Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cool quote

Maybe it's because of my ambition to be a writer, but I've always had an interest in collecting quotes that inspire me, hit on a profound truth, or make me think. Tonight, while watching "Prime Factors," an episode of Star Trek: Voyager from the first season, I came across a particularly good one:

"You can use logic to justify almost anything. That's its power - and its flaw."

These lines were spoken by Captain Kathryn Janeway, in a conversation with the vulcan, Tuvok. She is berating him for making a very logical decision and carrying it out behind her back, when his actions clearly violated a decision that she made based on her (and Starfleet's) moral code.

Regardless of which side of the argument we were on, I'm sure we can all remember a time that an opponent has used the most impeccable logic to argue against something we believe wholeheartedly - and can also argue to support. Logic really can be twisted and turned to argue any point, and that's why some issues - such as those surrounding religion and politics - don't go away.

Some of you know what I mean. Others will be protesting, "No way - my opponent's logic is wrong!" To these people, all I can say is, keep in mind that your opponent is saying the same thing about your logic.

Problem fixed!!!

Funny how things happen. When I discovered the problem this afternoon, I fiddled with the settings for a long time without making any progress. Just now, I managed to fix it on about the third try... ".html" was missing from my blog's URL path in the settings. And that was my problem. Sheesh!!!

At any rate, you can now click on any of the links on the right hand side in order to view old posts.

Blogging problems!!!

I just realized this afternoon that for some reason, the files for individual posts are not being posted to my site. The links on the right send you to an address on my site, but...nothing is there. I've tried fiddling with the settings, but so far I haven't been able to fix the problem. I've adjusted the blog's settings so that all of the posts show up on the main page, and I'll continue to play with the other settings. My apologies - hopefully I'll get it fixed soon!!!

Contradictory statements

In looking over my website, which I designed more than six months ago, I realized that my Inspiration page tells a different story than the post I made the other night about child authors versus my experiences. On my Inspiration page, I say that I was supported "every step of the way" by my family, yet in my post the other day, I bemoaned the fact that I didn't receive enough support to stick to my goals and get published early on.

I know this seems contradictory, but that's because the support that I was receiving was contradictory. Like I said, my mom would brag endlessly about my writing; yet she was still telling me I couldn't make it as a writer. And no matter how much she bragged about me, she still didn't put any effort into helping me advance my talent into something more than just reading material for my friends and family.

The situation hasn't changed any, either. My mother still brags about me, yet she was really upset when I quit my job - a highly stressful and emotionally abusive job, I might add - in order to pursue a career as a freelance writer. And I don't believe she follows my progress, either.

So I guess in a way, I did feel supported. I mean, my mother bragged about me, and both she and my sister read anything that I put in front of them - back then, that is - and totally raved about it every time. But in light of these child authors, it's occurred to me that there is plenty that my mother could have done to support me further...but she didn't. I guess she supported my writing as a hobby...but not as what I wanted it to be, a career.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Bronte sisters: My happy little obsession

I mentioned in my last postings that the Brontes were my favorite authors, and I thought that the subject deserved some attention.

Without knowing then what I was starting, I first ran across the Bronte sisters in my early teens, when I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. My first impressions were much like those of nineteenth century England: I loved Jane Eyre, but wasn't as fond of Wuthering Heights.

I was reunited with the Brontes again during my senior year of high school, when I was assigned Wuthering Heights for my AP English class. The second time around, I loved Emily Bronte's novel.

After that, I went through a period of detachment from literature, as I took four years off between high school graduation and entering college. My first or second year in college, however, I was reintroduced to the Bronte sisters when I casually plucked them out of a list of term paper topics.

