Writing Goals for 2015

I believe working as an adjunct professor is a labor of love. Many who do it could make a lot more money per hour applying their skills outside the classroom. But some, like me, enjoy teaching and want to continue sharing their knowledge with students, albeit not on a full-time basis.

Well, this semester, it’s time for me to prove my long-standing claim that I could earn far more money freelancing than I do in the classroom. I will only be teaching one class and plan to devote much more energy to writing, researching and reporting.

Here are five freelancing goals I aim to achieve in the first half of 2015:

  • Begin every work day by sending out a query. This might be a fresh idea or an existing pitch that I re-slant or re-purpose for a different potential market. In either case, my plan is not to start on anything else until this task is complete.
  • Keep better track of my income and expenses. Rather than dumping all my invoices, check stubs and receipts into a folder until tax time, my goal is to keep running totals that give me an immediate idea of whether I’m making more this year than last.
  • Find five new clients and resolve to do more work for editors I enjoy. Sending a query a day should help me achieve the first part of this objective. To accomplish the second, I plan to propose a new story to my favorite current clients as soon as I turn assignments in to them.
  • Blog more, both for this site and others, and earn more money for guest posts. I’ve already subscribed to FreelanceWriting.com’s Morning Coffee eNewsletter, which lists many paid blogging opportunities. ProBlogger’s job board will also be a regular cyber stop for me in 2015.
  • Explore new types of writing. I haven’t had a personal essay published since grad school. And I haven’t written educational materials for anyone but my own students since leaving the K-12 classroom several years ago. Both are genres I hope to conquer again in 2015, and my first step is researching potential markets for personal essays.

What are your writing goals for 2015?

Free Photo from morgueFile
Free Photo from morgueFile

Filling the Praise Reservoir

As a teacher and freelance writer, I’m no stranger to criticism. In fact, I welcome a well-thought- out revision from an editor or insightful comment from a student that really shows they’ve paid attention and want to make you and your work better in the future.

But as the semester and calendar year come to a close, I always make time to refill my own praise reservoir for the dark days when students seem to be putting in exponentially less effort than I and the freelance assignments are few and far between. I review and save any appreciative emails from students and editors and carefully file the rare handwritten card in its own special folder. Refilling the reservoir also means reading unflattering emails editors may have sent on a bad day in the last six months and revisiting the last round of end-of-semester evaluations that slammed the textbook I didn’t choose myself or picked apart my Southern accent as “just too much” before deleting them for good.

Criticism can contain valuable nuggets of advice to help guide improvement, but it never seems in short supply. However, it’s not every day you get a sketch from a student that depicts you single-handedly pulling a soda truck to its destination, so I’d certainly save those when they come along.

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When should freelancers turn down assignments?

When I started freelancing a few years ago, I hadn’t had a published clip in more than a decade. Eager to rebuild my portfolio, I spent the days I wasn’t teaching writing queries and letters of introduction and searching for new markets at my local library and bookstore. I have to admit I also watched a few episodes of “Ellen” during the day.

The occasional assignment provided a welcome break from that routine, not to mention an even-more-welcome check in the mail. In time, my portfolio grew, as did my list of clients. I also started seeking jobs through the online clearinghouse Elance. The site offers thousands of ads from people looking to hire freelancers for everything from writing to web design projects. And, though many jobs offer shockingly low rates, I’ve been lucky enough to find a few regular clients who’ve made signing up for the site worth it.

Today, I am in the enviable position of having as much work as I want, at least while trying to enjoy the summer schedule of a teacher who works during the academic year as both a freelancer and adjunct professor. After all, part-time professoring and doesn’t offer many bankable benefits, so summers off should be embraced and enjoyed.

In fact, I have been considering turning a few assignments down in recent weeks. With the beginning of the semester less than a month away, I have a couple of major deadlines and due dates for a few smaller assignments looming as well as a planned vacation to visit family.

So here are a few things I’ve been considering while weighing assignments and opportunities lately. Some questions are culled from my own experience while others come from freelancers who’ve proven it sometimes pays to say no.

1. What is the hourly rate? Freelancer Kelly James-Enger recommends looking at assignments with this question in mind rather than getting fixated on the rate per word an editor offers. Sure national magazines that pay $1 or more a word are attractive, but writers should consider the total time it takes to pitch, research, write and revise a piece that might not see print for months.

