Friday, March 31, 2006

The beginnings of our house makeover

Although very little needs to be done to our house before we move in, there are a few changes we want to make - the fun stuff, as Michael puts it. The main stuff that we're doing prior to our move-in date is painting the interior walls to coordinate with the rooms' intended decorations, and uncovering the original hardwood floors.

Tonight we started by taping off the trim in the living room. The living room and two walls of the kitchen are going to be the same color, which we will start painting tomorrow. I've never painted before, so I don't know how much time it takes, but Michael says we can't get it all done this weekend. In that case, I guess we're hoping to get the living room and kitchen painted; during the week, I'll uncover the hardwood in the living room and see what needs done to it. (I'm anticipating a little scratch cover, possibly a little minor patchwork - meaning I'll have to find a stain that matches, or at least comes close - and a layer of finish, which in this case appears to be the older, water-based finish. Water-based and oil-based finishes can't be mixed, so I'll have to make sure of that before I start.)

Michael took pictures when we first toured the house, so I will be sure to post before-and-after pictures as we finish up the house makeover.

In any case, tomorrow will be a long day of painting, followed by a long evening of babysitting, so I had better get the rest of tonight's work done and get to bed!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

An amusing quote and my "sick day"

I ran across this amusing quote on Google today, and I thought I should pass it on!

I meant to post yesterday, but I wasn't feeling very well - which brings me to one of the major drawbacks of freelancing: no sick leave or vacation pay. Even though I felt awful, I kept thinking about my Friday deadlines. And although feeling obligated to work definitely played a part, that wasn't all I was feeling: I wanted to work! I guess that is what happens when your work is also what you do for fun.

In any case, I now have plenty of work to catch up on in the next day or two. I'd better get back to it!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One more look...

This picture is just so beautiful, I had to post it again, just so it would still be at the top of my blog's main page:

Ahhhh, that's better! :o)

Setting goals, part two

The other day I posted on setting goals. I'm sorry to say that so far this week I have not worked on my story for an hour every day, but I blame that partly on the house; closing on Monday took up a lot of time that I normally would have spent writing. And today...well, I had errands to run and babysitting to do. I'm justified.

In any case, I don't always meet the goals I set, and I think that's okay. (As long as they're not deadlines my employers are setting!) The way I see it, setting goals helps me get closer to my ultimate goal, even if I don't meet the daily ones every time.

Case in point: after reading a very good book on writing recently, The Well-Fed Writer, I mentioned that I'd taken a tip from the author and set a daily income goal for myself. I definitely don't meet it every day, but on the days that I do, I feel pretty good about myself. And although there are certainly many days that I fail to meet my goal, I have succeeded in topping last month's income (which was, itself, tripled from the month before) - and I still have another payment or two due by the end of the week!

Goals can help, but you need to be flexible about them. There are simply some days when you won't meet them, and others when you will surpass every expectation for yourself. Goals serve you better if you think of them more like guidelines - milemarkers to let you know where you are and how you're doing.

That being said, I've been having a rough time meeting my goals lately. My wrists have been aching on and off from all the computer work, and although they are much better today, I am worried they'll get worse again if I'm not careful. And the house, of course, has provided a lot of distractions, and will continue to do so (even more now) for probably another month, until we're completely done fixing it up and moving in. Some extra babysitting lately hasn't helped either (although the extra money is always good). I have a feeling that the next month will be even busier - I may have to address my sleep habits in order to make for some extra time.

My goals will keep me more or less in check, however. Even if I don't meet them every day, it doesn't matter, because they remind me that I love the job I'm doing now, but that if I want to keep doing it, I need to have an income to show for it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The way I always dreamed it

When I was younger, my dreams of being a writer always included a quaint little old house, which I would share with my cats. Picturesque, isn't it? Well, evidently I'm no longer destined to be single, so my dream of being the eccentric, talented writer living alone with her eleventeen cats is not to be. However, the house part is... Michael and I have bought the house of my dreams!

Isn't it beautiful? It's a frame bungalow that was built in 1920. The best thing is that we are the third owners of the house. The house remained in the same family who built it until the 1970's, when it was sold to the second owners after the death of a family member. Although it has been used as a rental over the years, it has been beautifully maintained; in fact, that was the deciding factor for us. So many of the old houses we looked at had been poorly maintained or had cheesy updates!

