Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kindling an interest in ebooks

In the midst of a disappointing holiday season for the publishing industry, this article appeared in the New York Times: Turning Page, E-Books Start to Take Hold.

I think this is interesting for several reasons. For one, it's hard to believe that ebooks have been around for as long as they have — my awareness of ebooks has developed mostly in the last five years or so, and I have to admit I am a fan, though I don't often sit at my computer and read.

I have never seen Amazon's Kindle in person, though at one time I really wanted one. I have seen Sony's Reader, though, and I have to say if I were going to spend that kind of money on an ebook reader, the Sony would be the way I'd go — partly because I want the one I've had a chance to handle and play with, and partly because I think Amazon is turning into an evil corporation. Just look how many times in this article the author notes that Amazon won't report the Kindle's sales data!

I also was interested to learn that you can download ebook readers for the iPhone. Since eventually I want one, I will have to look into that some more. I might be able to have my phone, music, and my digital library all in one place!

As you may know, I self-published my own short ebook, How to Restring a Strung Doll, for collectors of vintage dolls. I've sold well over 200 copies now, and thinking back to when I first started selling, I think I have definitely seen an increase in sales — although, considering the nature of my ebook, that is probably due to more successful marketing rather than ebook readers gaining in popularity.

As much as I love ebooks, though, I can't say that I think they will ever overtake regular books in popularity — at least not those of us who really love to read. There is just something so comforting about the feel of a book in one's hand!

What about you? What are your experiences with the ebook industry, either as a reader or a writer? What do you think the future holds for ebooks?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Judy Blume on writing, puberty, and turning 70

I've probably mentioned it before, but Judy Blume is one of my writing heroes. I love her books — both her juvenile and young adult books, and her adult novels — and I have tons of respect for her courage in addressing subjects that were rather taboo back then (and still are sometimes today).

I was excited to see in the headlines yesterday Judy Blume's interview on NPR. She talks about what got her into writing — and surprisingly, she didn't always want to be a writer, but started out doing wall hangings for children's rooms at first. She also discusses what it was that drew her to write so much about the 9-12 age group, and laughs about finding out from NPR that she was turning 70.

I had no idea Judy Blume was 70, but her enthusiasm at that age only makes me look up to her more. I hope I still love writing that much at age 70!

Monday, December 29, 2008

In review: 2008 New Year's resolutions

I've been doing everything a bit late this holiday season, so I'm just now reviewing my 2008 New Year's resolutions and deciding what to put on my list for 2009.

(For the record, I don't really take this too seriously — obviously, because of how many resolutions I promptly forget about and neglect to meet each year — but it's still a fun New Year's tradition.)

My resolutions for 2008 were as follows:

1. Spend the first hour of every workday on my own projects
2. Finish and launch my website updates
3. Increase my annual income by a third
4. Pay off 75 percent of my credit card debt
5. Keep in touch with my friends better
6. Get pregnant

And here are the results:

1. Sometimes
2. Nope
3. No way
4. Not even close
5. Nope
6. No

Hmmm. Maybe I should make different sorts of resolutions for 2009...

Christmas with our families

We had a pretty good Christmas here. We ended up busier than expected, so I didn't get as much of my work done as I'd hoped, but we had fun.

Since Michael's family moved to Denver earlier this year, we decided to split the holidays between our families: Christmas Eve with my folks, and Christmas Day with Michael's parents, his brother, and his brother's family (who all share a house — yikes!).

We were expecting not to be at my parents' house very late Christmas Eve, which was why I thought I would have time to work. However, my mom got tipsy and didn't kick us out at 9:30 after all, and we ended up getting home around 11:30 instead.

Michael was feeling tired and a little ill (probably from too much food), so we laid down and fell asleep by accident. At 3:30 am we both found ourselves wide awake, so we watched episodes of The Office (more on that later) until 7:30 am. Then we went back to bed for three more hours.

On Christmas Day we stopped by the barn around mid-afternoon to drop off stockings and treats for the horses. Then we continued on to Michael's family's house, bearing gifts for the kids. I was especially proud of the big present we had for my two younger nephews: a used kids table that I sanded, repainted, and decorated with the boys' handprints and names. I had a little help from Michael and my mom, but it still took the better part of four days to finish!

Crafty Christmas gifts

We spent most of Christmas Day with Michael's family, finally arriving home around midnight that night — and once again, I was way too tired to work!

How was your Christmas? If you've posted on your blog about your own holiday celebrations, please feel free to include a link in the comments!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A freelance writer's Christmas

First of all, Merry Christmas to all of the freelance writers, clients, lurkers, and everyone else who reads my blog.

And now for the twenty-five million dollar question: How many of my fellow freelancers are planning to work around the holiday festivities?

I certainly do. Not that I'll be foregoing family and friends to work (well, unless they get on my nerves), but I'll most likely be doing some work late tonight (Christmas Eve) and tomorrow night.

I suppose that is probably the second biggest drawback to freelancing (after the income rollercoaster): How hard it is to take a break. It seems like every time I think I'll be able to take a few days off, a client produces a rush project, or I procrastinate on a deadline, or something of the sort.

Not that I'm complaining. I like being able to work a flexible schedule — and if the price I pay for it is having to put in some extra hours after everyone else goes to sleep Christmas Eve, that's fine with me!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wrist pain: A writer's worst nightmare

Yesterday I blogged about this year's unprecedented Christmas crafts. Unfortunately, my projects had a side effect that I could not have predicted, and that ultimately scared me quite a bit.

About three years ago, shortly after I first started freelancing, I had some difficulties with what I believe was repetitive strain injury (RSI): I started developing pain in my wrists, which would often shoot up into my upper arms and shoulders, particularly in my right arm (i.e., from using the mouse).

After a lot of heating pad applications, Motrin, and taking it easy, the pain went away. I've had a couple of flare-ups since then, but nothing serious.

Until last weekend.

Over the weekend, I suddenly developed pain in my hands, wrists, and forearms. The pain was moderate when typing, but could be quite bad when I flexed my hands and fingers, particularly if I hadn't done so in a while. It was pretty much the same in both my right and left arms.

I was pretty worried for several days, as it showed no signs of improving, and I had no idea what had caused it. I even tried to limit my typing over the weekend, but typing didn't seem to aggravate it — it hurt about the same amount as anything else.

Finally, Sunday night it occurred to me what had caused the pain: spray painting my nephews' Christmas present. Unfortunately, I wasn't finished yet, but at least I had learned that I had to be more careful. After that, I took breaks and stretched my hands out frequently while painting, and that seemed to help quite a bit.

It's a good reminder for freelancers that anything, even things that have nothing to do with writing, can cause injuries that interfere with your work!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A very crafty Christmas

I've long considered writing my only serious creative bent. I liked to draw when I was a kid, but found that my skill did not grow to keep pace with my age... Or maybe it was my ability to recognize my own skill that grew up. In any case, I've never been the crafty type.

Until this Christmas. I'm making all kinds of things for the holidays this year:

* Stocking for the horses
* Homemade horse treats
* A big present for my nephews (it's a surprise, so more on that later)
* Props for doll photography including a really cute quilt I made out of old flannel pajama pants

I'm having a lot of fun making these things, but I'm discovering how much time and effort crafts take. I guess that's why a lot of people don't bother. I've also discovered one other (slightly scary) side effect, which I'll blog about more in a future post.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday book giveaway on Pony Tales Blog

I'm doing two holiday drawings for horse books on one of my other blogs, Pony Tales Blog. If you are interested, or know of someone who might be, click here to read the full details about my holiday book giveaway.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Great quote for writers

I want to share with my readers my new favorite quote about writing.

The quote appears in Henrietta Twycross-Martin's preface to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. (The book is witty and hilarious, and I highly recommend it. The movie is also beautifully done.) Twycross-Martin was lucky enough to be able to interview Watson while writing the preface, and when they were discussing why Watson stopped writing abruptly in the mid 1940s, Watson said, "You can't write if you are never alone."

This quote holds much meaning for me, as I'm sure it does for my fellow freelancers — particularly since I know many are also stay-at-home parents. I have enough trouble writing when my husband is home, particularly on the weekends, so I can only imagine (though I'm sure I will someday experience) what it is like to juggle parenthood with freelance writing!

I have often found that late at night, after Michael has gone to bed and no one is calling or emailing me, is the best time to be alone and work. We also often go to Barnes and Noble or Tattered Cover, where I can work in the café while he browses or reads. And when I get really desperate, a trip by myself to a coffee shop or the library serves to ensure I get my "alone time."

What about you? Do you relate to this quote, and if you do, how do you ensure you have enough alone time to write?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good news for freelance writers and telecommuters

As a freelance writer, 99 percent of my business is done via email and the Internet, from finding new clients to researching, writing, and delivering completed projects.

