Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weather Report

I understand how the term "cold snap" came into use. Today the weather suddenly turned to 60 degrees — maybe not "cold" in some people's book, but definitely a quick change from the summer-like high 80s of yesterday. Plus, it was windy today. Pretty high winds, the kind that propel the palm trees to do side bends. All in all, good weather to cozy up up to the laptop and get some writing done.

Really, the picture doesn't have anything to do with the blog, but it is a favorite of myself.

I could tie it to the weather with words about how hot Thailand is. But, a better tie-in is that I visited my friend Katie in Portland a few years back and she has a picture of me in the same t-shirt holding her baby daughter on her fridge (picture is on the fridge, not her daughter).

Probably it is removed by now, as I'm not visiting. She put it up there because she had intended to mail it 20-something years ago when Bree was a newborn.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Talk's Cheap, Writing's Free, and That Doesn't Necessarily Suit Me

National Feral Cat Day is Oct. 16. I know that because I help with publicity (on a volunteer basis) for Catalyst for Cats. Catalyst is a Santa Barbara County-based nonprofit dedicated to spaying and neutering abandoned cats and to socialize and find homes for rescue kittens. In addition to the publicity stuff, my husband and I help feed a colony of ferals in our town.

I joined Catalyst with the intention of helping with publicity.

What I have been wrestling with lately is when other organizations I belong to assume I'll be happy to do publicity, provide Web site content, or something similar — all gratis, of course. Reasons for joining extra-curricular groups include taking a break from work and/or developing some outside interests. I don't want to spend precious free time doing something for free for which I normally get paid and don't really desire to be doing.

(Below is a poster from the Alley Cat Allies National Feral Cat Day publicity kit. Alley Cat Allies is a national group.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

At the tone, the time will be exactly ...

three seconds later than it took me to type that title.

For the most part, since working at/from home I have surprised myself with my pretty good attendance record. Visions of hanging out in bed until noon — an hour before the "working lunch" with a friend, I figure it takes me a solid hour to get presentable and to where I need to be — swirled in my head. (Yes, swirled, sugar plums dance. Someday I am going to google sugar plums.)

For the most part, I am usually working by 7:30 a.m. True, I may be in my bed, but I am editing a story, checking and answering emails, writing (longhand) a first draft. I really zoom through a lot of stuff my first couple of hours awake. The important thing is to have the work ready to plunge into when I wake up. That means setting it up the night before — red pen and print outs, laptop, notebook and pen (the kind pharmaceutical reps give to doctors, you know, with the fat barrel) arranged on my bedside table.

The trick is sharing the real estate with the before-I-go-to-bed stuff, which includes eye drops (Travatan for pressure), journal (for my petty grievances and embarrassing inner thoughts), leisure reading (magazine/book for numbing the mind), sketch pad (for berating myself about how I should use it more), and various manicure implements (for keeping the claws sharp).

Additionally, there is a lamp, a bamboo container to hold loose items, and a little bunny clock, a Christmas gift from my parents many years ago. There's a smarmy ending in the waiting now about how another gift my parents gave me is the ability for a good attendance record ... but I am going to let it go. My parents would appreciate that.

My desk away from desk. Taken from my bed, this is a view of my bedside table/dresser. See the bunny clock? Yes, of course, I cleared off some stuff for the photo, but I do keep it fairly "minimal" in look.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Forgive me readers, it has been a month since my last post

This Post-it® is evidence of my good intentions (or is the Post-it paving the way to hell?). You can see where Blog is on the list as opposed to "Wine Country Gift Cert." The gift certificate is actually my mom's. She won it from a raffle ticket I sold her (for Catalyst for Cats), ipso facto, I'm in charge of arranging use of the $300 at Fess Parker's Winery. Also, please notice the use of ® with Post-it. Nifty, eh?

Hmmm ... the vision of me busily blogging away most nights after the dishes were done hasn't materialized. I can't say that the doing the dishes tired me out or took too long, because I don't get around to those much either. Well, I'll pick up where I left off rather than trash the entire blog thing, which is my usual M.O. To trash things, that is.

Yesterday, I had the very rare experience of having technology work as easily and beautifully as it does in those commercials where they recycle hits from the late 1960s. (I really hate that. You'd think when trying to sell innovation they'd do better than rehashing some worn out song. I'm sure the ad agencies budgets are huge enough. I'd like to get in on that gravy train.) I had to pdf a bunch of documents/clips for a query letter. I opened Acrobat, selected Create, and from there, as if by magic, pdfs came quickly and painlessly. That was the first time that has ever happened to me with software.

