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Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Paralysis

In Writer Challenges on November 27, 2009 at 4:35 am

As I know others will surely be able to relate to the following circumstance, I thought I’d share my current challenge and some tidbits that may help those in similar straits.  After all, that is what I’m here for.

Over the past couple weeks I have found it usually difficult to find my groove.  Perhaps it was the upcoming holidays, maybe the fact that I’ve been operating on little to no sleep, maybe the stress of some relationship issues bearing down on me.  No matter what the cause you can rest assured that you will come upon times when staying focused is beyond a challenge (if you haven’t already).

I try to maintain my momentum, and as such I keep quite a few projects on my plate at any given time.  This is not easy by a long shot, but I manage – until recently.  The past couple weeks my workload has had a paralyzing effect.  Where I’d normally thrive under the pressure, I’ve cracked.  I feel almost helpless in the face of the daunting to-do list (professional and otherwise).  How have I coped?  I haven’t really.  It’s much easier to ignore the problem and watch episodes of Law & Order: SVU.  I’ve found myself extremely frustrated and discouraged.

Considering my my misfortune I’ve found some solace in one fact- these feelings are normal.  But the even better news is that we can break the cycle.  You may find yourself reading this as a person who’s going through the same thing, or someone who’s already found their way off the merry-go-round.  Either way it is possible to get back into the groove of things sooner rather than later, before the mountain of work gets any bigger.

In my case the first step is accomplishing one small task to boost confidence.  I decided to update my blog.  Then move on to another small task with tangible results.  Research for your book is good, but for the purpose of gaining back your momentum it’s best to stick to tasks in which you can see your progress – like writing the outline to your cover letter, submitting a short article to Examiner, submitting work to a contest, etc.

Once you’ve accomplished a few less intimidating tasks you may move onto larger ones by breaking them down into manageable steps.  Have you been assigned your first feature article and have yet to write it?  Here’s an example of how you might break down the process:

  1. Revisit your initial query to refresh your memory.
  2. Write down some questions you’d like to answer in the article.
  3. Write your outline, and be sure to include where the answers to the aforementioned questions would be.
  4. Write your rough draft (no research yet; leave space to include stats and facts later).
  5. Research for your article (use specific questions as your guide; this will save time).
  6.  Write your article chunks at a time.
  7. Edit & polish.

By breaking down one intimidating task into manageable steps you may be able to overcome your paralysis.  In some cases you’ll be able to spread your steps out over a few days.  On others you may have to accomplish many tasks in one day taking breaks in between.

In the future you can avoid this process all together by recognizing the warning signs.  Have you been feeling overwhelmed?  Not getting much sleep?  Are tasks popping up faster than you can complete the ones you already have? 

  • You may allow yourself one day to recuperate when needed, but after that it’s back to work, otherwise work will pile up and you’ll be right back to square one. 
  • Eliminate Non-essential tasks until you feel comfortable and able picking the project up again.
  • Allow yourself some time to breathe.  Taking 10min here and there during the day will save you time by preventing burnout.
  • Ask for help.  A good friend to hold you accountable can pay in dividends by keeping work from piling up.

Pitch, Pitch, PITCH!

In Step-by-Step on November 23, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Phase 2, Step 2-

In the last installment of my Step-by-Step series I discussed getting your feet wet by blogging, contributing to some smaller websites, or writing for residual income sites like EHow and Infobarrel.

In this next step we’re assuming that you’ve gotten some good practice for formal writing, you’re feeling confident, and you’re read for the big leagues…not quite the big leagues but close enough for the moment.

Now get out there and show ’em how its done!

By this point you should already have some publications in mind (if not hop over and read this post).  For even more on where to go hunting for your first clip you can read a previous post on promising opportunities for beginners.

Once you have your sites set on a publication it’s time to consider which route to take – the “complete manuscript route” or the “query route”.  Both can be challenging.  For beginners it may seem less daunting to go the “complete manuscript route”; since a query package calls for clips that you may not have.