When my husband and I were talking about moving to Missouri a couple of years ago (something that never happened, obviously), one of our main concerns was ensuring that I would have reliable Internet access. Unfortunately, the house we wanted to buy was located in a small rural town, so it wasn't looking good. Of course, it turned out Michael's company wouldn't let him telecommute, so nothing ever came of it anyway.

However, that experience demonstrated that Internet access is something I've learned to take for granted, living in a large metropolitan area. So imagine my excitement when I read that Obama is encouraging companies offering high-speed Internet access to expand their networks to rural areas.

Hooray for progress!

Freelance writers: Surviving slow periods

The come-and-go of work is one of the most difficult things about freelancing for many writers. It's often referred to as "feast or famine," and although I've never experienced it quite to that extreme, there's definitely some truth to that cliché.

I typically find that my busiest period is during the summer, and my slowest period is in December and January. Unfortunately, that feels opposite of what you would want: It would make sense to me to have less work during the summer, when the weather lures me outside, and more work around the holidays to provide extra money for gifts and other celebratory expenses.

Part of surviving slow periods is being able to lessen the impact, either by planning ahead or by having an alternate source of income. I'm admittedly not very good at reserving money for slower periods, but luckily I do have an alternate source of income: babysitting.

I have a long history of working with children: I worked as a preschool and after school program teacher for about six years during high school, college, and the years I took off in between. Midway through college I switched over to self-employement (though I wasn't savvy enough to call it that then) and worked as a part-time nanny and babysitter until graduation. After I graduated, I immediately got a full time job as a technical writer, but I maintained relationships with one or two of the families I had been babysitting for, which also helped to ease the transition when I quit work to freelance full time in 2005.

Fortunately for me, I get the most demand for my services as a babysitter right when I have the least demand for my services as a writer: around the holidays, when there are lots of parties to go to. It's perhaps not as esteemed as my other job, but it helps to smooth out the unpredictable income — not to mention it's pretty special to watch these kids grow up!

How do you deal with the "feast or famine" phenomenon of being a freelance writer?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mini netbook reviews for writers

I've blogged before about my little Averatec 1000 series laptop, which I bought more than three years ago now, just before quitting my job to freelance full time. I love this little laptop, which weighs only a little over three pounds without sacrificing any of the features of a full-size computer.

Lately, however, it has started having little problems here and there. Recently my dad bought one of those little mini computers for about $350, and I've been wondering if I should get one too as a backup or a second computer.

I've done a little browsing at local stores, and here is what I think so far:

Asus Eee with the Intel Atom Processor N270 — $279. This is my least favorite of the mini computers so far. The processor speed is decent — 1.6 GHz — but the keys are tiny and difficult to type on... And that's coming from someone who is types on a smaller-sized keyboard all the time!

Someone I met during NaNoWriMo this year had one of these, and her complaint was the lack of memory: The hard drive is just 4 GB. She said that by the time you load the software you need, there's not much space for anything else!

HP Mini Netbook with Intel Atom Processor N270 — $399. I wasn't very impressed by the HP version, either. It has the same processor as the Eee listed above, but with a 10.2 inch widescreen, so it's a little bigger — the same size as my Averatec, actually, just without the CD/DVD drive. The hard drive is 16 GB — bigger than the Eee, but still not big enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Unfortunately, someone at HP had the bright idea to make the keys larger, flatter, and more ergonomic. The result is a keyboard where nothing is where it should be. When I tried it out at Best Buy, my typo rate was about 25 percent. I'd never get anything done, at that rate!

Asus Eee Netbook with Intel Celeron Processor 353 — $379. Like the HP, this mini computer has a 10 inch widescreen and a larger keyboard, so it's about the same size and weight as my Averatec (except that my Averatec has a CD/DVD drive and these don't). And unlike the HP, this keyboard is normal enough to type on it comfortably.

Another advantage to this machine is its large hard drive: 120 GB, which is much more generous than the 80 GB drive on my Averatec. However, my complaint was how slow the machine seemed. It was a 900 MHz processer, which is only a little slower than my Averatec, but felt ridiculously slow when I was playing with the machine in the store.

Acer Aspire with Intel Atom Processor N270 — $349. This little computer impressed me the most. The screen is a small 8.9 inch widescreen, the same as the smaller Asus, and it has the same 1.6 GHz processor. However, it also has the 120 GB hard drive and a workable keyboard. It weighs 2.2 pounds, a pound less than my Averatec and the two larger minis (the larger Asus and the HP).

I didn't get to try out Dell's version of the mini, and if there are other brands I haven't heard of them.

I think if I decide to get one of these mini laptops, or netbooks as they seem to be called, I will probably prefer the Acer — I like the keyboard the best (which is important since I'd be typing on it a lot), the faster processor, the large hard drive, and the small size. I'm not sure yet whether I can fully justify having a second laptop for work, but it's hard to say no when it's that cheap — not to mention when this is pretty much the only way to get a small laptop (my preference) these days!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Books make great gifts

Every year I buy books (or bookstore gift cards) for the majority of the people on my holiday shopping list, so the message in this marketing campaign isn't new to me.

My hero and favorite YA author, Judy Blume, was featured in this video. She said, "Books make great gifts because you can never have too many." I think I liked her clip the best.

If I were cool enough to be a published novelist and be featured in this video, I would have said, "Books make great gifts because they will never be replaced with newer technology." Books are probably the only source of entertainment in our culture that isn't affected by new breakthroughs in technology. I can buy a 100-year-old book and it still works just fine, but I can't buy a 50-year-old album or a 20-year-old movie (or even a 10-year-old computer game) unless I have the right technology to play it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Alone for the Weekend

This morning, Michael left town with his mom and his brother. They are helping his dad move to Colorado, which leaves me alone at least until Sunday night.

This is the first time I've been alone since Michael went on his business trip a year and a half ago. I really miss him when he is gone, even though technically this should be an excellent time to get some work done.

I want to use this time (when I'm not moping about, missing Michael) to get caught up on work and hobby-related stuff. Here are a few things I am planning to do this weekend:

* Spend some time with my horse. Lately, I don't get to spend much time with my horse on the weekends, because we already have so much else to do. And it probably doesn't help that Michael doesn't really like doing horse the whole horse thing. We like to do stuff together on the weekends, which usually translates into NOT going to the barn.

* Work on my novel. This seems to me like a perfect chance to spend some uninterrupted quality time with my characters.

* Work. Yes, I have plenty of work to do too — and since Michael is taking Monday and Tuesday off so that we have some time together after he gets back, I want to work ahead as much as possible this weekend.

* Go to the doll show. My mom and I are selling at a doll show this weekend, which is going to take up the better part of one day.

* "Play" with my dolls. I have a lot to do in preparation for the show. In addition, I recently got a new cabinet as an early Christmas gift from Michael, and I need to finish arranging my new display. I also have some project dolls to work on and some dolls that need to be photographed for my doll blog, Doll Stringing Extravaganza, so I have plenty to keep me busy!

You know, it occurs to me that I might actually have too much to do in one weekend. Especially if missing Michael slows me down as much as it did when he went on his business trip!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

17,551 words

Tonight saw some more difficult writing: Although I spent two hours working on my novel, I added less than 1,500 words. I'm not sure I liked where tonight's writing was going, but it's nothing that can't be cleared up easily with revisions later on, so I forced myself to keep going. Sometimes pushing on is the best thing to do, I've found; it's almost like you have to experiment with the plot before you can make a decision on what you really want to do with it.

As an added challenge, it seems I may have my noveling time interrupted sooner than I thought: My biggest client contacted me with a new project this afternoon, one that needs to be completed in just under a week. Although I am definitely glad to be getting a jump start on the month's billable work, I'm also a bit anxious to see how I am able to maintain my novel-writing time as the client work picks up again.

We'll see, I guess. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Do you click on ads?

As someone who knows firsthand how disappointing pay-per-click ad revenue can be sometimes, when I read a blog post I like, I tend to click on a couple of ads to, er, show my appreciation. However, the other day I read something that will change how I do things.

I saw an article online that discussed Google AdSense and problems with bloggers faking clicks. Apparently many AdSense clients track visits that comes from those ads, so if someone just clicks the ad and backs out immediately, they know. And if that happens from the same website or blog too many times, it's a pretty good guess that the owner of that site has people clicking ads for him in order to artificially inflate his ad revenue.

Keep this in mind if you like to click on ads to help bloggers. It's a good idea to read through the landing page, and maybe even click through to another page on the website, to give the ad a fair chance (read: so that it doesn't look like you're faking clicks). I also like to scroll through the ads and only click the ones that might actually interest me.

