The Struggling Writer

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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

My last three LTK articles

Since I know you just can't live without knowing, I've posted the last of my LoveToKnow Business articles: How To Start a Home Based Business, Search Engine Optimization Services, and Sales Reports.


Behold the power of the Internet

Once upon a time there was a woman who needed a writer. She fired up her computer to post an ad on craigslist. Before doing so, she decided to check her RSS feeds. She saw Tom Chandler had updated his blog and read his latest entry. She followed that entry to the blog of a struggling writer. "Hmm," she said to her self, "I need a writer, he needs work, he seems to be able to string words together. What the heck." And she called the struggling writer and offered him the work.


Some of it is keyword stuffing: taking existing web pages and adding keywords without making it look like I'm deliberately baiting search engines. Boring, but easy. Some of it will be original content, but at a better rate than I've made from past projects. If she's right about the projected workload, it will cover about half of what I need to be making every month.

When it comes to business, your strong network is the people you have direct contact with. Your weak network is all of THEIR friends and contacts. I remember reading an article long ago that people get most of their work from the weak network. You don't get jobs from your friends; you get them from your friend's hairdresser's brother-in-law's dogwalker. The Internet is the ultimate weak networking tool.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A followup to my previous post

Considering some emails I've received, perhaps I need to clarify something about my last post.

I'm not trashing LoveToKnow. I'm not trashing web content or low paying gigs. My point was merely to illustrate the kind of cost-benefit analysis any freelancer needs to make when evaluating a project. I had considered couching it in anonymous terms, but anyone with an IQ over 5 would have been able to piece it together from my previous posts so I didn't see the point.

I was shocked when I saw that I had a HUGE increase in readers after posting that entry. I was afraid I had become the center of a firestorm; personally I hate controversy and have no interest in being mired in it. It turns out that Deborah Ng had accidentally put my blog address in one of her job links, so a bunch of people stumbled over here by mistake. Maybe I picked up a couple more regular readers.

Tom Chandler was one of those accidental readers, and he used my post the basis for Writing Cheap? The Five Steps Every Struggling Writer Should Take.

He brought up the point of intangibles, which is an important one. My LTK decision didn't come out of a calculator. The money was merely one aspect. I already mentioned that I had a good editor and was learning from her, which made me hesitant to leave. Tom also mentions that this kind of assignment can help you build a portfolio of clips, which was another one of my motivations to give them a try. In addition to writing for them, I was training to be site editor. That credential might have made people think I actually know what I'm doing (the fools!).

Studies have shown (I have no reference to back this up - this is a piece of trivia from my own brain) that employees will rate salary fairly low in priority compared to intangibles such as being treated with respect, advancement opportunities, or simply having fun on the job. Everyone talks about salary because it's easy to quantify and compare. Job A pays more than job B so must be "better".

In the end, I listened to my gut. I learned a long time ago that my subconscious mind is much smarter than my conscious one. I just knew this was the right decision for me.

Tom has some other good points in his post. Many of them you probably already know, but they bear repeating so go take a look at what he has to say.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Hard Decision

One of the hardest aspects of being a freelancer is knowing when to walk away from the work. This is particularly true when you haven't got any backup.

After a month at LoveToKnow, I've decided to leave. When I first looked into them I was put off by the pay ($15 for a 650-word article), but Deborah Ng talked them up in her blog so I decided to give them a try. They seem like a good crowd and Betsy Gallup was a great editor. I learned a lot from her and that was one reason I wanted to stay.

But it's $15/article.

I have a mortgage to pay. I knew that the secret to success in that arena was learning to pop the articles out quickly enough to earn a reasonable amount per hour. I managed to get my time down to an hour and a half per article. That's $10/hour which is too low to pay my bills, and yet my quality was really starting to suffer. It was the worst of both worlds.

After agonizing about it over the weekend, I walked away today. I let Betsy know I'd finish out my articles for the month but then I'm done. It was steady work, but if all I want is steady I can go flip burgers.

I want to pursue other article opportunities, probably in the print media rather than the web. I want to follow up on that grant writing opportunity. I talked with my cousin over the weekend who writes grants and she says NIH grants are a real specialty and some writers do nothing but. I should also push the technical writing more. I need to revise the front page of my website because it's, well, crap. I tried too hard to do the marketing thing and it sounds just awful.

I've probably said this before, but it bears repeating: a freelancer who forgets about career development is dead. It is important in any job, but absolutely critical for the self-employed. It is too easy to get stuck in a safe job and never make what you are worth. I know this was the right decision, but it's still a tough step to take.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Writing on vacation

My writing experience has been interesting this week. I'm out of town so I've been camped out at the public libraries (which have free Wi-Fi) to get some work done. It's been a different environment than my usual work at home. I'm more focussed since I have nothing to do but work. Then again, it's harder to work for a long time because there isn't really any good way to take a break. Each day I wrote two articles in about three hours and I'm pleased that my production rate is getting better. Each day I got very antsy as I neared the end of the second article. I don't know if three hours is my limit or if my brain started to get excited that my work day was almost over. At home if I start to get restless, I get up and do something and get back to the writing later (maybe). At the library there wasn't anything to do but pace the aisles. I knew if I ran out and got lunch or something, I'd never make it back.

