking about work

Yesterday we had a family party at our house, and one of the guests began to pepper me with questions: what are you working on, what is your favorite project, what publication do you like writing for best?

I gave her vague answers, in part because of the family dynamics of other people who began to lean in and listen to the conversation, but mostly because this was a party, I was relaxing, and the last thing I wanted to do was think about work.

Back in the day when I worked in an office with other people, I rarely talked about my job to anyone but coworkers, except to grumble to the husband or friends about it. I like to separate my work self from my real life. And I almost never ask anyone about their job, either, unless it is someone I used to work with and I want to get caught up on people I used to know.

And back in the day, people rarely asked me about work except in a small talk kind of way -- how's work going? Fine. And that was that.

Now . . . I find people want to talk about my work all the time. It isn't small talk conversation. They want to know the nitty gritty details. They want to know who I'm writing for, what my current projects are, how much I make. They ask if I'm busy or if I'm able to make any money doing this.

It drives me nuts. It's hard enough when your work is in your house, and it's always looming. If I was a person who enjoyed talking about my job, that would be one thing. But I'm not, never was, and so to avoid questions about my daily work is not out of character for me. Except now people are bent out of shape if I don't answer.

I've been told -- repeatedly -- that people are interested because this is such an unusual job (it is?) and most folks don't understand it. They want to know more. (I interview. I write. What's so hard about that?) But the odd balance to me is that, even though what I do for a living is explain other peoples' lives and careers, I can't stand explaining my own outside of a work context.

One family member once said the reason everyone asks is not that they are truly interested in what I do, they just want to make sure I'm actually working and not sitting at home doing nothing all day (not that that's their business, either).

The bottom line is: on Monday-Friday and sometimes on weekends, I work hard. I haven't had a real, out-of-town vacation in 18 months, in part because my calendar is so full, and on the days I do take time off, I still end up working a bit. So when I'm sitting on my back porch sipping a cold Blue Moon, the last thing I want to think about is looming deadlines and juggling projects.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The "Real Me"

Of all the things to add into a letter of introduction, the unedited "real me" version of an article is one of those things that I've flip flopped about.

The idea came to me from my writing hero, Julie, who has carved herself a successful writing career. Like me, she mostly writes for trades, and she suggested adding that unedited, but published, article in order to give the editor a glimpse of what to expect when you send off your article. Providing published samples is all well and good, especially when the potential editor can see you are a frequent writer for a pub. But let's be honest -- that published piece has been edited and isn't 100% your voice. I got a couple of assignments in large part because I added that unedited piece.

Then I took a marketing class because I feel marketing myself is one of my greatest weaknesses. For one of the first lessons, I was asked to send along a copy of my LOI template to be workshopped. The first thing I was told: lose the unedited article. It wasted an editor's time. They want to see credentials, publication lists, articles of various lenghts and types. So, I cut the article from my LOI and focused more on my credentials. I continued to get assignments, probably because I was highlighting those credentials.

So I go off to the conference, and sat at a roundtable discussion of freelance issues. It included editors as well as writers, and we got to ask -- what do you want to see in the LOI we send you? And every editor at the table said, "An unedited version of your writing." Why? Because they'd like to see how clean the copy is.

No brainer here -- the unedited version is back in. And here's an interesting statistic. I expected to get some sort of response from the editors I met in Kansas City, and I did -- all of it encouraging, if not with an assignment on the spot. But the couple of marketing letters I've sent since the conference? The one that not only really brags up my credentials, but also highlights "the real me"? 100% positive response. One editor even noted how much she appreciated that unedited article. Do I think that's what swung her in favor of wanting to work with me? Absolutely.

Lesson learned: never be afraid to show the editor the "real you."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Value of Meeting Editors

I haven't had the opportunity to meet many editors since I started freelancing, so when the chance came up to attend a conference for trade publications, I jumped at it. Even if I don't get a single assignment from it (and I'd be a pretty poor self-employed writer if that happened), the experience was totally worth it.

None of my editors was at the conference, so I got to meet new-to-me folks. I listened to what they needed, listened to what they didn't need. The seminars were being addressed to me as a freelancer, but it was handy to see how publications are being run from the inside.

I think the most valuable part was the roundtable where I had the chance to talk to editors about working with freelancers. I learned how they feel about writers who ask for too much money. We all want to be paid what we're worth, of course, but it shouldn't be at the expense of hurting other writers or eating an entire budget. I think a lot of freelancers forget about the budget issue.

I admit to being a little put off by one writer who had no qualms about interrupting a conversation in order to hand her business card into the hands of an editor. When I first got there, of course I wanted to meet as many editors as possible. Then I realized that I wanted them to remember me in a positive way, not as a blur or as rude and pushy. I tried to have a few conversations that had nothing to do with writing. I went to the baseball game that was part of the conference, and, as I tend to do at baseball games, I took score. This got noticed by the others and it started conversations.

All in all, it was a good learning experience for me. I'm anxious to go out on the road again. Editors beware :-)

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Big Read

I found this on my friend Teri's site. Apparently, The Big Read, an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts, has estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books below.

As you can see, I read a few more than 6. A lot of those books I read in my literature classes. A lot I've read for fun. A lot I have no intentions on ever reading because I don't like science fiction or fantasy. Some of the books on the list I question: Bridget Jones's Diary? The Mitch Albom book? And interestingly, none of the books listed below are on The Big Read's current book list. The Big Read is a community reading project, and there are about a dozen or so books currently promoted for discussion (I read most of those, too, like Age of Innocence and The Death of Ivan Illych).

Anyway, I've read a few of these books. I'm pretty sure my life will continue just fine without having read Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE. (I've added a * to the books I loved)

1 Pride and Prejudice* - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird* - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights *- Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women* - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I read some Shakespeare. Does that count?)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch* - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (I have tried to read this book and failed)
22 The Great Gatsby *- F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House* - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina* - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield**** - Charles Dickens (This is my all time favorite novel)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion* - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers* - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (Uh, is there a reason this isn't included with the complete works of Shakespeare?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Little Brag

If you wander over to the Washington Post Style section, you'll see my essay there, my ode to my popcorn popper.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When the Walls Close In

I learned something very important about myself when I began freelancing. Well, actually I kind of suspected it all along but freelancing put the exclamation point at the end.

I prefer to work alone.

For the most part, this has worked well for me. I'm not a morning person, and you just can't be that mean grumpy person in an office (unless you want everyone to hate you). We all have quirks we can't stand, and one of mine is listening to people eat or chew gum with their mouths open. The worst was the woman who sat less than 2 feet away from me and slurped her oatmeal every morning. What surprised me was how little I missed the practically mandatory office social obligations. "I don't care if you can't stand the boss; you will go to lunch for his birthday and you will kick in to the cost of paying for it." Oh and we won't even go down the road of office lunch meetings with the ever present boxes of pizza.

Working at home, alone, has increased my production ten-fold, and my stress level has dropped a million points, at least.

But I learned something else about me this summer. Even if I don't miss the office overall, I miss some of the social aspects of the job. The impromptu lunch with coworkers I'm friendly with, or with friends who work in different offices/buildings. Somebody stopping at my desk on a Friday afternoon to say, "A bunch of us are going to the Grill for happies. Wanna come?" Or someone else saying that they were having some friends over for a bbq, and I'm invited. Heck, I even miss when I'd sit out in the sunshine with a book and someone I know would stop for a chat. I still get included in these things sometimes, but that means planning and no one I know plans these things.

