The Struggling Writer

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

Friday, October 27, 2006

Slowly getting back to work

Deborah Ng did a nice post at Finding The Right Words about working in the web content market. It encourages me to see that people really do make decent money in this market. It's not what I want to be doing five years from now, but if I can make a bit better income in the short term, I'll be happy.

Speaking of "why I don't make better income", I continue to do nothing this week. They moved my niece to the PICU and although she might get out today she might not. Today is the first day I've done anything useful. I suspect I won't get any writing done, but I can catch up on a few other things.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A little "vacation"

I have a couple more articles up: How To Teach Autistic Children and Wi-Fi Business Advantages.

I decided to take the day off yesterday because I've been so busy lately I was starting to get frazzled. Every time I take a day off, I get a little behind, and then some disaster strikes which gets me even further behind. This time the disaster is my niece, who was admitted to the hospital through the ER last night. It's probably nothing more than a minor infection, but there are complications from her hydrocephalus and the barium swallow she had recently. If you care about the details you can see them on my other blog.

So today I just can't get into working and tomorrow will be one of my regular Maria days, assuming she's out of the hospital. That means I won't get any more work done until at least Friday. Then Friday evening, my father and his wife are visiting which pretty much blows the weekend. The problem is that the longer I go without working the harder it is to start up again. And I was doing so well for a while there.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

The dangers of research

Ah, research - the biggest time waster the freelancer faces. Obviously research is important but only to a point. It's easy to keep going, because it's "for work". When is enough enough? Let's consider two examples.

While researching my article, "How To Recognize Sleep Disorders In Babies," I went off on a tangent as I researched cosleeping. It's a subject I'm interested in but ultimately it was irrelevant to the article. It wasted over an hour of my time.

Today I was researching an article on autism. I instantly found a great resource, an article with all the information I needed, and yet was disorganized and not that well written. It was easy for me to take the information from this piece, organize it better, and create my own article. But I hate to use just one source. So I start looking for another one. This was further complicated that when writing about things like special needs, I'm reluctant to use commercial sites. If I use them I should link to them, but that is an implied endorsement of their product. Eventually I found a piece that I used to add a paragraph to the article, but the bulk of it came from the original source. I could have gotten that article done in an hour; instead it took more than two.

I'm learning, though. I'm slowly getting better at popping out articles faster while still maintaining quality. I think this is going to be important for my gig at LoveToKnow Business. At $15/article, I can't spend all day on each one. I have to get better at popping them out faster so that I can increase my hourly income. If I can achieve 90% of the quality in 20% of the time, that's a good tradeoff. The piece will never be perfect, so learn to accept "close enough".


Friday, October 20, 2006

A good day

HTDT approved How To Find a Cord Blood Bank. I am also writing for LoveToKnow Business and got my first article up about Internet Domain Registration. They are going to train me as site editor after I get a couple more articles in. And one of my niece's doctors is trying to set up a study and needs a grant writer. It's a good day to be me.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Good boy! You may have a cookie.

Today is Thursday, which is one of my days to take care of my niece. I usually don't even bother trying to work on those days. However she didn't sleep much last night so took a long nap this morning. I managed to pop out not one but TWO articles in that time! Yay me! Both articles were on cord blood storage, so the same research applied to both articles which is why I did them. Yet another good skill to learn - how to make research yield several articles rather than just one.

One of the articles, How to Understand Cord Blood Storage has already been approved along with an article I wrote yesterday, How To Recognize Dyslexia in Children.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Some nice feedback

My latest article, How To Understand Special Education Inclusion, is up on HTDT.

I also got a nice little email from one of the editors saying how much she likes my writing. OK, the cynic in me wonders if it's some kind of automatic message generated when they accept your seventh article. But I'll assume that it was genuine :)


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two new goals

In my last post I mentioned something about making more money this month than last month. Then it occurred to me - that's a great goal! I have to make more money each month than the last month. I know this will get tricky once I start submitting to print publications, since the lag between submission and acceptance can drag on, but I'll re-evaluate later if I have to.

When I first started writing for HTDT I had set myself the goal of writing an article a day. OK, that didn't happen, in part because a lot of the listed topics bore me. I've heard that the best way to make money from them lately is to suggest a ton of articles in your areas of expertise.

I also have the bad habit of perusing writer job lists, bookmarking interesting jobs, then never sending a query.

My basic HTDT goal is a good one, but needs some modification. So my second goal is that each day I will send a query, submit an article, or respond to a job ad.

