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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If You Love Your Mission, Celebrate and Share It

I was honored to be selected as Umission’s Person of the Week this week. Umission is a local nonprofit dedicated to celebrating people who love their mission, activating people who want a mission to love, and investigating how to keep that mission vibrant and successful.”

I am truly grateful to have found a mission I love and am able to share through writing and teaching. Lately, that mission has become even more vibrant because of my experience leading adult continuing education classes as St. Louis Community College. It was one of my students there, Suzy Shepard, who wrote this Person of the Week Q and A featuring me that I am sure cuts out quite a few “ahhs” and “ums” while allowing me to give long-overdue recognition to a 5th grade teacher I still happen to be friends with through Facebook. When I  posted the story, she wrote, “Thanks, it does make me smile. You never know as a teacher what you say or do that helps a child. I loved teaching.”

Well said. So, if you have a mission you love, become a mentor. And if you need a mission, find someone who loves what they do because spreading that love is what helps keep it alive.

Wednesday Words of Wisdom from Author Walter Dean Myers

Free photo from MorgueFile. Quote added with Picmonkey.

Free photo from MorgueFile. Quote added with Picmonkey.

If you like the way this looks, you can create something like it with PicMonkey,a free, easy-to-use online photo editor.

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

Guest Post – Why You Need Flash Fiction In Your Life

I am excited to announce today marks my first-ever post from a guest blogger. Since my writing is almost exclusively nonfiction, I wanted to expand my content with posts by creative writers I admire. I hope you enjoy this post on writing flash fiction by J, creator of  Don’t Delete Me and fellow Blogging 201 alum.

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Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

I have tried and failed at writing a novel more times than I would like to admit. With what I am hoping are the right intentions I set out, armed with caffeine and that innocent feeling of determination to write a novel. To my initial surprise I can quickly get on paper about 800 words. But then the inevitable happens; the writing stops. I can’t think anymore. My brain shuts down. And I begin to go back, to edit, and to scrutinize those 800 words. More often than not I come to find that that novel I thought I was working on is actually not a novel at all. It had all the good beginnings of a novel, but it didn’t really have that extra little bit of oomph it needed to become it. Maybe it was because I stopped and looked back, maybe it was because it truly wasn’t an idea great enough to form a novel; I’ll never really know for sure. But in all likelihood, it was probably a bit of both. I didn’t plan well enough and I didn’t spend enough time thinking on and broadening that idea I had. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have started writing.

Those 800 words have a beginning, middle, and a definite end. It’s a story, through and through. But at 800 words, it was no more than what most would call a flash fiction. And what good, you may be wondering, would a super short, barely a story, story be when I am trying to write a novel? A surprisingly great amount of good it turns out.

Maybe you are in the same position as me; getting stuck writing accidental short stories while struggling with attempts to write a full-fledged novel. Maybe you are actually halfway through writing that breakout novel of yours when all of a sudden that all too familiar block hits. Both of these situations are where those little flash fictions can come in handy. If you think of flash fiction as diet writing, it starts to make more sense. It’s not easier to write because really, what diet is easy? For that matter, what writing is easy? But flash fiction is, unlike most diets, easy to enjoy. There aren’t many rules to writing flash fiction, there is just the one; it has to be 1000 words or less. Any more than that and it starts to turn into a short story.

As a writer who is working on a novel I can assure you that there will be many days that you will have where ‘working on your novel’ actually means writing something else entirely. Yes, you may not be adding to your word count, and your deadline may be inching closer and closer without you getting ahead but if you are writing, you really ARE getting ahead, even if it’s not on your book. But with all those ideas in your head swirling and jumping around, barely settling down for a break and all that thinking you do; you can start to feel pretty bogged down. Sometimes so much so that you forget why you ever enjoyed writing in the first place. You may even start to wonder if you are actually a masochist because for some reason, through all that dissatisfaction, you keep working, keep trying, and keep writing.

Well, don’t ever even think of changing those masochist habits of yours, however frustrating they may be, and especially if you want to get that novel completed. But remember that you can take a break, you can have some fun, and you can work on something else. Something short, just a flash.