Monday, February 25, 2008

Are You Making Excuses? Unless You Have Plague, Think Again

After getting the flu and still having deadlines to meet, it got me thinking about the many excuses that I hear about. Elance buyers often mention the problems they have with getting people to turn in work on time and citing random excuses. I know there is one provider who has had a mother die at least three times over the course of a year or two. Maybe there are times when people simply can not turn in their work on time. So what are they?

Here are a few excuses that I see bidding site buyers talking about:

Death in the family- I suspect that less than half of the people who say they have a death in the family really do. Maybe that's harsh, but I think people do use that as an excuse for just being slow or disorganized. Sure, it may happen to some providers, but because so many people claim that, there's no way to be sure when it's really happened. Even if I did have a death in the family, I probably wouldn't mention it out of fear of not being believed. It's kind of like carrying a Louis Vuitton bag- it might be real, but to everyone else it looks like another fake.

Illness- Yes, there are some illnesses that would prevent work from being turned in. It does happen, particularly in the winter. However, I have worked through enough illnesses to know that simply being sick is not really an excuse. Since I've been freelancing I've worked through two bouts of strep throat, countless colds, three sinus infections and a nasty case of the flu. I got through my recent flu by taking Darvocet, which kept me propped up and facing the laptop. With some adjustments, I could type with minimal pain, though I couldn't hold a book. Odd how that works. But, since that whole ordeal I can't see using an illness as a big excuse unless it's cancer, some type of debilitating illness, hanta, ebola or plague. Yes, plague. If you have the plague, it's probably ok to be late.

Computer problems
- Yes, I'm sure they happen. I just wonder how professional someone is if they are using computer problems as an excuse. I keep three computers on hand so that if one breaks down I have a spare, and so on. I use Web-based email so that I don't have to be at any one computer to communicate with a client. If you take these types of precautions, computer problems should never be an excuse for anything. And yes, I know that because I wrote this all three computers will simultaneously break down just because they can. You know what? If that happens, I'll buy a fourth.

War- I actually saw a RentaCoder buyer who complained that people he had hired told him that war raging in their country had made them late with their work. War? I guess that could possibly be an excuse, although technically if there's a war going on around you, you do know this when you sign up for a project. It should be made clear in advance that you could possibly have late work due to war. On the other hand, if you really do need your work on time, is it really the best idea to hire a writer in a country where a war is going on?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Five Best Things About Getting the Flu

I've recovering from the flu right now. I can sit up and walk around but my mind is still a bit fuzzy. Getting the flu is one of the least enjoyable things that humans go through, so I thought I'd try to find a few bright points in the influenza darkness:

1. You lose weight. Yeah, it's perverse, but I think I've gone down by about a pant size. Woo hoo!

2. You catch up on sleep. I hate to sleep. Seriously. It's nothing more than a big swath of time cut from writing. But, getting caught up on some of the missing sleep will probably be beneficial in the long run.

3. People bring you stuff. That's right- I'm thirsty, darn it. I usually feel bad if I ask someone to bring me something, but that's certainly not the case during the flu. Bring me drinks, lunch, a better mouse- whatever I need. Thanks.

4. Dreams get freaky. I'm not sure if it's the Darvocet, the Tamiflu or the fever, but my dreams have been epic tales of wonder. I'm thinking about basing a children's book on one of them.

5. Less fear of the general public. Usually at this time of year I have a healthy fear of coughing strangers. I use Germ-X excessively and try to keep from touching stuff. But after having the worst that the season offers, I have no fear. Unless someone has plague, I'm not impressed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New York Times Lay Offs Planned

Here's a scary look at the future of newspapers. This is just the latest in a long line of newspaper layoffs. Here's an insanely long list of media layoffs this decade. Getting that journalism degree right on the cusp of the Internet age probably wasn't the wisest choice, in hindsight.

But, I still don't see the newspaper dying out any more than I can see it with magazines. People still like to have something tactile to hold and carry with them. Sure, you can get the same information online, but imagine a doctor's office without magazines. Imagine sitting outside and reading news sheets that you printed out on your computer.

The habit of picking up a newspaper to read the latest is ingrained in us. Because of this, newspapers will be around for at least a few more decades. After that, there's a chance of them being replaced by news that's read over a Kindle or a similar device. The Kindle already gets the New York Times and a few other large newspapers. It may be just a matter of time before everyone gets their news that way. It'll be a shame in a lot of ways, but on the bright side, at least we won't have any more ink-stained fingers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Elance Changes to the Changes to the Changes

The latest changes to the revised changes are here, apparently. The newest word from Elance is that they are extending the free time for the Premier designation. They aren't saying yet how long the extension will be, but my guess is for eternity. No one was willing to pay $20 a month for something that was supposed to be merit based. An extra $240 a year was ludicrous, and I'm glad that Elance finally agrees.