I didn't realize how much my world had shrunk until I was at happy hours with two girlfriends, who chatted on about their days and the things they did with others. Not quite the same to say, "I had an interview with a guy who builds luxury horse barns today!" I felt totally left behind in every day life. Heck, with my kids grown and gone, I don't even have them to shake up my daily routine anymore.

So I made an executive decision. I looked at my calendar and decided that I can spare the time to be flexible, even if it means writing at night once in a while. I can block out a few hours to get out of the office; I'll just do so on days without deadlines. So I signed up for a photography class on Tuesday mornings, and already discovered that one of my classmates is a freelance writer, as well. Maybe I'll arrange a bi-weekly lunch with friends. Or maybe I'll put in a few hours to volunteer somewhere or take another class.

How do you keep from feeling isolated as a freelancer working from home?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Writing through the thoughts

There's a reason why I've named my blog "I Breathe; Therefore, I Write." Writing is second nature to me. If there is something troubling me, I want to write it out. If I need to think things through, I write the thoughts. If I have to make a decision, I write out the pros and cons.

This week I had a couple of things that were weighing heavily on me. One was a comment made by a friend. It was the type of comment that if I had pressed the point, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere. But it bothered me enough that I had to write about it. Once I did, I stopped thinking about it almost instantly.

The other thing was one of my clients, my second longest client. Unlike any of my other jobs, this one caused me a lot of stress and the cons were beginning to outweigh the pros. I decided to talk to a group of my writing friends who would understand, for the first time really putting the details of the job out in front of me. I knew it was time to part ways, but there was that part of me that was saying "this is my security line for the slow times!" that didn't want to let go. But once I saw it on paper (so to speak), spilling all the thoughts from my brain, I had finally managed to convince myself.

Truly, if I couldn't write, I might as well not breathe.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Manic Monday

Ever have one of those Mondays when you wish Sunday just rolled over for another day? I'm having one of those days.

Don't get me wrong. I love my job and I usually don't mind Mondays. When I worked in an office for somebody else, Sunday nights would turn into a giant stressball, and I'd get a knot in my stomach about having to start the work week again. It was like that even when I was in a job I enjoyed. There was something about getting out of bed early, getting dressed in uncomfortable clothes, and having to spend my days following someone else's orders.

Freelancing has taken a lot of the stress out of Mondays. I know what's on my calendar and I have a good idea of what needs to be done. Most days I can come to my office at my leisure, be comfortable, and slide into my week.

But there are days like today, with a calendar full of interview calls, a to-do list a mile long (with more calls to make to set up interviews), lots of little things and a couple of articles to write to round off the day. But it didn't bode well when my 9 am -- early for me -- interview was busy and had to call me later (and didn't provide much information; not good), and my 10:30 interview for an article due today and already rescheduled from last week, didn't get back to me until 11:15, and well, it's been one of those days already.

Writing in my blog is my equivalent to a deep breath and preparing for the next thing on the list, hoping that will go more smoothly than everything else has so far.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Interview with Jen A. Miller

My fellow Phillies fan, Jen A. Miller, is the author of The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City to Cape May: Great Destinations: A Complete Guide, and we had a chance to chat about her book.

What's your connection with the Jersey shore? Besides writing the book, that is.

I've been going to the shore every summer since I was born -- literally. I was born in July and on the beach in August. My family had a trailer at Avalon Campground, so that's where I lived during the summer. Then, as an editor and then freelance writer, I covered that same area for the New York TImes, Philadelphia Inquirer, NJ Monthly and SJ Magazine, among others, so when it was time to pick a book topic, it seemed the logical choice.


Tell us about the book. How'd it come about, how'd you research it, all that fun stuff?

I saw on freelancesuccess.com that Countryman Press was looking for more regional guides in their Great Destinations Series. I was doing a lot of writing about Atlantic City at the time and pitched them that as a topic. They said it was a bit too narrow, so I came up with the idea of writing about the South Jersey Shore. While there's been a lot of books about one shore town or the whole coast, I couldn't find anything that targeted just that region.

I researched the book in a lot of ways. I spent a lot of time in the library in the colder months. Then, when the summer season started in May 2007, I lived in Avalon, using the dining room table of a shore house as my base. Most of my information came from on the ground research. I'd park my car, walk into every place I saw, and go from there. I also spent a lot of time interview locals to find out those places tourists might not know about. In one cases, the regular patrons of a bar asked me NOT to write about it -- how could I not write about a bar with name that tune! (Owen's in North Wildwood, FYI).

I'd ask which is your favorite shore town, but you shouldn't play favorites. So I'll ask, which town was the biggest discovery for you? As in, things you didn't know before you wrote the book.

That's a great way to phrase it! I learned the most about Cape May. I didn't like it much as a kid, but as a grown up (I'd like to think), I found out why so many people rave about it. There's so much to see and do, whether your idea of fun is shopping or kayaking.

Growing up where I did, I know what you're talking about when you say you're going down the shore. After all, I spent my childhood going down the shore, but never went to a beach until I was in high school. But I say that to my Ohio inlaws, and they think I'm nuts. Did you ever discover why the folks in South Jersey, Delaware and eastern PA say they are going "down the shore"?

I still don't know. Since the book came out, I've learned that even Central and North Jersey people say "down the shore." I think it might come from when the easiest way to get to the shore was by rail. From Philadelphia, the train went south to Atlantic City.

Okay, so what's the dividing line between South Jersey and North Jersey?

For me? Cut a line through Trenton and then go south to Brigantine. Under that is South Jersey. But as I've talked about this -- and I talked about it a lot since I became a consultant on New Jersey: The movie -- I've realized that there is no set line. It depends on where you're from. It's like trying to say who has the best pizza or ice cream at the shore. Your opinion is going to be shaded by where you went as a kid.

And while this has nothing to do with the shore, a very important question -- how do you like the Phils chances this season?

Any time the bullpen sings like they do, yes. It's been a stunning season so far, and I'd be very disappointed if they don't get to the post season. I'm counting on Chase Utley as MVP, too!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mourning to Excess?

I guess at this point you have to live under a rock to not know political reporter Tim Russert died. I liked Russert, and he would have been my first choice of political pundits to watch during the upcoming election season. Well, no, actually, he was my second choice. My first choice was Peter Jennings, but he, too, is dead.

Some writers I know feel that the TV media have gone overboard in their tributes to Russert, and I have to agree. Russert was a man who did his job, but was also, by all reports, a good man. But that's all he was -- a man, doing his job, albeit on a larger stage than most of us do. In the grand scheme of things, Russert, nor his job, were all that important to mankind. But I also can't fault the media for their zealous mourning. These are media people. They lost one of their own. Hashing out the details is what they do. All professions mourn their own in their own way.

But I have to say, there were two other media deaths that touched me more deeply. Jim McKay and Charlie Jones. Sportscasters. Guys I spent my childhood listening to. Every Saturday with Jim McKay and Wide World of Sports. Sundays with Charlie Jones and football and my dad. I've missed Wide World of Sports for years. These are voices who haven't been around much lately, but that isn't to say that their permanent silence won't be missed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Still Thinking About Books

It is deliciously hot and humid and I am taking a source-hunt break. The source hunt is by far the most stressful part of my job, but that's another story for another day. It's too hot to be stressed! (Although I love this weather and am enjoying it to the fullest.)

