Friday, December 31, 2010

What Are Your Goals for 2011?

As 2010 comes to a screeching halt, it's always a good time to take stock of the past year and look ahead to the next 12 months.

In many ways, 2010 was a great year for me professionally. If nothing else, I finally found a focus area, and hopefully a way to support myself with writing full-time.

My goals for 2011 are both simple and daunting:


  • Build up Fresh Ink Writing Services and hopefully add a few more regular clients
  • Continue to pitch and land more feature-writing assignments
  • Finish my Master's degree (finally...)
  • Go full-time freelance!

What about you? What are you hoping to accomplish?

Here's to a very successful year of writing, reading, and reaching those goals!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Game Changer: The Well-Fed Writer

On Monday I made a quiet announcement about the launch of my new copywriting venture, Fresh Ink Writing Services. It’s a bit of a departure from my normal feature writing, but the more I learned about commercial copywriting, it made perfect sense.

So I felt it would be appropriate to give a little review/nod/kudos (not like dozens of similar “shout outs” haven’t been done before) to the book that seriously changed my approach to my writing career—The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I’d heard great things about this book and decided to give it a read, but I never imagined how much of a game changer it would be.

I know a number of freelancers who make their living writing features, and until recently, that was the same course I’d set for myself. But the longer I’m at this, the more the panic is setting in. As most freelancers know, for every dozen queries sent, you’re lucky to get one pitch accepted. As most freelancers know, that Idea Well runs dry from time to time. (And for some of us, it’s usually dry, with occasional bursts of inspiration…) If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times—“I don’t know how these freelancers do it.” Maybe I don’t have my brain trained as well as I should (which is a definite possibility), but for me, it’s really difficult to keep the ideas coming. 2010 was a great summer for me professionally, but I get nervous about having to come up with ideas. All. The. Time. So for those of you who have managed to do it, you have my eternal admiration.

But…my fears were put very much to rest when I picked up TWFW. Bowerman is a full-time commercial writer—meaning that he has written anything and everything related to business. Think annual reports, brochures, press releases, direct mail pieces, speeches…all of that and more. I mean, it makes sense—someone has to write all of this. Many companies have cut both their budgets and manpower, but their companies still need to remain visible, still need to have a presence, and there are any number of FT commercial freelancers out there only too happy to help them do it. Suffice it to say, I was blown away. What a beautiful arrangement! I like to think that I have some shred of creativity, but I find that I do better if an editor/client comes to me with the germ of an idea, rather than the other way around. This can work both ways, which is a perfect solution for how I like to work.

I loved this book (and am currently working on the sequel, TWFW: Back for Seconds). I love Bowerman’s conversational writing style, his step-by-step, practical advice, and best of all, I love his down-to-earth, “You really can do this” message that’s sprinkled throughout the book. Plenty of other freelancers have done it. I read this and found myself getting very excited and encouraged about the potential for this type of writing. And just from what I’ve been hearing from local business owners, there seems to be a need for it (even in my very small area). I’ve read a fair share of writing books, but I can’t recall ever feeling so…inspired…as I did after reading this one. He talks about marketing (yes, I hate cold calling, too, but it seems to be a necessary part of getting yourself out there), the types of writing projects you may be asked to take on, networking and forming client relationships, building a portfolio, and even the “nuts and bolts” kinds of things (taxes, etc.) He includes plenty of words of wisdom from other full-time commercial freelancers, as well, which makes this book even more encouraging. There’s a strong sense of “These folks did it, why can’t I?” His blog has become a regular part of my day, as well.
So that’s my little commercial for The Well-Fed Writer. I’m so looking forward to putting the tips and advice into practice.

What about you? What changed your outlook on pursuing writing professionally?

Monday, December 27, 2010

What I've Been Up To

I hope everyone had a nice holiday and is enjoying whatever time off you may have! I went directly from the end-of-semester rush into the getting-ready-for-Christmas rush, but I think the worst of it is now behind me, so I’m enjoying the slower pace for awhile.

In between everything else, I’m very happy to announce that a fellow freelance writer friend and I have officially gotten our copywriting venture, Fresh Ink Writing Services, off the ground. It’s been a real learning experience every step of the way, but so exciting! We’re off to a promising start—we’ve started working with 2 clients and both have enough work to keep us busy for several months. We’re venturing into some projects that are new territory for us, but we’ve been doing a lot of homework and we both feel confident that we’ll be able to deliver. I guess that’s the thing about trying something new—it’s scary but empowering at the same time. I’m curious to see how much business we may be able to secure living in such a non-metropolitan area. Our small businesses need the same marketing materials as any other type of company, and to my knowledge, there aren’t many folks offering these types of services where I live, so I think there’s a lot of potential here. The startup phase has been a busy, but yes, overwhelming, few months, but the fact that we already have some work lined up is very encouraging. So expect to see more posts from me as I move further into this new venture and different types of projects. I think it’s so fitting that things are finally coming together right before the new year—I love new beginnings and fresh starts, and what better way to kick off a new year than with something brand new to me that will hopefully move my writing skills to a whole new level.

What about you? Do you have any exciting ventures on tap for 2011? How will you take your writing goals to the next level?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Already?

On some level I've known that Christmas was coming up--fast!--for the past few weeks, but I've honestly been inundated with so much stuff, it still seemed like a long way off. Now here I am, finally free of teaching/grad school commitments, and surprisingly on track with my Christmas prep (well, at least with my shopping), and still scrambling somehow. I sent out about 3 cards and didn't even make an attempt to put up my tree, but I justify that with the fact that I'll barely be home to enjoy it this week, so I was OK with cutting out that part of the festivities. I'll see what next year brings and perhaps put one up.

But anyway--on to other things...as in, one of the big reasons why I've been so lax in my yuletide preparations:

The copywriting projects are finding their way to me. Last week I had a meeting with a potential client for some ongoing work. I got started on one project and said I'd put together a proposal for some long-term work in the meantime. Tonight he emailed me and asked if I could do a rush job--some copyediting for his website. It was a fairly quick editing job, so that was finished in no time. I also attached my proposal. Let's see if I was efficient enough to be impressive. I really couldn't turn it around much faster--this weekend passed by in a blur of holiday get-togethers, shopping, and the housework that's been sorely neglected over the past few weeks. But I think the fact that I turned it around at all puts me well ahead of the game compared to some other writers, from what I hear.

What about you? Do you consistently deliver, and has this brought you repeat business?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Striking the Right Tone

I have no problem accepting feedback that can help me improve my writing skills and the work I do for other people. I know that no one’s perfect and even the most reliably good writer can miss the mark now and then.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the problem I was having writing effective ledes for a publication I write for regularly. The past few months have been a struggle for me, so I was just thankful to get my assignments done, let alone done well, but I realize this is no excuse.
So I pulled myself out of the lurch I’d fallen into, and have actively worked on writing snappier, more succinct ledes for the projects I’ve done since then—even for the other editor I regularly write for, whose comment on my last story was “Great job on this!” So, really, it is about perception…every publication has its own tone and chord that the writer has to strike just right.

But still—I’m grateful because this other editor helped me to “wake up” and write a little more actively. This just goes to show that when you’re physically, mentally, or emotionally drained, your work really reflects it!

What about you? What shakes you out of your mental doldrums?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Ship, Coming In...

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll remember that I’ve been pretty antsy about trying to break into A. Larger magazine markets and B. Copywriting for more corporate clients.

I’m steadily working on the larger markets thing (and have been pitching to a lot more trade mags lately), but I’m happy to say that the copywriting is starting to happen!

My writing partner and I are working on a big, BIG proposal for a corporate client that is expected to secure us several months’ worth of work and include several different kinds of projects. Talk about jumping in with both feet! As we’ve been discussing this proposal, I had a friend of a friend contact me about doing some writing for her, as well, which I hope will lead to some ongoing projects.

I feel pretty confident in the fact that these projects will lead to more work for us. In a few weeks my schedule will free up considerably, so I'll have more time to spend on marketing and reaching out to more businesses. We’re planning to attend a networking event in early December, and it’s time to work the local contacts, as well. It’s both exciting and daunting, but I’m ready!

What about you? How do you secure more work from editors and clients?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Avoiding a "Blah" Blog

Hopefully you’ve recovered from your turkey coma and ready to get back in the game! December is shaping up to be a very busy month-- I’m back to the day job this week, and have a lot of writing-related projects on my schedule over the next few weeks, not to mention finals for my classes and oh yeah, getting ready for the holidays! 2011 will be here in no time!

Because I’m always so busy these days, other than my monthly writer’s group meeting I don’t get to quite as many writing-related events as I would like to. But this past weekend I made the time and a attended a blogging workshop. Not only was the facilitator super-knowledgeable about blogging and writing, but he was funny. And British. All important elements for keeping the audience’s attention if you ask me.

