Category: Writing

Time to stay on task

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Over the years I haven’t owned a watch because I never really pay much attention to time. I get up when the sun (or my daughter) wakes me up, and I kind of just know what time it is.

But if I were to finally get a watch, I’d definitely be sure it includes a stopwatch feature. With constant interruptions from my daughter, I need to be able to literally stop time so I can accurately time a business event (versus getting up and changing a diaper).

Why is it important for freelancers, or any business owner, to properly keep track of their time?

Whenever you take on a project, even if it’s work done for your own business (like accounting, marketing, or even brainstorming), it’s crucial that you know how long it’s taking you.

When you do work for a client, keeping track of how long it takes for each task will help you price future projects more accurately. Be sure to include time spent on the actual writing. But you also have to take into account researching, editing, talking to the client, and more.

Keeping track of time spent on your own business should be accounted for also. This way you can see more clearly how much time it really takes to run your business. Use this information to adjust your hourly rates. You’ll quickly be out of business if you only consider your billable hours when setting your rates.

How do you keep track of your time?

Teaching grammar and writing to young children

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Do you need a reason to improve your grammar and writing? If you have children, or plan to soon, you have at least one great reason.

My daughter will be 3 years old in about 3 months. Though I know that genetics plays a role in her incredible language ability, I also credit her skills to my parenting style.

One thing I do is talk to her constantly, in regular language. I use prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, contractions, etc. I make it a point to tell her what things are, how they work, and I use a lot of words to explain. I also give her definitions.

My point is that my daughter uses almost perfectly correct grammar when she speaks. Sometimes she’ll say “me” instead of “I”, and of course she’s no English expert, but it’s amazing to watch her learn English everyday. If I didn’t know how to speak properly, and if I didn’t take the time to actually talk to her, she wouldn’t be able to communicate as coherently as she does.

Hand in hand with grammar is writing. I made sure to introduce and point out the alphabet to my daughter early, and we often discuss letters and words. When we’re playing with crayons, I often wrote letters for her, so it’s no surprise that she likes to make letters as best she can (she’s pretty good at writing an A, H, V, and U.)

Another excellent tool is right in front of you. I’ve allowed my daughter to watch me type, and I let her type letters too. This helped her learn not only her alphabet, but also punctuation marks and numbers. She often tells me, “Let me type my name, Mommy.” Right now she just types whatever letters strike her fancy, but she has fun pretending she’s writing words.

All of these everyday activities will help my daughter become a good writer, speaker, and reader.

So if you need to brush up on your basic rules of grammar, or if you never thought it was important to speak to babies and toddlers, give it a second thought. It really does matter.

Just this morning my daughter told me, “I hear a train. That’s strange. Hey! Train. Strange. Train. Strange!” I made sure to tell her that that’s called rhyming. I’ll let you know in a few years when she’s written her first book. 🙂

Note: Look for more stories about my daughter’s amazing talents. I’ll be talking about her more and more, or I might just have to start another blog that’s not about writing.

Roads to freelance writing

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Freelance writing means different things to different people, and there are certainly several different roads to freelancing. While you can specialize in one type, it might also make sense to try several kinds until you’re sure what works for you. Let’s explore some of the paths.

Commercial or Business Writing

This is the type of freelancing I’ve been focusing on for several years. I contact businesses and offer my services writing newsletters, press releases, ads, brochures, and other marketing materials.

Some argue that this is the most lucrative type of freelance writing, perhaps because companies often have the money to spend on one-time or even repeat marketing collateral. Also, the writing they’re buying functions to bring them more business, and, therefore, more money.

Newspaper Reporting

Newspaper freelancing is a field I’m planning to try very soon. Small and large newspapers can be found in every city and town, and they often rely on freelancers. Newspapers generally pay by the story.

I almost got a gig at a local paper, so I’m encouraged. All it took was an email to the publisher, along with some sample clips. The next step is to find a paper that currently needs another freelancer.

Magazine Writing

Magazine freelance writing is what many people think of first when I tell them I’m a freelance writer. I haven’t pursued this avenue yet, but articles that are accepted can pay pretty well.

The trick seems to be in finding the right magazines (there are a lot of smaller publications that are easier to break into), and then writing the right story. And it seems to be a “query and wait” business. I’m not that patient right now, so I’ll try it when I have more time and more money (so waiting won’t be so painful).

Online Article Writing

This type of writing includes blogging and writing copy for online magazines. This may be the easiest to break into, but potentially the least lucrative. A lot of online companies want to pay pennies for online writing, even though the act of writing takes just as much time and energy as print writing.

