Thursday, January 31, 2008

Love Thursday

Visual artists - painters, photographers, sculptors - amaze me with their ability to see something in their mind's eye and then reproduce it into something tangible. Bob Ross used to take his funny-looking tools and a little paint, and with a dab here and a dab there, make a tree appear, glittering with sunlight. I did a Bob Ross painting once - in one of those one day classes at the craft store, with the really, really patient instructors - and even as I swiped and dabbed and pounced and saw the trees and the water appear, I still couldn't grasp it. I was simply copying, carefully, what the instructor showed us. I was pleased with the results, and framed my masterpiece in an ornate gold frame and put it up on the mantel. But today if you gave me a canvas, paints, and tools, I wouldn't know what to do with them.

This video takes my awe to a whole new level. Click on the video called "Love 2008" and you'll see what I mean.

Ilana Yahav - Sand Fantasy - Video Clips

Enjoy your Love Thursday!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

All the News that's Fit to Print...

Sometimes you know you want to post something, but you have too many random ideas to come up with a cohesive blog post. Really great bloggers write these ideas down, develop them into posts, and save them up for times when they'll be unable to work for some reason. Other bloggers (ahem) just make a nice list of random, disjointed facts.

Random, disjointed facts:

1. Did you know you're supposed to use a relevant title for blog posts so the search engines can figure out what the heck you're blogging about?

2. Here's a happy fact for ya: Sometimes editors and others who want you to write for them Google your name. I know! Intimidating, right? It's like public speaking, but you can't picture them in their underwear when you don't even know who they are!

3. My laptop cord broke. Then my replacement laptop cord broke. If I can ever force myself to wait on hold for an hour, I will try to get my money back. But I don't know if they will reimburse my overnight shipping expenses. Somehow I doubt it.

4. Fact number 3 makes me want to cry. But I won't. Instead I will try to drum up some righteous indignation for that phone call. Their hold music and repeated, recorded attempts to assure me that they are committed to customer satisfaction will help immensely.

5. I took a break from writing about overcoming procrastination to post this.

6. Fact number 5 is the dirty little secret no one ever tells you about writers. (Hint: They don't always take their own advice.) Oops. I wonder if I was supposed to let the cat out of the bag?

7. "Let the cat out of the bag" is a cliche. (a) You should avoid them in good writing. (b) Using them in blog posts, however, is perfectly acceptable!

8. Fact number 7(b) is a matter of opinion and therefore not really a fact.

9. It isn't always easy to come up with relevant blog post titles - nor relevant blog posts, for that matter. And that, my friends, is a fact.

10. Fact: 10 points in a list is really better than 9.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hi! Remember me!

I'm sorry best beloveds (ooh, I just channeled Joshilyn there!)... I am so sorry that I've been on some sort of extended vacation.

Yeah, if vacation meant work and it was tiring.

But I just slept 13 hours. Yes. Thirteen hours. Both children were carted off by family and I had an evening to get caught up on "things". And by things, I meant sleep. I got to the computer at about 6:30 and returned some of the 200+ emails accruing there (if only they accrued interest) and did a couple of email interviews and editing a few things and wrote a few things.

And then at 8:20 I went to bed. I knew I was tired but my brain was saying "you're not THAT tired you big baby. Are you yawning? No. Are you having trouble focusing? No. So keep at it... keep working... keep on keeping on... lalalala..."

But guess what? You don't have to be dragging your butt, can't keep your eyes open any more type of tired to go to bed. You can just be at level 1 tired not level 16 melt-down tired.

So I caught up on sleep (which, technically you can't catch up on... but whatever) and now I've caught up on some chores. We tackled some laundry and vacuuming. We have been forgetting to buy vacuum bags for ... oh about a month or so. Our house never seems to be in a state where it's conducive to vacuuming because first there are eleventy other tasks that must be completed first.

We finally got bags, so we finally got around to vacuuming.

And I forgot how to TURN THE VACUUM ON.

I felt so dumb. Standing there, not knowing how to start my own vacuum cleaner. Eventually my husband (who has vacuumed more than I have, obviously) came over and turned it on for me. Sheesh!

