Saturday, September 18, 2010

George N. Parks, leader of the Power and Class of New England, the UM Minuteman Marching Band, died suddenly of a heart attack on Thursday night at age 57.

I can't think of anyone else who has had a more profound influence on me. As a high school band member, I attended his band leadership academy for two summers and his drum major academy just before my senior year in high school. The lessons I learned from those seminars gave me---an awkward, insecure flute player who talked too fast---the knowledge and courage to lead my high school's very small, struggling marching band. When it came time to choose colleges, my choice was easy. Many of my friends regarded UMass-Amherst as a "safety school," but I wanted to go there for one reason. I wanted to be a part of George Parks' band.

I was a decent marcher, but a terrible flute player. I was accepted into the UMass band as an alternate and ended up marching in the clarinet line my freshman year. It didn't matter--I was just happy to be a part of the magic. Through the band program that GNP (as we affectionately called him) built, I met some of the most wonderful people I have ever known. Many of them became good friends. But everyone I met while part of the UMMB were good people who had undoubtedly been touched by Mr. Parks' influence.

He taught us that to be a good leader, you have to be your best when things are at their worst. That you always have to be "on." That you never get a second chance at a first impression. That no matter what you do, you should always sparkle. And your eyes should always, always be "with pride." I, and so many other UMMB members, have tried our bests to carry these lessons into the real world.

Because of problems on the home front, 1997 to about 2001 was one of the most unhappy periods of my life. My parents were going through an incredibly ugly divorce and I wasn't reacting well to the upheaval. But for two fall seasons, 1998 and 1999, the UMMB provided me with a home, a safe haven. It gave me a creative outlet, tons of love and support, and a sense of belonging.

In 2000, at the end of my sophomore year, I transferred to Ball State University in Indiana. My dad was a staff member there at the time, and he'd suggested that I transfer to save money on my college tuition. It is, to date, the single biggest lapse in judgment I have ever had. Ten years later, I still deeply regret not finishing my college career at UMass. Worse, I've let myself lose touch with many people who were so important to me during that time.

The one good thing to come out of this tragedy is that, through social networking sites like Facebook, the family of UMass alumni has rebonded in a way that's unprecedented. We're all together right now, grieving the loss of a wonderful mentor, leader, and friend. George Parks meant so much to all of us, and in our time of sorrow, we're turning to each other for comfort and commiseration.

And George Parks? He left this world doing what he loves most. Shortly before his heart attack, he enthusiastically conducted the UMMB in a rousing rendition of "Fight Mass" (the school's fight song) and "My Way," which is the traditional final song of any UMMB show. He left behind an amazing legacy. Two people that I know from theater in Delaware have been affected by his passing because they are alumni of his drum major academy. It's such a small world. And there are stories like this all over the country, I'm sure.

So, to Mr. Parks, thank you so much for instilling such a sense of leadership and pride in your students, and for providing a home for lost students like me. Not one of us will ever forget you for it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Back at it with a vengeance!

I've spent the last week or so redoubling my freelance-writing efforts. Now that Willy Wonka is done, I've got my evenings and weekends back, and I've got a lot of time to fill. No worries, though---I've managed to find plenty to do. Here's what's on my list for this long weekend:
  • A proposal for what's shaping up to be a major project for an existing client;
  • A test for wiseGEEK---three articles due by the end of the weekend. If I pass, I'll be a regular contributor for them, which is exciting;
  • Three articles for Demand Studios, which I picked up earlier last week because things were slow (ha).
If everything works out, it'll be a busy summer. But that's the way I like it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Be happy.

Yesterday, Deb Ng, the writer who runs my favorite freelance-writing site, Freelance Writing Gigs, turned over her blog network to a new owner.

Every freelance job I've ever landed has come from the leads on that site. I don't participate in the discussions often---I'm more of a lurker---but it's been a wonderful resource since I began freelancing two years ago. And while I'm sure good things will continue to come from the site, it feels like the end of an era now that Deb has moved on.

In her goodbye post, Deb left her readers with the following thought:

"You are responsible for you. Only you know the choices that work best for you and your situation. Don’t be the person a blogger wants you to be. Be the person you want to be. Be happy."

