Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Is there anything better than the afternoon before a major holiday? And Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite, as far as time off from the "real job" goes. I clocked out at 2:00 on the nose, and now I'm just waiting for my husband to do the same.

Tonight's plans are pie-themed: I'm baking apple and pumpkin pies for tomorrow and then watching Ned the Piemaker on an episode of Pushing Daisies (sadly, it's one of the last episodes of this lovely series).

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And while I'm chowing down on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cheesy asparagus (a killer recipe passed down from my mom), I'll be thinking about what I'm thankful for this year.

First and foremost, my wonderful and supportive husband. We live in a relatively small one-bedroom apartment that has no room for my own office. Not many guys would be as understanding when their wife says, "Oh, honey, I'm on deadline. Can you not turn the TV on right now? Actually...can you go somewhere else entirely for the next hour?" He's never complained once, and he's gotten to the point where he'll just "decide" to go out to a bookstore for the evening when he knows I have freelance work to do.

We're moving to a new apartment in February that will have room for an office, but he's been beyond patient this year. And always super supportive of my goals.

Second, in this crappy economy, I am so fortunate to have a steady full-time job with regular pay and benefits, plus a budding freelance career on the side. My full-time gig is a copy editing job, and I'm so lucky to be writing and editing for 8, 9, 10 hours (or more) a day between my regular job and freelancing.

Third, I have a great family and absolutely wonderful friends.

Fourth, I'm grateful for the theatrical opportunities I've had over the past year. I got to play Mrs. Potts and take on an absolutely iconic song and scene in a production of Beauty and the Beast last December. And in April, I got to appear off-off-Broadway in a one-act festival!

Other things I'm thankful for, in no particular order:

My sister (she gets singled out from the rest of the fam because she's extra-awesome)
My new laptop
The fact that I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in and food to eat every night
My health
Long holiday weekends from work that allow me to get extra freelance work done.

And to my fellow readers, I'm thankful for you. I started this blog just under a year ago, and I'm still learning my way around the blogosphere. But for those of you who stop by every once in a while to read and comment, even when I haven't updated in a while, I want you to know that I really appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for this year?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I made my first business-related purchase this weekend.

I got a new laptop.

I've been in the market for one for a while, since my husband and I have been sharing an old Dell laptop since I officially kicked off my freelancing career back in January. More work has been coming my way lately, so I wanted to have my own workstation so I wasn't constantly monopolizing the "family computer." Plus I wanted something lighter and faster than our old model.

Friday night, I was window-shopping in Best Buy when this on-sale beauty caught my eye. (The price in the store was a much better deal than the price online.) A little less than an hour later, it was mine.

And I love it. So much.



(Obviously, I'm already doing work on it---you can see my open article onscreen in those last couple of pictures!)

Working Over the Holidays

Here's a question for any established freelancers who read this blog: Do you plan to work over the upcoming holiday weekends (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years)? If not, have you worked over holidays in the past?

This is the first time I've had to ask myself that question. And my answer is yes, absolutely I'm going to work.

Take this coming weekend, for instance. Obviously, Thanksgiving Day is family time. But then I've got three full days off from work. I am not a Black Friday shopper. Too many years of working retail have killed any desire to shop that day. (Although I may hit up a few online sales.) I tend to do a lot of writing and editing on the weekends anyway, so why should this weekend be any different?

To be honest, as someone who's balancing an increasingly heavy freelance workload on top of a 40+ hour week at work, the idea of having three full days to do nothing but my freelance work is like a breath of fresh air.

Christmas will be a different story. My sister is visiting from Indiana over the Christmas weekend, so I'm going to take a break from work while she's here. But for Thanksgiving? I'll take the extra assignments, please.

How do all of you handle holidays? Do you embrace the extra time to work, or do you take the weekend for some much-needed "me" time?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Recommendations for Freelancers

It's that time of year again...time for turkeys, Christmas specials, caroling, and---if you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it)---snow. I saw a sign yesterday broadcasting "Only 46 shopping days until Christmas!" It's hard to think of it that way when it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but if you're the plan-ahead type, you might be thinking about taking advantage of the relatively low crowd volume. And maybe, just maybe, you're thinking about what to get for the freelancer in your life.

Great gifts for freelancers include office staples like paper, pens, ink cartridges, and day planners. If your wallet's a little thicker, you might spring for a computer, printer, or fax machine. But if you're not rich and you'd like to shop somewhere a little more exciting than Office Depot, there's one type of gift with which you can never go wrong: books.

Freelance writers love to read. And one of the things we most enjoy reading about is how to start, grow, or improve our freelance business.

I've read a lot about freelancing since I first started writing for the Web in 2005 (and first started actually getting paid for it in 2008). I've compiled a list of what I personally believe to be the highlights:

  • Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glazter. Every aspiring freelancer should read this book. It's like the Bible. Although it is slightly limited (Jenna focuses on writing articles for print magazines, rather than other venues such as copywriting or Web writing), this book is chock-full of useful information about how to get your career off and running. There's tons of information about coming up with ideas, querying editors, dealing with deadbeat clients and more.
  • The Anti 9-5 Guide by Michelle Goodman. I got this book for Christmas last year and have read it cover-to-cover about 10 times since then. Michelle writes with an upbeat style and a dry sense of humor as she provides tips and advice for fleeing the cubicle. The book includes practical advice for building a business on the side and eventually taking the great leap into freelancing. It also covers temping, part-time work, and breaking into a new career.
  • The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. If you're looking to simply write articles and fiction, this book won't be of much use to you. If, however, you're open to working in commercial and business writing, this book should be with you at all times. Peter teaches would-be freelancers how to build a business from scratch, and---more importantly---how to market themselves.
Whenever an aspiring freelancer asks me what reading material he or she should read to get started, I invariably point them to one of the above three books. What's your favorite book about freelancing?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Typo giggle


I saw this on the SPOGG blog earlier today. I don't know what's worse---the lack of space in "a cheesy" or the more obvious, um, misspelling of "angus."

Either way, it's worth the giggle.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Freelance Writing Addiction

It's official. I am addicted to freelance writing.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been getting a lot of extra work lately from one of my favorite clients. The other day, I received two more assignments from them, which aren't due until Tuesday.

My sister is visiting from Indiana this week. Her bus was supposed to arrive at Philadelphia's 30th St. station at 8:00 tonight. Of course, as is usually the case with buses, it's about an hour behind schedule.

I have lines I could be learning for a show I'm in. I'm in the middle of a very good book (Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell---excellent read!) that I could finish. I could try to get comfy in one of the ridiculously uncomfortable benches in the station and take a nap.

Instead, I shelled out $10 for T-Mobile's gut-wrenchingly expensive Wi-Fi access, set myself up in the food court, researched and wrote both articles.

Now that I'm done, I'm wishing I had more work to do.

It's weird---I used to think that I'd never be able to handle working a full-time job and freelancing on the side, especially when I'm so active in community theatre, too. But I've gotten so used to juggling all my commitments and squeezing in writing whenever I have time that I don't know what to do with any extra time I have anymore. It's rare to have an evening to myself that's not taken up with rehearsals, researching or writing.

I love it. I love being busy. I love researching, I love writing.

I think I've chosen the right career path.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Repeat Business: How To Get It and Why It's Good for Your Freelancing Career

I'm currently nine months into building my freelance business on the side. So far, my favorite part of this job is getting repeat business from existing clients. I love it because I don't have to aggressively market myself to get work from them, and I already know they're good on payment—something that's always a bit of a risk with a new client.