Interesting, on freelance writers' blogs, how many of those ads lead to sites like Associated Content and Helium...

16,060 words: First post-NaNoWriMo installment

Tonight I worked on my novel for the first time in over two weeks. I'm happy to say that I got really into it, and added more than 2,000 words. See? I totally could have finished NaNoWriMo this year. I don't know why I didn't.

Oh yeah... Because of paying work. Gotta pay those bills...

Whenever I come back to writing fiction after some time away, I'm always surprised at how easily it comes to me. I do like writing for a living, regardless of whether it is fiction or nonfiction, but working on a short story or a novel always reminds me that fiction was my first love.

Since it's the beginning of the month, and my biggest client keeps me busiest in the middle and end of the month, I have the flexibility right now to continue working on my novel. I am going to try to get into the habit of working on it every day, and hopefully when I do get busier later in the month, I will be able to continue setting aside an hour or so to work on it every day.

Monday, December 01, 2008

No surprises here

Remember my deadbeat client, Bill Cameron, the owner of Cameron Ink and METROMODE Magazine? Well, I'm sorry — but not at all surprised — to report that he did not pay us by the end of November, as he had promised.

In fact, this morning he sent emails to all of us who are owed money that said he is planning to pursue bankruptcy reorganization. He's trying to paint it as this wonderful opportunity for us to get paid, but I am concerned he may be just trying to buy more time, probably in the hopes that eventually we will give up and go away.

I can't help but be skeptical. After all, he has claimed he's going to do numerous things, and so far the only thing he actually followed through on was making each of us a small payment of $50 in October. Two other times he claimed he was going to pay us by a certain date, and failed to do so: Once when the payment for our work was originally due, and again when he failed to pay us by the end of November. The rest of the time we've just gotten one excuse after another.

The kicker is that the man is still advertising for writers on his website. Doesn't that fall under the definition of fraud, to be hiring writers when you know — because you still owe other writers money — that you can't afford to pay them?

Don't write for Bill Cameron, Metromode Magazine, or Cameron Ink — he has a track record of not paying his writers, and still owes his last staff more than $2,000 combined!

The end of NaNoWriMo 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008 is over, and I'm sad to say I didn't finish — I never got above 14,000 words. However, I have every intention of continuing to work on my novel. I will be aiming for 100,000 words total, and I will use a non-NaNo word count widget for my sidebar.

I also plan to continue blogging about my progress, even though NaNoWriMo 2008 is technically over, so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Live blogging our last NaNoWriMo write-in

I am blogging from Tattered Cover (a local independent bookstore) at our last NaNoWriMo write-in. Probably because it is Thanksgiving weekend, there are only four of us here.

When I arrived — about 20 minutes late — I couldn't find anyone, and a couple of old ladies were sitting in the meeting area we had reserved. After wandering around for a little while, I found one other writer I recognized; we claimed a table, I posted a new thread on the NaNoWriMo forums, and before long we had two other writers. Now we're back in our usual spot, which should make it easier to find us if anyone else comes — but I'm thinking it'll be just us.

Actually, though, I haven't worked on my novel yet this write-in. In fact, I haven't worked on it now for about two weeks, I think. I was hoping the write-in would be good inspiration for me, but so far all I've done is worked on my blogs!

I've been doing a lot of non-writing things since meeting my deadlines, just in time for Thanksgiving. Michael gave me a new display cabinet as an early Christmas present, so I have been busy getting dolls out of storage and arranging them, not to mention working on doll and clothing repairs that have been on my to-do list for a very long time, in some cases several years. I've also been having fun photographing my dolls and working on my doll stringing blog. I even sewed a little quilt for a doll bed I have — something I've been meaning to do since I got the bed last spring!

Despite all my apparent procrastinating, I actually am warming up to working on my novel again. Hustling to meet those deadlines took a lot out of me, and I think I needed some time to "play" with my dolls and destress before working on writing — any writing — again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Back to noveling... albeit a little too late

Today I finished all of my marketing writing work for one of my biggest clients. As usual, the last week of the month was extremely busy as I worked toward the deadlines, and as a result I haven't had a chance to work on my novel since I last added to my word count.

I have resigned myself to not making 50,000 words this November, but I am going to keep on with my novel. This particular plot is one I've had in mind for several years, and now that I have finally started on it, I want to be sure I finish — even if it's not in a month!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beware of work-at-home scams!

WritersWeekly.com ran an article today by Cee Gee, warning readers about a text editing scam she ran across once. The scam wasn't to get free work, but to use writers to launder money by building up their trust and then ask them to become an "agent" for the supposed text editing business.

It's a good reminder that freelance writers should always be suspicious of work-at-home writing and editing jobs that don't make sense or that sound too good to be true. Because of the nature of our work, and because so many newbies join our ranks every year not knowing much about what to expect, writers are much more susceptible to online scams than the average person — and therefore we need to be extra cautious when looking for and accepting work!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

13,957 words

Although I haven't technically got caught up in my work to the point that I can take the day or two to work on my novel that I wanted, I was able to add more than 2,500 words to my word count tonight (Saturday night). My goal for the weekend is 6,000 words, so happily I've accomplished almost half of that. If I can find the time to work on client projects tomorrow and write another 3,500 words of my novel, I'll be a very happy little writer!

And now... I'm so tired that I'm nearly seeing double. Hard to believe that two and a half hours ago, I was telling myself I was too tired to work much on my novel. Now I'm downright exhausted — but happy to have proven myself wrong!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Falling further behind on NaNoWriMo

As you will have noticed if you've been paying attention to my word count, I haven't been doing so well making time for novel-writing lately. I have had a whole slew of distractions, the primary one being car problems.

My goal right now is to keep up with my regular work as much as possible. Once my car is fixed (I have a part special-ordered that is supposed to arrive Saturday) and I'm a little bit ahead on my billable work, I am going to reserve a day or two solely for noveling, and see if that can help me recover the ground I've lost!

FreelanceHomeWriters.com: Just another Freelance Work Exchange?

I've written a lot of posts over the years about Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance.com, both of which are membership sites where you pay to access ads for freelance writing gigs. In general, most professional writers agree that this is a scam to make you pay for job leads — something you should never pay for because you can easily find them for free, on sites like Deb Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs.

(Not to mention there are many reports of members finding it difficult or downright impossible to cancel their membership, which seems like a really dishonest ploy to get at least one full month's charge out of people who try the $2.95 trial and then want to cancel before the full memberhsip kicks in.)

This morning a friend and colleague sent me a link for a site she found advertised on Craigslist. Although the name is different, FreelanceHomeWriters.com (I'm not linking to them because I don't want them to benefit from my link!) sounds exactly like Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance.com. They have the exact same premise (you pay a membership fee for access to job leads), a very similar hard sell ("The jobs come to you!"), and even the same 7-day trial membership for $2.95.

What do you want to bet that people who sign up for Freelance Home Writers' trial membership will have the same difficulties canceling as FWE and GoFreelance members have reported? Even if that doesn't happen, though, it angers me to see how FreelanceHomeWriters.com belittles real writers.

For instance, one of the headings on the sales page proclaims,

These Companies Don't Care Who You Are, Where You Live, Or Your Level Of Education
The writing tasks you'll be doing will be so easy an 8-year-old child could do them...

Secondly, the site clearly is going to provide primarily low-paying writing work, judging by their idea of how to calculate your earning potential as a writer:

FreelanceHomeWriter.com advocates low-paying writing work

I don't know which makes me angrier, deriding our work as something even an 8-year-old could do, or suggesting that $10 an article is good pay!

Judging by everything I've pointed out here, it seems to me that Freelance Home Writers is yet another ploy to take advantage of newbie writers who don't yet understand the way the industry works.

I think all of my regular readers probably agree with me hands-down that paying a membership fee for job listings is totally unnecessary ‐ not to mention that the sites are quite possibly a scam. However, my past blog posts about Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance have also been quite successful at capturing new visitors via search engine traffic, and warning off the folks savvy enough to research a service before signing up. I hope this post will do the same for Freelance Home Writers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NaNoWriMo novel info and excerpt updated

I finally updated my Novel Info tab on my NaNoWriMo profile with a synopsis (of sorts) and an excerpt. If you read it please feel free to leave feedback in the comments here on my blog!

Monday, November 10, 2008

11,320 words

As I expected, I didn't reach 15,000 words tonight, which is roughly where I ought to be right now. However, I am quite happy with adding another 1,800 words or so to my total word count.

According to my NaNoWriMo progress report, I need to write about 1,900 words a day in order to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. Obviously I am still falling short of that, but I am steadily increasing my writing time and amounts every day, so I have hope that I will get up there and maybe even get caught up this week!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

9,500 words: Making progress!

