Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year, New Goals, New Resolutions

I'm not one for lofty unrealistic resolutions. It's just a set-up for disaster and disappointment. I am however all for realistic goals and positive thinking. So here is my list of resolutions/goals for 2010 - I think these are ideas every freelancer can strive for.
  1. Become more confident in my own skill set and abilities. (women are especially bad at this.) But positive thinking. I'm a darn good writer and I plan to become an even better one by never selling myself short and pushing myself to reach beyond what is the easy answer.
  2. Demand to be compensated justly. If I've learned anything this year, it's never agree to work for free and never assume you are going to be paid for work already delivered. I got burned twice this year and plan to avoid that in 2010.
  3. Network more. With social media it has never been easier to network, share 'war' stories, and get advice from others in the field. By being active on LinkedIn, Twitter and various blogs I'm hoping to grow my base of contacts.
  4. Give back. Beyond giving my time to worthy causes, I want to make sure I give more to the younger set of journalists out there who are struggling to figure out what the hell they've gotten themselves into. Offer advice, encouragement, and the reality of the situation.
  5. Broaden my horizons. In 2010 I'd like to have more bylines from a wider variety of publications. Whether it is guest blogging or articles in publications the goal is portfolio growth and personal development in the process.
  6. Publish my novel. OK this one I have a little bit of a say in, but at this point it's the literary agents who make or break this first attempt at novel writing. I'm going to do my part... pitch, pitch, and pitch again. And then fingers crossed this goal will happen!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Novel Status Update

I have three major things to be excited for when it comes to the current status of the young adult novel I am trying to get published.

One: I FINISHED the edits. This is the third round of edits and I did some major line and scene editing to really sharpen up the book. I wanted to make sure each scene and each line furthered the story along and wasn't superfluous fluff. It was a task that has literally taken me 6 months! Hopefully the time spent editing was worth it.

Two: Since I am finished, I get to start writing another novel attempt. I've been very disciplined over the last year, refusing to start a new story until this one was fully edited and ready to be presented to literary agents. I'm so excited I don't know where to begin...

Three: Starting in the New Year I plan to send query letters and a portion of the manuscript to at least 30 agents. (I've already gotten my first rejection - which oddly enough made me very happy. I think it's because now this whole thing seems real.) I've already begun research on the agents that I hope to submit to, and like a super-nerd have bookmarked each person's individual requirements. I've even started a word document that details each agent so I can personalize the letters. The morning of January 14th will be spent e-mailing each individually. Yay!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Go Ahead Ask the Question in Writing

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn posed the debate about sources answering questions in writing. His blog entry 'Let Me Ask You This Question In Writing' debates that a written response from a source isn't anti-journalism as some claim it to be. And I'd have to agree.

Admittedly, I use written responses to queries/questions often in writing. To me it’s a way of getting the solid facts needed for a story and gives the source a chance to think through their responses. I’ve found that most of the time a written answer is more easily quotable and more factual than a telephone conversation.

Does it work for every type of story? No. The interviews where you need to dig deep and ask pointed follow-up questions in the hopes of catching someone off guard and getting the full truth need to be done in a person-to-person or at least voice-to-voice method.

To me, here are the benefits of written answers from sources:

  • Facts, facts, facts. The source can verify the important facts and figures before sending them over. And in the reporting, a writer is less likely to misunderstand or misquote information.
  • It values thought. When someone is writing out an answer they usually don’t fill a paragraph with nonsense. On the other hand when talking to someone, it is usually pretty easy for a source to wax on about a topic giving information that is neither crucial nor important to the story.
  • It works with both schedules. Receiving written responses to queries can work in a reporter’s favor. Maybe the source doesn’t have time to dedicate to a 15-minute phoner, but who doesn’t have time to answer a couple questions with the blackberry that is attached at the hip all day long? Likewise for a reporter working on a number of stories at once this helps clear your schedule.
  • Faster follow-up. After a phone interview you might have one or two small details you wish to follow up on. Placing a phone call to the source and then waiting for that person to call you back and hoping you are by your desk so you don’t begin a game of phone tag can be frustrating. With e-mailed responses it’s easy and time efficient to shoot an e-mail with a follow-up and have the source confirm or expand upon a particular point.
  • It protects your reporting. An e-mail trail of the conversation can protect you with solid proof that the source told you something exactly as it is portrayed in the article. These e-mails are a gold-mine especially if a PR person calls upset about the piece, or your boss wants to confirm the facts before the story goes live.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What's Urgent, What's Important, What's Both, What's Neither?

If you were working in cubicle life involving bosses looking over your shoulder, content meetings and brainstorming sessions you'd also have drop-dead deadlines from your editor. That knowledge is usually enough to scare you into producing content by the due time. But... It's a whole other story when you are your own boss.

Sure, your bank account will know if you didn't get that pitch sent out on time or weren't prompt with getting an outline to a potential client, but no one else will know. And let's face it, sometimes just staying on Twitter another 30 minutes is more appealing then getting the needed words down on paper.

When being your own one-man (or woman) show, you've got to establish the same sort of drop-dead time limits. If you train yourself to respect these self-imposed deadlines your work will get done better and faster than it would when put off indefinitely.
This takes a whole hell of a lot of self discipline.

What works for me is a simple chart.

Each morning take a look at your pendings. Separate them into four categories: urgent/important, not urgent/important, urgent/not important, not urgent/not important. For instance: the article that should be sent to the editor by the end of the day is urgent/important. The phone bill due in two weeks is not urgent/important. Painting your nails is not urgent/not important (most of the time). Taking advantage of a sale on a new bluetooth you don't technically need is urgent/not important.

