Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions for 2008

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my resolutions for 2007 didn't go so well. Nonetheless, I have an even longer list of resolutions for 2008. Some are business-related, and others are concerning my personal and family life.

Business first, of course:

1. To dedicate the first hour of each workday to my own projects, with the larger goal of completing a novel and two ebooks within the course of the year.

2. To finish and launch my long-overdue website updates.

3. To increase my annual income by a third.

My personal goals for 2008:

4. To pay off 75 percent of my credit card debt.

5. To keep in better touch with my friends, especially those I neglected in 2007.

6. To get pregnant! (Yep, we've decided it's time to expand our menagerie... er... family.)

What are your resolutions? If you would like to share, please feel free to comment with your resolutions or a link to your own blog post on the subject.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Making money blogging

The Denver Post ran an article yesterday about the money to be made in the blogging business. As usual, the article cites the unusual cases: the folks who make $1,000 or more every month by selling ad space on their own blogs.

However, to its credit the article does note that this is the exception and not the rule:

That doesn't mean bloggers are suddenly flush with money. For every blogger earning a decent side income like Brooks, countless others will never earn a cent.

What I thought was interesting and useful about this article is its discussion of different companies you can use to make money selling ad space on your blog. Here are the services mentioned in the article:

* Google AdSense
* PayPerPost
* BlogAds

Honestly, the only one of these I am familiar with is Google AdSense, which I use on my own blog. And though I am one of those bloggers that earns only peanuts, those peanuts do build up after a while, making a nice bonus for something I'd be doing anyway.

Does anyone have any information or personal experiences with either PayPerPost or BlogAds? I am interested in how they compare to Google AdSense, and I'm sure it's probably a subject of interest for many other bloggers as well.

Horse lovers: Support our "Right to Ride"

For years, horseback riders' rights to trail ride have been slowly chipped away. Many wonderful horse trails have been closed — at least to the horses.

In response, a new bill, S. 2283, has been introduced to protect our "right to ride." I urge you to read the bill, spread the word, and write to your senators and representatives. Even if you do not ride yourself, no one can deny that horseback riding is a historical tradition in our country, and an important pastime for many Americans.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to spot a micromanaging client

Today, Kathy Kehrli blogged about oDesk, a freelance bidding site that has been using the disgruntling Elance situation to market itself. Judging by the article Kathy linked to, oDesk = eSlavery 2.0, oDesk is the micromanaging client's wet dream.

I'll let you read the article for yourself, as this blog post is actually about a different, but related topic: the micromanaging clients themselves.

Any writer who has been freelancing for a while has probably experienced the misery that comes from working for a micromanager. As Kathy noted in her post about oDesk, "I got out of the corportate world precisely because I didn't like slaving away for others and being watched over my shoulder." That was also part of what inspired me to leave my technical writing job for the freelance life, and I imagine many full-time freelancers have similar motives.

Unfortunately, freelancing doesn't guarantee that you won't run into micromanaging clients — it just gives you the freedom to turn and run the other way when you do. Here are several warning signs that I usually take to mean a client is going to be way more trouble than they are worth; feel free to comment if you think of something I've missed.

Signs a client will try to micromanage you:

* The ad emphasizes ridiculous stipulations, or states outright that they have high (read: supernatural) expectations of their freelancers.

* The client insists that you must be available during certain hours, whether or not you a) are actually working on their projects at the time, or b) usually keep those hours. (Most freelance projects can be performed without constant supervision — and if they can't, they shouldn't be outsourced, in my opinion!)

* The client contacts you once a day (or more!) asking where you are on the project and/or whether you're done yet, regardless of how long you have until the deadline.

* The client wants you to stay signed in to AIM, wait by the phone, or be otherwise constantly available to her/him during office hours.

* The client suggests that you should drop all of your other clients and work solely for her/him (but still, presumably, on a freelance basis).

* If the project is paid hourly, the client insists on a time sheet accounting for the hours spent on it, with notations indicating what you did and when.

* If the project is paid at a flat rate, the client continually talks about how easy it is and how quickly you should be able to finish (hint, hint).

* The client won't take no for an answer, instead attempting to beg, cajole, or threaten you into doing what s/he wants. (Particularly if you've turned down a project — the harder s/he tries to force you into it, the faster you should run in the other direction!)

* The client just feels high maintenance. (Sometimes you have to follow your gut instinct on this one.)

The beauty of being a freelancer is that you don't have to put up with micromanaging clients. If you feel a client is being unreasonable, finish out your contract and refuse further work as professionally as possible.

If the client is really unreasonable, you might even consider backing out before the project is finished, but be careful: You run the risk of not getting paid for the work you've already done, and you may do some damage to your reputation if you do this too often. However, don't put up with difficult or disrespectful clients for your career's sake, either — most likely working for them is not going to benefit you enough in the long run to justify putting up with it now.