I have a lot of catching up to do to reach the roughly 15,000 words I should be at by the end of the weekend, but I'm making some serious progress: Tonight I added another 1,608 words to my novel, bringing my total up again to exactly 9,500 words.

I suppose 5,000 words tomorrow is probably not feasible, as I have too much else to do: I want to ride Panama, change the coolant in my car, and get some billable work done for my biggest client. However, I'm feeling pretty good about catching up sometime in the next couple of days!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

7,562 words and my first write-in

Today I attended about an hour and a half of a write-in for NaNoWriMo — my first write-in ever. I got a lot of good writing done there — 1,631 words, which brings my word count up to 7,562.

I never went to any write-ins for NaNoWriMo 2006, only the weekly social meetings. And I never wrote a single word for NaNoWriMo 2007, so I only made it to one of the social meetings last year.

All that to say that I didn't really know what to expect at the write-in tonight. I'd heard that people actually got writing done at write-ins (rather than the crazy fun we have at the social meet-ups), but boy was I impressed when I arrived and saw about half a dozen people, sitting in armchairs and on sofas pulled up to form a small circle, WRITING.

After I'd been there for about an hour, one of the other NaNo-ers suggested a word count race. The idea was to see who could write the most words in nine minutes. (I don't know why it was only nine...) I wrote 428 words, about 100 words behind the "winner."

In any case, the write-in was a success for me, as I added more than fifteen hundred words to my word county. I still have a lot of catching up to do, though!

Friday, November 07, 2008

5,931 words: Time to start catching up

After several days of not working on my novel, tonight I finally added another 1,281 words, for a grand total of 5,931. That still puts me significantly behind, since I should have over 10,000 words by now!

Of course, the calendar widget seems to be having some problems right now, so please go by my reported word count and NOT what the calendar says — at least not until it starts working again!

I am anticipating having some extra time to work on my novel tomorrow evening, and on Saturday I'm attending a NaNoWriMo write-in for my area, so hopefully by the end of the weekend I'll have gotten caught up. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Goodbye, Michael Crichton

I was saddened to see a headline today on NPR that the well known author Michael Crichton died of cancer. I haven't ever read any of his books, but I've enjoyed many movies he had a hand in writing — apparently, more than I thought, as I had no idea that he wrote some of these screenplays (such as Twister). You can see the full list here.

Even though I haven't read any of Michael Crichton's books, hearing that he'd passed away was a shock. The article says he's a "tower of a man," but I would have said that he is a towering figure in modern literature. It'll be strange to know that he is gone.

Perhaps now would be a good time to finally read one of his books — my own way of honoring his life and work!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Archiving emails in Outlook

I want to share something I learned over the weekend about archiving emails in Outlook.

On Thursday, I decided to archive my emails in Outlook — something I haven't really done before. I let it run all day before finally canceling it so that I could turn off my computer.

On Friday, I discovered to my horror that emails were missing from my Outlook! That's how I discovered that archived emails are no longer actually available in Outlook 2000. (I don't know if it's different in newer versions of Outlook; it may very well be.)

Friday night, I used Mozy (thank heavens for online backup!) to restore my Outlook files, which thankfully hadn't been backed up since the day before I rashly decided to archive my old emails. Saturday I spent organizing my Outlook, filing emails (something I hadn't done in a while), and archiving individually the email folders that I don't use anymore.

So this is what I learned about archiving emails in Outlook. If it's something you use frequently, don't archive it. If it's not something you anticipate needing, archive it in smaller, identifiable files, rather than one big "archive.pst" file.

Example: I have a separate inbox folder for each of my clients. Each client gets their own archive file, so that they are smaller and more manageable, not to mention easy to locate. If I need to restore emails, I just have to deal with a few MB of information, rather than 1.5 GB.

I am also not archiving recent emails for ongoing clients (i.e. emails I might still need to reference). All of my old clients are getting archived; and with my bigger, more steady clients, everything except for the last six or 12 months of emails got archived.

This took a lot of time — half my weekend, actually — but now that my personal folder .pst file is cut almost in half, Outlook is behaving itself much better than before!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoWriMo calendar widget is back -- and working!

As of this evening, the NaNoWriMo calendar widget is working, so I put it back on my blog. I also changed what the images link to: The participant badge links to my NaNoWriMo profile, and the calendar widget links to my NaNoWriMo progress report.

I was tired yesterday evening and I've had a busy day today, so I haven't written any more since I last updated at 4,650 words. However, since I was a little bit ahead, it's not a big deal — I'm only about 2,000 words behind right now, IF I don't write any more this evening.

Right now I'm heading out to a social meet-up for NaNoWriMo-ers in my area. I'll blog more about that — and report any progress — later!

Monday, November 03, 2008

New NaNoWriMo widget

I got tired of having a NaNoWriMo widget that didn't work, so I changed it for the time being. The new widget has a bar graph, my current (reported) word count, the percentage done (out of 50,000 words), and the number of days left of NaNoWriMo.

I still prefer the calendar widget, though, so if it starts working again I'll put it back in the sidebar.

How profitable is freelance writing?

The new issue of WHY Magazine is live, and according to a list they've rerun from Forbes.com, writing is the third most profitable home-based business!

How can this be, when writers have such a reputation in our society as starving artists? Surveys demonstrate that the vast majority of writers do not earn a living wage. However, since this list is based on profit margins (13 percent on average for writers), I'm guessing writers place high because we have some of the fewest expenses of any home-based business, meaning that more of our income is actually profit.

Of course, as I've said before, it annoys me how society supports low-paying writing jobs. Since your income is primarily profit, there is no reason why you can't make a living as a freelance writer — so long as you have the determination and are willing to devote the time.

'Novel' means 'new'

I am one hundred percent in love with my NaNo novel.

I'm serious. I can't stop thinking about it. I think I'm even going to work on it today and save my paying work for this evening. I had so many great ideas for it this morning that I was itching to get down on paper (well, on screen).

One of the reasons why I think I love it so much is because it's different: different from anything I've ever written, and different than almost anything I've ever read. Not we-can't-publish-that kind of different (I hope), but different enough to hopefully interest readers as much as it interests me.

That's the way it should be, though, I think. Novel the adjective means new, so a novel should be something new: a story or a point of view or a character the likes of which haven't been seen before in the world of fiction. Plots and characters and settings that are rehashed versions of other books are boring.

Are you writing a novel this November? Make sure it's something fresh and new — preferrably in a good way!

4,650 words: Off to a screaming start!

The NaNoWriMo moderators suggested that we get at least 3,000 words this weekend. So imagine my surprise tonight when I realized I had gone from around 2,800 words to 4,650 words in just two hours!

The novel is going far better than I had even dreamed it would. I was worried about getting into the narrator's voices (I'm writing in first person from a male point of view) but it doesn't seem to be a problem so far. And the story just keeps flowing!

Unfortunately, one thing is going to be different from when I did NaNoWriMo before: I can't stay up as late at night to write. In 2006 I stayed up until 3 or 4 am most nights writing, but I'm on an earlier schedule now, primarily out of necessity: I need to get up with Michael and take him to work on days when I need to borrow his car.

Have no fear, though. I am sure I will still find plenty of time to work on my novel!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo word count calendar widget not working

You may have noticed that my calendar word count widget in the sidebar reads 0 words. No, that's not my real word count! I wrote almost two thousand words last night and about 300 this afternoon, so my actual word count is currently around 2,800 (and I'm not done for the day yet).

It appears the calendar widget is not working, but the other word count widgets work fine. If the calendar widget doesn't start working properly in the next few days, I'll switch to one of the functional ones. I'm sure you are all dying to know how I am doing!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

557 words: A decent start!

It may only be 557 words, but it's 557 words more than I wrote last year!

Actually, I think it's a pretty good start for the very first couple of hourse — especially considering I was busy until about 1:30 am with computer issues. (Never archive emails in Outlook that you will want to access again — or trust me, you'll be sorry!)

I almost went to bed without writing anything tonight, but I decided I wanted to get started off on the right foot. My goal was to write the prologue, which I've done. Tomorrow I'll try to write the first chapter!

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Announcing NaNoWriMo 2008!

I have been so busy lately that I didn't even participate in the 2008 Muse Online Writers Conference. I am, however, planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. (I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2007 but never actually wrote anything; in 2006 I "won" by completing the 50,000 word challenge.)

If you don't already know, NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month" (though it's actually international now). It's essentially a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel just in the month of November. You can outline before November 1st, write character development pieces, etc., but you can't actually start on anything that would contribute to word count until the clock strikes 12 on Halloween night.