Jon (funny British writer and workshop facilitator mentioned above) had some great tips for coming up with catchy, attention-getting titles for blog posts and tying ideas to your blog’s main theme that may seem unlikely at first (such as “What Playing Tennis Has Taught Me About Writing”). He uses the same approach to his blog as I try to use for finding speakers for our writers’ group—we’re open to any topic, no matter how far-fetched, as long as you can relate it to writing. Same idea here.

He also stressed the importance of remembering who you’re writing for. He suggested trying something I caught on to a few months ago—making the content more relatable and putting it back on the reader. Initially, when I started this blog I thought people would come here to get advice for their own freelance writing efforts. When it quickly became clear that I’m definitely no expert, I shifted my focus to talking about my own writing challenges (and triumphs!) and then opening the floor to readers. I think that’s been much more effective, and honestly, it’s easier to find things to blog about doing it this way!

I think the best blogs capture the blogger’s personality and voice (Freelancedom is one of my favorites) but creates an atmosphere of collaboration and idea sharing. Those are just some of the top things I look for in a good blog.

And yes, I'm a bit of a sucker for a catchy title, too!

What about you? What keeps you coming back to your favorite blogs?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Keeping the Habit

Just in case any of you have decided not to fight the Black Friday crowds, this one's for you:

Last week I talked about breaking bad writing habits. I've had a great week and am in a positive frame of mind, so I wanted to talk about good writing habits.

One of my most effective writing tricks is to work from an outline, even an rough list of bullet points I want to make sure to cover within the text. This works especially well if the topic is a bit boring and I can't get psyched about it (hey, it happens) or there's a lot of information worth discussing and I want to be sure to hit the highlights. I'm also usually pressed for time when I sit down to write, so an outline helps to keep me focused and less overwhelmed.

I've also started using a calendar to track all of my deadlines, assignments, and to-do lists, which has been a tremendous help. This helps me plan my time so I know what needs to be done, and when.

I'm constantly working on developing better ways to track time and stay organized, but these are the biggies that have worked for me.

What about you? What are some of your best writing habits?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

10 Freelancing Advice I'm Thankful For

Thanks to some very wise veteran freelancers and a host of bloggers, I've learned a slew of helpful information over the past year. Below is a list of some of the best advice I've received (or read about):

1. Say yes to everything. So you’ve accepted a project and you’re not totally clear on how to do it. Don’t tell your client this. Say yes and do your research—you’ll figure it out as you go along. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to enhance your knowledge.

2. Market, market, market. Think of everyone you meet as a possible client. Carry business cards. Make every effort to connect and stay connected with people. Keep your name out there.

3. Charge what you think you’re worth. One of the best things about freelancing and being your own boss is setting your own rates. As your knowledge and expertise grows, your rates will, too.

4. Follow up. With editors, clients, and anyone you meet at a networking event. You'd be amazed at how many people don't take the initiative and wait for the other person to contact them. Make the first move. You never know where the next opportunity might come from!

5. Simultaneous submissions are not a bad thing. You know that old saying about “putting all of your eggs in one basket”? Yeah. Don’t.

6. Get half of the payment up front. This is especially true for clients rather than editors (who are usually pretty good about paying their writers). Just in case the client's budget comes up a bit short, at least you'll have something to show for your efforts.

7. It’s all material. Ideas, markets, and sources are virtually all around you. The trick is to recognize a good idea, market, or source when you see one.

8. Make your to-do list your best friend. List everything you need to get done in a certain amount of time—whether it’s hourly, daily, or weekly. It’ll keep you on track and make you feel less overwhelmed.

9. You can write for a trade pub even if it’s not your trade, per se. I just landed my first trade assignment, and I’m certainly not in that industry! You can pitch any market if you tailor your idea enough.


10. Always keep learning. I’ve never not gotten something out of a conference, workshop, or course that I’ve taken. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of others, either—freelancers are nice people!

What about you? What are you thankful to have learned?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guest Bloggers Welcome!

I’m beyond grateful to those of you who stick with me to read about my various trials and triumphs through this unpredictable freelancing journey. Believe me when I say that I learn just as much from you (if not more!) than I think you could ever learn from me, but again, thanks for hanging on for the ride!

But just to change it up now and then, it would be great to share my little corner of cyberspace with you. I welcome any ideas you may have for guest posts. I’m not planning a set schedule of “guest stars”, per se, but would be happy to feature something new from any faithful (or even occasional) reader.

So consider the floor opened. If you’d be interested in submitting something about the writing life—the good, bad, or ugly—send me an email (available through the "Contact" page) and tell me a little bit about what you'd like to post. I’d love to hear from you!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kicking the Habit

In a perfect world, every freelancer would work solidly through the workday, plowing through projects and checking things off that to-do list with the precision of a well-oiled machine. If this describes you, consider yourself my new hero. I envy those freelancers who have stretches (even chunks) of uninterrupted time to simply get it done.

Unfortunately, the reality for most of us is that we all have those bad habits that creep into even the most structured routines. Whether they’re time sucks or work styles, we all have those quirks that somehow develop and are hard to kick.

So ‘fess up—what bad habits are you currently trying to get under control?

I have to admit, procrastination has become a real problem for me lately. There was a time not very long ago where I was handing in assignments days, even an entire week, early. Now, I ‘ve been noticing that I get assignments in right under the wire. Not to make excuses, but with everything I’ve been juggling lately, writing has taken a backseat, so my schoolwork and, you know, having a life has taken precedence. I had to go back to working the writing projects back into my weekly routine. It’s amazing—you reduce or cut something out of your life, and the other things fill that gap in no time at all! I’m hoping to have considerably more time to spend on whatever writing projects come my way over the holidays. And of course, curbing my social media usage is an ongoing challenge.

So let’s hear it. Any bad writing habits you’re willing to share?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Spice of (the Writing) Life

They say that variety is the spice of life, and that certainly seems to be the case where freelancing is concerned. With so many folks giving up the regular 9-5 routine (for one reason or another) and more opportunities for freelancers than ever, the possibilities are truly overwhelming.


A freelancer friend has built her career on the simple philosophy of “Say yes to everything!” This is how she’s managed to still maintain her income when the editors aren’t responding, copywriting projects are slowing up, and corporate clients are slashing budgets—by diversifying, and not relying solely on one type of project. In this still-shaky economy, this seems to be the key for businesses of all types.


Even with my modest efforts, over the course of the past few years I’ve worked on a variety of projects—features, blog posts, newsletter articles, case studies, and, most recently, web copy. Although there are some projects that I prefer more than others, I’ve said “Sure, I’ll give it a shot” more than I’ve said “No thanks, I’m not familiar with that type of project.” Saying yes more than turning things down has kept the work interesting, allowed me to grow as a writer, and increase my versatility as a freelancer. I don’t feel I’ve found my niche, per se, just yet, but I’m okay with dabbling in various types of projects—a trait that will hopefully come across to potential clients.

What about you? Do you mix things up, or stick to one or two types of writing projects?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Knowing When to Say "When"

It’s no secret that unresponsive editors are one of my least favorite parts of the freelancing life—something I’ve blogged about in past posts. Although I’m pretty persistent with following up, sometimes all the emails in the world won’t elicit a response.

On the other hand, there are those markets that just seem impossible to crack—the markets that consistently do respond with “This isn’t quite right for us” or “Thanks for submitting but we’re going to pass”. No matter how great your idea or how polished your pitch(es), it could take months or even years to break into some of the higher-paying consumer markets. As far as I know, sometimes it’s just a matter of luck to break in with just the right idea for a particular editor.

These two reasons are why I’ve taken stock of some of the markets I’ve pitched (unsuccessfully) multiple times. There’s one in particular whose editor takes weeks to respond, even after several follow-up emails. I’ve pitched about 3 or 4 ideas over the past few months, and I’ve had to send multiple messages trying to gauge the editor’s interest. I finally got responses for the first few ideas; the last pitch got me nowhere (luckily, I’ve since sold it to another market!) I’m persistent when I believe in my idea and feel it’s story-worthy, but I also know when to say when. I’ve taken the advice of several other freelancers and will send a final email saying “I would appreciate a response by [day]; otherwise I’ll submit my idea elsewhere”. In this case, that didn’t get a response either so I went ahead and pitched it somewhere else, and that market bought it.

What about you? Are there any markets that you’ve given up trying to pitch? Any chance of trying them at another time?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What to Name the Business?

I think many freelancers stick to the basics when it comes to a name for their business. Most writers I know are simply "Joe Schmo, Freelance Writer" or some basic variation.

But what about those folks out there who have incorporated their business, or have a different arrangement besides simply being a sole proprietor? How did you come up with your business name?

I'm working on a few things that I can't quite share just yet, but I've been deliberating about business names for a few weeks. A good name should say something about you, your services, and how you do business. What image are you hoping to convey? My thought is to come up with something clever and creative, yet simple and straightforward. It's not easy (and you'd think a writer would have an easy time with this!)