The term paper was a biographical research paper, enabling me to get to know the Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily, and Anne - as real people. This was the first time I learned about the vast similarities between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte's life; how Charlotte Bronte had experienced mistreatment at a boarding school that she was sent to with her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, and her younger sister, Emily. (Anne, just a toddler, was at home with their aunt, as their mother had died shortly after Anne was born.) Both Maria and Elizabeth sickened with consumption, but their illness was overlooked during an epidemic of typhoid fever, and they returned home only to die; Maria, remembered through the adoring eyes of a child, later became Charlotte's inspiration for the character of Jane's one friend at school, an older girl by the name of Helen Burns. However, the same experiences that later provided Charlotte with a source of material for her first published book, instilled in Emily a deep-seated fear of leaving home, as at the tender age of five or six years old she'd seen her two older sisters sicken and die while away from home. For the rest of her life, Emily would become so physically homesick whenever she left home, that she rarely ventured forth.

Less than two years later, I chose them as the topic for a paper in Advanced Composition; this paper addressed how the sisters' amazing talent related to their interesting past. I remembered from researching the Bronte sisters previously that they played some rather interesting games among themselves - games that bordered on dysfunction, actually. As children, Charlotte, their brother Branwell, Emily, and Anne created imaginary worlds, and by many reports practically "lived" in these worlds for years. Much of their early writing - poetry and prose that they recorded in tiny books - takes place in these imaginary worlds, and there has been arguments that their games - which they played well into their twenties - provided the inspiration for their published work as well.

Spending so much time researching the Bronte sisters resulted in me knowing much more about them than most of my teachers, and in my last year of college I had plenty of chance to show off that knowledge. I took a class on Women's Fiction of the Nineteenth Century, and as fate would have it, we read books by all three of the Bronte sisters (the first time I had ever read anything by Anne Bronte). We also were required to choose one of the books to do a small presentation on, and of course I chose one of the Bronte sisters' books - the second that we read, so that I could compare Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. My topic for this assignment dealt with the difference of how Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, published at the same time, were received by the public. Wuthering Heights was, of course, anathema to the values of the era, and was criticised for being too violent and too dark. Jane Eyre, however, was very highly regarded - at least, it was until it was revealed that a woman had written it. In fact, the reason why the sisters exposed their identities was because rumors had started that the author of the popular Jane Eyre had also written Wuthering Heights, and simply used different pennames to diguise his true identity as the author of both.

In my final semester, I took a class on the Development of the British Novel, for which we read Jane Eyre. In a sense I came full circle to the first research paper I'd written on the sisters, as my presentation and paper for the class focused on the similarities between Charlotte Bronte's life and Jane Eyre, except that this time I analyzed the topic in greater depth than I did when I first discovered it.

To complete the story of the Brontes, Emily and Anne both died of consumption in their late twenties. Their brother, Branwell, died around the same time, but his death is believed to be due to his alcoholism and opium habit. Although the family had been fairly reclusive up until this time, the deaths of her sisters and brother, all within a year's time, appeared to push Charlotte to be somewhat less reserved. She began to socialize in literary circles, and republished her and her sisters' books; however, she effectively buried the work of her youngest sister, whom she had never considered much more than a child, by refusing to reprint Anne's second book, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, claiming that the book was a mistake. Charlotte eventually married, but she died the following year, apparently from complications during her pregnancy. After her death, one of her literary friends, Elizabeth Gaskell, wrote a biography in which she tried to protect Charlotte from the rumors about her, blaming her and her sisters' "indecent" writing on their dysfunctional home life (namely, their father), and lying about issues such as Charlotte's unrequited love for her professor during her stay in Brussells, Branwell's opium addiction, and Charlotte's pregnancy at the time of her death. Unfortunately, Gaskell's biography of Charlotte has made it difficult to determine the truth about some of these matters.

So there you have it: the lives of three of my favorite people in literary history. When I first read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I would have said the former was my favorite; later in my teens, I went through a period where the latter became more appealing to me. Since reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall almost two years ago, however, I'd have to say that Anne's book is now my favorite. Charlotte writing style make me feel like I've traded places with the narrator of Jane Eyre, a talent which I've always respected; and Emily wove an incredible, impassioned and cyclical plot in Wuthering Heights, a story of love and tragedy and revenge, where everything is connected; but Anne somehow managed to write about purity of love even while she quite calmly and clearly addressed major issues, such as whether or not alcoholism should be overlooked by society. I very much respect Anne's approach to her writing, and a part of me resents Charlotte for discrediting her sister's work out of her overdeveloped sense of propriety.