More snow, and going back to work

We're getting more snow here tomorrow: another 4 to 8 inches in Denver (though if they are as far off as they were on the last storm, we may be in for a downright blizzard). Michael is planning on taking public transit to work, and I'll forego my visit to the stables in order to stay home and work, all warm and cozy.

Which brings me to another reason tomorrow is important: It's technically my first day back to work after Christmas, assuming Michael goes to work. (If it's bad enough, his company will close, though that's a rare occurence.) I have work lined up already, of course, so I won't be able to stretch my vacation any longer — though I do have a light enough load to allow me to take it easy until after New Year's.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our white Christmas made the news...again

Just like last year, our white Christmas made national headlines.

The article comments that by mid-morning we had already gotten as much snow as had been predicted for the entire day. Actually, I'd say we surpassed the original forecast by mid-morning: As of yesterday, they'd still been predicting 2 to 4 inches of snow. This morning they decided it would be more like 4 to 8 inches, but by mid-morning we'd already gotten that.

It didn't stop snowing until mid or late afternoon.

Michael and I have taken it easy today — we're watching movies, and for dinner we'll have the sweet potato soup we were intending to take to my sister's house. Tomorrow we'll try to make it to the stables to see Panama, and to my parents' house to visit them. (My sister and her boyfriend are taking his mother skiing tomorrow.)

I haven't been working the last couple of days, but I've used the time to get caught up on my blogs. It's been nice to do some writing that is entirely for my own pleasure.

How have you spent your Christmas?

Another too-white Christmas

Last year, we had two blizzards this time of year: one a few days before Christmas, and another just a week later. The result was that we had an extra-long vacation around Christmas and New Year's, but that we were also snowed in for several days each time.

Unbelieveably, I think our snowstorm this year might have trumped last year's. Although we are technically getting less snow, getting it on Christmas Day has impacted our Christmas plans much more than last year's blizzard did: We're pretty much snowed in, which means we won't be going to my sister's house for Christmas dinner as planned.

I'm also disappointed that we won't be able to go to the stables today — I really wanted to visit my horse on Christmas. I even have a present for him, but I guess it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I hope you are all spending time with your loved ones and not on the computer, but if you fall into the latter group, here are some pictures to cheer you up.

This was the picture on my Christmas cards this year:

The inside read, "Next year it'll be a one-horse open sleigh."

The Santa hat photo shoot was quite an experience. In this picture, Panama looks like he's had too much egg nog:

Here are some other Santa hat photos. Panama was actually pretty tolerant of the whole thing: Once he realized I really did want him to keep the hat on his head, he just looked at me like, "Okay... What now?"

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tools for writers: Online backup

Periodically one writer's blog or another will discuss the importance of backing up your work regularly. The fruits of our labor are entirely electronic, and therefore can be entirely lost to us if our hard drive fries, or if our computer is stolen or destroyed.

Up until recently, I've always backed my work up using a USB drive, but unfortunately I am getting increasingly worse about remembering to do so. Plus, backing up on a USB drive isn't always the best protection — if you keep your backup device at the same location as your computer (as many writers do, by definition of the "home office"), it is subject to the same calamities that could befall your computer (i.e. theft, natural disaster, etc.).

I've been contracted to write about online backup twice, and the most recent time — just last week — made up my mind to try it myself. The difference was that in writing an article about online backup, I ran across a popular service that offers a basic package for free: MozyHome. (Get the free account by clicking the orange "Sign Up Now" button on the left side of the screen, under the heading "MozyHome Free.")

The free account gives you only 2 GB of space, but I figure that's enough to keep my most important things backed up: my writing work (both freelance and fiction), my financial records (i.e. scans of payments and Excel files detailing my income), the website revisions I'm working on right now, and my Outlook emails and contacts. If I decide to add anything else to the list, I'll have to move to their paid account ($4.99 a month for unlimited storage space — not a bad deal, but I want to see how I like it first).

The nice thing is that I don't have to actively remember to back up my work anymore. MozyHome has two different settings to choose from: I can either back up once a day at any time I choose, or I can set it to back up any time the computer is idle, and simply limit the number of times in a day it backs up. Right now I have it scheduled to back up in the evenings, when I'm theoretically done working for the day. However, some evenings I work late, so I may eventually switch to the idle computer setting.

The big advantage is, of course, that my backups are stored offsite, and are available over the Internet. In other words, if something happens to my laptop, I can access my files via my account at Mozy.com... from any computer.

So far I really like online backup, and I would definitely recommend the free account to my fellow writers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Good news no longer sells

Who says news has to be negative in order to sell? Michael found this article about the Saguache Crescent — a local paper in a small Colorado town that specializes in good news.

