Thursday, January 29, 2009

Problems with my laptop

I've written a couple of posts in the last couple of months about laptops for writers: a post comparing different mini netbooks, and a post yesterday comparing netbooks with the small laptops available right now.

I'm sure you've been wondering why I've been posting about such subjects, when I admittedly love my little 3-pound Averatec so much. Unfortunately, I've been having ongoing — and steadily worsening — computer problems. It used to be just that Outlook would freeze periodically, taking my entire computer with it more often than not. Lately, though, my virtual memory and/or processor have been getting bogged down as well.

I'm thinking that I might need to consider wiping my hard drive and reinstalling everything — starting over, basically. I'm going to have a computer-savvy friend help me with this, but if it doesn't work I will need to consider getting a new computer. My computer locking up has interfered with my work a couple of times now, and I just can't have that happening.

I have considered getting a netbook as a second computer, to try to milk the time I've got left on my Averatec, and financially that would probably be a good way to go. However, it would also mean the hassle of switching files back and forth, making sure that I always have the most recent ones on both computers (or at least on a flash drive). Since I'm not all that good at remembering to back up (one reason why I use Mozy online backup), that might not be the wisest situation to put myself in.

The only other alternative, of course, is getting a new laptop. I haven't completely resigned myself to this yet, mostly because I haven't seen anything out there yet that I like as much as my current laptop. But realistically, it just might come to this.

If you know of any exceptionally small (i.e., about 3 pounds or less) laptops (not netbooks) that are currently on the market, please let me know. I figure I should have an idea of what I'd like to get, just in case it comes to that!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Small laptops vs. netbooks

Michael (who took a second day off) and I spent some time at Microcenter yesterday afternoon. We went there to get a portable hard drive for picture storage, and while we were there I browsed their small laptops and mini netbooks. And this time I even got some pictures!

A while back I posted on the feasibility of mini netbooks for writers. I hadn't seen the Dell version yet, so that wasn't in my post last time. Here it is:

Dell Mini (with my hand on the keyboard for size comparison)The first thing I noticed about the Dell Inspirion Mini 9 is that it is ridiculously small and light — comparable with the smallest Asus. Dell tried to compensate with larger keys (the similar to the smooth keyboard that I didn't like on the HP version in my other post), but it is still difficult to type on this netbook. I think Dell has a slightly larger netbook now, but I haven't seen that one yet.

Personally, if I were going to get a computer this small, I would go for one of the less expensive ones. The Dell costs about $450, and you can get the Asus and Acer models for at least $100 less.

LenovoI also took a look at several regular sized computers. This Lenovo IdeaPad really caught my eye, because it weighed only about 2 ½ pounds, because it was a widescreen, and because it was really pretty (the top isn't just red, but has a pretty pattern etched into it). The drawbacks are the price (ouch!), the smooth keyboard, Windows Vista, and the external CD/DVD drive.

LenovoUnfortunately, the smooth keyboard isn't just a drawback — it's a dealbreaker. Since I spend the majority of my time on the keyboard, it has to be one I am comfortable using. I personally like having the key definition (and the clicky feeling) of the traditional keyboard, so that I can tell better by touch where I'm at on the keyboard. However, while typing on the computers today I discovered another problem with the smooth keyboard: Since they have straight up-and-down edges, your fingers can trip up quite easily when going from a key you've just pressed to a neighboring key you plan to press next.

Lenovo ThinkPad laptop with docking stationI also looked at another Lenovo, a ThinkPad. This one had some really great characteristics. First of all, it had a docking station, where the DVD drive was at. Since I rarely ever need that drive when I'm out and about, this seemed like a good tradeoff to me for a small, light computer.

But the best feature of the ThinkPad was that the battery lasted for upwards of 8 hours. I mean, good grief! Can you imagine how heavenly that would be for a writer — especially a writer who likes to work at coffee shops, bookstores, and the barn at every chance I get??!!

The ThinkPad also had Windows XP, which I really like, even though it fairly screams "old model!" I've heard of a lot of peripheral compatibility problems with Windows Vista, and I just don't feel like dealing with that. The laptop also has a traditional keyboard — no fancy styling. Yay!

Unfortunately, the ThinkPad does have some drawbacks too, the biggest one being that it doesn't have a widescreen. I just don't know if I could deal with that after using a widescreen computer for more than three years! It's such a shame because honestly, if the ThinkPad had a widescreen and was that small and had an 8-hour battery, I probably would have gone home with a new computer today.