If you're interested in reading any of the Bronte's work, I highly recommend Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and - in particular - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; Anne's first book, Agnes Grey, would also be interesting to read (I'm assuming; I haven't read it yet), and Charlotte later published Shirley (which I've read; very good) and Villette. After Charlotte's death her husband published The Professor, her first book, which wasn't received well by the publishing houses and never made it into print; and more than a century after her death, The Search After Happiness, one of her childhood stories about their imaginary world, was published.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Child authors versus myself

I've noticed lately that child authors have been becoming quite popular. Several years ago, Amelia Atwater Rhodes published her first book, a young adult vampire novel, written at age 13. More recently, Christopher Paolini started a hot new trilogy with Eldest, which he'd started writing at age 15. Just the other day, I heard about an 8-year-old named Adora Svitak, who recently published a compilation of her short stories.

It could seem like the work of the soccer moms of a new generation, except that it's not just recent times. For example, Louisa May Alcott was writing stories and plays for her sisters long before she published her first book, Flower Fables, at age 22. And the Bronte sisters (my favorite authors, by the way) were making up whole other worlds, writing stories and poems about them, as children. In fact, I have a short book by Charlotte Bronte, written when she was thirteen, which was published in the 1960s or 70s. The only difference here is that these writers were not published at these tender ages.

So maybe the involvement of mothers does have something to do with it. Clearly, born writers start early. I certainly did: my parents caught my first recorded story on tape when I was only a couple of years old. I vaguely remember writing stories during my elementary school years and wanting to be a writer when I grew up, but I think for the most part during these years my nose was buried in someone else's work. However, I remember being recognized in 6th grade for writing an exceptional poem about Thanksgiving, which I was then asked to read in front of the class. This probably stuck in my memory partly because I was so painfully shy throughout school, but now I see it as an indication that I must have been writing quite a bit before that year.

Throughout middle school, I wrote quite a bit of poetry. By ninth grade, however, my interests had turned to prose - short stories that progressively became longer stories. By the time I was 15, I had written three novels, and was at work on a fourth.

A couple of things happened around this time, however. For one thing, I started dating shortly before I turned 16. Boys proved to be a huge distraction from my writing. There were other factors, however, such as the growing push toward college and career choices (I was a junior in high school that year). I was getting accustomed to hearing that I couldn't depend on my writing, that I had to choose another job. I wasn't very good at dealing with criticism, constructive or otherwise, and a couple of friends hurt my feelings by criticising my writing, something I was generally unused to. All in all, I was getting discouraged.

In reflection, I think all of that could have been different. I think about how during those years, my mom was driving my sister, the gymnast, all over the state to be on the teams of the best gyms available (which the criteria for deciding changed regularly, as my sister changed gyms after any tiff between her or my mom and a coach). I can't help but think, what if she'd been spending an equal amount of time finding me an agent or helping me get a book contract? It's not like she directly discouraged me - sure, she bragged about my writing just as any other proud mother would have - but there was always that reminder that I wouldn't be able to make it as a writer, or getting yelled at to quit writing and do my homework, as if my writing weren't a valuable use of my time. Sometimes subtle discouragement is the deadliest.

Of course, ceasing to write was my own decision, regardless of the forces that encouraged me. Certainly, there have been no changes between me and my mother in the support department - when I first started getting published and send her my links, it often took her weeks to look at my article or my website, until finally I gave up asking - yet I'm still here, pursuing my dream at last.

Even though I know that it's my own determination and passion that has made this possible, I do have support now, in the form of a very loving boyfriend who volunteered to take on more than his share of the bills in the weeks and months when my freelancing doesn't make enough, partly to get me out of an emotionally abusive job and partly in support of what he knew to be my biggest dream. Although I had already been freelancing on the side for six months, it was his financial and emotional support that helped me to make the jump to full-time freelancer. The lack of direct support I experienced when I was a kid may have had a hand in setting me back a little, but hopefully Michael's love and support will help to make up for it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Resources for writers

A couple of times now, I've talked about why not to take non-paying jobs over paying jobs, but I haven't mentioned where to find these paying jobs. I suppose I ought to address that issue.


