Tag Archives: Freelance Writing

Why I Love Working From Home

I love looking out the window in the dead of winter at 20 inches of snow, topped by ½ an inch of ice and knowing I don’t have to go anywhere…

No coat, no car keys, no struggle to get down our 140 foot driveway…just the heavy questions of what type of tea to drink and how soon my oatmeal will be ready.   I can do all of my work inside – research, interviews, even photo-gathering.  I can start at 5AM or 5PM.  I can break for 5 minutes or 5 hours, surf the net, talk on my phone or pet my puppies.

No one hovers over my shoulder telling me how to do the very job they hired me to do in the first place.  No co-workers shuffle from foot to foot while explaining why their bit of the project isn’t done yet using excuses that usually run in one of three veins:

1.       Didn’t really understand what it was I wanted them to do.

2.       Understood what it was I wanted them to do but didn’t know how to do it.

3.       Didn’t like what it was I wanted them to do so they did something else.

Believe me, after 35 years in the world of business, I have heard every lame excuse for not doing the work you are being paid to do.  And frankly, it is a joy to get up every morning knowing I don’t have to listen to one more lame reason for taking the money and not doing the job.

One other bonus that I especially love — being able to listen to some of my favorite shows like Inspector Morse – running in the background, warming my heart and reminding me about the wit, intellect and humor of Colin Dexter.

I may not make as much money as I did in the corporate world but I must say there is a whole lot to be said for working from home.  Think I’ll just go make another cup of tea.

Ice, snow and no need to travel.

The benefit of working from home, ice, snow and no need to travel.

 

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One Writer’s Mistakes – Buying But Not Reading

Writing has been in my blood for decades.  Words dance in my head from the moment I wake up to the moment my head drops onto the pillow.  Successful as a writer for magazines, professional groups and web sites, I still long for success as a writer of the Great American Novel — a wonderful goal that, at my current rate, I will never reach.

Why?  Because I persist in making all the mistakes that novice writers make starting with a common one — buying books — not reading or writing them.  I consider this…

Mistake #1

I am surrounded by books — on my desk, in the bookcase, on my nightstand, even in my car!   Pick a day or an hour and you will find me with two or three books “in progress.”  But somehow, with all that information filling every space in my rooms and in my head, this reader and writer has managed to ignore some of the best advice in the world.  I buy books on writing…but I don’t read them.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s book Steering The Craft languishes on my shelf beside Artful Sentences, Writing Dialogue and Modus Operandi.  I could start a lending library with all the books I own.  But instead of reading them, I dust them , look fondly at the titles and think about cracking one open until life intercedes and the books go back to gathering dust and fading in the sunlight.

Well, they did until last week when I idly picked up James Cross Giblin‘s Guide to Writing Children’s Books.  Giblin  has authored twenty-five books of his own and in his years at Clarion Books helped grow its titles to 400 books in print.  The man knows the children’s book market and he shares ideas, resources and just plain common sense advice in his guide.

I wrote my whole YA novel with that book sitting about six feet from my elbow.  Three hundred pages, three rewrites and my novel is still in the “shopping” stage.  Now, only two words dance in my head…if only.

So while I wrestle with the fact that I had insight and wisdom sitting on my shelf and chose to ignore it, here’s hoping that other, aspiring authors can learn from my mistake.  Don’t just buy books – read them!  Even the bad ones have something to offer.

There are many more writer’s mistakes to explore.  In the coming weeks, a few more mistakes that can derail your writing and a few more ways to avoid them.

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Filed under Business writing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Medical Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Articles, Writing for the Web, Writing Resources

Writing for The Examiner; An Exercise in Stupidity

Okay, I will admit it.  I was appealed to by the idea that I could write on a topic I love – horses – and get regional exposure.  So I signed on to write for The Wilmington Examiner.  I went through the application process and they did a background check on me that would have made a police department blush.  I was found “fit for writing” and given a chance to provide content to them.

I wrote for them from September 16th of 2009 until March of 2010.  Six months ago I stopped writing for them.  I held off posting this because I needed to decide if I was overreacting.  I don’t think I am.

I published close to 3 dozen articles that were well-written, well thought out, contained original content and included interviews with local, regional and national experts.  Then, one morning I received an email from The Examiner “auditor” informing me that an article I posted on natural fly control was not “local”, got  a verbal slap on the wrist and was reminded that I w0uld not get paid for articles that were deemed not local.

When I was done laughing, I sent them a note telling them why I would no longer be writing for them.

If you write for the The Examiner, you really cannot be writing for money.  Local articles earn the writer $1.00.  No that is not a typo – that’s 100 pennies.  The article in question took me several hours to put together.  At my usual writing rate, I would get $200 for 4 hours of work.  By writing this article, I lost $199.00 in income.