And for the next challenge...a tagline!

What about you? How did you come up with a name for your writing business?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Work Aplenty!

Much as I love the freelancing life, the constant ebb and flow of work (coming my way, anyway) still makes me nervous. As I’ve said many times before, one of my biggest goals is to work with enough clients that there’s a steady stream of work coming in as much as possible.

My project list basically had tumbleweeds blowing across it these last few months. Granted, I didn’t push for work like I’ve done in the past, but once I adjusted to my schoolwork load, I started sending more queries. I’m still waiting on responses from quite a few editors.

It’s OK, though—I suddenly have plenty of assignments to keep me busy! I went from 0 to having 2 articles due by next Friday, another case study from my corporate client (after several quiet weeks!), and I connected with an editor this past week and it sounds as though there may be some opportunity for regular work with that market. (I should add that this connection came about through an LOI I sent last weekend, thank you very much!)

I do have some interesting writing-related stuff that I’m bursting to share with the wider world, but my gut tells me to wait a little while longer until things are in place a bit more.
That’s all for this week—I suddenly have a lot of work to do!

How’s your month shaping up?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing and the Great Depression...

Like many other folks out there, I’ve had my struggles with depression.

I’ve been on a positive upswing for the past few years, but these past few months have been difficult. Call it persistent feelings of frustration and hopelessness weighing me down. It’s a nuisance I really can’t afford to deal with these days—I have too much on my plate and can’t take some time to just stay on the couch for hours, which admittedly is all I feel like doing lately.

But anyway.

The most annoying part is that my writing is starting to feel the effects. It’s perfectly clear when I’m not at the top of my game mentally or even physically. I’ll go back to read what I’ve done, and I notice a lot of passive voice, excessive “wordiness”, and an overall feeling of…blah. It’s obvious to me, so it must be obvious to others, too. But the thought of going back and editing is overwhelming, too.

I’m curious how others can put aside their own “stuff” and still turn out quality work. I know lots of other writers who struggle with various conditions, and I’m amazed that they can still get it all done. I get it done, but it’s not necessarily my most stellar work.

How do you handle it? How do you continue to churn out projects when you’re simply not feeling up to it?

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo Starts Today!

It’s that time of year again!

Time for the 30 days of torturous fun known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
If you’ve never participated, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to develop (and stick with) a writing schedule. The idea is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, no matter what. Talk about a great exercise in self-discipline!

Unfortunately, my schedule wasn’t forgiving enough to let me participate in 2009, but I think I’m going to give it a go this year. I was amazed at how effective it was—I actually looked forward to sitting down and writing every day. The nice thing is that the whole idea is to just write…not “edit as you go”, but simply get words on the page. The editing can come in December, as they say.

So are you up for the challenge? The fun starts today, November 1, so make the commitment and sign up at www.nanowrimo.org.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dealing with Criticism

I recently had breakfast with a writer friend, and she told me that she was in a dilemma—she’d read a book by another mutual friend, and had been asked what she thought of it. She didn’t like it, but wasn’t sure how to tell the writer this without hurting her feelings.

She was going to take the honest approach, but soften the blow as much as possible. I agreed, but also added that the writer should be prepared to hear from readers who may not like the book. I know that this book has been a highly personal project for this writer, and she’d been working hard to promote and sell it. Because of this, I think that any negative feedback would be devastating.

But this got me thinking—how should writers (or any other creative individual) handle criticism? And not necessarily “creative feedback” either…the brutally honest “Wow, I thought this was awful” kind of criticism. Obviously, creatives are hard-wired to be a little more sensitive to the opinions of others, mostly because so much of their professional success relies on what their audiences think. As far as writers go, I think fiction writers have to put themselves out there a little bit more, as their work is usually something out of their own imagination. Nonfiction writing is a little “safer”, with the security of facts, figures, and quotes from others to help soften some of the blow.

As writers, we need to develop a thick skin if we plan to put our work in front of the masses. Once it gets past our immediate family and friends (the folks who will love it no matter how good or bad it is, simply because it’s your work and they love you), we have to understand that some folks in the wider reading world might think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read. Unfortunately, there will be readers who come to an event or book signing and say such things point blank (although if they hated it so much, why take the time to come to a book signing?) It’s up to the writer to be the bigger person and tell the reader that they appreciate their comments and they’re sorry they were unhappy with the book. Luckily, there are a lot of reading choices out there, and if they didn’t like your work, there are thousands of other authors to pick from!

What about you? Have you ever dealt with nasty criticism? How did you handle it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Phone or Email for Following Up With Editors?

I’ve been taking my own advice and have been in hard-core follow up mode—I haven’t been sending out many queries lately, but most of the ones I’ve sent out have gone unanswered. Next to people not following through on what they commit to, editors who never respond (or need considerable prodding to give you a “no”) would be on my Top 5 list of pet peeves. That’s probably one of the elements of freelancing that I can’t ever see getting used to.

Normally I’ll follow up approximately 2 weeks after I send my original story idea. Then 2 weeks later if the follow-up got me nowhere…then another 2 weeks later, so we’re talking a good 6 weeks before I give up and send the “Do you want this or don’t you?!” (though a bit more professional, of course) email.

Which brings me to today’s question—what’s the best way for communicating with editors? Being the introspective nerd that I am, discovering email way back when was a godsend. My initial reaction to email went something like “No face to face communication?!?! I can rant and rave and confront the other person without having to see them?!?! How do I sign up for this?!?!” And like most people my age who came up through the ranks right at the tail-end of face-to-face communication as the preferred method of interaction, I embraced email and still choose that over picking up the phone. I’ll email an editor until they respond just to get me to leave them alone, but I never call. I don’t know why—I wouldn’t say I’m nervous about it, per se (at my 9-5 job I associate with company presidents, CEO’s, and other high ranking officials without batting an eye), but it just doesn’t feel right to me. I guess I just know that most editors are insanely busy, and I don’t want to be another phone message pushed into the “Later” bin. Thanks, but I’ll wait for the little rush I get when I see an editor’s name in my email inbox.

What about you? Do you prefer phone or email for following up with editors?

Friday, October 22, 2010

"What Are Your Qualifications?"

In my non-freelancing life, I work for a nonprofit and talk a lot about career awareness and job readiness. Professionals from all walks of life set out on a particular career path, but many find themselves doing something completely different—often something they never imagined they’d be doing! If you really sit and think about it (or ask someone), tracing a person’s professional journey is pretty fascinating.

So that got me thinking.

Most of us fall into one of two camps I touched on above—we’re either working at a job or career we’ve always loved and always wanted to pursue, or we’re doing something else “for now” and keeping our true passions as a side project. I’m curious about how many of you reading this set out to be writers (or any creative professional), and who sort of fell into it?

I’ll go first. My road has been long and winding, with plenty of detours and backtracking along the way. I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know enough about the possibilities to feel comfortable enough to pursue it full-time. But I didn’t really know what else I could see myself doing besides writing. (Journalism wasn’t my thing, though oddly enough my first freelance assignments came from newspapers.) I tried to lay the groundwork so “the perfect job” would somehow magically appear. I majored in English with a focus on communications because it seemed the most marketable. I struck out on interview after interview for marketing jobs, so I landed in the nonprofit sector and have been there ever since. But writing and literature remained a huge part of my life and I never lost the desire to work at it in some way. Most of what I’ve learned about freelancing I’ve learned through trial and error and asking other freelancers. I decided to get my Master’s in English so that I have more opportunities for teaching.

Now you. Did anyone earn a degree in writing or communications? Who came up the old-fashioned way—learning as you went along, or branching out into a particular niche after gaining experience in a particular field? Any advanced degrees? Has it helped you? I’d love to know!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Utilizing Social Media

I’ve been using social media for awhile now. While I think it’s a HUGE time suck in many respects, it seems as though many freelancers have really embraced it as a means to network, find job leads, and locate sources.

My question is—how have you utilized social media to grow your business?

I’m sure I’m showing my ignorance here, but I haven’t had tremendous luck with finding more business through these outlets. Twitter will have the occasional “tweet” that stands out or provides a good business lead, but overall, most of my work has come from good old-fashioned querying, and to a lesser extent, word-of-mouth referrals.

So I’m curious—how has social media helped your business? Is there one website that's been especially beneficial for you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Following Up and Following Through

One of my big pet peeves lately is people that don’t do what they say they’re going to do. It drives me nuts. My thought is—my time is very precious, and if I commit to something, I want to make sure it’s something I can reasonably accomplish. I don’t like making extra work for myself or anyone else if I don’t have to, but if something falls through, others have to pick up the slack. Sure, it’s much easier to do things halfway or blow them off completely, but the lack of effort comes through loud and clear to the wider world.

