The Business of Writing: Being an Expert on You, or What’s Your Work Style?

downloadMost of my professional writing career has been as a full-time employee, primarily in journalism, but also in marketing and textbook publishing.

For approximately a year, I freelanced full time. I did OK, until my bread-and-butter client went away.

Freelancing full time is scary. And I was live without a net, without any strong understanding of the business side of things. It made working for myself harder than I ever imagined.

Now, I’m back to freelancing part time and I’m trying at the same time to put up the safety net of better business skills under me. One way I’m doing this is through reading and I recently bought Sara Horowitz’s The Freelancer’s Bible to get a better grasp of what I need to do on the business side.

Today, as I was reading a bit of the book at lunch, I came across this passage on working with clients under the subhead “Be the expert on you”: “Even if your client has worked with freelancers before, everyone’s different. Put a page on your website about how you work. Tell your client how you work.”

According to Horowitz, knowing yourself and how you work helps you stay organized. It helps you work with the client about your preferences. How do you prefer to be contacted? When, for that matter, are you available?  How will you and the client work together so you make a good fit?

The passage hooked me because I was recently on an interview for a full time writing gig (hey part-time freelance is great but it doesn’t pay all the bills) and I was a bit stumped when the interviewer asked, “What is your work style?”

I feel I flubbed this question, because I didn’t know quite what it meant. Did the interviewer want to know if I worked fast and accurately? Or how I structured my work day? How did I prioritize? How do I take direction? (I spent an awful long time about how I hated micromanagement.) Did I prefer to take constant direction or did I prefer to get my assignment and prefer to be left alone until it was done? Did I prefer email? Phone calls or in-person communication?

Yes, to all. The interviewer wanted me to talk about each of these things when asked about work style, according to thebalancecareers.com.

The work style question, according to the site, is meant “to decide whether you will fit in well with the company culture and the job. This question also reveals to the employer whether you are self-aware enough to recognize and clearly communicate your work style.”

Answering the work style question also seems a good tool to put into your freelance tool kit. Know yourself and your client gets to know you better.

— Todd

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On Writing: Staying focused and maintaining interest in writing projects: advice from Joe Lansdale

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Joe R. Lansdale at the 2013 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. Photo Larry D. Moore. 

I wrote a little about this yesterday, about my mind jumping around from interest to interest of late in my writing, a jump prompted it seems by a re-upping of interest in journalism because of a freelance gig and a waning interest in the second draft of my novel.

This isn’t the first time for me to lose interest in my novel project. As I mentioned yesterday, it was about this time last year my interest in the first draft waned. So, it’s possible I’m at the moment in a sophomore-draft slump.

Last year at this time, writer friends online encouraged me to press on. For awhile this year, in the midst of job and apparently major career changes, I felt the first slump coming on sometime around the Christmas holidays. It seemed to coincide with a major case of holiday blues — these blues hit during that time of year, largely because I find the whole season intolerable; I want it to go away, get sent in a bright red package with a bright red bow to some holiday Gilligan’s Island and get lost and stay lost.

To stay with the fearless-crew-of-the-Minnow theme, perhaps I was lost, overwhelmed by multiple stressors, including the black-dog depression brought on by so many stressors. As you well know from your diet of of pop psychology, major life changes can upset your creative traveler like Gilligan’s storm.

However I got there, I was pulled out by a writer infinitely greater than myself: Joe Lansdale.

Writing tip. Don’t let those who can’t, or won’t do it keep you from doing it. Spend less time explaining the reasons you can’t and more time showing that you can. That sounds like a slogan, but it’s the solid truth. There’s always someone who has an excuse, and sure, there are some that have valid reasons. But most people don’t have valid reasons. They just have reasons they don’t write. I don’t have time is the main one. And hey, that’s a toughie.

But I didn’t start out as a full time writer. I did other jobs, and sometimes two, meaning one was part time on top of whatever else I was doing for a living at the time.

I eventually realized I had a lot of time. Time that I was spending sitting around worrying  about not having the time, or planning a block of time. I decided, what if I wrote from ten thirty at night until midnight. My original goal was one page, and I learned very quickly I could do that.

So, I decided to expand on the idea. I would do three pages of prose. I had to get up at six a.m. to go to work, so I gave myself a carrot, so to speak. I thought, what if  gave myself an out and wrote three pages of good prose, even if I wrote it in thirty minutes. I did that, I could go to bed before midnight. So it was ten thirty to midnight, or three pages. It was usually midnight back then, and sometimes I didn’t get the three, but over time I managed to the majority of the time.