I found the article interesting because it operates on the exact opposite premise of big newspapers and newstations:

"There's plenty of media that will center on anything bad, the crime, accidents," said Coombs. "Doesn't sell papers. Good news sells papers."

It's sad, though, because as wonderful and wholesome as that sounds, it sounds like the paper actually isn't bringing in enough money to continue on to the next generation.

I've thought about it before, but this story is a reminder of how focused we (as a society) feed on gossip, drama, and stories of other people's misfortunes. We're so focused on the negative that a positive publication like the Crescent no longer has a place in our world.

This quote describes me

One of iGoogle's quotes of the day pretty much sums up my attitude toward books:

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"

-Henry Ward Beecher

I've gotten better than I used to be, primarily because with all my other hobbies I have to save money where I can: Now, instead of buying every book I want to read, I check most of them out at the library. Having due dates also prevents me from developing stacks and stacks of books I own but don't have time to read.

Even so, every time I'm at the bookstore I have to fight down the urge to buy something.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Panama's big day

Panama moved to his new home today. Overall, he handled it well: He was nervous at first, but by the time he'd been there a few hours, he acted almost as though he'd always been there.

My trainer arrived at the stables early this morning, thinking she would have a hard time turning the truck and trailer around in the drive. As it turned out, she didn't at all, and we were able to get Panama loaded up much earlier than we had expected.

We arrived at the new place at about 10 o'clock this morning, and I didn't leave until 3 this afternoon. I watched Panama progress from being really nervous about the place, to settling in and making friends with the other horses. I was worried originally about turning him out with the other horses too soon, but after a little while I realized he seemed to want to go out into the pasture with them.

The cutest thing was how Panama was so aware of where I was... or wasn't. At first, we had him turned out with a flake of hay to snack on. He was pretty focused on eating, but if I walked away from the fence to go inside the barn or to my car, he'd come to the fence and start looking for me. He clearly felt more secure when I was nearby.

As he started becoming more comfortable in his new surroundings, he also became much more vocal about wanting me close. Even when he was in the pasture with the other horses, if I disappeared for too long he'd start whinnying for me. I know his voice and can easily pick it out from the other horses, just as he no doubt knows mine. It makes me giddy knowing we have that connection.

Anyway, the day was a complete success. Panama already seems happier in the new place than he was at the old stables — it was a joy to see him running and bucking across the big pasture, socializing with the other horses, and checking out the various nooks and crannies of the new place.

Why my article isn't getting published on EzineArticles.com

The other day, I promised to publish my personal essay on EzineArticles.com (in addition to Associated Content), and to provide the link.

Unfortunately, EzineArticles.com refused to published the article, claiming it's libelous. I assume they mean libelous against Mars candy, but I can't really see why they think it's libelous.

I've blogged about the definition of libel before, but to sum up here, libel is written material that is falsely defamatory. That means that if you can prove that what you wrote is TRUE, it's not libel. Another defense is if the material is clearly written as your opinion.

I think EzineArticles.com is complaining about my opening sentence, which reads:

The other day I received an email from PETA: They have discovered that the Mars candy company is testing on animals, and are using their usual brilliant marketing approach to make sure everyone else knows it, too.

Personally, I don't think that can be considered libelous, as I'm simply stating what the email from PETA says, which is easy enough to prove.

The only other mention of Mars is when I mentioned emailing the company, daring them to watch PETA's video on animal testing.

EzineArticles.com gave me the choice of revising the articles so that they could publish it, but I opted not to, for two reasons:

1) I don't feel it's libelous, and

2) The parts they presumably want me to change are the point for writing the entire essay, and I think by changing them I would risk compromising the essay's message.

Sadly, what this means is that for right now, Associated Content is the only website running my essay. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to keep my promise, but I intend to keep trying to publish the essay elsewhere — I'll let you know if anything comes of it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Preparations for a move

Since we'll be moving Panama to a new stables very soon, yesterday my trainer and I spent our session practicing trailer loading.

For those of you who don't remember the full story of Panama's rescue, at 11 months old he was in a trailer accident that resulted in his mother's euthanization. Soon afterward, Michael paid the vet bill and we assumed ownership of Panama.

Perhaps as a result of the injuries Panama sustained in the trailer accident, he has had some issues with trailers ever since. He did have two uneventful trailer rides after the accident — back and forth to the vet's place — but they were very short and occurred in the wake of tragedy, so I'm sure he associated even the good trailer experiences with major life changes (i.e. losing his mother and leaving his first home for strange and scary experiences).

It was when Panama was brought to Denver from the in-laws' rural pasture that his trailer issues really became apparent. The truck that brought him out here was a semi, so not only did Panama had to load up into a loud and scary trailer-like vehicle, but he also had to go up a ramp first. I wasn't there for this part, but the in-laws told us he was panicked and rearing, and even once broke loose and ran through a wire fence in an effort to get back to the pasture.