In the case of sending out a complete manuscript you have to be sure that you’ve completed these steps:

  • Set your sights on a publication who’s subject mater you feel comfortable tackling.
  • Study at least 3 back issues for their tone, and to avoid duplicating a recently run topic.
  • Pick an idea that fits their intended audience.
  • Review the publications writer’s guidelines and editorial calendar, if they have them.
  • Write an accurate, engaging, and error free manuscript that fits the publication – in terms on word count, tone, sidebars. etc.
  • Finally, you must write a well executed cover letter (for more on the cover letter check back soon).

A query package is similar to the cover letter, except a cover letter is written to accompany a complete manuscript and a query is written before to actual article is written, describing tot he editor in question an idea that you have.  If you don’t have any clips can you still send in a query?  Of course!  there’s no rule otherwise.  But, it may be easier to sell something you’ve already written as opposed to an idea, without some practice selling yourself and your writing first.

It’s easy to procrastinate and get hung up on this step, but no writing gets into print without first pitching.  My suggestion?  Write a couple queries and cover letters for yourself first, with no intention of sending them out, and give yourself a deadline.  Ask a friend or family member to hold you to that deadline.  Maybe even hand over that $50 you were going to spend on a handbag until you finish it.  Once you have it written without bloodshed it’ll be easier to write the next one (you may have to implement the same $50 dollar routine to get you moving on mailing out the real cover letter).

Go get ’em tiger!

Progression of a Writing Mom…by Micrimas

In Guest Blog Posts on November 20, 2009 at 12:23 am

I spent most of my life chasing my dream as a writer but tangentially.

I was forced to get a business degree by my company at first. I got one in PR and Marketing, just because it defied what I actually did for work (I worked in Customer Service for a Fortune 50 company as a project specialist). Defiance of the odds is a hallmark of my life.

If you work for a company that has tuition rembursement (for which I will be forever grateful, my company put me through two degrees and part of a 3rd) they usually make you get a degree in whatever field you are in. So I got a business degree but majored in something I actually kind of liked.

I am really creative but can’t stand b-school classes. I never, ever used what I learned. Except the Marketing and PR stuff, but that was when I left the company!

I relocated down south and maintained my Project Specialist title, except my job morphed from this boring, numbers crunching woman, to a fun, numbers crunching woman who got to evolve from crunching numbers to corporate training. There I created training modules from scratch to teach the managers and their staff how to read cost center reports as well as fixed property reports, so they could make sure their cost center’s bottom line was all good. I did this for every business sector, even though I was working in the Aerospace, Defense, Electronics and Government sector. ADEG for short.

My quirky and outgoing personality caught on and soon my manager had me rolling constantly. I traveled and helped the company’s bottom line in a unique way. I got very interested in getting my teaching degree. So my manager (who was female and my biggest influence and also my biggest cheerleader) allowed me once again to defy the norm. I got a teaching degree but it was in Teaching English as a Second Language.

My degree at that point was meant for me to leave the company and travel the world. Either for the Peace Corps or the Foreign Service.

What ultimately happened is, I started teaching refugee adults during a practicum. The men ( I hate to say this but it is true ) liked the blonde hair and could not focus so therefore, I asked the director of the agency I was volunteering for if I could work with kids.

I’ve always loved kids and have lost quite a few. So I was teaching, and childless, and unmarried, and older.

She pointed me to this agency in DC that worked with children who were emancipated minors from war-decimated countries. I got checked out security-wise and my career in mentoring and teaching UNHCR sponsored refugee children began.

It hasn’t finished.

I’ve never stopped.

During that course I met and married (within a 3 week timeframe) my DH. He is a foreigner from an island in the Ionian Sea of Greece. We met through the personals and boom. Married.

We celebrate nearly 2 decades of marriage next week. As parents of 20 month old fraternal twin boys.

And still, I write. I write my blog and writer for others’ blogs. Mostly about motherhood, music and miracles. My kids, and my life are miracles.