Yep, that's the Cook household. We vacuum once a year, whether the house needs it or not!

Tomorrow I'm off to Ontario (the province, not the city in California) for five days for a sales conference and a client meeting. I will probably have more time than I would at home.

And I know one thing: I'm going to get more sleep.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


"Nicholas," I call out, turning around to look at him. "Nicholas," I say louder when he doesn't so much as blink from battling evil space invaders. Finally hollering across the 5 foot space between us. "Nick!"

He turns, looking at me blankly, pushing his glasses back up on his nose, shaking his head a bit to get the hair out of his eyes.

"Yes Mama," he answers cautiously, eyes going behind me to the plate I have just uncovered.

"What exactly is this?" I ask, pointing to the closet shelf, while being extra cautious not to touch my finger to whatever the heck it is.

I'd gone on a bit of a cleaning jag, taking the three day weekend to rid us of 15 black garbage bags of McDonald's toys, and other random crap. A task I should obviously tackle with much more enthusiasm and regularity.

"That Mama," he replies, getting up and clearing his throat just a bit as if he has the most important proclamation of his lifetime to present to me. "Is a future Guinness World Record."

"It is," I say inching a bit closer to have a better look. "I don't imagine they have a category for that, honey." I inform him, reaching my finger out to poke it.

He then proceeds to tell me that every single piece of gum he has chewed for the last TWO years, now happily reside on this one large WAD of gum, this sculpture if I'm feeling really charitable. Which I assure you, I was not.

"And they do have a record, Mama. They have a category for everything and if they don't, and your idea is cool enough, they'll create a whole new record just for you."

Then, just to prove his point, he's grabbing the book off his bookshelf and leafing frantically through it, in an attempt to save his "creation” in the closet.

"It's ok," I assure him, not because I believe there is a world record for biggest gum wad but because I don't much care. I only care that it is in my house and it has the potential to grow much much bigger. And I have to admit, it kind of creeps me out that it resembles a chicken or even a deformed rooster.

I imagine the gum wad outgrowing the plate and then the shelf, spilling out into the room until it takes it over completely and we can't get it out the door and in order for the record people to come measure it, they have to tear down the wall and then we are homeless.

“Once it outgrows the plate, it goes in the garage, ok?” I tell him but only because it is creative in it's own weird shiny, slimy, spitty, germy and gummy way.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What dreams may come

In all fairness, I’m probably going to be writing this post from 9am in the morning till around 1pm (because I have a class at 11:15 and need to leave my house at 10:15 to meet my tutor first), so it might be a little disjointed. On the other hand I might get it AND the cleaning done.

When I was a very small girl, I dreamed of being a writer. And like other small children, I had this fairly romantic notion of sitting down for a couple of hours, bashing out a book, and living happily ever after, though, to be fair, I’d already rather magnanimously decided that when I wrote that bestseller that first time out, that I’d keep writing. I loved it that much, even back then.

Fast forward to when I hit 21.
I’m a new mother, my baby is about three and a half months old, and I’ve just been given a desktop. My partner says that I’m allowed to write as long as I keep the house spotless, because he works at night.
Caring for a baby and cleaning a house left a sum total of around 1 hour to write – or do emails to communicate with other writers.
At 23 I changed things. We’d moved to a bigger house, and I’d taught myself to stay up till 4am and write. The house was slightly messy sometimes, and my ex partner was a pain in the proverbial about what he wanted (‘where’s the best seller then eh?’) but I still wrote.
And I kicked him out at 24.

It’s taken a while for me to find my balance, and sometimes it goes completely, like this week, when I haven’t cleaned the house AT ALL beyond the basics. But I’m a University student (which rox!) and I’m writing (which was always my dream) and I have the support of a wonderful man.

SO – here’s my challenge to you guys. This year, find a way to do what YOU want without destroying what you need. I know, it sounds fairly glib when I put it that way, but there’s always a way to find your way to what you want – because ‘wants’ like writing are just ‘needs’ that the soul can’t express without sounding selfish. Those of us that are writers NEED that. It’s part of our DNA, and without it, we’re very lost, and probably in pieces, in ways most of us don’t like to think about.

