Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Brother, can you spare some water wings?

The flood waters are rising!

Within hours of yesterday's post, I got an email from the creative staffing firm asking if I could reprise my role as fill-in copy editor for a week in October. I have a call out to my agency client to see if there's any way I can swing that while doing the 1-5 onsite gig I agreed to for him . . . I think it's feasible, because there isn't a specific project I'll be working on when I'm onsite for the agency, and the copy editor is flexible about his dates. I just need to make sure that the copy editing gig takes place after the RFP project!

Monday, September 29, 2008

When it rains, it pours . . .

. . . in a good way!

All too often, freelancing is a "feast or famine" occupation. One learns to appreciate the times when there's an abundance (or overabundance) of work, because inevitably there will come a day when there is nothing on the horizon.

Last Thursday, I was asked by one of my regular agency clients to work on-site 4 hours a day for at least the month of October, starting this Wednesday afternoon. That's exciting stuff! I love working with them, and this gives me an opportunity to get more involved in their processes and to get to know their clients a little better.

Today, I opened my email to find a message from the worker's comp client who asked me to be their RFP person. They want to meet with me Wednesday morning to discuss an RFP they just received. Again, this is exciting because I think I can help them refine and improve their RFP process, and at the same time help them land some new business.

Fortunately, I should have plenty of time to work on the RFP in the mornings before heading off to the agency. I am a little worried about juggling any future projects that may come in--but I will deal with them as (and if!) they come. In the meantime, I'm just going to be thankful that October is going to be another good month.

Friday, September 26, 2008

If I worked for the Ohio Board of Tourism

A few years ago, the Powers that Be here in Ohio decided to change the state slogan from "Ohio, The Heart of It All" (presumably because the state is vaguely heart-shaped) to "Ohio, So Much to Discover" (because the capital is Columbus--get it?). Neither, in my opinion, does much to foster excitement about living in or visiting Ohio. So I came up with a few of my own:
  1. Ohio--Less Neurotic Than West Virginia: This slogan lets people know what to expect when they visit. A group of psychologists recently conducted a study that maps various personality traits by state. Ohio is ranked as the 9th most neurotic, and is pretty much right in the middle of the pack in extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness.
  2. Ohio--Birthplace of Luke Perry and Charles Manson: This one plays up the celebrity angle, and could create new revenue streams for tour guides.
  3. Ohio--Where Presidents Come From: Ohio is the birthplace of 7 Presidents. Virginia is the birthplace of 8--including William Henry Harrison, who moved to Ohio before he became President. Here in Ohio, we play a little fast and loose with the rules, so we count WHH as one of our own, which brings our total to 8 and thus ties us with Virginia. Following that logic, I also count Ohio-born actor Martin Sheen--who played not one but two Presidents on TV (in The West Wing and in the miniseries Kennedy--The Presidential Years) as well as a presidential candidate in The Dead Zone--bringing Ohio's total to 9. Take that, Virginia.
  4. Ohio--No, The Capital Isn't Cleveland or Cincinnati: Maybe we don't have a team in the NFL, NBA or MLB, but we're the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Columbus Blue Jackets! Maybe we're not Lake Erie- or Ohio River-adjacent, but we're less than 150 miles from either one! It's time Columbus got the recognition it deserves.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Popularity contest

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal posted a list of the 100 most commonly-used words in the English language. Of course the cool kids all made the list: pronouns, conjunctions, definite and indefinite articles, and helping verbs all have positions of honor near the top. The jocks are well represented too: uh, um, uh-huh and yeah. Even a few bullies muscled their way in: president, Iraq . . .

I thought maybe they'd allowed a foreign exchange student into the ranks of popularity, but then I realized MHM was really just text-speak for uh-huh.

The best thing about this list is it compares word usage in conversation, newspaper, and several American and British corpora. For example, "I" is the most-commonly spoken word, but ranks 30th in newspaper usage ("the" tops that particular list). It's commonality among corpora also varies, where it ranks as high as 10th and as low as 20th.

I am surprised to see that the list did not include any profanity. I have a friend who curses often enough to have made more than one 4-letter gem rise to the top of the list. Apparently she was not surveyed, or they purposefully omitted profanity from the results.

I am disappointed but not surprised that some of my favorites didn't make the list. It's a bit challenging to work "albeit" and "defenestration" into normal conversation. Oh well, there's always next year.

What words do you think need to be added to the list for next year? What words do you most want to see removed?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It's fall--my favorite season, but also my least favorite.

I love the colors of autumn. I love the sound of fallen leaves crunching underfoot. I love the still-warm days followed by cool nights. I love Halloween.