Be careful with this market. If you accept a low-paying offer, consider writing it super fast. In my opinion, those that offer pennies should get what they pay for. But that’s just me. Ideally, none of us will accept pitiful offers, but we all have to decide what works best for our situation.

Your Turn

What paths to writing have you tried? Do you have a preference, or do you try a healthy mix of several types?

Blogging with PayPerPost

I recently talked about writing for review sites, and PayPerPost is one of the best known. I just started seriously writing for them , and I think it’s a great deal.

Writing for review sites requires that you use sound blog ethics. For instance, I won’t claim I’ve used a product I haven’t, and I won’t say I love something I hate.

So why PayPerPost? With their new ranking system, I don’t have to worry about my Google rank in order to make money. In the past, a lot of the advertisers wanted blogs with a certain Google rank, but Google’s recent “slaps” works against this system in a drastic way. PayPerPost, whose parent company is called IZEA, came up with their own ranking system to alleviate this problem. This means I don’t have to write a bunch of $5 posts for companies I’m not interested in.

Right now my blog earns anywhere from $5 to $20 per review. Not too bad.

PayPerPost guidelines help keep people from littering their blogs with paid posts, which of course would be a disservice to the advertisers. You can’t write more than a few per day, and your blog has to have a balance between paid and non-paid posts. Fair enough, right?

If you haven’t tried it, and you’re looking for a way to monetize your blog, do your research and see if it’s for you. It’s free to sign up.

Interested? Just click on the logo above and you’re on your way!

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

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One of the perks of owning a home-based business is that you set your own hours. You can work late at night, early in the morning, or during “regular” hours. It’s up to you!

But when are you most productive? It probably depends on the task you have to complete, and also on your lifestyle.

For me, mornings are best for dealing with clients and for marketing. I work with clients all over the country, so I need to be able to contact people who live on the east coast. If I wait too late, they’re usually gone for the day. I’m most productive in the morning hours once I’ve woken up, eaten, and cleaned up.

My writing is best done late at night. I’m no good during the middle of the afternoon. That’s when I get overcome with sleepiness. So I’m kind of a night owl, and I get my second wind after 9 p.m. This might be because my daughter is blissfully asleep then, and I can’t write well when she’s up running around.

Blogging activities (replying to comments, dropping Entrecards, writing posts) are another story. When my daughter’s at home I can usually take care of most blogging tasks, but sometimes I wait until the wee hours of the night/morning.

What are your most productive times for the jobs you do at home?

Article writing at your service

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Recently I mentioned that I was writing articles for blogs who “bought” my services with credits from Entrecard. I gave it some thought, and decided against it. Why?

While Entrecard is great, and while Entrecredits can be used to “buy” advertising space on other blogs, Entrecredits aren’t worth enough for me to sell my services in exchange for them.

Some people have started selling ECs on Ebay, getting as much as $20 for 1000 EC, but often much lower. And I don’t remember high school economics that well, but I do believe there’s a reason the government limits the amount of money in circulation. If money keeps being created, the value of a dollar decreases. With Entrecard, you earn 1 EC whenever you drop a card, and 1 EC whenever someone drops you a card, and the only limit so far is in the number of cards you can drop each day.

All I know for sure is that ECs are not legal tender.

At this point I’ve decided it’s a better use of my time to write guest articles if the mood hits me, since guest blogging is a valuable form of advertising. But when I write in exchange for ECs I feel obligated to write, and I prefer to be paid real money for obligatory creativity.

One thing I learned from the Entrecard experience is that people are looking for great content. And they’re willing to pay something for it (of course, we all knew this anyway).

Let me direct your attention to my newest header tab: Article Writing Services. If you’re a blogger or website owner, and you simply don’t have the time to write lots of great articles, Crayon Writer is your new source for excellent web content.

Contact me so we can figure out your needs, and I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. 🙂

Writing for Entrecard

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If you’re a blogger too, you’ve no doubt heard about the latest social networking tool, Entrecard. I was skeptical at first, and I guess I’m still a bit cautious, but I decided to jump in while it’s still hot. If it stays that way, so much the better.

At first I was just clicking my way through the “Drop Yours” widgets like the one you see in my sidebar.

But then I realized there’s a “Shop” on Entrecard that allows its members to sell things for Entrecard Credits (EC). Sure, EC isn’t a real form of money, but it does have value. You can use EC to get your own personal 125×125 ad (check out mine at the top of this post) placed on other people’s blogs. The trick of the system is to have enough EC to place a lot of ads that hopefully get clicked on by regular street traffic.