Time will tell how well these goals work out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Freelance career development

My name is Andy Humphrey and I'm a WAHU (work at home uncle).

As I've mentioned before, a large part of my motivation for working freelance is my niece. She has special needs (hydrocephalus, vision and hearing impairment, global developmental delays) and the flexibility of freelance work lets me help take care of her. I love her like she was my own daughter, but she is definitely a high-maintenance girl. I don't even try to get anything done on the days I have her, and by the end of the day I'm exhausted.

She's been on vacation the last few days and I've been getting a lot done, which is great. And I hope I can keep this going when she comes back, but I'm sure things will slip. The thing is that it's hard to write when I'm tired and can't concentrate. Then I don't get things done, get stressed (which makes it even harder to focus), don't sleep (I've been sleeping really well now that I'm working), get more tired, and get even less done. It's frustrating.

I suppose that's one of the things that separates professionals from hobbyists: writing when you don't feel like it.

I saw that Love To Know is looking for writer/editors for their business section. Editors are expected to add 10-20 articles a month. Can I do it? Sure. Probably. Maybe.

OK, yes I can do it. But it's likely to mean that I will sometimes be writing about things that bore me (another skill to learn as a professional writer). And it's scary to suddenly have commitments rather than just write when I feel like it. And that's part of the evolution of my career which is a good thing (I keep reminding myself). As part of my application I had to include two sample articles, but I don't have any business articles at this point. I think they were interested in the quality of writing so non-business articles would have been fine, but relevant clips are always better. So I sat down and popped out two business articles over the course of the morning. Whether or not I get that job, I'm pleased that I was able to crank out two articles on demand. I proved something to myself even if no one else cares :)

My niece starts preschool next fall and will need fewer caregivers at that time. At that point, I could get *gulp* a real job if I had to. But I don't want to. I dread the idea of going back to the wage slave life. But if I'm not making a living by then (or at least making a HECK of a lot more money than I am now) then I'm going to have to make some significant changes. The good news is that I will make more money from writing this month than I did last month. The bad news is that I will make more money from watching my sister's cat than I will from writing this month.

I've seen a lot of freelancers talk about re-evaluating their careers in light of one author's $125k Challenge. It's easy to get stuck in something safe. In any job you have to be constantly evaluating how you are going to advance your career, but that is even more important when you are self-employed. Writing for HowToDoThings isn't going to make me a million dollars. I'm getting valuable experience in the business and realities of writing, but if that's all I'm doing a year from now, then I'm just kidding myself. So I do my little jobs now, but always with an eye on career development.

Two other quick notes before I sign off. With my renewed interest in writing for trades, one of the projects I plan to do today is make a list of experts. Starting with friends and relatives, then extending out to acquaintances and friends-of-friends, it would be good to have a list of potential interview subjects. This may even inspire a few ideas.

Also, I've finally got around to reading "Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer" by Jenna Glatzer. I bought this to show my support during Absolute Write's troubles a few months back and it's been sitting in my to-do pile since then. It's great! I'm getting a lot of good information from it and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Trade Magazines Revisited

I'm aware that I'm not going to make a living writing articles for HTDT (especially as infrequently as I get one out). At some point I need to focus on more lucrative writing and I've been thinking about what that should be.

A while back I mentioned the appeal of writing for trade magazines. That idea has been sitting in the back of my brain for a while and recently I decided to do a little more research.

I have spend the last several days out on my patio in the lovely Phoenix weather perusing the Writer's Market section on trade publications. Previously I skimmed this section and nothing leapt out at me, but this time I read every entry and noted ones of interest. I found over 50 interesting leads paying at least ten cents a word (and several over a dollar a word). Some of them require their authors to be experts, but many of them simply want people who can interview and write for experts. Once I thought about it I realize that my circle of family and friends includes an artist, two nurses, a paramedic, a network administrator, plus several government employees, engineers, and scientists. I also have contact with far too many therapists and doctors because of my niece, plus weaker links to the mortgage industry, real estate, veterinary science, and others. I'm quite encouraged by this and hope this is the beginning of a better path for me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Don't do me any favors

I want to say one more thing on my rant from before, then I'll stop and get back to writing about writing (or, more accurately, not writing about writing).

