Monday, January 30, 2006

More work than I imagined

I think I've mentioned before how my freelancing work load tends to come and go in waves. Sometimes I won't have very much work, and other times I have almost more than I can handle.

Right now seems to be shaping up to be one of the latter kind.

I've been responding to decent ads looking for freelancers all along, but lately it seems my emails have been met with a lot of interest. Now I'm sitting here, thinking that I may have to reevaluate my daily schedule (as well as how much of my time is spent working on the side), and wondering what assignments to tackle first. I know it's a good thing that I'm suddenly getting this much writing work, but it still feels a little bit overwhelming.

Well, I'd better buckle down and start working on something!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Suggesting a contract really works!

A while back I blogged on the importance of having a contract. Twice now I've suggested a contract for a new freelancing gig, and neither time has the other party had any complaints. In fact, one wrote up the contract himself, while the other just let me do it. My success is encouraging, as it hasn't scared away anyone yet, and it protects me from getting screwed over.

I also found another page with information on freelance contracts that I wanted to pass on. In exploring the site, I found it had very interesting information on other writing-related topics, as well, such as E-publishing and query writing. The site also has a page on the financial side of freelancing, including how to do your taxes as a freelance writer.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bush's plans for health insurance

Another new article that I found interesting and pertinent to my own concerns (and, I must add, rather infuriating): an article about Bush's plans for "correcting" the health care system.

This article talks about how Bush wants to try to control the soaring prices of health care by placing the responsibilities in the hands of the individual. However, his concern here is not for the health of the American people, but the profit margin of American businesses: because the cost of health care is so high, business are struggling to provide benefits for their employees. However, as critics point out in the article, shifting more of the responsibilities of maintaining health care to the hands of individuals won't necessarily keep the prices down - instead, they pointed out, it could actually make costs go up more, since his plan will increase the demand for individual health insurance plans, allowing the companies to raise prices as they see fit. As I see it, though, the biggest problem with this plan is that it will do absolutely nothing to help all Americans get health insurance. For people like me, whom the insurance companies can refuse to cover under an individual plan, it will do absolutely nothing. I have to get health insurance via an employer's group plan, since they are the only plans who are forbidden by law from denying me coverage. With Bush's plan shifting the responsibility of health insurance away from the businesses and onto the individuals, where will that leave people like me? Up shit creek without a paddle, that's where!

Let's hope that whoever is elected president next is able to fix the damage Bush is doing to our country... Because if it gets much worse here, I'm moving to Canada! At least there I'll have guaranteed health care...and hey, the lower crime rates are just a bonus!

Friday, January 27, 2006

New advancements in the treatment of diabetes

Only last summer, I was asked to participate in a study of a new drug that was in the testing stage: inhaled insulin. I didn't participate in the study, but because I'd been contacted about it I was familiar with the concept. This evening I saw headlines in both the Washington Post and the New York Times: one brand's inhaled insulin has been approved.

It's an amazing advancement for the treatment of diabetes, of course. However, after reading the articles, I'm not so sure I'd want to be on it. First of all, the articles both site injections as "highly painful." Wait a sec. Have these diabetics been getting the same injections that I have? It's not like in the old days, when insulin had to be injected directly into the vein. These days, insulin needles come as small as 33 gauge (or smaller), which is so tiny I don't even feel it the vast majority of the time. Second of all, the insulin is a dry powder. I don't know about you, but the idea of inhaling powder doesn't appeal to me much. I think I'd rather stick with shots I can't feel anyway. And third, testing has shown that use of inhaled insulin tends to decrease lung capacity. Do I sense a double standard here? One of the reasons smoking is bad for you is the decreased lung capacity, yet it's okay in inhaled insulin? How do you figure???

No way, I'll stick with what alread does a good job of controlling my diabetes.

Of course, the articles cite the fact that many people, especially those with type 2, do not have good control over their diabetes...and they claim that it's because of "highly painful" injections. Well, I've already explained how unpainful injections really are, so where does that leave us? I'm sorry, but many type 2 diabetics have the disease because they are lazy. They don't eat right, they don't exercise, they don't take care of themselves....which is exactly why they don't have control of the disease, either. Maybe a treatment plan that enables them to get away with being lazy will work, but maybe not.

Another claim that these articles make is that the drug companies are hoping that inhaled insulin will appeal to the disproportionate number of diabetics who are also minorities. Ludicrously, the articles claim that minorities are less likely to learn about their condition, and therefore less likely to control it, yet somehow they're still going to somehow hear about this cool new drug. Does anyone else see the break in logic here? Oh...unless the drug companies advertise on TV, which they've become so fond of doing. Because obviously minorities are also more likely to watch TV.

(That last sentence was completely sarcastic. Please don't think I'm racist!!!)

Don't misunderstand my little rant - I'm not against advancements in medical technology, especially not one that will treat my own condition. However, I am rather appalled that this drug would be approved when it obviously has potentially dangerous long-term side effects. I am also disgusted by the assumptions that were made by a bunch of doctors who probably don't know what it's like to have diabetes anyway. With any luck, however, this advancement will lead to another, which will lead to another...and eventually, there really will be better ways of treating diabetes than injections.

The snowball effect

It's not about raining or pouring anymore - now it's a snowball effect. Michael found out the results of his MRI today, and it's pretty bad - bad enough that his doctor (who was previously being pretty conservative) has told him that he needs to see an orthopedic surgeon. It's not guaranteed that he'll need surgery, but basically it's up to the surgeon to make the call now. Michael has an appointment to see him on Tuesday of next week, and I'll go with him.

Of course, this introduces a whole new range of problems. The most significant is that Michael is likely going to have to come to terms with the fact that he needs surgery, something he had really hoped to avoid. Also significant are the financial considerations: the surgery will likely require that Michael allow a month or two for recovery (meaning no work). It sounds like he can claim temporary disability at work, but his income during his recovery time might not be the full amount. On top of it, the insurance only pays for a certain percentage of the surgery, so we'll have more bills to take into consideration as well.