I'm thinking of attempting again to write the novel I planned to work on last year, but never got to. (I never wrote a single solitary word. A stunning failure to follow my equally stunning victory in 2006.) The outline is already written, so I just need to go back and review it, see if I want to make any changes, etc.

You will notice that in the sidebar I have a NaNoWriMo 2008 Participant badge, which links to the NaNoWriMo site. Below that is a calendar widget that will show you my overall word count, as well as how I am doing each day; if you click that it will take you to my NaNoWriMo profile. Supposedly, the calendar widget should show light green for days when I have met my minimum word count, dark green for truly spectacular days, light red for days when I didn't meet my minimum word count, and dark red for days that really sucked.

Let's hope red isn't the predominant color at the end of the month...

Freelance writers: Free online backup!

Almost a year ago, I blogged about discovering MozyHome, an online backup service that gives you 2 GB of space for free. I have been using the free service ever since, and I am extremely happy about it. It saved my neck this summer when I was having computer problems!

As a freelance writer, your life's blood is on your computer, which makes backing up files a necessity. Unfortunately, it's hard to remember to back up — and even if you do, a natural disaster or a burglary could relieve you of both your computer and your backups! Online backup solves both problems: Your backups are stored off-site, and you don't have to remember to do a thing!

As you can tell, I love using online backup. I'm starting to run low on space, though, which is why I'm excited about a promotion that Mozy is currently running: If I refer someone, both of us get 512 MB of extra space (on top of the 2 GB you get with the free account). The deal is good until November 30.

If you are interested in trying out MozyHome, please use my referral link:


I love MozyHome, and I would love to get some additional free storage space, as I'm sure you will too once you try it out!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Update on my first deadbeat client

Remember that deadbeat client I was having problems with a while back? Well, here is the whole sordid story. This will be a long post, so bear with me — it's worth taking the time to read!

My deadbeat client is Bill Cameron, the owner of METROMODE Magazine. His company is called Cameron Ink, Inc. Click here to see his MySpace page (which he recently changed so that it no longer mentions METROMODE, even though it's in the URL).

Basically, I was hired to write for the magazine earlier in the year by Bill's editor. I wrote for the April issue, it was published, I got paid. So far, so good.

The second issue I wrote for was the June issue. It was a double issue, so I wrote a total of three articles. I was also promised a kill fee for an interview that I put a lot of work into, but that just didn't happen. I was owed a total of $325 for this issue, which I was supposed to receive about a week into July.

Shortly after the June issue was released, I received an assignment for the next issue, which was supposed to be released in August. The article was due around the same time I was supposed to receive payment for the June issue. For the August issue I was to be paid $100.

When I didn't receive payment for the June issue, I emailed the editor and discovered that he hadn't been paid, either. I then started emailing METROMODE Magazine's owner, Bill Cameron. Bill claimed that he didn't have the money to pay me yet due to an advertising mixup, but would pay me as soon as the ad revenue for the issue started coming in.

I followed up with Bill once or twice a week over the next several weeks, but the story was always the same: He couldn't pay me yet, but he would as soon as he could. Oh, the details changed — he stopped citing the advertising mixup as his excuse, and started saying instead that it was because he was having to delay the August issue due to the economy; and he talked about a payment plan, but refused to give me any concrete details — but the end result was always the same. No money.

Eventually I began to believe that I was being strung along, so I contacted the editor and the other writers to see where they were at. The editor, I discovered, had been paid in full for the June issue, but not for the August issue. Neither of the other two writers had been paid for either issue. Between the four of us, the amounts owed totaled more than $2,000!

When payment for June was roughly two months late, the four of us sent him an email (via my email address, but approved and signed by everybody) demanding payment for both issues within two weeks, or we would report him as a nonpaying client to WritersWeekly.com, the BBB, RipOffReport.com, etc. Initially Bill's response was to basically threaten to not pay us at all if we reported him. (What he said was that if we reported him, he would put every penny he had into bankruptcy procedings, to ensure that we wouldn't get anything.) Then he changed his mind and started talking about a payment plan.

After some discussion amongst ourselves — because we wanted to be united and unanimous about everything — we decided to accept a payment plan, but only if he would make a first payment of $50 to each of us by the original deadline, and give us concrete dates and amounts for the rest of the payments. At first Bill agreed to this, but then he tried to talk us into a deadline extension. After we refused, he started saying that he couldn't give us a payment schedule, either.

Bill did not meet the payment date, so we went ahead and filed our complaints. You can see the Rip Off Reports here:

http://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/0/380/RipOff0380179.htm http://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/0/380/RipOff0380166.htm

WritersWeekly.com also has a Whispers and Warnings forum thread about it:


During Angela Hoy's investigation for WritersWeekly.com, Bill suddenly announced that when the "August" issue finally went to press at the beginning of October, he decided to cut my article, supposedly because he needed the magazine to be shorter if he was going to be able to afford to send it to press. (Since he has repeatedly singled me out as the one "spearheading" the complaints, I am pretty sure I know why he really cut my article!)

Citing a writer's contract that he never gave to us to sign, Bill claimed I was only owed a $50 kill fee for the cut article. Since I have numerous emails back and forth where we discussed payment of the full amount, I refused to back down. Angela also told him that since I did the work, he owed me for the article. Eventually, Bill gave in and agreed to pay me the full amount of $425.

Also during the WritersWeekly.com investigation, Bill said he would pay us each $50 by October 25, and the rest by the end of the November. He said that in early October. Two of us did receive payment on October 25, but since he didn't mail the checks until the day before (why did it take him three weeks?), one person didn't receive their check until October 28, and the other person has yet to receive theirs at all.

We'll see whether he can come up with $2,000 more to pay us all off by the end of November. Since it took him four and a half months to come up with just $50 for each of us, I think I am more than justified in being skeptical!

Finally, I want to warn other writers, especially Colorado freelance writers and Denver freelance writers, about Bill Cameron and METROMODE Magazine. His website contact page was recently updated to say that he is hiring freelance writers. Anyone considering working for him should know that he does not have the money to pay for articles when he assigns them — he apparently doesn't have money at all until his advertisers pay him, after the issue comes out. Judging by the fact that he still owes his last group of writers more than $2,000, I would say this strategy does not work very well!

I ask my fellow freelancers to spread the word that Bill Cameron of METROMODE Magazine is not paying his writers. I just hope anyone considering writing for him will be smart enough to Google the magazine first!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Post-deadline crunch

Sorry for the lack of posting action going on lately. Over the last week or so, I was working toward an end-of-month deadline for one of my biggest clients, and I put in some especially long hours Monday and Tuesday in order to get everything finished. On top of that, my mom and I sold at our first doll show on Sunday, and getting ready for it took a lot of time.

After finally finishing the project yesterday evening, I am taking today rather slowly: I finished a book I was reading, took the time to get somewhat caught up on email, and will be using the rest of the time to catch up on blogging and visit with my horse (who has been shamefully neglected lately). Stay tuned for some fresh blogging brilliance from Yours Truly!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A tribute to a great blogger

Today marks exactly one year since Riverbend last blogged on her Baghdad Burning blog. Iraq is not as hot a topic for Americans as it was during the first couple years of the war, but I still check Riverbend's blog regularly, because of what an influence it has been on me — not just regarding Iraq, but also regarding blogging.

In many ways, Riverbend has been the Anne Frank of the modern era (though I fervently hope her silence doesn't mean she met a similar fate!). Millions of children of all nationalities have learned from Anne Frank what it was like to be Jewish during the Nazi reign — and millions of readers around the world have learned from Riverbend what it means to be a young Iraqi woman during America's war.

The major difference is, of course, the difference in technology. Anne Frank recorded her experiences in a journal, which wasn't published until after the war and her death. Riverbend, on the other hand, was able to post her observations and commentary almost immediately — that is, as soon as she had electricity to run her computer and Internet connection.

Baghdad Burning introduced me to the possibilities of blogging. I first heard about the blog by way of the book, which was on a list of books available for review in a magazine I wrote for. (Riverbend's first year's worth of posts were collected into a book and published in 2005.) Although I wasn't chosen to review Baghdad Burning, I did check it out from the library.

At the time, I was already contributing to several client blogs, but these were fairly dry — nothing like the politically charged Baghdad Burning. Although I had kept a journal since I was 10, I didn't have a blog of my own yet. That changed just a few months later.

As of right now, Riverbend has not updated in a year. Last we heard, she had finally fled to Syria with her family, but there was some doubt as to how long they would be able to stay there. Any number of things could have happened: She could have abandoned her blog, feeling that it had served its purpose of educating readers, or she simply may have not had Internet access for the past year. The fear of many of her readers, though, is that it would have to be something much worse (imprisonment or death) to keep Riverbend from blogging.

