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