This will also affect me quite a bit, as I'll likely have to be home with Michael much more, which will cut into my availability for babysitting and other supplemental income. Also, as I've discovered in the past, such as when I was nursing my sick kitty or when Michael was home for back pain last week, I don't get as much writing done when I have distractions like these. However, I've told Michael I will support him 100% through this ordeal, and I meant it - I'll be happy to take care of him while he's home recovering.

It's funny how things happen. Since I quit my job to freelance, there have been a flood of additional expenses and interruptions: Cleo got sick, my glasses broke, and Michael developed serious back problems. If I were superstitious (which I'm not, terribly, but I still can't help but notice the pattern), I could take this one of two ways: either that it's a sign I shouldn't be freelancing, or it's life's way of testing my dedication to my dream of being a writer. I think I've had enough successes in only three months that I'd prefer to see it the latter way. If I have to, of course, I'll get a full-time job again, but for as long as it's feasible I will continue to stick it out as a freelancer!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Today I received my first snail-mail rejection from that query mailing I sent out - was it last week?

Anyway, since writers are always encouraged to send correspondence that is professional in appearance and tone, I was amazed by how blatantly unprofessional this rejection was. Yeah, I've received all kinds of rejections in the past: form letters, postcards, whatever... But this one was different. It looks like a piece of paper off of a note pad - fairly small in size - and it has a basic three-sentence response printed on it, along with the publication's name. Below that, they wrote a quick note in blue colored pencil. It's like a college professor passing out grades marked in crayon, for heaven's sake.

Of course, no matter what the rejection says, us freelance writers really aren't at liberty to speak our minds, lest we inadvertently establish a reputation of being difficult to work with. My recent post on the How-To blog, about writing responses to rejection letters, discusses this in more detail.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The good news...and the bad

The good news is that I finished my first short story for my ghostwriting gig. I actually finished writing the story late last night - 7,000 words in two days, baby! - and this morning before leaving to work for one of my families, I proofread it and sent it off. The guy I wrote it for loved it! Although I'm looking forward to writing the next one, I actually need to take a day or two to finish some other work first.

The bad news: my short piece on a recent event didn't get such a hot response from the second publication I submitted it to, either. Realistically, the article was written for the first publication, which was more of a newspaper than a magazine. Although they didn't want to print it because it contained themes that they did not consider appropriate for their paper, they still said it was very well written. I didn't really want to rewrite the article for the second magazine, even though I expected they would want something a little different, since they won't pay to publish it, so I sent it as is; perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that I got a rather snippy email back. Rather than put more time into the article and still not get paid for it, I submitted it to an online publication that I write for sometimes. They don't pay all that well, but it's better than nothing!

Despite the good news, the bad news has made me rather cranky this evening. Usually I'm pretty good about brushing off rejection, but I'm particularly disgruntled by this one - perhaps because the guy criticized my piece, then expects me to rewrite it for him, and wants me to do so without pay. I'd like to think it's not just me - that I have a right to be upset about this.

I do have other pieces to write at the moment, one of which I intended to work on tonight, but now I find I'm not in the mood to write. However, I do have responsibilities to several other people at the moment, so I'll give it an hour or two and see how I feel then.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dealing with rejection

Several weeks ago, I queried a handful of publications about covering a local event. One publication said they were interested, and while the pay wasn't high and I had to keep the word count down, I was more than thrilled.

I sent the article about a week ago. I didn't hear anything - not even a confirmation that they had received it - until today, when they told me it didn't fit the needs of the publication. The frustrating thing was, what "didn't fit" was not something about my writing, but something about the event itself - something they should have known about already from my query.

On the bright side, they did say the article was very well written. That at least made me feel good - that it wasn't something that I'd done wrong. I submitted the article to another interested party - one that doesn't pay, unfortunately, but I'd rather see the article in print without being paid for it than banishing it to the "Deleted Items" bin. (Well, that's speaking figuratively, as I wouldn't really throw it away - but if I don't submit it to this non-paying magazine, it'll just sit on my computer doing nothing, and I still won't get paid for it.)

Rejection is part of being a writer, I guess, but it's still quite frustrating sometimes. Thankfully, I am not as sensitive to criticism as I was in my teenage writing years; now I'm able to shrug off the rejections and simply look ahead to the next submission.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Katharine Swan... Ghostwriter

I am embarking on a new writing venture: ghostwriting. The gig is fairly low pay, overall, but I figured it's a good way to get warmed up again in fiction: by practicing on someone else's stuff. :o) Plus, it's fairly easy to write stories when the plot is already pretty much laid out for me; I just have to do a little embellishing. The only tricky part is that I only have 48 hours to write each 5,000 word story. When I don't have anything else to do, it's not a big deal, but when I'm busy with babysitting and other writing assignments, it may get in the way a little to have a deadline-sensitive job like this.

I certainly had my reservations about taking on this job, but I figured I might as well try it out, see what it's like before I pass judgment. So far I'm liking it... I found this first story rather intriguing. Luckily, I can write fiction much easier and faster than nonfiction.

Oh, and I took my own advice: I requested a contract when it became clear there wasn't one already. Oh, and before taking the job, I balked at the writing test - and won! The employer let me send writing samples that I'd already written, instead of spending a lot of time writing a custom sample for a job I might not get. He understood perfectly when I voiced my concerns, particularly about people taking advantage of freelancers by using "test" work without paying.

Anyway, I need to get back to writing my story! I also work for one of my families for the next few days, which will be good money but will also keep me away from my writing for somewhere around 6 hours each day. Unfortunate, but I guess I need the money. I really should help out with the bills a little more next month...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

An interesting quote and other random thoughts

Google's quote of the day was pretty good. As someone who is not religious and who is totally baffled by humanity's apparent desperation to believe in a good reason for our existence, this quote, by Andre Malraux, pretty much touched home for me.

In other matters... It's strange to know that Michael is going back to work tomorrow. He's doing a lot better than he was last week, and of course he really can't keep missing work like this; but it'll be strange not to have him home. Good, in some ways, as I'll be able to get stuff done; but strange nonetheless. And lonely.