I always dreamed I’d be a writer – I thought, by now, I’d have sold a couple of books, but I suppose that just wasn’t to be. Not yet anyway.
The house is calling me now. I’ve got dishes, and character conversations, hovering and planning to do.
Have a great week!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Grass is Alway Greener... but bring a watering can with you.

**Disclaimer** I'm talking about dollars and money in this post. Something I find distasteful at times. I don't like saying how much I make in case someone out there is saying "is that all?" while someone else is saying "that much? why are you complaining?"

It gets harder and harder every week to get everything done. As my regular job becomes more demanding and my writing calls louder and louder... I begin to feel that familiar pull to go back to freelancing full time.

It's hard not to heed. It's hard to make the right choice for my family and stay working full time. There's so much that I want to say and do and not enough time to say or do it!

Each time a great article idea pokes its head up out of the fog I giggle and then sigh. Where's the time?

I'm getting more involved politically these days. Yesterday I was an agent and scrutineer for a local candidate who was trying to win the nomination for our party. She was second. But during the vote yesterday I was approached by the provincial party to become involved in the riding. I've lived here for about 10 years, so why not?

It was nice to meet with other like-minded people, nice to be approached and have someone say "we want what you have", nice to be appreciated.

I know I'll do it.

But I digress.

Work is... work. It makes me money. But freelancing could make me money too. Just not as much. Hubby has decided to go get a better paying job. Could this mean that I could take a lower paying job (ie freelancing) that allows me to have my kids at home more and earn the supplementary income?

Let's have an honest look at my situation:

Rent: $1450
Childcare: $1250
Fuel: $200
Utilities: $350
Food: $500

That's $3750 a month in FIXED expenses. I gross about $4500 a month. I pay about 30% in taxes with a take home figure of about $3150. that's if I sell my butt off, because without commission I take home about $2600.

So what would happen if I removed childcare and cut my fuel in half.

Fixed expenses are $2400 a month.

Can I bring in $2400 a month freelancing?

In 'work terms' I can do it if:

I write two articles for Pajamas Media a week + two large editing or proofreading projects + two or three print articles a month.

Add in two books a year and I'd exceed my current salary based on my advances alone.

I know the grass looks greener. I know that it is greener, actually, I've done the freelancing thing in the past. The only reason I stopped was so my husband could pursue this career dream. Now that he's going in another direction, I wonder what I'm supposed to be doing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Good, powerful writing

The Roar for Powerful Words award

It’s a tag, and an award.

To be honest, I’ve been putting off responding to this tag from Erika Geiss, founder of WAHM Magazine, because I’m supposed to list the top three mostest importantest keys to good and powerful writing, and I’ve been having that kind of week where none of my writing seems good, much less powerful.

I’ll give it my best shot.

1. Powerful writing seems to tap into an emotional thread that is common to most readers. It resonates. Everything in it seems to echo the readers’ thoughts, or reverberate long after you put it down.
2. Good writing must be technically correct. Tat mean’s yu dont whant misspeelings tippos and grammar errors I think it lessons te writting. (MS Word tried to correct all my problems there. But it didn’t catch “lessons.” Let that be a lesson to you!)
3. Aside from having the universal theme and technically correct writing, you need to communicate. This is most difficult for me when something really stirs me. I feel the emotional thread, the universal truth, but grasping the exact right expression of it is what makes a writer’s work actually work. You choose the right words, avoid clich├ęs, make seamless transitions. It’s craft and it’s art. It’s also the part that’s the most fun when you think you’ve nailed it. Want to read a great example? Check out Mir’s blog, Woulda Coulda Shoulda.

The biggest tip I have for producing that powerful and good writing is to write something you would enjoy reading. Write a first draft and, if at all possible, let it simmer for a day, then come back to it with the red pen. You are your own first audience, remember? While you may have to adjust it for your market, it is easier to do that on revision.

So these are my opinions about what makes good, powerful writing. My opinions are always subject to change, but that's where I stand today. Hope it helps.