With all of this in mind, my trainer and I decided we had better get Panama comfortable with the entire process before the actual day. Last week, I started walking him around the outer yard, where he'd never been before and where the owner keeps large pieces of equipment, such as a broken old tractor and unused trailers. Panama was quite spooky about that the first time, and by the third time had started planting his feet in downright refusal to go out there.

Yesterday my trainer and I used the stable owner's two-horse trailer to practice loading up. It took about a half an hour to get Panama into the trailer at all, and I had to actually pick up a front foot and put it in the trailer the first few times. However, by the end of the hour my trainer had him loading up, even if he was still a little nervous about it.

Having already practiced loading up should help considerably on moving day. I am getting very excited about moving! The new place should be practically a dream come true for me and Panama — daily turnout, good hay, and a friendly atmosphere for him, and full care and peace of mind for me. Hooray!

No Child Author Left Untapped

On Monday, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware posted on a disturbing trend that has been growing recently: The tendency of vanity presses to prey on child authors. Her post got me thinking, for two reasons:

1) Because I also started writing novels as a teenager,


2) Because I have had firsthand experiences with one of the child authors she mentioned in her post, Adora Svitak.

In regards to #1, I agree with Victoria Strauss completely when she says that some youngsters may be able to write beautifully, but most don't have the maturity to deal with the publishing industry. We're talking about an industry that can be pretty cutthroat — there is a lot of competition and a lot of rejection, whereas most children and teens are still at the point where social rejection is the end of the world. Plus, they lack both the experience needed to know the publishing industry's standards, as well as the maturity to learn and apply those standards.

Of course, as with any rule there are exceptions, but I am pretty certain I wasn't one. I wrote my first novel at age 14, and I know looking back at it that it was not and will never be publishable. My second novel was better, but it is my third novel — written when I was 15 — that I think has the most potential. However, even that one needs work — revisions and corrections that I don't think I would have seen the need for earlier in my career.

In spite of the fact that I once complained about my parents not encouraging and helping me to pursue publication, I think now that I wouldn't have it any other way. Maybe I haven't published a novel yet, but I'd rather get there on my own two feet than to have my work sell because I was some kind of child prodigy, an oddity and a fascination.

Which brings me to #2: My experiences with Adora and Joyce Svitak. I got involved almost exactly two years ago, when Adora's book, Flying Fingers, was first published. Joyce advertised looking for reviewers, and being a little naive about how the industry worked, I agreed to work with them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got burned.

Victoria's post about Aultbea and their child authors made me start thinking about the situation with the Svitaks for the first time in many months. It occurs to me that Adora was not the only one whose work was being exploited — by looking for writers to work for free and betraying our initial agreement regarding my review, Joyce was also taking advantage of other writers. This makes me wonder: Is it only the vanity publishers who are guilty of exploiting children's talents? Or are some of the parents equally as guilty?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Essay on animal rights

Last week, I posted a video on animal testing, in honor of PETA's boycott of Mars candy.

The email and video inspired me to write a personal essay on animal testing and animal rights. Though I'm not normally a fan of giving away my work, I decided to go ahead and post my essay on Associated Content. Though I'll get a pittance for pageviews ($1.50 per 1000 views), it's not really enough to count, so I'm considering this my donation to a cause I feel strongly about. Goodness only knows, if Associated Content is good for anything, it's visibility!

If you are interested in checking out my essay, you can find it here:

Mars Vs. Peta: Is Animal Testing Wrong?

And because I don't want to seem like those lowlifes who spam others for pageviews, I am also submitting the essay to EzineArticles.com. When it's live I'll post that link here, too, so that you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to contribute to my page views. We're talking one-sixth of a cent here, folks, so don't worry about hurting my feelings if you hate AC and would rather not click. What I care about is getting the word out about the PETA video and the Mars boycott.

Update 12/20/2007: Sadly, EzineArticles.com refused to publish my essay because they claim it's libelous. Ha! You can read more about it here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Titanic and pet peeves

Michael took today off work, so we decided to see the Titanic exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We've been wanting to see it for some time, but just never was able to make the time... Until now.

We both loved the exhibit, but an excessive number of errors in the signs reminded me of a post Deb Ng recently published on her blog, about writers' pet peeves. Here's a pet peeve I apparently overlooked in the discussion: glaring errors by large companies who should know better (or be able to hire a copywriter who does).

The error that annoyed me the most was also the most frequently repeated: the capitalization of words that shouldn't be capitalized. For instance, "ship" was almost always capitalized, in contexts such as, "Passengers on board the Ship..." (I completely made that up, because I can't recall any of the exact sentences, but that's the sort of usage we're talking about here.)