I don't love the idea that winter is just around the corner. I don't love raking--more often than not, we have more of our neighbor's leaves in our yard than our own. I don't love the way darkness settles in earlier each night.

I get a strange sensation this time of year, a mixture of stir-craziness and artistic frustration, a need to just do something. Maybe it's best described as unchanneled, unfocused energy. As a result, fall can be a really productive time for me, or a really unproductive time, depending on what I do when the feeling comes upon me. The best case scenario: I'll network more, get really creative with my writing, and get a lot of yard work done. The worst case scenario: nothing will get done, professionally or personally, because I can't decide what to throw my energy into first.

One thing I won't be wasting my energy on: submitting to Helium. It was an interesting exercise, but I've resigned myself to the fact that their crazy rating system is too much for my OCD nature to handle. I'm tired of pulling my hair out in frustration, and I'm sure you're sick of reading about it. Below is a link to the 2nd and last article I submitted to them, which they titled "Please Don't Eat the Tomatoes":

A more accurate title, in my opinion, would have been "The Ohio Tomato Massacre."
(a note to my would-be editors: formatting is limited in Helium, and as a result em dashes get translated as hyphens, and italics don't translate at all. So pardon any apparent grammatical faux pas and imagine anything in caps to be italicized.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Odds and ends

There are several things I want to write about, and none of them are exciting enough to drag them out over several days of blog posts. So . . .
  • Electricity, eee-lec-tricity! We got our power fully restored around 8 last night, by a crew from North Carolina. Ohio AEP sent a lot of its crews to Texas to help with their power restoration, so we had to rely on crews from other states to help US out. They've been working 14-hour days, and yet they were still pleasant and helpful, unlike some residents of Central Ohio who apparently have been less than cordial (think throwing bottles and spitting at the crewmen).
  • 41 out of 324 ain't bad . . . My most recent article for the Helium Marketplace has transitioned to the main Helium site, which means it wasn't chosen for publication. But that's okay, because now you can read it for yourselves. Oh, wait a minute--now I'm 67 of 324. I forgot that articles can still be rated once it leaves the Marketplace. Oh, wait another minute--you can't see it yet because of some technical difficulties on the Helium site. I guess I'll post a link later.
  • Calling all costumers: It's officially Fall, which for me means it's time to start thinking of Halloween costumes. We generally attend 1 or 2 theme parties, and at this point I only know one of the themes: Circus Freaks. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Out, but not down

After 5 long days without power, I am finally back online. But that's not to say I'm out of the woods yet--due to some electrical issue not yet known to me (bad breaker? bad CGFI outlet? bad karma?), the outlets that power my refrigerator, dishwasher, disposal and dryer, as well as several other outlets and light fixtures throughout my home, are still not working.

I have a healthy fear of electricity, so I've done no troubleshooting beyond resetting my circuit breaker and attempting to test the CGFI outlet in my bathroom, neither of which did anything.

BUT, on the bright side, I have my computer, my stove, microwave, toaster oven and coffee maker, my TV, stereo, alarm clock, and at least some lights. I am a happy camper.

Speaking of camping, that's a pretty good analogy for how I and my neighbors have spent the last several days. Making ice runs, heating water for tea over a Sterno container, making dinner on the grill, playing cards and other games by candlelight, listening to battery-powered radios, reading by lantern, going to bed early out of sheer boredom . . . the only thing missing was an excess of bugs and having to sleep on the ground.

Really, aside from the inconvenience of being without power and having to do some extra yardwork (some of us had more to do than others--our friends one street over lost all 3 of their trees, including a 60-foot pine that got uprooted), it hasn't been that bad. So what if I can't do my laundry yet and I still can't restock my fridge? My home is in one piece, my trees are still standing, and I'm back online!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Down and out

Like most of the rest of my city, I have been without power since the remnants of Hurricane Ike swept through on Sunday afternoon. I know that what we dealt with (40 MPH sustained winds, and 70 MPH gusts) was nothing compared to what hit Texas, Cuba, etc. so I will not complain . . . we will hopefully have our power restored within the next few days, and while we lost some tree branches, none of them did any damage to our house or our neighbors' houses.

I'm writing from the library, where I have 9 minutes left of my session before I must surrender the computer to another. I doubt I will do this again, because I had to wait for an hour to get on a computer at all. So until power is restored to Chez Amie, I bid you adieu.

Friday, September 12, 2008


They say everyone has a book inside them. Some people should leave it there.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens . . .

