Successful Writing Assignment

I recently took on a piece for a science-based website. It was a mixed bag of an assignment, to tell the truth. I got a nice amount of money for writing it, which was great. However, I did not get a byline. I was also explicitly told by the client that I lost all rights to the article the moment I submitted it, including the ability to link to it as part of my resume. That was unfortunate, but that is just the way some assignments are. At least this company was up front about everything so I knew all of this going in.

Most things I write have to be researched, written, and then I’ll review them several times before I turn them in. Depending on how long it has to be, this can take a day, or sometimes a little more. This piece, however, took me longer than usual. I really wanted to be sure that it was accurate, concise, and informative while still being interesting to read. That was a pretty tall order! I spent a day reading other posts and articles on the site to get a feel for what their readers were used to and to be sure that my tone matched what they already had online. Then I spent another couple of days writing the information, being sure to find reputable sources to back every statement up. It was an intense project, and I felt like I could spend the rest of my life editing and honing it until I found just the right words. I had set a deadline of five days, so I finally had to stop writing and send it in.

The client was very happy with it, much to my relief. When the piece went up, I was pleasantly surprised that there were only two changes – they made the headline a little shorter and more search-engine friendly, and they swapped out a phrase somewhere in the middle. While I don’t always take changes gracefully, both of these changes didn’t bother me a bit. Headline changes are pretty standard, so that wasn’t a surprise. I was fine with the phrase they changed because it didn’t really make a difference as far as the context or tone of the piece went. I think it was more for clarity than anything.

I’ve been obsessively checking the comments because the piece is something that I’m proud of. The site itself doesn’t get major traffic, so there aren’t a lot of responses yet. The few comments that are there are interesting and mostly positive. But I was also notified that someone had linked to my piece and quoted it on their own blog, which also gets a decent amount of site traffic. That was exciting!

So, all things considered, I would say that this was one of the more successful assignments I’ve had to date. I hope that it turns into either a steady writing gig. I’d love to write more for this company and will keep my fingers crossed!

Trying to be Thrifty

Given my change in status, it is time to become thrifty and use every economy trick in the book. These days it is all about saving time and money. Forget ordering all kinds of unnecessary items online. You get hooked. Without the obligation of a full day at work, I can do things on my own to stay on an even keel. Let me open my blog adventure with my latest DIY project: building a bookcase. Okay, I know; why not go to Home Depot or Lowe’s. Remember what I said about saving money? With a few pieces of scrap wood cast off at the lumber yard, I had the materials for a very nice shelf unit. Now, I had to learn the ropes of basic woodworking as I have no experience in this realm. As most people do, I took a look at what’s available on the web at sites like https://www.woodworknation.com and YouTube. I found over one hundred. Not wanting to look at them all, I chose ten.

I found out the tools I needed to borrow, and the odds and ends I needed to finish the job like nails, wood stain, and varnish spray. I opted for a very simple type of construction entailing a bit of sawing and sanding at best. Once I had measured the scraps and trimmed them, I was ready to go. I only took a few hours. As long as you stick with open shelves, and forget any glass front, you are on the road to success. I got fancy and added a backing for the bookcase so it would be extra sturdy and hold dozens of my favorites.

In conclusion, I have to admit that the project turned out quite well and it is a nice enhancement to my home office. It is more than practical—a real piece of wood décor. I can see that woodworking can become a terrific hobby and there are so many fun things to make. Plus, you get adept at repairs. As a would-be handyman and amateur woodworker, I have a lot in front of me to keep me occupied when I am not writing. It is a great form of therapy like music or a session at the gym. If you want a well-rounded and balanced life, give cabinetry a try.

Why I Don’t Own a Pet

I am not a complainer as a rule. No one characterizes me this way. There are people however,  who bitch, bitch, bitch; but I don’t like to categorize myself as one of them. However…there is a time when you have to vent or go mad keeping it to yourself. There is no talking to the walls in my house. Instead, I open my pet peeves for all the world to see—or at least my blog readers.

What is it today? It is not my boss’s whims since I quit my job a while back to do freelance writing. It is not my brother’s demands for loans, as I am happy to help him out—up to a point. It is not my broken water heater because I got it fixed fast by a clever plumber. It has to do with a dog. Not mine, but that of a friend who asked me to sit for his beloved pet when h went on a short vacation. Who doesn’t need extra cash, so I said yes. How tough could it be? Being self-employed, I had the time. I figured I could either bring the dog to my place or stay with him in his comfortable surroundings. I could tote the computer along with ease.