ToshibaAfter these computers, the next smallest was a discontinued Toshiba Portege with a 12-inch widescreen. There was no weight rating on this one, but with the battery I'd estimate it to end up being around 4 pounds, which is heavier than I am looking for. (My current computer weighs just over 3 pounds, and I am spoiled!) This laptop also comes with Vista, so I dismissed it as not being worth considering.

Well, if you have been following my netbooks reviews, here are some more things for you to think about. I'll blog in a future post about why I've been doing this research, and what I think I've decided to do.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike dies

Now I can't say I've read any of John Updike's books (though I did like the movie The Witches of Eastwick when I was a kid), but I was still saddened to hear of his death:

Novelist John Updike Dies

I didn't realized he had won so many awards, so that was interesting to read about. Have any of you read his books, so that you could advise me on what to read?

Suspicious ads for freelance writing gigs

There are just some ads for freelance writing gigs that set off warning bells in my head. There's not always a definable quality that alerts my scam senses, but certain things — not enough information, get-rich-quick promises, the "perfect for stay-at-home moms" statement, and gigs that involve you making money by recruiting others — are super-sized red flags.

Here is an ad I saw on my local Craigslist that made me highly suspicious:

Writers Wanted

Reply to: see below
Date: 2009-01-24, 9:39AM MST

Interested in writing a short article (1-2 paragraphs with photo), one per month for a family safe classified ad website? There is a large range of topics to choose from, anything from recipes and golf tips to movie reviews and arts & crafts. You can make hundreds of dollars per month by helping this website grow in valuable content. For each additional person that you can find that would be willing to contribute once a month article or review you will earn $12/person/month with no out of pocket cost ever. Call (XXX) XXX-XXXX between the hours of 7am to 7pm MST.

* it's ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
* Compensation: Average income $50 to $250/month

Here's a rundown of why this ad makes me suspicious:

* "You can make hundreds of dollars per month"
* Make money by recruiting others
* "No out of pocket cost ever" — why is this necessary to state unless it's some kind of scheme?
* Not enough details about the gig or the website
* Phone number is NOT local
* No name, email address, or URL — meaning you can't research the company

If I didn't hate telephones so darn much, I would call the number myself and investigate. Any volunteers? If so email me and I'll send you the number.

I would love to compile a list of red flags or warning signs in freelance writing ads, to post for all of our reference. What are some reasons why you will pass over an ad without applying?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ironic timing to talk about time management

After my post earlier about Michael being home today, I saw this post on Kathy Kehrli's Screw You! blog:

Take Back Your (Freelancing) Time Week

Time management is something I always struggle with, and probably always will. I have good days, where I am especially productive, but then I also have bad days (like today) where there are too many distractions to accomplish much.

Striving for better time management is good, but personally if I wanted a strictly regimented schedule I would have a full time job. For me one of the advantages of freelancing is to be able to set aside my work when I want or need to.

Still, though, I could do better — so I'll take up Kathy's challenge and see how I can improve this week.

After I comment on one more blog post, that is...

Working with Michael home

Michael is home today due to a freak back injury — he was leaning over this morning and felt a pop in his back. Ever since, he's had a burning sensation in his lower back and hips. Since he had surgery for a herniated disc three years ago, an injury like this from an everyday movement such as leaning over is pretty concerning.

So today I'll be working with Michael home, which reminds me of this quote. It is always difficult for me to concentrate on work when Michael is home, but especially when he is sick or needs some sort of care. When he had his back surgery in early 2006, the first winter of my freelancing career, he was home for a month and a half, so I am well acquainted with how distracting something like that can be!

Right now Michael is dosed up on ibuprofen, playing video games from his most ergonomic chair. Hopefully after a day or two of taking it easy, he will start feeling back to normal. I don't like seeing him unhappy or uncomfortable, of course, but I also can't afford to let my income suffer right now!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Writing contests update

The writing contest I participated in this weekend ended today. As I anticipated, I stayed up late last night finishing the story, and then got up about 10:30 this morning to check my inbox for the confirmation email. The contest's deadline was 11:00am my time.

It'll take about a month for WritersWeekly to post the winners, but in the meantime I should find out the results of another writing contest I entered. I'll post more on that next weekend (when the results are due).

Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Writing contest, babysitting, and a horseback ride

As you can see from the title of today's blog post, this is destined to be a busy weekend.