Misuse of capitalization drives me nuts, perhaps partly because my old boss thought his technical writers should capitalize Important Words and Terms; the result was that almost every other word was capitalized (not to mention bolded or highlighted in red, blue, or green text).

According to the AP's Stylebook,

"In general avoid unnecessary capitals. Use a capital letter only if you can justify it by one of the principles listed here." Those are proper nouns, proper names, popular names, derivatives, setences, compositions, and titles.

It's not just the Associated Press, either. People just don't write like that anymore.

I thought perhaps they were trying to write in a style appropriate to the period, but personally, I think if that was their intent they should have put the signs in a period font, too. Otherwise it just looks like a mistake. (And anyway, I'm not at all certain the capitalization of subjects was common in 1912 — I've seen it in the literature of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, but not the 20th century.)

The impression that the capitalization was a mistake wasn't helped by several other mistakes in grammar and punctuation, such as "it's" instead of "its," and a missing period on a rather large (read: highly visible) sign.

The exhibit was fantastic, but I was still annoyed by the mistakes, particularly the rampant over-capitalization. The moral of the story? The museum needs a copywriter like me to make sure things like that don't happen!

Christmas lights

I mentioned the other night that Michael put up our Christmas tree. Well, he did more than just put up the tree: He also decorated a little with the Christmas lights. They look so nice that I decided I just had to take some pictures and post them on my blog.

Here is the tree. I took this picture with the lights out and my camera set on "night portrait," because I liked the effect:

Here are the lights in the kitchen:

And here is one of the windows in the office, with my desk lamp on...

...and with the lights off. (I couldn't decide which picture I liked more.)

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A very harried Christmas

This ought to demonstrate how un-Christmas-like the season has been for us so far: Michael and I only just started our Christmas shopping today.

I don't want anyone to peek and find out what they're getting, so I'm not going to list the gifts here. But I will say that I think everyone will love their gifts.

In general, though, Michael and I don't have as much to work with as usual right now. My reduced work hours and our decision to move Panama to a more expensive (albeit more convenient) facility, combined with a few other factors, has made money a little tight lately. It's mainly bad timing, as I expect to be able to work longer days again two or three days out of the week once we get Panama moved, but it still sucks to be nearly broke around Christmas.

Besides the money issue, Michael's job has also been considerably more stressful lately. Unlike my work, though, a lot of stress at his job isn't balanced with a higher income. (Usually, when I'm stressed it's because I'm working a lot, which in turn means I'm earning more.) Poor Michael has said that it hasn't felt like the holidays at all — and I suppose it really hasn't.

It's starting to feel more like Christmas, though. We took the picture for our Christmas cards last weekend. The cards came a couple of days ago, and I'll have them all ready to send out on Monday. (I'm thrilled with the cards, by the way. I'll post pictures from the photo shoot on Christmas Day.)

Michael also put the Christmas tree up tonight while I was working, which should help a lot. However, getting ready for Christmas this late means that before we know it, it'll all be over. I hate doing it this way, but there's just no way around it: We're having a very harried Christmas.

How is your holiday season shaping up?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I edited a Wikipedia article

There have been a few discussion in the online writing community about whether Wikipedia is a valid source. Most people say no, but I disagree: While I don't think it is always reliable or high quality, I do think Wikipedia offers a good source for general or background information, and an excellent jumping-off point for more in-depth research.

But I am getting away from my point: I edited a Wikipedia article just now, and it felt good.

I often find grammatical mistakes and other minor problems in Wikipedia articles, but I've never tried to change them. Tonight I finally did. Someone had written that so-and-so "shot dead" a bunch of people. That bothered me to no end — what is this, a Western? — so I changed it to "shot and killed."

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my change showed up instantly — no review or anything. While that is obviously why there are so many errors in Wikipedia — and why pages never stay the same for very long — I have to admit, it was rather satisfying.

Even for a published writer, who should be above getting her kicks by making changes to lowly Wikipedia articles!

When writers screw other writers

No, my title is not a reference to Kathy Kehrli's Screw You! (one of my favorite blogs, incidentally). Rather, it's a reference to when writers intentionally screw each other over.

I received an email today from a fellow writer, one that I once almost worked with on a project we both got through Writerlance. We both had serious misgivings about the client, and the two of us (along with one other) backed out. That was a year ago.

This writer apparently put me on a mailing list, because today I received an email about a current project the writer was hiring for. I clicked on the link, more out of curiosity (and trying to figure out who the heck was emailing me) than anything else, and found this:

Budget: $30-100

I need 10 articles completed by Saturday, 5pm, Eastern time! This is an urgent project, and please only apply if you can complete them by tomorrow for sure!!!

If you have any doubt about completing them, please do not bid. Place your bid for 10 articles by tomorrow. The articles need to be 750 words long.