Michael and I are both alike in this regard: we like old things, particularly old houses. We both think new houses - and newer updates to old houses - can be hideous. So, this house is nothing less than perfect for us! The important stuff has been updated: all of the electrical has been rewired with modern copper wiring, and all of the plumbing has been updated, as well. (No lead pipes to worry about!) The furnace and water heater have also been replaced within the last 10 years. There is no cooling system, but we will probably put in air conditioning. The appliances - refrigerator, stove, washer, and dryer - are older, but they are all there. (We will probably be replacing the washer and dryer right away, however - they are ancient and don't have the delicate cycles I need. Women's clothing manufacturers - don't get me started!) There is a thick layer of modern insulation in the attic, and the full basement is partially finished. The brand new pedastal sink in the bathroom is also a nice touch.

Although these features are all updated, the important things have been maintained in original condition. Almost all of the interior trim - baseboards, door trim, window frames - is original. Almost all of the window glass is original, too - and the windows are so pretty! The frames haven't warped, either, so they still seal (and lock!) tightly. The original clawfoot bathtub is every woman's dream - I can't wait to take a bath in it! The doors also still have the original lockboxes in them - you know, with the old keyholes that you could see straight through, the ones that took skeleton keys - and I've already found a set of beautiful old glass knobs to replace the modern Home Depot reproductions that they have now. The kitchen cabinets appear to be original - solid wood, and pretty heavy wood, too, by the looks of it - although the counter seems to have been replaced (in the fifties, judging by the style!). The siding is all original - when the second owners bought the house in the seventies, they stripped and sanded all of the boards, and then repainted the exterior. In other words, the original siding is in excellent condition. Best yet, the original hardwood floors are underneath the carpet and something called "pergo" - I don't know if I have it spelled right, but it's imitation hardwood sheets that lay down over the original flooring. Anyway, we pulled up a few corners of the carpet, and the original hardwood is simply beautiful - it's either pine or fir, the inspector said, and it has a beautiful reddish-gold color to it.

The layout of the house is pretty typical of the era. It's built on a square - you enter into the living room, with a door to the eat-in kitchen at the back of the room, and a door to the front bedroom to your left. In the back wall of the kitchen is a pantry and a door to the mudroom - at some time during the house's younger years, the back porch was enclosed and turned into a mud room and an interior entrance to the basement (probably a cellar, once upon a time). Facing the back wall of the kitchen, the door to the rear bedroom is on your left. The bathroom is between the two bedrooms, with a door on each side, making it a walk-through bathroom; the closet is a walk-through, as well.

The house is small, but exactly what we wanted. For now, the important thing is that there is all the room we need: room for my antiques, a second bedroom to use as our offices, and the unfinished side of the basement for Michael's weights and exercise equipment. There is also growing room, too - the side of the basement that is partially finished can be made into a third bedroom, eventually. The lot that the house is on is also quite large, providing plenty of room to build a garage.

Ooh, I almost forgot to describe the outside of the house! In the rear right corner of the lot is an old garden shed. It doesn't look as old from the outside, but from the inside you can really tell its age. The giveaway is the door - siding covers it on the outside, but on the inside you can see that it is styled in the old way. There is also a parking area back there that can be accessed from the alley (where the garage would go). The yard (as you can see in the picture) is well cared for. At first, I didn't like it, and it took me a while to realize why: there are no big trees on our lot! It's really a blessing, though, as we won't have to worry about tree roots causing problems with the pipes. The owners just planted a pair of trees in the front - we think they are Japanese maples, but they couldn't remember for sure. In any case, they are sure to be beautiful as they grow.

Of course, we have plans for the house. The first thing we intend to do is paint the walls some color other than white. We picked out colors for each room: ivory for the living room and two walls of the kitchen, a soft grey for the bedroom, and a dusky reddish-brown (not too dark) for the office. We're leaving the bathroom white, as well as the two walls of the kitchen with all the cupboards (which are painted white and look great that way). We plan to pull up the carpet and pergo in the living room and bedrooms to expose the hardwood. The kitchen and bathroom, on the other hand, have ugly brown (very seventies!) linoleum. We don't like it, but we're not going to do anything about it yet. We can't just pull it up, because the hardwood is apparently in poor condition in there. Further down the road, we intend to lay tile in the kitchen and bathroom - probably some shade of white, as we both like white kitchens and bathrooms.