As far as getting things done goes, I've done pretty well with keeping up on my paying blog entries, but I need to get back to work on some other assignments. I could work on some of that stuff tonight, but I think I'll be better off buckling down tomorrow during the day, when I'm alone. There'll be less distractions then. I may not be sleepy for a while yet, since I slept pretty late today, but I'll read for a little while if that's the case... It ought to relax me a little, and hopefully help me go to bed at a normal time (for me), rather than the super-late bedtime that could correspond with my super-late waking time.

Tomorrow Michael has a physical therapy in the early evening, to which I'm going as well, in case they want to show us exercises he can do at home with my help. That will break up my day somewhat, so hopefully I'll be able to get enough work done before then.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Back to blogging

One of my biggest consistent sources of income comes from writing for Best of the Web's blogs (to which I've been linking lately, as the topic of my recent entries have had to do with freelancing). I get paid per post, and checks are cut monthly, which makes it almost like a "real" job. :o) I contribute to the How-To Blog, the Music Blog, and the Parenting Blog; I'm also signed up to write for a literature blog (oh boy!) and a women's issues blog, whenever those get started.

For the first half of the month, I didn't write very much on those blogs, even though I was writing on my personal blog pretty frequently. During the past few days, however, I've been making an effort to write for the paying blogs regularly. I can really use the check I get from them, and if I'm not working on anything else I might as well work on something that pays me.

In any case, I wrote one my entries last night while I was at the hospital waiting for Michael to get done with his MRI, and another two while we were at the Barnes & Noble cafe later in the evening; and I wrote a couple tonight while I was babysitting (after the kids went to bed, of course). This is where having my little laptop comes in handy... I can open it up and turn it on pretty much anywhere, and look pretty darn cool in the process. ;o) And if I have time to kill, I might as well do so while making some money!

More querying tips for freelancers

Yesterday on the How-To Blog I contribute to, I posted information on mass-producing queries (like I had to do for this recent mailing). This evening I wrote a post on following up on your queries. So sorry for not writing it here, but the How-To Blog actually pays me for my posts, whereas this is just for fun! :o)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lessons on writing queries

I've written queries and cover letters before, but I think this most recent batch was my first "big" query mailing, both in terms of the assignment I'm querying for and the number of queries I sent out. As a result, I learned a lot about querying in the last 24 hours, and remembered a lot of tips I've read in the past. Like any practical and economical writer, I put these lessons to use, adding a post about writing query letters to the How-To Blog I contribute to. I hope this information proves useful for any other writers or hopefuls who stumble across my site.

The query ordeal, continued; plus, International Payment Coupons

Today I nearly finished up with the queries. I spent the better part of the afternoon stamping and addressing envelopes and placing return-address stickers. I went out and bought more stamps, and then made a trip to the Post Office to mail those queries that had to go out of the country.

Now that was fun. You can't just include an SASE with those queries that are destined for Canada or the United Kingdom, as they don't use USPS postage. Instead, you have to send an International Payment Coupon with your self-addressed envelope, which they then use to buy postage (I think?). The problem was, the guy behind the counter wasn't sure how to do it, because he said they rarely sell them. So he had to ask. As it turns out, he just charges them and stamps them, and then I put it in the envelope with the query and return envelope. Easy-peasy, after a fashion.

Now that that's finished, I feel relieved that it's all over, but rather drained in the aftermath. I have other writing to do, but I have a feeling it'll be a struggle to motivate myself to do it this evening. I guess I ought to just wait until tomorrow for a fresh start. At least I have only the one major assignment left to finish at the moment. It should be pretty painless, so I hope to finish it this weekend. That way, I'll be free to work on some fiction for a little while.

Queries: A writer's slave labor

I never thought preparing queries could be so time-consuming.

I prepared 49 queries tonight. It took something like five hours, even though I was working from a template. Each publication wants something different, whether it's requirements on including clips or simply differences in what they're looking for.

At any rate, it's clear I didn't get enough stamps. I'll have to remedy that in the morning... I'm working for one of my families in the afternoon, so I'll have to work on getting my queries ready to mail before and after that.

Right now, I'm so tired of query letters that I don't want to write another one for at least a week. My short stories can wait to be sent out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tools for freelancers: Writing contracts and invoices

Being a freelance writer doesn't just mean writing articles and/or stories. You also have to be able to write for the marketing and business aspects of the job.

A week ago, Angela Hoy of Writer's Weekly posted a blurb on the importance of having a contract. I have to admit, even though she has some very important points of how not having a contract can get you screwed, I hadn't thought of it myself. I guess that's what sites like hers are for, right - helping out freelancers who are new enough to need the help. Anyway, Angela recommended writing your own contract if you're not provided with one. I had no idea how to write one, so I emailed her asking for help. She told me to search Google, and sure enough, I found plenty of sample freelance contracts to help me get started!

A couple of days later, I had to send an invoice to a publication that accepted one of my articles (hooray!). Not knowing where to start on that either, I decided to try the approach that had helped so much when I wanted to know about contracts: I searched Google. I found quite a few sample invoices, and was able to put together a pretty decent-looking one to send to my editor.

For more information, check my Best of the Web "How-to Blog" postings on writing freelance contracts and invoices.

Updates on Michael

Yesterday afternoon, Michael and I went to his doctor's appointment. They seemed to recognize that his back problem has gotten worse. They ordered an MRI, prescribed stronger pain medication and steriods (for reducing inflammation), and again recommended physical therapy. They also had him schedule a physical, as he hasn't had a comprehensive blood draw in years; they don't think the cold hands and feet have to do with his back, and they want to check his blood for things like thyroid functions.

Michael has been a little better each day. He's home from work again today, but he's been talking about going to work tomorrow and/or Friday. I think he ought to stay home, particularly because he has an appointment for his MRI late Friday, and he has to get his blood drawn first thing in the morning tomorrow or Friday, but it is ultimately his decision. I know he hates missing so much work, especially at this time of year, when it's really busy.