Now for the rules and my tags:

Link back to the person who tagged you.
List three things that you believe are necessary to make writing good and powerful.
Tag five others and comment at their blog informing them that they’ve been tagged with this award: Tiff, whose story about why she cut her hair was very powerful. Heather, in whose writing I often hear echoes. Dej is off this week, so I’ll also tag Faten, Linda, and
Mir, who probably doesn’t even do these, but I want to hear her opinion.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Worthy Worth

"Is it worth it?" Jessica asked, a week ago Sunday, at the end of a post on a writing group we both belong to. I'd been wondering that myself, struggling with the idea of what determined worth and career in the writing world. Attempting to decide if I should go back to college and pursue something real and solid. Allowing myself to sink into the not good enough territory.

I hadn't made any resolutions, I'd given up really, participating in my favorite activity, procrastination through web surfing.

"This is my year of hope and courage and forgiveness," fellow MNABC writer, Heather, proclaimed, complete with perfect quotes and inspiring prose.

"This is the year I'll be more of a loser than I already am," I thought to myself in reply, with not even a random inkling of a clue what I wanted to resolve for myself.

So I moved on to Madame Rubies blog. She has had a theme each year for almost as long as I have known her. She's had a year of freedom, a year of contentment, a year of purpose and vision and now she is going to have a year of laughter and possibilities. I just love the sound of that one.

I sank further down into frustration at my own lack of creativity and motivation, and wandered off to check emails, spotting Jessica's post. Jessica who is also a writing mama. Jessica who has two small children. Jessica who is in the wee hours of the night phase that is all one big, hazy blur to me. Jessica who managed to inspire and wake me up with her writing.

I felt what she was saying in the deepest parts of my bones. I connected with it and felt something shift in my brain. And it dawned on me, that I've passed this moment that she is in.

I should have known the day my youngest was talking with her brother, about something at school. She spoke in the most grownup of ways, about this life completely without me. But it took Jessica's moment, so completely raw and inside those long ago (for me) moments, to open my eyes.

To see how blessed I am that I can say to my wild four, "Please don't speak another word to me, for just 5 minutes, I"ll lose the shape of the story in my head." And have them set the timer and understand.

She made me see how lucky I am to be in that place where they are "old" enough, where they go to school and I have hours to DO (keyword here, must do, must do) what I love and have passion for.

She reminded me of the moments when my writing has inspired, moved, motivated or induced belly laughs from another person, by touching me so deeply with her own.

She compelled me to take on worth as my theme, my resolution if you will. Of finding it inside myself.

So, in answer to your question, Jessica, yes, I really do think it is...worth it.

In honor of my theme, I chopped off 14 inches of hair (outdated and out of control hair does not determine self worth). I have pictures and a Hairy Tale on my personal blog if you are inclined to see.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Trolling for Sources could Lead to Far Stickier Issues

A frequent question I hear from those new to writing is what amounts to a "fair use" question, but it can quickly develop into so much more.

Shortly after Christmas, a writer on a writing list I belong to asked the list in general if it would be OK to quote a passage from a book if the writer gives the author credit. Despite my convoluted summary, the questioned posed seems like a simple question, but I see it as a much more complicated issue that I think those new to writing for publication need to be aware of.

While on the surface, it may seem OK to quote someone from a book while giving credit to the original author, I would argue that this is almost never OK. I have several reasons for my answer, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

The first consideration as the author of the article, you have to ask, what is your ultimate purpose? If your ultimate purpose is to develop an ongoing relationship with an editor by providing an article that indicates you are a well-qualified, professional writer, you want to provide a high-quality article with original reporting. This indicates to the editor more than just your ability to write; it also indicates your ability to identify the need for and the ability to utilize legitimate sources. In other words, you are also promoting your reporting skills to an editor as well as your writing skills. Proven, dependable reporting skills can get you a second assignment over another writer that just offers solid writing skills.

If you rely on published material in your article rather than directly interviewing the author and/or another expert, you may unwittingly use outdated and/or inaccurate information in your own article, which isn't something editors want to buy. For that reason alone, I would always recommend interviewing the author and/or expert directly. You never want to put yourself in the position where you are repeating another writer's mistake.

There are also the more complicated issues that arise when you quote from published material such as copyright, fair use and plagiarism.