I believe that I owe Swan's Blog to Riverbend, as it was Baghdad Burning that first showed me how much a little blog could accomplish. Her fate may be unknown as of yet, but her blog is still online and her book is in print. Her voice can never be silenced as long as her writings circulate. If that's not immortality, I don't know what is!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking back my desk

For the past month or so I've been working from the couch, which admittedly wasn't very good for the state of my desk — it had gotten quite messy, as I'd been using it as a paperwork dumping ground.

I loved working from the couch at first, but lately it's become more tedious than anything else, so yesterday I decided to take my desk back. That, of course, required going through more than a month's worth of unfiled paperwork (some of which should have been filed in the trash!). My desk went from looking like this to this:

My freelance writing workstation

I'll have to retrain my cats not to jump up on my desk, since in my absence they've gotten into the habit of sitting there to look out the window. Also, it's not entirely clean yet — I still have a stack of papers in my inbox that I need to go through, as you can see on the left side of my computer.

Even if it's some work, though, I'm glad to have made the transition. This morning I am working at my desk, and I actually feel like I have my own workstation again (instead of being set up in the middle of the living room). From now on, if I want to work in the living room I'll just have to do it on battery power — though I think I've satisfied myself on that desire for a while!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama's plan for small business and freelance taxes

Watching the third and final presidential debate tonight, I noticed a lot was made of the taxes freelancers and small businesses would face under Obama versus McCain. Since I am a freelancer and a sole proprietor, as are most of my readers, I thought some blog commentary would be appropriate.

Senator McCain argued that under Obama's tax plan, "Joe the plumber," a lowly small business owner, would be paying more in taxes than he could afford. McCain didn't seem to understand Obama's point that since Joe's plumbing business was making well over $250,000 a year, it wasn't really a small business, and should be able to easily afford a higher tax rate.

I found some information about small businesses on The Caucus, a political blog on the New York Times' website. The blog post, which analyzes some of the errors both candidates made, supports Obama's claims about how his tax plan would affect small businesses in the United States.

According to figures compiled by the Small Business Administration, there are fewer than six million small businesses that actually have payrolls. The rest are so-called "non-employer" firms which report income from hobbies or freelance work done by their registered owners, earning as little as $1,000 a year.

Of these, according to a calculation by the independent, non-partisan Tax Policy Center, fewer than 700,000 taxpayers would have to pay higher taxes under Mr. Obama’s plan. But even some of these are not really small business owners in the traditional sense. Instead, they include lawyers, accountants and investors in real estate, all of them with income over $250,000 a year.

So are there "millions more like Joe the plumber," as Mr. McCain contended? Probably not. Mr Obama may well have been correct when he stated that "98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000."

I definitely don't think it's fair that big companies and corporations should get extraordinary tax breaks (which McCain supports) while I am held accountable for every penny — so as a freelancer and a sole proprietor (among other things), I definitely support Obama.

A blanket, a fleece sweatshirt, and a cup of coffee

Those are the things that helped me get out of bed this morning (see title).

It's currently about 9:30, and I've been awake for two hours. For those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, you know that me getting up at 7:30 is the exception, not the norm — I am a horrible morning person, not to mention I have an uncanny ability to sleep right through my alarms.

This morning, though, I had a very good reason to be getting up so early: I had to check for an email from a client who lives on the East Coast, and is therefore two hours ahead of me. He had emailed me Monday to ask if I could do some major revisions on an article I wrote for him last week. (And, I should add, he paid me very generously for the last-minute revisions.)

My client needed the completed article this morning so that he could send his newsletter to the printer. I sent him the completed revisions last night, but I needed to check this morning and make sure he didn't need anything else before the copy was due. That meant getting up when the day began in his time zone.

As it turned out, my client didn't need anything else, but I'm glad I got up early: I've gotten a lot done this morning. So far, I've gotten a lot of work email and other administrative tasks out of the way, updated a couple of my more neglected blogs, and read my Wednesday newsletters. And I still have hours left to spend on billable work!

It's going to be a productive day — I can already tell!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I'm on fire!

I have had a very productive — and lucrative — week so far! It's great to feel like I'm "back" after working less due to my stable duties during July and August and just in general feeling unproductive all summer. No more problems with feeling I'm taking too long to complete assignments!

Today was the exception, however: I spent pretty much the entire day at the new barn. Hopefully the day off won't kill my productive streak!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Writerlance update

Quite a while back, I blogged on a complaint about Writerlance. Writers were having their account balances disappear, and one writer reported that her account was deleted after she complained. Then the site went down. When I tried emailing Writerlance, my emails bounced.

Later, after the site came back up, I read on a discussion thread that the site had changed owners.

Six months later, the new owner of Writerlance has finally deigned to email its members:

Hello Writerlance user,

This is Michael Santiago the new owner of Writerlance.com. Durning the past 3 months we had some major issues with the previous owner still having access to our site and causing major problems.

We have finally regained total access to writerlance and can now resume business as usual. There are several members that have NOT received their writing fees and or been able to deposit money.

This needs to be straightened out asap so members can get paid for the work that has been done. We are reviewing pending payments now and will send out payments as soon as we can.

If you have any questions at all, please email:
websmartpro at gmail dot com

All other emails related to the site aren't currently working.

Thank you and we hope to serve you better in the future.

Best Regards,
Michael Santiago

I'm glad Writerlance has finally fixed the problems and sent out an update, and I sympathize with the problems they were having with the former owner, but come on — don't you think it would have been good business policy to email members a little sooner?

In any case, if you lost your account balance with Writerlance, use the email address above (disguised to make it harder for spammers to pick up on my blog) and see about getting your money back!

Lights, camera, ACTION!

After two weeks of trying to negotiate a payment plan, my deadbeat client failed to pay so much as a dime by the deadline, which was on Friday. Therefore, my biggest item on my to-do list today is to start filing reports and complaints.

It's a tedious, intimidating task, and I don't think I'm going to even try to get it all done today. I'll lose my drive if I allow myself to become too overwhelmed.

More on the subject soon. Right now I need to focus all my energies on writing these complaints.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blowing off steam

I was really upset earlier this evening over some emails my deadbeat client sent (the deadline is now two days away and I think he's feeling the pinch, so he's stepping up his intimidation efforts).

Unfortunately, I have a lot of work over the next few days — some end-of-the-month deadlines for one of my bigger clients — so I couldn't afford to not work, even as upset as I was.

As it turned out, though, my anger actually helped me to get more done (usually it's just the opposite). In fact, I felt so invigorated that I worked quite late (as you can see), and got quite a bit done. And working, in turn, helped me to blow off some steam.

I can't wait to be able to tell you guys about my deadbeat client. Stay tuned — he doesn't seem like he's going to pay up, so I'm sure I'll be telling all very soon!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Desk, what desk?

It occurred to me that when I get tired of working from the couch, I might have a difficult time returning to my desk, which has turned into a paperwork dumping ground in my absence:

My messy desk

This is after just over a week of doing all my freelancing work from the couch. My cats have figured out that I'm not using my desk regularly anymore, and have taken to sitting on it to look through the blinds (something I normally discourage them from doing).

I'll have to reclaim my desk soon, I suppose, before my cats take up permanent residence there...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My new place of employment

One of my favorite things about being a freelance writer is that I can work wherever I want or need to at the moment. For instance, right now I'm eating lunch, so the kitchen table is my workstation of the moment.

Although I have an office and a desk, I tend to get tired of that setup pretty quickly. Next to my desk I have a comfortable vintage rocker that I sometimes work from, but lately I've been rejecting my office entirely to work from the couch.

I don't usually choose to work from the couch, but right now I'm really enjoying it. It's not as comfy as my overstuffed rocker, but I have more room to spread out — I work with my feet up on the coffee table and my papers on either side of me. Add in a comfy knit blanket, a snack and a water bottle crammed into the cushions so that they stay upright, and the blinds open so that the sunlight streams in the window, and maybe you'll see why I find my new place of employment so appealing!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A lazy day of freelancing

Today was a rather lazy day of freelancing.

First of all, I slept in rather later than I had intended — until about 11:00 am. (My mother-in-law and I had gotten on a later schedule while she was here, because we'd be up late talking and then we'd both sleep late the next morning.)

When I got up I really didn't feel like doing much, so I hauled my laptop to the couch, wrapped myself up in a blanket, and parked myself there. I also worked in my pajamas all day — something I haven't done in a long time, although I used to do it all the time.

Whereas I usually would have ridden my bike up to visit Panama in the afternoon, I decided to stay home and work until Michael got home. As a result I got a lot of work done, despite my lazy attitude!

After about two months of having horse responsibilities to attend to every day in addition to my freelance work, today felt like a vacation — even though technically I worked. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy those lazy freelance days!