As for me, I'm gradually getting into the habit of working again... I did manage to work a little yesterday, despite the fact that most of the afternoon was taken up by the trip to the doctor's office and other errands, and I hope to be even more productive today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Overcoming my tendency to procrastinate

When I last posted yesterday, I was procrastinating on finishing a short assignment. While I still did something worthwhile in my article's stead, I can still recognize that my habit of procrastinating could pose a threat to my career.

However, I did finish that assignment late last night. After Michael went to sleep, and after I finished posting to my blog, I pulled up the article. As I was looking at, everything just kind of clicked; the words I wanted came to me easily, and I finished working on the article in probably under half an hour, with hardly a thought of procrastinating any further. I felt quite satisfied with myself afterward.

Completing the article so quickly and easily made me start thinking. If I'm going to procrastinate, I figured, I should at least put myself to work on another project in the meantime. For example, I could work on some of my fiction for a little bit, and then go back to the piece I'm procrastinating on. At least that way, it wouldn't be wasted time.

Well, this evening I really must work on some query letters, so I guess I'd better get started on staring at the screen again, waiting for my muse to honor me with her presence. :o)

Preserving my childhood dream

This evening, perhaps because I didn't want to work on any assignments at the moment, I chose to convert all my old files from floppy disk to CD. Since I got my new computer, which does not have a floppy drive, I've had my box of floppies sitting next to my desk, waiting to be recovered. It's been on my to-do list for some time, and I actually wasn't anticipating I'd get to them quite yet - but hey, you gotta take advantage of motivation when it comes to you. So I dug out my old laptop, hooked up the external floppy drive, and started transferring the files to my jump drive.

Laughably, all the files on about 20 floppies didn't even come close to filling up my jump drive. However, it took me about an hour and forty minutes to transfer everything, burn the CDs, and convert some of the old files that I wanted easily accessible on my hard drive. I'd forgotten how slow my old computer was, for one thing...not to mention how slow floppy drives are. Ugh.

Some of the old files were simply school work from my first few years of college, before I started saving files on other kinds of media. However, about half of the disks - and the ones I was most concerned with - contained my high school writings: three completed novels, one I was working on when I stopped writing regularly, numerous short stories, and even a couple of high school assignments. All of the fiction I saved not only on CD, but also on my hard drive. I had to convert the files - I used Word Perfect back then, on a 286 Compaq laptop with a two-tone blue screen, for heaven's sake... Anyway, there are a few stories and a novel from my high school days that I want to rewrite and/or edit, so that I can try to publish it. I want the files easily accessible for when I decide to (or find time to, as the case may be) tackle those projects.

Although I really accomplished very little today, except for reading and taking care of Michael, I think that transferring all of those files was a significant accomplishment. Goodness knows, in a couple of years floppies probably won't be accessible at all (if you consider them even remotedly accessible now). Changing the media on which my old writings were saved means that I've prolonged their life and their accessibility. It's kind of like preserving a piece of my dream. (When I get some of that rewritten and published, I'll call that realizing my dream, since those stories represent the height of my passion.)

As for tomorrow (well, today, technically, although it doesn't feel like tomorrow until I've been to bed), I doubt I'll get much more done. I have quite a few things to mail (I sold some of my doll collection that I don't want anymore on ebay), I have to go to the bank, and I'll have to take Michael to his doctor's appointment in the afternoon. I hope to at least be able to finish the little assignment I meant to do today, and hopefully get started on some queries as well.

This entire week may not show much progress, actually, as Michael may be home for most of it, if not all of it. I actually suggested to him that he stay home and rest, regardless of how he's feeling in a day or two. This morning scared both of us pretty badly, and I'd hate for him to go to work thinking he's doing better and just end up in bad shape all over again. Whether he'll take my advice still remains to be seen. Of course, it'll be easier for me to work if he's not here, but I'd rather him be home for the entire week and have an easier time of recovering, than leave me alone for a few days and then end up repeating today's events all over again.

I guess what it comes down to is that if I'm going to get anything done this week I'll have to stop procrastinating and focus a little harder...

Monday, January 16, 2006

My newest review

My review of Frozen, the play at the Curious Theatre that I saw at its opening Saturday night, is now live on Splash Magazine. Please check it out if you get a chance!

It's raining, it's poring...

About a month and a half ago, I was thinking about how when it rains, it pores. At the time, I'd only been freelancing about a month and wasn't really making any money at it yet; I had a number of large bills in quick succession, however, as my cat, Cleo, got sick, and my glasses broke, requiring me to get new ones. Somehow, I managed to wade through the extra expenses, but they severely tapped my extra resources.

Now, it seems we have another rainstorm ahead of us. Michael has been having back pain for the last few months, but during the last four or five days it's gotten dramatically worse. All this weekend, he wasn't able to sleep more than about six hours at night, because the pain was so bad after lying in bed for that long. He knew he wouldn't be able to make it to work today, so he called in late last night. Early this morning, I awoke to him gasping in pain as he turned the wrong way in his efforts to get up. He was obviously in a lot more pain than usual, so I got up with him. It's lucky I did, because he fell in the kitchen, nearly passing out from the pain. I helped him get back up and eventually persuaded him to get back in bed, from where he called his doctor's office.

I'm really concerned. Michael is now showing some rather alarming symptoms, such as alternating chills and hot flashes (when he nearly passed out in the kitchen he was sweating and said he felt like he was burning up), numbness in his left foot, ice-cold extremeties (particularly his feet), nausea (when he nearly passed out), and uncontrollable shaking, almost to the point of convulsions (he kept hitting his head on the cabinets right before he fell in the kitchen, and kept shaking for some time afterward). He's been to the doctor's several times already, but at the time it wasn't as bad. His doctor's office has been assuming it's a pinched nerve (which is what he had thought, too), but since it wasn't bad last time he was there (which was Friday, by the way), they were hesitating to do an MRI, and instead were pushing physical therapy. Now, I'm afraid that they have tunnel vision, and will have a hard time seeing how much worse it has gotten, practically overnight.