It worked out pretty well at first. The dog was friendly and sweet and loved to sit beside me on the couch to get petted. We watched TV together and enjoyed our respective snacks. Only after a few days as the time drew near for my friend’s return did I notice dog hair everywhere. Yikes! It stuck to the sofa fabric like it was glued on. I searched for a vacuum cleaner and there was none in sight. Not in the closets, under the bed, the basement or garage. I tried a pet roller (a wand with a band of sticky tape wrapped around it), but it took three to relieve the couch from its new blanket of fur. It was going to eat up my earnings for this sitting job. Plus, I wasn’t getting my work done.

By chance I found a small portable hand vacuum in the kitchen and quickly attempted to scoop up the remaining hairs. My luck was running out since I clogged the small bag inside the appliance in no time at all. It took an hour to fix it. This dog job was becoming a fiasco. While I love the animal, I wasted considerable time and money to please my friend. I didn’t want him to come home to a big vacuum cleaning chore worthy a feature on https://www.thevacuumchallenge.com. I debated whether to tell him. Surely he knows about the shedding, but oddly enough, he didn’t mention it. I would have brought my own heavy-duty canister vacuum along with me for a faster and more effective cleanup. I felt like taking before and after photos!

Distractions

I live in a family neighborhood and love all the benefits that comes with the privilege. There is an automatic camaraderie and feeling of belonging. I am lucky to have many friendly families on both sides. You always have someone to count on for help in a pinch and people to talk to when you feel lonely—even if over the back fence or in the alley by the trash bins.  Of course, we all know about the kids on the block who play in the street or in front of my home with all their equipment including these portable goals – https://www.topcornermag.com/best-portable-goals-youth-soccer/. They are part of the picture, but sometimes a real distraction when I am working in my office. Even though it is at the back of the house, the noise comes through clear as a bell. Since I know their street soccer schedule is in the afternoon when they come home from school, I have adjusted my computer time to the morning hours.

There is nothing as annoying as yelling teenagers enjoying a fast-paced game. I know they need to practice their skills and have been ordered by the high school coach to play in the street if they can’t stay after class. Not wanting to be the neighborhood grouch, I don’t go yelling from the house with arms extended to quiet the mob. Oddly enough, there are times when I want to join them! You heard it right. I used to play soccer and remember the excitement and dynamism of the game. I could go on and on about the foot action and the various strategies that underlie the sport.

Some dads join as coaches and fans, but I want to get right into the game. As you get older, you can continue the games of your youth, but soccer isn’t usually one of them. Most adults stick with golf, swimming, or tennis, none of which require lots of other players. You can’t even get a team together for volleyball or pick up basketball on school grounds. Hence my sudden longing for a session of soccer. I’ve got the rules down flat. I wasn’t bad as a teen and could even offer a few pointers. I am talking about more than the basics of two teams of up to eleven players going head to head (or foot to foot), one of whom is the goalkeeper. Games run for two 45-minute halves. Someone tosses a coin and the captain who wins decide on the goal to defend—and the first kick off takes place.

Now comes the tough stuff. There are various fouls and misconduct to avoid as well as all kinds of regulations. You have to aster throw-ins, corner kicks, and goal kicks. Plus, you have to know when to use direct and indirect kicks, penalty kicks, and when to apply the two-touch or offside rule. Not wanting to make this blog a rulebook, let’s stop here and just give a rousing shout out to the wonderful world of soccer, especially the street games played by neighborhood kids.

Dodged a Bullet

I am a rather frugal person who hates wasting even an extra penny. I look for ways to economize and avoid unnecessary expenditures—especially those that are practical and boring.  When an unforeseen hit to my budget arises, I can just see my pocketbook shrinking in my mind’s eye. Imagine my chagrin when I stopped getting hot water all of a sudden one morning during my routine shower. There is nothing worse than a burst of cold spray on a still sleepy body. Not being an expert on water heaters, I called a local plumber who promptly told me some bad news: I will have to replace the old one at considerable expense, he said. There goes my nest egg. I started it when I quit my full-time job to go freelance, and hadn’t planned on dipping in so soon. This makes me a bit nervous, if not panicky. Working for oneself does not have the security of a paycheck once a month. I knew there would be consequences, and they are here way too soon.

I called another plumber for a second opinion and lower bid and was surprised to the max to discover that the old unit still had some life left in it. This was, indeed, good news. He said that he could repair it for much less and make it last five more years at least. Then I could tackle the issue of a new, perhaps tankless heater like these ones: https://www.waterheaterwatch.com/best-tankless-water-heater-reviews/. This is what everyone is doing now—a very welcome fad. Wow! I sure dodged a bullet this time. I can relax and move forward with most of my savings intact.