The biggest news is that I am participating in WritersWeekly.com's winter 24-Hour Short Story Contest. It's been a couple of years since I've done this contest, but I loved it both times I participated before. I've always been meaning to do it again — and I'm glad I chose this one! It's a great topic, and I already have some good ideas!

The babysitting part of my weekend is already finished, but it was a real time suck — from 2:00 pm yesterday until around 2:30 pm today. Every once in a while the family I babysit for has me cover for an overnight that their regular nanny can't do. It's good money, so I don't mind much, but it does take up a lot of time!

(And, incidentally, it does mean that I'm likely to be sleep deprived all weekend. The kids woke me up at 6:45 this morning — 6:45, for crying out loud! — and I will most likely be up late tonight working on my story, which is due by 11:00 am tomorrow morning.)

And of course, I have to make sure I take advantage of my only opportunity to spend some time with my horse this weekend. Tuesday was the last time I visited, so I've been neglecting him somewhat this week. Hopefully tomorrow will be a good day for a ride!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Problems focusing

I'm having one of those days where I just can't focus.

Part of it is worrying about money. The first week of January was busy for me, but since then it has tapered off significantly, which has me concerned.

Part of it is having too many little things to do. I feel like my focus is divided between eight million different little things, which makes it hard to concentrate on the client project that I'm supposed to be doing right now.

Part of it is the weather. It has been unseasonably warm for the past week, and it's distracting to be sitting at home today when I'd much rather be out at the barn.

And part of it, I'm pretty sure, is my physical condition this week. My sleep schedule has been far more irregular than usual, and on top of that I've been dealing with some significantly low blood sugars the past two days.

Of course, feeling like I'm not accomplishing anything only makes me feel worse. I always feel terribly guilty when I get stuck like this. So I'm curious — do any of my fellow freelance writers ever experience similar days? And how do you get through them when you do?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Article on interviews

In WritersWeekly, there was an article by C. Hope Clark (whose Funds For Writers newsletters you might have heard of) on writing and selling interviews.

Clark gives a couple of tips on how to actually conduct the interview — send the questions ahead of time, and see what interview method works best for you (recording the conversation, taking notes in shorthand, etc.) — but most of the information in her article has to do with choosing topics, pitching the article to the interview subject and the editor, etc.

In many ways, conducting an interview is something you learn best by doing, rather than reading about it. Still, some things you don't want to learn by trial and error, so here are some interview tips I blogged about nearly two years ago. I personally prefer recording interviews, so that I can focus on the conversation and pull quotes later on, so here is another post I wrote on recording phone interviews. (Though I do have to say, if I can't do an email interview, I much prefer conducting the interview in person. I hate telephones!!)

Do you have any tips for aspiring interview writers?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Second-guessing first editions

Some of you know that I collect books — not necessarily first editions, but old books, particularly illuatrated classics or books with pretty covers. So as a book collector, this story caught my attention:

eBay Bidder's 'Dreams' About Barack Obama Realized

The story includes a sound clip from back in 2004, an interview with a book collector who was bidding on a first edition hardcover of Obama's Dreams from My Father. She bid well over $200, but the book ultimately sold for just over $300.

In the interview, the collector justifies her bid by noting that Obama was sure to become famous, the implications being that first editions of his book — which apparently didn't have a large print run initially, at least by presidental standards — would gain significantly in value. The general consensus in collecting is that you can't predict what first editions will become valuable, because it has to do with not only the size of the first print run, but also how the book is received and how popular the author becomes (low availability combined with high demand). But this collector definitely called it, as a first edition copy of the book apparently now sells on eBay for $5,000!

Happy Inauguration Day!

I've been listening the NPR's live coverage of the inauguration all morning. Thank heavens for freelancing, which allows me put aside my work in order to listen!

I'll have some writing-related commentary later on, but for now head over to Lori Widmer's Inauguration Day post, Would You Settle For Less?, and join the debate on whether we ought to lower our rates during tough economic times.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Minor holidays and freelancing

As a freelance writer, I often find that I forget about minor holidays much more frequently than regularly employed people. It wasn't until my husband — who works in the financial industry — told me around noon today that I actually knew it was Martin Luther King Day.

Of course, I'm still working today — sort of. I was up until about 5:00 this morning finishing an assignment, so even though I slept in this morning, I didn't get much sleep. I'm moving a little slow today as a result, but I am still technically working!

