Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My funky schedule

Ever since staying up all night last Tuesday to finish my article, then sleeping all day on Wednesday, my schedule has been extremely... funky, for lack of a better word.

I've been consistently going to bed between 3:00 and 5:00 am every night. There have been a few days where I slept until early afternoon, one day where I got up at 8:30, and the rest of the days I've slept until about noon.

It's good in some ways, because I am at my most productive between midnight and 4:00 am. But it's also exceedingly difficult to do "normal" things (like spend weekends with Michael, meet friends for lunch, and spend time at the barn without that being my entire day) with that kind of a schedule.

Which should I sacrifice: my productivity, or my social life?

(Maybe you shouldn't answer that. I'm not sure I want to hear the answer.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mentoring newbie freelance writers

My post-NaNoWriMo group meetings have turned into an opportunity to mentor a couple of "newbie" freelance writers.

In both 2006 and 2008, the two years I've done NaNoWriMo, I was the only full-time freelance writer in the group. This year, as we've continued the meetings it has ended up being only me and two others meeting every week. Both of them recently asked me for some advice on getting started as freelance writers, which has subsequently turned into a full-fledged mentorship.

Two meetings ago, I showed them all of the sites where I usually look for contract work, and walked them through the process of responding to a job ad versus writing a query in response to a market listing.

Our last meeting, Wednesday night, I started working with them on developing resumes and coming up with ideas on how to get started. Neither of them have any professional writing experience, but one of them has enough other experience to get started in a niche topic, and the other is going to school for business and has some business communications and marketing classes that I think will help her get started.

Mentoring — as opposed to just giving some advice and being done with it — is a new thing for me, and so far I rather like it! It's fun coming up with ideas to help them get started, and I'm enjoying working with them on their resumes, too. It's an amazing feeling to be able to share some of the wisdom I figured out the hard way when I started out, through trial and error.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Disoriented but happy

I went to bed at 9 o'clock this morning, after staying up all night to finish an article. Unfortunately, that meant I slept until nearly 4 in the afternoon — and getting up that late in the day is exceedingly disorienting.

So I've been taking things nice and easy. I'm trying not to go back to sleep, even though I'm still quite tired, so that I give myself a chance to go to bed at a normal time tonight and get back on a normal schedule. I'll probably blog a little bit, work on some client work if I feel up to it, then read a bit before bed. I also have a meeting this evening with some of my local writing friends from NaNoWriMo.

Have you ever stayed up all night to finish a project? How do you get back on schedule afterward?

Wee hours and new experiences

I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but I've been swamped with a big article assignment on top of my usual smaller projects.

Right now I'm working on finishing up the article. It's been a strange few days, full of late hours working and a lack of sleep. This is going to do a lot to help get me caught up after my slow January, so I can't complain too much — but it will be a huge relief when this article is done!

The new experience is where I happen to be working at the moment. Recently I discovered that a Starbucks near me is open 24/7, so when I knew I'd have to be up all night tonight working (and remembering how I couldn't stay up and fell asleep without finishing last night) I decided to come here to work.

My laptop, two coffee cups, and an empty pastry bag: My workspace at Starbucks

It has been surprisingly noisy here, but my headphones took care of that easily enough. I'm also sitting back in a little alcove where there is a well-lit table and chairs for people with laptops. I've been the only one back here since shortly after my arrival, and a combination of the bright lights, the hard chairs, and the strong coffee have helped me stay alert.

Unfortunately I finally feel as though I'm finally beginning to fade — and so close to the end of the article, too! I'll head home soon (my earphones are starting to hurt my ears, anyway), and hopefully the transition will give me the boost I need to get through to the end of this article.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Having confidence in your work

I ran across this gem of a quote in Tolkien's foreword to The Lord of the Rings:

Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.

There is a delicate balance of self-confidence that a writer needs to strike. Lacking faith in your work won't win you clients, but being over-confident is a turnoff too.