As a part-time freelancer, I hate marketing and contacting new clients. It's a necessary part of this business, but it takes up a lot of my time that I'd rather dedicate to writing. So when I get more work from an existing client, it makes my day.

Copywriting guru Bob Bly points out that repeat business can offer some of your most lucrative opportunities because you are already familiar with the client and they are already familiar with you. "You can charge the same price per job, or maybe even more if they like you. But you can do the jobs much faster because of the knowledge you have accumulated," Bly says.

In addition, repeat clients have more of an opportunity to get to know you and your work ethic. If you have a good relationship with them, you may be able to approach them for a recommendation for your portfolio or Web site.

So how exactly do you go about getting repeat business?

Be professional with every assignment. This is the biggie. Clients won't want to hire you again if you miss deadlines or turn in sloppy writing. Do your best to be an editor's dream writer. Don't just satisfy your clients; delight them. Turn in assignments ahead of the deadline. Edit your writing until it's as flawless as possible before submitting it. If the editor asks for rewrites, do them without complaint (within reason, of course) to match the editor's requests.

Don't be shy about your services. I have a link to this blog and my Web site in my e-mail signature. A few weeks ago, one of my regular SEO clients followed the link to this blog and saw that I also do editing work. She asked me if I'd also be interested in editing for her. Since I like this client and they've always been great to work with, I said yes. Since then, my amount of work for this one client has doubled.

Ask for repeat business. Whenever I send in a completed article or editing assignment, I tell my clients that it was a pleasure working with them and that I'd be happy to take on more work in the future. Editors like working with established writers whom they can trust. Make sure they know that you're available and willing to take on more assignments.

Don't rest on your laurels. Just because you've gotten repeat business from a client doesn't mean you can slack off. Approach every assignment from a repeat client with the same professionalism as you did with the first assignment. Make your editor glad that he or she assigned you another project.

While you don't want to rely too much on any one client, repeat business is a great way to fuel your freelancing career.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gramar Lesson of the Day: Commas Before Conjunctions

It's been a while since I've done one of these, so let's celebrate the unofficial beginning of fall with a GrammarScribe Grammar Tip!

Sometimes commas are used inappropriately in text when two clauses are linked with “and” or “but.” A comma can be inserted mistakenly because a pause would occur while speaking, but the use of commas in writing differs somewhat.

An easy rule of thumb: Insert a comma if a new subject is introduced in the second clause, or if the initial subject is restated. Otherwise, leave it out so the second half of the sentence isn’t divorced from the first half.

Examples:

Incorrect: Jack went into the storeroom to look for supplies, but couldn’t find anything. (The second part of the sentence should have its own subject or the comma should be removed.)

Correct: Jack went into the storeroom to look for supplies but couldn’t find anything.

Correct: Jack went into the storeroom to look for supplies, but he couldn’t find anything.

Correct: Jack went into the storeroom to look for supplies, but Locke found them first. (New subject; so a comma is required.*)

*Like just about every rule in this crazy language of ours, there's an exception. It's okay to omit the comma between short coordinate clauses. Example: She went to the store but he stayed home.


I'd like to make GrammarScribe Grammar Tips a regular feature on my blog. Do you have any burning grammatical questions that need an explanation? What are some common errors that you'd like to see addressed? Leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, I've really let this blog fall by the wayside, haven't I?

Here's a quick recap of what I've been up to for the past month and a half:
  • I re-signed on with an old client, Demand Studios. They hire writers to create articles for eHow.com. I enjoyed working for them in the past---the articles are easy enough to write and create, and they pay reliably, so I'm excited to be working with them again.
  • I started writing for a wonderful new client last week. They're asking for short psychology articles, which is wonderful because they're easy to research and write---not to mention really interesting! My first article was a 400-word piece on dependent personality disorder.
  • I also recently became a Guide for ChaCha.com. It's not exactly writing, but it's fun and it pays somewhat decently for a work-at-home job (I average $5-7 an hour), so it's helping me pay off debt and save up for a new laptop.
  • We've been facing some staff reductions and department reorganization at my day job. My position is still safe, but it's been a crazy few weeks. But I think the coming reorganization is really going to be a great thing for the editorial team, so it'll be good once the dust begins to settle.

I just have a few goals to get me through the rest of August:

  1. Continue to bust my butt at my day job. Things are more hectic than usual right now because of the transition, and this is a busy time anyway because the new TV season starts next month.
  2. Meet my goal of $100-150 a week at ChaCha.
  3. Write at least two more DemandStudios articles, and ask about future assignments from my new client.
  4. Apply for at least five new freelance jobs.

And now to get some discussion going: With the new TV season quickly approaching, what shows are you anticipating the most? I haven't seen much of the new series; but I'm especially looking forward to the return of How I Met Your Mother, Heroes, and Pushing Daisies.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What Have I Been Writing?

It's been a busy month. Between commuting three hours a day, cheering on GrammarHubby in his theatrical endeavors (his fantastic run as Bill Sikes in Oliver! ended last week, and now he's getting ready to start rehearsals for Assassins, where he's playing Leon Czolgosz), and dealing with a broken computer, I've been swamped.

And I was just cast in a one-act play that takes place on August 2, so I'll be busy with that for the next few weeks. Yay, theatre!

Sad thing is, I haven't been able to write much, although that's mostly due to the nasty Trojan virus currently infecting my laptop. Bleh. My brother-in-law is going to take a look at it this weekend (hopefully), but it's really thrown a kink in my ability to:

a) write new blog posts (have you missed me?);
b) search for new writing jobs; or
c) keep up on MySpace and Facebook. (You can see where my priorities lie.)

I have been able to do some work, though. Here's a quick sampling of what I've been up to. Enjoy!

TV Guide Celebrity Profiles: Jessica Tandy, Joe Jonas, Ashley Newbrough, Nathan Kress, Geoffrey Arend

Web Content Articles: An Overview of Gin, An Overview of Tequila (Mmmm, alcohol.)

Also, there's a possibility I may be authoring a TV Guide blog next season. (Pushing Daisies, maybe? I love that show and, as far as I know, there's no current blogger for it.) I'll update with more details as they come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Oliver! at the Wilmington Drama League

PSA for anyone in the Delaware/Philly/NJ/Maryland area:

Come see Oliver! at the Wilmington Drama League!

It's shaping up to be a spectacular show. I'm not involved with it, but several of my former Beauty and the Beast cast mates are. GrammarHubby is playing Bill Sikes, and he's just as awesome and scary and foreboding as you could possibly want the big bad villain to be.

Click here for more information, directions, and to find out how to reserve tickets. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and $8 for children. Show dates are:

Friday, June 13 8:00 pm
Saturday, June 14 8:00 pm
Sunday, June 15 2:00 pm
Friday, June 20 8:00 pm
Saturday, June 21 8:00 pm
Sunday, June 22 2:00 pm

As a teaser (and because I'm absolutely in love with these photos), here are some production shots:
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Bumble and Oliver: "Boy for Sale"

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Oliver: "Where Is Love?"

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The Artful Dodger and Company: "Consider Yourself"

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Fagin and Oliver: "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two"

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Nancy and Bet: "It's a Fine Life"

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Fagin and Gang: "Be Back Soon"

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Nancy: "Oom-Pah-Pah"

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Bill Sikes: "My Name"

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Nancy: "As Long as He Needs Me"

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Oliver and Company: "Who Will Buy?"