Michael has a doctor's appointment tomorrow afternoon, but he's considering going to the emergency room, depending on how bad it gets. Alas, this will probably be another impediment to my freelancing. I guess if we do go to the emergency room, I'll have plenty of time to kill, so I'll be sure to bring my laptop, a book, and a couple of DVDs. At the very least, I can finish a smaller assignment and draft a query or two while I'm there.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reading update

Just thought I'd mention that I'm back into the swing of things, as far as reading goes. I finished the book I was reading last week - Tithe, by Holly Black - on Friday. It was an excellent YA novel for anyone who loves tales of the supernatural, and I highly recommend it. Yesterday, I read another book from cover to cover (yay! back to reading a book a day!): First Test, by Tamora Pierce. Pierce is also a YA author, and a reminder that luck and chance have as much to do with society's selection of bestsellers as story and skill do. I think Pierce's books - fantasy tales of knights, demons, and a medieval world - are comparable to Harry Potter, and I would recommend them to anyone who likes that sort of thing. Of course, the advantage to Pierce's books is that they feature strong female heroes, which many fantasy books do not.

The link between reading and writing

A topic I have always found intriguing is the relation between reading and writing. As I've said in earlier postings, I've been an avid reader as long as I can remember (with exception to my partying years, when I strayed from the fold). I've also been a writer for a very long time. I always enjoyed making up stories - playing dolls or make believe was my favorite pastime as a child. I don't recall when I wrote my first story, however. I can remember writing a story in forth grade or so, and a poem in sixth grade that earned me recognition from my teacher and the class; despite my lack of memories to support the notion, however, I feel that I must have been writing by that time, at least enough to get noticed. In seventh and eighth grades I wrote a lot of poetry and kept a journal quite devotedly, and by ninth grade my stories had become longer and more complex. It was in ninth or tenth grade that I wrote my first novel.

No one ever taught me how to write. In fact, I often found in Language Arts and English classes that while I didn't know the proper terms for parts of language or the specifics on how to diagram a sentence, I already had the gist of how to accurately create quite complex sentences. I had simply read so many sentences already that I knew how they were supposed to go. As a result, I breezed through English classes, from the most basic to the most difficult.

Instilling a love for reading in children is so important. Quite frankly, who cares if a child can diagram a sentence, if he or she instinctively knows how to create it - instinctively knows what is right or wrong. And learning through reading is so much more interesting than learning via dry, useless classroom exercises.

Quite frankly, I can't imagine anyone loving to write who hasn't loved reading too. Anyone who hasn't loved reading probably hasn't read a lot, and anyone who hasn't read a lot is going to have to think more of logistics while they write...which takes most of the fun out of the creative process. (Or they'll just write really badly. I see that from some freelance writers, and it really makes me wonder how they get work at all...)

At any rate, the moral of this story is, reading and writing do go hand-in-hand. You can probably have a reader without a writer, but you just won't have a writer who's not a reader.

Another article on diabetes

The New York Times has another article on type 2 diabetes, this time on the finding of a gene that makes people more susceptible to the disease. Even though I am a type 1 diabetic, I found the article interesting, and wanted to post it for my readers.

The thing that makes this article so interesting is how completely different type 1 and type 2 diabetes are. They are completely different diseases, they just have the same end results: the buildup of sugar in the bloodstream due to an inability to process it. The difference is in how that result is met.

Type 1 diabetes is clearly a genetic disease. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the person's immune system was programmed to destroy their own pancreatic, insulin-producing cells. The autoimmune response can start at any time: many type 1 diabetics are diagnosed as children, whereas I was 21 or possibly even 20 when my autoimmune response kicked in (22 when diagnosed). Even middle-aged adults can be diagnosed as type 1 (although this is often misdiagnosed, since type 2 is usually the culprit at this age). The trigger for the autoimmune response is not known.

Also, an autoimmune diseased can be passed genetically as any autoimmune disease. For example, my mother has a hyper thyroid, an autoimmune disease which became diabetes in me. I also know of a family where the uncle was diabetic, but the nephew was diagnosed with leukemia, another disease with an autoimmune basis. However, my mother has a friend whose husband and children are diabetic, showing that diabetes can also be passed as itself.

Type 2 diabetes has long thought to be a very different sort of disease - a disease of indulgence, you might say. Type 2 diabetes seems to occur in elderly and overweight individuals; in fact, the condition can often be corrected with militant exercise and careful diet planning. The disease occurs when a person's body becomes resistant to their own insulin. That is, they still make insulin (which type 1 diabetics do not), but they are unable to use it. Ninety percent of diabetics have type 2, and the disease is usually attributed to the American culture of poor diet - fast food and unhealthy diets, combined with excessive eating. Because of this, it's been difficult to pin down any genetic link to type 2 diabetes - particularly because the doctors could never be sure if the diabetes was genetic, or just the tendency to be overweight, which is a factor in type 2 diabetes.

According to this New York Times article by Nicholas Wade, however, scientists have identified a gene that makes the risk of type 2 diabetes significantly higher. This doesn't mean that the gene causes type 2 diabetes, though, I should point out - just that it makes the disease much more likely in a person that carries the gene. Again, it's hard to say how exactly the gene makes the disease more likely; but once they develop a test for the gene, those who have it will have the forewarning and awareness necessary to be more careful with their diet and exercise habits.

The perks to being a reviewer

Last night I saw a play I am to review: Frozen, at the Curious Theatre in Denver. I've reviewed a few other plays for them, The Dead Guy and Bug. At The Dead Guy, my first play as a reviewer, I had no idea what to expect. To make matters more complicated, it was a red carpet event, as well. I was awed by the employees handing out champagne and the party after the play, but mostly I was amazed by the way I was treated. I went to the ticket desk and said - very professionally, I thought - "I'm Katharine Leppert, with Splash Magazine." Immediately I was given a press packet, and Michael and I were ushered to our seats. Even Michael commented on how we were treated like something akin to royalty.