After I got my ESL degree… I moved on to a writing degree. My manager pushed it through by it being a technical writing/editing degree however, I took a boatload of fiction and screenwriting classes. Didn’t much like screenwriting. Too formulaic and limiting. Loved fiction and poetry and I use my blog to play with others’ work and showcase theirs, and mine.

I also learned I had renal cell carcinoma. My dream job… working for an 8a, minority owned business dedicated to helping grassroots and nonprofits, a branch of the UNHCR… believe it or not (nicely dovetailed with my mentoring work) — the Bureau of Humanitarian Response — had to be put on hold.

 I struggled for 10 years… fighting cancer, illness, near death, and lots of trauma. That trauma included losing an adoptive son, and having to stay at home as a mom. Because of the issues that were created by my cancer and the aftermath. Spinal injury during surgery and a host of other bad stuff that sometimes happens when you have had a lot of surgery.

Then I became a mom.

And I started blogging. That was 2 years ago. I love it.

 During the time I was sick, I dedicated myself to gratis grantwriting work. I had done it before for a cat rescue, where we had adopted our cat. I was grantwriting for nonprofits, gratis.

It gave me excellent experience.

When the boys were born, I stopped because I have twins and basically no time except at 5am before the boys wake up or when they are napping. Like now.

I don’t know how Dominique does it — with her child at her feet and juggling multiple websites and blogs… writing a novel in a month! I give her kudos… and am handing off this blog entry to her after weeks of illness (whatever the kids get, I ultimately get, my immune system is fragile from the cancer).

 So I am handing off my entry, Profession of a Writing Mom, to D — because you all can take a lesson from me.

 I fell into every single writing job and ultimately, my paid and gratis career as a writer. I have basically moved from one segment of the writing spectrum to the next. I’ve loved the diversity and pray that someday, I will be writing again for the government once we move back to DC. When the kids are in school. I have a standing job offer working for DHS documenting meetings and disseminating info, when the boys are in school. One of my friends is a high level, hiring GS18 and she is holding a job for me, if I choose. She’s been there for me… knows about all my health issues.

Our sons are 2 days apart in age. She gave birth to her son, and our Traditional Surrogate gave birth to my fraternal twin sons… two days apart. Ours came first and then her boy. I am frequently in the DC area and the children play well together. She knows I have a unique writing style and hopes that I will work with her. I hope so too, if my health stabilizes. I am homeschooling the kids right now but at some point they will be in Pre-school and then I hope to return to the workforce and get paid… for their college funds.

A diverse spectrum of writing always stands you in good stead. I say, as a writer practicing for decades, just roll with what falls into your lap and don’t limit yourself to one thing. Because diversity is where you become employed much easier. I have copyediting, copywriting, grantwriting, corporate training modules, number crunching/budgeting (falls under grantwriting), technical editing/writing, and teaching module skills under my belt.

There are probably more but I have to roll off, take a shower before the boys wake up, and feed them lunch.

By the way… I am nearly 48 years old. And still marketable after having left the workforce for quite a while (the paid workforce). Because of my health and now, being a mom. I love to blog about my kids and my life… It is my passion. Dominique has been featured a few times on my blog. I have guest bloggers and love to hear what they have to say.

My fingers fly and life rolls on. Life as a mom, and a writer. You all know writers are born. Not made. You cannot “train” a writer. It is bubbling in the blood, fingers aching to explode on the keyboard.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to blog gives me the ultimate experience in my creative state. Marrying my love of photography, poetry and writing is the best.

Thanks for reading and I hope you young writers take heed. I’ve made it work for decades now, as a writer. By opening my heart and mind to all possibility vs. limiting my creative state and focusing on one area of the spectrum.

Half of a Duo, Raising a Duo

Opportunities Are Everywhere

In Getting started on November 17, 2009 at 6:02 am

The hardest part for many writers is getting started.  The first clip is usually the hardest one to obtain, after that each writing assignment should become less and less intimidating.  In the spirit of getting started, today I thought I’d share a couple places that beginning writers can showcase their talent.