There are some really helpful job sites to help you in your search for freelance work.
Craigslist.org is one of my favorites. They have two sections where freelance gigs are often posted: in the Writing category under "Jobs," and in the Writing category under "Gigs." There is also a "Services" section where you can advertise your writing skills.

Another very useful site is one I mentioned in my last posting:
WritersWeekly.com. Every Wednesday a new e-zine is published on the site, containing not only articles on subjects that are of interest for freelance writers, but also new job listings and publications that are accepting submissions.

There are other sites that contain job postings for freelance writers, such as
FreelanceWriting.com, JournalismJobs.com, and The Write Jobs. Other job sites sometimes have listings for freelance writers as well, which you can find through a keyword search - try Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.

Print resources

By far, the best print resource for writers is the Writer's Market. In it you'll find thousands of listings of publishers (both periodical and book publishers) and what kind of stuff they're looking for. Also, keep in mind that the magazines you already subscribe to could be valuable resources for writing gigs.

When considering a publication, make sure to check out its website. Most publications post their submission guidelines on their site, and many also allow queries and/or submissions via email. Unlike applying to job listings, when querying for an assignment the burden of coming up with a salable story idea is on you, so make sure you have at least one good story idea before writing to the editor.

Other resources

Internet searches can pull up any number of publishers to submit to. While this technique can help you find some honest-to-goodness jobs, I recommend researching any publisher you find in this manner before submitting any of your work. You'll want to be sure that the publisher is for real and has a decent reputation with other freelancers - you don't want to accidentally submit to someone who doesn't pay their writers on time or steals writers' work.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Do non-paying gigs have value for new writers? (Reprise)

About a week ago I wrote about whether new writers should commit to non-paying gigs for "exposure." This week, WritersWeekly.com ran several pieces that I thought were related to my own posting.

WritersWeekly.com runs a weekly e-zine for freelance writers, which includes the weekly column Whispers and Warnings. Christmas week, one warning dealt with a publication that is posting ads for paid writing gigs, and sending emails offering non-paying writing gigs in response to the letters of interest that they receive. This bait and switch type of advertising was made illegal in retail years ago - stores were taking advantage of people by advertising something really cheap, but when you walked into the store all set to buy your new whatever, they (deliberately) didn't have the cheap one available and instead sold you the expensive one. They got you hooked and then changed the rules, and that is exactly what Sole Proprieter Magazine is doing. Angela Hoy, the woman who publishes WritersWeekly.com, posted all of her correspondence with this publication, as well as that of other writers who wrote in to complain about the publication. I recommend reading it, particularly the responses from Sole Proprieter Magazine - it's appalling that anyone claiming to be a professional could write such juvenile-sounding emails.

There was another warning on WritersWeekly.com about a publication that was posting ads for paid writing gigs, yet having no intention of paying their writers. Again, Angela Hoy posts all of her correspondence with the publication. Infuriatingly, the spokesman of the company justifies not paying writers because he says he receives so many writers willing - nay, eager - to work for nothing, simply for the honor of being published. I implore the writers that happen across my blog - do not fall for this type of scam! Getting published is NOT worth working for free! As I said in my previous post, you can easily find low paying gigs that will give you exposure and a paycheck. Obviously you won't break into the top magazines without experience, but that doesn't mean that you have to work for free!

Another article on WritersWeekly.com, "Should You Consent to an Editing Test?", warns writers of another method of scamming writers. Often when you apply for a writing or editing job, the employer will request one or more writing samples. That seems fine to me - just send a link or a scan of something else you've had published. However, sometimes employers will request a writing sample written to their specifications, or an editing test that they provide. As David H. Levin, the writer of the article on WritersWeekly.com, says, it could be an attempt to get you to write or edit their material for free. I'd be wary of ever writing or editing material to a prospective employer's specifications. Even if the gig is legitimate, if you don't get the gig you'll have wasted all the time it took to write the sample or take the editing test for them. And if it's not legitimate, you've handed over your work for free. At the very least, if a prospective employer asks you for a custom writing sample or requests that you take an editing test, ask questions. If they are not willing to answer your questions or provide more information, I'd say their legitimacy is questionable, and you should keep looking for other, more reputable writing gigs.