They are also "enforcing" the requirement of two verified credentials to be a Premier member. I found "enforce" an odd way to phrase it, since they extended the invitations to the ones they chose, and not the other way around. I only have one verified credential, my degree, and they sent me an invitation to be a Premier member. The cut off day is March 4. Should everyone run out and get more credentials verified? Doubtful.

First, it's difficult to do. The third party that they use for the verification process are, in my opinion, extremely inept. They basically had me verify it myself through photos of my diploma and getting them logged into my university's system to check my graduation records. I had to call the university, send pictures, email the service over and over to answer was a serious pain.

Second, to add insult to injury you have to pay for the privilege of doing someone else's job. All of the work I did to get verified was not paid- I had to pay someone for it.

Third, there is the distinct possibility that Elance may not take my advice and could start charging for Premier membership. For the legions who have decided never to pay for this, getting verifications will be a waste of time and money if Elance changes their changes to the change of the changes and starts charging the $20 a month.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Writers' Strike is Over!

It's finally over! Now I can get back to work. Kidding, kidding. I don't have the luxury of striking, even if I wanted to. If people didn't pay me to write I'd probably scribble things down on scratch papers and go around handing them to strangers.

Actually, one of the deals that I have in the works was specifically because I don't belong to the union. Some of the union wages for writers are extremely high. I think I've mentioned it here before, but I know a few people in the (B) movie industry, one of which is an investor interested in one of my stories. In the B movie realm, they don't have a budget for union writers, and usually pay about half of the union screenwriter's fee. There have been a few talks this year about turning my thing into something for the Sci-Fi Channel. All they are waiting for right now is a treatment.

The problem is, it scares the life out of me. My fiction is always an evolving process, unlike the non-fiction that comes flying out daily. If I finish the treatment and they hate it, well, that's pretty much it. If I don't finish it, I get to keep my daydreams about seeing my sci-fi story on my non-flat screen, ancient TV one cozy evening. They want the treatment. I just don't know that I'm ready. What makes someone take that leap and just say, here is my thing- it's great! Take it and film it! I don't know. I wish I did.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Won't You Write About?

Normally I hate it when people ask questions in blog posts in an attempt to get comments, but hey- I'm curious. I think that most freelance writers have topics that they won't write about. Usually this happens after they're faced with topics that make them uncomfortable. That's certainly the case for one of my Topics I Won't Write About. I'll write about a lot of weird stuff- I actually welcome it. But there are a few things just aren't going to come flying out of my fingertips.

1. Questionable nutritional supplements: I got roped into writing a series of articles about some very questionable supplements once, and it won't happen again. I accepted a project to write about the health benefits of various types of teas. Tea is high in antioxidants and I'm a big believer in these types of natural foods for overall health. Great! After I accepted the project and the money was escrowed I was told that the topic had changed to a type of health supplement. At that point, there wasn't much that I could do about it- I accepted, the money was escrowed and I didn't want to risk bad feedback by backing out. So, I wrote the stupid things. I gave it my all and people are probably out there buying those things right now because of what I wrote. Never again.

2. Male enhancement: Over the past year, it seems like everyone has become interested in male enhancement content. It's everywhere- all over Elance, RAC, Craigslist and anywhere else that freelancers gather. I'm frankly tired of hearing about it. I don't think there are any magic pills or lotions or whatever that can do what they claim. And with all of the hype and the millions spent on these products, shouldn't they be big enough at this point? Exactly how big do they really need to be?

3. Work at home scams: I haven't personally been faced with this one, but I know of several freelance writers who have. I don't care what the pay is, I would never write anything that is likely to scam people who are looking for work at home. Anyone who wants that can look elsewhere or jump off a cliff. Either one.

4. Programming: Programming is obviously not unethical, it's just too complex to be written by someone who doesn't know how to do it. I can research most topics and have a reasonable level of knowledge in order to create items that convey the appropriate information. I can cross reference it, fact check it, and end up with something that is accurate and insightful. I can not, however, do that about programming. It takes a lot more than a few hours of reading to understand the nuances that those types of articles would require.

5. How to "score" with women: Um, no thanks. Women have enough to contend with without this kind of crap. Unfortunately, this has become a cottage industry online. I can't count how many times I've seen people looking for articles and ebooks on this topic. There is a possibility of this kind of content being done tastefully, but the door is open far enough that a few changes could make it harmful. I'm not having any part of it.