Look at those in the urgent/important category and make reasonable but demanding goals for completing these items today. Still have time? Move to the items listed in the not urgent/important category and then to the urgent/not important division. Afterall it is crucial for you to get your phone bill paid. It's not crucial to get the new bluetooth, even if it would be nice.

True, this way the not urgent/not important things won't get done today and probably won't even get done this week. Fine. That's OK. Interestingly enough, if you break up things this way you'll see that when procrastinating you are a lot more likely to work on the not urgent/not important things because they are less stressful and usually more enjoyable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Split Writing Personalities... Identity Crisis

As I logged out of one google account and into another one, I got to thinking how my brain is constantly running through a number of different professional and personal personalities. Somehow in person this does not come across as insane, but on my computer it means 10 constantly-open tabs, a handful of email accounts to track, several blogs on different hosting sites, two twitter accounts and general mayhem.

Even with all the craziness I still manage to get quality assignments completed on time. I'm just becoming the queen of short attention spans when it comes to the internet. 20 minutes posting on one blog, seconds on twitter, minutes responding to e-mails, 10 minutes reading someone else's blog and commenting, check the blackberry, seconds on twitter, a couple minutes on facebook, an hour writing and researching business articles, seconds on twitter, check the blackberry, 20 minutes photographing things in the day, check the blackberry, phone calls, an hour researching fashion ideas, seconds on twitter, minutes on facebook, an sporadic hour creeping on other fashion bloggers, 30 minutes on youtube, an hour reading literary agents' blogs.... you get the picture.

I'm crazy. I'm a freelancer. I love it.

Does anyone else have this problem? How do you balance?

For me I think the problem is the fact that I am interested in too many things:
Fashion - yep got a blog for that.
Commercial real estate - yeah, that too. I've got a great writing gig for that.
Fiction writing - never go a day where I don't pen at least a line or two.
Design - always thinking about creating new clothing pieces or accessories now I'm starting an Etsy shop.
Blogs - doesn't even matter too much what the topic is. I've pretty sure I could blog about rain daily.
Photography - Can I be creative with pictures? Let's do it.
Running - Ever since the Chicago marathon I'm interested in all things marathon related.

So with all of this in mind... my goal for December is to set a New Year's resolution to find ways to streamline life. Stay tuned for the final resolution, which could involve new business ideas, freelancing schemes, who knows...

Just for kicks....
My fashion blog: ModlyChic
My photography blog: UnHindered Photos

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What the Best Writing Teachers Do, How We Freelancers Can Improve From Their Teaching Tools

This afternoon I read an article published on Poynter Online titled "What the Best Writing Teachers Do, How Students Can Learn From Them." The points on what the best teachers do got me thinking about freelancers. We are often, our own teacher in the business. There aren't many bosses overlooking our work ethic, our start times, our lunch breaks. We don't have anyone holding us to daily quotas other than our own get-up-and-go. So without these teachers to learn from, how can we become better writers too?

Using the points from the article as a launching pad, here are my thoughts:
  • Encourage students to write every day... For a writer, a day not spent penning words is one we aren't working on our craft. And the more we write, the better we become.
  • Teach writing as a process... Writing is always a process. Don't be discouraged when there are days when writing a paragraph feels like counting all the grains of sand in the world. Sure, it's tedious at times. But that doesn't mean the words aren't there.
  • Confer with student writers throughout the process... Take advantage of opportunities to meet with other writers, especially other freelancers. This doesn't have to be face-to-face, even just creating a relationship via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and e-mail can be beneficial.
  • Connect reading and writing... You're a better writer the more you read. And to really stretch yourself try reading things that aren't in your specific niche. Reading things out of the ordinary can broaden horizons and increase vocabulary.
  • Offer appropriate praise and encouragement -- as well as correction... Take corrections like a pro. Instead of letting them get you down, or fuming over an editors changes take the opportunity to learn from it. Even if the change is off-the-wall-crazy there is still something you can take away from the experience.
  • Give opportunities for revision... For writers - the better wording would be: Give yourself time for revisions. How many times have we penned something under deadline, handed it in and then thought of a way to improve the sentence structure or paragraph flow? Give yourself time. (although I've yet to meet a journalist who doesn't claim to EXCEL under pressure)
  • Believe that all students, not just the "stars" can improve their writing... A personal story on this... in junior high I had to take one of those PSAT prep tests and at the time I had just started writing little stories about my family and friends. When the results came home, my parents wouldn't let me see them. They said it wasn't important. Four years later I found out they kept the scores from me because the area I scored the worst in was writing. It became my best score on all the tests in high school. Writing is inborn and learned.

Yup, I'm Writing a YA Novel

Actually... I wrote a young adult novel. I'm in the editing stages now. I've been in the editing stages for more than 12 months. Ouch.

I'm a firm believer in the concept that if something is written down it is more likely to happen than if it is just a personal thought/goal/ambition. So, to kick my butt in gear I'm going to chronicle this process on here. (Don't worry I won't only write about trying to get published.)

Here's the current status:
I've completed the third round of revisions on a hard copy of the manuscript and am 75% done with transferring the edits to the Word document. From there I am going to read through the book one more time for any glaring errors/problems/conflicts; and then... I'm sending it out to literary agents.
I've started looking into agents. A number of them have excellent blogs that talk a lot about their profession, the type of writing they are looking for, how to write a pitch letter, etc... I'm locking away all that info in the back of my mind to pull it out in a week or two when I am ready to take that HUGE leap and submit the book for consideration.

Scary. Exciting. I can't wait for the process to begin. (Is that weird?)