So back to books. Reading and writing go hand in hand, and I've no doubt that all the reading I do makes me a better writer. I read tons of magazines, but it seems like the past year or two, my book reading was focused on books for the group or books that I could share with friends to talk about privately. I realized it has been a long time since I jumped into books for no other reason than my personal enjoyment.

My other goal is to read more books this year. A fellow writing buddy did a book a week last year, but while I admired her efforts, I know that isn't realistic for me. Twenty-five or thirty books, however, is more than do-able, if I push up my reading time a little bit. I'm at 10 so far for 2008, again, all of them either book group related or loaned/given to me by friends.

So what I've decided to do is put together a reading list of books I want to read this year. I know there will be some I don't get around to, and others that will get added in for whatever reason. I'm going to take a notepad and pen and wander around my library and make a list of the books I absolutely want to read. It's a political year, so there are a couple political books I want to devour. Biographies. Some literature. And yeah, a couple of beach reads and one or two baseball books. It is summer, after all.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Networks in Odd Places

I've talked about the importance of networking before. At least, I'm sure I have. But the point of this post is to show that networking can come in ways and forms you might never expect.

This morning, I got an email from my husband. A guy he knows from work stopped by the husband's cube to ask if I might be interested in some writing work. He had a project and needed a writer. I was recommended to him by a person I used to work with and now freelance for. All well and good. I appreciated this editor's vote of confidence in me (it is the second time he recommended me for a writing job).

Later I found that while all of the above is true, it didn't quite happen in the order the husband thought. Apparently, the guy looking for a writer mentioned this to the staff assistant who works in my husband's office. She is someone I know, although not very well, but she is also someone who considers my husband a good friend. So she recommended me, and the guy then went to the editor I know (how that all fell into place I do not know), and voila, I have a new job on my desk.

The moral of the story is networking shouldn't be confined to editors and publishers and writers and those in your writing field. Networking can come in many ways: casual conversations, friendships, volunteering your time to help someone, etc. Being a good person with those people you meet can end up paying itself forward in the long run.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Books Continued

My book group met last night (The Shipping News will not be included on our list of favorites).

We read The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian in January or so -- perhaps the only book in the history of our club that everyone had finished and would be included on a favorites list. I'm a huge fan of Chris's books and am in the midst of Skeletons at the Feast right now, hot off the presses. One of the members said she'd like to borrow it and recommend it for her book next year, when it comes out in paperback. If I chose one of his books, it would be Trans-Sister Radio, which is fascinating. But if my friend wants to pick one of his books . . . well, I don't want overkill.

The person on deck picked a Jodi Picoult book, something with Hearts in the title, and sounding way too similar to Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. Although, it might be interesting to compare and contrast.

I may write down a bunch of books on slips of paper, then have someone at book group pick a piece of paper out of a hat. Or maybe I'll pick it out of the hat myself.

Right now my list is including: The Age of Innocence, Wuthering Heights, The Glass Castle, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, A Magical Year of Thinking (or something like that), gods in Alabama, and so on.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

And on the 31st day

I went to the local bookstore today. I'm trying to come up with an idea for my book choice for my discussion group. I've got a while to go until it is my turn, but I'm always thinking about it. I'd really like to highlight a book by one of my writer friends, but they are tough books to find locally.

Any suggestions? We have a couple of rules in our group: no book over 400 pages (we all enjoy books, but not all of us are what you'd call fast readers), nothing overly depressing or involving really horrific events, nothing that requires too much brain power. They were all afraid of reading the uber-thick biographies and Victorian literature I have on my shelves and read for fun. And sure, I'd love to introduce my friends to the beauty of Sons and Lovers or Anna Karenina or, my favorite, David Copperfield, but that's not fair to the rest of the group.

So I'm trying to decide . . . I have no qualms of buying a new book, but part of me would like to pick a book I've already read and liked and wanted to talk about. On Tuesday we're talking about The Shipping News. Next up is The Giver. The last book was Water for Elephants.

What to pick . . . what to pick . . .

Friday, May 30, 2008

A new pet peeve

I grew up with some strange dialects. It started off pure coal cracker, then morphed with Pennsylvania Dutch when I hit middle school. A summer in Philly gave me a lifetime of "wudderice" and, of course, there is this mishmash of central PA whatever it is that I've picked up. Somewhere in high school I came to realize that this oddball language I spoke was going to cause me a lot of trouble in the writing world. I pretty much had to relearn a lot about basic grammar and such, and I'm far (very far) from perfect.

Mostly, then, I take a deep breath when I edit. I know that people tend to write the way they speak. But I had a long-standing pet peeve: writing loose when lose is meant. That extra O drives me bananas. And I don't like bananas.

I didn't think that anything else could bother me as much as loose/lose. I was wrong. There's a new one, one that, for some reason, I've been seeing a lot lately.

Could of.

As in, I could of had cake but I had ice cream.

What they mean, of course, is could have.

Don't people think that looks weird? Could of? But probably not. In my editing travels, it is obvious that the basics of writing have either been ignored or long forgotten. I'm not talking about the poor skills teenagers and young adults have now, thanks to texting and IMing, but adults who had to diagram sentences in the seventh grade.

There is a lot of fuss made over those who don't have strong math skills and the need to better understand science. Frankly, I think it is time to push for better writing skills. After all, if you aren't able to communicate, all those other skills are irrelevant.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rate per . . .

Over at Freelance Writing Gigs, a place where I have found some pretty decent jobs, there is always a discussion about rates. A lot of the people who hang out over there are people who are focused on the bird in hand school of thought. Better to have a job that pays $10 for a 500-word article and pays it quickly than wait a month or six for something that pays much, much more.

The argument is almost always, "These jobs don't take me long, so the per hour rate is great," with the corollary that $10/hour is a great income in parts of the country.

But I was thinking about this the other day. One of the discussions happening on the site involves a job posting for a one 500-word post a week, with a paycheck of $40 per month. Some people thought that was a rip off; others thought it was a great "per hour" rate.

Anyway, what got me thinking was this -- that's $40 for 4 hours of work (say) in a month. That's a pretty rotten "per month" rate when you think about it. It's a pretty rotten per day rate, too.

A "per hour" rate means nothing unless that per hour is over the course of a day, a week, a month.

Everybody looks at the way they earn money differently. I've said before, after years of working in a job where I got paid once a month, I'm more interested in seeing what my bottom line is on the 30th, and from there I can figure out how I'm doing per hour or per day.

Sure, it's important to consider what you are making per hour on a job. But it is also important to put it context with the big picture. That $10 per hour is $400 per work in a regular work week. But one $10 job a day is $50 a week.

But of course, only you can determine if that's the rate that works for you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What I See Out My Window

So yesterday I wrote how gazing out my window helps me think. With the new bird feeder, I now have sites to see, as well, beyond the wooden fence and the corner of the neighbor's roof.

This is what I saw yesterday when I came to work.





Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gazing out the window

On Saturday when we were in Ohio, we were sitting on my MIL's balcony before dinner. Her condo is in a high rise, sitting along Lake Erie with a magnificent view of the Cleveland skyline. I watched the boats out on the water and really drank in the view. I said to the husband as we drove home, I don't necessarily want to live on Lake Erie, but if the time does come that we decide to move away, I want to live near water. I want to be able to sit on my deck and see water.