It wasn’t any good, by they way, but I was learning. In time I turned to working mornings, as I had an afternoon to tent-thirty job as a janitor, and weekend jobs as I could grab them. Practicing and teaching martial arts part time. And writing.

On the weekends I would write when I could, even if it was but for thirty minutes. I still made time to be a husband and a father, and my wife and I have managed a great life out of it all. I spent time at my kid’s events, and with them, and still do, even though they are grown.

There is time, if you make it. It’s still hard work, but of a different nature now. I say this merely to say you can do it too, not that I did anything amazing. That’s the point. It wasn’t that amazing. I learned to balance my time without turning it into a chart I had to check off or frustrate over. I relaxed and did it.

This piece of advice spurred me along, and I made time to write and work on the second draft of the novel.

Now, my problem isn’t time. It’s focus. But, I realize, as I’ve just reread and retyped this quote, the shift of focus may be exactly what need to do. Maybe I need to hold off on the novel and use the writing time I’ve set aside for myself for nonfiction writing?

So, does this happen to you? Do your interests flip-flop or jump from project to project? How do you handle it?

— Todd

Current News: Cats, Freelance and Staying Focused/Interested in Writing

I’ve inherited a cat. I’ve never owned a cat and hadn’t really planned on getting one, but Callie the Calico became part of my  life just a little more than a month ago after a friend’s death.20180430_201537

Now, I wonder why I haven’t had a cat before, though I know next to nothing about them, other than they apparently evolved some 6-7 million years ago in the Middle East and were worshiped as gods.

Callie seems to be a good companion so far, and I’m glad I was able to adopt her. It’s probably good for writers to have cats and clearly there are some famous literary cats, like Hemingway’s six-toed feral cats that  roam his Key West estate.

***

Since February I’ve had a regular freelance gig writing advertorials for local newspapers. These have been fun and a nice source of side/supplemental income. At the same time they’ve juiced  my journalism jones again.

I guess I’m like James Bond, never say never, again. I was convinced I was done with journalism last September, at least daily newspaper journalism, and maybe that part of my writing life — at least full time — is done. It’s hard to tell.

The renewed interest in journalism has also led me to reading some great nonfiction again, including Mary Roach’s Grunt, about which I’ll write more in another post.

Reading nonfiction and writing a form of it, though, has put me in the mood to write more of it and that’s why I’ve been blogging more lately. I hope you’ve enjoyed the output.

***

This freelance gig and a renewed interest in journalism and nonfiction, though, has also distracted me from working on the second draft of a novel, a second draft I had fully expected to have finished by now.

Getting distracted by different forms of writing seems a constant for me. At times all I want to write is fiction or a specific genre of fiction such as science fiction or mystery.
Then I get occupied with wanting to write more nonfiction.

Do you experience this as a writer? Does your interest in a form jump around?

But, besides my mind jumping around from fiction to nonfiction, I’ve lost interest in the second draft, lost interest in the novel itself. In one way, this is a bit discouraging. I really wanted to see this thing to the end. But will I? I’m feeling doubtful about this.

Then again, it was about this time last year I was growing tired of the first draft and was ready to chuck in all in the trash bin.

So, maybe, I’ll push through and complete it. Maybe, what I need is some distraction like blog posts to push through the block. To keep writing.

—Todd

Fonts, Page Design and Publishing

I was just reading Rudy Rucker’s blog post today about his efforts to find the right font for his forthcoming self-published novel The Big Aha, and was Free Fontsstirred by this paragraph about fonts,  page design and reading:

Getting back to my rant about font design—one bad thing that that can happen is, I think, that a book or (more often) a web page might be designed by someone who doesn’t actually read.. They want to be different and cool and hardcore and they don’t actually like text. So—they go with 9 point Arial beige type on a brown background.

I wonder if this is true about web designers or other non-text-oriented types. Many of the commercial clients I write for aren’t text- or design-oriented, until I try to diverge from their preferred Calibri text, and write a document that fits with the product being sold. I’ve had email flame wars with my clients over fonts; I actually like bolder serif fonts for the main body of the text, but sans serif fonts seem preferred for online reading, and my clients presume the final documents will be read online and not printed out.

Are, generally speaking, most people reading business documents, or for that matter other online content, not readers? Does font matter to you? Do you consider the nature of readability over legibility? What do you prefer, serif or sans-serif fonts?

Is the sans-serif font of this page readable?

—Todd