Rummaging through my pen cup last night, I found a fountain pen my best friend gave me when we were in high school. Man, I loved writing with that pen. It didn't matter what I was doing--journaling, doodling, taking notes in class--it always came out cool. Unfortunately, I didn't take very good care of it, and the nib is now a rusty, unusable mess.

I went online to see if this particular pen--a Pelikan Pelikano--is still being made. It isn't, but there is a new model, and it comes in really cool colors (as well as a left-handed model!!). Perhaps I'll take a field trip down to the fountain pen store in my neighborhood (I bet your neighborhood doesn't have a fountain pen store!) and see if they have or can order me one.

I love a good writing utensil. Not only is it an office supply, it's a communication device. It's like a double-whammy of my favorite things. So maybe after I hunt for a new fountain pen, I'll swing by Office Max and pick up a pack of Black Warrior pencils. Not only are they the best pencils on the block, but they also boast the sexiest catalog description: "Executive style round barrel with sophisticated black matte lacquer finish."

And I'm not the only Black Warrior fan out there:

To my fellow word nerds: what's your weapon of choice?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Turning them down

I got an email from my contact at the creative staffing firm last night. In it, she described the following copywriting project and asked if I'd be interested:
Project Title: Copywriter

Description: One of our retail clients is looking for a copywriter with excellent writing skills (of course), ideally with a fashion or retail background. This position also requires strong organizational skills and the ability to juggle multiple projects. If you’re interested, please share some details about writing projects you may have done for fashion/retail/personal care products or industries.

Location: onsite, at the client’s location

Hours: standard office hours

Estimated Length: 6 months

Rate: [about half what I usually charge]
My reply back to her went a little like this:
I've never been so torn about a potential project!
  • It sounds like a good opportunity . . . BUT . . . it is a pretty long-term project and at least 2 of my freelance clients have some work planned for me that will take me into next year.
  • I don't have any direct experience with fashion/retail/personal care . . . BUT . . . that's never really gotten in my way before.
  • The hourly rate is lower than I'd like to go . . . BUT . . . it IS a long-term project, which offsets the lower hourly rate a bit.
I think in all fairness to my other clients and to [this client], I have to say no to this. I can definitely handle shorter-term projects and still meet my obligations to my other clients, but this feels like more of a one-or-the-other kind of situation. I hate to say it . . . but please offer this opportunity to someone else.
Clicking "send" on that email literally made me nauseous. I don't like turning down projects--especially long-term ones--but I think I made the right decision. And hopefully, in saying no to this one, I'm making myself available for other opportunities down the line.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My brain hurts

I've spent my morning trying to come up with some creative, compelling copy to finish up a project that's been through several revisions. I think this is the hardest part--finding that last little "something" that is the glue, the thread, the binding element.

I thought it would be a good idea to step away for awhile, so I ate lunch (low blood sugar muddies the thinking, and I only had coffee for breakfast). One tuna salad sandwich and a bowl of soup later, I'm still not inspired. Perhaps my muse is at lunch as well. Or perhaps I should look elsewhere for inspiration. But where?

What inspires/motivates/drives you?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Volunteerism interrupted

A few of the agencies I work with donate some of their services or provide them at a fraction of regular cost to non-profit organizations and charities. I think that's a really great way to do business, but as a very small company (can one person be a company?) with very little revenue I can't afford to make a lot of grand charitable gestures like that.

But when I received an email saying a settlement house in my area was looking for somebody to help design a couple of flyers, I decided to volunteer. They already had the text, so it would just be a matter of laying it out and adding some design elements (of course, I was planning to offer my editorial services if need be, too!). I figured it would be a nice, easy little pro bono project. Good for me, good for my community. So I scheduled a meeting with the woman in charge of the project for this afternoon.

Sadly, my efforts were dashed when she called late this morning to cancel. Someone in another department gave her some autumn-themed paper, and she felt it would be a good idea to use it.

I told her to keep me in mind for future needs, so hopefully I'll get my opportunity to do a good deed sooner or later.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Seems like old times

Yesterday, I got a call from one of my clients (in the workers' compensation industry). Seems one of his staff members just got back from maternity leave and decided she'd rather be a mom than an employee (from what I understand, people sometimes get attached to their offspring--it's a weird phenomenon).

One of the roles she fulfilled was that of RFP (Request for Proposal) point person, meaning when they get an RFP, she gets information from the subject matter experts and compiles it into a response. This is one of the things I did at my cubefarm job, and I did it quite well. My client knows I have this experience, so he asked me if I would be willing to do their RFPs on a consulting basis.