2. Is it interesting? Don’t get me wrong. I was a business reporter for a wire service at one point in my career, so I have penned many dry stories in my time. But now that I am a freelancer, I have more latitude to focus on stories and projects about health, wellness, education and other topics that make no mention of analysts’ estimates or earnings per share and take longer than 30 minutes to turn out.

3. Is it my area of expertise? I recently came across a couple of opportunities that, at first blush, seemed interesting. One was an ad for a freelance proofreader for the local alternative weekly. Although I am an experienced writer, I must say I am not the fastest or most-effective copy editor. The job also seemed better suited to a recent college graduate with an deeper inherent interest in reading about and attending concerts at dingy clubs that offer neither convenient seating nor an extensive selection of craft beers. The other was for a full-time magazine editorial position that required some television appearances. While my appetite said yes to this, my Arkansas accent logged a firm “Naaaw.”

What questions do you consider when weighing assignments? And how have you eventually learned to say no to new work?

 

When Do I Get a Personal Assistant?

This week, I’m faced with the task of transcribing at least two interviews with executives in order to write profiles about them for an online magazine. I can say without qualification that transcribing recorded interviews is my least favorite aspect of freelance writing. In fact, I rarely record interviews, relying on real-time note taking unless I know I am writing a personality profile or anticipate the interview to be extremely technical or fast paced. One reason is that I am painfully slow at transcribing audio recordings. At best, I probably type 45 words a minute, and this rate probably slows to the single digits at times when I am stopping and starting a recording to catch that last few words that will make or break a quote.

This brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. In scheduling interviews with executives, I often deal with personal assistants. These people tend to be efficient, effective communicators who handle everything from booking appointments to maintaining meeting minutes. And I’m almost sure ever single one of them types faster than 45 words a minute.

So when do I get a personal assistant?

And I’m not talking about a souped-up smartphone that can cross-reference your calendar and transit schedules to immediately alert you about train delays  (creepy and cool in equal measures) or even a real person somewhere in the virtual world who promises to transcribe five, 10 or even 20 minutes of video or audio for the low, low rate of just $5 (as suspiciously priced as the $1.19 pineapples at ALDI). I’m talking about a real personal assistant who can solve problems and take on tasks I’m not great at or just don’t want to tackle.

Would a personal assistant increase my efficiency? I’m not sure. For all my grand plans, I might use the extra time to pet my cat or play a few extra games of Words With Friends. But I sure would love having the luxury of laziness or the promise of productivity ahead of me. And I promise I’d pay more than $5.

Which tasks do you outsource or wish you could? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

She's cute, but not a very good typist.
She’s cute, but not a very good typist.

Failed Query: Timely Research Can Kill a Query

This failed query illustrates the dangers of using research (in this case, a survey from November 2012) that may be considered time sensitive as the crux of a pitch to a monthly magazine that could have a six-month lead time.

Dear Ms. Editor:

A survey released in November shows an increasing number of shoppers are willing to pay a premium for American-made goods, even if those consumers call China home. Indeed, more than 60 percent of Chinese consumers said they are willing to pay more for products made in the U.S.A., and 80 percent of American consumers agreed according to recent research from The Boston Consulting Group. These taste trends and other factors lead BCG to estimate the U.S. could add 5 million new jobs in manufacturing and related services by the end of the decade.

Patriotism and cache aren’t the only factors behind those findings. Consumers who buy brands made in the U.S. know more about the wages and working conditions of the people who sew their clothes. And locally sourced clothing carries added benefits for the environment since it doesn’t have to be shipped as far from its factory to store shelves.

I would like to propose a story for XX that examines the resurgence in U.S. manufacturing. I could also provide readers with five to 10 brands that make fashion-forward clothes and accessories domestically. Some suggestions include Prairie Well, Barbara Lesser, School House and Red Ants Pants. I would be happy to provide a longer list of brands depending on what types of clothes you’d like to feature. I can also give you an idea of length, art and sidebars once you decide on a specific angle that best fits your needs.

As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories scheduled for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, DRAFT Magazine, Poets & Writers and WOW! Women On Writing.

