Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cool Writing Blogs

There are a number of writing blogs that I think are very good at what they do- inform and complain. Every blog should both inform and complain. Seriously. Think of your favorite blogs and I’m betting they do just that. In the freelance writing profession, information and complaints are particularly essential elements of the business.

Bad blogs beg you to read them. They constantly ask you to subscribe, to be a part of their community and to keep coming back. A bad blog tries to force a community and reads as extremely self conscious. A good blog tells you stuff and then complains for awhile.

Real Words

I like Real Words for several reasons. For one, it is never dull. There is always something interesting and surprising around the bend. Even the posts that have little to do with writing are always interesting and well written. I also like it because the blogger writes books about ghosts which is possibly the coolest thing a writer can do. Another reason may or may not be because the blogger put my blog at the top of a list of 40 inspiring writing blogs.

Web Writing Info

A master of both information and complaining effectively about freelance writing issues, the blogger is simply fabulous. Every post has an issue that is pressing in the freelance writing world, and of particular interest to the Web writing world. She also has an ebook there for beginning Web writers. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, so you should probably buy it.


This blog has always impressed me because the blogger isn’t afraid to get really in-depth and write long blog posts. Most bloggers tend to stick to the bite-size post nugget, but I do like reading long posts sometimes. It is mostly informational and with little or no complaining, but I like it anyway.

Writing Frump

The Frump is the all-time grand champion of the complaint. What’s more, she is a secret blogger- very cloak and dagger. I want to be a secret blogger, but every time I start a blog of my own I end up telling everyone about it. Ghostwritten blogs I can keep a secret, but never my own. Not the Frump! She’s still going strong.

Freelance Zone

I only recently discovered this one, but it immediately grabbed me. There is some very sage advice to be found there, and I was extremely impressed that Strunk and White’s “omit needless words” was mentioned. Yes, I did just use “very” and “extremely.” Anyone who can quote Strunk and White, Henry Rollins and Monty Python on the same blog has my immediate attention.

Bly Blog

If you’ve never heard of Bob Bly, you are probably not a fanatical freelance writer. That’s actually probably a good thing, but I digress. Bob Bly is the most famous copywriter in the freelancing world because of his decades of experience and his many helpful books on copywriting. I have two or three of his books, each of which has invaluable information about sales writing techniques and effective copywriting.

What I LOVE about his blog is that I always find punctuation errors. Always. In every post. The best copywriter out there isn’t perfect, and that’s a grand thing to see.

All of these blogs tend to be well written and cover topics in an interesting way instead of a tired rehashing of the same old writing and freelancing issues. Does that mean you should read these blogs instead of mine? Yeah, probably. But then of course, none of them brings you goodness like this:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My First Psycho

When I was in online sales full time, about twice a year I would run into a complete psycho. That came mainly from dealing with the public through email so often- if you play those odds you eventually get someone who is a light bulb short of a candelabra. But, I've been writing part time for several years and full time for two and never met a real nut case through writing until this week.

I have a few hubs over at HubPages and write one every so often when an idea for one occurs to me and I'm not busy with something else. They are mainly to entertain myself and blow off a little steam by voicing my own opinions. When you write for others full time I believe you need some type of outlet to express your own thoughts. Hence, many writers keep blogs or write AC articles and the like.

Anyway, one such hub is extremely opinionated and concerns some celebrities that I think are useless. Posh Spice apparently has a psycho admirer because someone started sending comments through the hub over and over again this week. That hub has been up for almost a year without any problems, but this guy apparently just ran across it or just got off his medication. Either one.

The messages started out rude and soon escalated to verbal abuse. They then went to threats. Once the threats started I wrote to HubPages about it and they responded extremely quickly. I'm not sure what they actually did but they said he will not be contacting me again, and he hasn't.

The lesson: never say anything bad about Posh. Ok, that's probably not the lesson, but it is a reminder not to run around the internet putting your name and contact details everywhere you go. I see a lot of people who do this and I wonder how necessary it really is. There are a lot of writers engaged in branding and believe that their own name should be the brand.

Branding is important, but think about the possibilities. Is there another way to brand yourself? I use initials most of the time when publishing something under my own name. I also use pen names on HubPages, Triond, Squidoo and sites like it. A pen name is something that can be branded just as easily as a real name, and it's a good deal safer. Just a thought.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Is Craigslist a Good Place for Freelance Writing Jobs?