At the next play I reviewed, Bug, the treatment wasn't much different. They couldn't find my tickets at the box office, so the guy working the office called for Mare, the marketing director. It turned out the editor hadn't confirmed my tickets; nevertheless, Mare welcomed me warmly, found me a press packet, and personally found us a pair of seats.

For last night's performance of Frozen, the editor had me confirm the seats myself. This time, our seats were reserved with my name, and Mare even asked as she seated us if we liked those seats, or if we'd prefer others.

It's really something to be treated like that. It's not particularly surprising if you think about it, of course - the media is a major source of exposure for these plays, and so it's in their best interest to treat their reviewers as well as possible. I'm sure admitting how delighted it makes me shows a great deal of my inexperience, but I can't help it - I love being treated as though I'm very important. Goodness knows, as a writer I'm more likely to get criticism than respect, so I'll take the latter whenever I can find it.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

After the storm

I worked another six hours yesterday, making the total nearly 21 hours. I don't think I could have made it any longer - yesterday morning I was fighting sleep while I was playing with my youngest charge (or rather, watching her play). However, my reward was $244 - hard earned, but much needed, money.

Last night I attended an event that I am reviewing for a community publication. It was an awful lot of fun... Afterward, I jotted down some notes and wrote about half of the piece. Since I'll have another event to attend tonight, and another review to write, I hope to get the first piece finished this afternoon. After this weekend, I'll have to resume work on a few of the assignments that were rather ignored amid all the excitement this week. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with all of these various assignments... I can only assume I'll get better at it as I gain more experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Drop everything and read

Recent reading material has caused me to reflect on reading and my childhood. Interestingly, I can't actually recall not being able to read. My mom says that I started reading before I turned three, so I guess that's why. The point is, reading was a strong influence on my life, from my earliest memories.

I can remember "D.E.A.R." in late elementary school. It was a time of day (or a specific day?) called "Drop Everything And Read," and it was schoolwide - every class participated. No matter what time of the day it was, everyone - students and teachers alike - were to stop what they were doing and read.

Of course, reading was not something that had to be pushed with me. In fact, my teachers, with a mixture of amusement, awe, and bewilderment, would tell my parents during conferences that they had to try to get all the other kids to read more, but they had to get me to read less. All through public school, I was more likely to be reading a book in class than paying attention. I don't recall how frequently I finished books during elementary and middle school, but I do know that by high school I could easily finish a regular (350-500 page) novel in a day - sometimes in less time, particularly during the summer.

After I graduated from high school, I wandered off the academic path, taking four years to work and party before deciding to return to college. I didn't read much during that time. I did start reading again, slowly at first, before I made the decision to go back to school. I guess it was inevitable that reading for pleasure should become a part of my life again before the will for (and the enjoyment of) learning could take place.

As an English major, a lot of what I read for three and a half years was mandated by my degree program. I loved most of it, detested some of it, and merely endured the rest. However, one of my greatest senses of accomplishment upon graduation was having earned the right to read books of my own choosing again.

Now, on Day 2 of my substitute-nannydom, I have not read in almost three days. Horrible feeling, especially since I was halfway through an excellent book when this entire ordeal started! I worked about seven hours today, and it was a big change from my usual routine of writing from bed until I get hungry, and then writing some more... Instead, I did dishes, cleaned up after children, rearranged children's furniture, folded laundry, and played chauffer... Basically I was in perpetual motion the entire day, as opposite as I could get from sitting in my pajamas and writing.

Now, it's a little after 8:00pm, but it feels at least a good three hours later than that. I am exhausted. I plan to take a nice, relaxing hot bath (which will no doubt make me even sleepier), get into bed, and watch a little TV. I have a little headache, and I just don't think I'll be able to bring myself to read tonight.

Hopefully I'll be able to catch up this weekend...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blog issues...again

It seems I'm having blogging issues again. My side banner - with all the links to my posts and other pages on my site - has, for some reason, migrated to the very bottom of the page. I have absolutely no idea why, as I have not changed a single thing... If it doesn't fix itself in a couple of days, I guess I'll have to find out how helpful Blogger's help team really is.

Solving money problems...and creating others

I think I've mentioned before that I do some babysitting on the side, to supplement my freelancing income. Well, some weeks that means one (or even zero) jobs; other weeks it means almost more than I can handle. This week is turning out to be the latter kind. Yesterday, I heard from one of my families; their nanny is unexpectedly out this week, so I'm filling in. At first I expected to only work four or five hours today, and about the same on Friday. However, their need for me ballooned more and more, until today's four hours turned into seven and a half. I'll also be working tomorrow - a full eight-hour day - as well as Friday. When all is said and done, I expect I'll have a minimum of 22 hours this week - all in three days. This is quite a bit of "supplemental" income, and sets my plans for the week back quite a bit; however, there are enough weeks without sufficient babysitting that I know I need to take it when it's available.

Unfortunately, the earlier schedule also means that I'll be robbed of one of my favorite times to work: late at night, after Michael has gone to bed. (My other favorite time is mid-day, when I'm still wearing my pajamas.) I can't imagine I'll be very productive this week, as a result - I don't get much work done in the evening, when Michael is home and awake, although I'll often work a little while he reads or works on his homework.

Fortunately, though, this unexpected work will rescue me from a major money crunch...so I guess I can't complain too much about the demands on my time. Hopefully I'll have a chance to catch up on my writing again next week...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Type 1 diabetic

In May of 2002, at the age of 22, I was diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes. For six months, I had been rapidly losing weight, urinating more and more frequently, and becoming thirstier with each passing day. However, I was completely unaware that these were symptoms of diabetes, and as a result I was down to 97 pounds - and up to a blood sugar level of more than 700 - by the time I was diagnosed. I spent four nights in the hospital over Memorial Day weekend, while the rather inept general doctors struggled to bring my blood sugar down to reasonable levels (and often fed me immediately after giving me a short of insulin to compensate for my highs). Eventually, I received treatment from an endocrinologist - a specialist of diabetes and other endocrine diseases - and was able to go home with normal blood sugar levels.