As for other long-term plans, like I said, we'll probably make a third bedroom in the basement eventually. Air conditioning is also on the long-term list - I'm not sure if we'll get to it before this summer. Thankfully, it's an old house, so it shouldn't get too hot. Along with the tile, we intend to replace the countertops, but we'll keep the original cabinets - we love them! (We'll replace the hardware, though - those look like they're from the same era as the countertops!) We decided against adding a dishwasher, as we don't want to tear into the cabinets.

We have about a month of overlap between our rental and the house, so that should give us time to paint and pull up the floors. I also need to do some research to find out how to protect hardwood floors - they don't need to be refinished, but I want to keep it that way! It'll be a busy month but it's well worth it for my dream house...hell, my dream life.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Setting goals

Inspired by my recent success in getting some fiction published, I've started working on fiction again. On Friday, once my freelancing work for the week was done, I decided to start work on an old short story of mine that I've been planning to rewrite. The short story was one I originally wrote for a creative writing class in high school, and needless to say I've found a lot that needs fixing. Not that I'm an experienced writer now by any means, but suffice it to say that I've learned a few things about telling a story that I didn't know back then.

I was hoping to finish the story by the end of the weekend, but alas, that was not to be... The story has evolved into something much longer than the original, partly because one of the things I have learned since high school is the "show, not tell" rule. Another thing that helps is that this time, I'm not worried about keeping the story under a certain word count, which of course enables me to "show" a bit more. Expanding on a story can apparently be a lot harder than writing one from scratch, though; I keep having a hard time deciding where to go with it next, without wandering too far from the original intent of the story.

In any case, with the start of a new week I have freelancing work to do again, so I've decided to allot an hour a day to working on the story. Normally, for me that would mean about six pages of fiction, but this story is clearly much slower going. I'm mainly hoping to finish it in the next week or two.

Once this story is finished, I have several others that need to be written, and one or two that I never went back to edit. My long-term goal here is to get through my short story ideas that have been waiting to be written, and then start work on a novel - which will satisfy my second New Year's Resolution.

I've hesitated to assign myself a daily time quota for certain tasks, as a few how-to-write books recommend, but I think in this case it's a good idea. With my freelance work, I tend to view it more as per project, instead of a time frame, which seems to work pretty well for getting it done. Fiction, on the other hand, often isn't something that I'll be likely to get done all in one or two sittings (especially with other work to do), so if I want to get somewhere with it I need to divide it up into smaller bites. In this case, the time-quote plan works well. In other cases, a page or chapter goal might be best.

I guess the moral of my weekend was that setting goals is, indeed, a good thing - when they are reasonable expectations, that is. (My to-do list, which fails almost on a daily basis, comes to mind.) There is something very satisfying about meeting one's goals, even if they are in bite-size pieces. In fact, setting daily goals keeps it from snowballing into one giant, unreachable goal...and nothing is more discouraging than one of those.

Maybe those how-to-write books have the right idea, after all... (No pun intended.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Updates on my published work

Another of my articles is now in print! Please see my article "Taking It Personally: Finding the Will to Lose Weight" on page 14 of the April issue of Greater Birmingham Hair & Beauty.

As for the short story that was supposed to be published late this week, it seems there has been a delay; publication is now scheduled for early next week. I will post a link to my story as soon as it is available.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One New Year's resolution down...

A little while after writing the previous post, it occurred to me that this means I've achieved one of my New Year's resolutions: I've published a piece of my fiction. That leaves only my second resolution, which was to start work on a novel. I'll have to find time to work on that next...

My official FIRST piece of published fiction!

Even though I have a short story scheduled for publication later this week, I story I wrote just last night has now been published: "The Face Behind the Mask." Since this is the first piece of fiction that has appeared in my name, I view it as an important milestone toward the fulfillment of my childhood dream: being a published novelist.

I hope you enjoy the story! Please feel free to leave comments with your feedback.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Another helpful book for freelance writers

iconThe other day at Barnes & Noble, a book on writing caught my eye: How to Write What You Want & Sell What You Write, by Skip Press. Now, despite the fact that I've reviewed a couple of how-to-write books on this blog, I am not really a big fan of them, meaning I am choosy about which ones I read. This particular book caught my attention because it does something most don't: it gives basic how-to information on a variety of writing markets, not just how-to-write-novels kind of stuff (a genre which should actually be called How to Make It as a Writer by Writing a Book About How to Make It as a Writer).