This is why I was totally shocked to learn how many freelancers simply let work slide. A similar approach is not following up, whether it’s with an editor, a recent business connection (which could be a possible client), or a colleague on a project’s status. How will you know the status of something if you don’t ask? How will you earn that business owner as a client or convince that editor that your story idea is worthwhile if you don’t show some interest in what they think? So many of us expect people to come to us, when in fact (particularly in the freelancing game), we have to find the opportunities for ourselves. Editors are busy people—once I caught on to the fact that it’s actually okay to send a gentle “Hey, are you interested in the story idea I sent you x number of weeks ago?”, I’m relentless with follow-ups. Normally I’ll send the original query with my follow-up email to make less work for the editor.

By the same token, there are plenty of newbie freelancers out there who are networking up a storm, but not following through on contacting some of these contacts about possible projects. People have short memories—most of them appreciate those friendly reminders such as “Great meeting you at the such-and-such mixer on Wednesday night. Hopefully we can collaborate in the future!”, or some other generic (but genuine) message. As writers, we need to keep our names and services out there, so contacts think of us first for upcoming projects. Although there are plenty of freelancers out there, you want to set yourself apart from the rest by trying to establish an actual relationship with your client, whether it’s an editor or a business. You want to set yourself apart from other freelancers by showing your enthusiasm, professionalism, and genuine interest in their publication or business.

What about you? Do you follow up on queries? Do you follow up with contacts? Any ideas for either that you’d care to share?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What's Your "Next Level"?

Taking things “to the next level” is a common phrase being used in all kinds of workplaces these days. Businesses of all types are looking to expand their marketing efforts, increase their bottom lines, or develop new and innovative products or services.

Freelancers often talk about taking their businesses to the next level, as well. This is different for everyone. Perhaps you’re simply looking to take on a more diverse client base, expand your offerings, or take a look at your work schedule to see where you can make some changes.

For me, my “next level” is to land more corporate clients and break into a few more larger markets with my feature writing. My goal is to start small and establish a recognized business presence in the area so I can tap into the local small business community.

What about you? What’s your “next level”?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Time? No Excuse!

I’m the first to admit that I’m a busy person. My schedule is pretty unforgiving, but since I mostly bring it on myself, I can’t blame anyone else. I work some downtime into the calendar, sure, but usually at the expense of time I could’ve used to do work.

And not just writing work, either. My projects have taken a backseat to my grad class and the comp class I’m teaching at the community college, so most of my “free” time has been spent reading, writing papers, grading, or prepping for my next few weeks’ worth of classes. In between all of that, I work full-time and am president of my local writers’ group. Besides all of my presidential duties, I write and edit the group’s newsletter and we’re in the thick of planning our spring conference. Any time left over is for writing/interviewing/querying, hanging with the b.f., friends, and family. Oh, and reading. Jam-packed? You betcha! Do I ever think of ditching what I truly love (writing and teaching) for the sake of some extra time? NO! I've just simply learned to make it all work.

I’ve gotten used to buzzing through my weeks at a killer pace, so when I stop to think about everything I accomplish in a week, it’s sometimes mind-boggling. So when I hear people say, “Eh, I don’t have time to sit and write”, it makes me so mad! Okay, so the only missing element of my schedule that many other folks have is kids, but my b.f. has a son and the three of us spend a lot of time together, so in a way, I do have that, too. And I make it work. The assignments get done, the queries get sent, and the payments come in. I feel that if you truly love something, you’ll make the time for it.

Where do you make the time in your day to write?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guest Post: Keeping Your Morale Up While Waiting for Editors

by Angelita Williams

If you think coming up with fresh story ideas and getting down and dirty into researching and writing for a piece is the toughest part of freelancing, just wait until you receive your very first rejection letter. And then wait until you receive five, six, and seven more, sometimes all consecutively, as if no one out there is interested in any of the brilliant ideas that you have to offer. Rejection letters can be downright discouraging, which is why it is important to keep your morale up while pitching stories. After all, if you become so disheartened that you stop pitching stories, how will you ever get anything published?

Remember that rejection is not personal. Chances are that when you pitch a story to a newspaper, magazine, or publisher, you have never even met the person to whom you are pitching the story. This means that if you receive a rejection letter, it is not a judgment of your character. Instead, it is far more likely that the publication or publishing firm might have already printed another story similar to yours, previously accepted a pitch similar to yours, or that your piece simply may not be the right one for the publication's target audience. Never equate a rejection with a personal failure because this will only lead to your feeling more discouraged and less willing to continue pitching.

One of the best things that you can do is to use your rejections as learning opportunities. If a certain pitch that you have been shopping around has been refused time and time again, consider changing certain aspects of it to see if you can garner interest that way. Your topic may be too broad, so consider narrowing it down, which can also serve to make your piece unique. Also read over your pitch letter again and think about what you can change to better represent why your story pitch is a good one. Tweaking your pitch can be just what you need to finally get a publication to give you the green light for the project.

Another important thing to remember is to keep regularly pitching. Though your self-esteem may have taken a beating from the rejection letters, you will have a far greater chance of landing a freelance assignment if you continue pitching than if you quit and do nothing. After a while, you may even develop a formula for what types of pitches work and what types do not. In addition, the more quality story pitches you send out, the more work you will likely get, thereby building your professional resume and making you seem even more credible to publications.

Finally, keep in mind is that your feelings of sadness and frustration over the rejections are perfectly normal. In fact, the sting of rejection reaches far beyond purely emotional responses. A study conducted by the University of Amsterdam found that social rejection which is any rejection perpetrated by a peer, such as the editor whom you contacted for a story pitch can actually cause your heart rate to rapidly decelerate. In other words, in addition to the aggravation you may feel when receiving refusal after refusal, your heart may also be temporarily stopping each time as it reels from the stress of rejection. This may explain why many give up trying to freelance after receiving a few rejection letters the emotional and physical toll may be too much. However, if you strive to get over your negative feelings of rejection as quickly as possible, you will be able to keep your morale up and keep pitching your stories so that you can increase your chances of finally finding freelance success.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online college courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fighting the Freelancing Rut

No matter how long you’ve been freelancing, if you stay in the game long enough, there’s bound to be a time when you hit a bit of a rut. Though there’s plenty of work, there seems to be a lot of the same type of projects. Things are getting a bit stale and you could use some new challenges.

This could be a great time to step up your marketing efforts or take a look at those rejected queries. Can any of them be re-slanted, any of those ideas salvaged? Maybe it’s a matter of trying to get into new markets. Most of my assignments have been with regional publications, and although it’s great to share the stories of exciting people and places with the rest of the world, I’m always hoping to break into bigger markets with a larger readership. I’ve been taking the time to really add a “fresh” spin to my queries, with more of my own voice and writing style in them. For years I’ve been following the query-writing formula I learned at the very beginning of my freelancing days—though I’ve had a bit of success with that template, changing up how I approach my pitches is giving me a much-needed jolt of enthusiasm for my ideas, which I hope is coming across to editors.

The feeling of being in a “rut” can come from many things. It can be the type of work you seem to be attracting (“Another business profile? Yawn”) or it can stem from your approach to finding work—it’s not that you’re marketing or pitching, but it’s how.

What about you? What do you do to change things up and keep yourself from falling into a project “rut”?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Visit to the National Book Festival

During a recent day trip to Washington DC, I discovered something wonderful—the National Book Festival! This annual event was founded by First Lady Laura Bush in 2001 and is a joint effort of the Library of Congress and Borders. With tents housing genre-specific speakers and presentations set up right on the Mall in front of the US Capitol building, the best part of this whole event is the cost—FREE! I’m not one to pass up any type of book event, let alone one that’s free, so we dropped the day’s agenda for a few minutes so I could poke around.

The day is a real treat for book lovers, with a jam-packed schedule of authors speaking about their work. I stopped to listen to Julia Glass (Three Junes) in the Fiction tent. I also noticed that Tim Egan (The Worst Hard Time) and Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections) were among the other authors on the agenda.

As you can probably imagine, there were hundreds of people doing the same thing we were. Conveniently, the event was set up right across the street from the Smithsonian where the buses drop off and pick up, so that may have had something to do with the steady flow of traffic. And of course, my favorite part was the Book Sale tent, where works by all of the day’s authors/speakers were for sale. This was one of the few literary events that I’ve checked out and left empty-handed! I think the long lines and humid temperatures in the tent had a lot to do with it. It was also hard to get close to many of the tables to check out the selections.

I always love learning about these large-scale literary events. I’m in favor of anything that gets more people reading. Reading is absolutely my favorite pastime (and yes, it might even trump writing—when I pick up a book, the work has already been done for me…if I’m writing something, it’s up to me to make it interesting!) and I love bookstores, libraries, book events, all of it. I hope all of the kids in the Children’s tent keep up their love and excitement for reading as they grow up.