I've said in past blog posts that I need music to write, and that is so true. The music I listen to can really help pull along the words.

But equally important to me is gazing. I'll write a sentence or two, then look out the window. I'm not really looking at too much. It's how I get my thoughts in order. Gazing out at water both relaxes me and energizes me. It makes me want to write for hours.

When I write at Panera's, I like to sit by a window so I can gaze out. People will think I'm staring at them, but I rarely notice the people in the cafe. I'm looking out the window, watching life move out there, completely connected, yet totally disconnected at the same time.

Yes, these are weird, polar effects, but writing does that to me. Writing can often be an etheral experience for me, especially if I'm writing essays or something creative. My husband once told me I'm not all there when I write, and it's true. I don't mean that in a negative way. My brain goes into another place and time. Gazing out the window keeps me in that place. I don't know how it works, but it works well for me.

Now I have my bird feeder outside my window, and it's begun to attract visitors. I looked out the window this morning to see a bright yellow bird and his girlfriend having breakfast. It excited me. It made me want to write even more.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Waning Moments of a Long Weekend

This is the first holiday since I've started freelancing where I felt totally okay with putting my work on the back burner. Oh there was work I could have done, just like I'm sure lots of people had work on their desks. But the weather was fabulous, and I wanted to enjoy the time, not worrying about assignments coming in or phone calls to return. After all, it returns to normal tomorrow.

So today, we took a walk around the neighborhood, goofed around with my flower garden, planted sunflowers, and put up my bird feeder outside my office window. We cooked on the grill and watched baseball. And I've curled up with a book.

I'm kind of sad to see May coming to an end. It's been a re-energizing month.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lazy Sunday

I'm taking the weekend off. It was beautiful, so I hung my laundry out on the backyard line, and then sat on my lawn chair to read a book. Now the husband and I are enjoying adult beverages and watching a movie.

I really needed a weekend this low key.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ohio

We drove to Ohio on Saturday to pick up some furniture. And put $110 worth of gas in the tank. Ouch.

It made me realize how happy I am to work from home and that we live so close to most of the things we do. We can ride our bikes lots of places. We can walk to church. Even when we do drive somewhere, it's rarely more than 5 miles round trip, sometimes 10 if we go out to the mall or bookstore. We can usually fill up the gas tank every 3-4 weeks, depending.

People used to poke fun at me for living here in the middle of nowhere and my ten-minute errands. They aren't poking fun now . . .

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Eclectic Self

One of the reasons I like hanging around with other writers is that they get me. (So do my artist friends and musician friends, for that matter.) We think a little differently than the rest of the world. We do things a little differently than the rest of the world.

I was thinking about that especially when I was at the gym tonight, and a Mannheim Steamroller Christmas song came on my mp3 player, followed by the Monkees, followed by Led Zepplin.

You mean you don't have Christmas songs on your mp3 player? In May?

When I'm at the gym, I look at the people working out and turn them into characters for a novel I'm not writing. But I guess I could. If I had the time. Then I came home to watch baseball -- because nothing is better than baseball.

If I wrote a novel, I'd somehow have baseball in it. Everytime I try to write fiction, baseball shows up somewhere.

So does a character with gray eyes.

I read an essay in More magazine while on the treadmill, written by a woman trying to get adjusted to life with her teenage son after her daughter, her pal, went to college. I pitied the woman. My teenage boy is one of my favorite people to hang with because we talk the same language -- baseball, hockey, football, and basketball.

And now a glass of wine is calling my name.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writing for Free

This topic comes up every so often -- should you write for free?

While there are enough harden writers out there who say no way, never, I think it depends on the circumstance.

My church asked me to work on a writing project, and I said yes. It's a volunteer thing. Even though I might be the only professional within the publishing business who is volunteering for this project, I think it is important to lend your talents to causes that are important to you. Sure, I hope that others in our community take note of my work and give me a call about job opportunities down the road, but that would be nothing more than icing on top of the satisfaction of doing something for the good of the whole.

And I love to write essays and even some fiction every so often. I've sold my essays, but really, the writing is for my enjoyment first and foremost. Again, anything I sell is icing on the cake. The fiction? Hoo boy, let me tell you, that's all writing for free because nobody would ever pay me for that.

Oh and I don't mind blogging for free because I like having a soap box.

If a magazine said, "You're untested. So you write this article for free, and then we'll decide whether or not to give you a contract," that's a tough one if you are a new writer. That's on spec, and I've been down that road. I felt that flutter in my heart when I saw the phrase, "I'd like you to write this article," and I felt my heart sink like a stone when I read the rest, "on spec. If we decide to accept the article . . ."

But I'd let the flutter get the better of me. The first on spec piece I wrote sold straight off. The second, sent with more confidence than the first, turned out to be a spectacular waste of time. She put me through 3 rewrites and then turned it down. I wrote a spec piece for another magazine I wanted to break into -- turned down immediately, without rewrites. The last time I worked on spec was for a pretty glossy pub that I saw as my chance to break into a much-coveted genre. A friend warned me, "don't write on spec!" I had my own lessons of how it can bite you in the butt, but I REALLY wanted this opportunity.

I wrote the article. I rewrote the article. I agonized over it. I sent it. I never heard another word from the editor. Ever. Despite follow up messages and a phone call.

I did eventually sell a version of that piece, but it was extra work to do so.

I learned my lesson though. While I might volunteer my writing services for an organization I volunteer for otherwise, my business is a different story. It's my job to earn money by my writing, and when I'm working with a magazine from the get-go, it doesn't help me or my business to offer them my hard work for nothing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's in a name?

On Deb Ng's blog someone called me Susan, then quickly apologized (which I appreciated).

Susan is a perfectly good name -- if that's your name. But it isn't my name. I'm not overly fond of my real first name, so I only ever use it on formal documents that require my legal name, like W9s. The name I use in emails and on blog posts and as a by-line is the name I prefer to be called.

There seems to be a natural impulse among people to either lengthen a nickname or shorten a formal name, even with people we don't know. This is rude, no matter how you look at it. In a social setting, it might be easily brushed off. In a professional setting, it may cost you some work.

It's a matter of respect, really. When you decide to change the name of a person, it's a subtle sign that you don't respect them. You might think it is no big deal, but it is. Think about your own name -- why do you use it the way you do? Maybe another name has a bad memory, maybe you wanted to separate your adult self from your childhood self, maybe you just like the way your name sounds as is. Whatever it is, it is part of who you are. It's your identity.

As for me, my real name rhymed with my maiden name, which rhymed with way too many other words that led to a lot of childhood teasing. When people call me Susan, however, they don't realize the amount of pain that causes. It's why I cringe whenever someone calls me that.

Many years ago, I worked for a man named Don, who called me Susan two or three times before I summoned up the nerve to say, excuse me sir, but my name isn't Susan. He was pretty much a mean man, but for that moment he softened just a bit and said, "I know how you feel. My name isn't Donald. It's just plain old Don." About a week later, I saw plain old Don great a salesman who said, "Hello Donald, nice to meet you." Plain old Don said, "Meeting is over," and showed the salesman the door. As he returned to his office and looked at me and said, "If he can't get my name right, how can I expect him to get my order right."