What about my fellow freelancers? Do you remember minor holidays, and do you work on days like today?

'I can pay you IF you really want me to'

I was browsing Craigslist just for the fun of it over the weekend, and since I'm planning on getting back to marketing this week, I decided to glance through the writing job ads. I saw this one in the gigs section and was appalled:

Graduate School Personal Statement

I need help from someone who knows what graduate schools want to hear and can help me get my ideas across. I am having a hard time writing more than few sentences for my personal statement. I don't have too much money on hand to offer, but I could probably come up with $20 if you really want it.

Compensation: no pay

Let's ignore the glaringly obvious issue of this person wanting someone else to do the work so that they can get into grad school, and focus on the last sentence of the ad. In exchange for my expertise about what grad schools are looking for, the time it will take to get into the poster's head and extract their "ideas," and the skill it takes to then put those (probably worthless) ideas into words, the poster is willing to give me GAS MONEY... IF I really want it.

Why does the dumba$$ think I would even be browsing the job ads???

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My ideal writing schedule

My schedule has been a little wonky lately, so I've been thinking a lot about what my ideal daily writing schedule would be like. It's not a possibility with Michael on a very normal 9-to-5 work schedule, but this is how I would live if I could:

Late morning: Wake up, eat breakfast, and go right to the barn to spend some time with my horse.

Mid afternoon: Come home and put in my work hours. I think I would write a little more this way, as I would be able to work uninterrupted through the evening, instead of stopping to spend time with Michael. I would take a short break for a snack or a late lunch, but I'd probably eat at my computer while blogging or reading other writers' blogs.

Late evening/night: Stop working, eat a late dinner, and watch a movie or read for a bit before going to bed.

I imagine I would probably stick to this schedule seven days a week, and just take a couple of days off here and there when my workload allows it. In the summer it would be a bit different, as I would rearrange my schedule to go to the barn in the evenings, when it's cooler.

Of course, I wouldn't trade Michael in for anything, even the ideal schedule, but this is how I think I would function if I had a little more freedom with my time.

Does anyone have a similar schedule, and if so, how does it work for you? I want to live vicariously through you, so please tell me!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Go after it with a club

If you are really serious about being a writer and making your living via freelancing, you will need to be able to force yourself to write when you don't feel like it. Deadlines wait for no muse.

Last night I was working on an article that was due, but that I didn't feel like doing. So I found this quote on my iGoogle page rather pertinent:

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

- Jack London

That pretty much says it all about writing. If you can't go after it with a club, if you are the type who has to wait to write until you feel "inspired," you are probably not going to make it as a freelance writer.

It's actually no accident when we feel inspired to write. Usually it's because we're thinking about something, and start getting all fired up about it as a result. So when I don't feel inspired, that can usually be rectified by finding the path of least resistance: by starting to work on a piece of the project that is relatively easy.

In this case, rather than trying to start with the first paragraph of the article (the hardest part for me to write, after the concluding paragraph), I compiled the quotes and facts I wanted to use into a rough outline. I felt a weak spark of interest, so next I started working on whatever section caught my interest first — even if it was smack in the middle of the article. Before I knew it, a half an hour had passed, and I was fully immersed in my work.

Having to do work we don't feel like doing right then is a fact of life for a freelance writer, just as in any other profession. Learning to control your muse, rather than the other way around, is one of the things that divides the successful writers from the wannabes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tips for avoiding writing distractions

Thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Inkygirl, I found this excellent article by Cory Doctorow, with tips for avoiding writing distractions.

I like that Cory says right off the bat that avoiding the Internet entirely is not necessarily the answer. He has some great ideas for getting your work done without denying yourself the pleasure and the potential growth that writers can get from the Internet.

Some of the tips — such as writing just a few pages a day, stopping when you meet your quota, and leaving yourself a "rough edge" to work with when you start up again the next day — are geared primarily toward novel writing. Nonfiction freelance writers who write articles and short marketing copy have shorter projects and therefore more of them, and as a result our goals ought to be a little different. (Though the couple pages a day goal would be good for those of us who are writing novels and doing a bunch of smaller projects at the same time.)

The other tips apply to all writers, such as working shorter periods. I myself found a long time ago that working a "normal" workday isn't realistic for me as a freelance writer. On average, billable work takes up only about half of my work hours — more or less according to my workload at the time. The rest is spent on marketing, administrative duties, and maintaining my own websites and blogs. And honestly, I love this arrangement — it breaks up the monotony of working eight (or more) straight hours, day in and day out, the way you would in a full-time job.