You will get the complete details once chosen and I need them submitted to me by tomorrow. I am on Eastern time.

I can pay a total of $30 for the project. If I find a writer that is reliable there will be plenty more work in the future with varying payments. = )

The project itself pisses me off, of course: Ten 750-word articles for $30 is bad enough, but a rush project too? Yeah, sure, let me spend my Friday night working my butt off for your measley thirty bucks!

The fact that it's a writer posting the ad infuriates me even more. Even if webmasters don't always understand why paying a writer peanuts for professional work is wrong, another writer ought to know.

No doubt she signed on for too much work, couldn't finish an assignment, but still wanted to keep most of the income.

I hope her conscience keeps her up at night.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Watch it, I dare you!

Please excuse the off-topic post, but I want you to watch something: a video on animal testing.

Evidently, PETA has discovered that the Mars candy company is testing on animals.

Learn more at MarsCandyKills.com.

Can't handle watching the video? Then why on earth would you support animal testing?


A perfect snow day

I knew today was supposed to be cold and snowy, so I made sure to take care of Panama's needs yesterday so that I wouldn't have to go out today.

Sure enough, when I woke up the three or so inches of snow on the ground had doubled. It's not a ton of snow, granted, but it's still nice not to have to go anywhere. It's on days like today that I really appreciate being a freelancer.

I have a lot of work to do today, but here's how I'll be doing it: Sitting on the couch, where I have a view of the pretty snow scene outside our living room window, and listening to my favorite Christmas album, Christmas Eve by David Lanz.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Moving Panama

I've decided to move Panama from the stables he is at now. There are many reasons for this, but they fall into two basic categories:

I don't feel he is safe and well cared for where he's at.

The owner is very lackadaisical about horse care and the upkeep of the facilities. Some of these are minor problems, some are more serious:

* Ongoing problems with mold in the hay, probably having to do with the fact that he stores some of it outside with only a tarp as protection from the elements...

* Infrequent breaking of the ice in their water troughs during cold weather — once I had to give a horse water because hers was frozen all the way through, even though the owner had already been out there that morning...

* Infrequent manure removal — there is a HUGE manure pile in the yard, and as many as four wheelbarrows frequently sit in the yard with full loads of manure...

* Lack of attention to the horses' needs or condition — one horse is so skinny her sides cave in behind her ribs; another boarder told me about a horse who got sick, stopped eating, and died over a period of several days, and the stable owner never noticed!

* Infrequent (two or three times a week at best) stall cleanings, even though he calls his facility "full care" — sometimes it's so bad that the horses are all standing in six inches of manure, and he actually told me once that he doesn't think they care!

* Poor maintenance in and around the barn — for example, once he pointed out to me a repair that needed done in one of the stalls, laughed about it, and said it was "an accident waiting to happen." Uh, whose responsibility does he think that is?

I can get real full care for less than $100 extra each month.

My visits to the stables are taking more and more time out of my days. I'm basically taking care of everything the stable owner should be: cleaning my horse's stall, turning him out, cleaning his water trough and filling it, even giving the other horses water! I really need to be able to work more hours, and I'm never going to be able to do that if Panama stays where he is.

I started looking at other facilities, and realized that there are quite a few that offer real full care — i.e. daily stall cleaning, daily turnout, etc. — for only about $100 more each month. I quickly found a place that I like — a place that actually treats it like both a business and a moral responsibility to provide good care for the horses. They get high quality hay there, clean water, daily turnout, and their stalls are cleaned daily. The horses even look and act happier than the ones where I am now.

I've given my notice at my current place, and just need to decide how much of an overlap I can afford to pay for — the sooner I can get Panama moved, the better!

A horse is a horse, of course of course...

This is the most amusing example I've ever seen of how well horses take to training. They really are intelligent creatures.

I just hope there wasn't really any meat in that cheeseburger.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Reviewing my goals for 2007

Deb Ng posted today about her goals for 2008. In her post, she mentioned that she met her goal of increasing her income by $10,000 in 2007.

Unfortunately, I haven't been as successful in my goals for 2007. Here they were:

1. To revise my NaNoWriMo novel and get it ready for submitting

2. To submit my NaNoWriMo novel to at least one publisher during 2007

3. To start work on my next novel

4. To double my freelance income in 2007

The only one of these goals that I have achieved is number 3, starting work on my next novel — if you consider a detailed outline to be "starting work."

Although I didn't double my income in 2007, by the end of the year I estimate I will have succeeded in increasing it by 50 percent. I am disappointed that I can't say "I did it!" — but I guess it's not a bad achievement, particularly for my second year of full-time freelancing.

However, I also somewhat achieved this goal in another way. In my post, I commented that part of the reason for this goal was so that I could afford to stable my horse in town. While I didn't manage to double my income, I did still manage to bring Panama out here!