Most writing books and websites I’ve come across suggest pitching your ideas to smaller local publications first – which is a phenomenal idea.  But where do you find these small local publications?  If they’re not terribly popular they may also be more difficult to find.

Tip #1:  Call or visit small organizations.  If you know of a local organization, stop by or give them a call.  Chances are they’d be open to having you write for their newsletter – or if they don’t have one they may even like for you to start one for them.  Approach these jobs with caution, you will have to do some research on newsletter formatting before promising to deliver a fabulous project.

Tip #2: Pick up free papers.  It’s very likely that your town or city is the home to at least a couple free publications.  When you’re out at the supermarket or walking around, instead of walking by those free papers, pick them up!  Peruse them, if the subject matter is something that you could write about, pitch to them.

Tip #3: Go back to high school.  For some of us that last statement may have cause dry heaves.  But for the beginning writer it’s worth considering.  Some high schools have a newsletter for their alumni, sponsors, or donors.  You can call and ask if there’s an alumni newsletter of anything of the kind and if they’re looking for writers.

Tip #4: Apply for Examiner.com.  Okay, this may sound like a cheesy plug, but it’s not.  It’s a good way to build your expertise and readership.  Not to mention, Examiner does pretty well on search engines.  I can’t say how selective their application process is, only that the application does take some time and planning.  Give it your best shot, pick a topic to examine that you feel comfortable with, and try not to over think it.  Work on your application for 2 weeks TOPS.

NaNoWriMo

In Writer Challenges on November 11, 2009 at 8:29 pm

My lovely readers, it’s another day if the life of a hustling freelancer.  As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I am participating in NaNoWriMo – which is National Novel Writing Month.  It’s day 11 and my word count is a little less that 2,000.  The challenge is 50,000 words in one month, which means I should be writing at least 1,700 words a day (more like 1,600 and some change….but who’s counting?).  I’m behind to say the least.

I’ve had my concept since October, and my outline has been complete since the end of October.  I got my first 1,000 words written a couple nights ago.  That means I started late too.

I’m still committed to being finished with my book by the end of November.  Somehow.

In case you were wondering what kind of book I’m working on, I’ll tell you (I’m just a thoughtful person that way).  I believe many of the participants of NaNoWriMo are working on fiction novels; not me!  Mine is non-fiction.  A memoir based on my experiences with prenatal depression.  Imformative stuff.  Chock full of resources for mothers, future mothers, and friends of mothers that may be at risk for different forms of perinatal depression – including prenatal.  More information on how you can download my book (for FREE) this December is to follow.

Why am I struggling with this NaNoWriMo?  Number one, this is my first time.  Plain an simple.  Anytime you try something new, there’s going to be a learning curve.  I also didn’t do any advance preperation other than my outline.  And mine was meant to be a short story anyway, the outline isn’t lending itself well to the 50,000 word goal.

If you’re considering particpating in NaNoWriMo next year I suggest looking over some resources.

And if all else fails google “NaNoWriMo resources” or some other variation. 

The bottom line here no amount of information will equal your first-hand experience with NaNoWriMo.  Unless you’re accustomed to daily writing of 1,000 words or more, it’s ganraunteed to be a chalenge – rewarding, but a challenge.  And even if you are used to daily writing of 1,000 words or more if you’re not used to daily writing on one book (as opposed to different book projects int he works, blog posts, or articles), it’s also likely to be  challenge.  And that’s okay.  If you don’t complete the 50,000 words the world will not come to a grinding hault.  Everything will be okay, and you’ll probably be a better writer at the end of it with a retty big dent in your novel.

I may not complete the 50,000 word challenge, but I will complete this book by the end of November.  That much I am sure of.

Making Sense of the “Hat Game”

In Writer Challenges on November 9, 2009 at 8:53 pm

One of the things I did recently to help mainstream my workload was organize my writing tasks.  In a previous post I discussed creating a business plan for your writing.  I took another look my my business plan and broke it down into my roles as a writer:

  • Author
  • Journalist
  • Blogger
  • Residual Queen
  • Mommy Writers Founder
  • Editor
  • Miscellaneous

I decided for me it’s most important that I work a little on my book and whatever queries or writing assignments I have at the moment every day. 