I've also found, as Cory suggests, that emailing is the best way to keep in touch with friends and family. Not only can I determine whether I'm too busy to respond right away, I can also see what they want and how important it is, and make my decision accordingly.

The suggestion of waiting to do the research is also pertinent for all writers. Putting in a filler of some sort to replace later on is a good way to avoid interrupting the flow of words when you are in the zone — I personally use three astericks in a row, because not being letters they jump out at me more than "TK" would. However, I think it's also important to suggest that you do all the necessary background research — the stuff you know you'll need, such as research for a historical novel or interviews for an article — before you start writing.

The only tip that I don't agree with is ditching the word processor. I personally love writing in Word, and I think it's also important to note that you can turn off any of the annoying features Cory notes, such as automatic grammar checks and special character corrections. I've also found that most clients use Word themselves, and the last thing I want is to create formatting problems by sending them a text file instead of us both using Word.

In any case, Cory's article is a great compilation of tips for avoiding distractions while writing. I don't think I necessarily have anything to add, though I might be trying out a couple of tips in the comments — Write or Die tool for keeping you focused, as I usually find myself wandering back into my email or onto the Internet without even fully realizing I'm doing it.

What tools or techniques do you use to avoid getting distracted from your writing?

Friday, January 09, 2009

The week in review

This marks the end of the first full week back to work after the holidays. I was surprisingly busy for coming right out of the gates after the New Year, and surprisingly productive as well. I don't know if the holidays rejuvenated me, or if the spirit of my New Year's resolutions (which actually have nothing to do with general productivity) just stuck, but I've accomplished a lot in one short week.

Here's what I did:

1) 1 phone interview and 2 in-person interviews for an article I'm writing for a local paper, due tomorrow
2) Set and kept to a schedule for the blog projects I do for my biggest client
3) Completed a rush project for the same client
4) Updated my personal blogs frequently and regularly

Now I just have to write the article for which I was interviewing, which I'll probably do later tonight or tomorrow. It was a crazy busy week, but it felt good to be so productive. Too bad none of that productivity was spent on anything in my New Year's resolutions — I didn't visit my horse, hardly read, and was too stressed out about staying productive to enjoy much of anything!

Advantages of freelancing

Today I saw this article: Fear Factor in the Workplace. It's an interesting sampling of different analyses toward layoffs and the concerns of working people.

This, combined with the newest unemployment reports, makes me gladder than ever to be a freelance writer. I remember a discussion on another blog last year about how freelancers should diversify, to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket — i.e., having only one or two major clients. You don't want to become dependent on too few clients for all of your income, because if one of them goes under or terminates your project, you will have nothing to fall back on as you look for more work.

It seems to me that working for someone full time is pretty much the same thing as having just one or two major clients. Your fate is dictated by your employer. Why would this be okay for employees but something to avoid for freelancers?

As much as I might miss the social environment sometimes, I am still glad I no longer work in an environment where I'd be affected by the workplace anxiety described in the "fear factor" article. No thank you — I much prefer freelancing and having more control over my own job security!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Post-NaNoWriMo writers group meetings

I've been a little hit-or-miss about working on my novel since NaNoWriMo ended, with most of the misses having to do with busy periods of paying work — and, of course, the holidays. Luckily, we've been a little bit more successful about keeping our writers' meetings going.

During NaNoWriMo, we formed our usual weekly meetings for participants in our area. And just like we did two years ago, after NaNoWriMo 2006, we decided to try to continue the meetings after November ended.

This time it looks like we might have a little better luck. Monday night was our third post-NaNo meeting, and all four of us who are really serious about this were able to show up.

Of the four of us, I am the only professional writer, but that's okay with me because we're focusing more on novel writing in this group anyway. I'm in the same boat as the rest of them in that regard: unpublished.

In any case, none of us are really concerned about that. Our idea when we set up the group wasn't to maintain a hard-core critique group, but to create a social environment where we could get to know other writers, provide support when needed, and discuss or share our novels on our own terms. (This is in sharp contrast to another writing group that NaNoWriMo participants in our area tried to form, that required a certain level of participation — i.e., a weekly word count and mandatory sharing — or you would be asked to leave.)

