The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Blogging for fun and profit (or just profit)

I recently posted in a thread about blogging for profit. I decided I'd cut and paste the same post here with some slight editing since it is out of context.

Check out Who's There? which is one of the seminal works of viral marketing. Also look at 26 Steps to 15k a Day, which is more about content sites but the advice applies to blogs as well.

In summary, yes you can make good money from blogging or content but it's a lot of work and the day you stop working at it is the day your income dries up. It's not a "I'll post now and then on random topics and retire to the Bahamas" thing.

Affiliate marketing is a better way to make money than ads. AdSense (and the other ad programs) are awfully fickle and your income is likely to fluctuate wildly. I saw a guy on a forum who wanted to put up a site about surfing and wondered if AdSense would pull in some money. It was suggested that he would make more money if he added a section where he gave capsule reviews of surfing movies (fictional, documentary, or both) and put in Amazon links to them. If you blog on a subject you can tie to product sales, you'll be better off.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Thinking like a writer

Recently the Foundation for Blind Children had "Farm Day" where a bunch of their kids were taken out to meet the animals. My sister was planning to take her daughter there so I already knew about it. One day I saw an article about it in the paper and I slapped myself on the forehead. It had never occurred to me to write about it. Obviously the paper already had someone to do the story, but I should have at least considered the idea.

I could tell more stories like that. The new freelancer often has trouble coming up with ideas. Trust me -- the ideas are all around you. Some small story you come across might be of interest to the newspaper or a magazine. You need to develop a writer's eye and start seeing everything as something you could write about. I'm still not good at that, but I'm getting better.

Write about what's important to you because, if it's important to you, it's probably important to other people. For me, that's my niece. I want to write about her (and our) struggles with her disabilites. That doesn't mean I just need to look for magazines about disabilities. There are lots of parenting magazines out there and it is rare to see articles about special needs kids. Consider the revived article I mentioned a few days ago. That magazine is about the English language and its quirks.

See the ideas around you then decide how best to market them. That is the single key to any small business -- finding opportunities and using them to your advantage.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More writing I haven't done

I took a couple of days off because I haven't done that in a while. I decided to come back strong and make this a real writing day. Oh, but first let me install Thunderbird as my new email client. How long could that take?

Two hours later...

Then, of course, I needed to check the forums I hang out at (I should add links to some of them). And the blogs I like. Oops, then it's time to break for lunch. Better empty the dishwasher. And so on and so on.

FWIW, I've signed up with some new categories at How To Do Things. I haven't actually tagged any articles, but at least I have some good categories now. And I've found a couple more magazines to submit queries to. And I've done some more work on my website (nothing uploaded yet). So it's not like I'm completely unproductive, but I'm sure not doing as much as I would like.

But tomorrow is going to be a real writing day. Really.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

An article revived

Back in January I sent out a query on an article about how I gained a new appreciation for terms like "visually impaired" versus "blind" after my niece was born. The editor said she'd like to see it, but I couldn't get the article out. I couldn't find enough to fill out a reasonable article without blatantly padding it so I shelved the idea. Recent events regarding developmental disability benefits here in Arizona have revealed to me a new world of disability euphemisms and I think has given me enough material to finish the article. Sometimes it's better just to put a piece of work aside rather than continue to beat your head against the wall. Inspiration may strike, or new information may present itself.

I got accepted over at How To Do Things, though the categories I picked are pretty sparse. I'll sign up for some new ones to get some work. The operation smells a little amateurish and I'm skeptical about their long-term prospects, but if I can make a few bucks before they go under, good for me.

Friday, April 14, 2006

More bad writing

I don't want to turn this blog into a slam on people's writing, but I just had to post this one.

I will never complain about IRS publications again. I've read more than a few and they can be hard to follow, but they are models of concise and clear writing compared to documents from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The people responsible for any of the USCIS documents should be dragged into the street and their public flogging should be televised across the nation in hopes of preventing anyone from ever writing that badly again. I'm a native English speaker and I can't figure out their forms, so I feel real sympathy to immigrants trying to make sense of it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Personal feelings and writing

I read a pretty startling restaurant review in the April issue of Phoenix Magazine. The reviewer had a bad experience during one of his visits. He ordered an appetizer of scallops. He complained that the scallops tasted old. The waiter took the plate into the kitchen then returned it to the table saying the chef had assured him that the scallops had been received fresh that morning. No apology and no attempt to fix the problem.

That was the wrong way to handle it. I don't care if the chef caught the scallops himself ten minutes ago. If the customer thinks they taste old, you apologize and take it off the bill. That much I agree with.

However the reviewer threw a tantrum about the incident devoting fully half the review to it. He called the chef a “sociopath” and said they obviously thought he was stupid. He chortled over the fact that he could get his vengeance by writing a bad review.