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Nancy and Oliver

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Fagin, Nancy and Sikes

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Nancy and Sikes

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Fagin: "Reviewing the Situation"

Awesome, right? Come see it!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Warning: Avoid Scams

One of the biggest problems plaguing freelance writers is the sheer amount of scams masquerading as legitimate writing jobs on the 'Net. Is there anything more frustrating than seeing a job you're absolutely perfect for, and putting in the time and energy to craft the perfect cover letter—only to find out that you've just been taken in by a convoluted sales tool?

Well, yeah—I guess if you actually fall for it, that's worse. So don't.

Let me share my most recent experience:

I recently applied for a proofreader job. The gig sounded interesting and relatively straightforward—perfect for my part-time freelance lifestyle. I sent an e-mail to the address provided, expressing my interest in the job.

Today, I got the following response (names removed to protect the guilty):

Hi Angela,

Thank you for your interest in the proofreading job. My name is **** and I am here to assist with the application process.

This job is for a start-up educational development company proofreading their website and marketing material. This is a freelance job that can be done anywhere. To be considered for this job you must apply here (*link removed*).

Feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

Okay, fine. Some companies like to do things their own way, and I'm fine with that.

Here's the thing. The link she gave me ended up redirecting to GoFreelance.com.

UGH.

GoFreelance (and most other pay-for-membership or bidding sites) prey on struggling and wannabe writers. They either make you pay to see job listings or force you to bid on jobs, essentially enabling most clients to select the lowest bidder—who offer bids as low as pennies per gig. It's wrong and awful, and it undermines all working freelance writers trying to make an honest living. I never use them.

Luckily, I knew about GoFreelance from other writer friends. GoFreelance lures you in with a "low" $2.95 per-month charge to see their job postings, and then jacks it up to $29.95 a month. That's absolutely ridiculous. There are way too many places to find writing jobs for free; you should never have to sign up with GoFreelance to find gigs.

So if a potential client responds to you, how can you tell if it's a legitimate opportunity or a scam? Every situation is different, but here are some red flags to look out for:
  • You should never, ever have to pay in order to apply for a job. EVER. A legitimate client may want to see samples of your work, or maybe an article on spec, but that's very different (although it has its debates, too). Beware of any client who asks you to apply through a site that requires a membership fee.
  • See if other people have experienced the same problem with this client. Writer message boards, like AbsoluteWrite.com, have forums specifically devoted to deadbeat clients, scams, fraud, etc. If the job posting was on a blog, check the blog comments to see if there are any warnings for other writers. (If not, consider posting one yourself to alert other writers who may be interested in the job.)
  • Trust your instincts. If something in the client's communication feels off to you, don't click on any links in their e-mail messages. Write it off and move on.

I did respond to my own personal Scammy McScam-a-Lot, explaining that I don't use sites like GoFreelance but that I'd be happy to apply through e-mail or some other means:

Hi ****,

Thank you for your assistance. I'm still interested in the job; however, I was wondering if there was a way to apply without registering with Go Freelance. Like many other freelance writers and editors, I make it a point not to use bidding sites or job boards that require a membership fee.

I'd still love to apply for the job outside of Go Freelance, and I'm happy to send you anything you need—résumé, proofreading samples, etc. Please let me know.

Best,
Angela

We'll see if I get a response from them. I'm not banking on it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May Goals Revisited

I'm back. Did you miss me?

Well, between auditioning for shows, catching up on all of the television season finales, and stressing out about $4.00/gallon gas prices, I haven't really been great about keeping on top of my May goals. Since the end of the month is a mere three days away, I'm just going to cut my losses and turn over a brand-new leaf for June.

Here's the recap of what I got accomplished (or not) in May (and here's the original post, for anyone who missed it):
  • Apply for at least FIVE new freelance jobs per week. I've applied for, uh, two assigments. All month. Eeeesh. (On the other hand, I've applied for two assignments this month! That's two more than I applied for at this time last year! *cheers weakly*)
  • Blog at least THREE times a week. On both blogs. I started the month strong in this category, but finished pretty weakly. This is my seventh blog post here at Grammar Scribe. I did slightly better over at Beginner Fitness Junkie, blogging a total of nine times over the course of the month.
  • Start researching computers. Still in the process of doing this. I can in no way afford a new laptop right now (any extra money I do get is going toward a bike so that I can leave my car parked at home all the time), but I'm still checking around to see what's out there.
  • Continue to be an awesome copy editor at my regular job and an awesome freelancer for my existing clients. Check! I got some new freelance assignments this month, and things are still going pretty well at work.

Not great, not terrible. I'm feeling pretty down on myself, though, since a) I didn't get into the show I auditioned for last week; and b) I came up so short on my writing goals. I'm going to spend the next couple of days compiling a list of goals for June---hopefully that'll help perk me up a bit and help me get focused.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Favorite Childhood Books

It's inevitable. Every year around this time, I get seriously nostalgic for the books I read when I was younger. I think it's the fact that whenever I go to Borders in the late spring and summer, I'm surrounded by "summer-reading list" books.

Books you read in your childhood and teenage years affect you like no other book you read in your lifetime. I still steadfastly maintain that Frances Hogsden Burnett's A Little Princess is my favorite book of all time, even though I first read it almost 20 years ago.

Also, I was a huge dork in high school---and proud of it, by the way. I was one of the only people who actually enjoyed reading the monthly assignments for my English classes, and hitting up the library with my summer-reading list was always a really exciting adventure.

As an adult, I don't have as much time to read as I did back then. Too many other things end up taking priority of my time---work, commuting, performing in community theatre, spending time with the hubby, and watching TV. (Hey, don't judge---I need to watch TV to be able to keep up at work.) It's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to my new train commute that's starting in June---I'll have lots of time to read on the way to and from work.

So I'm planning to hit up the local library over the long weekend to stock up on reading material, and I'm thinking about re-reading some of my favorite books from when I was younger (middle school and high school). My wish list includes:
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (currently reading)
  • A Little Princess, Frances Hogsden Burnett
  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hogsden Burnett
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
  • Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  • Animal Farm, George Orwell
  • Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding

What were some of your favorite books that you read when you were younger?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Who/Whom

Woohoo---I scored 100% on today's quiz over at Triangle Grammar Guide. That was a fun diversion from writing the two articles I have due tomorrow.

If you want to take it, the quiz is here: Who/Whom. Have fun!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Goodreads.com

Starting June 2, I'm going to be taking SEPTA (the Philadelphia-area regional rail) to work. It'll extend my commute by quite a bit since I have to take two trains, but I'll get a ton of benefits in return:
  • I can stop filling up my gas tank twice a week. I have a small car with good gas mileage, but I'm still really feeling the pinch. I don't know how other people do it.
  • No traffic! I hate traffic. My normal drive in and out of work wouldn't be nearly so bad if traffic wasn't constantly slowing things up and making me crazy.
  • I'll be doing my part to help the environment and reduce my carbon footprint. GO GREEN!
  • I get a tax break on the money I spend on train passes.
  • Best of all, I'll have an extra three hours a day to read. And if I get a laptop computer soon, I can use the extra time to type up blog posts and query letters. (SEPTA doesn't offer wifi on their trains or in their stations, but I can still use Microsoft Word, dammit.)

Anyway, I'm currently looking into finding books that I haven't read yet (or old favorites that I want to re-read) to keep me occupied during my new train commute. I recently discovered Goodreads.com, which is an absolutely fabulous site for bookworms. You can create reading lists (books you've read, books you're currently reading, books you want to read), review books, and read other people's reviews. And best of all, you can add friends and get book recommendations through them.