Beyond the obvious, if I had been writing for money, why would I have spent 6 months writing solid, appealing articles about horses, horse rescue and horse care to earn a total of $12.34?  I earn 4 times that, per hour, for articles written for three magazines for which I am a regular contributor.

So this is NOT about money.  This is about trying to contribute content about a topic I love so that people who live in the tri-state area (or anywhere in the world since the web isn’t geographically limited) would have yet another resource for solid information and entertaining stories about the equestrian world.  My average page views ran 1210; Wilmington Pets ran at a rate of 1228 and the average for pets, in general was 1457.  I’d say I had a readership.

The article in question covered a topic that a LOT of equestrians are interested in and used experts from several companies/places discussing their respective products.  It was linked to different web sites which should increase traffic to The Examiner’s site and was tagged for SEO.

So, who is the editorial genius that says writing from my desk in Pennsylvania has to be limited to….well, Pennsylvania?  And why?  This article was about flies.  Flies don’t limit themselves to the tri-state area.  They aren’t restricted to ADIs or zip codes.  Last time I checked, flies tend to hang around stables and barns.  And Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland are… duh…in horse country.

If The Examiner wants to incent writers to leave their enterprise, this is the way to do it.  As a former journalist and a frequent contributor to several magazines with readerships in the hundreds of thousands, I find their approach short-sighted and insulting.  I have written my entire life and the product that I produced for their web site was  top drawer.

The operative word in that last sentence is “was.”  I officially resigned and have not written for the Examiner since the email from the auditor.  To their credit, the auditor did send me an apology for the email but the damage was done.  Theirs is a business model that works for them but, not, I would wager for 99% of the writers toiling over articles for this company.  If you are a writer and you are smart, you will save your words for someone who appreciates the effort, literally and figuratively.

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Filed under Copywriting, Equestrian Articles, Freelance Writing, Mid-Atlantic Horse Stories, Writing About Horses, Writing Articles

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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Writing and Positioning and Marketing, Oh My!

I am working on a piece for a holistic health and wellness facility and find that this is more difficult than writing about the recent face transplant surgery or telling the story about living legend, nurse Gail Russell.  Sure, this is a story like all the rest but there are some twists and turns here that add to the complexity.

How do you position a group of healthcare professionals who are trained in Western medicine but steeped in Eastern healing practices?  Sounds like the best of both world but one challenge is making the services they offer make sense to the target market they are trying to reach — educated, affluent men and women who are looking for ways to get healthy and skeptical of anything smacking of “new age.”

As with most of my assignments, I am starting with research – demographic and psychographic.  Who are these people?  What healthcare challenges are they facing?  How do they view Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM)?  What message will resonate with them and move them to use this group of highly-trained professionals?

Early research on Google Ad Words shows there is a real need for these services in the Pennsylvania – Delaware – Maryland area.  Now it is just a case of digging and figuring out what to say to whom about everything from stress and anxiety management to cranial sacral manipulation, to energy healing and self-hypnosis.

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Assigning Your Own Stories? Advice on Getting Started

What happens when an editor decides to move from handing out assignments to making you responsible for finding your own stories?

At first, it can be a little scary.  How do you get started?  Where do you start?

It’s a little easier if you have been writing for that editor and for the magazine for awhile.  You know the topic areas the magazine covers and you know what kind of stories the editor likes.   But even if you haven’t, even if you are new to the publication, there are some basic steps you can take to begin to wrap your arms around being your own assignment editor.

First, hold a call with the editor or drop by for a quick meeting.  This gives you a chance to ask some questions and make sure that both of you have the same understanding of just what your new role is.  Here are some of the questions I ask and the reasons why I ask them.

  1. What story types are you looking for – cover stories?  Features?  Profiles?   One editor I work for covers 7 states and has two regional editions to fill.  I would love to do cover stories for her because I earn the most money from covers but I can’t assume that’s what the editor has in mind.  So ask where can you be the biggest help to this editor?  You will pitch the right stories but you will also begin to build a stronger relationship with the editor because you are making his or her life easier.
  2. Do you have an editorial calendar that I can review?   This can really help you start to think through topics that might fit into that month’s issue or this quarter’s volume.  Your story ideas will fit better if you know what the editorial direction of the publication is.
  3. Are there any topic areas of special interest?  Most editors know their audiences so well that finding stories is easy for them.  This question helps you to make it easier for you, too. 
  4. How many stories will you be able to take from me?  Editors usually have a stable of freelance writers that they like to work with so they may only be asking for one or two story ideas a month from you.  That takes a little pressure off your back and makes it easier for you to find and flesh out story ideas that really might interest the editor.

These few questions will help you to cut through the “gray” area that suddenly appears when you become your own assignment editor and makes it easier for you to start generating ideas.  The faster you generate them, the faster you can write them and the faster you get paid!

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Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Medical Writing, Writing Articles