Personally, I find in Tolkien's statement just the right amount of confidence mixed with humor. It's a good outlook for a writer, isn't it?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Making connections

One of the things I really about writing is the opportunity to make connections with the people I interview for articles.

Last month I interviewed several people at local charities for an article about how the economy is affecting their organizations. (The issue went to press yesterday — I'll post with the clip soon!) One of the articles was a no-kill cat shelter called the Cat Care Society.

Afterward I told my mom about the shelter (we're a family of animal lovers), and today she and I went up there to donate clothes to their thrift store and visit with the cats. While we were there we fell in love with Ulysses, a big, beautiful 2-year-old who was recently rescued from a feral cat colony.

Cat available for adoption at the Cat Care Society

Apparently Ulysses was pretty anxious in receiving, so when we were visiting today he was in a cage, even though the shelter is normally cage-free. I guess I would be upset too, if I'd just been neutered and was still recovering from a bad case of skin mites.

Today however he seemed eager for attention. We asked about him, and they opened the cage so that he could come out. He obviously felt a little less secure outside of his cage, and yowled at us if we touched any of the sensitive areas on his back. Then he discovered a little catnip toy, and forgot all about being scared or sore!

Isn't he adorable? Makes me wish we didn't have a full house (two cats, two dogs) already.

As we were leaving, we saw the director, whom I had interviewed for my article. She recognized me right off, and we chatted for a few minutes. My mom is talking about volunteering there, and I've offered to donate writing services if they ever have need of them. I feel very fortunate to have made this contact and gotten involved with such a genuinely happy shelter!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why can't the IRS spell my name right?

Last year was the first year I made quarterly estimated tax payments in both my name and my husband's. (We were married in 2007, but I kept making them under just my name for the sake of consistency.) Today I received the packet of forms for 2009... And they had my name spelled wrong.


Now, I know that Katharine is apparently very difficult to spell — I get everything from Katherine to Katerhin. (Don't ask me how they got that last one. All I know is it was in a byline and I was pissed.)

But really, this time it's from the IRS. You'd think that would mean something.

Let's hope they are better at social security numbers than they are at names.

A lesson on rates from my farrier

My farrier came out to trim my horse's hooves yesterday, and afterward — as per his usual — he proceeded to talk my ear off.

Interestingly, one thing he talked about was rates. Since that has been a commonly discussed topic on Lori Widmer's blog lately, I decided his point of view had relevance for writers, too.

I've been using my farrier for over a year, and in that time he has not raised his rates once. Now at $40 a trim (which takes about 15 minutes on my horse) his prices are in no way bargain basement, but they were average when I started using him. The thing is, many other farriers raised their prices as the cost of gas went up — so while he wasn't necessarily cheap, his customers sure appreciated being able to count on his prices staying the same.

Now he's reaping the rewards of not raising his prices when everyone else did. Not only has he kept most of his customers, but he's also getting calls from new customers who want to switch farriers. Meanwhile, the other farriers aren't getting calls almost at all.

Now, I'm not advocating lowering your prices to lure clients away from other writers — my feeling is that in the end, you'll get only enough extra work to make the same amount of money you were before, with less work. However, I think this example shows how important client perception is. While my farrier's rates were not and are not cheap, his clients feel they are getting a bargain when he doesn't raise his rates.

So how does this translate into writing rates? Well, for one thing I'm thinking of holding off on raising my rates this spring. I can handle where they are at right now, so perhaps a raise isn't as valuable as being known as the writer who was willing to work with her clients during tough times.

Hazards of freelancing

This week has been a reminder of one of the biggest hazards of freelancing, at least for me: cabin fever.

We're having some unseasonably warm weather in Denver. It has been in the 50s and 60s all week, with a high of 70 degrees predicted for today. Unfortunately, work has kept me cooped up inside a lot of the week.