If that doesn't sum up my experiences, dreams and goals in one tidy little package, I don't know what does.

Thanks for all you've done for other writers, Deb. We'll miss you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Willy Wonka

One of the reasons I want to freelance full-time is to make time for other creative endeavors. My favorite art form is live theatre. I love it. Exposure to theatre on both a professional and community level keeps me going and makes me happy to be alive. I try to see as many shows as possible, and when I have time, I perform in local productions. Because of time commitments to my full-time job, my commute, and my side freelance business, I’ve had to choose my shows carefully. But I’d like to have the freedom to do a lot more in the future.

I just closed a production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka this past Sunday. It’s a stage musical based on the 1971 film. It has all of the songs from the movie, plus a few that were written specifically for the stage show. I played Mrs. Bucket, and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. I’m actually having a hard time letting go of my attachment to this particular production, and I’m already growing antsy and looking forward to auditions for future shows. It’ll be a few months before I’m ready to try out for another production, though. For now, I’m looking forward to a (somewhat) relaxing summer and the extra time to work on writing projects.

(The Bucket Shack! Grandparents in the first photo; me with Mr. Bucket and Charlie in the second.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Pitfalls of Writing Web Content

Any other freelance writers out there struggle against the “it’s not a REAL job” stereotype? Particularly web content writers?

It’s no secret that I want to take my freelance business full-time someday. It won’t happen anytime soon, because I’m comfortable and generally happy in my full-time job, and the money I make from my freelance business is helping me pay off some old debts and build savings and pay for things I wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.


The fact of the matter is that my regular job, while enjoyable and fulfilling, is a 30-mile drive from my home. I happen to love my hometown and have no intention of moving to be closer to my workplace. So I have to ask myself—will I still want to make this commute in two years? Five? Ten? And if not, then what are my plans?

This line of thinking always makes me refocus my freelancing efforts. Because when it comes down to it, I want to be in charge of my own career, my own salary, my own life. I want to stop polluting the planet with my daily drives. If GrammarHubby and I have kids eventually, I want to be able to stay at home with them and not have to drop them off at some daycare at 8:00 in the morning and not see them again until 7:00 at night. So taking my writing and editing business full-time eventually is a major goal for me.

However, I’ve noticed lately that whenever I bring up the topic, GrammarHubby gets uncharacteristically quiet. If he responds at all, it’s usually to point out what a good job I have now. (And I do have a good job; don’t get me wrong. But I’d like more freedom and flexibility down the road.) I’ve suspected for a while that he (understandably) is nervous about the idea of me giving up a full-time job with regular pay and benefits and venturing into the “unknown.”

We got to the heart of the issue last night. I’d run some numbers through an online commute calculator and was horrified to discover that my daily commute costs me close to $10,000 each year when you figure in the costs of gas, car maintenance, insurance and depreciation. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We bought a brand-new car in 2006. Four years later, that car has 120,000 miles on it and we’ve had to replace some fairly expensive parts. Sooner rather than later, we’re going to have to trade it in for a new one. I used this as an argument for freelancing—once I take my business full-time, I won’t need a new, low-mileage car anymore. We can sell whatever car we have and pay cash for an older car, and I can bike or take the bus to as many places as possible while running errands. Based on the money I’ve been making part-time as a freelancer, I’m certain that I could at least match my current salary if I jumped to full-time. And with the money saved on commuting, we’d actually come out ahead of where we are now.

So I presented all this to GrammarHubby, but he still wasn’t convinced. After some probing, I finally managed to get him to admit the real problem.

He doesn’t think freelancing is a real job.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair. He knows I’m really working. He even admitted that logically, his fears don’t make a lot of sense. But because I do all of my writing for the Internet, he doesn’t ever see concrete evidence that I’m actually working. My articles usually don’t get a byline, and I’ve never been published in a print magazine or written a book—and after all, those are the marks of a “real” writer, aren’t they? And since I’m the one who handles the finances, he doesn’t even really see the money I make from my writing. In general, he knows that I do some mystery work and get paid a couple of times a month, and that’s it. “It doesn’t seem like something you could do full-time,” he admitted.