My sarcasm aside, Skip Press' book is different. He has a couple of chapters that apply to all would-be writers, and then he has several chapters that explain the expectations in different markets: fiction, nonfiction, plays, screenplays, business writing, advertising writing, etc. It's laid out in a way that you can read the chapters that are pertinent to your career goals, and skip the rest. It contains some good advice on writing, one piece of advice in particular that harkens back to my earlier posting: even if you dream of loftier markets, namely fiction, you need to start in markets that are easier to publish in, such as nonfiction.

All in all, I do highly recommend this book. It has plenty of solid advice...for all kinds of writers.

A worthwhile article about the myths of freelance writing

Today, while searching for available freelance jobs, I ran across this article about the myths of freelance writing. The article does a good job of addressing the myths of the industry...and why they're myths. Myths one, three, and five are all somewhat related: you can break into the industry, and you can make a living from it, but the best way to do it is by starting in the small markets. You basically have to establish a name for yourself before you will be given free reign to write what you want - and get paid for it. Starting small enables you to build your portfolio; once you have clips to prove that you are a worthwhile writer, it'll be easier to break into the markets where you want to be. For example, what I really want to be writing is fiction, but it's a lot harder to break into the fiction market. Instead, I've been writing nonfiction pieces for about a year, and it's finally paid off: I have a short story appearing in a local D.C. paper and on their website later this week. (I'll post the details of that to my blog and my portfolio once the piece is live, so that you can take a look.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Being a writer means being your own administrative assistant...

I've had a little bit of a slower week, so today after finishing a batch of short articles, I decided to catch up on some basic administrative stuff I've been neglecting for some time now: updating my website and portfolios. I hadn't updated my main website in two months, and I know it's been at least twice that since I updated my hardcopy portfolio (a binder that I keep with printouts of my published clips).

It took a little over two hours to print everything and update the site, but it's all done now! I still have a few updates I want to do to the site, and I still need to make dividers and new a table of contents page for my binder, but the important stuff is updated.

The biggest update I made to my site tonight was the addition of another item on my online portfolio page: a link to samples of the press releases I've been writing. I was able to hunt down quite a few of them on the web tonight, even though they don't list a byline. My portolio displays only a few of the total number I've written so far.

I guess in some ways it's rather tedious that I have to do this stuff myself, but I can't say I don't like doing it. It's fun to try this or that to my site and see what I like the looks of more. It's also fun to assemble all of my published clips into a professional-looking portfolio. I suppose it's very un-writer-like, but I actually enjoy all the technological aspects of being a freelance writer very much. In fact, I don't think I could do it without them!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A freelance writer's dependence on email

Today on Will Write for Chocolate, Debbie Ridpath Ohi discussed how to keep one's emails professional. Her article has some great tips, and is worth reading.

I can only imagine what a freelance writer's life was like before email, when the only methods of communication were telephone and snail mail. Personally, I don't like telephones very much. I screen my cell phone (my only phone) almost obsessively, rarely answering numbers I don't recognize (or people who will likely distract me from whatever I'm doing at the time). That leaves snail mail, and... well, the name says it all.

I love email. I send my cover letter and resume in response to a job ad, and sometimes even get a response the same day. I can discuss terms and project specifications with a client quickly and easily, without having to move away from my keyboard. I can even scan signed contracts and send them via email. I suppose in some ways the ease of email communications encourages my hermit-like tendencies, but it also helps me get the job, get the work done, and get paid much faster. Email has also enabled me to work with clients in other countries without experiencing any inconvenience - email and the internet makes them only a click away, instead of an entire ocean away.

Email clearly is beneficial for writers, and it seems to be that way for publishers, too, as more and more of them are accepting queries and even submissions via web forms and email. Of course, literary people tend to be more resistant to change than technology-based professions, so the email revolution is somewhat slow in coming to the publishing world. It'll be here before long, though, I warrant... There will come a day when all of this is done via internet and email, and we'll all wonder how we ever did our job any other way.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The relief of having completed my taxes...and the lessons I learned

Last night, Michael and I got started talking about taxes. In the end, I was inspired, and opted to work on my taxes rather than watch a little TV together. Of course, Michael got sucked into it too, as I had him double check my work. About three hours later, I was finished: my taxes for the year are now done!