I've also been a good boy and reading writing books during down time at the house.

The next few days will be tough writing-wise. Today, of course, I have plans. Tomorrow we drive back. Saturday will be a day to catch up on things at home and recover from the trip; as I get older I find I need a day to recover from any travel. Sunday and Monday I will be able to work and get those last three articles out for LTK. Then the rest of the week is a bust. The nurse who cares for my niece most of the time is with her mother who is very sick, so I'll be pulling three days instead of a day and a half watching my niece. Sometimes I can get work done if she takes a long nap, but rarely. Then the month is over, so I absolutely have to get those LTK articles done Sunday and Monday. Nothing like a deadline to give you a kick in the pants.

I still would like to punch out a Learning Through History article before the end of the month, but I doubt that will happen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More articles

Posted articles on expense reports and business reports. Electrifying as always.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Two more business articles

I got two articles done after all: Annual Finance Reports and Payroll Tax Reporting. I'm hoping to do two more tomorrow.


The Procrastinator's Lament

What a week! It's the usual thing we procrastinator's face - we put stuff off until the last minute, then something blows up and we don't have time to do it all. And yet I do this over and over and over.

I had planned to have all my LTK articles done by yesterday. I don't. I have to have them done by the end of the month, no excuses. Although I'm out of town, it turns out all the libraries here have free Wi-Fi so I have a good work venue and an excuse to get away from the relatives. My hope is to finish...oh, who am I kidding? I'm not even going to set goals at this point, other than "get lots done". It probably means I won't get the Learning Through History article done this month, but the deadline is December 15 so I could get it done early next month. That means it won't count on this month's submission record, but that's my own darn fault.

I'm pleased that my editor at LTK is being patient about this. However I certainly can't do this again next month.

OK, enough wasting time. To work!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Musing on motivation

Motivation is a funny thing. I'm coming to realize that mine comes in bursts. For several days I'll work like crazy, then for several days I do nothing. I can work with that, but I need to take advantage of my up times.

Right now I'm in a low motivation period. Over the weekend I accomplished absolutely nothing constructive except the laundry. I'm now three articles behind my goal on LTK. Today is a Maria day and I'm taking care of her overnight. That means I won't sleep so I'll be exhausted tomorrow. I have a bunch of things I need to get done this week in preparation for travelling next week. That doesn't mean I won't be writing - I can't afford not to write this week - but it's going to be a bit of a challenge.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The end of a busy non-writing week

It's been a busy week for me. I had jury duty and my usual stuff with my niece so I'm a bit behind. I should have five articles up at LTK Business by now but I have only three. I plan to get caught up by Sunday.

Learning Through History is a bi-monthly magazine for children aged 9-16. They just put out a request for articles for their next two issues and I want to submit something to them for each issue. Those probably requires a little book work rather than just the usual Internet research I do, so that would be a good thing to do over Thanksgiving week when my Internet access will be limited.

My previously stated goal of "do something every day" isn't working out this month. I think it's a good goal, but it's also good to know when to let things go. I imagine things won't settle until January so now it is more a matter of "do something when I can". I will definitely make my goal of "more money this month than last month" and I stand a good chance of meeting my secondary goal of "make twice as much money this month as last month". That more money goal should be "submit a greater value of articles this month than last month" so I'm not held hostage to someone else's payment schedule. If an article gets rejected, it still counts toward the goal of submission. I also keep track of acceptance and payment separately just because I'm a statistics nerd.

One comment about LTK over How To Do Things is that I certainly get more editing feedback. HTDT has asked for only minor changes to a couple of articles. Betsy, my editor at LTK, always finds a number of corrections that improve the flow of the article. She mentioned that I use the word "will" too much. I thought that was silly until I searched for the word in one of my articles. Yikes! She fixed several examples and the text reads better. I'm still trying hard to balance time spend vs. money earned over there but it's certainly a better learning environment than HTDT and that's valuable.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Federal Tax ID Number

I just posted an article on getting a Federal Tax ID Number for your business. I'm pretty much back on track with the writing. I used my latest gift certificates from HTDT to pick up copies of "The Renegade Writer", "Chicago Manual of Style", and "Grant Writing for Dummies", re-investing my income back into the business.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

More business articles

Two more articles are up at LTK Business: Wireless Internet Service and Internet Explorer 7.0. I did a bit better on speed than I have in the past, but I wasted a HELL of a lot of time trying to find an IE7 logo then trying to find out if I could use it. I'm learning, but I still get sidetracked by stupid stuff.


Friday, November 03, 2006

A new month dawns

Well, October was an interesting month. I met one goal by beating my income for September - in fact I nearly tripled it. I missed the goal of making more from writing than watching my sister's cat while she was on vacation. The stuff with my niece really blew my production for the last part of the month.

This month I have to put out 10 articles for LTK Business. Because of the holidays I'd like to get them done early, so a goal of one article every two days would work. Which means I'm already behind. Doing that means I will beat my October income, but that isn't my only goal. I'd still like to do more HTDT articles and apply for other positions, such as the grant-writing possiblity I found before. I've sunk most of my October income into books about writing and a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.

Today is a "catch up on all the non-writing stuff that has gotten behind" day, so tomorrow should be the first day I really get back into things.