I just signed up the other day, and I already love it. Anyone else use Goodreads? If you find your way there, feel free to add me as a friend.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Grammar Lesson of the Day: Commas

I could probably write an entire book on the proper use of commas—where they're needed, where they're not needed, and how people tend to abuse them. Today, though, I'm just going to talk about one specific instance: commas used with and and but.

I've been seeing this sentence construction quite a bit lately:

"John wanted to start a rock band, but lacked the proper materials."

Uh-uh. As Bill Walsh of the Washington Post says in his book Lapsing Into a Comma (which I highly recommend, by the way), this is a run-on sentence with two subjects: John and but.

In a compound sentence like this, you either need to reintroduce the subject, introduce an entirely new subject, or omit the comma altogether.

Correct: "John wanted to start a rock band, but he lacked the proper materials." (We've restated the subject, so the sentence is now grammatically correct with the comma.)
Correct: "John wanted to start a rock band but lacked the proper materials." (By omitting the comma, John becomes the subject for the entire sentence.)
Correct: "John wanted to start a rock band, but Suzie hid his guitar." (Here, we've introduced an entirely new subject, which means the comma stays put.)

Like everything else in the English language, there are exceptions, but you should generally keep your subjects in mind when working with conjunctions.

Have you seen any common grammatical errors lately that drive you crazy?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Very Rare Political Post

The Grammarphile over at Red Pen, Inc., pointed out today that---according to an article she found---Hillary Clinton doesn't believe in subject-verb agreement:

Kidding, people.

I don't usually post about politics. I have my political beliefs and they're strong, but generally I try not to get into it because Internet political discussions have a tendency to disintegrate into flame wars. Do not want. Especially not on a writing-related blog.

But. I will say this:

If you're registered to vote in today's Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, GET OUT AND VOTE. It doesn't matter whom you vote for, as long as you get out there. Our ancestors fought hard to give us the right to vote, so don't squander it. Make your voice heard.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Grammar Lesson for You and Me I Me

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, the following conversation took place almost every day at home and at school:

Kid: "Mom, can Jerry and me go to the park?"
Mom: "Jerry and I, darling."

Kid: "Me and Susan want to sit together."
Teacher: "Susan and I, and no, you'll just chat the whole time and not get any work done."

Er, maybe that last part was just directed at me. Nothing to see here, folks. *ahem*

Basically, this auto-correction from our elders beat into our collective heads that "person X and me" should always be replaced with "person X and I." But for some reason, they always neglected to tell us why it had to be that way---which is unfortunate because it's led to a lot of misunderstandings.

I find that I have greater success as a copy editor if I know why a certain rule is enforced. It's easier to remember the difference between "convince" and "persuade," for example, if I know that action is only associated with "persuade." (You persuade someone to take action, but you convince someone of a certain belief. I'm getting off topic, though...more on that in a later blog post.)

Unfortunately, with the "I" vs. "me" debacle, a lot of people don't understand the reasoning behind it, so they take the constant correcting to heart and just sub out "I" for "me" whenever they're talking about things done with another person.

Which is why you'll occasionally see an otherwise extremely intelligent person use incorrect sentence construction:

"He brought the ham for Mark and I."

Ack.

In this case, "Mark and me" is grammatically correct, and "Mark and I" is very wrong. If you're the object of the sentence---the person affected by the action in the verb---then you would say "me."

"Will you come to the fair with me and Josh?" Yep, that's correct, too.

"Kerry really likes you and me." Also correct. (Of course, you could nix the awkward construction there by simply changing it to "Kerry really likes us.")

Isn't it funny how sometimes we try to be overly correct and end up misusing words anyway? Between you and me, sometimes the easiest phrase is the right one.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May 2008 Goals

Ack, it's after 8:00 pm on April 30 and I haven't posted my goals for next month yet! (I haven't filed my state taxes yet, either. Delaware gives you until April 30 to do your state taxes, which really just means you get an extra 15 days to procrastinate. Don't worry, I'll get 'em out the door by midnight.)

Okay, so without further ado, here are my May 2008 freelancing goals:
  • Apply for at least FIVE new freelance jobs per week. That's one per weekday. I should be able to handle that. Of course, if I end up getting too much work (isn't that a problem we'd all love to have?), I'll ease up, but that's my starting goal.
  • Blog at least THREE times a week. On both blogs. Oh, that's right---I don't think I've mentioned yet that I have a shiny brand-new blog! I've started a workout regiment this week, so I created a fitness blog to document my progress (or lack thereof). Should be interesting, as I'm staunchly refusing to change my diet in any way. What's the point in going through life if you cut out the mashed potatoes and gravy?
  • Start researching computers. I'm typing this blog post on a dinosaur of a laptop, and I'm really in need of something smaller and quicker. Preferably with wireless technology. And cheap-ish, since I'm currently in the process of refinancing my entire life in order to put gas in my car.
  • Continue to be an awesome copy editor at my regular job and an awesome freelancer for my existing clients. I'm not one to let a good thing go to waste. What's the point of chasing down new leads if I'm letting the ones I already have fall by the wayside?

The beginning of a month is so exciting, isn't it? It's a blank page just full of potential opportunities. I can't wait to see what happens in May.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fun Assignments

The ink was still drying on my last blog post (where I said I was antsy for new work) when I got two new assignments to complete over the weekend. Sweet! I love it when that happens.

I spent a much-needed relaxing day with the hubby yesterday, watching movies, eating pizza and playing Yahtzee. Everyone needs a lazy day ever so often, especially those of us trying to balance a full-time job and an on-the-side freelancing career. It's made for a busy day today, though. But I don't mind, because the job's interesting.

The client I'm working with is a regular, and definitely one of my favorites. It's a content-article gig, and what's great about it is that I get assigned very specific articles so that I don't have to spend time figuring out what I'm going to write about. They even give me a few links to get started with my research. The editor is very sweet and friendly, and each article only takes a few hours to research and write.

Best of all, because they assign me articles, it means I get to research topics that I probably wouldn't think of otherwise. That rocks. I love researching and learning new things. Since I started writing for this client, I've researched and written about wedding planning, ghost hunting and marine biology. For this assignment, I'm learning all about the history of gin and tequila. It's fabulous.

All of this is great, because when you're juggling a fledgling freelance business on top of your regular job, you'd darn better like what you're doing. Otherwise, you'll never stick with it. I've been pretty lucky, and I'm looking forward to future assignments.

Fellow freelancers: What do you like best about your favorite client?

Friday, April 25, 2008

What Have I Been Writing?

It's Friday! And I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of the weekend. To pass the time, here are a few links to some writing I've done recently.

I'm getting antsy for more work, though, and looking forward to putting together some goals for May. More details next week.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why Freelance?

It’s been a rough couple of months for me. I’m not going to go into details, but a lot has happened since February to mess around pretty badly with my personal and financial life. When stuff like that happens, it’s all I can do to concentrate at my full-time job—much less put in the extra time to hunt down freelance leads and write.

But earlier this week, one of my favorite bloggers announced that she was making the leap to full-time freelancing. After I toned down the raging jealousy that flared up in my heart, I realized that it’s time to buckle down and get serious. May is going to be another JHS month. It paid off nicely the last time I participated, and I have high hopes for this month, too.

Before I start working on goals, though, I need to remember why I want to do this. If I can remember exactly why I want to become a full-time freelancer, I can return to this post on days when I’m just not feeling up to putting in the extra hours.