This was the first time I'd ever filed my taxes as a freelance writer, so I learned a few things that I feel I should pass on to other inquiring freelancers. I wrote a post about it some months ago, when I was first researching the matter, but now I definitely have more tips to share.

First, the basics:

Forms you'll need:
1040, of course
Schedule C (1040)
4562 - Amortization & Depreciation - for claiming the expenses of any business equipment you bought during the year
8829 - Business use of your home - for claiming a home office

Expenses versus income:
The point of this is to ensure that the income you are claiming really is your net income. For example, you may get x amount of payments from publications over the year, but if you think about it, you've also had y amount of expenses, which you wouldn't have had as an employee - the business you work for pays for advertising stuff, office supplies, etc. So to find out your actual income, known as net income, you subtract your expenses (y) from your gross income (x). And yes, you can have a loss instead of a profit. Schedule C will walk you through all of this.

Hopefully you'll have kept good records throughout the year. I, for one, like to record every payment I receive and every expense I accrue into Excel spreadsheets. I have a separate one for income, with a page for each publication or employer I write for, and an overview page that tallies up the totals from each page. My expenses spreadsheet has the same overview page, with separate pages for each of the expense categories: office expenses (such as internet costs), office supplies (envelopes, printer ink, etc.), advertising (my website), etc. A book that I found very helpful in dividing my expenses up into these categories was 422 Tax Deductions for Businesses & Self-Employed Individuals, by Bernard B. Kamoroff, C.P.A.

Office equipment expenses:
This category was not nearly as simple as I'd thought it would be. First of all, you need a separate form, the 4562, the total from which is then entered onto the Schedule C. This form was by far the most complicated. What it boils down to is that you can depreciate your office equipment (i.e. computer, printer, scanner), which means you divide the cost up between several years, and only use a portion of the cost to deduct from your gross income each year. However, if your office equipment expenses are less than $105,000, you can claim the full price for the one year, by entering them onto the form as Section 179 instead. It's a very confusing form, so I'm not going to go into it any more than this.

I should also mention that if you use said office equipment partly for personal use, you need to know what percentage of the equipment's use is for business. You can only expense this percentage of the equipment's cost. It's important to keep records of your business use vs. personal use, just in case you are audited, so that you can prove your claims. If you use MS Outlook, you can set the journal up to track your use of programs such as Word, as well as your emails sent to certain contacts. You can also manually create journal entries to document internet usage, etc. Although this may seem slightly tedious, it'll make an audit much easier if all you have to do is turn over records that prove what you claimed on your returns.

Home office deduction:
From everything I've read, I highly recommend not claiming this expense. First of all, I read documentation that claimed the home office deduction is the number one red flag that triggers the IRS to audit people. Apparently it is a deduction that is very much abused. However, if you decide to claim it anyway, keep in mind the following:

Your home office space must be used only for your business. This means you can't have games on your "office" computer, can't have personal bills or files in your "office" desk, etc. Everything in the home office space must be strictly work-related. Figure out the percentage of your home that is used only for work, and claim that percentage of your rent or mortgage as office space rent. You can also use this percentage to figure out the home office expenses of utilities and home repairs.

Claiming a home office deduction can bite you in the @ss if you own your home. If you are claiming a home office deduction for a home you own, you'll end up owing on tax returns when you sell the house. Not a pretty thought.

Even if you don't claim the home office deduction, you still can claim your internet costs - that is, what you use for work. To figure this out, your computer records will once again come in handy. You just have to be able to prove that whatever percentage of your internet bill you are expensing is actually the percentage of the service that you use for work.

Hobby versus business:
This is one of the trickier things. To be able to claim your expenses, you have to be a business and not a hobby. This means that you have to be doing what you're doing with a profit as your goal. Of course, the easiest way to prove you are a business is to actually make a profit. Even if you don't, however, you can prove you are a business by conducting yourself like one: keeping good records, having advertising materials such as business cards, brochures, etc., having separate accounts and phone lines for your business, and things like that. A great source on this subject is the book Home Business Tax Deductions: Keep What You Earn, by Stephen Fishman.