WritersWeekly.com runs helpful articles and columns like this on a weekly basis. This e-zine is a valuable resource for writers, and I highly recommend checking it when it is published each Wednesday.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! Today - my first Christmas with my boyfriend, Michael, and my first Christmas not spent with my family - has turned out to be a wonderful day.

The best present I got today was a scanner from Michael. If a lightweight laptop and a voice recorder are a writer's first two best friends, this scanner (a Canon LiDE 500F) has got to be a writer's third best friend. It seriously doesn't weigh much more than my laptop, and it's not much bigger, either. It doesn't have a power supply, either - it gets its power through the USB connection with the computer. It scans to a file, to the printer, or to email...and best yet, it'll scan to a PDF file! This is handy because if I write an e-book for publication on Booklocker.com (which I've thought of), I won't have to pay to have my files turned into PDF files. Also, scanning to PDF files will be useful for my porftfolio. I've already been playing with it quite a bit; I imagine it'll be a while before I run out of things to scan.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Writer's Best Friends

I've known that a writer's best friend is a little, transportable laptop. For about a year, I had an older one that I bought used - practically an antique, with a 500 Mhz processer, that ran Windows 98 and had external drives in order to make it light. I loved it at first, but it began having problems: it would freeze, stop recognizing the USB drive, all sorts of other little problems. It was a pain in the ass downloading drivers for practically everything I bought for it, and then there was the wireless problem: I couldn't get a wireless card to work on the darn thing, and I tried several. Clearly, this laptop was not my best friend any longer.

Several months ago, on a whim, I started looking at the electronics stores for small laptops. I really didn't think I'd find anything, because it seems that size is not the issue on the current market - large screens and super fast processors are. However, much to my surprise, I found my new best friend at CompUSA. The Averatec 1020 sat there on the shelf, waiting patiently for me to arrive for God knows how long. A 1 Ghz Celeron processor with a 10.8" widescreen and a CD burner drive, weighing only a little over 3 pounds, I fell in love with it instantly, and bought it on the spot - the very one, as the floor model was the only one they had left in the entire region.

I get a lot of comments on how small my laptop is. I always tell them that it's a writer's best friend. Well, yesterday I discovered a writer's second best friend.

I interviewed a lady for a business profile, and took along my mom's mini voice recorder. Although I took my laptop as well for the interview questions, I didn't want to hold things up by having to type everything, so I decided to record the interview and take the notes later. It worked beautifully. The entire interview is preserved on this miniature tape, and I can play it, rewind it, fast forward it, however I like. The only trouble is, my mom wants her voice recorder back (long story), so I'm going to need to get my own. But I've decided that as a writer, it's something I can't do without, so it's worth buying.

Well, there you have it: a writer's best friends are, first and foremost, an easily portable laptop, and secondly, a voice recorder to facilitate interviews and such. Amazing to think how writers managed before technology, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Do non-paying gigs have value for new writers?

Today, as I was browsing the job ads on Craigslist.org (a great place to find writing gigs, by the way) I came across yet another gig that advertised that they did not pay, but that the gig offered valuable exposure and published clips. I see this pretty frequently - there are so many publishers out there who don't pay their writers. And why should they want to, when they can scam writers into doing it for free? (And it is a scam, because even free publications make money on advertising space.)

When it comes down to it, simply getting published is not a good return for all the time and energy you'll put into writing for these publications. Why not? Because there are scores of low paying - yet paying - writing gigs out there. You can make five or ten bucks per article writing for internet databases (where I started out) - which isn't much, but it sure beats doing it for free.