So, now I'm kind of inspired to really put together my "Book." The Book of clips, projects, etc. Not the book I am going to write. I haven't decided on that one yet.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What's so funny about peace, love, and billable hours

The pup in the picture is Shadow, the faithful family pet who crossed the Rainbow Bridge last summer. Shaddy, as we called him, was an excellent example of how stereotypes and/or cliches are sometimes true. He was loyal, kind, smart, easily trained, and gorgeous — all attributes one would expect from a storybook Golden Retriever. Photo by Susanna Rowan.

The challenge of working from home is keeping up with "billable hours." It is easy to think you've worked all day, but who are you going to invoice for the laundry, dishes, cooking, and the rest of the housework you did while brainstorming or trying to come up with the perfect closing paragraph?

It just seems to be a waste of time to "think" for thinking's sake. Throwing in a load of laundry or deciding on the evening's menu don't distract from getting the job done. Or do they?

Maybe if I gave my business the respect it deserves, I'd be billing a lot more hours. To stare blankly at my (blank) computer screen is an important step in getting the job done. Why should I think it is a waste of time and I that I may as well pull a few weeds while "I'm not doing anything."

Time to honor my process. Truthfully, saying things like that makes me cringe. It sounds so cliche and trite. It strikes a chord though, and that's probably what makes me so uncomfortable.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Learning to Bare My Bests

At left, hometown girl makes good. The piece is about from whence I came. Click the link below for a better look.

It just occurred to me (well, actually it was last night but I couldn't get here right away) that I should use this blog as a way to showcase some of my published work. It could be one of those win-win situations you hear so much about but never see evidence of. I could plug me while plugging the publications and/or outfits that publish me.

I gotta tell you,though, that I can't hook you up with the ghostwriting stuff. There's a reason it is called ghostwriting. Too bad, some of my best work is done with the safety net of anonymity.

Anyway, check out the following!

Carpinteria Magazine . The little publication that could. The town is small and the budget smaller, but that doesn't mean the product can't be first rate. A testament that money (or fame, name, and whatever else) doesn't equal taste.

The Los Angeles Times. A real feather in my cap! I know I'm the bottom feeder in the hierarchy (the lowly freelancer) and I don't purport otherwise. Still, it does not stop certain family members, friends, or acquaintances dropping my name to others like I'm Katherine Graham or something, er, someone (maybe I should say Dorothy Chandler, but she wasn't active in the family business).

One Less Thing I Want to Be

At right: In Cambodia near Angkor Wat children earn money selling souvenirs. This is where we ate breakfast one morning.

Last summer I scratched "travel writer" off my list of things I'd like to be and my list of ways to make more money. Where it came from I don't know, but I imagined myself underneath the ceiling fan in the bar of the Raffles Hotel oblivious to the half-finished cocktail (now, that's imagination!) while engrossed in my travelogue, furiously trying to capture the allure of the tropics while threading a bon mot or two of my own into the missive, all the while my editor waited on pins and needles stateside for my copy to come across the wire.

I gave the fantasy the ol' college try. I sold some stories before a trip to Cambodia and Thailand. That coupled with the stories I would sell upon my return would not only pay for the trip, but would garner some extra income and reignite the passion in my marriage.

It didn't work out according to plan. I ended up not filing a damn word except a few emails to extricate myself from the assignments I worked so hard to get. It's not that the passion part got in the way, it's just that I found out I really did not want to be a travel writer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's 8:30 p.m. Do you Know Where Your Appetite Is?

It is 8:30 p.m. and really time to start dinner, which requires putting the really good pesto dish I made two nights ago into the microwave. Not having to obey a strict dinner hour and eating exactly what you want are two perks of adulthood and having your own business.

Another plus of having your own business is the illusion/delusion of writing off all expenses on your tax return. The cell phone is a great deduction but doesn't hold the same sizzle as restaurant and bar tabs. The manila envelope (recycled, of course, its first life was bringing a kitchen remodel catalog to my mailbox) on the right side of the second shelf of the bookcase near the front door is bulging with all sorts of receipts just waiting for Uncle Sam's reimbursements.