I hope all of this is a help to any other freelance writers filing their taxes for the first time. Of course, I am by no means an expert, only relaying the information I have already come across myself. I highly recommend checking out the books I mentioned or similar literature that will help you fill out your tax returns.

Good luck to you!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A writer's sacrifices

I think it's a well-known fact that fiction writers are often asked to make changes to their work in order to get it published. I've always dreaded the moment when I would have to face the same ultimatum and make my decision: do I change what I've poured my heart and soul into, or do I withdraw my submission and walk away from the deal? As primarily a nonfiction writer, I haven't experienced this often, and when I have been asked to make changes, I've generally found that I'm not very attached to the material I originally wrote, anyway.

Although fiction is my main passion (and, sadly, one I am not able to pursue very often), I haven't had any of my stories published as of yet. I have ghostwritten several short stories, but nothing that I will be credited for. So it was quite exciting this morning to receive an email from a publication that I'd submitted a short story to: they want to publish the short story!

There is a catch, however: I have to significantly change the beginning of the story. At first, everything in me resisted: It was supposed to be that way! It's part of the story! I haven't submitted it to many places yet, so I can just keep trying - someone's bound to like it as it is! ... and so on. During all this, however, I was remembering in the back of my head the stereotype of the new writer that is too inflexible to make changes to their work, and as a result drives away all the publishers who would have been interested, never gets published, and ruins their career.

However, the more I thought about the changes the publication was requesting, the more I thought I could make it work: make the changes they needed in order to publish, while still maintaining my original intent. After all, there are an infinite number of ways to say something; I just have to make my way and their way match. Hey, they don't call it creative writing for nothing, right?

I guess in reality, it's about compromising, not sacrificing. :o)

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Well-Fed Writer - a helpful book for freelancers

I can't remember now where it was, but on one of the writing sites I found a recommendation for Peter Bowerman's book The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less. Of course, not having found financial self-sufficiency as a writer, I didn't have the money to buy the book, so I checked it out at the library.

I had a few complaints about the book. Like other "get rich quick as a writer" books, I thought some of it was ridiculous - when the author discusses how much newbie copywriters can charge an hour and how soon they should be able to consistently find enough high-paying work to make $80,000 annually, he forgets to mention how location can change that. Certain cities are simply not good markets for copywriters. Also, since the book was written several years ago, I don't think all of the information is accurate - cheap internet copywriting is bound to drive professional rates down. Very seldom have I seen any company advertising that they will pay $50 or more an hour for a copywriter.

However, I thought the book was overall very good. Even if the book promoted delusions of grandeur, it also had some very good information about how to find work, how to determine rates and flat fees, how to invoice, and so on. He also includes sample correspondence in an appendix in the back of the book, for those who need a little extra guidance.

Interestingly, the author kind of poo-poohed contracts: he said they weren't necessary, as he does not use them, and has been burned only once. Since most of what I have read (and experienced!) tells me the exact opposite, I think I will continue to take the better-safe-than-sorry approach, and continue to work under contract.

Ironically, the one tip that I found most helpful was probably also the most trivial. The author talks about breaking down his desired income into pieces that are a little easier to conceptualize: $80,000 works out to be about $400 a day, so he has motivational signs posted everywhere that say, "Where is today's $400 coming from?" I liked the idea, so I set up my screensaver to display a similar message. And while I haven't reached my desired income every day, I've found it's much easier to gauge how I am doing when I break it down into a daily goal.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): A writer's worst nightmare

When I graduated in December of 2004, I immediately landed a full-time job as a technical writer. Because the small company I worked for was based out of Boston, we all used laptops (I was one of several local writers hired for a specific project, but the Boston employees had to travel on a weekly basis). This was the first time I'd ever been in the position of typing and staring at a computer screen for 8+ hours a day, and I was surprised by the effect it had on my body: there were many days when my wrists ached deep inside them, the pain sometimes extending nearly to my elbow, and I'm pretty sure the sudden worsening of my vision over the past year was due to the strain on my eyes.

Of course, the occasional pain in my wrists was a concern, particularly because my mother had developed carpal tunnel syndrome several years before. Still, I never really considered how serious the problem could become. This week on Will Write for Chocolate, Debbie Ridpath Ohi posted an article on her experiences with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), and the impact it had on her writing lifestyle. It's frightening to read about what she went through. Goodness, I can hardly imagine not being able to type, and voice recognition software doesn't sound like much of an improvement.