My first deadbeat client fights dirty

I blogged Monday about my first serious deadbeat client. (Not editor — that was bad terminology on my part. The owner of the magazine is the deadbeat, and he isn't paying the editor either!)

Today I have more news: My deadbeat client is fighting dirty! Today in an email he threatened to intentionally not pay us if we report him. (On Monday we sent an email stating that if we were not paid in full by September 26th, we would report him to a whole list of organizations, including WritersWeekly.com.)

Considering he is also admitting to near-bankruptcy in his email, I'm not sure what he thinks is different about that, unless of course he wants the additional bad publicity of having threatened us.

Stay tuned, because the way this is looking I'll be broadcasting his name on a very public level soon enough!

Monday, September 15, 2008

My first deadbeat client

It seems I have run into my very first deadbeat client.

I've had a couple of clients try to stiff me in the past. One was over a paltry sum — a client tried to get away with not paying me the remaining 50 percent on a small project after it was completed. (I got the first half up front before I started work.) Another client claimed he wasn't happy with my work (a classic case of him not giving me information and materials on time, and then getting mad at me when as a result I couldn't meet deadlines) and tried to refuse paying me the last installment, until of course I threatened to report him to the propert authorities.

Both situations were brief, however, and were won out by my persistence. This time, I'm not so sure there will be a happy ending to the story. The owner of a small local magazine I write for is now more than two months late on a hefty payment. He has been giving me the run around for more than a month, but in the past week he started ignoring my emails altogether. I've been in touch with the other writers and the editor, and they are all in the same boat.

All of us conspired to write an email threatening to report him as a nonpaying employer/client if he doesn't pay us all within ten business days. Stay tuned for more information — if he doesn't pay (and I fear he won't), I plan to make sure the entire freelance writing community knows not to write for this guy!

Another thing I love about freelancing

There is very little I don't love about freelancing. Even the stress of meeting deadlines is far outweighed by the advantages: working my own hours, not having to commute, doing what I love for a living, etc.

Today is a good reminder of one of the benefits of freelancing. I am actually taking the day more or less off — I took care of some admin things this morning, and I am planning on spending the afternoon with my mother-in-law, who is visiting us for a couple of days. It was on short notice, but after my productive week last week, I definitely think I deserve an unscheduled day off to spend with family!

Of course, being the workhorse (ha ha) that I am, I will probably do a little bit of work this evening, while my husband and his mom hang out, just to make sure the unexpected day off doesn't set me back too much this week.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spam legalized in Virginia?!

I suppose this is good news for some of our clients, but for everyone else it's just a d*mn shame:

Va. Supreme Court Strikes Down State's Anti-Spam Law

And how did they manage to justify this? Well, the lawyer of the defendant (Jeremy Jaynes, "one of the world's most prolific spammers") argued that Jaynes's, er, correspondence was protected under the right to free speech.

I don't know about you, but I don't think the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to cover sales pitches such as "Increase pen!s size" and those selling stock market scams. Most importantly, the court is forgetting the fundamental premise of American freedom: that we are free only insofar as our actions don't infringe on others' rights.

A good day for a cup of hot cocoa

It's been raining pretty much nonstop since late yesterday afternoon. We don't get many days like these in Colorado, but we do get a few! Usually they make me just want to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate or tea and a good book.

Today, unfortunately, I have some work to finish up, so instead I'll be curling up with my laptop. The good book part will have to wait!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to work as usual

After last week's difficulties, I am pleased to report that this week has been very productive.

Now that I'm no longer cleaning stalls in exchange for board, my work load — which I had reduced somewhat over the last month and a half to accommodate my stable duties — needs to be ramped up again. Although last week I was a little depressed and found myself unwilling to work, this week my outlook has changed: I am taking on more work, and actually find myself looking forward to my work again.

This week I also started riding my bike to visit Panama, as he is now a little closer to me than he was (about a 5 minute drive in the car — 20 minutes on my bike thanks to the big hill I have to ride up). It makes me feel good on several different levels: financially and economically, for using less gas, but also physically, as it replaces cleaning stalls as a source of regular physical exercise.

Of course, this also means I get to sleep in regularly for the first time in a couple of months, since I no longer need to take Michael to work so that I can keep the car during the day. Getting up at 10:00 am every day has definitely helped to improve my outlook as well!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

J.K. Rowling wins copyright infringement suit

A while back I blogged about a lawsuit J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, had brought against the publishers of a Potter encyclopedia. Yesterday NPR reported that Rowling won the case against the publisher of The Harry Potter Lexicon.

I found this story on NPR particularly interesting:

Harry Potter Encyclopedia Barred from Publication

An expert on the show discusses what qualifies as fair use and takes some questions from listeners. Apparently the judge in the case was careful to specify that this book qualifies as copyright infringement because of material it takes verbatim from J.K. Rowling's books. In other words, the ruling does not ban reference guides and literary commentary as a whole — it simply draws the line on how much your guide can depend on the intellectual property of the original author.

2008 third quarter estimated taxes due

This is just a friendly reminder that 2008 third quarter estimated taxes are due on Monday, September 15, 2008.

Remember, if you are going to owe more than $1,000 in taxes at the end of the year, you are required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. As long as you make your estimated tax payments on time and pay the same amount you paid last year, you won't be penalized come tax time if your estimate was off. However, if you don't make payments and you owe more than $1,000 at the end of the year, you will also have to pay penalties on what you owe.

I don't know about you, but it always seems to me like the months when estimated taxes are due are always the tightest — even before you figure in the tax bill. For instance, this month I had the unexpected expense of moving my horse to a new home on short notice.

Do you also find that the IRS has the worst possible timing?

Monday, September 08, 2008

New clip: WHY Magazine

With everything that happened last weekend, I completely forgot to let everyone know that I have an essay in the new issue of WHY Magazine. The essay is "Stable Condition," and it's about how having a horse has helped me become a better writer and work-at-homer.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Re: On Freelance Contracts

A good freelance friend and fellow blogger, Kathy Kehrli, blogged the other day on freelance contracts. She wants to know where her fellow freelancers stand on the subject. Although I left a relatively long (three paragraph) response in the comments, I had to rewrite it four times in order to make it comment-length, so I figured I would elaborate on my own blog.

The classic advice that most freelancers get (and give) is to never work without a contract. As a newbie I followed that rule pretty religiously, but I have to admit that I don't anymore. Here's what I do instead, and why.

1) Discuss everything via email. A written agreement is a written agreement, whether it's a contract or an email trail. And even if you have a contract, if you go to court chances are you'll be using emails to prove changes, additional requests, or even just that the client accepted the work. In other words, emails are considered proof, too.

Partly to maintain this paper trail, I typically refuse to discuss project specifics, payment, or anything else work-related via phone. Clients communicate with me via email. Period.

2) Require half payment up front for new clients, before I begin work on the project. Personally, I think a client paying half the money up front is more indicative of intention to pay than signing a contract. And even if you have that contract, it's not going to make it any easier to collect — you'll still have to jump through all the hoops (filing complaints, taking them to small claims court, garnishing wages if they still won't pay, etc.). At least if someone skips out on me, I have half the money already.

3) Follow my gut on whether to work with clients. Like I said, a contract isn't a guarantee that the client will follow through. It's just another piece of paper that claims they will. Since my approach is prevention rather than proof, I'll decline to work with any client who gives me a bad feeling. In general, I avoid clients who do things like:

* Wanting to discuss everything via phone (presumably so that there's no paper trail)
* Balking at paying half up front
* Producing an unfair contract, and then balking at renegotiating the terms
* Having no contact information other than email (i.e. WHOIS, business address, office phone number, etc.)
* Having a poor business plan (i.e. no evidence of income from which to pay me)
* Being really demanding
* Just giving me a bad feeling in general

All of this being said, I do recommend that newbie freelance writers work with a contract whenever possible. When I was still new at this, I almost always requested a contract. There is a certain type of "client" who preys on inexperienced writers, and you can ward most of them off by insisting on a contract. Also, it takes time to develop a sense of who will be a good client and who is out to screw you — so until you've gained experience and feel confident in your ability to sniff out scumbags, stick to using contracts!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Yay, I accomplished something!

I am so pleased — I actually accomplished something yesterday.

I blogged yesterday about my two unplanned days off. Well, it took me almost twice as long as it should have, but I did manage to write the article I've had on my to-do list all week. I feel much better having accomplished something, and hopeful that I'll be able to ease myself back into a normal (i.e. pre-stall mucking) work schedule.

I'm also planning on getting back into a regular blogging routine. I used to blog almost daily, but this summer my blogs have really suffered — first just because summer is a busy time for me, and then because I started mucking stalls on top of everything else. But I'm resolved — I will not neglect my blogs any longer!