You'd think that freelancing would make you more able to enjoy stints of nice weather, but in actuality it all depends on what your work schedule is like at the time. If you have a lot of fairly flexible work scheduled, then sure, rearrange your schedule and get out of the house for a little while. But if you have deadlines — well then, you're just plumb out of luck.

The latter has been my situation this week. Working late and sleeping late kept me from enjoying any sort of mornings, and therefore I had less time to work during the day before Michael was due home. As a result I spent both Monday and Tuesday completely indoors. In fact, I didn't even realize the weather was nice until it was too late to do anything about it. What a waste!

I felt cabin fever coming on, so on Wednesday I made sure to get out. It helped that I already had a farrier appointment scheduled, so I got out to the barn in the morning to visit my horse. (No horseback ride, though — my farrier killed the opportunity by talking my ear off.) Then in the afternoon, I worked on the porch in the glorious sun for a little bit.

What do you do to keep yourself from getting cabin fever from working at home too much?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why does blogging get a bad rap?

This week's issue of WritersWeekly had some good stuff! Here's another article that caught my attention: Susan Johnston's success story about ghostblogging. Since at least two-thirds of my work these days is blogging for clients, I was pleased to see this service spoken of positively by another freelance writer.

I personally find that blogging gets a bad rap, particularly among non-writers. When someone asks what I do, if I list "blog writing" as one of my services, I usually either get a blank look, or a very dismissive response. They don't understand that many clients pay — and pay well — for someone to write blog posts on specific subjects or maintain their company blogs.

Perhaps that response has something to do with why writers often don't advertise blogging services, as Johnston mentioned in her article. A lot of people just don't understand what the big deal is.

I think I might try listing blogging services in my next ad, too... Thanks for the idea, Susan!

Making sure you get paid

Today's issue of WritersWeekly has a great article by Laura Bell about how freelance writers can make sure they get paid. This article got my attention because it has more real-life advice than most. Here are a few highlights:

1) Demand up front payment. I love this tip. And Bell is right — being able to do that is one of the advantages of PR work.

4) Don't be afraid to talk about money. It's true that many writers, especially newbies, hesitate to ask how much something will pay, and when they can expect payment. But hey, if an editor is going to turn into a jacka$$ as soon as money is mentioned, I want to know before I do the work!

7) Renegotiate low-paying jobs. This is great advice. Just because a job is advertised at a certain rate doesn't mean the client won't be willing to negotiate. If you are clearly perfect for the job, you have a good chance they'll be willing to pay more for your services!

The other tips were good, too, but these were my favorites. Particularly numero uno. It's difficult for a client to stiff you if they've already paid you in full!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Freelance writing goals for February

Lori Widmer posted the other day about her January business assessment. I'm not very good at setting regular goals for myself, but that and her post for yesterday — on diversifying — inspired me to set a few goals for my freelance writing business in February.

And, yes, I'm even going to blog about them and make them public! They are:

1) Finish my website updates and get back to marketing

Lori's post on diversifying reminded me that I have been shamefully lax on this subject. I lost a couple of regular clients some months ago, but I was getting so much work from another that I didn't bother to start looking for more. Her post was a reminder of how precarious this position is.

2) Get back up to my normal income in February

In January I made a little over half my normal monthly income. If I'm going to recover properly from January and the holidays, I need to get back up to my normal income levels this month.

Well, there you have it. What are your goals for February?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Freelance writing in January

I keep an Excel spreadsheet that tallies my freelance writing income throughout the month, so at the end of every month I can see what I made. Unfortunately, January was somewhat dismal.

January is usually a slow month for me, I guess because it takes most companies a few weeks to rebound from the holiday vacation mindset. Initially I thought this year would be different, as I was pretty busy the first full week of January. Unfortunately the work dropped off around mid-month, so in January I essentially made just over half my usual monthly income.

It seems that I am not the only one who generally expects January to be slow — Lori Widmer blogged about her January goals on her blog, too. What about the rest of you? How did January go for you, and was it in keeping with previous years?


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