To avoid clogging your inbox with attachments, I have included a link to my resume. You can also find some writing samples at: https://charleneoldham.com/writing-samples/ should you be interested.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile

Next Stop: Procrastination Station

I am working on a story right now that I’m having a hard time finishing. And, when I say I am “working” on it, I’m using the verb in the loosest way possible. Fact is, I haven’t lifted a finger to complete this story in weeks, maybe even months. Sure, I’ve had plenty of excuses as to why I couldn’t work on the piece. Grades were due. Other deadlines loomed larger. I had to take my cat to the vet.

The truth is I am a bit stuck on the story, which is a travel feature on the part of the world where I was born. Perhaps the proverbial saying that familiarity breeds contempt is just too true in this case, and I can’t really see why anyone would go out of their way to visit the Arkansas Delta unless there was a Thanksgiving turkey and fat slice of coconut cake waiting for them at the end of the rutted road.

But the assignment — and The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge on list making —  led me to reflect on some of my favorite ways to procrastinate, which I have explored all too thoroughly in recent weeks and also enumerated below.

1. Work on something completely unrelated to the task at hand – I call it productive procrastination. Sure, taking on a 15-day Blogging 201 challenge improved the appearance and content of my blog and I do need to transcribe some notes from that interview project I’ve been researching for more than a year, but is now really the time?

2. Run errands – Although I am not a prolific shopper, I will not hesitate to take a trip to the bank or post office in the middle of the day or even create an elaborate grocery list that can take hours to fill. I think one of the secret pitfalls of working from home is the allure of running weekday errands when destinations are “less crowded.”

3. Exercise – It’s another form of productive procrastination. Days when I want to avoid my desk are the perfect time to double the length of a leisurely walk or add a few reps from one of the workouts in my latest fitness obsession, 30-Day Fitness Challenges.

4. Cook – There is nothing quite as satisfying as concocting an elaborate batch of prosciutto-wrapped, cherry-stuffed chicken breasts or crafting a three-layer cake when a deadline is imminent. After all, why drive to Arkansas when I can bake my own coconut cake right here at home?

5. Let online research devolve into aimless internet surfing – Okay, so I’m on Level 181 of Candy Crush Saga. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Please share your favorite ways to procrastinate. I need some new ideas.

Free Photo from Photo Pin
Free Photo from Photo Pin

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnystiletto/6937952848/”>I Believe I Can Fry</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Failed Queries: Local Business, Freelancer Fall on Hard Times

This month’s failed query comes to you a week early because I am excited to announce next Tuesday will mark my first-ever post from a guest blogger. Please check back then for a post on writing flash fiction by J, creator of  Don’t Delete Me and fellow Blogging 201 alum.

Meanwhile, here’s a failed query about an area business that has since switched chefs and shuttered the two short-lived expansions mentioned in my pitch.

Dear Editor:

Since opening its doors in 2007, Local Harvest Grocery has paid area farmers, ranchers, food producers and other artisans about $1 million for supplying sustainable, organically grown products to its store, which started as a 660-square-foot space in Saint Louis. That figure is likely to grow exponentially as Local Harvest‘s owners expand across the area. The first of those expansions came in 2009, when owners Maddie Earnest and Patrick Horine opened a cafe and catering service a block away from the grocery. At Local Harvest Cafe and Catering, customers can enjoy a cup of coffee or a Saint Louis craft brew with an organic, locally sourced meal prepared by chef Clara Moore. This summer, Local Harvest‘s purveyors plan to open another cafe downtown as well as a second grocery store with cafe seating for 40 in nearby Kirkwood, Missouri.

Horine launched a farmer’s market in the city’s Tower Grove Park before branching out to the first brick-and-mortar store, now 2,200 square feet, and he and Earnest have stayed true to their local retail roots. They aim to source at least half their products from farms and food producers within a 150-mile radius of Saint Louis. Today, more than 85 cents of every dollar spent at Local Harvest stays in the community, reducing the amount of fossil fuels necessary to get the food to customers and eliminating the need for pesticides to keep foods fresh. Indeed, Local Harvest‘s practices lend themselves not only to clean eating, but a cleaner planet, making its owners and chef — who recently appeared on the Bravo network’s newest cooking competition — ideal subjects for a Local Hero profile in XX.