That being said, there are exceptions. If you have other paying gigs, and you want to accept a non-paying gig for a personal reason, go for it. I write book reviews for Altar Magazine, with free books as my only compensation. (That actually works out pretty well for me, since a good portion of my income goes toward buying books anyway.) I also have reviewed a couple of plays (The Dead Guy and Bug) for Splash Magazine; I considered a couple of free theatre tickets a decent exchange for a short review, and the copy of Adobe Photoshop that they gave me (for preparing the photos that accompany each review) was a nice bonus. I also volunteered to help work on the newletters and other written materials distributed by my local library (but unfortunately they didn't need any extra help right now), and I've considered volunteering my services to various charity efforts.

These types of non-paying jobs are different, however. First of all, I do have actual paying jobs, so it's not like I'm working totally for free. And second, I still get something I value out of each of these. For writing the reviews, I get free books and theatre tickets and software. For writing for the library, I would have enjoyed the pleasure of promoting more reading in my community, as well as experience working on newsletter and pamphlets. And if I volunteer my services for charity purposes, I'll have the satisfaction of helping a cause I choose... And charity volunteer work will actually add to a resume.

I guess when it comes down to it, you have to use your own judgment to decide whether to take a non-paying gig or not. You probably shouldn't do it just for the experience, especially if there are paid gigs out there to offer you the same experience. However, if you have personal reasons that justify working for no pay, go for it. Just make sure that you can still pay the bills with your other income. :o)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Journaling: Does it make you a writer or keep you from writing?

Today I was thinking about all the writing advice flying around out there. Sometimes it seems that the way to make money writing is to write a book about how to write... Anyway, there's a lot of advice about journaling. Some how-to books will tell you that journaling is a great thing to do to get in the habit of writing frequently. Other books will tell you that journaling is nothing but another form of procrastinating, and will only keep you from writing anything that makes money.

My thoughts? Well, for starters, if someone is really born to write I don't think they'll need any practice at writing frequently... If you're a born writer, that's what you want to do most of the time. Of course, I've kept a journal consistently since I was 10 or 11, and it certainly was never with the intent of practicing... although I'm sure it refined my writing techniques over the years, just as the many, many books I read probably served as examples on how to write. No, I kept my journal for my own reflections, as a coping mechanism, however you want to think of it - but in any case, it wasn't for the sake of writing.

Interestingly, now that I'm freelancing full time, I'm turning to that journal less and less. I think I've only written in it a couple of times in the last 4 or 5 months. So maybe that's the truth of the matter: journaling is just fine when you're not writing for a living, but once you start really living by your pen (or your computer keys) you find you have less and less time for journaling.

I guess technically a blog is sort of like a public journal, so in some ways I'm still doing it, but it's a different goal now: it's all really about getting my work "out there," getting my name recognized and funneling more internet traffic to my site. In any case, I hope my blog will be more interesting than the lengthy rants of a lovesick teenager. :o)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Back in the land of the living!

It seems like such a long time ago that I started this blog! Since then, I've finished my class - paper, exam, and all. What a relief! Next semester I'm not going to take a class at all, so that I can concentrate more on my freelancing.

Something else that has been claiming a lot of my time lately is my sick cat, Cleo. I was having to nurse her back to health from liver failure due to a fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis), which interfered with my freelancing more than I care to admit; thankfully, she started eating on her own almost exactly a week ago. It'll definitely make for a much better holiday season - the best Christmas present I could have asked for! You can read more about Cleo on a blog-type of page I made for her: http://www.katharineswan.com/cleo.htm.

Almost right after Cleo started eating on her own, I finished a freelance article that I'd been sitting on for quite some time. I also have a few others that have been piling up since Cleo first got sick. Hopefully I'll be able to finish another of those and get all my holiday shopping done in the next week. :o)

Thanks for hanging in there with me - I'll post again when something else interesting happens. Right now it's all about celebrating Cleo's newfound health and my restored freedom.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Welcome to the blog of Katharine Swan!

Hi! I finally decided to give in to temptation and start a blog. For the most part, it was the realization that it would direct more traffic to my site that convinced me.

For the next week I am finishing up a class, so between a paper, an essay exam, and a multiple choice exam, I probably won't have time to really kick off my blog. I promise I'll return to make updates once I'm finished!


Popular Posts