The point is, though, that this kind of thing could easily have happened to me, especially with a boss that didn't care about ergonomics and believed in driving his employees as hard as possible. Fortunately, I am now able to dictate my own work habits, and although I think I am on the computer more than ever now, my typing habits are probably also much healthier than they were before. For one thing, I work intermittently throughout the day, which means that I take frequent breaks, as Debbie suggests. Also, the portability of my laptop means that I can write wherever I want, and my favorite position is generally sitting in my rocker, on my couch, or in bed, with my laptop on my lap. I've been told that it's best to type with your computer or keyboard on your lap, because it facilitates a more natural position for your wrists, so it's probably more than just laziness that makes this my favorite writing posture.

For all my fellow writers, or even just those who spend a lot of time on the computer, I highly recommend Debbie's article on RSI, as she offers a lot of preventative tips that she's learned via her own experiences.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A quote for writers

Yesterday, Google had the following quote on my home page (I have a section for quotes of the day):

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
-Thomas Mann

My first reaction, of course, was to deny that the quote had any truth. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true it really was. I mean, how many non-writers talk about writer's block??? I think that writing really is more difficult for us writers, for two reasons: 1) we do a heck of a lot more of it than other people, and 2) we have a whole lot more riding on our writing than the average non-writer.

Monday, March 06, 2006

When news reporting doesn't do its job

Although the headline "Teen didn't die from peanut-butter kiss" got my attention, I didn't feel like I knew anything more conclusive after reading the article than before. It definitely seems to me - as it does all too often when I'm reading news "reports" - that the article didn't actually answer any questions. The article claims that the girl, kissed by her boyfriend several hours after eating some peanut butter, did not die from her peanut allergy, but rather from lack of oxygen to her brain. However, it doesn't really say what she did die from, since many different circumstances - including her peanut allergy - could have cause a lack of oxygen to her brain. In fact, the article itself says that a peanut allergy can cause swelling in a person's throat, effectively shutting off their breathing. But the article doesn't address whether there was an allergic reaction that could have caused this response.

Of course, all of the excitement in the article about the drug used to combat allergic reactions may explain the cryptic article, if one reads between the lines. The drug company was concerned that the incident might shake other people's faith in their product, so they probably insisted on a news release that denied the girl died from an allergic reaction (i.e. it wasn't the drug's fault for failing to prevent the reaction). Most people know the inordinate amount of power the drug companies are given in today's world; is it so much of a leap to think they could dictate what hits the news stands, as well?

Think I'm paranoid or a conspiracy theorist? Well, note that the article, while it insisted she didn't die from her allergy, didn't say anything to refute the idea that she died from a condition her allergy produced. In fact, it really didn't say anything about how she died at all. How did her brain stop receiving oxygen? The article implicates her asthma, but it doesn't say she had an asthma attack. Did her boyfriend suffocate her? Did she hold her breath until she died? Come on, now, folks, we're all smart enough to realize when your "answer" doesn't actually answer anything!

Our biggest fear: South Dakota's abortion ban passed!

A little over a week ago, I posted on a South Dakota law that was on its way to being passed, banning pretty much all abortions in the state. Today, I read an article stating that the law was, indeed, passed.

The articles also states that the law is in fact an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. Even worse, the law makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. In other words, women will be required to give birth to the offspring of their rapists and abusers. Good God, they might as well sign a law making women the property of men!

I am going to find out if I can do anything to help Planned Parenthood in fighting this law. I don't have money to donate, but perhaps my writing can be of use to them. All I know is that I have to do something.

Planned Parenthood has a page on their site that helps you write and send a letter to the governor of South Dakota - as well as your own state's governor - protesting the abortion ban.

You can also add your picture to Planned Parenthood's photo petition against the abortion ban.

Planned Parenthood is also accepting monetary donations in the fight against South Dakota's abortion ban.

While I wholeheartedly understand that not everyone has the money to donate (I know I don't), you can get involved at no cost to yourself by sending a letter of protest. I implore ALL PRO-CHOICE WOMEN (AND MEN) to FIGHT BACK!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

My Glamour boy

Being the boyfriend of a freelance writer has its perks... Thanks to me, Michael has his 15 minutes of fame! (Well, his month of fame, technically.)

