Monday, March 24, 2008

Rested and Ready to Go

Boy did I need that long weekend. Granted, 5 hours on Friday and nearly 5 hours of Saturday were spent at church, but that's what Easter is to me. A time of spiritual reflection. We're all done by Easter morning, so I crashed yesterday.

But I feel refreshed and ready to tackle this long list of To Do items. Most of it involves getting sources for upcoming April articles. This week is the calm before the storm. Next week, I have articles due virtually every day (plus it is the start of the baseball season! Woo hoo!)

I had some very exciting writing-related news this week. My sports blog, which is done completely for my amusement, was featured in this week's Sporting News. Not quite my by-line and no paycheck coming, but I can now say that my words have been published in one of the big three print sports magazines.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vacation Day

I'm actually taking a day off. Good Friday is a day I traditionally take off, so I made sure my calendar was kept clear. I've been working very hard lately, so it is a welcome long weekend, albeit busy in other ways with holiday-related activities.

Happy Easter if you celebrate it. Happy Spring to everyone.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Welcome to the 21st Century

For the past couple of years, I've been using a microcassette recorder to tape my interviews. Someone gave me the recorder as a gift ages ago, but I had never really used it for anything. When I began freelancing full time, I bought a gadget to allow me to tape phone interviews. I thought it was the greatest invention in mankind, next to Google.

But man,I was eating up tapes pretty fast and realized it was buy lots of tapes or do lots of transcription. I hate transcription. I used to do it for work and it is time consuming.

So I decided to take a step into the 21st century. I decided it was time to try a digital recorder.

I'm in love. The sucker has 4 folders on it, so if I'm doing a bunch of interviews for one article, I am able to keep the interviews together in one folder. The interviews are crisp and clear.

Then I take them and download them to my lap top for save number one. I bought a new flash drive with lots of gig memory on it, created folders on it for each article, and I save the interviews in the article folders. Back up that can also be used on the other computer.

I wonder what my next step into the 21st century will be . . .

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Hardest Part of my Job

The end of March is pretty hectic for me. Between the 17th and the 31st, I have 8 articles due, 3 of them rather lengthy, four of them mid-sized. And that's not counting what the first two weeks of April look like. Not that I'm complaining. I don't mind have articles due virtually every day. I actually kind of like it.

Last week I was telling the husband that things were a little stressful for me. He looked surprised, saying, "I thought your busy time was the end of the month."

It is, I answered, but that's the easy part, the best part of my job. That's the writing. I love the writing. It comes naturally to me, kind of like breathing. When I reach that part of the job, all is well.

The stress comes in the search for sources. Most of the trades I work with provide the sources, which is wonderful. Sometimes those sources already know I'll be calling -- even better.

But sometimes the source search is like pulling teeth -- and there is nothing that makes my blood pressure rise like the thought of the dentist and pulling teeth. I know who I want to interview. I call, leave a message. I email with details about the article. And I never hear back.

Sometimes I just find another person to take that source's place, all well and good. But other times, that person is the only option. Or like one article: it's a series of profiles and I need to do 8. I have a list of about 25 companies to contact. I have 7 profiles now. But I can't for the life of me get number 8. People aren't interested, or they can't find a good candidate, or there are internal issues that make participating impossible. Or, my favorite, they never answer.

It's very stressful, when you are creeping up on a deadline, or your deadline is very short, and the sources don't materialize.

Finding sources: to me, the hardest part of the job. Writing 25,000+ words in a 4 week period, piece of cake.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Not Really a Writing Blog Today

I've not been posting much lately because the real world and paying work have taken over. Oh, I've thought about blogging a lot . . . but time has been limited. Once I get through the next few days, things will get back into a better order and I can catch up with reading and other things.

This week was filled with new experiences for me. You know how it is when you live somewhere for a long time and you never bother to notice or visit the local attractions because you can always do it "sometime."

My book group likes to do some fun things in addition to our discussions. We're one of those groups where the book is the excuse for getting together, but finishing it is optional. The wine is mandatory. When we read Pride and Prejudice, we met for dinner first, talked about the book, and then watched the movie. Same with the Princess Bride (yes, we actually read the book).

This time around, one of the members had a gift card for up to 10 friends to go to a tour and tasting at the local winery, and everyone got a free wine glass along with the (rather generous) tastes of six wines. The winery has been opened since 1990. I had a friend who used to live about a half mile from the winery (which I had forgotten about until we drove by said friend's former home), yet, I'd never been there. Neither had half of the other book group members. It was a pleasant surprise. About half of the wines were very good.

After our tastings, we returned for the book discussion -- with popcorn as a snack, based on the conversation at the last meeting about the death of my 30-year-old popper.

The woman who hosts our book group has told us about a local wine trail throughout March, and this is the first March where a group of could participate. Several of us bought tickets, and counted our Thursday tasting as the first visit (and got a cute little cheese knife). On Saturday, we went to another local winery on the trail. Again, for years, we've seen the signs on the interstate, but we'd never bothered to stop. At book group, we often tell stories of other wineries we visit -- in New York state, on Lake Erie islands, a stopover at a winery on a drive south. But never the local places. The place we visited on Saturday is less than 30 minutes from our home town, and we heard about their plans for the summer, with weekend music festivals and special events. Stuff we would love to do but have never bothered because it is too close.

I think a book discussion in the midst of a vineyard, with musical entertainment afterwards would be about perfect.

Incidentally, the book we read for our wine tour book was A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve. It was so-so. Next book up, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I blew through the first 100 pages last night by the fire. I don't think it will take me long to finish. It's finding the time.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tax Man

It's that time of year -- figuring out taxes. As a self-employed freelancer, taxes aren't so cut and dried anymore. But, so far, it isn't a time of the year I dread.

Paying taxes is part of my overall business plan. With the help of my accountant, I figured out an amount to set aside with each pay check to put specifically for taxes. This is non-negotiable. The ladies at the bank laugh at me when I come in on Friday afternoon because I always apologize for how mixed up my bank is. A chunk of money into this account, some into that one, a little cash. Yeah, it is depressing sometimes when I go into the bank and hand over a whole check for the tax man account.

The accountant and I also come up with a realistic projection of how much I expect to earn in a given year. This is based on what I was earning over the past five months, both in invoiced amounts and actual income paid, as well as what is on my calendar for the next month or so.

My tax man money is touched by no one else. It's only dipped into when I have a major work-related expense, like last year when my computer died and needed replaced, and only when I calculate that I have enough left over to pay quarterly taxes.

When you have a job where someone else takes out your taxes, it is something you don't think about. You look at your paycheck, and maybe notice how much is taken out, but really, you just accept, this is what I have available. It doesn't work like that in the freelance world. It's easy to see a nice-sized check and think of how you can spend it. I know my husband will catch a glimpse of some checks and he'll say "wow."

I don't look at checks that way anymore. My brain automatically looks at every check and chops a third off. That third is tax money.

It's not fun to pay the tax man, but at least it isn't painful.