Tag Archives: kw

Trolling Craigslist for work

This is what ‘lancers do, troll around for assignments.  But how to winnow out all the crap from the legitimate opportunities? The former outnumbers the latter.

First, you can throw away anything where they don’t even give you a hint of what they want you to write, nor who for.  They aren’t professional.  The less they tell you, and the more hype, the more likely it’s spam.  For example:

Do you love writing???
Do you love making money???
Then this is the opportunity for you!
Internet companies are looking for fresh, new writers to create original content for their websites, blogs, and newsletters. The more articles you write, the more money you earn.
Write about almost and topic or subject you want. Write from the office, from home, or wherever…

This is obviously crap.  No specifics, no idea who it’s for.  Just ignore these.

If you are willing/desperate enough to write search engine optimized stuff, a lot of online writing leads there.  SEO essentially means marketing writing, which is probably the largest market out there for online writing.  What you are doing is writing something, but you are following some rules to work in the right keywords.  This will help the article float to the top of Google (and the other 15 search engines no one uses).  Companies get a big wood when their marketing floats to the top of Google.  If you are at all a competent writer and present yourself well, you can probably find SEO work (if you learn what it is and how it works).

Is there anything wrong with the literary prostitution of SEO? You’re asking me, the literary mercenary? The only things I won’t write for money are those which I a) am too incompetent at to even understand much less write, b) find too morally disgusting even for my rather unconventional moral code, or c) don’t get paid enough.  Most of what I turn down, that’s the reason.  The work sounds fine, but $3 an hour doesn’t cut it.  A lot of opportunity out there is designed to attract those desperate for exposure, which I am not.  I like to work with professionals who have high standards and clear expectations, with reasonable compensation for quality work promptly done.

However, I confess I got my start writing marketing stuff.

I don’t believe in ‘writer’s block’

Honestly.  I do not believe in it, and I believe giving it a name makes it a bugaboo, like a syndrome or disorder that comes to be the attribution for counterproductive behaviors.  “Why I can’t I write? Augh!  I have ‘writer’s block!'”

If you truly want to write, you will.  About something, anything.  Why am I currently writing this blog entry? Because I want to write.  When I am not writing, it’s because I am doing something I want or need to do other than writing.  Might be mowing the yard, might be playing Alpha Centauri, might be watching Looney Tunes DVDs, might be making something to eat.  Right now I want to write, and I’m doing so.

“But what do you do when you sit down to write and nothing comes?” I so often hear.  Well, here’s the usual dialogue:

“Here’s what I do.  I go to my filing cabinet.”

“Your filing cabinet? Is that where you keep your file of ideas?”

“No, it’s where I keep my file copies of contracts.  I pull out the most recent one and skip down to the part where the para begins ‘You will write…’  I read that paragraph carefully, as it delineates what I agreed to do.  Then I skip down to the paragraph that says ‘You will be compensated…’  I take careful note of the parts that point out, in short, that if I don’t do my work I won’t get paid, and if it sucks, I also won’t get paid.”

“And how the hell does that help you feel inspired to write?”

“It doesn’t help me feel inspired.  Inspiration is for creating art, and my writing is my job, not my art.  It does help me feel motivated.  As in, ‘you better sit your butt down there and get it done.’  I rarely even need this, because I like to write.  Nearly all the time when I have work to do, I like it and want to do it.  And when I don’t, tough; it’s a job.  I accepted it.  Time to knock it out, get ‘er done.”

“Okay, fine, but I’m working on my science fiction novel and I don’t have any contract at all to read, and I’m not getting paid any time soon.  I’m stuck!  How do I get unstuck?”

This part is hard.  “If you can’t figure out where to take your story, you need to do some thinking.  But if you know where you want it to go, and can’t put it on paper, then you don’t want to write badly enough right then.  If you did, you’d just start writing whatever part of it you thought of first, and fix it later.”