I love writing and working with words. Seriously, I do. I currently work in an office that’s a 70-minute round-trip commute from my apartment. And that’s if I drive—if I take the local rail (something I’ve been considering now that gas prices are so ridiculous), it’s two hours each way. And yeah, I could get a job closer to home. I actually tried that about two years ago—but I hated it. I live in a very industrial town, and there’s not a whole lot here outside of banking and retail. I make that 70-minute commute because it means I can be an editor. But it would be absolutely glorious to cut my commute time down to zero and write from home instead.

A freelancer can never be laid off or downsized. When you work for a corporation in a time of recession like this, there’s always the fear in the back of your mind that your company might need to cut costs—and that your job will be the one to get snipped. As a freelancer, part of your job is reaching out to potential clients and drumming up new business, so that you’ll have something if one of your clients decides he doesn’t need your services anymore.

I can set my own hours. I have a lot of outside interest, not the least of which is acting. At an office job that requires you to work specific shifts, it can be difficult to finagle leaving work early or taking a day off for a rehearsal here or a weekday performance there. Freelancing offers a certain degree of flexibility that an office job can't touch.

No one but me can limit how much money I can make. The possibilities that come with being a freelancer are limitless. I set my own hours, I decide which clients I work with, and the work I put in should (in a perfect world) reflect how much money I make. One of my other favorite bloggers averages about $5K a month with his freelancing business, although I know that’s a pretty extreme example. The opposite is also true, though—if I don’t put in the work, I won’t make any money and will soon end up crawling back to the cubicle.

For any freelancers who read this—what’s your favorite part about self-employment? What was the single biggest factor in your decision to make the leap from the cubicle to the home office?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pictures From NYC!

I'm getting off-topic from writing a little today because Kristyn Robinson, the playwright and director of The End, sent me pictures from Monday's tech rehearsal. I'm still giddy over the fact that I got to perform off-off-Broadway, so I'm indulging a bit and posting those pictures. I'm incredibly proud to have been a part of this cast and this play.

I can't even begin to go into what a great experience this was. I'm used to doing musicals--with the singing and the dancing and the million-watt smiles and the sheer cheese and everything else that comes with musical theatre. To come down from that and do a straight play was a real challenge and something I've never really done before. And I'm totally grateful for the experience, which is why I can't help posting these photos.

These pictures were taken at our tech rehearsal the morning of the festival, which explains the lack of makeup (ugh) and costumes. I'm the counter girl. The other girl is Heather Ferrel, who played the lead role of Rachel; the guy is Brian Couch, who played ex-boyfriend Benny.
























Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Progress Report: April 2008

This month got off to a slow start for me. I took a couple of weeks off for a much-needed vacation in Florida, which was absolutely fantastic. Now that my sunburn's starting to wear off and I'm just about caught up at my full-time job, I'm finally starting to settle back into a freelance routine.

I'm still on the freelance roster for MoreFocus and DemandStudios. I'm waiting to hear if I made it to the next round of interviews for a freelance trivia position with UClick.com. (More on that later if it works out.) And I just applied for four more freelance jobs today. So all in all, I'm feeling really good and productive.

I know I haven't talked about my acting endeavors on this blog since Beauty and the Beast closed in December, but yesterday was a very big day for me. I made my off-off-Broadway debut! I participated in the 15-Minute Play Festival at the American Globe Theatre in New York. Our play ("The End" by Kristyn Leigh Robinson) didn't advance to the finals, but I'm okay with that. It was a phenomenal experience to get to perform in NY, especially in such a great short play.

"The End" is about a woman named Rachel who's trying to get over a painful breakup with her ex-boyfriend, Benny. Rachel sits in a coffee shop and imagines situations where she runs into Benny (and his new wife), and works through her feelings while she tries to figure out what she would say to him. I played the Counter Girl—a seemingly extra character who ends up helping Rachel work through her issues and gain some closure.

Rehearsing and performing "The End" with Kristyn and the rest of her insanely talented cast was so much fun, and such a great opportunity. And hey, now I can say I've performed off-off-Broadway!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Finding Ideas for Articles

One of my current gigs is writing how-to articles for eHow.com. To date, I've written 30 articles. Believe me when I say that coming up with subjects and titles is the hardest part of the assignment---especially when there are already so many articles on myriad topics on that site.

Still, as a freelancer, I don't get paid unless I deliver the goods. So how can you continue to generate new ideas?

Take a cue from your own life. There's truth in that old saying: Write what you know. If you look at the articles I've written for eHow, you'll notice that most of them are about guinea pigs, careers and food. Since I'm a guinea-pig owner, a full-time corporate copy editor and I love to cook, these subjects come naturally to me. I'm able to churn out several articles in very little time since I already know a lot about these subjects and don't have to do any additional research.

Take a look at how you spend your day. What are you passionate about? What are you an expert in? These areas are ripe for article ideas---take them and run with them.

Be an Internet lurker. Yahoo! Answers is a great jumping-off place if you're stuck for article ideas. Take a look at what people want to know. Then do some research and write a how-to article about it. Google one of your favorite topics and see if one of its smaller subtopics can give you an idea for a tightly focused article. Check online message boards---if you want to write articles about baby showers, for example, you might find a forum discussing party-planning tips, food or games that could lead to an article.

Ask around. What do the people in your life want to know about? Any time someone asks a question, the answer could be fodder for an informative article. Try to carry a small notebook with you at all times. You never know when an innocent question or snippet of conversation could spark an idea for an article.

Slant, slant, and slant again. Most articles, and especially Internet articles, are tightly focused and short---usually only 400-600 words. To go back to our baby shower example, you couldn't encompass everything involved with throwing a baby shower into that small a space. Instead, you can break it up into a bunch of smaller ideas. Try writing an article about booking a venue for a baby shower. Or do a write-up about popular baby-shower games. What about gift ideas for guests at a baby shower? Or recipes for hors d'oeuvres? You could even slant those ideas into a totally different genre---the same ideas would work for articles about birthday parties, poker nights or other gatherings. The only limit is your imagination.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Status Update: February Report

It's been a while since I posted here. February was a rough month for me on a number of personal levels, and this blog sort of fell by the wayside.

On the bright side, I had a very good freelance month in February. I'm still employed full-time, so my freelance earnings are pretty limited so far. But in February, I landed ongoing gigs with two clients, both online content producers. I made $100 last month, and this month I'm pacing to make $400.

It's definitely not enough to live on (not even close), but it's a start. Before last September, I'd never been paid for my writing. I'm still getting my feet wet in this business, but I'm pleased with what I've accomplished so far this year. (And it's very exciting to see my name in print...and on those checks!)

For any freelancers who read this blog---how did you feel the first few times you were paid for your work?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Setbacks

So it's been a rough week.

First of all, the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. As a die-hard Pats fan, that loss hurt. And it was only the beginning of what shaped up to be a pretty terrible few days.

My husband and I both caught this nasty cold that's going around, so we've both been a barrel of laughs the last few days.

Tuesday night, my guinea pig Max died. Bit of backstory here: I'm a huge animal lover. I have three guinea pigs (well, two now), and they are spoiled rotten. They have huge cages that---no joke---take up an entire room in my house. My husband and I don't have children, so our pets are our babies.

Max was only two years old. We're still not sure what happened---he was fine in the morning, but Tuesday night he was limping, breathing funny and refusing to eat. His condition deteriorated and he passed away in the middle of the night.