Last time we tried this, the meetings only lasted until February or March of 2007, and they were much less frequent. This time, things look to be going pretty good, and I'm hoping that at least the four of us will be able to keep it going, even if a couple of others drop off.

A writer's high

You've probably heard of the term runner's high, which refers to the surge of endorphins runners get. (Not me. The only thing I get from running is a nasty stitch in my side.)

Is there also such thing as a writer's high, I wonder? If there is, I had it this morning!

I had an interview this morning for an article I'm writing for a local publication. It was my first face-to-face interview in quite a while (the rest have been telephone interviews), and I'd forgotten how much easier I am able to relax when interviewing someone in person.

So even though I was a bit nervous when I walked in, I was absolutely giddy when I walked out. It's that feeling of unbounded excitement and accomplishment after a successful interview that I think ought to be termed a writer's high. Probably also the related experience of getting really revved up about a topic you are researching and writing about.

What about you? Do you ever get a writer's high?

Muddling plagiarism up with lies

Thanks to WritersWeekly, I found this article about a plagiarized Christmas essay:

Christmas Essay Was Not His, Author Admits

To make a long story short, Neale Donald Walsch took an essay first published by Candy Chand ten years ago, and reprinted it almost word for word, claiming it as his own work.

What is especially surprising about this is that the essay is a personal story — about an event in Chand's life. The event never even happened to Walsch, yet for years he has been telling the story as if it were his own. He claims that somewhere along the way, his mind "played a trick" on him and made him think it actually did happen to him.

Which doesn't at all explain why his essay was virtually identical to Chand's. Unless he wants us to believe that he accidentally memorized someone else's work, word for word, while still thinking it was his life the author was writing about.

Wake up and smell the copyright infringement! Seems to me Walsch probably figured that with the story circulating on the Internet, often with no attribution, and being about ten years old, no one would question it if he claimed it as his own.

The most surprising part about this is... Walsch is a Christian writer! Chand said it best when she noted the irony, in her quote at the end of the article:

“Has the man who writes best-selling books about his ‘Conversations With God’ also heard God’s commandments? ‘Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie, and thou shalt not covet another author’s property’?”

I think we all know what Walsch's next conversation with God will be like...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fourth quarterly estimated tax payment due soon

Freelance writers, don't forget: Your fourth quarterly estimated tax payment is due on January 15, just over a week from now.

The only exception is if you plan to file your 2008 taxes and pay anything you owe in full by January 31.

I'm feeling the pinch this year, because the fourth estimated tax payment comes so close after Christmas. I would love to wait until the end of the month and just file my taxes then, but unfortunately, since my husband and I itemize it's much easier if we file together.

What about you? Do you pay the fourth estimated tax payment by January 15, or do you wait and just file your taxes by January 31?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Christmas presents from clients

Every year, a couple of my regular clients give me some sort of gift or bonus. While I don't expect this, it's nice to be remembered around the holidays.

This year, one of my clients sent me a "GiftFolio." I hadn't heard of it before, but it's kind of like an online gift card — except that instead of getting money, I got to choose something from an online gift catalog. There were about seven or eight pages in the catalog, with about six selections on each page. Usually clients give something really typical, such as an Amazon gift card, so it was really nice to get something different for a change.

I was really tempted by the work-related stuff, such as a pair of wireless headphones to use when I work someplace noisy (such as a coffee shop) or a laptop sleeve. I guess that's what happens when your job is also your hobby — you get excited about stuff like that! In the end, though, I chose to spoil myself a little with a Homedics back massager. It still relates to work a bit, since I'll probably use it at my desk, but it's a bit more gift-like.

The back massager arrived today, exactly a week after I ordered it, which was much faster than I expected. Of course the first thing I did was to try it out. It works pretty well, and judging by the elastic straps for holding it onto a desk chair, Homedics had the same idea I did for where to use it!

43 Things quiz

I took the 43 Things Personality Quiz and found out I'm a Self-Knowing Self-Improving Extrovert

1% of the 42702 people who have taken this quiz are like you.

I found this quiz thanks to Kathy Kerhli's post on Screw You! — Proof of My Non-Conformity. Apparently I am pretty unique, as well!

Yes, that was a little sarcastic. I am pretty sure the point of this quiz is to point out how different people are, make people feel good about themselves, and thereby make them more likely to buy the book. But I digress.