What about you? Any favorite book events that you’d recommend?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finding Your Writer's Voice

As writers it’s our job to make sure we’re conveying a message in a particular way. Just as actors express the thoughts, feelings, and emotions in the voice of their character, writers are responsible for getting a message across in the “voice” of a certain client or publication. We’re advised to study back issues or past marketing materials to make sure we’re capturing just the right voice for a particular project. Most of the time, except for the byline we’re kept out of it—our personal writerly voice has to be adapted for the work.

Except when it doesn’t.

There are countless writers who make a perfectly respectable (enviable, even) living by just being themselves—so much, in fact, that I often wonder what their friends and families must think! It’s no easy task to just put yourself out there, let alone drag a friend or relative along with you. It’s this “say anything” approach that makes me admire freelancers like Michelle Goodman (The Anti-9-5 Guide, My So-Called Freelance Life) and memoirists like Jen Lancaster (Bitter Is the New Black, My Fair Lazy, among others) and Laurie Notaro (The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club, Autobiography of a Fat Bride, among others!)—all of whom have the writing style that makes you want to hang out with them…voices with just the right combination of wit and sarcasm but a down-to-earth realness, as well. You get the idea that you could spit soda out of your nose in front of them and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash.

I think most people would agree that one of the best parts about writing is that it lets us dabble in so many areas and learn so many different things, and thus, use so many different voices. It also lets us show different sides of ourselves. Someone may write software textbooks to pay the bills, but their real passion is the racy poetry they scribble whenever they get a free moment. There’s something very freeing and liberating about being able to just say what you think or feel.

As for me, I have a very dry wit and sarcastic sense of humor that comes across quite plainly in person but is hard to work in to many of my assignments. (I don’t know—“the basics of yoga” doesn’t really lend itself to snarkiness). I also have this bold, “here’s what I think and I don’t care what you think” side that I keep in check much more than I should at times (I call it my “inner George Carlin”). But instead, for most of my assignments I return to my usual, “safe” voice that does a good job of getting the message across but doesn’t reveal much of myself, for the most part. A secret goal is to work my edgier, bolder side into more of my fiction. I suppose my writing is like my personality—a constant work in progress.

What about you? What “voice” do you normally use in your writing? Which “voice” or side of your personality do you wish you could share more often?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why I'm a Better Student Because of Freelancing

This fall I’ve cut way back on pursuing writing projects and am focusing most of my energy on education—I’m teaching an English class at my community college, and am back in the classroom as a student working toward my Master’s degree after a year off.

I admit I was a bit nervous about being a student again. It took some time, but I got into the groove of being the teacher. I was also worried about ultimately taking too much on and being overloaded with work. I’m happy to say that my workload is busy but manageable—so much so that I’m starting to send some pitches out again.

But the real surprise is how much more committed I am to my class this time around and how not-intimidated I feel by the course material and, yes, my classmates (I always think they have so many more brilliant things to say than I do!) And I think that at least some of this newfound commitment to my studies is due to my writing projects. Here’s why:

I’m more disciplined. I had a highly productive summer and spent nearly all of August hunkered down at my computer writing articles. I couldn’t afford to blow off work (which I’m ashamed to admit I did for many of my undergrad reading assignments) or not meet my deadlines. I find that I’m treating my assignments for this class just like any other writing project, so I’m making time for the reading rather than winging it as I’ve done in the past and making a genuine effort. By doing this I feel as if I’m actually getting something out of it.

Thinking of paper topics is much easier. As freelancers our lives revolve around stories—finding new ones, reslanting old ones, and making them sound impressive in our pitches. Writing academic papers isn’t all that different. Most academic papers are an in-depth discussion or analysis on an element of the reading, just as many magazine articles are a narrow focus on a broader topic.

I understand the material more. Perhaps this stems from interpreting Shakespeare for my college classes, or perhaps it comes from having to understand a topic enough to write intelligently about it. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Whatever it is, I haven’t struggled with any of the reading too much yet this semester.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! I’m a few credits away from completing my Master’s, and I compare this with being in the home stretch of completing the article from hell (and we’ve all had ‘em). Whether it’s prickly subject matter, hard-to-reach sources, elusive editors, or simply not knowing where to begin, writing-wise, there’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when you wrap up a killer assignment. If I feel that proud of myself after successfully tackling an article, I can only imagine how I’ll feel when I finish my degree!

What about you? How has freelancing positively benefited you lately?

Monday, September 27, 2010

How Critiquing Can Benefit Freelancers

We freelancers live in a bit of an insulated world—most of the time we’re alone with the computer screen, our thoughts, and perhaps a phone should the mood to communicate with others strike. Most of us are slugging through the ever-growing pile of work on our desks and in our inboxes—how can we possibly find the time to focus on our projects?

My schedule doesn’t lend itself to much editing—once I get the initial version of a project finished, I’ll let it sit for a bit then come back to do any last-minute tweaking or polishing. And as a nonfiction writer, my biggest concerns are having quotes correct, facts accurate, and an overall tone of a piece that sounds as though I have some knowledge of a subject. As I’m usually working on a fairly tight deadline, I haven’t had time to enlist the help of a critique partner or group to make sure I’ve done all of this. Other than occasionally asking my b.f. to read something and asking if it makes sense to him, I go it alone—researching, writing, and editing—and hope for the best.

And lately I’ve been wondering if I couldn’t benefit from a bit of critiquing for my paid assignments .

I’ve always thought of critique groups as something that can only benefit fiction writers. After all, it’s easy to edit and add and revise a story that may or may not ever see the light of day over and over again. But me, I have deadlines. I don’t have time. Does it sound correct? Then that’s all I want. “Send”. Done. On to the next project.

But I’m slowly changing my thinking. I’m participating in Steph Auteri’s “5 Weeks to Freelance Awesome” e-course, and like any other class, weekly homework assignments are included. Steph gives us feedback on each assignment, and although we’re only 2 weeks in, I’ve already taken her advice. I tweaked a query using her feedback and received a very positive email from an editor (not an official acceptance yet, but he said he liked the idea and would bring it to the next assignment meeting). Seeing as how this is a new-to-me publication (and a trade pub, no less, which I’ve been nervous about querying up til now), I was thrilled. Maybe there is something to having a reader with a fresh perspective offer feedback on projects. I’m eager to see if I land any other assignments by applying Steph’s comments.

What about you? Do you use a critique partner or group for professional projects?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fall Projections

I wrap up the last of my summer assignments on September 7. My plan was to give myself a breather from pitching stories unless a brilliant idea came to mind, or an editor sent a story my way that was too good to pass up. (Although, who am I kidding—I’ll take on just about any story that an editor would want to give me!) My plan was to focus on academics for the next few months, and maybe write an occasional article.

As usual, things aren’t exactly working out that way. It’s a good thing—I’m just trying to figure out how to fit it all in.

Let’s see. I’ve already been assigned a holiday assignment due in mid-October, was just greenlit for a feature story for a new-to-me publication, and am waiting to hear on another assignment I’d pitched a few weeks ago. And I can’t leave out a regular series of articles that another editor offered to me which are still in development. I sent an LOI over the weekend and (surprise!) the editor already got back to me. Luckily, they use freelancers and assign stories (a definite win-win if my idea well is running dry!), so that sounds pretty promising.

Most exciting of all—another freelance writer friend was approached about writing web copy for a gentleman who designs and builds websites (he’s planning to add web copy as an additional service)—and she asked me if I’d be interested in working with her. We’re in the process of working out the details of a proposal, but I’m really excited about finally starting to branch out in a big way.

So that’s what I have on my schedule for the next few weeks.

How’s the fall shaping up for you?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Q&A with Jane Porter


I'm very lucky to be speaking with Jane Porter, author of Odd Mom Out, The Frog Prince, and Flirting with Forty, among other novels. Jane's latest, She's Gone Country, has just hit the shelves. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons. Today Jane talks about writing, Texas, and her latest book!



Q: Thanks for speaking with me, Jane! You’re certainly busy—writing Harlequin romances along with more mainstream women’s fiction. Do you prefer one over the other?

JANE: I don’t have a preference. I love them both and really enjoy having two different genres as it allows me to create very different worlds and very different characters. Going back and forth between the two has also made me a much better writer.

Q: In many of your books, your main characters are women facing a turning point in their lives—many of them are hiding their true selves from the world for various reasons. Does any of that come from real life?

JANE: Undoubtedly. I grew up the typical first born, good girl. I was a pleaser my entire life, feeling obligated to make everyone happy. What I wanted and needed was secondary to others needs. And while I don’t discount those needs now, I learned at forty that I’m important, too, and that I will never be happy if I’m waiting for others to be happy first. I realized there’s only so much one can do for others, and that I have to be responsible for my emotions and let others be responsible for theirs. This discovery allowed me to ‘find’ me and it started in The Frog Prince, continued in Flirting with Forty and the rest is history!