I took the day off from work Wednesday because I still wasn't feeling well, and staying up almost all night worrying about Max hadn't helped. I spent part of the day reconstructing the guinea pigs' cage to fit two instead of three, and spent the rest of the day recovering.

Then, my husband's mother called to tell us that his grandmother had passed away.

I'm sorry, universe...exactly what did I do to make you hate me this much?

So this week has pretty much been a wash as far as work goes. I'd gotten three of my 10 articles for eHow written before Tuesday, planning to bang out the rest of them over the next few nights. Obviously, circumstances have gotten in the way. I just emailed the editor asking for an extension of a couple of days. I hate that I had to do that. I pride myself on meeting deadlines. And I'll totally understand if they can't grant me an extension...I'd hate to lose them as a client, but I'd understand.

I hope the rest of February turns out much better than it's shaping up so far.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

February Goals

I'm a little slow out of the gate posting my goals for this month, but I have good reason---as I mentioned last week, my goals from January resulted in regular paying work!

As a result, February has been a busy month for me so far. Since it's a short month and I can only take on so much freelance work on top of my full-time job, I'm aiming low this time:
  • Research and write 2-10 assigned articles a week for MoreFocus
  • Research and write 10 articles for eHow
  • Blog at least three times a week

Like I said, I've been busy. I spent most of the weekend (well, when I wasn't watching Super Bowl coverage) researching and writing two wedding articles. I submitted them last night and they were accepted this morning.

The 10 articles for eHow are due Friday, but they're not coming along quite as quickly as I'd like. So far, I've only got one written. The good news, though, is that they're very easy to write, since I'm limiting my topics to subjects I'm already familiar with. My first article, "How to Nail Your Audition Song," took under an hour to put together. The trickiest thing is coming up with topics that aren't already covered on the site.

So it's certainly not a bad month. And I'm thrilled to pieces to have regular jobs coming in every week.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

January Goals Revisited

Can you believe it's the end of the month already? I'm already starting to work on my goals for February, but before I do that, I need to take a look at the goals I set for myself at the beginning of this month.

  1. Blog at least five times a week.
  2. Spend at least an hour a day researching markets, sending out queries, and applying for freelance gigs.
  3. A little more specific...send out one query a week and apply for five freelance gigs per week.
  4. Be more proactive about leaving comments on blogs I frequent and contributing to discussions on boards like these (AW) instead of just lurking.

I didn't meet all of those goals. Obviously, I haven't been blogging as often as I promised, although I have been trying to keep it fairly up-to-date. I haven't sent out any query letters, and while I've applied for freelance gigs, it hasn't been the five a week I originally aimed for. I have been better about establishing a more vocal presence online, though, and I've definitely been doing plenty of research.

The end of the month is always filled with coulda-woulda-shouldas. But being a person who tends to see the glass as half-full, I prefer to concentrate on what I've accomplished in a particular month. I may not have achieved all my goals, but JHS inspired me to put myself out there more than I ever have before. As a result, this month has been the most productive in my fledgling freelance career.

  1. I applied for nine freelance writing or editing gigs.
  2. As I mentioned the other day, one of them got back to me last week, wanting to see an article on spec.
  3. I wrote that article, submitted it, and was contracted to write 2-10 articles a week for them.
  4. I heard back from another one today, asking if I'd be interested in submitting how-to articles. They're due February 8, so researching and writing them will be part of my February goals.
  5. I wrote and submitted a short story for the 24-hour short story contest at Writers Weekly.
  6. While not technically a writing goal, I did set up profiles at MySpace and LinkedIn for professional networking.

So maybe I didn't do exactly what I'd set out to do at the beginning of the month. But my career has taken some interesting turns. I squelched some of my fears and wrote a short story, and I've lined up two decent-paying gigs for myself. It can only get better from here.

I can't wait to see what February has in store.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Writing on Spec Pays Off!

I just landed a sweet content-writing gig! And I never would have gotten it if I had followed my initial instincts and refused to write on spec.

Lots of writers will tell you not to work on spec, because you put all your sweat and time into an article that has no guarantee of being accepted. And in some cases, that's true. The first query letter I ever sent out came back with a request to see the completed article on spec. I spent a month outlining, researching, interviewing, and writing...only to never hear back from the editor after I sent in the completed article. That's frustrating, and I can totally understand why a lot of writers advise against it.

Sometimes, though, it's worth it. For example, the gig that I just landed is an ongoing project...2-10 articles a week, and a decent pay rate for each article. That translates into good things for my bank account. So they needed me to write a spec article to prove that I could provide quality content. So what? The article didn't take me too long to write (I researched and wrote it in a couple of hours), and the payoff is well worth it. If they'd turned me down, it would have been disappointing, but I would have had a decent content article (plus a ton of story ideas on the subject) that I could have sold elsewhere.

Like anything in this business, you have to do what works for you. As far as my business goes, I no longer write for free (unless there's another perk, like a free book or CD from review sites), and I won't respond to insulting ads, like $1 for a 600-word article. But from now on, if the potential reward is high enough, I'll absolutely write on spec...at least until my résumé is impressive enough that I don't need to anymore.

Now excuse me, I'm going to go pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate.

A Writer's Biggest Hangup: Fear

One of the reasons I'm grateful for JHS is because it forces me to overcome (or at least ignore) my biggest reason for procrastination: fear.

I think it's one of those things most writers struggle with. I can always think of a million reasons not to submit a story, write a query, or apply for a gig. I sit down to write, and as soon as that cursor starts blinking at me on that huge blank screen, the nasty voices start to kick in. "You can't do this. You're not imaginative enough. You won't be able to think of anything to write. There's no way you're good enough."

Sometimes, it's really hard to squelch that voice. I have to deal with a lot of my own inferiority issues when I sit down to write. Why would anyone care about what I have to say? And isn't there already enough writing out there, clogging up the Internet, magazines, and newspapers? How will mine ever stand out?

Not to mention the fact that rejection is a huge part of any working writer's life. Sometimes I wonder if I have the tenacity to keep going if editors reject my work.

But what scares me even more is…what if they say yes?

As a beginning writer, the fear of success is even more crippling than the fear of failure. Because once an editor says, "Okay, we want to work with you," that's the point where I have to look like I know what I'm doing. I have to set fees, and I have to produce what I promised I'd produce. And I'm still at the point where that's a pretty frightening concept.

The funny thing is, I'm not a complete newbie at this. I've been Web writing on a very part-time basis for a couple of years now, and I've even had a story accepted in a print mag. (And been paid for it, too.) But I think, no matter how many times you've been published, the nagging fear is still there. You're putting your words, your creations, out there for someone else to judge and possibly say, "No, that's not good enough for us." And that takes a lot of courage.

For me, it's absolutely imperative that I squelch that fear…or at least ignore it long enough to sit down and write that story or article and send it out. My dream is to be a full-time freelancer, and the only way that's going to happen is if I apply for jobs and build up my portfolio (and my bank account).

And I'm getting better about that. Participating in JHS over at Absolute Write this month has helped immensely, because I'm so inspired by the talented and motivated writers over there. I've written and submitted more in the last week than I ever have before in such a short period.

In the last week, I've:

  • Written and submitted my final column to Nights & Weekends.
  • Written and submitted a 1,000-word short story for the Writers Weekly 24-hour short story contest.
  • Applied for three Web writing projects.
  • Gotten a positive response from one of them, wanting to see an article on spec. I don't usually write on spec, but I made an exception since this would lead to an ongoing gig. Wrote and submitted the sample article last night.