It is a nice feeling to pick up the check; the nerve wracking part is getting through the meal/drinks ritual. I'm not concerned about how much to tip or my table manners (Girl Scouts and my parents did a pretty job on that and I still get compliments). The confusing part is much more basic.

Since when did restaurants deviate from strictly either "sit down" or "take out" models? Nowadays, you never know if you order at the counter and someone serves you the food, or someone takes your order at a table and then calls your number to come pick it up. Or maybe you order and pick up the food yourself but someone sets your table. Then, do you bus your own dishes?

It is all very confusing. Not a burden by any means, just another confusion curve ball thrown into the game of life. (Methinks that sounds a tad too cliche.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

12 Hours Later and Still Sticking to My Guns

It's kind of a relief when you understand why you do the things you do

Today was one of those 12-hour, full-on-brain-engaged days. Fortunately, I've engineered my workload in a manner that eliminates that sort of insanity. But sometimes the insanity is out of my hands. (Yes, I know I could choose to not please the client. And that would result in loss of money and having to replace that income stream, and blah, blah, blah ... so don't get all Psych 101 on me.)

What I've been toying with in my mind—for about three years—is writing into contracts, agreements, and the like is that if the job is not completed by the agreed upon date, then my wage/rate goes up.

I think that is a pretty common business practice, actually. I just don't feel comfortable laying out those sort of boundaries. I feel it is kind of like inviting someone over for dinner and adding the disclaimer "if you aren't out of here by 9, I'll be expecting a tip of 15 percent on the perceived value of the meal."

More attention and credence should be paid to operating under common decency and respect. We need less verbiage in business agreements and more handshakes to seal deals. In a way, working the odd 12-hour, full-on-brain-engaged day is how I put my money where my mouth is.

This is Nella, my vicious cat. Don't let her cute looks fool you; she's pretty mean. She just doesn't know any better (how many people who you know does that sound like?). Nella is pretty good company at the computer — curling up in my lap or looking earnestly out the window. It is just that I never know when she is going to attack me.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Where in the Hell Did that Good Title Go that I Thought of in the Shower?

Cutting down on showers hasn't helped me remember all my brilliant ideas—but it has cut down the social invitations that distract my brilliant thinking

For me, one of the sticky parts of having a writing business is whether or not to adhere to arcane usage and grammar. You run the risk of people (namely your clients) thinking you made a mistake, and then you get into a whole big rigamarole of not offending anyone while explaining why it's not "between you and I" but rather "between you and me."

That's not even arcane, that is basic grammar (me is the object of the preposition between). I think Bill Clinton, Hillary's husband, got everyone screwed up on the "me and I" bit. He used "I" all the time.

I am speaking more of items like "whet one's appetite." Of course we think it is "wet" because we think of mouth watering. And (oops! starting a sentence with a conjunction), if I had not been corrected by some nitpicker who had the time to email me, I would not know that "whet" means to sharpen, like a whetstone sharpens knives.

So, do I insist upon the use of "whet" or go with "wet"? I should use "whet one's appetite" and let the client make the decision. It doesn't matter how uncomfortable it may be to correct someone, especially if they hired you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Breaking the Blog Hymen

The PLAN is to blog my true self—or how I hope to portray my true self; I'm not going to go on about polishing off a bag of potato chips because my mom bugged the hell out of me when I took her to Trader Joe's—so I can conduct my writing business without feeling totally robbed of creativity. And it is OK if my clients see the blog because they pay me to write what they want written. They don't pay me to indulge my inner artist. And it's not like I'm going to bite the hand that feeds me and bag on my clients or anything. If they want me to do that, they'll have to pay me!

The FANTASY is for the blog to be a smashing success—it becomes one of the hottest read items on the Internet (all through word of mouth), gets optioned into a book followed by the inevitable screenplay. I get paid tons of money and of course I use a fair portion of it to make society a better place, such as healthcare for all, making sure everyone has access to a fabulous education, and a clean environment. Miraculously, through the whirlwind of all that excitement I turn into a raving beauty, or at least that gash of a frown line bisecting my forehead disappears.

The REALITY is I'm making a commitment to blogging three times a week. And knowing me, it just may be three times on a Saturday night just so I can say I did my blogging for that week. I'll probably even turn the computer on and off in between blogs for that authentic feel (don't want my computer to think I'm lying/cheating).