“Uh…but….” They taper off into silence.  I just dropped a bomb.  I said the thing you can’t say.  I may just have blown their supposed ‘writer’s block’ to gravel (I was certainly trying my level best), but it’ll take time to process that.  I just challenged their basic desire to write, the unchallengeable.  They look at me like I’m the kind of cold S.O.B. that just isn’t supposed to exist in the “Oh, for a muse…” world of Writer’s Digest.  Well, yeah.  I’m a freelancer, a literary mercenary.  If you want feelgood advice that will reinforce all your existing perceptions, I’m the worst person to ask.  However, I don’t get jollies from the fact of jolting eager psyches, so I soften it…

“It’s true.  If you think about it, you aren’t sure where to start with what you want to say, and you don’t want to redo it all later.  Sorry, more bad news:  you will anyway, so just embrace that.  Start with something, anything, even if you have to throw 90% of it away later.  Any writing at all is progress, and not writing is zero progress.  If you clearly understood and absorbed this, you will now desire to go immediately to your computer and begin banging keys.”

“(various confused and noncommittal responses)”

Now, none of this bothers me.  I’m used to it, it’s part of what I do, like a hardware store owner being asked by his brother-in-law about caulking.  Only two things bother me:

  • Arguing with me, trying to tell me how wrong I am.  Maybe I am, but you aren’t paying me for this advice, so if you don’t like it, or find it an annoyance, debating me is useless to you.  You gain nothing except that you can be sure that you’ll never have to worry about getting free advice from me again.  Do I mind healthy disagreement? Not at all–but something I am doing is working, so what I say can’t be too totally incredible.  And if what someone is doing is not working, then where is the knowledge basis for debating me? This blog began purely because my favorite author gave me some stern, kind, wise advice:  “You must start a blog.  People who like your writing want more of it, often, and you need to learn to think in terms of giving it to them.  They want to know the mundane stuff you can’t imagine anyone would care about.  You must have your own domain.  You must learn to present yourself in your profession.”  Did I argue with her? Hell’s bells, no.  I went and did it, within two days.
  • Ignoring what I said, and continuing to seek approval for the dysfunctional methods they’re currently using.  If you wanted to know, why did you just ignore everything I said? Surely you can understand that if I think you’re doing it wrong, I gain no happiness from having to break that to you.  It’s a service.  Freely given, but please think of what it’s like to be simply ignored and have the same thing thrown back at you.  It feels ineffectual for me.  It makes me want to stop.  I don’t fundamentally want to stop.  I like to help people.  I hope what I say will help them write more productively and happily.  If I’m not perceived as an authority, why ever ask me?

This has wandered afield from the topic a bit, I acknowledge, but it does all pertain (if tangentially) to the busting of this mythical ‘writer’s block.’  If you stopped believing in the concept, and started writing–something–anything–even a piece on abuse of the em dash, like someone on Salon recently did–the concept would go away.  Bang out 300 words about how frustrated you are.  Describe your beer can opener.  Rhapsodize about five hairs on your arm.  Write a scathing rebuttal to this, telling me I’m full of baloney.  You will be writing.  That’s the idea, is it not?

Writers want to write.  Non-writers want to talk about how cool it would be to write, or why they can’t write.

And if writers know they should blog, and have no idea at all what to write about some night, you can see what happens.

Medieval mentalities

When you think of the Middle Ages, you think of a wholelottaignorant, right? Loopy folk beliefs, slavish acceptance of draconian religious programming, a profound lack of empathy for most other people (especially those different from one), squalor fairly easily alleviated but not being a priority.

Although I must say that at the recent Society for Creative Anachronism event my friends Rebekah and Forrest took me to, they seem to have left out all of the above.  Anyway, consider this dominant reality before you judge your medieval ancestor’s mindset with too much disdain:

They knew nothing was going to get better.

I was walking through my house today, thinking about the stiff knee that results from (what I believe to be) botched cartilage surgery.  Avascular knee cartilage will not regrow, of course.  That which was removed no longer acts as a pad for the weight of my thigh and upper body.  What remains, taking more stress, will deteriorate further.  My knee will never be the same again, and all because for once I finally attempted to evade a pitch rather than let it hit me.  And I thought, well, maybe they’ll invent artificial knee cartilage by the time I need it.