Q: Can you tell us about your writing routine? How do you power through those rough spots (aka writer’s block)?

JANE: I write pretty much every day, although when I finish a book I take anywhere from 2-4 weeks off. I can be a bit of a procrastinator now, too, but having a firm deadline goes a long way to keeping my tush in the chair!

Q: Your new book, She’s Gone Country, sounds like a lot of fun. You’re a California girl—what kind of research did you do to get the “flavor” of living on a ranch? Where did you get the idea for this book?
JANE: Shey is a character you see in some of my previous novels, playing a minor character role in Odd Mom Out and Easy on the Eyes, and her background was established from the beginning as a tall blonde Texan with a heart of gold. And writing about Texas is a natural for me as I’ve spent a lot of time there, and my mother’s father was a rugged Texan who had two Black Angus cattle ranches. He actually died on one of our ranches during a round up, and we still have the ranch in the family today. I think once you have that affinity with the land and a certain lifestyle, it just stays with you.

Q: What's next for you?

JANE: I’m just now putting together a proposal for a new series about an Irish-American family in San Francisco with four daughters. The stories will revolve around the Brennan sisters’ relationships with their families and each other. I’m really excited to be writing about sisters for the first time!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Revving Up the Writing Engine

Even with the fairly steady flow of assignments lately, getting started on a new project is not high on my list of favorite things. In fact, I’d be a little embarrassed to let people see an article in raw form—bits and pieces of sentences all over the page, notes to myself (things to look up, reminders to include a person’s title, statistics to double check, etc.), and even a rough outline to guide me as I write. Friends, here’s a trade secret—that article you’re reading in a magazine didn’t look like that when the writer first started working on it. That short little 800 word piece may have taken the writer hours (and many cups of their beverage of choice) to put together. It’s not pretty.

Much as I love landing new assignments, I loathe getting into “the zone” and getting started. Sometimes—but not as often as I’d like—a brilliant lede will come to me and the story will flow on its own. But more often than not, I rely on an outline to help me get my thoughts together and determine the final story. I’ve been a fan of outlines since college, and wouldn’t have much of a writing career without them.

But before all of that…I have to psych myself up to put butt in chair and write. Anything!

If I have a fairly long stretch of writing time ahead of me, I work on smaller projects just to get my mind working. I’ll typically work on my writers’ group newsletter, answer email, or put together blog posts. On a good day, by then I’m usually ready to tackle the work at hand. If I have my interviews ready and my outline in place, I’ll work on the final version for as long as I can. I’ll take a break every hour or so, or switch between projects if I feel myself getting a bit stale, but once I get into “the zone” and my thoughts are really clicking on a certain article, the time flies by. If I only have a short turnaround time, I’ll put together a fairly detailed outline so that the final story all but writes itself—I mostly fill in the gaps in my outline. They’re the best days. On not-so-great days, I’m struggling to put every sentence together. It happens. Especially if there’s been a lull between assignments. But I’m usually able to get myself back on track fairly quickly.

What about you? How do you psych yourself up to write?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Freelancer's Education

I’m all about education this fall. Besides the classes I’m teaching and taking, I thought I’d give my freelance writing education a boost, as well. I signed up for the fabulous Steph Auteri’s first-ever e-course, 5 Weeks to Freelance Awesome. Though I don't know Steph personally, I think she'd be a hoot to hang out with. I love her irreverent and candid writing style (she blogs for YourTango.com and writes a sex column for The Frisky.com, and her writing can be found in a bunch of other places, too).

This is my first foray into taking any sort of class related to freelancing. I normally go for the direct approach and will email specific questions to certain freelancers, or contact them via Twitter. But that can only get me so far—I really want to learn more about successful self-marketing strategies, polishing queries, and breaking into bigger markets. The regional pubs have been very good to me and I’ve developed great working relationships with the editors I write for regularly, but I’m more than ready to take things to the next step, and I’m hoping this course will help me. Steph’s broken into some incredible markets, so if I’m lucky enough to see even a fraction of those results, the money spent will be well worth it.

What about you? How have you advanced your freelance education? What worked? What didn’t?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back…Back…Back…Back to School Again

(I thought I'd kick off the week with a little Grease 2 reference).

Blogging has taken a major backseat this summer, especially over the past few weeks. I’ve had a blur of interviews, frantic writing sessions, and meeting deadlines. It’s been hectic since mid-July, with no end in sight.

I should warn that my posts will become more sporadic again at the end of August. I just can’t cram enough into my schedule. Besides all of the other things I have going on, I decided to get my Master’s degree moving again and signed up for another course. I keep telling myself that I’m in the home stretch—at the end of this semester I’ll only have 6 credits left until I have my degree!

How has the summer been treating everyone? As you can tell, it’s been one of my busiest, writing-wise, that I can honestly remember. July was my most financially lucrative month since I started freelancing, so I’m totally thrilled. I have a few more assignments due in the next few weeks and a few lined up for September, but with the way my schedule is looking, unless some totally fabulous assignment (or idea) falls into my lap, the writing will have to once again take a back seat while I spend most of my time in academia.

I’ve been working on some pretty great assignments and I have some other very interesting projects in the works, so I really can’t complain. The writing life is good!

How is your fall shaping up?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Post: Writing Heals




by Diana M. Raab

Diana is the type of person who does everything in a big way. She earned three degrees: an undergraduate degree in Health Administration and Journalism, an RN, and a MFA. She has three wonderful children despite high risk pregnancies. And she wrote eight books and won as many writing awards. Although she spent 25 years focusing on medical and self-help writing, she has also penned memoirs and poetry. Diana’s latest book, Healing With Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey, reflects her experiences battling breast cancer at age 47 and then multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, when she was 52. The book is part practical advice(she is a nurse, after all) and part inspiration, which takes the form of poems, journal entries, and friendly thoughts. To show readers the effect of healing writing, Diana also includes blank sections and writing prompts so the reader can contribute their own thoughts and writings. Diana describes her daily journal writing as “a daily vitamin-healing, detoxifying and essential for optimal health.”

When life takes an unexpected turn, writing can be a beneficial form of release from stress, due to either emotional or physical factors. Writing gets you grounded and gives you a reality check. It brings you face-to-face with your own truths, and in the end, it is the truth which will set you free from pain.

From a physical standpoint studies have shown that therapeutic writing, such as journaling, can decease anxiety and the incidence of depression and can also increase your immune response.

Journaling has saved my life on many occasions. The first time was at the age of ten when my mother gave me a journal to help me cope with the loss of my grandmother. I poured my grief onto the pages of my journal. Writing then helped me navigate through a difficult adolescence and then years later, a high-risk pregnancy. Eventually that last journal evolved into a self-help book for other women also having difficult pregnancies. The book has recently been updated and is now called, Your High Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide. And, my most recent book, a self-help memoir, Healing With Words is a self-help memoir which also began on the pages of my journal.

Many famous writers, such as May Sarton and Anaïs Nin used their journals to pull them through difficult times. In her book, Recovering, May Sarton chronicles her battles with depression and cancer. Anaïs Nin used her journals to write to her deranged father who left the family when she was young. In Nin’s case, her journal entries became a springboard for a four-volume collection of her diaries.

Writing provides an opportunity to vent both small and large issues, from problems with your boss to the death of a loved one. It takes a great deal of energy to be angry at someone; it’s much healthier to drop it, as one would a suitcase full of trash. If you must express your feelings, better to do so first on the pages of your journal. My attitude is: “Direct the rage to the page.” Then you can see about talking with someone you are angry with.

By writing down our fears and concerns it forces us to release them. Once we are able to let go, it’s easier to gravitate to the joys in life. In addition, the act of moving the pen across the page can be meditative. At an Associated Writing Conference a few years ago, Dr. James Pennebaker, the author of Writing to Heal said, “Writing dissolves some of the barriers between you and others. If you write, it’s easier to communicate with others.” He does have one rule that he calls, “the flip out rule,” which proclaims that if you get too upset when writing, then simply stop.
Pennebaker believes that there’s a certain type of writing which erupts when we’re faced with loss, death, abuse, depression and trauma.

Learning to open up about issues from your past and present lives doesn’t happen over night, but it’s all a part of the healing process. Author Louise DeSalvo, also advocates writing for healing, began writing her own memoirs, Vertigo and Breathless as a result of coming to grips with her own pain.

Whether you’re affected by change, loss or pain, finding the time to write is critical to your healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experience, while others may lean toward fiction or poetry to help them escape their own realities. Whatever your choice, once you try it, you’ll see that writing, in any form, can be healthy and empowering.