In fact, I am off right now to update one of my most neglected blogs — Livre du Jour, my book blog. I have almost a dozen books to catch up on, so stay tuned!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Unplanned days off

After blogging on Tuesday about my rough weekend, I have to confess I didn't get to work, after all. Instead, I took two unplanned days off.

Part of this is probably that I knew ahead of time that this week would be slow — in other words, I knew I could afford to take a couple of days off. I can't let the pattern continue, though, so today I intend to get back to work — even if all I accomplish is one assignment.

I do have a theory about my depression stemming from a sudden reduction in exercise now that I'm no longer mucking stalls. But even if less exercise is a factor, I have to admit that my strategy of reading, taking naps, spending time with my horse, and watching movies with my husband seemed to work: I am feeling a little less depressed now.

Hopefully getting back to work will finish the job and jumpstart my mood back to normal.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Working again after a rough weekend

This weekend was supposed to be really good. For the first time in a while, I didn't have any work to do over the weekend, and I was planning on going for several trail rides.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way I expected at all. In fact, some major changes took place, and I am having a difficult time bouncing back.

Remember how I said I was working off my board at the barn? Well, the new manager (with whom I had the arrangement) and I had been having some problems. That all came to a head on Sunday, when she gave me six hours to get my horse out. You can read more about it on my Pony Tales Blog.

I felt relieved and pleased Sunday evening and yesterday, knowing Panama was safe in a new, if temporary, home. Today, though, my mood matches the sudden change in weather, which is overcast after a warm, mostly sunny weekend. I'm starting to miss the routines and the friends Panama and I had at the old barn, and in general just feeling down.

It'll be hard to get to work today. I really don't feel like doing anything other than spending some time with my horse, and maybe reading for a little while. Unfortunately, I do have one assignment that needs to be done today, so maybe I'll compromise by allowing myself to take my time getting to it.

Have you ever had days like today, where significantly upsetting things in your life interfere with your productivity and your enjoyment of your work?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Obligatory post on the DNC

Some of you may remember that I live in Denver, and you might have wondered why I haven't posted about the Democratic National Convention, which is going on this week.

The truth is it hasn't really affected me much. I've read some of the headlines and listened to some of the speeches, but since I don't often get downtown (and since my writing assignments typically don't include any news reporting) it has actually been a fairly normal week to me.

However, on my library's website I found this delightful "online exhibit" (read: long video) about the last time the DNC came to Denver, back in 1908. Of course the party held some significantly different values back then, before the Dixiecrats split, but for the sake of history we all seem to have forgotten that (ha ha).

In any case, the video has some great pictures of Denver and the convention, and is well worth watching! If it won't load, click here to watch it on the Denver Public Library site.

1908, When the Democrats Came to Denver from The Denver Public Library on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Register for the 2008 Muse Online Writers Conference

Just yesterday, I registered for the 2008 Muse Online Writers Conference. Since there are only a couple of days left to register — registration ends September 1, 2008, according to the website — I wanted to post a reminder for those of you who planned on attending this year.

Last year there were things I really liked about the conference, and things that disappointed me somewhat. I am going to attend again this year, but I think I will probably sign up for fewer chats and workshops, and see if I enjoy it more if I have less to do!

Did you attend the online conference last year, and if so what did you think? Will you be attending again this year?

Friday, August 15, 2008

When I most love working from home

Today is cold, dreary, and rainy — it was not quite 50 degrees at mid-morning, and it has been raining constantly all day.

We don't have many days of solid rain in Colorado, but when we do it's always been a treat for me — especially as a freelancer. I love to write or read all snuggled up on the couch with the blinds open. Same with snowy days.

Now, however, I have a "job" of sorts — going to the barn to clean stalls. Not only do I not get to stay cozy on the couch all day, but I also need to work outside in it!

Cleaning Panama's stall last winter, I found that the cold doesn't bother me for long at the barn — I warm up pretty quickly. (Especially with the help of long underwear, which I hadn't worn since I was a kid and thought I'd never wear again.) The rain rather sucks, though. After I clean stalls today, I plan to warm up with a mug of hot tea and a comfy sweatsuit!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Writing at the barn

Today I am finally trying what I've wanted to try for quite some time: I am writing at the barn.

I was planning on being at the barn for a while today, so I decided to bring my laptop and do some work if I had a chance. The idea was to clean the stalls and then work while I hang out with my horse. It didn't turn out exactly how I thought it would — Panama got injured and the wound had to be cleaned — but I am now sitting here with my laptop while Panama grazes in the front yard.

Writing at the barn

It's a great place to work, though of course it lacks some of the comforts of my house. My butt is beginning to really hurt from sitting on the ground, for one thing. Also, I don't have Internet access, so I'll have to copy and paste all my blog posts into Blogger when I get home.

Uh oh — time to go. Panama just got tired of the grass in the front yard, apparently, and walked off with his lead rope trailing. That's another drawback of working at the barn, I guess — it's over when my horse says it's over!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where do you get your ideas for characters?

I saw a really interesting story on NPR yesterday, about a performance artist who develops characters from grocery lists. Hillary Carlip hunts for discarded lists, and then — based on clues such as what the list contains, what it is written on, and the handwriting — she creates a character sketch of each. She also goes a step further, though, dressing up as these characters (and boy does she look believeable!).

I'll definitely be checking out (her pun, not mine) the book, a la Cart, but this story made me think of how fiction writers — myself included — get ideas for characters. I know that I am fascinated with people, and often draw entire characters from short glimpses of strangers on the street. People-watching for character ideas isn't a new concept... but grocery lists?

How do you get ideas for your characters?


A friend teased me for not having updated my main blog in several days — all of my updates have been horse-related, rather than literary in nature. (Although to tell the truth, even the horsey blog posts have been a little less frequent of late.)

I've had several different forces in my life right now conspiring to keep me away from my blogs — and, sometimes, my work — but I'm going to try to catch up in the next week or so, so stay tuned!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My first few days cleaning stalls

The past few days, I've been juggling my deadline with family activities and, more importantly, with cleaning stalls at the barn. I started cleaning stalls in exchange for free board on Monday. It's dirty work, but I don't really mind it. I do, however, need to get a routine down so that I'm doing the cleaning during the most comfortable part of the day.

Cleaning stalls will definitely take some time out of my day. When you consider the amount of board I'm getting free compared to the hours I'll be spending, it's really like working a part-time job that pays minimum wage. However, if I do the work in the morning my freelance schedule won't be all that different than when I sleep in until 10:00 or 10:30!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When procrastination pays off

On Friday I blogged about procrastinating. I was dragging my feet about making a couple of phone calls, and had sent off emails in the hopes of arranging email interviews instead.

As it turned out, my email interview attempts did work out, although I didn't actually get a hold of someone from one of the organizations until the evening of the deadline. I communicated the delay to my editor, though, and he was okay with it. He knew about the hassles with my computer last week, and was perfectly understanding about the setback that had caused!

Despite the slightly missed deadline, the article was much more enjoyable to write thanks to my email interviews. I didn't have to play phone tag, or fret about the stupid way I ask questions when I'm nervous, or transcribe an interview (and cringe every time I heard my own voice). It's so much easier to exchange a few emails and just copy-and-paste the quotes I want into my article!

No matter what negative things anyone has to say about procrastination, the truth is that it does sometimes pay off. And some people — like me — actually work better when they're down to the wire!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A few small changes

I have a few small changes that will be taking place later this month. Well, actually, they'll be small to you, because my blogs and websites will stick around, but they are huge to me.

Basically, I'm going to start cleaning stalls in exchange for free board for Panama at my barn. This eliminates a huge monthly expense and allows me to not worry quite so much about my income each month, but it also means I'll be spending a couple hours every day at the barn — more if I want to ride and spend time with my own horse.

To me, the exchange is totally worth it. I love spending time at the barn, and can easily spend two hours or more just doing nothing. At least this way I will have some wiggle room with my bills — and maybe be able to put the extra into paying off my credit card debt!

I'm not anticipating my new obligations to cut into my work time too much, since I already spend so much time out at the barn, but of course I'll have to make a few changes to my work schedule. Therefore I've decided to stop marketing for the time being, and to focus on a few of my favorite and most lucrative clients. So in a way, the changes are to my benefit in more ways than just getting free board, because they've encouraged me to reevaluate my current client situation!

Like I said, I still plan to maintain my blogs, my website, and my best clients, so for all intents and purposes this shouldn't have much of an impact on my career. In fact, I'm hoping that by focusing on my best-paying clients, I'll actually have a little extra free time for working on my own projects, and thereby advance my career!


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