In response to the writer's query on the listserv, one person mentioned learning from a teacher that it was considered "fair use" as long as you quoted less than 30 lines from a book. The problem with this understanding is that fair use operates differently in a classroom and/or academic setting than it does when you are writing for publication. Guidelines provided by an instructor may have been intended to apply only to a specific class or assignment. In that class, the instructor and students may have understood all books used for that class are large tomes, but some books (like children's books) may be less than 30 lines total and weren't considered in the guideline offered by the teacher because shorter books were not an option.

Copyright, fair use and plagiarism are all differing terms in the U.S. You can find a lot of information at including this bit about fair use, "The distinction between "fair use" and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the
copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

For any questions any writer may have about copyright and/or fair use in the United States, http:/ is the best reference source.

Copyright infringement and fair use is determined, ultimately, in a court of law. It can depend on what you quote as much as how much you quote. For instance, if the book takes 250,000 words to get to a key concept, and you write an article revealing just that key concept, you may be overstepping your bounds in terms of fair use. I don't think anyone can say "more than 30 lines" needs permission because books can vary in length, and how do you consider articles? The content in determining fair use is just as important as the length as well as how the new author uses that information. That's why it is ultimately a legal decision. I would say that a good guideline for writers would be to consider how pertinent the original material is to your work. If your work can't survive without the quoted material, you are using enough that you should seek permission from the original author.

(I feel as if I have to add the caveat that my thoughts regarding this particular discussion applies to articles written for the general, commercial-oriented audience and does not consider any exceptions/conventions that apply to academic writing.)

Fair use and plagiarism are two different things. Copyright and fair use are legal matters while plagiarism is an ethical/moral/professional issue. I make that distinction with the complete understanding that all three are serious concepts that any writer must be well versed in. Plagiarism should not be tolerated. Proper credit must always be given to avoid plagiarism. The specific requirements for what constitutes "credit" can vary depending on what genre you are writing.

Regardless of the genre, you must give credit when you do any of the following: 1) direct quotation from a source, 2) indirect quotation from a source and 3) the use of an idea from a source. It doesn't matter if you use just one word, you should still give credit. Often that one word would be a catch phrase; for instance, Rebecca Moore Howard of Syracuse University coined the term "patchwriting" when referring to students who replace key words in a sentence without really changing the sentence, like replacing "good" for "great."

I particularly like to use Howard's phrase as an illustration for number three because it is both on the topic of plagiarism as well as being a great example of how a single word can convey an idea that is directly tied to the original author, which is why citation is required for an idea. Not to mention it gives students a heads up about what is expected when it comes time to paraphrase a source.

Genre and Citation considerations:

How to cite and credit a source is often just as important as providing credit. In academic writing, the way sources are cited varies depending on the profession's standards. For academic writing, citation is very formal and follows a complicated set of guidelines that varies from field to field. Humanities uses MLA while nursing uses APA. There are other citation standards for other fields too.

The genre you are writing in often sets the standards for the type of citations you need to use.

In journalism, sources need to be cited, and the information provided can vary. Most often you will find a name, position and residence, but it can include age or other identifying information relevant to the article. The position used in the article will be selected in relation to the article's topic. If you were to interview Dan Smith, a professor, about his son's accomplishment in wrestling, it would be more relevant to the article being written to identify Dan Smith as a parent not as a professor.

In academic writing, citations are much more detailed and can include source name, how the information was obtained (personal interview, e-mail, book, article, etc.) as well as the date the material was written and often for online sources when the information was accessed as well.

In fiction, citations may be much more informal and may be found in a number of places such as the acknowledgments, in an author's note or thank you, buried in the small print at the beginning of the book or in an entire section at the end. Although it is fiction, authors do a good deal of research, and it is the research that is cited. I'm not a fiction writer, so I can't offer any more suggestions about how this could happen beyond what I have noticed as a reader. Two of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult and Patricia Cornwell, often have a long list of acknowledgments in each book indicating the sources of their research most often with a caveat that notes any errors should not be attributed to the source but rather to the creative license of the author. (Even as I write this, I have the urge to check books I have by both authors to see if my memory is correct. I am going to resist the urge. I am pretty sure I'm right. Let me know if I'm wrong.)

