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 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


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.)

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)'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?