  • Sunday: put on “Author Hat” for 2hrs
  • Monday: put on “Journalist Hat” for 2hrs
  • Tuesday: put on “Blogger Hat” for 1hr, “Author Hat” for 30min, and “Journalist Hat” for 30min
  • etc….

How can you use this exercise in your writing career?  Examine your writing goals.  Maybe you only want to focus on writing books.  In your case you might break your workload down into marketing/promotion, writing the book, and working on your book proposal.  In this case it would be wise to spend time on the writing every day.  Perhaps 1hr on the book every day, 30min on the proposal and 30min on the marketing.

Social Media Madness

In Writer Challenges on November 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Some of my values readers may be wondering what’s been keeping me so busy that I haven’t been updating as regularly as I once did.  If you weren’t wondering…I’ll share what’s been keeping me so busy anyway.

Recently I’ve been focusing most of my attention on facilitating a free online writing class for women (which you can learn more about by clicking the “free classes” tab above or visiting Mommy Writers), and trying to build my platform – that inolves a lot of online networking with people who might be interested in  he topics I write about. 

For those who may be unfamilar with the term, “platform” refers to  all the ways you are visible to your audience.  The best definition I’ve found is in Christina Katz’s book Get known Before the Book Deal . 

The word platform simply describes all the ways you are visible and appealing to your future, potential, or actual readership.  Platform development is important not only for authors; it’s also crucial for aspiring and soon-to-be authors.  Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. 

Your platform communicates your expertise to others concisely, quickly, and decisively with clarity, confidence and ease.  How visible are you?  How much influence do you have?  How many people know and trust you?  If others recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is the measure of your platform success.”

If you’re like me you may be involved in so many online groups that it’s become difficult to keep up with them all.  Or worse – trying to keep up with them all you suddenly find your writing taking a back seat.  Writers’ groups are good, but only if they are not distracting you from the actual writing.

My solution?  I’ve decided not to try to check everything every day.  I made a list of all the online groups I’m involved in.  From there I decided which I needed to check and/or update daily.  I could only come up with one – Twitter.  Then I decided which I spend the most time on, and determined to never check more than one of those “time-eater” sites on any given day.  The rest was easy.  Check 4 sites per day, I allow myself to spend 20-30 mins on the “time-eater” site, and the rest I have to check in less than 20min.  With the time left over I can update my Twitter. 

On any given day I can spend between an hour and an hour and a half trolling the social media sites of the web – spreading the word about my writing, and learning fro other writers as well.

It may seem a little odd to make such a science of online groups and chatter, but anything that has the potential to absorb so much of your time is worth taking a closer look.

Phase 2 Step 1

In Step-by-Step on November 5, 2009 at 1:58 am

This is the fourth installment of my step-by-step series, designed to outline the steps involved in breaking into freelancing.  This is the method I used, and may not work for everybody in this order.  But if you ask me, all of these steps need to be addressed – the order is up to you.

Phase 1 was the research phase.  In 3 steps I suggested that you research freelancing to figure out if it’s for you, research your interests find some viable topics to write about, and research some different publications that you might like to write for.

At this point you have a good idea of how the freelancing/writing industry works from all your research.  You have a pretty good grasp on your interests and what you’d like to write about, you know the audience that ould most relate to your work, and you know the publications that you’d be a good fit to write for.  But here’s the rub – you have 0 clips.

Get Writing

I know the name of the game is “Pitch, pitch, pitch!”.  But if you’re like me when I first started not so long ago you haven’t written anything formal in months or years.  Rusty would be an understatement.  Some may disagree, but I’d suggest you ride with the training wheels on a while.  That means maybe starting a blog, maybe submit some articles to small sites for free.  More good practice would be submitting to sites like Ehow, Ezinearticles, InfoBarrel, etc.

The goal here is to practice, build confidence, and perhaps get some good writing samples to use in lieu of clips.