The thing that I see in the writing community that I haven't seen in other communities I've been part of is the condescending expert. These are the people who are successful writers and think that gives them reason to savage all the newbies. People new the the business ask stupid questions (and contrary to popular believe, there ARE stupid questions, though that doesn't mean you shouldn't still ask them) and these self-appointed forum police proceed to tear them to pieces and tell them how stupid they are. Their rationale is always the same: "I'm doing you a favor. You have to get used to this kind of abuse in the writing business." They say this as though the entire writing business is a tank of sharks waiting for some tender morsal to devour.

As a writer, yes you will need to learn to accept criticism and rejection. "You are an idiot" is not criticism; it's insult. And yes, writers will occasionally come across people who mistake insult for criticism. But so do butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We all learn at a young age that the world is full of people who have to make themselves big by making everyone else small. And all of us, not just writers, have to learn to deal with them.

Kids who grow up with verbally abusive parents don't grow up tough. They grow up to be weak and self-loathing. Employees who are abused by their bosses don't do better work. They are more likely to slack off (or just quit and find a human boss). People are not "helping" by being vicious and nasty. They are just being vicious and nasty.

You deal with someone like this just like you deal with the guy who screams at you in traffic. You can scream back, but that doesn't fix anything. They aren't suddenly going to apologize or turn into nice guys. One of the best ways to deal with a bully is to ignore him. In some forums you can go one better and add them to your ignore list so you don't even have to see their tiresome, venomous posts (though you still have to read about people reacting to their posts).

You've heard the old joke about the woman who says to the stumbling man, "Sir, you are drunk," to which the man replies, "And you're ugly, but tomorrow I'll be sober." I'll get past being a neophyte, but you, sir, will be a jackass forever.

Oh, and in actual writing news, I got another article done: How To Recover Floppy Disk Data.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Can't we all just get along?

It never fails. Any internet community always has to have trivial issues that divide people and lead to pointless bickering. And there is always some minority that has to adopt the "my way or the highway" attitude.

As I get more familiar with the writing community, the common argument I see is "live to write" versus "write to live".

The "live to write" philosophy is that writing is art and should be pure and unsullied by such things as monetary gain. They love to quote Asimov's "I write for the same reason I breathe" line. At the opposite end we have the "write to live" who see writing purely as a method to make money and if they could make more money shoveling manure they'd give up writing in a second.

The "love to write" people are shocked, SHOCKED, that anyone would take a business like attitude to the creation of art. The "write to love" faction get condescending towards the naive attitude that there is anything other than money in the world. And they fight and moan and pollute forums with their endless abuse of equine corpses.

In the end, who cares? If Pollyana Peters wants to create beautiful poetry that she publishes for free, who is she harming? If Myron Moneybags writes junk internet content or scripts for porn movies, so what? Move on with your lives, people.

People can handle disagreement on one of three ways: discussion, debate, or argument.

In a discussion, each side presents their views and that's it. There is not right or wrong. There is no attempt to convert. Person A drives a subcompact because they like the mileage. Person B drives a mid-sized because they like the headroom. No harm done.

In debate, each side is trying to convince each other. It's civilized and mature, but there is the goal of changing someone's mind. Subcompacts use less gas and produce fewer emissions, so it is wrong to drive a larger car. Mid-sized cars are safer, so it is wrong to drive the smaller cars especially if you have children.

Arguments are pretty much screaming and namecalling. If you drive an SUV, the terrorists win. If you don't drive an SUV, the terrorists win.

So in a nutshell:
Discussion - I'm OK, you're OK
Debate - I'm right, you're wrong
Argument - I'm right, you're an idiot

I enjoy discussion and like hearing other points of view. I dislike debate. I detest argument, particularly on the internet. The anonimity factor magnifies the emotions involved and I have seen flamewars of truly staggering proportions. I have walked away from communities (no writing communities so far) where everything gets drowned in the constant roar of argument. I stay out of political and religious forums because very, VERY few people can discuss these subjects calmly, so it's sad when a trivial subject adopts religious importance.

I don't usually rant here, but I've just come across a lot of examples of this today and it's sucked the life out of me. Hey, another excuse not to write ;)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The cat is sleeping in my computer chair

Yes, that is one of they many feeble excuses I use to avoid working. Other excuses include "I can't work because I need to <insert errand>" (of course, the errand doesn't actually get run which gives me an excuse for tomorrow), "I can't work when the weather is so beautiful", "I can't work when the weather is so awful" (OK, I don't get to use that one very often in Phoenix), as well as a whole lot of excuses involving my niece.

Among all of this not working, I managed to get another article published: How To Understand Infant Cognitive Development.