Good reasons to keep a journal

To discover about yourself
To vent frustrations and express joy
To record and remember events
To fine one’s purpose
To plan for the future
To tap into your intuition
To build self-confidence
To allow self-expression
To uncover secrets
To improve communication skills
To improve mental health

10 Tips on Writing For Healing

Find a quiet uninterrupted time and place to write

Choose an inspiring notebook and pen

Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch)

Breath deeply

Put aside your inner critic

Date your entry

Begin by writing your feelings and sensations

Write nonstop for 15-20 minutes

Save what you have written

Write regularly

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm Back

My apologies for falling into the black hole once again—these last few weeks have been a blur of frantic interviews, writing, and meeting deadlines! Again—all good stressors I’m happy to have!

I should warn that my posts will become more sporadic again at the end of August. I just can’t cram enough into my schedule. Besides all of the other things I have going on, I decided to get my Master’s degree moving again and signed up for another course. I keep telling myself that I’m in the home stretch—at the end of this semester I’ll only have 6 credits left until I have my degree!

How has the summer been treating everyone? As you can tell, it’s been one of my busiest, writing-wise, that I can honestly remember. July was my most financially lucrative month since I started freelancing, so I’m totally thrilled. I have a few more assignments due in the next few weeks and a few lined up for September, but with the way my schedule is looking, unless some totally fabulous assignment (or idea) falls into my lap, the writing will have to once again take a back seat while I spend most of my time in academia.

I’ve been working on some pretty great assignments and I have some other very interesting projects in the works, so I really can’t complain. The writing life is good!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Planning a Writers' Conference Part 2

I’ve blogged about how my writers’ group conference committee approached planning our first major event this past spring. Now I’m listing what we learned (sometimes the hard way) from the event itself as we gear up for 2011. Hopefully these items will be helpful for anyone out there looking to plan a similar event in the not-too-distant future.

Choose a venue that fits your needs. Large conference-type facilities are pretty sparse in my corner of the world, so we had to get a little creative. Since we were very conservative in our attendance goals (not to mention budget), we decided on our arts council, headquartered in a beautiful old Victorian mansion. As it turned out, our registration far exceeded our expectations! The location was high on historical significance (it’s a local landmark) and character, but extremely tight on space and maneuverability. Since we only expect our attendance figures to grow (fingers crossed), we had no choice but to find somewhere else for next year. We just booked a hotel with meeting rooms that seem to be a much better fit for what we’re doing—until we outgrow that (here’s hoping).

Ask attendees for feedback. This is a quick and easy way to brainstorm for the next year. We provided everyone with a formal evaluation in their registration materials and asked for suggestions for speakers, topics, and any other types of programs they would like to see. There were some recurring suggestions, so we’ll be keeping those in mind for sure as we start planning the day’s schedule.

Invite agents and editors. A caveat—we aren’t quite at this level yet, but I’ve already sent out some inquiry emails asking about the best way to locate these industry pros. But this is a huge selling point, and one of the biggest reasons writers attend these types of events. The enticement of possible publication is almost always irresistible to most writers.

Secure a killer keynote speaker. Last spring I went to a conference that featured James “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” Frey as the keynote, and they sold out. Our keynote was a developmental manuscript editor who spoke about incorporating writing and art into our everyday lives. We aren’t quite at the James Frey level yet, but for my money, our keynote’s presentation was the relevant, moving, and inspiring message that our crowd needed.

Find sponsors. Any event, no matter how small the budget or scale, can benefit from securing a few sponsors. It’s a win-win—financial or in-kind support for your event, free publicity for them.

What about you? Any other tips for planning a terrific writers’ conference?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Random Writerly Thoughts

I'm working on about 5 different things at the moment, so today's post will be short and sweet.

Last week I received a nice surprise in the mail--5 contributor's copies of a publication that finally printed an article I'd written for them two years ago. Some months back I'd contacted the editor to see what the heck ever became of it, but I wrote it off as being lost in the shuffle. What a nice surprise to find that my work has finally seen the light of day. Best of all, there was a check in with the copies! Can't ask for more than that.

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I'm at a loss as to what it takes to make money as a blogger. Not here, necessarily, but as a blogger for other people. It seems that there are no shortage of blogging opportunities out there, but very few of them have any kind of compensation attached. I've lost count of the websites I see with a blogging "Community" where anyone can post, but good luck breaking in as a paid contributor. I have one possible lead for a regular (paid) blogging gig, but that might be a few months away yet. I'm completely stumped as to how folks make money with blogging, though I know many of them do. I tend to steer clear of blogging gigs unless it's one I somehow work out for myself (like this potential one--it's for a very reputable company whom I work with regularly, so I have no worries about payment, etc.)

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How the heck do freelancers put together a resume? I just applied for a writing job and I had to send a resume, and I'll be damned if I had the foggiest idea of where to start. I just sent my whole CV--I don't think I have enough "specialized" clips to make a targeted resume, so I just sent the whole thing with all of my links, clips, etc. listed and am hoping for the best.

Your turn. What's plaguing you these days?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Reads (So Far)

Hard to believe the summer is half over already! WOW! Seems like it was only a few days ago that I was plotting out the next few months, trying to line up some assignments and do some serious chilling out. Well, I did manage to land a few assignments, and I've done a pretty good job of chilling out, although I'm already starting to prep for my classes this fall. Busy, busy, busy!

I've been true to my word and have been doing a lot of reading. My list since classes ended in May include:

The Postmistress, Sarah Blake

Admit One: My Life in Film, Emmett James

*Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, Jordan Sonnenblick

On Mystic Lake, Kristin Hannah

Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, Avis Cardella

*To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

*The Help, Kathryn Stockett

My Fair Lazy, Jen Lancaster

The Fixer Upper, Mary Kay Andrews

*The Lost Girls, Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, Amanda Pressner

*The Opposite of Love, Julie Buxbaum

*highly recommended

I'm currently revisiting The Great Gatsby for my one class this fall, and The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, which I didn't expect to like (very different from what I usually read) but am getting into.

I've been pleasantly surprised to have read quite a few great books so far. Last summer, I hate to say it, but nothing really rocked my world. So glad that that isn't the case this year! I have oodles of noodles more to go, so I'll keep you posted once summer winds down.


What books have you read so far this summer? Which ones have been hits? Misses?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Effective Are LOI's (Letters of Introduction)?

We freelancers land work in a variety of ways. Most of us secure assignments through the old-fashioned query. A few lucky ones have established relationships with editors in which the editors come to them. A third option is to send a letter of introduction (LOI) to editors, which basically tests the waters of a publication before you send out a formal query.

An LOI is great if you aren't sure the publication even uses freelancers. There's nothing worse than wasting your efforts putting together a killer query only to have it rejected because you didn't do a little bit of extra research. An LOI can help you save face.

Personally, I've sent out a few LOI's over the years, with mixed results. I've been on a hot streak with querying lately and sent out a few LOI's for kicks, too. I send it directly to the editor if there's one listed on the website or masthead, but I've also sent them to the generic "editor@", "info@", or "mail@" addresses.

I've sent LOI's as basic as:

Dear [Editor's Name]:
I'm a freelance writer and I would be very interested in contributing to your publication/website. Do you typically work with freelancers? Could I receive a copy of your writers' guidelines?
My work has appeared in blah blah blah. I'm very interested in contributing to your publication based on my interest in [insert subject area here].
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Sara Hodon

Of the 10 or so LOI's I've sent out recently, I've only gotten a response from about 2 editors. Not great odds in my eyes. But I'll keep sending them. 'Cause that's what I do.

What about you? Have you had luck with the LOI's, or do you just take your chances and go direct to the query?

Monday, July 12, 2010

How to Talk (and Listen) to an Editor

by Priscilla Y. Huff

I have been a freelance writer and author for a long time, and one axiom that I have learned (and still have to remind myself) is how to talk and listen to an editor. Here are some tips:

1) Editors are ALWAYS on deadline, so keep all your communications with them succinct and to the point.

2) NEVER ASSUME any details of an assignment’s specs. Check with your editor if you are not sure of any part of your assignment. It is a bit crass, but a former day job boss of mine wrote the word “assume” on a piece of paper for me when I made a mistake with a project without checking with her first. She broke it down explaining (that): “It (assume) makes an a@# out of u and me.”

3) Deliver what she asked: An article that is on time with the correct word length, quotes and facts checked, photos the right size for publication, sidebars; and one that is proofread for wording and grammar. Daily re-read your assignment’s specs to be certain you are including all that your editor has stipulated.

4) Your assignment is not over until it is printed: Many times, I submitted an article, only to be contacted by the editor a couple of weeks later when the editor was then going over it for publication and had some questions. Be ready to revise or answer her questions and that she has your contact information if she wants to reach you.

5) Make it easy to get paid. Submit an invoice and include your address or online payment information; your contact information; and what rights you are selling. Editors may “assume” you are selling ALL your rights to a piece when you are not or vice-versa.