It's an ongoing struggle, but I'm taking it one day at a time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snow.

Ha-HA...I did get something accomplished today. As I was struggling through a particularly nasty, slushy commute home today, I got the idea for a slice-of-life essay. Here's the result. I'm still not sure if it looks as good on paper as it sounded in my head. Feel free to leave comments or critiques. (I love feedback. Even if you just tell me I suck.)

Snow
by Angela Dalecki

It snowed today.

As a grown-up adult with grown-up responsibilities, I hate snow. I hate that it makes my commute home more difficult and twice as long as usual. I hate that I can’t drive easily in it. I hate having to clean off my car. I hate getting home an hour later than usual because the weather slowed traffic to a crawl on a highway.

It’s a shame I have to commute to and from my job. Because if I didn’t have to drive in it, maybe I would have appreciated how beautiful Pennsylvania looks with a fresh blanket of snow.

By the time I left work, it had been snowing for about three hours. When I stepped outside, there was about an inch of snow on the ground, and big, fat, snowflakes were still coming down. There was no wind, no rain, just snow.

If I hadn’t had to drive in it, I probably would have taken a moment to enjoy the beauty of it all. Because it wasn’t a snow I would have wanted to miss.

If I wasn’t so worried about getting home, I might have noticed that the snowflakes were the heavy, moist kind—the type that just clings to whatever it lands on. More than a dusting but not quite a blanket, the snow had covered the lawn to the point where you could just barely see grass tips peeking through.

I might have noticed the leafless oak trees along the streets and the parking lot, and how they were all lined with snow on each and every branch. I might also have noticed the evergreens—how their coating of snow made the branches hang just a little lower than usual, and how the layer of white on green gave them that coveted Christmas look that we never actually get around Christmastime here in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Most importantly, I might have noticed how muted our busy world gets when it snows like this, how quiet and peaceful it is, and what a magical feeling it is to stand outside and just allow the snow to catch in my hair and eyelashes. And if I’d noticed this, maybe I would have gone for a stroll, taking in all of the things I was too busy to see because I was cleaning off my car and cursing Mother Nature for never allowing it to snow on a Saturday.

And if I’d gone for a walk and taken in all of the breathtaking scenery, maybe I would have remembered how, as a child growing up New England, I would wait all season long for a snow just like this one—the perfect consistency for snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, snow angels, and catching snowflakes on my tongue. I’d think about how it’s been entirely too long since I enjoyed snow just for the sake of being snow. And I’d smile and walk a little longer, enjoying the feeling of flakes on my skin and thinking about how, for this moment at least, I’m a child again.

Eventually, I’d go back inside and warm myself up by changing into some cozy flannel pj’s and warm fuzzy socks, and making myself some hot chocolate and maybe baking some cookies. I’d put in an old movie, snuggle up under a blanket with my husband, and think that life is pretty okay right now.

Instead, I had to clear more than two inches of thick, wet, heavy snow off my car—without a brush, since I’m an idiot who doesn’t plan for these things—and endure an hour-long commute on a messy, slushy highway with hundreds of other people who don’t know how to drive in snow and insist in crawling at about 12 miles an hour. By the time I got home and could actually think about enjoying the snow, it had turned into rain. So now I’m inside, ready to eat dinner, just thinking about what might have been.

I think I might still make that hot chocolate.

Life Gets in the Way of Productivity

So this week has been kind of a bust as far as freelance work goes. On the other hand, I've been incredibly busy at my day job---I've been slammed with nonstop editing assignments this week, plus I'm being trained to write celebrity profiles. The flip side, unfortunately, is that my "Just Hit Send" weekly goals have fallen by the wayside.

I can't believe I haven't even blogged yet this week. And I had plenty I wanted to talk about, too.

That's the tough part of holding down a day job while trying to build a freelance life on the side. Between commuting and actually working, I'm away from home 9-10 hours a day. By the time I get home, I'm exhausted, and all I want to do is fix dinner and collapse in front of the TV.

If I want this badly enough, though, I'll find a way to make it work. Next week is a blank page; let's see where it takes me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Progress Update: Friday, Jan. 11, 2008

It's the end of the week, and although I intend to write some more and research markets over the weekend, I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit. In the meantime, I want to take a look at what I've done this week to further my writing career.

1. I bought Peter Bowerman's The Well-Fed Writer last night. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while. I read about a quarter of it last night, and it's already super-informative. I know I'll have my nose buried in it a lot this weekend.

2. I responded to ads from Simply English, ArticleAuthors, LovetoKnow, and ACT. They're all writing projects, except for Simply English, which is a freelance editing gig.

3. I started listening to the cast recording of Xanadu, since I'm reviewing it this month for my column at Nights & Weekends. I try not to write for free anymore, but I tend to make an exception for this site. My first published work ever---a review of 50 First Dates---was at N&W, and I've written and edited for them off and on for the past three years, so I have a little bit of a soft spot when it comes to them, I guess. Even though they don't pay, there are perks involved...I've scored a bunch of free books, games, and CDs (including this month's Xanadu) in exchange for a review. Besides, the editor-in-chief is a fellow freelancer, not to mention a total sweetheart.

4. I wrote a poem and submitted it to Blue Mountain Arts. If they turn it down, I'll send it to a few smaller greeting-card companies and see where the chips fall.


All told, not a bad first week. Here's to a relaxing weekend and an even more productive week starting Monday.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Just Hit Send": January 2008

The fantastic people over at the Absolute Write forums have a challenge every month called "Just Hit Send," where writers list their goals for the month and then encourage each other to stick to them. It's about getting over (or at least ignoring) your fears and what-ifs and just applying for gigs or submitting your work. If you get rejected, you get rejected...but at least you're putting yourself out there. In the meantime, you commiserate with people who are doing the same thing, and you celebrate your successes and share your frustrations together.

I've been a lurker on the Absolute Write boards for a while, and I've watched several months' worth of JHS challenges. But I've always been too scared to throw my hat into the ring. There's just something very intimidating about stating your goals on a public forum where anyone can see it. What if you chicken out? What if you fail? Now you won't be the only one who knows about it. Public humiliation abounds.

On the other hand, publicly stating your goals makes you a little more resolute about sticking to them, which is why JHS has been so successful for so many writers on that board.

In a way, this blog is sort of a mega-personal, year-long JHS challenge. So it seems only fitting that this month was the first time I bit the bullet and posted my goals in that thread.

On Jan. 2, here's what I listed as my goals for the month:

1. Blog at least five times a week.
2. Spend at least an hour a day researching markets, sending out queries, and applying for freelance gigs.
3. A little more specific...send out one query a week and apply for five freelance gigs per week.
4. Be more proactive about leaving comments on blogs I frequent and contributing to discussions on boards like these (AW) instead of just lurking.

It's now the end of the second week of January. I've been falling behind a bit on some of those goals, but I'm doing pretty well on others.

Blog at least five times a week. I think this post makes three so far this week, so if I post again tomorrow and once over the weekend, I'll have hit that. Here's to keeping it going strong.

Spend at least an hour a day researching markets. Check. Actually, I think I'm over-researching, to the point where I'm not getting any actual writing done. Still, it's important to know what's out there. I just need to manage my time a little better.

Send out one query a week and apply for five freelance gigs per week. I haven't been super-proactive about crafting queries and sending them out, but I have applied for a few freelance gigs this week. I've had one rejection so far from a start-up company who needed web copy and a few press releases written, but I was apparently out of his price range. I also applied for a content-writing gig at Love to Know, and I'm sending in my résumé to the people who put together the ACT standardized tests, since they need essay writers for their reading-comprehension sections. I could do better, but this is the most proactive I've been about getting work since...ever.