A couple of interesting cases regarding plagiarism:

Just this week, two accusations of plagiarism have made the news.

An online web site noted a striking similarity between the work of a fiction writer and several nonfiction sources. The allegations ended up making Yahoo News. Since the original article breaking the story, other articles have followed like this one:
I encourage every writer to read this particular article since it illustrates how plagiarism can seriously injure a writer's reputation even when the writer in question won't face any formal/legal ramifications. In this instance, the author's publisher is supporting the author.

Jerry Seinfeld's wife is also being accused of plagiarizing her newly-published cook book. The author of the book Seinfeld allegedly plagiarized is suing for copyright and trademark infringement. This case is important to note because it is often being referred to in the media as the Seinfelds' being sued for plagiarism and defamation. Even CNN's headline, "Seinfeld, wife sued for plagiarism, defamation," but plagiarism is not a legal issue. You can't sue for plagiarism. It is an ethical/professional/moral issue, remember?

While it is true the Seinfelds' are being sued, Jessica Seinfeld is being sued for copyright and trademark infringement NOT plagiarism despite numerous headlines saying otherwise. The confusion seems to be arising from wording in the legal complaint filed in court in the section where the defendant sets out their allegations. The fifth allegation mentions "brazen plagiarism" that is so often being quoted, but the complete wording makes it clear the legal basis for the suit is more than plagiarism. has the entire legal document available, and the source of the misunderstanding seems to be this line: "Jessica Seinfeld's brazen plagiarism of Lapine's book constitutes copyright and trademark infringement under Federal and New York law."

As writers, it is important we report accurately especially when reporting on plagiarism and copyright issues. Other related terms you may want to investigate include ghostwriting and boilerplating. I would say what these two terms describe is NOT plagiarism, and I encourage you to do some research to find out why.

To me, another interesting recent case of plagiarism happened in November 2007 when a well-respected journalism professor wrote an opinion column that used quotes obtained by a student journalist without properly crediting where he obtained the quotes. He cited the person who was quoted, but he didn't get those quotes on his own but instead copied them from a news article in another paper. The professor and author, John Merrill, later called it "unintentional plagiarism," but other professors at the University of Missouri (a top journalism school) said it was plagiarism without any hesitation. You can read the entire opinion here:

For other plagiarism stories in the news, I refer you to one web site that publishes an end-of-the-year round-up of plagiarism/fabrication events, primarily in the press. You can find the latest round-up here:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Five ways to promote your book that others aren't using right now...

(caveat - most people may not be using these NOW, but they will be after I post this)

1 Make tshirts
I’ve got this awesome t-shirt that lets me program stuff into it. Its got an LED display and it basically rocks - for those of us that can’t get the electronic version though, have you ever considered printing your ISBN on the front of your tshirt?

Quirky, and helpful, it’ll let anyone interested in your work have the ISBN number of your book, plus its incredibly photogenic, and scores massive geek points.

(the other four are at Publishhacks)

I'm curious how others promote their books though - have you found any highly successful methods or something that really doesn't work? Share it please!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

WAHM's and Low Pay

Being a mom is probably the lowest paying job of all, which puts an odd sort of perspective on the following... Recently, one of the major freelance writing job blogs sounded off about WAHM's taking low paying writing gigs. You can read her rant at Freelance Writing Jobs about how the tendency of WAHM's to take $3 writing jobs make people think of them as a source of cheap labor--and take advantage of them in the process. Her solution is the WAHM's should stop taking low paying writing jobs; that this will force article buyers to pay more.

Well, color me as respectfully disagreeing. WAHM's didn't start the race to the bottom and they aren't going to stop it even if they do quit taking low paying scut work. No, they won't be seen as a source of "cheap labor," but they will not turn back the tide any more than King Canute. The problem is twofold--and it's a problems lots of industries have, not just writing:

  1. The Internet has created a frictionless marketplace. When sellers cannot find buyers and buyers cannot find sellers, a market has "friction." But when sellers and buyers can come together almost effortlessly, then a market is said to be frictionless.
    With the advent of the Internet, the market for writers has become increasingly frictionless. Snailmail is slow. Email is almost instantaneous. Sending payment cross country used to be slow and iffy. Paypal is fast and safe. And so on. With the advent of Elance and Craigslist, and the increasing acceptance of telecommuting, the market for writers is nearly frictionless. And it's only going to get more so. Not less.