“Maybe by the time I get that old, there’ll be something better.”  The exact form of hope that peasant LeBlanc, tilling his fields in medieval Anjou, did not have.  Could never have–not if sane.  What reason had he to imagine his sore knee would be ameliorated by a new invention? He had never seen a new invention.  He had seen new proclamations from the clergy, the nobility, the merchants.  In nearly every case they were bad news for him:  you are going to hell, you must produce more grain, you must pay more interest.  Unless you imagine that anyone ever told him:  “You get to go to heaven, you are allowed to produce less crops for me now, and we’ll lend to you without charging interest this time.”

His knee hurt, it would continue to hurt, and nothing would be invented to fix it.

My knee hurts, and not only do I hope something will be invented for it, I am not insane to imagine that it may be.  As a child, games were things played on a board with tokens and dice and spinners.  Today’s child (who when I was his or her age, I marveled at Pong) plays a realistic and immersive game of army combat.  With Koreans.  Who are currently in Korea, not in his living room.  Also an Australian guy and some gal from Norway. When I was in college, I wrote my papers on an electric typewriter. Now I edit people’s writing on a computer with software that allows me to track my changes and leave margin comments.

I saw this change.  It is more scientific to tell myself things are possible than impossible, all considered.

You probably feel the same way too, especially if you are in your forties and hoping they’ll fix all the elderly ailments before you get them.  (They intercepted polio at the pass, did they not?)

Now imagine your life, your entire life, with no such rational hope.

The Alpocalypse

No, it isn’t an invasion of South American camelids that resemble mini-llamas and produce trendy wool.  My musical main man, “Weird Al” Yankovic, has a new CD coming out very soon.  We wait years for these.  And if you’ve never seen Al in concert, you have missed an experience.  Nonstop entertainment, even during the every-number costume changes.  A hardcore trouper’s ethic (he had the flu when I saw him), great band chemistry and a total commitment to a great show.  My wife was meh over the idea, but became a concert convert.  I don’t even like concerts much and I liked it.

Here’s the track listing:

1.Perform This Way
4.Skipper Dan
5.Polka Face
7.Party In The CIA
9.Another Tattoo
10.If That Isn’t Love
11.Whatever You Like
12.Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me

Any questions? That last, in particular, hit a resonant frequency for me. People used to constantly forward stuff to me in the belief that it was funny or important. Whether or not I had editing work on my plate, it got so irritating, and then I’d ask them to please stop, at which point they’d think I was a killjoy. That’s not how that works.

Amazon’s little game

Do you buy used books through Amazon? I do, though I’m seriously considering ending that practice.  If you’re anything like me, you have absorbed the following salient facts:

  • Any used book costs a minimum of $3.99 for shipping.
  • Often that’s the entire cost, with the book selling for $0.01.
  • If you make an order of any size at all, Amazon gives you free shipping.

Perceptive readers with business sense, and at least a little bit of avarice, have just done the mental math.  Okay.  So if I’m Amazon, here’s my game.  I’ll set up my system to adjust my price to $3.98 above whatever the best independent bookseller deal is.  And if they buy from the bookseller in spite of my undercut, since I take most of the profit anyway, I can’t lose.

The reason this offends me is that it is so scientifically designed to hose the little guy or gal, the independent bookseller in Waverly, KS who keeps a local retail store going by using the business as a net-order warehouse with retail capability.  It’s not malice, just scientific greed, and I see through it. Given that it affects books and authors, thus clients, as an editor I’m perhaps more sensitive about it. I like local bookstores and help keep them around when I can. So, I reckon, do most editors and writers.

What I have taken to doing, when I do buy used books from Amazon, is easy and inexpensive.  Buy it from the little guy or gal anyway, for the extra $0.02 or $0.50 or $2.00.  It would be great if others did so also.

Dashing through the text…

A writer on Slate decided to have a little fun with hyperdependence upon dashes in writing.  I recommend the read.

My own besetting literary sin is the semicolon, though my guilt in the dash sector is more than it should be.  I’ve learned that, the longer it takes to edit a paragraph for clarity and flow–the more you have to move stuff around to remove this dash or that semicolon–the stronger your signal to rewrite it afresh.

If you fooled with it for fifteen minutes, you already wasted more time rewriting it than you spent writing it.  It’s fourth down; if you aren’t past midfield, punt.