A couple of months ago, I answered an interview request on Writer's Weekly, and subsequently made it onto the mailing list of a Glamour writer. One night her email said, "Who are you going to bed with?" and requested a picture and explanation.

For the rest of this story, see page 52 of the April 2006 edition of Glamour: "Glam Cam" column!

Friday, March 03, 2006

The plague of the web

Thanks to Deborah Ng's job board, which I check daily, I was directed to this article about cheap content writing jobs.

I'm assuming the writer took this job with a story angle in mind, since I can't imagine any self-respecting professional who would accept $100 as a fair price for 50 articles. I know I avoid anything under $10, and even those I accept only if they are articles that can feasibly be written in 30 minutes or less.

Regardless of this writer's intentions, the article has a good point; I just prefer to look at it from a slightly different angle. The crappy-internet-content issue has to do with cause and effect: two dollars an article is just too little for a decent writer - one who will research and fact-check their material - to consider, so these types of jobs are left to writers who are not decent, who throw together a bunch of crap as quickly as possible. The employer certainly doesn't care that it's a load of crap, just as long as it pulls in keyword searches and sells ad space, so they have no incentive to pay the rates that would attract more conscientious writers.

So what do we do about this sort of thing? Well, nothing, other than avoiding these ridiculously low paying jobs ourselves. The internet is the epitome of what the United States of America was founded on: freedom of speech. And while I know that America is not the only country online - far from it - I don't believe that any country that claims to value the freedom of speech has any right interfering with what people publish on the web. True, some of it may be incorrect, poorly written, or offensive to some people, but that doesn't give us the right to censor it from everyone. We can sensor what we ourselves read, simply by choosing carefully which links we click on when using the search engines, but self-sensorship will have to suffice.

Having said that, I must admit that I am disgusted by anyone who would offer a couple of bucks per article, and I have been known to send irritated emails in response to such offensive job offers...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

If it's not one distraction, it's another!

I've mentioned several times how distracting I've found it to have Michael home; even though I'm not taking care of him as much anymore, it's still difficult to focus on writing with him around. Yesterday and today, however, I did a few hours of work for one of my families - the first time I've worked outside of the house since before Michael's surgery. It was really frustrating to realize that I can now earn more with a few hours of freelancing than I do with a few hours of babysitting or other work (and I don't have a commute). However, it's equally as frustrating to be home for that amount of time and not get as much done as I know I can, simply because Michael is here.

However, I'll have another month to try out just freelancing, as one of the families I work for the most is going on vacation, and the other is having a baby. In other words, I have only my writing to depend on for the next four weeks. I hope March proves to be as lucrative as February was!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My one year freelancing anniversary

March marks one year of freelancing. Granted, when I started out a year ago I wasn't freelancing full time - I wrote an average of maybe three or four articles a month for the first six months. However, it's a worthwhile anniversary for me to celebrate, because it marks the beginning of my eventual escape from a horrible job...into the career of my dreams.

Just for fun, you can read my very first freelance article: "Tips for Straightening Curly or Frizzy Hair."

Looking back, I am happy to say I've come a long way. I've expanded my experience to include blogging, book and play reviews, press releases, and print and web-based articles on many different topics. And...I succeeded in shedding my day job! It really was a great year! :o)

Watching American values die...one Patriot Act at a time

What is wrong with our f___ing government?! I can't believe the Senate approved the Patriot Act...again! Someone needs to remind the chimp in charge of our country of the values the United States was founded on. Our Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the exact things that the Patriot Act allows! Canada is looking better all the time...

More of my work live on the web!

One of my new regular gigs is writing press releases for Review Place. One of my press releases, announcing Diet to Your Door's 5-star rating on Review Place, is already live on the web! Although I don't get a byline on these, I am allowed to link to them as writing samples; I'll add them to my online portfolio as soon as I have a chance.

I've also been writing brief reviews of local businesses for Judy's Book. At first the website was set up so that I couldn't link to my reviews, since viewers would have to be signed up and logged in to see my reviews. However, the site has been revamped, and that is no longer the case, so you can now see an archive of all my reviews. I will also add this to my portfolio, whenever I get a break in the gigs (or need to create a break and do something for myself)...


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