If someone asked me for the best business advice I could give, it would be this: when someone introduces themself to you, call him or her by the name they give you. Always. It could be the difference between landing a great new client or having the door slammed in your face.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Four in One Blow

I felt kind of like that tailor who boasted that he killed 7 in one blow and embroidered his proclamation on his shirt. Of course, the kingdom didn't realize he meant flies. They thought he meant giants. And hence, he went off to kill the giants and win the hand of the princess.

That's how my day felt. I whipped off four articles this afternoon. I feel like strutting a bit. FOUR!

But realistically, I wrote less than 2000 words total. They were four short articles.

Even so, now they are done and I can now go accept the hand of my handsome prince.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's Wrong with This Picture?

It is the 18th of May, a Sunday evening, and I'm in my library, preparing to work. I'm listening to MASH's last episode rather than watching it.

Why am I in the library rather than in the family room? So I can sit by the fire.

That's right. The fire. Because it is in the mid-40s, rainy and cold. It snowed on Monday. They are calling for snow flurries tonight.

Shouldn't I be sitting outside enjoying a cold beer instead of keeping toasty by a roaring fire?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Riddle Me This

Today we watched the Preakness. Well, we turned on the tv around 5:30 because we weren't sure of actual race time. We had to wait another half hour or so for a race that last less than 2 minutes.

I love sports. I'm pretty sure I love sports more than 99.9% of all Americans. In fact, as I write this, I'm watching tonight's Phillies game.

But I just don't get the obsession of pre-game analysis. A horse race lasting two minutes gets more than two hours of analysis. Super Bowl Sunday? If you only count actual game day coverage, you are getting six or eight or ten extra hours of coverage (depending on the station you watch). That doesn't count the non-stop ESPN coverage leading up to it.

I watch the game for the game. Fifteen minutes would have been enough to tell me what I needed to know about the horses and jockies. An hour would tell me what I need to know about the teams in the Super Bowl.

I love sports. I love reading about them and writing about them. But come on. Over two hours for a two minute race? That's overkill.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Empty Mailbox Syndrome

Is there anything sadder than logging into your email and not finding any new mail? Especially when you are expecting, hoping, praying to find mail?

Maybe it is because of the bleak weather -- it's been raining pretty steadily today -- but by the lack of email arriving, it seems like the whole world has taken a holiday and forgot to tell me.

If you asked me the most important tool for a 21st century writer, I'd say email. I can't imagine life without email to begin with, but it is how I communicate with editors and others I touch base with professionally about 95% of the time. While I do most of my interviews by phone, but I make initial contact by email.

An empty mailbox isn't bringing in assignments.

I sent out a request for comments with some press people this morning. No replies. Not one. Not even a note to say sorry, can't do it. It's frustrating.

Heck, even my husband hasn't answered the last email I sent him. Maybe he's already started happy hours. Which is sounding like a very good idea about now . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ever have one of those days . . .

. . . when you have the attention span of a gnat?

My list of things to do today wasn't very long, but the work I had to do was lengthy and time consuming. But I'd focus for about five minutes, then I'd be off checking email and getting a cup of coffee then fussing with something on my desk.

I really hate days like this. It means I'm going to have to work a late night and probably this weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Some Days

Mostly I love working at home in my little office with all its comforts.

Today was not one of those days.

I should have high-tailed it out of here the moment it was obvious everything was going down hill. And that moment came when I called my 10 interview and they wanted a third person involved who wasn't available today. That's when I should have gotten dressed and bolted for Panera's.

My husband came home around the time I was on the phone. The furnace guy was coming today to do his annual furnace cleaning and general care thing. He was later than expected, so the husband was bopping around the house. I shut the door to my office to signal I was working and needed privacy. A shut door, as you probably guessed, is a clear invitation to "walk in, she must not be busy." I think that happened every time I was on the phone.

The furnace guy came. Luckily, my office is not directly above the furnace, but that didn't stop the oil fumes from permeating into the room. Did I mention that I am hypersensitive to fumes? I smell fumes that supposedly have no odor, so just imagine what oil fumes do to me. I would have left then, but now I was expecting some phone calls, so I just opened windows in my office.

It's not a warm day . . . but at least it wasn't snowing like it was on Monday. I put on a sweater, and I'm listening to the new baby birds chirping right outside my window.

My college-aged, home-for-the-summer son decided that this would be a good day to clean his bedroom. Next thing I hear is loud pounding. Did I mention his bedroom is right next door to my office? I call to him. He pops his head in my partially open door (I needed the ventillation) and says, "I'm hammering my bookshelves. Are you on the phone? If you are, I'll stop."

At that point, I decided that concentrating on any work was going to be difficult. I put my daily assignment to bed, took two aspirin, and now I'm going to watch mindless tv.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Chicken Factor

I took a major step on Monday.

I sent a query to one of my dream markets.

Will anything come out of it? Maybe. Maybe not. But I did it. Finally.

I'm not usually very intimidated by challenges. I'm one of those people who says, "yeah, let's do it."

But tackling a dream market? That's when I get a little star struck, wondering if I am really good enough for this.

Then I noticed that one of my blogs I write on another dream market site was excerpted in the print version. This was the second excerpt in a month. It was on a topic I am passionate about, something I toss up there as National Holiday status in my life.

So I knew I had to do this. The time had come. I had an idea. I took a deep breath. I wrote the query. And then came the most important part: I hit send.

Now I wait. Even if they say no, I jumped over the most difficult hurdle.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Post-Mother's Day Rant

I'm going to say this straight up: we don't celebrate Mother's Day at our house. I think it is a phony holiday, wraught with guilt, unrealistic expectations, anger, frustration. Heck, even the woman who started MD thought the original purpose was lost and she was angry about the way it was celebrated. And that was 75+ years ago!

But the one thing that bugs me more than anything is the number of people who insist on wishing me a happy mother's day. There are only two people from whom any sentiments about my motherhood count -- my daughter and my son. I don't really need or want other people wishing me such sentiments. Especially not strangers.

Being a parent is about as complex a job as one can have. It is also extremely personal. A simple well-meant mother's day greeting can cause intense pain for a mother who has lost her child or to an infertile woman.

I know this is a holiday that many women love and look forward to. If that's the case, good for you. I do believe in special days -- for me, it is my birthday. My kids know, if you want to pamper me, that's the day to do it, not some random day in May, a date picked to celebrate the life (and anniversary of her death) of someone else's mom.

That said, I always like getting gifts, and here is the best type of "mother's day" gift, in my opinion. On Friday night at the book sale, I was talking to one of the organizers, and she was asking about my son and his first year of college, etc. "He is such a wonderful young man," she said to me. "We all like him very much."

If you want to wish me a happy mother's day, that's the way to do it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Combatting Slow Down

For the first time this year, work has hit a slow down.

While I don't want many slow periods, I think it is healthy once and a while. Over the next week or two, I'll be able to take care of the kind of housekeeping things that get pushed aside, expand my marketing horizons, and take a step back to evaluate my business.

But mostly, I'll re-energize. It's been a very hectic winter and spring. Not only did I have a wonderfully busy workload, we had some personal things that added extra stress. I think everybody needs to take a step back every so often and take a deep breath. Freelancing is like any other job -- if it is go, go, go all the time, you risk burning out.

So I'm looking at the rest of this month to explore new horizions and think about what I can do to be a better writer. I'm very excited.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Sale Pictures

I'm not in any of them, but the paper always shows up to take pictures for move in weekend.

