Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Back!

I've been on vacation for almost a week, but now it's back to the 'ole freelance grind. Actually, it wasn't so much a vacation as it was me insinuating myself into a business trip. Why? Because the business trip was six days at a spa/winery. You heard that right- a place that offers both spa treatments and makes its own wine. Why anyone would want to go to such a place without taking me along I simply cannot imagine.

Ok, so the question for a lot of freelancers is generally whether they should tell their clients that they will be out of town. I see a lot of people who insist that you should immediately tell everyone you ever work with that you will be gone, but I don't think it's that dire. If you will have Internet access and can stay in communication in case you're needed, it's not a huge issue. If you don't want to be bothered with work at all while you're away, well, being self employed is probably not your calling.

I generally tell the ones that need to know, and that works out just fine. I told every client but one this time. The one that didn't hear about it didn't need to because I have an end-of-month deadline with them. So, I don't really believe there are any rules set in stone concerning the issue.

If you go out of town a lot, which I don't, it might not be a good idea to mention it or you may be seen as someone who is frequently unavailable. If you rarely get a chance to go anywhere, like me, use your own discretion. If it comes to it- this isn't the Renaissance. There are laptops, hotel business centers and even Kinko's if you need to communicate while you're away.

You can also postdate articles to appear on different dates ahead of time, which I did with a couple of sites. For regular gigs like blogs or other regular postings, there may be a time-stamping option that will make it look like you never even left.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Freelance Writing Roundup

A writing acquaintance of mine mentioned the other day how important it is to toot your own horn when you feel you deserve it. I think that's a grand idea, so here goes:

I have gotten two Editor's Choice awards from Suite101 in the past three days. They aren't for the article that I expected to win one, but I'll take it. I thought that The Fair Use Doctrine was timely and important for bloggers to know about, and you rarely read about it, so I kind of expected, well, something. Nada.

The ones that did win were How to Sell Books on eBay and Paid Blogs. Weird. Someone at even found it and recommended it to the bloggers over there which I thought was nice. I still haven't figured out how he knew that I wrote it, since I use a pen name on that blog, but there you are.

I also lost TWO computers last week alone. The light went out on one laptop and the hard drive on my desktop crashed completely and I swear made a face at me as it did so. I had to rig my sad laptop up to a spare monitor to make the whole operation keep running. Third-string computer is waiting in the wings in case this set up explodes or gets hit by a meteor.

The message- always use web-based email. An email program on my desktop would have been useless after this incident. You can email yourself any essential files and they will then be stored there in the email. Gmail is a great system if you've never tried it. I often hear that people "won't take you seriously" as a professional if you use free email, but I don't think it's ever stopped me. There may be a rogue client out there who thought - hey! I love the samples, and she's available, but heck if I'll hire someone who uses Gmail!

Maybe so, but I imagine I'd actually be taken less seriously if I didn't use web-based mail and then lost all my data in a crash.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wash That Blank Right Out of Your Screen

Yes, I haven’t posted in eight days. But you know what? That’s because I didn’t have anything to say about writing for a few days. There are blogs that look like they’re under extreme pressure to post every single day no matter what, even when the blogger clearly has nothing to say. If you've got nothing, wait until you do. But I’ve got a few things on my mind today, so settle in.

First, it occurred to me last night after far too many hours spent staring at a computer screen, that writing an article or piece of web copy is a lot like washing really dirty hair. It may not be the way that normal people wash their hair every day, but I think I left normal behind the last time I went to a convenience store and pretended to be English.

Anyway, the main concept is using shampoo, clarifier and conditioner. The blank screen is the dirty hair. You want to wash the blankness off the screen with the heavy-duty shampoo. The shampoo will throw all of your research and insight onto the screen and leave it covered in the basic shape of what you want to express.

For anyone who has never used a clarifier, it’s something you use to wash residue from styling products or heavy conditioners out of the hair. When you use it after shampooing, it can get rid of anything in your hair that shouldn’t be there. The clarifying stage for writing is exactly the same- clear it up and make it express the idea as clearly as possible. Get rid of anything that sounds too awkward or self conscious and clean the typos out of the copy.

Conditioning the hair is what makes it smooth, shiny and soft. You want the copy to be touchable and inviting for the reader. It should read smoothly and be easily managed by any reader who happens across it. Cut the sentence length if you need to. Break the work up into manageable segments.

Don't worry about blow drying your copy- that will probably just fluff it up and make it look like it's overdone. You want it to sound effortless and air dried. If you want to add a barrette sometimes, however, that can make the copy stand out. A link, a sidebar, a crack about how you're weird at convenience stores- those little extras may end up being what people remember most.