No. It’s a terrible place for freelance writing jobs. I think there was a time when it was a legitimate place for people to post their writing projects and open positions. And, there are still a few who use it for that purpose. Unfortunately, it has been so crowded by scams and people seeking writers to work for free that it's no longer a worthwhile place to go for writing gigs.

Hey, you may be thinking, I found a great job there! Maybe you did once. But think about this- how many ads did you go through before you got it? A hundred? Two hundred? Your time is more valuable than that. You could have been doing paid work during all those hours instead of applying to scam after scam.

The temptation to apply to Craigslist ads can be overwhelming, though. There are a number of interesting freelancing sites that occasionally post freelance writing jobs, and I will run into Craigslist ads there. I also frequent a freelance writing board and Craigslist ads sometimes rear their ugly heads there too. I advocate ignoring Craigslist completely, but every once in a while I will apply to one of these on the off chance that it's legit. It never is.

The key, I think, is to simply look away. Sure, the gig sounds great, but chances are that it’s not. They say it’s for an established site, but let’s face it- it won’t be. But the pay sounds great! I have to apply! The last one that I applied to sounded great too. They asked me to write for the site for free for two weeks after which time they would evaluate my work and decide whether they wanted to pay me the rate they had advertised. Unfortunately, that kind of scam has become the norm on Craigslist these days.

Another common scam is advertising a great rate, an interesting project, and then telling each person who applies that they have to sign up as a member of their site or forum and hang around there to wait for word on the project. Yeah. Obviously these ads are simply intended to get their traffic up and there is no job.

Instead of the constant disappointment of Craigslist, take a look at Media Bistro and Journalism Jobs. Both are much more likely to have real projects and positions posted.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Useless Skills Gained From Freelance Writing

There are of course a number of useful and lucrative skills you gain by writing full time. These aren’t those skills:

Word Count Guessing: I can now glance at my page and approximate, within about 20 words, how many words are on the page. I can’t, however, cook rice. Priorities.

Useless Knowledge: Do you know what causes hemorrhoids? I do. I also know the intimate workings of every type of vacuum cleaner known to humans, where to visit if you ever go to Burkina Faso and what to feed your llamas. All of this completely useless knowledge came from various freelancing gigs and all of it is now lodged permanently in my brain.

Solving Other People’s Problems: Thanks to near-constant article writing, I can now solve everyone’s problems, and not just with this. Need a new vacuum? I know the one you need- I wrote articles about them last year. Want plastic surgery? Don't worry, I know what kind you need. Have back pain? I know just how to solve it. Need to go on a diet? Let me tell you about all the latest studies... Going to Trinidad and need to know where the best beaches are? I’ve got it covered.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Newspaper Layoffs

Here's the world we live in- gossip blogs are multiplying like those gross mice with the red eyes, but newspapers are constantly going under. Hardly a city has more than one paper anymore, and now the cities that do are severely downsizing their newsrooms. Sadly, cutting 14 percent of the newsroom doesn't surprise me in the least. What does surprise me is that Reuters, writing about a Chicago paper, apparently used AP style. Yeah, I'm a nerd.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is Cold Calling Really Necessary?

Cold Calls- Calling some random company and telling them that they should pay you to do something that they never asked you to do and might not even need done.

Is this really necessary? According to the big dogs on the block, it's essential to make cold calls to get new clients coming in and to get work that pays a fair rate. The big dogs, of course, being this guy, this guy and another guy whose blog I read.

I think that the whole cold calling concept is necessary for specific types of copywriting if you don't know anyone in the industry and don't have any samples to show anyone. In that respect, it's a carryover from when print copywriting roamed the Earth unchallenged by the digital gods that later came to power.

Nowadays, I don't see any reason that anyone would have to make cold calls. Yes, it's probably necessary if you want to go after the big names to get something impressive for the old resume. It's probably necessary if you want to get away from Web writing but don't actually want to work for just one company. If neither of these is your goal, cold calling is never necessary for a few reasons, namely:

People online rarely want to see a resume anyway. They mainly just want to see writing samples and to have a vague idea about your experience. If they do want a resume, it's to see your educational credentials and number of years of experience, not to see that one time you wrote this flier for LG and it rocked pretty hard.

There is no shortage of Web work. The amount of work is actually pretty overwhelming at times. There's no reason to look for off-Web work unless you just want less work and want to work harder to get it.

There's the skin crawlage factor. Imagine having to call people you don't know over and over again, trying to make yourself sound like someone they need even when you don't know if they need anyone. Imagine being turned down over and over again by people who don't know why you even called them because they never advertised a position and don't know who the heck you are. Yeah. Fun times.