I got very few books yesterday. I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I got one biography on a first lady not in my collection, Nellie Taft, and some cute books for the grandbaby. It was weird. Nothing jumped out at me this year. And the book I was looking for for my book group -- nowhere to be seen, at least not where I looked. Figures. Any other year, I see 50 copies of this book.

I'm going up again today, so I'll look again today. By late afternoon, the used booksellers (who have been in line since last Friday) will have gone through, grabbed the best stuff, and it will be easier to go through things.

Friday, May 9, 2008

My Favorite Day of the Year, but . . .

This is the day I most look forward to all year -- it's book sale move in day!

My local AAUW branch, of which I am a 21-year member, holds a used book sale to raise money for various community organizations, from the women's resource center to Head Start programs. The book sale began in 1962, the same year (and I believe in the same month) I was born. I joke that I was born to volunteer for this event.

It is truly a community effort. The community donates books throughout the year, and the AAUW has to put a cap on the number of books it can receive, somewhere in the 100,000 range. Yes, our relatively small community regularly donates 100,000 books in about 7 months. That's a lot of books, folks.

Then dozens of volunteers show up to move the books from the warehouse to the arena where the sale is held. Volunteers unpack the books to tables (this is incredibly organized, no willy nilly books thrown on random tables), volunteers work the four days of the sale. Books not sold are sent for recycling to raise money for high school kids.

I am in charge of the biography table. I've worked that table for 15 years, all by myself. As a move-in volunteer, I can also buy a box worth of books that night, and I'll go back to the sale multiple times this week.

Book sale is the reason I have the library I do. I have a complete set of Dickens, Fitzgerald, Lawrence, Austin, and some other favorite authors thanks to book sale. Not matching sets, but all the books. I've been able to pick up out of print copies of some of my favorite books or upgraded books from paperback to hard cover of books I can't find in stores anymore. I have a book case of president and first lady biographies, most of which came from book sale finds. Heck, you should see my Bobbsey Twins and Five Little Peppers collections. I spend money at this thing, trust me.

But I find myself growing more uncomfortable with buying used books. No problem with used books by long-dead people, of course. But the tables are filled with books that are still relatively new -- people who read the book and didn't want to keep it, people who got the book as a gift and didn't want it, etc. The books have been bought already, but I feel like I'm hurting the author if this was a book I had wanted to buy otherwise.

So I made a rule for myself regarding newer used books. If it is a new-to-be author who has a ton of books already on the market, I'll buy used. If I like the author, I do end up buying his/her new books when they come out. If I don't like the author, well, I won't be buying any books anyway.

Mostly, though, I'll be going for older, harder to find books. Two years ago, I bought everyone in my book group a copy of Pride and Prejudice for their own as none had read the book and it was the book I had picked. Last year, they all got copies of The Great Gatsby. I didn't spend more than $10 total on all the books. That's what I love about book sale.

This year's mission? Books for the grandbaby!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lean to the Left, Lean to the Right

Even though I'm a writer, I've learned a long long time ago that a reader should never take anything at face value. Just because you read it doesn't mean it is the whole truth.

I read an article today about mothers who can't say no to their children and the consequences. The article used the age-old stereotype of moms who work don't have time for their children, so they give in to their child's every whim. It was the only premise offered in the article -- mothers who work and are "too busy" for their kids. Yeah, the article had some truth to it, but it missed a whole lot of other issues -- mothers who are trying to make up for an absent father, mothers who give in to peer pressure and think saying yes all the time will mean their kids will fit in with the crowd, mothers who want to be their child's best friend rather than a parent. It wasn't an untrue article, but the author created a slant and the readers will only come away with part of the story.

Writers aren't experts (although sometimes we forget that). It's our job to find enough information to present mulitple sides of the story that allow the reader to learn something new and to make his or her own opinion. Even so, there will always be some sort of slant. The writer gets to pick out the information that interests her most, sometimes she gets to pick the pros and cons, the slant.

As readers, we have to remember that one article's slant isn't the whole truth. As writers, we have to remember to present multiple points of view so the reader can make an informed opinion.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Avoiding Isolation

One thing I don't miss about working in an office with other people is, well, the other people. I didn't mind some banter and I made some good friends back in those days. But after a half hour, I craved privacy, which in a cubicle world, you rarely have. I'd put on my head phones whenever possible so I could shut out other people. If I had a door, I'd often push it shut. I'd cringe if someone came to see what I was doing. And nothing bothered me more than having my back toward someone. I had one job where I was at a desk closest to one door, so I could see who was coming in, but it meant my back was toward everyone else in the office. I got stuck there because I had the least seniority. I transferred out of there within five months.

So here I am in my own lovely office, in my own lovely house, and despite all the stressful things about the freelance business, I've never been less stressed. I attribute that to leaving my biggest stressor behind -- the regular 8-hour face time with lots of people.

But yesterday, because I was on a tight deadline, I knew I had to skip kickboxing class. I was going to go to the local writer's group meeting, but I was too worn down. I did make it to bell choir practice because if I'm not there, there isn't someone to cover me. When I got home and crashed on the couch, mentally exhausted from writing all day, I realized that I had been out of the house for a whole hour that day.

Granted, yesterday was unusual. A typical day sees me running off to one activity or another in the evening, often with the gym squeezed in there. I'm out among people while on my terms and for short periods of time that don't sap my energy. But still, yesterday was an eye opener for me on how easy it is to get sucked into being too isolated.

As summer approaches and all my school-year activities wind down (I don't know about other places, but everything here is pretty happens during the school year and goes on a three or four month break for summer), I'll need to find reasons to get out of the house more often. I'll pick up more gym hours, but I think it is time to plan more lunches with friends, especially writer friends, find someone to go walking with before I get too busy in my day. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Just a Tad Bit Busy

Feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I hope to write a real blog post soon. Otherwise, this will suffice for today.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday, Monday

Why is that Monday seems to be the craziest day of the week?

I'm swamped under with deadlines today and trying to get my head wrapped around the rest of this week, which is a little unusual, schedule-wise.

Taking a deep breath and plunging in to start my week.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

We take a break from writing for a moment

I was pushing to finish the project I was working on yesterday so I could grab a quick shower and be on my recliner sofa, remote control in hand by 7 pm. Because at 7, my sports world was exploding.

All with 7 pm start times were my favorite baseball team (the Phillies) on a local channel, my favorite hockey team (the Flyers) were on Versus, up 3-1 in their Eastern semi-finals, and then over on ESPN2, the Penn State men's volleyball team were playing for the national championship.

I curled up with dinner and the remote and mostly watched the Phillies, but kept checking on the other two games during the commercial breaks. My timing, though, seemed to be impeccible. I saw all but one of the Flyers goals, and the important moments of the volleyball game.

Recap:

Penn State finished up first, winning the national championship. Penn State is at the top of collegiate volleyball; our women's team are the reigning national champions as well.

Moments later, Flyers came from behind to win 6-4, and make their way into the Eastern Finals.

The Phils went into extra innings, but came up on the losing end, 3-2. But the managed to hold on to first place.

I did take a 3 minute break in the middle of my work to come watch the Kentucky Derby. I'm not much of a horse racing fan, but I watch the Triple Crown. Sad story about the horse that had to be put down. Otherwise, it was a splendid sports day. If you were me.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Working on the Weekend

No playing this Saturday. I've got to finish up one project and if I was smart, I'd use Sunday to get a little ahead for Monday's deadlines.