  2. The combination of the Internet and Elance (and the like) has made a small buyer's market into a BIG buyer's market by including millions of English-speaking/writing people from all over, most notably second and third world countries with much, MUCH lower wages and prices than in the US/Canada/Australia/UK. The willingness of thousands--if not millions--of people to work for what would be a starvation wage in the west is what has driven prices into the floor--not what a few hundred thousand WAHM's will or will not write for. This is happening all over. Work that my brother contract programmer used to get paid $75/hr for now only pays $35/hr... because international competition has driven the price down. Things are tough all over, but there are opportunities everywhere.

Now, before you accuse me of being racist or xenophobic, I think people from where ever--second and third world countries included--have a right to make a living regardless of their color, nationality or shoe size. But I won't pretend that a huge influx of people willing to write for peanuts didn't drive prices down from the already low $10 each to $2 and $3 each. Economics isn't politically correct. Low paying work isn't going away. There will always be someone desperate enough to do it.

So whether WAHM's take low paying work is not going to affect the market significantly. There are just too many people whose hours are worth $5.25--or worse, $0.50/day--who figure that they can write four an hour with their PJ's on and that's a heck of alot more than they can make on their feet cashiering at Wal-mart. There's nothing shameful about doing honest work when it suits your purpose.

Back in the dark ages, when I considered $50 a good fee, $250 seemed like the moon, and we were going bankrupt supporting a house we couldn't sell, I wrote a handful of articles for Write for Cash (aka WFC). At the time, there was a big stink on the writer's list I frequented because of the low fees: $10-$20 per article. But I was desperate and the couple hundred dollars I wrote for WFC (which are still on the web today) bought two weeks worth of groceries and put something in my kid's Christmas stocking. It suited my purpose. I never spent more than a half hour on the article. I never wrote more than the minimum number of words. As long as my hourly wage came through to $15 or $20/hr, I counted myself lucky... That was as much as I made per hour as a programmer and I didn't have to dress up and commute 70 miles one way to do it. And I used those clips to move on, move up, and get better gigs.

So, having been there, I'll share a few rules of thumb:

  1. Figure if something is worth your time based on a target hourly rate, not based on what a particular piece pays. Set your hourly rate, at the very least, as twice what you could make at a part time job. In the beginning (or unless you have special skills), that means anywhere from $10-$16/hr. If you can do three small pieces and hour for $4 each and make $12, and that's better than you could do at the part time jobs you qualify for, it's worth your time. After ten clips (or a couple of months), raise your target rate by $10/hr. Keep raising it at least $10/hr every six months until you get to $50-$75/hr. That's a veteran wage and a decent living.

  2. Spend the least time possible while doing a workmanlike job. Don't spend four days researching an article that's only going to pay $15. If your target hourly rate is $15/hr, then you have exactly one hour to research and write that article. Go over and you're reducing your take. This is not to say you should do shoddy work and cut corners. Do good work, but keep in mind that time is money.

  3. Never, never, never, never, NEVER write an article for low pay that you could pitch and sell elsewhere for more money. Always start at the top with an article idea and work your way down. You won't know if you can sell an article for $25 (or $250 or wow, $2500) unless you first pitch it to one of those better paying markets. If you come down all rejections and you still want to write it, then go ahead and write it for peanuts (or GASP for free). But start at the top.

  4. Do NOT fall into the trap of thinking that because you are busting your arse for peanuts that peanuts is all you deserve. Every freelance writer starts out at the bottom: querying new markets, taking spec assignments, forging relationships with editors. Low paying work is a stepping stone. You don't need more than 10 low-paying clips to move into the next tier ($25-$50/article)--not to say it will be easy, but you should definitely begin your move around your 10th clip. And here's the secret... the editors you're querying don't know how much you were paid. They don't know you got paid peanuts. They see a clip: "Hmm, well written. Got published. Probably met her deadline. Yeah, lets give her a try." A clip, even a low paying one, is a sample of your writing and a demonstration of your professionalism. Not a pro? Fake it 'til you make it, girl!