Savings are for such contingencies after all, but now I can keep them aside for something more important—like a new car or nice weekend vacation when I need a respite from my writing. Water heaters aren’t in my book of things I want to invest in right now. Most good ones are built to last and I am lucky that mine falls into this category. I am so happy that I want to crow about it in this blog. Who else to share it with than a faceless reader! Most of you are homeowners who can relate. I am sure you are facing some critical issues like a new stove, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, or pool system. When you own a property, all kinds of expenses come with it—year after year.

Let’s hope the water heater crisis is the last one right now so I can concentrate on better tasks at hand. I write for a living and need to keep my head in the game, without distractions. No one in the middle of a creative moment wants to be interrupted by a broken water line or faulty electrical connection. The mundane stuff of life is the sure road to writer’s block! If you are a composer, painter, poet, sculptor, or woodworker, you know what I mean.

Great Response Tonight

Last week, I went to an open mic night. It was amazing! The speakers were all talented – some were comedians, others thought-provoking, others simply entertaining. It really inspired me to come back again tonight with my own piece.

I love writing, but it is not a job where you often see the results of your words. I am not usually sitting next to someone as they read my article. Sure, they can post comments, but it isn’t the same as seeing their facial expressions as I go along – I can ignore comments or write carefully crafted responses on websites. But to be heckled right to my face, or watch people yawning, rolling their eyes, or maybe even fall asleep? The idea was a little intimidating, if I am being honest. I must have gone back and forth a half dozen times: it’s too scary vs getting exposure. They may hate it vs it could be a lot of fun. I decided, much like my attitude when I decided to quit my job, to man up and do it anyway.

I brought a very short story and a longer poem with me when I went tonight. I figured I would get a feel for the crowd before my time slot, then choose the piece that would be a better fit. I got there and it was very hard to remain seated. My instinct was to run all the way home. It was a tough feeling to ignore, so I turned over the last page of my short story and started writing a poem on its blank back. That’s the best way I’ve ever found to process emotions.

When it was my turn, I read the poem I came with since poetry seemed to be getting a better response from the crowd. This particular piece is a relatively personal one, written after a nasty breakup. Only a few lines in, I found it quite easy to tap into the same feelings I had when I wrote it. My confidence started increasing and I could feel the crowd fading away. My voice got more steady and expressive as I read on.

I thought I did a pretty good job.

When I finished, there was silence for a moment. I honestly thought I had bombed. I was just about to start panicking when people began applauding! I couldn’t believe it; I had actually gotten a great response. It was a heart-stopping moment. I thanked everyone and went back to my seat. It was a very humbling moment and probably a highlight of my writing career. People came up to me afterward to tell me what it meant to them, which made it even more worthwhile.

I don’t know if I can sleep tonight, I am still so pumped up from the experience! I might do it again soon!

Freelancing Benefits

One of the main reasons I quit my job was because I wanted to write full-time. I wanted to do something for a living that made me happy, and my desk job certainly wasn’t cutting it. I’d been writing at night and on weekends, and there wasn’t a lot of time left for sleeping or dating or anything else. I decided that I wanted a life more than I wanted a regular paycheck, so I decided to take the leap and quit my office job. I have to say, it was a little scary to quit – everyone thought I was crazy. And maybe I am, leaving a real job with benefits and a steady salary to do something that gives me no guarantees, no stability, and certainly no retirement plan!

In all honesty, though, I love it. I get up every morning at the same time I used to get ready for work. I shower and eat breakfast, and then sit down at my computer to check emails. I confirm the work that I have to do for the day from clients, set up a writing schedule and spend a few hours writing. I take a break for lunch and do whatever chores I need to, and then I get back to writing until dinner. Once I’m done eating dinner, I tend to go online and look for more writing assignments or do some personal writing. And that’s pretty much my day. Before I go to bed, I submit everything I’ve worked on for the day and mark it off on a calendar. If there are days that I don’t have work, I can spend it either as an off day, free writing, or I can go online and look around for possible jobs.

I’m actually surprised at how much I get done. There are days where I don’t actually work all that many hours but I feel like I get way more accomplished than I ever did with a full day at work. It’s amazing what the lack of a commute, enjoyable work, and a flexible schedule can do for your productivity!

I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s stressful trying to find jobs and worrying about money. I tried to be smart when I quit. I did have some money put aside and made sure I had some regular freelance clients that gave me steady enough work to cover my basic expenses. Working from home has allowed me to save some money, too. For example, it was easy to cut back on eating out when I’m home with access to my own kitchen all day. And now that my coffeemaker is more convenient to use than the coffee shop near my old office, I save even more. With no commute, I’m not using my car as much. That’s also a huge help. I was stopping to get gas once a week on my way home before, and I think I’ve filled up once this whole month!

