Monthly Archives: September 2009

Freelance Wanted, Sort of…

This is a story about a freelance job that looked good but, by the end of the process, smelled bad.

Like many freelancers, I troll Craigs List a lot, looking for opportunities.  Most of the time, I am looking for writing jobs but every once in a while, an ad of a different color attracts my attention like the ad for transcriptionists.

The company, Focus Forward, is willing to pay $10 for every 15 minutes of transcribed tape.  Since I transcribe my own interviews all the time and am pretty fast at transcription, I thought I could make a few fast dollars doing something interesting and easy.  I applied.  It wasn’t all that easy.

First of all, you have to download transcription software.  Then you have to download the “rules” for transcription, transcribe a test tape and send it in for “inspection.”  I was fine with the software download.  I was fine with doing the test.  I ran into trouble with the “rules.”  They have a LOT of rules that are not logically ordered and contradictory.  But I decided to play the game.

Here’s a company that states, right in the rules, that you have to transcribe the audio tape, verbatim.  Last time I looked, that meant word for word.  In those same rules, however, they have a whole list of words and verbalized pauses that they don’t want transcribed.  Problem #1.

They also carefully call out that you have to transcribe everything including the conversation at the end…but don’t mention the conversation at the beginning. So transcribe everything but not really.  Transcribe the conversation at the end…but no mention of the beginning.   Problem #2

And Focus Forward gives you ways to cover words that are either not clearly stated on the tape or not at all familiar to you.  You are told to use [PH] to indicate you are spelling the word phonetically if you can’t hear or don’t recognize it.  I used this device for a drug name I had never heard of but that was called out as incorrect in the transcript.  Problem #3.

I got a snarky email informing me I didn’t make the cut.  Failure to type the intro conversation about the weather and vacation was fatal.  I also use [PH], capitalized celiac and spelled Super Fresh as one word.

Freelancers everywhere probably have similar stories of making an honest effort to meet all the requirements of a prospective client only to be washed out NOT for lack of skill or lack of trying but for being utterly unable to jump through hoops that are tangled up like spaghetti.  If, when that happens to you, remember…it really isn’t your problem.

BTW Focus Forward is STILL looking for transcribers.  I wonder why?

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Filed under Business writing, Freelance Writing, Medical Writing

News Versus Articles – What’s the difference?

The first difference between a news story and an article is simple — a news story MUST be balanced.  All angles and parties have to be represented.  That means doing your homework, getting the background and contacting  interested parties.  It is more work but only telling one side of a story ensures prejudicing the content and perhaps, the reader, to one interest group’s point of view.

Another difference is this is one place where what the author thinks about any element in the story is just not relevant, at all.  The story should be told by the people involved with the writer only providing bridges where necessary.  For example, here is an excerpt from a story on an internal dispute within a union.  I have removed the names and titles of the people quoted because this story has not been published yet but notice how the quotes are used.

“The leadership sees fit to railroad this through the membership by limiting information, restricting the vote by having it a “must be present” vote… in the most remote location in the state, in the middle of the week in the middle of the day. What a sham.  There are 20,000 of us shift working … and they really expects us ‘to be present’ to vote at the most important vote in the history of our union? I don’t think so.”

“That is a totally inaccurate statement and it’s unreasonable,” says XXXX, President of the Board of Directors of the union.  “We have been talking about this for quite some time.”

Do all your interviews.  Transcribe your notes.  Let the interviewees tell the story and follow this old journalism rule — include who, what, when, where and why.  It’s a simple rule but a good one.  The trick is to pack as much of that information into the beginning of the story as possible then flesh these elements out and let the people you interview tell their story in their words.

If you have done your job well, neither side will be able to claim victory.


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Filed under Freelance Writing

What Makes A Writer Run

I was standing in a store yesterday waiting while someone tried to figure out how to mail the manuscript for my first novel to a publisher in Canada when, suddenly, right there, my next novel started to write itself.

Granted, I have had the idea and the high level outline for this one in my head for about 9 months but my character was strangely quiet. Then, while watching the various characters come in and out of this store, each with his or her own story, each wearing their hopes and dreams on their faces, Trish started to speak and I was ready for her.

One thing a writer is NEVER without is pen and paper so I whipped out my pad and wrote the words as fast as I could, barely keeping up with her/me. If you want to write, carry the gear. Guess why?

Because the way it comes into your head the first time you hear it is almost always the best way to write it! Even 15 minutes later, chances are you just won’t be able to capture the thought, the words, the scene the same way. And believe me, there is nothing worse than trying to remember the moment of inspiration.

So be prepared, listen and when the talking starts….start writing!

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Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing