The Struggling Writer

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Behold the Treadputer

I read an article in the paper yesterday about a Mayo Clinic study involving having office workers walk on slow treadmills while working at the computer. The discovered that, contrary to their assumptions, there was no trouble typing, reading, concentrating, etc. After a day or so to get used to it, they were all doing their jobs normally.

I poked around and apparently it's old news. The Mayo study is from 2005 so I'm not sure why it was in a recent article, unless maybe there have been more conclusions from the study. I don't have the paper here anymore to re-read it. Anyhow, lots of people are doing it. The treadmills run at 0.7-1.1 mpg depending on the user. It burns a ton of calories and these people are losing weight and getting healthy.

Some people build sophisticated integrated systems. Some people just slap a piece of plywood across the handles of the treadmill and put a laptop on it.

I want one.

Here are a few links I found:

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Personal projects

I've often heard the same lament from writers: we have to spend so much time doing projects that pay the bills that we don't have time to work on projects that are important to us.

A while back, a group of people from a neurology support forum I used to frequent decided to try writing a book on hydrocephalus. As those who follow this blog know, that's a subject with a lot of personal relevance. There is only one hydrocephalus book out there aimed at adult laymen and the market could use another.

Recently the woman overseeing this emailed me to ask if I was still on board. I had to say that I wasn't.

Part of it is that I can't devote the time it would take considering the small payout that would likely be waiting at the end. When I'm a little more secure in my career I can take a few more chances, but not right now.

Another problem is that it's a group effort by a bunch of people who as near as I can tell have no professional writing experience among them. They are doling out chapters willy-nilly among people of wildly disparate backgrounds and writing ability. The project will require extensive editing to turn it into something publishable and with a common voice. The whole "hey, kids, let's put on a show" attitude doesn't work in publishing. If they want to produce a professional piece, they will need a ghost writer and will need to come up with a hefty chunk of money for that up front.

I suspect it will end up at a vanity publisher and circulated only among the members of this support group. That's not a bad thing, mind you, but that's not the same as a commercially viable work.

I hope that a couple of years from now I will be kicking myself for bailing out. I hope they put together a good book that contributes good information to people with hydrocephalus and their families and friends. I hope the book is a huge success, widely circulated, critically acclaimed, and makes tons of money.

I also would be thrilled to hear they all won the lottery.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Opportunity knocks

I've talked occasionally about my pending grant writing opportunity. My niece's ophthalmologist needs funding for a research project and wants me to write the grant proposals. It's been on the back burner for a while, but it looks I will be starting it this summer.

Recently my niece was getting fitted for new ankle braces. I was chatting with her orthotist and mentioned I was a freelance writer. She asked me what kind of writing I do and I mentioned that I'm doing mostly website content now but I'm expanding into other things such as this grant project. Guess what. She has a website she's been waiting a year(!) for content on, and she wants to start a non-profit organization and doesn't have time to do the grant writing herself.


One grant project under my belt would have been nice, but if I can get two then I've got a solid foundation to start pursuing other grant opportunities. I guess that helps me narrow down the kind of writing I want to do.

I'm smart enough to know that casual chit-chat is not the same as a firm commitment, but at least I've got some good possibilities. I'm getting better about mentioning to people I'm a writer and following up on hints about jobs.

Consider my cousin, who is a very talented painter but doesn't have a business-oriented bone in his body. He could easily make a living but he's not willing to play the games he'd need to. OK, I respect that, but you can get silly about it. He did a wonderful portrait (on commission) of my brother after he died. At my mother's wake a few years later, I approached him about doing a companion portrait of her. He blew me off and changed the subject. He just wasn't in a business mood. I never bothered following up (nor did he) so he missed an opportunity for an easy commission.

You never know when a job will pop up. You don't have to be smarmy about it (I think of Robin Williams in Cadillac Man, giving his business card to a widow at her husband's funeral) but you have to keep your ears open.

Friday, June 01, 2007

When good (or mediocre) writers go bad

Recently there's been a bit of a kerfluffle over some writers who are sabotaging online ads in an effort to minimize the competition. Other writers have been getting angry at this, which is certainly understandable, but this practice doesn't bother me. I don't even feel a little irritation. Pity maybe, but not irritation.

Why? Well, I have two reasons.

First of all, these sabotaging writers aren't real competition. People who resort to these kinds of tactics do so because they can't compete on a level playing field. I'm a lot more threatened by talented writers who act professionally and are good at marketing themselves (you bunch of bastiges). The saboteurs, I suspect, are the types who play at freelancing for six months, then go away mad complaining that a) it's all luck, b) it's all a secret society, c) it's all the outsourcing to India, or d) it's all a government conspiracy.

I firmly believe that anyone can make a living, and a very good living, as a freelance writer if they take the right steps. That includes becoming a better writer (even if you've been at this 20 years you can still improve), aggressive marketing (every writer's least favorite part of the job), treating clients with respect (if these people backstab other writers, how do you think they are going to treat their clients?), and generally behaving like a grownup.

The second reason I'm not bothered by this is that online ads, while a nice source of occasional income, shouldn't be your only source of projects. It's just like hunting for a real job. If all you do is open the paper every morning and circle a couple of classified ads, you are going to be out of work for a long time. Active marketing is a key part to long-term success.

Am I good at active marketing? Heck no. Am I getting better? Slowly. I'm not one who likes to talk about myself, but I'm getting better at dropping into casual conversation that I'm a freelance writer. Two of the most lucrative projects I have on the horizon came from having people say, "Really? Well I need some writing done. Let's talk."

I honestly do feel sorry for these people because they are missing the point. They will end up as corporate cogs someday because they blew their freelance opportunity. I want other people to succeed at writing, that's the real reason behind this blog. If my silly mistakes and limited experience can help someone step out of the crowd of writing hobbyists into the realm of writing professionals, that's great! There is plenty of work out there for all of us and we are all stronger writers when we help each other.