I wasn’t sure if I would regret leaving my job but so far, I can’t say that I do.

What I Wish I’d Known About Freelancing

Working for yourself is probably the ideal life for most people, and freelancing gives you the ultimate freedom: working when you want and where you want. But it is not as easy as it sounds. There are some things that I have learned so far about being my own boss, most of which I learned the hard way. I wanted to share them here so you know, hopefully before you start a similar journey.

First of all, when you are the boss, you are the BOSS. That means every business decision is yours – and yours alone – to make. It can be difficult and exhausting, which is probably why many new businesses fail within the first year. People who have a hard time making choices are better workers than bosses. If you’re not sure if you’re a good decision-maker, you’ll figure it out really quick when you’re self-employed.

Secondly, you need to be your own accountant. You have to keep records of payments and charges, or you’ll be paying the same bills or suppliers more than once and you’ll forget to collect money for your services. You must be on top of everything – you have to know if you’re being charged fairly, and you must send payment reminders when necessary. You need to have some assertiveness when dealing with people to ensure you get paid.

When I first quit my job, it was really easy to fall into a “watch tv and eat junk food” trap every day. Dinnertime would roll around and I hadn’t gotten anything done, and there would be a scramble late into the night fueled by coffee to get my work done. Then I’d be exhausted the next morning, and the cycle would start all over again. So the third thing you need to be is organized. You have to create a daily plan and stick to it. Set deadlines and break large projects down into smaller pieces so that you aren’t overwhelmed. While you are the master of your own schedule, you need to make sure that you are setting realistic deadlines and getting things done consistently.

The fourth thing you need is the ability to work alone. Not having to smell your colleague’s weird fish stew heating in the communal microwave is a blessing, for sure. But there’s also nobody to hang around at the water cooler with and chat about the game last night. Most of your friends will be slaving away at a desk while you’re sitting around at home, and you’ve got no coworkers or bosses to entertain you. I have to make an effort to email people I worked with and make plans with friends or family every once in a while so that I am around real people as often as I can. It really helps. I definitely will miss office holiday parties, though.

The last thing I want to mention is having people skills. You’re the boss, sure, but you need to make your clients happy to stay working. Be honest with potential clients at the beginning regarding your prices, skill levels, deadlines, and strengths. Then put in the effort you promise. But no matter what you do, there will be people who are never happy regardless of how many times you try again or accommodations you make. And in that case, I suggest refunding any of the client’s money you may already have charged, and walking away. It might suck to do so, but working for somebody like that is worse!

Any other freelancers out there? Is there anything I missed?

Progress with Poetry

I think of all the styles and formats that I write in, I like poetry the best. Unfortunately, it’s also the thing that so far has been the hardest to make money from. I have been freelancing for about a year and a half, and doing it full-time for about 4 months. So far I haven’t been able to sell a single poem, which means poetry remains something that I do in my spare time.

In good news, however, I am happy to announce that I have two poems awaiting publication! I am very excited about them. I don’t get paid for either, unfortunately, but I am hopeful that the visibility and exposure I get from these two poems will lead to something (that pays) in the (near) future.

Anyway, for one I entered a contest. They gave a topic, and you had the ability to write in any format you wanted as long as it kept to the topic. I decided to use poetry as my format. They liked it and now it’s going to go up on their website, which is really cool because it’s not something that I wrote and published here, so at least I’ve got another site that I can point prospective clients to. In other words, another link for the portfolio! Maybe when I have the full information on the link I will place it here so that you guys can go and check it out if you like.

The other poem was for an anthology, something about “Poetry of the Modern Era.” I found it on a website when I was searching for paying gigs for writers. This company had a couple of different things they were looking for, the poetry collection included. I went through all of my old work to find something that might be suitable. I found one piece that had some promise. I reread through it with a very critical eye, and was able to polish it up to a very nice shine. I sent it off and figured that would be the end of it. Instead, they seemed very impressed. It is going to be in a hardcover book! It will potentially be in bookstores and libraries around the country, so that’s pretty exciting. Hopefully I will get my own copy – is that still a thing, writers getting a gratis copy? Either way, I know my mom’s also going to be interested in buying one. I bet she’s clearing a space on her book case as she reads this post (Hi Mom!).

I am excited to add these two pieces to my portfolio and my resume. Speaking of my resume, it is getting longer and more impressive as time goes on. I’m going to keep writing and keep looking for places that will pay me to write for them. Wish me luck!