So, that's it. Anything else is fair game. As long as it isn't one of these topics, I literally will write about pretty much anything. I would like to hear what other people consider taboo in their own work, if anyone cares to mention it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Made it Through the Tornadoes

Last night was one of the worst tornado nights we've had in years. Something about the darkness makes any tornado night much more frightening than the same weather during the day, though. I waited up for quite a while to see what was going to happen, but ended up going to bed figuring that if one got close the sirens would wake me up. They certainly did. There were two tornadoes in town and a few others in the surrounding counties by about 3:30 a.m. The worst point was when the local news zeroed in it's street map on the "danger zone." My subdivision was on it.

One of the tornadoes ended up passing about a mile from us at one point. At the time it was closest, that eerie calm descended. If you've ever had a tornado close by, you may know what I'm talking about. As long as the rain is coming down, the tornado is usually not that close. But, as soon as the rain stops and it looks like nature is trying to lure you outside with false promises, you're screwed. We had a few minutes of the calm when the tornado was passing by, but the rain soon started back and I was able to keep from vomiting. This morning I saw that 52 people are dead now from these storms. And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Is Wikipedia a Good Resource for Writers?

In short, yes. It is. But, but, everyone says it isn't accurate and should never be used as a source. Yes, everyone does say that. Here's why they're wrong:

Wikipedia was studied by the journal Nature and found to be about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. If you have experience in researching and disseminating information, you may know that Encyclopedia Britannica is well-respected for its information, but it has as many errors as most other respected sources. Actually, I've seen errors in Nature before as well. You have to expect a certain margin of error, no matter what resource you use.

The publisher of Encyclopedia Britannica admitted on NPR that his publication and Wikipedia have about the same accuracy. Of course, he is now debating the findings in the press. And, that's fine. The test appeared to be a fair study, consisting of a blind comparison of 50 articles from each publication.

I do use Wikipedia as a starting point, and I do think that people who are afraid to read it for fear of inaccuracies are inexperienced writers who don't really understand the dissemination process. I had four years of strenuous training as a journalist, so I don't just look at any fact and assume that it's true. If I can find a fact and then find it backed up somewhere that I trust, then that's a good fact. One of the best things about Wikipedia is that it requires extensive citations. For any piece of information that does not include a citation, there will be a notation mentioning it.

That means that anyone using Wikipedia as a reference can simply look at the referenced material and gauge it's accuracy. The references will be listed at the bottom of each page, and I know that many writers do use those references in their works.

Now, being a writer with a journalistic mind, I did set out to test the site to see how quickly something inaccurate would be cleaned up. About a year ago, I chose a Wikipedia page and edited it, adding in a long diatribe of mostly my opinion on the topic. I did use some fact, which was from a book that I read years ago, but did not cite specific passages or pages. Within hours I received a message thanking me for "experimenting" with the site, but that what I wrote had to be removed. Will most websites do this, or even check their information to make sure that it's accurate? If you're a web writer, you already know the answer to that.

So, why the hysteria about never using Wikipedia? I think a lot of it has to do with writers and editors who haven't read the study and haven't investigated the site to see how accurate it is. Many of them don't understand that disseminating information is just as important as finding it. I have a major client who does not allow Wikipedia to be used at all as a source. They will, however, allow me to use AC as a reference, despite there being no editing to AC stories, and most of the work there being based on opinion and with no citation whatsoever. For that same client, I have been able to use blogs, a forum post and other assorted pages as sources, but never Wikipedia. Why?

Is there a chance that a fact you read on Wikipedia isn't accurate? Certainly. That's what the citations are for. If you don't see a fact backed up, don't use it. But, if you read the first article that I referenced above, you may have seen this quote about the EB, "the longer established encyclopaedia does not claim to be error free." And it's correct- no work, not newspapers, magazines, websites or encyclopedias, claim to be completely free of errors. How many times have you seen something inaccurate in your local newspaper or in a magazine story? It happens.

The key for writers is to disseminate the information the best they can, and never to trust just one source for anything. Wikipedia is a good starting point, just like any other source you run across. The forum post that I mentioned using as a reference? It was about an extremely obscure subject about which little was available on the web. I checked out the writer of the post and looked at her website thoroughly to establish that she actually new what she was talking about. If you're a professional, you will always make sure that what you use as materials is as accurate as possible.

Any source, whether it's Wikipedia, the EB, blogs or anything else should always, always be corroborated by a second source. It doesn't matter how respected the work is or how professional it sounds- if you can't back it up with something, it's too risky. If you can back it up, what does it matter where it originally came from?