When it doubt about any part of your assignment, ask; even editors with whom you have worked with previously. Your editor will appreciate it. When editors are happy with writers, they tend to give more assignments to those writers who really DO listen and make their jobs easier.

For Further Reading:

Writer's Digest Handbook of Making Money Freelance Writing
Writer's Digest Magazine Article:“Tips for Dealing with Your Editor” by About.com guide, Allena Tapia

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This 'n That...

I hope everyone had a great long weekend, and I pologize for the sporadic posts over the past week!

I had deadlines for 2 articles (both new-to-me publications, so I wanted to make them as shipshape as possible), I'm working hard at making some changes to my writers' group (there may be a post about that in the not-too-distant future), I had a few gatherings with friends, and, you know...life stuff has sort of taken over.

It's been really nice to have some breathing room. I'm feeling much less stifled by my current schedule, but I know that by the fall 'll be itching to get back to my classes and the new challenges they'll bring. I've been using my time wisely--doing a lot of querying, and I'll be reading some of my materials for my lit class so I'm going in prepared. I'll also be starting my syllabus over the next few weeks.

I have 3 articles due in August, 1 for September (thus far), and I'm hoping a few other queries pan out.

What about you? What's keeping you busy lately?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How Much Time Do You Spend on a Query?

Ugh. It figures that I have a few deadlines coinciding with some hot and sticky 90 degree days--where sitting in front of the PC is not my idea of a good time. So I'll keep this short and sweet.

I've sent out quite a few queries in the past few months. Some have landed me assignments, others were rejected, and yet others are still hovering around in that editorial black hole where I have no clue what might happen. I felt I had enough work to tide me over for the next few weeks (between researching, interviewing, and writing), so I haven't been pushing the follow ups or sending out many additional queries.

But I had an idea today, and dashed off a query to a new-to-me publication. Now I'm wondering if I spent enough time on my pitch.

Obviously, the more interested/passionate/knowledgeable we are about a topic, the easier it is to write the query; although, I sometimes have more trouble with the topics I'm especially interested in, because there's so much to say, and I want to be sure to do the topic justice. I feel most confident about those assignments where I know something about the topic, but I'm certainly no expert, and the people I speak with can then fill in any blanks.

My query today was an idea for a niche publication, but on a universal topic, so I hope the editor agrees. The query seemed to come together in only a few minutes, which can be a good or bad thing.

I tend to dash off queries as soon as I do a little bit of research (such as get a few experts or resources in mind), as I have this fear that another writer will pitch my idea before I get to do it. Strange, I know, but I haven't quite been able to shake myself of this habit. Sometimes I'll take a bit longer on a query for a new-to-me publication, or I'll do a quick outline before I lose my idea, and come back and finish it when my idea is more developed. I still follow the query template I'd learned a few years back at a writers' group meeting, but try to flesh out the premise before sending it out. Let's see how this one goes.

What about you? How much time do you spend writing a query?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tackling Those "Too Close to Home" Topics

Some very foolish man once said "Write what you know." I wonder if he/she ever did this--if they did, they would understand just how difficult it is to do. Just ask anyone who's ever attempted a personal essay or memoir.


As I branch out in my writing projects, I find that I'm getting a bad case of stage fright when it comes to writing about topics close to me. And I mean any topic that's close to me. I think it comes down to that pesky inner critic and the fear that I'll offend someone close to me. I can get past it normally, but for I'm really getting hung up on this for some reason.

Right now I'm working on an article about sharing an office (something I've done for over 2 years so I feel pretty knowledgeable about it) and I'm having the worst time with it. I'm over-analyzing, writing long rambling sentences instead of being short and sweet, and basically tripping all over myself to get the words down. Awful.


So how do I tackle this? How should writers approach any topic that hits a little close to home, as innocuous and universal as it may be?


Here's the approach I'm going to try:

Look for the universal appeal... Chances are, the topic you're writing about is something that others have gone through. Look at the big picture--what can you share with others about the subject? What will have your readers nodding in agreement, groaning in sympathy, or rolling their eyes knowingly? Try to find those angles and emphasize the points most of us can relate to.

...but personalize it. But remember that it's still your article, and your experience with the topic is yours and yours alone. Don't be afraid to put your own spin on it, using "I" and referring to yourself at certain points throughout. This will help to put a face on the experience, universal though it may be.

Focus on the end result. What are you hoping to achieve with your piece? What connection are you looking to make with your readers? Are you looking to entertain with a funny family vacation story, or are you providing information on a new online dating site you've test driven personally? Focus on your purpose and that will help to guide you through the rough writing waters.

Don't write out of spite. If you are writing a personal essay about how a best friend from high school betrayed you, think about the consequences. Is there a possibility your friend might read the piece (very likely if you're still in contact and/or it's for a well-known publication)? Are you prepared for their reaction? Don't write out of anger or with the intent to cause hard feelings, although, if you're truly baring your soul, that might very well happen. Hopefully your piece will spark some discussion and be the first step in clearing the air and getting over any old grudges.

How about you? How do you approach those tough personal topics?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interview with Avis Cardella

Avis Cardella was living the life many of us can only dream of--she worked as a fashion model and later as a writer in the fashion photography industry. Both her words and her image appeared in some of the top fashion publications in the world. But she was battling some inner demons--she was a compulsive shopper whose habits were driving her further and further into debt. She chronicles her habits, and how she was able to overcome her compulsive spending, in her memoir Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict. Avis was nice enough to sit down and talk about her book and the life that inspired it.

Q: In your book, Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, you talk about your own struggles with shopping addiction. Can you talk a little bit about how your “pastime” became so serious?

AVIS: I started spending more time shopping after my mother’s untimely death. I found that spending time in shops felt safe, comforting and could keep negative emotions about my loss under control.

Q: Do you think your careers as a model and fashion journalist were enablers for your habits?

AVIS: I found the fashion industry was an easy place to hide behind this image of someone who needed to look perfect, always have new things to wear, so in this respect it did provide certain opportunities to believe that shopping every day was normal. I do think easy credit—access to credit cards-- enabled me to shop. Credit cards allow for impulse purchasing.

Q: This is a problem that is probably much more common than people realize. What are some of the signs of shopping addiction?

AVIS: Researchers estimate that as many as 1 in 20 Americans has a problem with compulsive shopping. The research also reports that shopping addiction cuts across gender, age, and socioeconomic lines.

Some of the warning signs include: obsessive and constant thoughts about shopping, spending time shopping when you should be working or fulfilling other obligations, lying about shopping, accumulating unmanageable debt and buying things that you don’t want, need or use.

Q: For those who haven’t read the book, how did you get your spending under control?

AVIS: My road to recovery was a long process and too lengthy to detail here. But, I did go on debt management, that was the first step... then I needed to apply some self-therapy and try to understand why I was shopping compulsively. What was I searching for? What are we all searching for in the things we buy?
When I began to understand that my shopping was related to deeper emotions is when I began to recover.

Q: How do you handle shopping these days? Do you still feel the urge to buy compulsively?

AVIS: I am a healthy shopper today and am no longer plagued by compulsive urges. I still love fashion and shopping but know how to fit these things in my life in a balanced and healthy way.
I believe that understanding the deep emotional issues that were driving my shopping was the key to this recovery.

Q: Finally, what do you hope readers gain from your experiences?

AVIS: Spent is a personal story but in a way, it’s about everyone who shops. It is a story about a culture of consumption—it traverses nearly thirty years of everything from the beginning of mall culture to the “me” generation, easy credit, luxury label fever, Sex and The City... up until today. I’ve woven these cultural aspects into the story hoping that readers may rethink their relationship to shopping and their power over it.
I’ve come out of this addiction having answered the question: What was I searching for? It’s a good question to ask yourself, and it's very liberating when you find the answer.

Thanks, Avis. For more information, visit http://www.aviscardella.com/

Monday, June 21, 2010

How's Your Summer Looking?


Going into June, I had only a few projects on deck. Now that it's approaching July (yikes! How did that happen?), I'm looking at one busy summer!

I have 4 articles due, a blog post (which can turn into a steady gig), and over the weekend I connected with an editor on a rush project he was working on--although the project's on hold for the moment (apparently all of the writers were having some difficulty capturing the right "voice" forthe project), the editor liked my style and said he would send me additional projects. Let's hear it for networking!

All of that, plus researching each piece as needed, should fill up my schedule quite nicely. I'm also on the schedule for 2 classes this fall--both are brand new to me, so I have to start from scratch and create a syllabus, new materials, the works. Throw in my ever-growing list of books to read and the social invitations that have been coming in, and it'll be September again before I know it :(

I'm extremely grateful for all of these projects, however. It's starting to feel as though all of my hard work is finally, finally, finally paying off.

What about you? What projects are filling your calendar this summer?
Flickr photo by DonnaWhite2010