Now, I am so accustomed to my diabetes that I often forget to catagorize myself as diabetic, and think with surprise, "Oh, yeah - I have diabetes." I also have started to think of my frequent insulin injections as normal, and have actually caught myself wondering why someone else isn't taking a shot, as I would... And then, a split second later, I remember. "Oh, yeah - that's because I have a condition they don't."

However, as normal as being diabetic seems to me, it has significantly changed my outlook on life and politics. As a diabetic, I have had to deal with the fact that insurance companies can - and will - deny me coverage under an individual plan. If I don't have coverage through a group plan - through my work, or as my present situation, my boyfriend's work - they can turn me away...and it's perfectly legal. Furthermore, if I ever go without health insurance for longer than a month, even a group plan can turn me away as having a pre-existing condition... So if I don't have a job (or a significant other) that can provide me with health insurance, I can't get it on my own...and then I am punished for not being able to get it on my own, by being labeled as a pre-existing condition once I do find a job (or significant other) who can provide me with coverage under a group plan. It's like this horrible legal catch-22, designed to target diabetics. What isn't legal, however, is the appalling discrimination I have endured at the hands of employers. However, I still had to go through proving (with the help of a lawyer) that it actually was one of my legal rights to have the same access to health insurance as my co-workers.

Of course, so much of this is the result of the ineptitudes of our current government - and one of the main reasons why I voted for Kerry (and was brokenhearted when he didn't win). I wouldn't have thought it possible, but having seen our country's failure to provide adequate health insurance for all its citizens - or even regulate the existing health insurance industry - has made me even more liberal.

So by now (if you've lasted this long), you're probably wondering what triggered this tirade. This evening, I happened to run across an article on diabetes in The New York Times. While the article actually focuses on type 2 diabetes - a much bigger issue than type 1, as at least 90% of diabetics have type 2, a percentage that is constantly growing thanks to the U.S. culture of fast food and lots of it - many of the issues it presents are true for type 1 as well. Health insurance providers tend to drag their heels about providing preventative care - something I know about, having had coverage under several different providers since my diagnosis - but they have no qualms about coughing up the money for life-or-death instances (which, thankfully, I don't know about firsthand). If only they would realize that a little extra money spent on preventative care could save them oodles of money on the results of poor health care...

Having read my thoughts, please read the article. If the issues surrounding diabetes and/or the larger issue of American health care interest you, I hope you will continue to investigate on your own.


Last night I stayed up late reading for the first time in quite a while. As a teenager, I did that pretty frequently - staying up until 2 or 3am (or at least until my mom yelled at me to turn the lights out) because I was so hooked on a book. I haven't done so in months, though, I think... In fact, since I started freelancing full time, the vast majority of what I've read has been for work.

I have a lot else to do today - I'm making a list of publications to query for a new assignment, and I also need to change the oil and antifreeze in my car - but I thought my blissful night of reading deserved mention.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Livin' by my pen...er, laptop

Schedule is one of the most salient issues I deal with in my career as a full-time freelancer. Ever since my early teens, I've been a night owl; during summer vacations and weekends, I'd stay awake reading until 2am, 3am, even 4am, and then wake up in the late morning and pick up my book again. During the four years between high school and college, my "partying years" you could call them, I was often out and about late into the night - when nothing except the local Amoco gas station and convenience store was open. And as a college student, I learned very quickly never to schedule a class earlier than 10am, as I was often awake late into the night, reading or working on papers.

I spent the first 10 months after graduation working a regular 8-to-5 job; for a year, I went to bed at 10:30 or 11pm, practically every night. When I quit to freelance full-time, however, my schedule quickly changed. Now I'm often awake until 2am, working after Michael goes to sleep, and I don't wake up until late morning.

It's Michael's presence in my life that keeps my schedule as regular as it is. Without him, any regularity would quickly disappear and I'd probably be losing track of the days before you knew it. There are nights (like last night) that I feel tired much earlier than 2am, and shut out the lights early; and then there are nights where I feel motivated and inspired, and would probably keep working until I dropped from exhaustion.

Yesterday, I had an idea for a little snippet I wanted to write; however, we were in the car, and the inspiration was fleeting. Perhaps I could get it back if I really tried, but if I'd had the luxury to do so, I would have written it right then and there. Visions are so much richer when you first conceptualize them, rather than after they've spent days or weeks on your to-do list. If it weren't for Michael - my anchor to the real world - I know that I would soon be living by my laptop, catching sleep between visions, with no regularity to my schedule whatsoever. In some ways, it's good that Michael is here to continually remind me of the real world and keep me somewhat sychronized to it; but in some ways, I also know that a normal schedule can be like a cage to me, preventing me from flexing my creative muscles. I guess my current schedule is a compromise to that: one foot in the real world, one foot in the next.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

One mogul at a time

I had a very good weekend - relaxing and noticeably freelancing-free. Although I had several small projects I wanted to get done, I didn't get much of it done. Oddly enough, however, I did lots of writing this weekend.

The financial situation has gotten a little more serious, so this weekend I started going through my doll collection and selling off what I don't want anymore on ebay. Taking pictures and writing item descriptions kept me busy a lot of the weekend. And so, even though I didn't do any freelancing, per se, I still did a lot of writing.

I can already feel that emerging from this weekend is going to be a struggle. I don't really feel like writing, but I have several obligations to fulfill in the near future, as well as some side work mid-week that's going to claim a considerable amount of my time. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed.

When I was a kid, my family and I went skiing quite a bit. Whereas my younger sister was a daredevil skier, fearlessly imitating my dad's expert moves, I was more cautious. My mom used to say that when I stood at the top of the slope looking down, she could almost see me planning it all out. My dad would warn me to just take it "one mogul at a time," so that I didn't feel overwhelmed. Well, right now I'm making the usual mistake of trying to take in all the moguls at once, and my dad's warning comes to mind. However, I'm afraid that if I don't try to plan it out ahead of time, I'll forget to take a mogul into consideration, and it'll trip me up.