Friday, May 2, 2008

As if I didn't need more reasons to procrastinate

Yesterday afternoon, my husband showed me two nests in the bushes in front of our house. One is outside the library window. The other is outside my office window. It was hard to find, just looking out the window itself, but now that I know where to look, I see it perfectly. I don't have a clear shot of it, but enough that I'll be able to spend the spring watching for the baby cardinals. This is after I spent the past two months watching the love dance of the parents.

I'd never been much of a bird person until the summer I began freelancing (yesterday was my 3rd anniversary. I forgot to celebrate). That first summer, my office was in a state of dissarray. It was then mostly a place for me to hang out to get away from everybody. So instead, I worked in the family room or on the back porch. One day I noticed a cardinal would come to the slider door every day and just hang out there. He reminded me of college students who would stop by the department office just to say hello, like their day wouldn't be complete until they did so. The cardinal came to the slider every day and if it was the screen open, he would chirp once or twice to get my attention. If the slider door was shut, he would tap on it. I'd look up, say, "Hi Mr. Cardinal," and he'd fly away. I have a blurry picture of him standing there, taken because no one believed me.

And then he stopped showing up. I'd like to think he went on vacation, okay?

I moved into my office, and one window has a view of a fence. I looked up one day, and there was Mr. Cardinal, sitting on the fence post. Every day for a month I saw him. And then the squirrels decided to run the fence, and that was the end of Mr. Cardinal's visits . . . until this winter when I noticed he spent a lot of time inside the bush outside the other window.

And now? I waste way too much time watching him and his Mrs. I think it is time to either shut the blinds or work from a windowless cave.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

31 days of ME

A fellow writer who blogs at WordCount has set up a challenge to blog every day in May. So I thought, what the heck. Right now my May is looking weak, workwise. Maybe this will spice things up. You know, as soon as I think I have free time, it disappears.

This might be a good month to brush up on my query writing. I focus on trades, which I love writing for, but I rarely have to pitch ideas to them once I get past the LOI and the first article. But I'd like to focus on hitting some consumer magazines for a change of pace. When I write for someone who isn't a regular client of mine, it is like a bonus for me. I actually sent a few queries out this year and got three query-pitched assignments, including a short piece in The Writer.

Usually my dilemma with queries is coming up with ideas. Now I actually have ideas, thanks to a writing job I picked up a few months ago. And I know where to go to for great sources. So it is finding the time and finding the right markets (and people) to pitch.

And then, of course, there is the chicken factor. I have dream markets and I get cold feet about pitching them. Time to stop that.

The bottom line is I am learning that I'm a good writer, as good or better than anyone else out there writing for big name magazines. It's time I let them discover me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Murphy's Laws of Writing

When I was a college student, I had a couple of Murphy's Laws posters that hung on my closet door (I wonder whatever happened to them). I didn't have a Murphy's Laws of Writing poster, but I sure could have used one back then. It would have given me an idea of what to expect today . . .

Murphy's Law of Interview Calls: Your phone will sit quiet all day, until you are ready to do an interview.

Murphy's Law of Phone Tag: A person you tried to reach earlier will call you back -- when you are in the middle of another call.

Murphy's Law of Interview Scheduling: You will be available all week with the exception of one half hour, and that is the same half hour every tries to schedule an interview.

Murphy's Law of Assignments: Your calendar is empty except for one day, when five editors pick the same date for a deadline.

Murphy's Law of Quitting Time: The email or call you had waited for all day will arrive minutes after you shut your office for the evening.

Murphy's Law of Sources: The perfect source will return your message, two hours after you submitted the article.

Murphy's Law of Recording: When your source talks too fast or you know you'll have to doublecheck the tape for the information, you forgot to plug in the mic to the phone.

Any I forgot?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview with Allison Winn Scotch

Lots of you know Allison from her Ask Allison blog. Her book, The Department of Lost and Found, is being released in paperback, and Allison graciously offered to do an interview. Now there are no excuses for going out to buy the book!

For those who might be unfamiliar with the book, can you provide a little background on the story.

The Department of Lost and Found is about a headstrong 30-year old woman who is diagnosed with cancer. But it's really about so much more than that. Did I say cancer? No, what I mean was, the book is about an ambitious 30-year old who discovers that the ideals she once deemed important might not be so important after all, and by tracing through her past - her former loves and her former life - she realizes that though she's been stripped of her career, her boyfriend and yes, her health, she's still able to persevere. And that her disease was just a catalyst for putting her on a path to self-discovery.

The book is now coming out in paperback. Was this planned in your original contract or based on book sales?

Yes, and I think this is true of most hardcovers, unless you sell the book to a publisher, like, I believe, though don't quote me, McCage/Adams, or unless your book really tanks. A lot of books - and I'm hoping this is true for the Department - really get a second life in paperback, especially for debut authors because a lot of people aren't willing to shell out for a hardcover author who is unproven to them. So often times, a publisher might release a paperback with renewed hope, as in the case of the Memory Keeper's Daughter.

Any changes from the hardcover version to paperback version?

Well, the big change is in the cover! I blogged about this in recent weeks, but the folks at HarperCollins thought - after some trial and error, I guess - that the hardcover jacket didn't quite have mass market appeal, even though I absolutely adored it. So they packed the paperback with a softer image that I wasn't totally sold on at first, but we've gotten a lot of positive feedback, so they seem to know what they're doing! :) Also, there's an author's Q/A with me in the back of the book, which, I think, is tucked in for book clubs, and hopefully gives some insights into why and how I made the choices I did when I was writing!

I know you have another book in the works. When should we expect to see it?

Yup, Time of My Life will be out in October, and I'm so super-excited for it. It's about a woman who seems to have it all but who is haunted by her lingering "what ifs." And she wakes up one day seven years in the past with the opportunity to redo it all and discover if the path she chose was the one she should have chosen all along. I'm totally fascinated by how even the littlest decisions can change the entire landscape of our lives, and I'm also a compulsive googler, so writing this book was a lot of fun for me. My publisher - this time, I'm with Random House - is doing some GREAT things for the book, really taking it to a whole new level, and I can't wait to see what happens.

Was writing novels in your long-term plans? How does magazine writing fit into your schedule now?

I think in the back of my mind, yes, it was always part of the larger goal,but to be honest, I didn't really know how to make it happen...which, I suppose, makes me just like 99% of other writers out there! I started my first novel eight or so years ago but got stuck half-way through. But every time I'd read about, say, an alumni from my university publishing a novel, I got a twinge of, "Why aren't I doing that? Why isn't it MY book they're promoting?" But of course, if you haven't written a book, there's no book to promote! (Duh.) So eventually, I forced myself to return to that
stalled novel and finished it (two years later!). It turned out to be good enough to get me an agent but not good enough to sell to a publisher, and though at the time I deemed it genius, in retrospect, it's embarrassingly bad. Really, really bad. Like, I'm-so-grateful-it-wasn't-published-bad.

Still though, I had now proven to myself that I was capable of writing a novel, and so, armed with the determination to prove these publishers wrong (and in some cases right, as many had given me a lot of praise, even while rejecting me), I dove into what would become The Department full-hog, and three months later, emerged from the whirlwind with what is mostly the current manuscript.