I’m a writer, right? So what better thing to sell than my writing? Besides getting EC to advertise on other blogs and increase Crayon Writer‘s exposure, I’m also letting others see my talent even if they don’t feel like reading here. I’m hoping to get clients that pay real live money for writing services.

I’ve already written for a few bloggers who paid me EC.

Here’s a big thanks to James from Total Web Review for buying an article from me and letting his readers know about my services.

The only problem I have with Entrecard right now is the amount of time it takes. But for now, I do think it’s worth it. I’ve met a lot of other bloggers already (I joined on January 26). Unlike MyBlogLog, you have to actually visit a person’s blog to get any benefit.

Anyway, expect to see me write a little sporadically as I figure out how to use Entrecard to market my business, continue to look for a day job, build my writing business, and, of course, my most important and demanding job, take care of my daughter. At two-and-a-half years old, I’m finding she is busier than ever!

Guess it’s time to get back to business and stop playing hooky. 🙂

Honoring a writer: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man to be honored and remembered for helping this country drag itself out of a hate-filled cesspool. We still have a difficult and long struggle ahead of us, so it’s important to be vigilant and to never forget what has been done for us.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also known for being an extremely accomplished writer. He wrote speeches, sermons, papers, published books, and has several unpublished materials. Stanford University is one of many institutions dedicated to compiling Dr. King’s writings.

Today is a day for reflection, planning, and action. We can sit quietly and watch what Dr. King and so many others fought and died for unravel around us, or we can take a stand.

Like Dr. King, as writers our pens and sharp minds can be our weapons. Our papers and computers can be our shields. Our voices, spoken or written, can be an inspiration.

Today we honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Getting started as a freelance writer: Books to read

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Years ago I realized I was a good writer. I would say it started in elementary school when my teachers always told me how creative I was. In college, I helped friends edit their papers, and even though my degree was in biology, my first job after college was as an assistant editor.

So it makes sense that I’m pursuing a writing career.

More recently, I’ve figured out that I prefer writing for businesses. I write website content, newsletters, press releases, sales letters, correspondence, brochures, and more. Basically, I’m a freelance commercial writer.

A new freelance writer asked me to recommend some books that helped me get started. There are two that I found particularly useful for commercial writing, and they’re both by the same author.

Peter Bowerman’s books include The Well-Fed Writer and Back for Seconds. The best thing about his books is that they give explicit instructions for building your commercial writing business. It’s not a bunch of, “Look how great I am!”

Peter’s first book, The Well-Fed Writer, is very specific but primarily based on the way Peter built his business. It’s great for learning about an effective business model. When I followed his directions, I definitely made progress.

His second book, Back for Seconds, includes lots of examples from other writers’ experiences. You’ll learn from people from all walks of life who are running their own commercial writing businesses.I also appreciate that Peter responds to his email messages even though he’s clearly very busy. He has a new book coming out soon, and I’ll be sure to let you know what I think of it.

In the meantime, if you’re serious about a freelance writing career, grab these books and get to work. I pick them up whenever I need a boost.

Old-fashioned writing

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I write using my keyboard most of the time. My typing speed is pretty good (65-75wpm, depending on inspiration), so typing as I’m thinking usually works for me. In fact, with horrible handwriting and an extreme dislike for writing by hand, typing is the only option. Or so I thought.

Here are three reasons I’ve started writing the old-fashioned way (by hand).

1. You can write while you wait. The other day, I was waiting my turn in urgent care (I was fine, it turned out), and happened to have my “idea notebook” with me. I was waitingso I started writing. And writing. My hand hurt (see why I hate writing by hand?) but I was getting work done.

2. Children are drawn to computers. I’ve found that my daughter doesn’t interrupt me quite so much when I’m writing by hand. If I even lean toward my laptop, she finds some reason to notice my existence and comes up with some urgent need that only Mommy can tend to. Or she decides it’s time to “play a game” on the computer.

3. Writing by hand is an excellent way to write reviews of online documents. If you do everything on the computer, you have to deal with several open windows. You have to read the site or online document, then switch to Word, write something, switch back, etc. You get the picture. Or you have to print out your document, wasting printer paper, printer ink/toner, and some electricity. I now write reviews by hand while I’m looking at the computer screen. Much more efficient.

Do you tend to write on the computer, or do you use pen-and-paper writing too?