The results of my quiz — that I am a self-knowing, self-improving extrovert — came as a surprise because of my history of extreme shyness. Granted, I have changed a lot since I was a kid, partly through working with kids (difficult to be shy around children!) and partly through increased confidence. However, I'm willing to bet that had one of the "43 things" been "Felt comfortable calling a complete stranger on the telephone," my results would have been very different!

The Borders shakeup and the publishing industry

We've all been hearing about the struggles of the publishing industry lately. Apparently, booksellers are being hit hard, too — even the major ones.

Amid Slumping Sales, Borders Replaces CEO

Michael and I spend a lot of time in bookstores, frequenting their caf├ęs as well as buying the occasional book. Admittedly, we're not Borders people — our bookstores of choice are usually Barnes & Noble or our local independent chain, Tattered Cover. However, reading about any big bookstore having problems interests me because of its implications for the publishing industry.

The story says that one of the reasons Borders is suffering is because of competition from online sellers such as Amazon. This is a trend I see in the writing industry in general — pretty much every writer I know does business primarily via the Internet. But combined with the growing interest in ebooks, I would say this is a sign that the industry is going virtual with a vengeance.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Grammar according to The Office: Whomever vs. whoever

I have some other observations about the show that I will share in another post, but right now what I wanted to mention was the show's hilarious debate about whomever vs. whoever.

The clip is only about a minute long, but it addresses pretty much every common misconception about the usage of these words. The dialogue is very quick, so you might have to watch it more than once. What is so funny about this is how true it is — people actually think these things are correct.

Update: The original clip is no longer available, but I found one that someone set to an animated clip. It's better if you can watch the correct visual, but the dialogue is really what's important!

My favorite is the theory that whomever is the more formal version of whoever. Also the idea that the whole thing is made up to confuse and frustrate people. I've actually known people who believed these things!

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Office vs. working from home

A week ago I mentioned that Michael and I woke up early Christmas morning and watched several hours of The Office. We started watching this show a couple of weeks ago, when we discovered we could get it streaming on our TV via Netflix and Xbox Live, and we've already watched up through the fourth season. (They're in the middle of the fifth right now, so it's not yet available through Netflix.)

This show reminds me a lot of what it was like to really work in an office. I worked as a technical writer in an office for about ten months after graduation before transitioning to freelancing full time. It wasn't for very long, but my experiences there were rather, er, memorable.

The boss, Michael Scott, has toned down and become more of a sympathetic character since the first season, but early on he really reminded me of my boss at that job. It actually made it difficult to watch sometimes, because it brought back so many memories.

Mostly, though, The Office reminds me of all the fun parts of working in an office. The pranks they play on one another are hysterical. For instance, in one episode there was a squeaky desk chair in the office, and everyone kept switching chairs with their neighbors when they weren't looking. This was funny partly because it was so darn realistic — that kind of thing happens all of the time in an office! The show even manages to make all the usual office drama, such as crazy coworkers and office feuds, seem appealing.

I think part of the reason why I love this show so much is because I don't get to experience any of this anymore. I'm not saying that I don't like being a freelance writer; I love the relaxed environment and flexible hours of working from home. However, there is definitely a social aspect to working in an office that I miss.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's resolutions for 2009

With my stunning failure in 2008 in mind, I've somewhat changed the focus of my New Year's resolutions this year. Of course, I do this mostly for fun, but this is what I would like to accomplish this year:

1. Finish my website updates. Yes, this was on last year's list, but I'd really like to get my website updated so I'm keeping this resolution.

2. Finish my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel. Right now I'm not going to worry about revising or any of that — my goal is simply to finish it.

3. Focus more on work that I enjoy. For the most part I like my work, but periodically I get burnt out on the work I don't like, and then it all feels tedious. This year I want to weed out the work I don't enjoy so that I have more time for the good stuff.

4. Replace Movie Night with reading once a week. I really don't watch that much TV, but Michael and I like to watch movies in the evenings. However, I'm finding that I no longer read as much as I would like to, so this resolution has to do with making more time for it (and making sure I'm able to update Livre du Jour more often!).

And that's it. You'll notice that they are less ambitious than last year, and that (with the exception of #4) they are all work-related rather than personal. I only have one personal New Year's resolution this year, and that is regarding my horse, so I'll blog about that on my Pony Tales Blog.

What are your New Year's resolutions for 2009? Feel free to leave a link in the comments if you have already posted them on your own blog!


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