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?"


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."