As far as magazines, I've really pared back. So many people say to me, "I don't know how you do it all!," but the truth IS, is that I don't do it all anymore! I have two small kids, and the grind of those daily or weekly deadlines was slowly taking its toll on my schedule and my stress level, especially know that I know what it's like to have these longer deadlines that come with a novel. I also felt like, after seven or so years of freelancing, that I'd covered just about every subject imaginable, and I was ready to flex new muscles. So, these days, I do still write for editors whom I love because I'm someone who still needs to have SOMETHING on her
plate, but mostly, I'm really hoping to craft a career mostly built around writing fiction. What a luxury that is, and trust me, not a day goes by when I don't appreciate the good fortune of my situation.


Me again: If you or one of your friends have published a book and want a little free publicity, drop me a note. I'd be happy to help.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is Your Life Worth a Memoir?

I stumbled across an article on CNN.com about the rising popularity of memoirs, both by readers and within publishing houses.

I write a lot of essays and creative non-fiction. And I've been playing around with a memoir, although it isn't the typical hard-luck story with a happy ending. It's more like the slice of life stuff with a theme and I'm going to do some other things with it. If I ever have time to really work on it.

These are things I write that give me great pleasure. As I've mentioned here before, fiction writing is not my forte, so this is as close as I'll probably ever get to publishing fiction. At least the essays.

But are my stories that unique or worth reading? No, not at all. And that seems to be the appeal. At least with the essays. My essays generate memories for others, memories they had long forgotten, memories that aren't so different from my experiences. I have an essay I've been trying to sell, about my grandmother picking dandelions. It hasn't sold yet -- editors have all given it wonderful comments, but then add, "we just bought another essay on dandelions." Proof there is no such thing as a unique story, if you ask me.

Maybe that's the real selling point of memoirs. It's nice to see someone who faced hardship similar to yours, a book you can relate to.

My life, beyond the stories I'm writing now, is probably memoir worthy in today's market -- up to a point. There are just enough twists to make my life different, but unless I reveal some deep family secrets, not enough twists.

But I admire the people who write them and gain some fame. It takes guts to dig into the dirty closets of your family and spill those secrets to the world.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stupid Browsers

On Friday afternoon, I went to visit a website I visit all the time. I clicked on the link to read an article on the site, and poof, my browswer crashed. Okay, it happens sometimes.

Except this time, I've yet to get my browser to work right.

I know IE is filled with vulnerabilities, but I still like it better than Firefox.

The problem is it will only let me run one tab at a time, and even then, it starts to get cranky and freezes. (Right now I'm running IE's version of safe mode; everything is disabled.)

Just like I'm a multi-tasker, I'm a multi-tabber. I use the internet extensively for research, and I like the ability to tab quickly and easily between websites. Not having that ability really sucks.

So why I don't I just switch to Firefox? Well . . . I would, but I can't figure out how to get all my bookmarks switched over. When I first downloaded Firefox on this computer, I did download the bookmarks. I had maybe 4 or 5 saved at that point in time. Now I have dozens, many I use for research.

Looks like I'm going to have to call my IT guy.

At least I don't have any pressing deadlines today that I can mess with this. Any suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Phones Ringing at 3 AM

The 3 am phone call is a hot topic in the news lately, with the political ads and who we'd want answering the phone in the middle of the night for some major world crisis.

Now, we know that crises don't always happen in the middle of the night and bad news doesn't always come by phone (remember, President Bush was reading to a classroom when he got the whisper in his ear about the 9-11 tragedy). But we also know the implication of the ads: when the phone rings at 3 am, it could never be good news.

I've fielded plenty of middle of the night phone calls over the years. They are usually from friends who are going through some tough times and can't sleep. They call me because they figure at 3 am, they wouldn't be disturbing me.

One of the things I love best about freelancing is that I can live by my natural body clock. I am a night owl. My body tends to wake up around 10 am, without fail. Always has. If I have to get up early, I'm usually pretty useless until 10.

So when my phone rings at 7 or 8 am, that's my 3 am, middle of the night, jolt me out of a sound sleep call. That's what happened to me this morning, only this time it was a work call. Had I known the person was calling, I would have been awake and prepared. I had no idea the call was coming when it did, however. I'm sure the gentleman was surprised to hear my groggy wake-up voice.

This was the first a work call woke me, but at least once a week someone will call me before 9 and if it is someone I know socially (as opposed a reminder about my husband's doctor's appointment, even though we ask them to call him at his office), they chide me for still being asleep. I'm sure they wouldn't be so pleasant if I called them at midnight, a time when I'm wide awake and more than willing to talk.

There is a stigma attached to calling people after a certain time in the evening because of putting the children down to sleep, having some quiet family time, adults going to bed early. I have answered the phone plenty of time with the person saying, "Am I calling too late?" (If it is before 2 am, no, you aren't.)

But no one has ever asked me if they were calling too early. Instead, if they notice that they have woken me, I get, "It sure must be nice to sleep in." Except it isn't always a luxury. Because I spend so much of my day doing phone interviews or answering urgent emails, often my best writing time comes when the rest of the world has gone to bed (and no one wants to call), so I'm going to bed a hours before the rest of the world wakes.

And people wonder why I love email . . .

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tax Man

I'm going to write something that will annoy writers everywhere.

My taxes are done.

They've been done since mid-February and were filed in March.

Okay, you don't have to throw anything at me. Having a kid in college helps to force the taxes to get done earlier than most people. The FASFA form that needs income/tax info is due ridiculously early in the tax season. We first dealt with that in 1996, and after 4 years, it becomes routine. It helps, too, that I am married to an uber-organized man who is prepared to do our taxes at any given moment. He's my inspiration to make my accounting system, for what it is worth, efficient and constantly updated. Without him, I'd be pulling all my hair out and I'd be one of those people who shows up at the accountant's office with a box filled with receipts, saying "have a go at it."

For my writing business, I have spreadsheets that focus on total income, income by month, income by client, an invoice tracker, and expenses, which include mileage for travel issues. I have a credit card that I use for business purchases. I have a file folder in my desk where I drop in my pay stubs and another for any receipts or paperwork involving purchases. I haven't really traveled much for business yet, so those aren't expenses I've dealt with. That should change, however, when I plan to attend a couple of conferences this year.

I'm not a numbers person. I could never do this myself. Having an accountant who is familiar with self-employed business tax issues has been a godsend. But having all my ducks in a row throughout the year makes tax time a lot less stressful.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Something in the Air

One of my brain breaks while working is to surf around my favorite writer blogs and discussion boards. Usually I can cull a lot of good information that helps motivate me. But lately it seems like everybody is cranky and itching for an argument.

In this corner, we have a growing blood bath called print versus web writing. I know there are a lot of snobbish print-only writers out there, but I also see a growing number of web-only writers who glare down their nose at print writers. But the truth is, the most successful writers diversify, and that means writing for print, writing for the web, writing for a variety of avenues. Sadly, there are too many writers with blinders on and prejudices who don't see that.

And over in that corner, we have the dart game of wages. Who gets to decide what a "reasonable" per word or per article rate is? And its subdivision argument, this is the way I work; therefore, so must you. There is a lot of assumption that a) all lower-paying (under 50 cents/word) are "bad" jobs, b) that all writing jobs require 10 sources, and c) all articles take equal time to write.

I think everyone is tired of winter and worried about the recession so they are cranky. Bottom line: no one is right, no one is wrong. The important thing is to work in a manner best for you.

I've got to write an article now, but I'll be back with more thoughts on this soon.