They only get 20-30 a year (I used to complete upwards of 200 a year), so it shouldn't be too taxing. Plus part of the deal we worked out is that they will purchase RFP software, and will pay me to build their response database and train another employee to use it as backup.

To most, this will not sound like an exciting project . . . but RFPs appeal to me for a couple of reasons:
  • My anal side likes the strong organizational component--RFPs often have very specific instructions, or long lists of requested exhibits to organize, tab out, etc.
  • My creative side likes the "spin" component--making a dull topic into something that seems exciting and worth buying.
  • As an added bonus, RFP compilation generally requires the use of a variety of office supplies (binders, divider tabs, staples, paperclips, hole punch . . .).
Now, RFP work does have its downside:
  • RFPs often arrive with little notice and unrealistic deadlines.
  • The conversion rate isn't that good (many companies, as part of due diligence, are required to complete the RFP process even when they know what vendor they want), so it's a lot of work with little return.
  • Depending on the team you work with, getting information from subject matter experts is like herding cats.
I think the client has to run it by his boss for final approval, but as far as I'm concerned I'm back in the RFP business. Now where did I leave my cat-herding equipment?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Get yer spray tans!

Yesterday, I started a project for a client on the West Coast: writing web copy about spray tanning. It's nice to be able to write about something I've actually experienced, as opposed to the stuff I usually write or edit (I do a lot of healthcare- and chemistry-related work). The learning curve is much less intimidating, and the jargon is a heck of a lot easier to spell--imagine the crazy suggestions spell check has for correcting Sodium Dihydrobis(2-methoxyethoxy)aluminate!

That's not to say it's easier to write about spray tanning than specialty chemicals. In fact, the more I know about a topic, the more I find my knowledge gets in the way of my ability to distill the message.

Fortunately, two spray tans does not an expert make, so I'm not exactly tripping over my wealth of knowledge on this particular topic.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


On my last day filling in for the agency copy editor, one of the interns asked if she could talk to me about freelancing. During our discussion, I discovered that she's an English major (like me!) and will soon be graduating from my alma mater. She's not sure what to do with her degree, so she's exploring as many options as she can. Like me, she considered teaching, but doesn't think that's the career for her. She enjoys the editing work she's done at the agency, but dislikes the idea of sitting in one place and doing the same thing for 8+ hours a day. In addition to her internship, she works at a golf course, which allows her a certain amount of networking that could benefit her if she chooses to pursue freelancing.

I encouraged her to try freelancing, if not as a career at least to give her more opportunities to find a business environment that she does like. She had a lot of questions: how did I determine my rates (I used guidelines from Writer's Market plus a little trial and error), find clients (I explained how lucky I have been with clients coming to me instead of vice versa), etc.

I also suggested that she contact the creative staffing firm that I work with, and gave her the URLs for some of my favorite freelancing blogs (see my blog list). I gave her my business card, and said she could email me if she had more questions or needed any guidance.

As happy as I was to share my experience with her, it made me a little uncomfortable to present myself to her as an authority on freelancing, and I was hesitant to offer myself as a mentor. I think this feeling stems from the same place as my reluctance to network/promote myself and my inability to see what I do as a unique skill. I guess I'm just going to have to get over it--I'm good at what I do, I enjoy what I do, and people are willing to pay me to do it. If that doesn't make me an authority, I don't know what does! Seems to me that's also the definition of success.

So, fellow freelancers (or other entrepreneurs, or mentors), how do you define success? What tips do you have for individuals hoping to follow your career path? How do you overcome your self-deprecating moments--or do you even have them?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


How to Make Your Editor Mad in Eight Words or Less, from Yahoo.com this past Friday: "Hillary delivered mdash how will Bill Clinton fare?"

I wonder how one delivers an mdash (or, more accurately, an em dash)? If it takes more than 30 minutes, is it free?

Monday, September 1, 2008

It's my month!

Today marks the beginning of Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month. Paaaartayyyyyy! It is also the day I celebrate the removal of the monkey on my back that is my obsession with the Helium rating system. ***RANT ALERT*** As of 9:45 last night, my article was ranked 35th out of 206. As of this post, it is ranked 105th of 325. Now, 15 years after my last math class, I finally understand math teachers' obsession with showing your work. In what world does that math make sense? Whatever, I'm over it. Today is the deadline. It was a good article. It's out of my hands now. ***END OF RANT***

Later this month, I will celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day (the 19th) and National Punctuation Day (the 24th).

I will not be celebrating Line Dance Week (beginning on the 8th), as I am morally opposed to line dancing.