Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008's Resolutions

I've kept my 2008 New Year's resolutions in the back of my head throughout the year, fully intending to implement all of them. In some ways I succeeded and in some I failed. Rather than just make new resolutions on top of old ones this year, I thought I'd look back at the last batch and see where things could have been improved. Here are last year's in a nutshell and how I did with each:

Get less distracted by shiny things and entertaining YouTube videos: Sadly, this will probably never happen. I have just found ways to integrate the shiny moments with the work that needs to be done so that I still get to catch up on SNL sketches that I missed and get work completed on time.

Make more residual income
: I've continued with this and make roughly seven times as much per month in residuals as I did last year at this time. That's still not great, actually, but it is starting to become something that I can count on as part of my income.

Start writing for magazines: Whammy. Never happened.

Read more classics: Um, do Kim Harrison novels count? I think they'll be classics someday. No, I laid off the Regency novels this year and got into Colonial history for some reason. I wouldn't consider any of them classics, but I think that most of what I read this year had merit.

Ignore more advice: Oh hells yeah. Most of the advice I get from other Web writers just doesn't work out for me. I know they are a nice, helpful bunch and they are only trying to share what they have learned, but I very, very rarely ever have success doing anything that another Web writer has suggested. I love ya, but I'll stick to my own methods for now. Good luck in 2009!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Praise File

As a freelancer, you don't have the luxury of a boss telling you that you've done some darn fine work. If you're freelancing at home, you don't get to see the face of someone reading your work so that you can see that you've made them happy with it, or at least that they haven't become angry, turned green and started ripping the place up. All you have is email.

The email can be an important tool for gauging how well you're actually doing at pleasing your clients. When I start to think that my work is basically crap and that there's no reason for me even to apply to a really good gig because no one would ever hire me, I go to my praise file.

The praise file is a collection of emails that I started filing about a year ago when I realized that I was actually doing pretty well and that clients were sending me nice emails about my work. The praise file currently has 30 emails in it, all complimenting stuff that I've written. Ok, one of them is an online compliment of some work that I copied and then emailed to myself, but the rest of them were actually sent to me. It's come in very handy when I need a confidence boost before applying to something or when I think up a new idea and wonder if I'm even good enough implement my own ideas.

If you don't have a praise file- get one. Start archiving those compliments. Pretty soon you'll have a nice email crop growing there to feed you when you're starving for a little resolve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tax Time is Coming

For freelancers, the end of the year means just one thing: paperwork. Well, paperwork and booze, but I digress. The beginning of tax season can be a confusing prospect if you haven't stayed organized with your paperwork over the past year. If you've never experienced a freelance tax season, here's how it will break down.

Any company that has paid you $600 or more over the course of the year is required to send you a 1099 form detailing the payment amounts. This is of course a simple way of keeping track, but not everyone you earn from will do this. The nature of freelance writing online means that many clients are middlemen who aren't keeping track of the amounts for you and won't be issuing you with a form.

I can think of two clients I've had this year that I have collected a few thousand from but that have never asked me for any tax forms and did not send me a 1099 last year. I'm not sure how that gets reconciled on the client's end, but on the freelancer's end, the records can be kept in any number of ways. The easiest is simply to use PayPal's own record keeping, if you are using PayPal to collect. They have an account history that can be used at the end of the year to see when and how much you have been paid. To make it easier, go through the payments tab to separate your income from the amounts that you've sent to others.

If you have a business license or are incorporated, you may have to fill out separate taxes for your business and your personal income. If you aren't operating under any licensing, the easiest method when you have multiple clients is just to file your income under "miscellaneous" income. This covers it all and is simple to do.

If you have an in-house writing job, take pictures of it. You'll want to keep those memories when the writing gets outsourced along with every other company's writing and PR departments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Gifts for Writers

Last year I had a bunch of people come here to The Writer's Journey searching for Christmas gifts for writers. Then I noticed a bunch of other writing blogs pandering to the keywords by running posts about what to get writers, most of which was writing crap. This year I don't think anyone has come here looking for that, but I'm pandering anyway.