My first reaction was to dismiss the review as biased. I could even sympathize with the fact that he wrote the review in anger and sent it off before he changed his mind. That doesn’t forgive the fact that his behavior was childish and unprofessional, mind you. If you write in anger, then put it aside and reread it after you’ve cooled down.

But then I realized something. Some editor approved this article. Some calm, cool editor who hadn’t been to the restaurant and wasn’t disrespected by the staff. Some editor who should have known better. This article should have been returned to the author asking him to tone down the rhetoric.

Then again, maybe it was. Maybe this was the more mature and carefully written version. That’s a frightening thought.

The review didn’t have a byline. I assume that’s because restaurant reviewers have to remain anonymous. What that means, though, is I can’t filter out this person’s reviews in future. It completely undermines Phoenix Magazine’s restaurant reviews in my mind. The next time I read a bad review, I’m just going to figure it’s this guy getting his revenge for the waiter giving him a sour look.

I realize that reviews are, by definition, all about personal feelings. However there is personal and there is PERSONAL. That kind of juvenile whining has no place in a professional piece except maybe on an editorial page (which is why I don’t read editorials). I certainly hope that the Phoenix Magazine editorial staff shows more discretion in the future.

You can express your opinion, but don't whine. Don't call people names. Don't plot revenge. It doesn't hurt them, it hurts you.

OK, to be fair I called the guy a couple of names during the first draft of this. So I took my own advice and reworded the sentences and you know what? They sound better. See? I know what I'm talking pinhead ;)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Why do I write?

I was thinking yesterday about why I am pursuing this silly freelancing career.

My primary motivation, as I've discussed before, is that it gives me the freedom to care for my niece. Kids seems to be the motivating force for a lot of freelance writers, mostly moms, who want a chance to stay home with their kids but still earn money.

Once my niece starts preschool I'm not going to be needed as often. So do I get a real job then? Man, I hope not! I love being able to work when and where I want and if I could just get a touch more discipline about it I could make a decent living at it. Well, at least an above-the-poverty-line living.

But one of the strongest draws to writing, at least nonfiction writing, is that it is an excuse to learn. I used to love to read and learn new things. College pretty much beat the love of learning out of me and I don't pursue it as much as I did. But if I am writing an article, then I have to learn about Sumerian religions or specs on the latest hot motherboard or the developmental problems commonly faced by kids with hydrocephalus.

That last one is the real key. I would like to be doing a lot more research about my niece. My sister and I have a deal; I do the research and read the horror stories and then filter the information to her as she needs to know it. She doesn’t need to hear about spina bifida and shunt revisions and subdural hematomas. She needs to focus just on raising her daughter.

But there are so many things going on with her that it becomes overwhelming. And it becomes one more thing distracting me from making a living. So if I can do what I need and also do what I want, then I am making a living doing something I’d be doing anyhow. Heck, it’s practically like free money.

And it has another benefit: I can help parents find the information they need when the doctors have used some big, scary word to describe their child. For example, there is a book called, “Hydrocephalus: A Guide for Patients, Families and Friends” by Chuck Toporek and Kellie Robinson. They are a married couple and she has hydrocephalus. They were frustrated that almost all the information out there was aimed at neurosurgeons so they wrote this book to provide information for laymen. We found the book a great help in the early days of Maria’s diagnosis.

In fact, I really need to go back and reread it, but I just don’t have the time.

So I see writing as a tool to allow me to learn things that I’m interested in and if I can aim my writing projects towards subject I’m interested in, then the whole thing becomes more fun and seems less like work.

Friday, April 07, 2006


My plan is to blog daily, or at least bi-daily...

Let us all laugh out loud at that sentence from my first post.

I've been busy, just not with writing. I don't know where the days go. For example, the other day I had to do my taxes. Then I caught my cat playing with a bark scorpion, which are one of the most venomous species of scorpion in the world. So I had to find time to research how dangerous they are to me (not very unless I have an allergic reaction) and my cat (cat's are apparently immune to scorpion venom) and what a pest control agency could do (not much as there aren't any effective pesticides -- the best solution is environment control such as caulking up cracks). And there is always the inevitable yard work, dishes, laundry, and on and on.

And yet the little voice in my head reminds me that back when I had a real job I got this stuff done while working 40 hours a week. More than 40 if you include lunch and commute times. How the heck did I do it?

And every time I think about making a post here I just get a little embarassed about how long it's been since I posted here and how little I've accomplished. So I don't post and the problem gets worse.

Several days was taken up redesigning my personal website when I moved it to a new host. Although that doesn't directly help my writing career, I learned a lot about web design and PHP scripting so it will be useful once I get my professional site going...which is going to happen any day now. Really ;)

So back to information about writing...

I found a site called How to Do Things which is a new content site. There is some discussion on the Writers' Row Forums about whether or not they are legitimate. I signed up with them to write about disabilities (since I have such a personal interest in that because of my niece) and computers (since I just love computers and build my own systems). So at least I've made some progress.