Leave more comments on blogs. I am getting better about that, especially when I feel like I have something to contribute to the discussion. I'm quiet and a lurker by nature, but you can't get anywhere in this business without making friends on the 'Net.

So I think I've done fairly well so far, but I know I could step it up a bit. Well, to paraphrase the famous saying, tomorrow is the first day of the rest of January. We'll see how the rest of the month shapes up.

A Year of Writing

I spend a lot of time thinking about this blog. Since it’s public, I don’t want it to be a stream-of-consciousness “Here’s what I did with my day” hodgepodge that my more private online journals are. I want this poor little fledgling blog to have a purpose, a meaning, a reason to visit every day.

I set a goal for myself at the end of December. I want to be a full-time freelance writer by the time I’m 30. I’ll be 28 in mid-June, so that gives me two and a half years to achieve this goal. Which means I need to get started like, yesterday.

Year 1 officially starts today. From now until January 10, 2009, not only am I going to hunt down freelance job leads, but I’m going to document my attempts, successes and failures in this blog. I feel like that will keep me focused, and hopefully I’ll have many success stories to share.

If you’ve been visiting this blog regularly since I started it last month, feel free to leave comments, suggestions, or criticism (feel free to tell me how much I suck) as I plow through this journey. And if you’re a writer yourself, please share your successes and failures here.

And for my fellow musical-theatre buffs, never fear—I still plan to talk about music and theatre quite a bit, too.

Here’s to the next step.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Show Business

I think one of my favorite things about 2007 was that I finally hopped on the Netflix train. I'd avoided it for years because it just seemed so complicated...deciding ahead of time what I wanted to watch, waiting for it to arrive in the mail... It seemed so much easier to go to my local video store. Besides, half the time I don't even know what I want to watch until I get to the video store and see what's there.

There's only one problem with that. I'm a theatre geek. And while my local video store is pretty good about stocking the latest releases, I'm not likely to find the DVD of Into the Woods there. Even bona fide movie musicals are hard to find if they're more than five years old or so.

But it turns out that since Netflix has a much bigger library, they have TONS of musical-theatre goodness. So I've been a happy camper for the last couple of months, watching DVDs like Broadway's Lost Treasures and Company: The Original Cast Album.

I've actually got one I want to recommend for any other Broadway lovers who stumble onto this blog. It's called Show Business: The Road to Broadway and it's just wonderful. It's a documentary following four musicals that premiered in the 2003-2004 season---Wicked, Avenue Q, Caroline or Change, and Taboo---from their original conceptions to the 2004 Tony Awards.

Despite already knowing how that season ended, it was a lot of fun to watch. The documentary takes you behind the scenes of the inner workings of a Broadway musical. And it was chock-full of fun (and a few not-so-fun) interviews with Idina Menzel, Raúl Esparza, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, the creators of Avenue Q, and many more.

It's definitely a DVD I'd recommend for anyone who's as big a musical-theatre geek as I am.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Original Cast Recording

One of the perks of my day job is that I get to listen to music through my headphones anytime I want. It's a small perk, but one of my favorites. I've worked at a lot of places where the only available music is the piped-in easy-listening station that plays the same 20 songs over and over again on a loop, and believe me, it gets old.

Besides, as a musical-theatre buff, I like to be able to listen to the bazillion cast recordings I've got downloaded onto my computer.

As I was scrolling through my playlist today, I came across the original Broadway cast recording of Sweeney Todd. And since it's been a long time since I listened to that recording in its entirety, I decided to play it through.

It blew me away.

Now, I am not new to Sweeney Todd in the least. I've worn out my 1982 Hearn-Lansbury DVD and watched the concert DVD more times than I can count. I was lucky enough to see the Broadway revival twice. And of course I've seen the new movie with Johnny Depp.

The thing is, when you see something that many times and know the songs like the back of your hand, it loses something. The delightful lyrics and complex music lose their spark once you've heard them too many times. And with a show that's every bit as farcically hysterical as it is grotesquely creepy, it's easy to become desensitized to the horror of the material.

But listening to the original cast recording today re-awakened me to the meat and potatoes of Sweeney Todd. The OBC is not my favorite recording. There are other actors I prefer in just about every role. But this was the first recording of Sweeney I ever listened to. This was the recording that introduced me to the story, the music, the lyrics. This was the recording that made me fall in love with Sweeney. And yes, it was the recording that terrified me the first few times I heard it.

I think Len Cariou in the title role is one of my favorite things about this recording. While George Hearn is (and probably always will be) my favorite Sweeney, there's something just so haunting and sad about Len Cariou's voice that suits this recording perfectly. And Angela Lansbury is the perfect Mrs. Lovett---even better here than she was on the '82 DVD.

Ken Jennings is probably my least favorite Toby, in terms of singing style, but I absolutely love his delivery of his dialogue. Particularly in the finale. It's not often that you can listen to a recording of a musical and be on the edge of your seat in suspense. And although I never got to see her, I've always loved Merle Louise's Beggar Woman. No actress who's played the role since has quite matched her high-pitched wailing and frantic dialogue. Beautiful work.

Victor Garber and Sarah Rice, as young lovers Anthony and Johanna, blend well together and they both have that type of voice that's so reminiscent of '70s-era Sondheim music.

The orchestrations are lovely, not too sparse but not overbearing. And I can't talk about this recording without mentioning the steam whistle. A theatrical device that was left out of later recordings and cut from the movie entirely, the steam whistle was blown every time Sweeney murdered one of his victims. It's supposed to be a symbol of the working class beating down the upper class, but you don't need to know that in order for it to scare the wits out of you every single time you hear it. It's really the biggest reason why this will always be the definitive Sweeney cast recording (in my opinion, anyway)...it's just such a unique sound.

I'm so happy that Sweeney Todd is more recognizable in mainstream America today, thanks to Tim Burton's movie. But if you only know Sweeney through Johnny Depp, I implore you to check this cast recording out at your local library. I'm not disparaging the movie in any way---I absolutely loved it---but it can't beat the original.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Job Satisfaction

This will probably not come as a huge shock to anyone who’s read this blog before and knows how picky I am about grammar, but I really, really enjoy editing. I enjoy writing, too, but editing is really what gets my right brain working.

Sure, it can be tedious at times. And yeah, there are a billion little random rules that you need to know, and the job is sometimes a neverending game of constantly checking facts, grammar, and spelling.

But it's all worth it when you look at a freshly edited piece of copy, knowing that it's a little bit easier to read because you cleaned it up. It's a unique kind of job satisfaction that's almost as rewarding as getting the paycheck.

Last night, I helped my husband edit a cover letter he wrote for a local acting gig. He's a very good writer---better than I am---but he doesn't worry a lot about how the words look on the page. The result was a big block of text that said a lot of really awesome things about him...but because it was a big block of text, it was utterly unreadable.

I helped him break it up a little, cleaned up some super-nitpicky punctuation issues, and helped him tweak the wording. The result? A punchy, impressive, "please hire me" cover letter that he was proud to send out. They were still his words; they just looked nicer.

Of course, I don't see a dime for editing jobs like that. I did it because I love him and I want to see him get the job, and it means a lot to me to be the person knows he can go to and say, "Please edit this." And I won't lie---I was proud of the finished product.

What's your favorite part of your artistic endeavors?