And so, that is my answer... spent far too much time on this for far too little money. Broke rule #1 and #2. But at least I wrote something.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My 2008

I rose this morning into a new year. A new, fresh, unburdened year. I can hardly remember what it was like to think that 2008 was so far away. Now she is here.

In Calgary it was cold this morning. -15C. I went out to the barn, which is quite a drive, to see my mare. She’s being ridden by a local trainer and she costs every spare penny I have. We are struggling, but I haven’t let her go yet. I don’t know if I can. The trainer calls her “difficult”. She’s only been ridden for 45 days, so there’s still time to find a nugget of talent in her. But she’s difficult. She’s a bit temperamental and she loses focus when she should be working. She isn’t sure that she likes someone else in control. In short – she’s like me in horse form. It’s hard to explain to my husband why I scrimp and save to pay to keep her. If there’s hope for her, there’s hope for me.

This will be my year of hope. Not just professionally but personally as well. I am choosing to be a better person this year. For a little while now I’ve been praying before bed each night, “show me what I am supposed to do, Lord, please help me to stay in your will” and for a long time I’ve just been asking and praying without any sort of answer. But the other night I received an answer. Clear like the blue sky and in a whisper like the wind I heard “make time for me”. That’s what I need to do. My mind is so busy these days, trying to figure out how to make time for writing and working out and getting to bed on time and getting to work on time … it’s all about the time. But I leave out God. I multi-task him by trying to fit him in to nooks and crannies. But He wants more. He wants me to make some time for Him.

So that’s what I’m doing for 2008. I’m making time for God so that he can make something of my time. It’s no longer an option to miss church and it’s no longer an option to not pray at night or in the morning. The first book I open each day will be my bible or devotional.

But even deeper than that… I am turning over the sins of bigotry, racism, hate and judgment to God. I’ve allowed it in my life. I’ve allowed people to make racist jokes in my presence and I haven’t told them to stop. I’ve allowed people to denigrate both women and men in my presence and I will not let it continue. Has anyone read Maya Angelou? There is a quote from one of her books that I always remember:

“I will not sit in a group of black friends and hear racial pejoratives against whites. I will not hear "honky." I will not hear "Jap." I will not hear "kike." I will not hear "greaser." I will not hear "dago." I will not hear it. As soon as I hear it, I say, "Excuse me, I have to leave. Sorry." Or if it's in my home, I say, "You have to leave. I can't have that. That is poison, and I know it is poison, and you're smearing it on me. I will not have it." Now, it's not an easy thing. And one doesn't all of a sudden sort of blossom into somebody who's courageous enough to say that. But you do start little by little. And you sit in a room, and somebody says -- if you're all white, and somebody says, "Well, the niggers -- " You may not have the courage right then, but you say, "Whooh! My goodness! It's already eight o'clock. I have to go," and leave. Little by little, you develop courage. You sit in a room, and somebody says, "Well, you know what the Japs did then, and what they're doing now." Say, "Mm-hmm! I have to go. My goodness! It's already six o'clock." Leave. Continue to build the courage. Sooner or later, you'll be able to say out loud, "Just a minute. I defend that person. I will not have gay bashing, lesbian bashing. Not in my company. I will not do it."
This will be my year of courage. I will be courageous and tell the people I love that I love them. I will be courageous and forgive what I thought was unforgivable. Because there is no joy, no honour, no peace in holding on to anything, waiting to be asked for forgiveness. If you have a moment, I’d love to share a story I read last night.

Matthew 18:23 – 35

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
I’m reading Max Lucado’s book, Every Day Deserves A Chance, and hearing this story struck home for me: the forgiven must forgive. So I choose forgiveness for every transgression committed against me, while I ask for forgiveness as well. I have certainly not been innocent and have many times brought everything on myself. But God has forgiven me and I forgive others. This will be my year of forgiveness.

I asked the other writers on Mama Needs A Book Contract to share their one wish and I thought I had shared mine, but this morning when I woke up I knew there was more I should share. So I have shared. I hope there is something you can receive.

God bless your year.