As for my professional credentials, I have nearly a decade of experience teaching writing in secondary and post-secondary schools as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News, where I also wrote the occasional restaurant review. I am now looking forward to combining my interests and experiences in the classroom, newsroom and kitchen to write stories about a variety of topics. I have attached my resume and would be happy to send writing samples — including a piece scheduled to run in a national magazine — if you are interested. You can also see some of my work at my website. Meanwhile, please let me know if you need additional information to consider this query or are interested in seeing more ideas for the pages of XX.

Thank you,
Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile

Who Needs the Gym? I Do.

Folks with full-time jobs might think it’s easy to stay fit as a freelancer who works from home and sets his or her own schedule. After all, freelancers can feasibly drop what they’re doing and go for a run or attend a Pilates class while working stiffs are confined to their cubicles.

I have to admit, when I left full-time K-12 teaching to work as an adjunct professor and devote more energy to writing, I thought the same thing. What’s more, the new gym at the college commons was open to audacious employees willing to work out next to coeds far fitter and firmer than they. So I dropped my gym membership, planned on working out every day I had classes on campus and even created a Pinterest board optimistically titled “Who Needs the Gym?”

Who needs the gym? Turns out, I do.

I need the gym:

  • to watch St. Louis Cardinals games in a venue that does not offer beer bucket specials since my quasi-Luddite lifestyle means I don’t have cable television at home but am not opposed to taking advantage of it at nearby taverns.
  • as a weekend refuge from the Budweiser, barbecue, boy haven, Beatles guitar jam festival that my own home sometimes morphs into during spring and summer months.
  • as a place to expand my summer workout regimen beyond leisurely walks around the neighborhood and the occasional yoga practice or Jillian Michaels DVD.

So my recently reactivated gym membership starts in May and I have to admit I’m sort of excited to get back into a  more rigorous routine — and the gym’s new sauna — after a tough work out, of course.

For more on staying fit as a freelancer, please  check out my story and others on the topic in WOW! Women On Writing.

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile

Failed Queries: New Monthly Feature for an Idea Whose Time Has Come — and Gone

In an attempt to better my blog and step up my social media presence, I have been trying to tackle the assignments presented by The Daily Post in its Blogging 201: Branding and Growth course. The Day Five challenge encourages bloggers to “Give ‘Em What They Want” by posting potentially popular content on the days its most likely to be read. In analyzing my blog’s meager

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile

statistics, I determined Tuesdays were the best days to post new content and also decided to add a regular monthly feature to my editorial calendar. This feature, Failed Queries, will appear on the third Tuesday of every month until I run out of rejected ideas, which means it may be around for a while. One of my expired ideas, on the lack of TSA Pre-Check Enrollment Centers near some major cities, seemed like a solid pitch until the agency dramatically expanded the service.

If you are interested in reading another failed query from the archives, please check out On Birthdays, Willie Nelson and Failed Queries.

Dear Editor’s Name:

I hope all is well. I was wondering if you’d be interested in a short piece on the fact the Transportation Security Administration does not have enrollment centers near some major cities. For example, the closest enrollment center to Dallas is about 150 miles away in Lawton, Oklahoma. If St. Louis travelers want to enroll in the Pre-Check program, they have to drive about  90 miles to Herrin, Illinois, population 12,000.

I think this would be of interest to your readers and hope you agree. Please let me know if you’d like more information on this idea. Meanwhile, I have included a link to my resume and some writing samples for you to consider. As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories for publication by magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, Poets & Writers, DRAFT Magazine, Organic Gardening, The FruitGuys Almanac and WOW! Women On Writing.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

My Latest in WOW! Women On Writing – Writing for Trade Publications

For those looking to balance their day jobs with writing time, trade publications can offer an opportunity to learn more about their industry and make new connections while writing, often for extra cash on the side. Some industries, such as nursing and publishing, offer hundreds of online and print outlets seeking submissions. Others have a handful of focused publications geared to specific segments of the industry. Here are just a few examples of publications that pay and one that offers unpaid bloggers the opportunity to share their professional expertise with potential clients and contacts on a regular basis…

Read about some specific trade pubs here.