So I fired up my laptop and showed him some of my most recently published articles. I also showed him a spreadsheet that has all of my current projects listed on it, as well as our bank statements from the past few months that reflect my freelancing income. By the time we were done, we both felt much better. He has a better understanding of what it is that I actually do, and I feel like he’s more supportive of my goals now that he understands them better.

But this misconception of freelance writing is a real issue. I’ve found that most people I talk to don’t really understand what a freelance writer actually does. And they definitely don’t understand that you can make a real living doing this type of work. I’ve had this argument many times with several members of my family, and I know I’ll have it more and more often as I start to make serious plans to make the leap.

Obviously, I shouldn’t care what people think of my career choices. As long as I’m happy and making a decent living, that’s all that should matter. But it seems like anytime you proudly say, “I want to be a freelance writer,” you’re met with gloom and doom and expectations of failure. So how do you deal with that? Any advice from longtime freelancers? How did you deal with naysayers in the beginning of your career?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'm baaaaack.

Um. Hi.

I've let this blog go a bit. For roughly nine months, actually.

Sorry about that.

Life has been pretty crazy lately, though. Here's what I've been up to since May of last year:
  • I continued to work my tail off at my full-time copy-editing job. The great thing is that my work was recognized--I nabbed a nice bonus and an award for my service.
  • I also had a stellar part-time freelance year, adding almost $10k onto my regular income.
  • I went to Disney World and spent an absolutely magical week at Wilderness Lodge.
  • Most fun of all, I rehearsed, opened and closed two community theatre shows: Into the Woods and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. They'll both always have a special place in my heart, especially Into the Woods. I've loved that show forever, and thanks to a very fortuitous turn of events, I got to join an amazing cast at the last minute and play Rapunzel. Once I got over my fear of heights, it was an amazing experience.
Things are still going well. I'm getting ready to file my taxes for the first time as a serious part-time freelancer, which is a bit of a wake-up call. (Note to future self: File estimated taxes throughout the year. Thanks.) It's almost review time at work, which is always interesting. I used to dread performance evaluations, but now I almost look forward to them because it's a great chance to see if your hard work was recognized.

And I'm still freelancing. I've toned down the aggressiveness a bit for now, just writing for one or two regular clients. I still want to take this business full-time eventually, but I like my full-time job and, at least for right now, I've got a lot of reasons to stay there. The freelance business is a nice addition to my regular income, not to mention a safety net in case anything did happen to my full-time job, so I'm continuing it. But for now, any definite plans to take it full-time have been put on hold.

I'm planning to give more love to this blog in the meantime. There's so much to write about, and so many grammar lessons to have. I look forward to re-starting the discussion with anyone who's reading this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Limericks and Other Creative Writing

Over at Livejournal, where my (much more personal) blogging alter ego resides, there was an interesting writing prompt today. Apparently today is “Limerick Day,” and the challenge was to create a short poem that followed the AABBA rhyme scheme of a typical limerick. (The responses make it appear that sticking to the anapestic meter of a traditional limerick was optional, however.)

So I figured, what the heck, I’ll give it a try. I haven’t done much creative writing in the last few years, mainly because the writing and editing that I’m paid to do gets in the way, and it turns out I kind of miss it. So I sat down and cranked out two limericks.

They suck. (I’ve posted them at the end of this entry. Feel free to make fun of them in the comments.) I’m not a humorist, and writing things that are supposed to be witty or clever is not exactly my forte.

But it’s okay that they suck. Because writing them turned out to be a surprisingly fun and educational exercise. It’s really, really difficult to write a limerick---especially for a stickler like me, who was determined to not only work with the rhyme scheme, but also conform to the correct meter. With so many constraints, it really makes you think about your word choice, and swap out one word or phrase for one that might work better.

So without further ado, I present you with two really terrible limericks:

Annemarie was a girl who loved cheese
And she’d say, “Mom, just give me some, geez!”
Her mom said, “You want Swiss?
“Well, I’m sorry, you’ll miss
“If you don’t say the magic word: please!”


Mrs. Potts had a young son named Chip
And he had a small crack on his lip.
When Belle drank from the cup,
Young Chip cried, “Bottoms up!”
As the crack caused the teacup to drip.

If you’re a nonfiction writer, do you find it benefits your writing if you try your hand at another genre, like poetry or fiction? Leave a response in the comments and let me know!