The main problem with buying a Christmas gift is that you are assuming that they want something that relates to writing. Much of the time, in the case of professional writers, they don't want pens or writing calendars or any of that stuff. I really could puke if I get another fancy pen or a book about manuscripts. A person who writes for a living may not want to be reminded about their job all the time- especially on one of the only days (or part of the day) that they take off from that job.

Here are a few things that a writer might actually like to get for Christmas:

This t-shirt is perfect. If you don't know anyone who will love it, I will. Get it for me.

This is a great album that is Christmas themed but that can be played at any time of year. Many of the Christmas songs on it aren't really recognizable as Christmas music unless you've seen the special a million times. Most of it is pretty catchy and the audience for it is wide. In other words, it won't get annoying like those barking Christmas dogs. Too predictable? I can be of assistance.

Here's a Coneheads action figure. Why? I don't know. But, everyone likes the Coneheads and you can be assured that your gift recipient won' t already be up to their ears in Coneheads action figures this year. If you can't stand the thought of giving the gift of Beldar, there's another action figure you might prefer. Or not.

You can also be assured that your writer friend or relative will not have one of these. These are useful for decorating, cooking and keeping the annoying neighbor kids away.

For the writer in your life that you're pretty sure hasn't actually written anything, but who spends a lot of time at home trying to, there's this.

Have a writer in your life that you hate but that you nevertheless have to buy a gift for? Try a set of these. Not only are they annoying, your writer "friend" will have to spend hours making them into something annoying.

Friend or foe, a gift should never tie in to a person's profession too closely. Imagine if we got doctors tongue depressors and preschool teachers tiny screaming things that throw paint for Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here It Comes...

The Chicago Tribune's parent company, Tribune Co., has filed for bankruptcy. It's just chapter 11, but I can't remember the last time a "reorganization" actually saved a company. This just puts off the inevitable for a while.

Smaller papers with small circulations actually seem to be a little steadier than the big guys these days. I think that the local markets need advertisers more than the bigger, national advertisers who have other ad media at their disposal. Small local stores know they can get a lot of attention in their local paper but they may not have the budget for commercials and they may not have a place to put Internet ads that will get a lot of local traffic.

The big guys are apparently fleeing newspaper advertising, but magazine advertising is way down too. So where are these guys advertising? My guess is online. Web ad sales are still increasing, according to the stats that I saw a couple of weeks ago. That's good news for freelance writers who need that revenue and need their clients to keep making revenue.

What sucks is that I keep the idea of going back to newspapers in the back of my mind, holding it there as a safety zone in case I start having trouble getting freelance work or just start to hate it. I don't think that going back to print news is really a viable safety net anymore. I'm guessing that those still in print news probably hold freelancing in mind as their safety net.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blogs and More Blogs

Holy crap, it's been quite a while since I updated Ye Olde Blogg. I hate to see the blog suffer from neglect since I'm quite fond of it. However, I have been having trouble with what I see as stilted writing. I was talking about it in my writing group just yesterday- I can see the way that other people seem to write effortlessly and my work just seems too stiff. This blog has gotten that way several times. The posts end up being informative and all of that, when that's not really my aim.

So, I admit it- I've been seeing other blogs. I keep up this one regularly because I use it in promotional activities for some other stuff that I do, and because I get paid to. I also recently started this one just to let off stream of consciousness stuff, most of which has ended up being about William Shatner for some reason. It's been a nice, freeing diversion because no one ever reads it, so I don't have to worry about what I'm posting. I'm also getting paid, but less since I'm not promoting it. I think this may be the first time I've ever linked to it. Bad blogger! Bad!

I started my professional writing career with four years of journalism school under intensive, often rude conditions with Ph.Ds breathing down my neck about every little misplaced comma or uninteresting lead. I think that years of that as well as years of work in print news have given me the ability to put out technically-correct work that's often bare and lifeless. I'm working on it. I'm always working on it.