I haven't yet decided on all of my goals for 2008, so those will come in a later post.

What I love about my horse

Days like this one make me marvel anew at what funny creatures horses are. They all have such distinct personalities, and as I get to know Panama better, I've found that his personality is especially cute. Here are some of the things he does that I love:

* The deep nicker he uses to greet me every day. It's surprising, considering what a little horse he is, but Panama has a very deep nicker — maybe because he was left a stallion until he was two. He always greets me when I arrive, and sometimes he nickers to get my attention or when I give him hay before I leave.

* The way he follows me sometimes when I walk. After he'd been in training for a few weeks, Panama suddenly started to follow us sometimes after we finished lunging him. My trainer then taught him to turn and stop when we did, too, but I'm tickled that he was inclined to follow us on his own. Now he does it with very little encouragement, particularly when he is ready to go back to his stall or when he is looking forward to getting turned out.

* His "What next?" look. When my trainer or I ask him to "whoa" when lunging him, Panama always stops with his head high, turns to look at us, and puts his ears forward. It's adorably eager, like he's saying, "Okay, Mom. What next?"

* The way he plays with me in the arena. This is a fairly new phenomenon, but the last few times I've turned Panama out into the arena, I've noticed that he seems eager to play with me. I chase him a bit, sometimes jumping toward him suddenly when he's running past, or dodging him as he runs by. He often responds by bucking (which is how I got kicked) or changing directions abruptly. If you have ever seen horses play together, imagine that without the physical contact, and you've got a pretty good idea of how Panama and I play together.

* His "I want a treat" head bob. Part of our daily grooming session is the occasional treat. I don't like to give him too many, as I don't want him to get mouthy, so the treats make grooming time special. When he knows he's about to get a treat, he turns his head to watch me dig the treat out of my pocket. Because he's tied up, there's only so far he can turn his head, which results in a gentle bobbing as he pulls against the ties.

He's doing it a little here, because he's trying to figure out what I'm doing — see how his head is tilted a little sideways?

Isn't he adorable?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Borrow books at your own risk

I've mentioned before how anal I am about my books, and I've posted several times on books in my collection. Now the blogger who started the "Weird Book Habits" discussion, Debbie Ridpath Ohi of Inkygirl, has created a comic that pretty much sums it all up for me.

Mark Twain wrote in Pudd'nhead Wilson, "The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money."

Personally, I think it should have said, "if not asked to lend books."

Full-time work with part-time hours

I've decided that I need to start telling clients that I only work part-time hours: I put in an average of four billable hours every day, with another couple of hours spent managing client email, blogging, and networking.

This is actually a fairly new phenomenon for me. I used to put in about six billable hours a day (more if I was slammed), but at least two or three more hours were spent on email, job boards, and other forms of marketing.

All of that changed when we moved Panama out here. I head out to the stables in the morning, and generally stay there for anywhere from one to three hours, depending on how much I have to do that day. Most of the time now I don't get to work until at least noonish.

Sometimes it's frustrating to get home, only to realize that I only have a few hours to work before Michael comes home. Often I end up working in the evening to make up some time. But I don't mind it at all — rather, I am grateful to have a job where I have the flexibility to change my schedule as needed.

However, many of my clients — particularly my newer clients — don't understand why I'm not available in the morning. I'm not sure why I haven't had to deal with this problem before, since until earlier this year I was rarely up before 11:00 am — the difference being that I usually worked until 3:00 or 4:00 am.

Needy client syndrome indicates that I will need to be a little more clear about my hours. The dilemma I am facing is that I don't want to label myself a part-time writer, for fear that it will make me sound less serious about my work: The term "part-time" intimates that writing is a hobby, rather than a career.

I think my solution will probably just be to let clients know that I am typically only available in the afternoons and evenings. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The nicest form rejection letter I've ever received

I received a rejection letter today from Orchid, where I had submitted one of my short stories. Although it was just a form letter, it was the nicest form rejection letter I've ever received. Here's an excerpt:

Your story was carefully read. We're sorry to report that your story does not meet our needs at this time. We're writers, too, and understand the disappointment of rejection. Please keep in mind that we're all in good company. The average story is rejected 25 or more times before being accepted.

The letter goes on to list rejections of now-famous works.

This form letter was more encouraging than many of the scribbled personal notes I've received in rejection letters. Way to go, Orchid, for rejecting the work without rejecting the author!

Monday, December 03, 2007

On this day

While researching an article this evening, I ran across an erie coincidence: Robert Louis Stevenson died on this day — December 3rd — in 1894, exactly 113 years ago.

My blog's anniversary is on the same day that one of my favorite children's authors died. Wild.