Well, enough lamenting, I guess - I have some reading to do for one of my assignments, which will give me a break from writing at least. I'll tackle the next mogul tomorrow.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My hero

I don't know about other people and their dreams, but as a writer I've found it's helpful to have a hero, someone in the business that I admire and strive to be like. Judy Blume is my hero, partly because she wrote controversial books and partly because she kept writing them. I always joke with friends that if I have half as many banned books as Judy Blume, I'll be happy. The truth is, though, I admire her for saying what she felt needed to be said, for telling stories that needed to be told, despite the opposition. And the happy side effect is that banned books actually sell better than non-controversial books. (I don't think the book-banning camps realize this, or they wouldn't draw attention to the books they hate.)

It's funny how when I was a "young adult," the last thing I wanted was for my books to be classified as YA. Now I want to write some young adult and juvenile books, as well as adult novels. In time I'll make it into authorhood, and when I do, I hope my books touch as many hearts as have Judy Blume's... and fire up as many conservatives. Really, you can't say anything important without doing both.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Filing taxes as a freelance writer

Well, it's getting to be that time of the year again: time to start thinking about filing your taxes! Oh, I know, most people aren't thinking about it yet. (Of course, they're also the ones likely to be still having to think about it on April 15th.) However, I have a lot to consider this year, so I thought I'd better start early. Besides, it's easier to check out tax books from the library right now.

I'd been told by other writers that there are a lot of deductions you can claim as a freelancer. I checked into it, and sure enough, there are plenty of ways to get around owing taxes at the end of the year, particularly if you didn't make very much (which beginning freelancers generally don't). I bought a new laptop when I decided to quit and pursue my freelance career full time, since there's no way the old laptop could have handled it - I can claim that as office equipment. I can also claim a percentage of my rent and utilities as office expenses, since I operate from a home office. I can claim any mileage that I accrued on my personal car through driving back and forth from interviews for profile articles, plays I reviewed, etc. I can also claim any office supplies I buy - such as printer ink and paper - as well as a portion of my internet service (whatever percentage I decide is used for freelancing and not personal uses).

Now, this isn't about being sneaky or trying to get out of paying taxes. It's about finding out what your real income is. Income taxes are based on how much you make at your job. However, when you are working at an actual job, you don't need to pay for certain expenses, such as office space or supplies - the company takes care of that. (Well, that's the way it's supposed to happen, at any rate.) Therefore, your salary is your actual income. However, if you are a freelance writer, then you are covering your own expenses, such as office space, equipment, and supplies. Therefore, to find out what your real income is, you have to subtract these expenses from what you've made. Since taxes aren't deducted from your payments as a freelancer, your goal is not to have to pay taxes for income that you aren't actually making (i.e. income that goes toward paying your business expenses). While deducting part of your rent as office space may seem like cheating, consider that were you not working out of your home, you might not need as much space, and therefore would have a cheaper monthly rent. So you see, it's not actually cheating - it's just accurately assessing how much of your income you are actually keeping, and how much of it is going toward sustaining your freelancing.

I think this information is valuable for other freelancers. I will post more specific information as I gain a better understanding of how to file.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Resources for writers (Reprise)

I wrote an updated version of "Resources for Writers" and posted it on the How-To Blog I write for. "Finding Freelance Work" mostly contains the same information, but the posting is organized slightly differently, and has a little bit of new information about querying that other writers might find useful.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The financial reality of freelancing

Unsurprisingly, money is the biggest issue that I have had to face as a freelancer. Although I do have the advantage of not having to be the primary breadwinner, I still find that my income - or lack thereof - bothers me. Mostly I feel guilty because Michael has to cover so many of the bills himself. He insists that he doesn't mind, but nonetheless, I feel like I need to resume paying my own way as soon as possible. Luckily, I do have babysitting and other outside work as a supplement, which should pick up again now that the holidays are over.

Besides not being able to pay my full share of the bills, I've also had difficulties with buying for pleasure. This issue is two-pronged. One one hand, I've always felt that in a relationship, women who make less or opt to be a homemaker shouldn't have to ask before buying anything for themselves. On the other hand, if I buy anything for myself I end up feeling guilty, as that is money that could have gone toward my share of the bills. Michael hasn't seemed to mind when I spend money on my hobbies, but I still feel that I need to be more cautious about spending money until I start generating more of an income.

Of course, I have hopes that the next month or two will see increases in work and income for me. And I am aggressively seeking to make my hopes realized.

Speaking of which, I need to get back to my to-do list...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's resolutions

I'm not usually a big fan of making New Year's resolutions. I think it's too tempting to make completely unattainable resolutions, instead of remembering that it's just one year, one step in of many in your life, and that you shouldn't expect to perform miracles. This year, however, I have a couple of significant resolutions that I want to put into writing:

1. Publish at least one piece of fiction,


2. Start working on a novel.

Although I enjoy writing articles, and I realize that pieces like that are much easier to publish than fiction, my dream in its original (childhood) form was to make my living by writing books. I view all the other writing as working toward this dream. Writing for internet databases got me the experience I needed to start writing for more "serious" publications, which will hopefully help me publish some short stories, and eventually a novel. Like I said, when it comes to writing I enjoy it all, but there is naturally one kind of writing that I enjoy above all others...and that is fiction or imaginative writing.

My New Year's resolutions reflect my ambitions as a writer. I don't have delusions of grandeur; my resolution is to get one piece of fiction published. I have a number of short stories finished that I've been sending off from time to time, but I'm going to step up those efforts. I also plan to put the finishing touches on a couple of other short stories, so that they can make the rounds as well. I also have a number of plots for short stories and novels floating around in my head, that I need to get to. That is why my other New Year's resolution is to start writing on one my novels.

I'll set my plans for fulfilling my New Year's resolutions in motion in just a few days: I plan to look through my Writer's Market and make a list of everywhere I can send my stories to, and start sending them around! Once I finish a couple of assignments I'm currently working on, I'll work on a few short stories that I want to fix up or simply commit to paper, and once that's done I'll start work on the novel that I want to write first.

I'm hoping that my resolutions will be as simple to fulfill as they were to plan out. :o)


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