Spring beauty

Spring really is glorious.  I started taking more time to appreciate it one day when I realized that someday I would see my last spring, and I doubted that on that day, I would say to myself:  “Self, one of your regrets should be all the time you wasted appreciating warm sunlight, gentle breezes, lilacs, roses, quail families, doves, freshly mown grass, cherry blossoms, apple blossoms and so on.  You should have spent more time staring at computers, berating corporations, and editing out unnecessary instances of passive voice.”

So if you are getting a spring, I suggest luxuriating.  There really is something to that.  And it is all too transitory, and you will see only so many springs in your days here.


Today I was inspired to look up my very favorite William Least Heat-Moon quote.  If you do not know who he is, he is an excellent travel author.  He’s from Missoura.  His commentary on that situation:

“A Missourian gets used to Southerners thinking him a Yankee, a Northerner considering him a cracker, a Westerner sneering at his effete Easternness, and the Easterner taking him for a cowhand.” –William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways.

Now, if I denied you links to Heat-Moon’s writings after that appetizer, I’d be a cad:

Blue Highways (circling the nation away from freeways)

PrairyErth (an intensive study of my family’s county in Kansas)

Roads to Quoz (a search for stuff out of the ordinary)

River-Horse (he boated across America, at least all but 70 miles of it)

Columbus in the Americas (historical study of the old slaver)

Heat-Moon can seriously write, and has a quirky style that comes at the situation from angles others would not see. I love editing travel narratives, have written my own, and I get how difficult they are. They are even harder to do very well.

M*A*S*H Iraq

How long will it take for us to see this show? It took nineteen years from the Korean armistice to the M*A*S*H premiere.  (Hogan’s Heroes took twenty, which reinforces the evidently unofficial timeline.)   With Hollywood doing more recycling (of ideas, since it has no new ones) these days than your typical granola Oregonian, it is just a matter of time.

If it’s the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the necessary time has elapsed, yet the problem there is you have months of buildup followed by about three minutes of blowing the other side to hell followed by a decade of periodic bombing–difficult to structure a show around, unlike Korea, a war whose stalemates, steady casualties and periodic cease-fires made actual dating of events in the show rather nebulous. We are, of course, well overdue for a Vietnam sitcom.  My guess is that the networks are too chicken there.  I think they don’t give Vietnam vets enough credit.  They have had, after all, thirty-five years to think about it.  Who thinks they have not done some processing?

If it’s the 2003-2009 Gulf War/occupation, of course, the necessary 19 years for society to accept comedy mixed with its tragedy have barely gotten a start.

Either way, I’m available to edit the underlying material.

The decline of message boards

While I do not think they will just go away, I think they are fading overall.  It came to me today while reading a post I thought was fairly misguided, though not offensive.  For whatever reason, I posted that the poster was missing the point.  He of course challenged me to prove my point.  I thought about it, and then I thought:  Why would I care? I don’t care to make him agree or see it my way, and I don’t care what he thinks especially to begin with, and I don’t care if anyone else on the board looks down on me because I didn’t engage him.  I simply do not care.  So I just told him it wasn’t worth my time, and left it at that.

It’s not that he was stupid, or that it wasn’t a debatable point.  It was that the whole message board environment simply has worn down my ability to care what he or anyone else says there.  And I am wondering if others sort of passed through a message board phase and lost general interest in them, as I have.  In many ways, Facepalm walls and posts and comment threads seem to have taken over, and often with even greater idiocy, though at least some greater need for circumspection how one points it out.  One never wants to hear from a liked friend, “Uh, that’s my brother-in-law, and while I agree he’s a fairly dim bulb, I’m not having fun reading you sending his BP into triple digits over triple digits.”  Or worse:  “I’m sorry about my brother-in-law.  He wasn’t always this way.  He got caught in an IED blast and has never recovered.  Before that, though, he won the Silver Star, and was the best Little League coach ever.”

I admit that editing-related message boards seem to be a little better overall, but only by degrees. They’re still places where I say little of what I really think.

Anyway.  Am I the only one out there who nowadays only bothers with message boards when he has a specific question for a specific group/subject, asks it, thanks them for the answer and then vanishes for two years?