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.

scan0004

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.

——–

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.

 

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;

Come to The Dark Side: Tips on Writing Press Releases

Even Luke Skywalker was tempted by The Dark Side and, at some point in their careers, most reporters and writers will be, too.

“Star Wars” analogies aside, there are many reasons to learn how to write press releases, even if you never do paid public relations work.  Knowing how to write an effective press release can come in handy for the small business owner who wants to get the word out about her company, for organizers of charity events and other fundraising efforts, or for authors and artists who want to publicize their newest self-published book or other work. And, while it can feel odd at first to toot your own horn and bang your own drum, there’s really nothing wrong with being your own one-man band when you’ve got something newsworthy or unique to share.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to write an effective press release.

Good Press Releases:

  • are newsworthy.
  • have an attention-getting headline and lead.
  • are accurate, objective, and contain sources for follow-up calls and contacts.
  • take into account impact on the public and classic news values including proximity and timeliness.

So, what can you do to generate a newsworthy press release?

  • emphasize ties with current events
  • conduct a survey
  • issue a report
  • interview a celebrity
  • tie in with a holiday
  • stage a special event
  • organize a tour
  • adapt national reports for the local market
  • hold a contest
  • address a controversy

Once you’ve got something newsworthy to write about:

  • identify your audience and tailor your writing. Would an editor at the local newspaper be interested, or is your news better suited for a trade magazine that specializes on covering your industry?
  • decide whether the release will be news oriented or feature oriented. Are you holding a meatball eating contest or did you just release a blockbuster new product that will double the size of your workforce? Your writing style should reflect the content of the release.
  • write an attention-getting headline, then identify the theme and put it in the lead. Your reader should know immediately what your release is about.
  • include information in the body of the release to support the theme and weave in lots of strong quotes from sources. Even if a reporter develops his or her own story from a press release, these quotes will sometimes be used word for word, making them a great way to get your message out.
  • take the time to send your release to the right person. Don’t just send your press release to the generic email address listed on a newspaper, television station, or magazine’s contact page. Find the address of a specific editor or reporter and send your release directly. That being said, make sure your release is actually worth reading. If it is, you are likely to at least garner some respect for your company or cause, even if you don’t generate positive publicity.

I can say from personal experience that these tips really work. I’ve written or edited a number of press releases on a volunteer basis for everything from my fiance’s country band to a friend’s non-profit wine bar, and each release has generated multiple stories. This semester, some of my students found similar success when their releases resulted in stories or even ran verbatim in the local daily newspaper.

So, feel free to explore The Dark Side, because it might not be so bad after all.

 

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