Just me, my computer, and a pizza

Michael is visiting with an old friend this evening, so it's one of those rare evenings where I'm on my own. I'm celebrating by having my favorite kind of pizza (Papa John's thin crust with bacon and onion toppings) delivered. I haven't had a Papa John's pizza since before Michael introduced me to organic more than two years ago, so this is a big occasion for me.

As for the night's entertainment... Well, I'm afraid I'll be spending the evening at my computer, catching up on the day's work. It's the first business day of the month, bills are due, and several payments aren't coming in when I expected them to, which means I can't afford a day of slacking just now.

The dogs are sleeping, the house is quiet, and my pizza is on the way. It feels like a perfect night for great productivity.

Happy birthday, Swan's Blog!

Today is my blog's birthday: I started this blog two years ago, on December 3, 2005.

It seems like so long ago; I feel like I've been blogging forever. I actually said in my first post that part of my blog's purpose was to bring additional traffic to my website. I can't believe I even knew that was a benefit of blogging back then.

Since I started this blog, my entire website has seen many changes and improvements, including:

* An updated website template and logo
* An integrated blog (i.e. the blog looking the same as the website)
* An expanded portfolio
* A services page
* A contact form (which has significantly reduced the spam I get)

These are just the cosmetic improvements. Much more important are the many readers I've gained — not to mention the satisfaction of being a part of the online writing community!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The power of (Internet) words

NPR reported Thursday on the Hollywood writers' strike, which hasn't changed very much since the last time I blogged about it. The report is an audio clip from NPR's Morning Edition, so be sure to click the "Listen Now" link.

What was interesting about the NPR report is the discussion of how the writers have used the Internet to get the word out about the strike and what they're asking for. The point was that the writers have done better with the PR work than the producers have, and as a result, only 4 percent of the public supports the producers.

Personally, I'm not at all surprised that the writers have succeeded in rallying the public via the Internet. While these are screenwriters and not PR writers, most writers (of any kind) understand the power of the written word, so it makes sense to me that the striking writers would know how to use words to generate support for their cause.

This situation reminds me a little bit of Laray Carr. (For those who don't know the situation, basically Laray Carr/LCP was hiring writers to write articles for 30-some magazines, which it seems they never had any intention of launching. To my knowledge, no one ever was paid, and at this very moment Quincy Carr is probably running a new scam under a different name.)

Although Laray Carr was obviously on a much smaller scale than the Hollywood writers' strike, it's another example of how writers use the power of words: We discussed LCP on forums and blogs, despite bogus legal threats, and eventually informed enough people that Quincy Carr had to shut LCP down (though he just set up shop under new names).

The message is the same in both instances: Don't mess with the writers.

Watch out for potential Vindale Research scams

Watch out for Vindale Research — the word on the street is that they may be part of a big scam.

Today Michael ran across one of their ads on Craigslist.org (which has since been flagged, thankfully). Basically, they are running one of those operations where you get paid for writing reviews of products.

Thankfully, Michael asked my opinion before completing the application, which — as it turns out — requires credit card information as "verification." Unsurprisingly, there are numerous instances reported online of people's cards being charged without authorization as a result of their "employment" with Vindale Research.

Also, it sounds like reviewers are having to buy the products with their own money up front, and then aren't getting getting paid as agreed by Vindale Research.

Here are some links to forum threads and other pages with information on Vindale Research:

Report with SurveyPolice.com Only 37 percent of users received the promised incentives (read: payment), and 49 percent of users reported being misled by the company when they signed up!

Freesamplesite.com forum thread One user reported an erroneous charge on her credit card, which Vindale Research denied responsibility for. She was able to get the company whose product she was reviewing to reverse the charge, but only after threatening to call the Better Business Bureau!

Hotcouponworld.com forum thread Reveals that Vindale Research charges a membership fee for providing you with survey work.

Volition.com forum thread A myriad of complaints, from membership fees to unauthorized charges to users' credit cards. A couple of people even reported never getting paid ... even though they had paid for their review products out-of-pocket!

I think most of my readers know better than to "write" for a potential scammer like Vindale Research, but I wanted to help spread the word, just in case!

Hope for higher-paying freelance writing jobs

Friday's Writerfind.com newletter contained the following blurb:

Is this just me -- or are people just paying less for freelance writing these days?

An increasing number of people are trying to post poorly paid jobs through Writerfind. Those jobs are now being rejected. When we surveyed Writerfind subscribers, most said they would not be willing to work for under 10 cents per word.

The site is intended to be a site for professionals - people who need to make a living from writing and editing. So, from now on, please note that we will only be accepting work which pays 10 cents or more per word. Nor will we be posting "revenue sharing opportunities", as these too, going by the feedback, tend to lead nowhere pay-wise.

Good for Writerfind.com for taking a stand! I hope some of the other freelance writing job boards will follow suit.


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