Monday, 3 November 2014

NaNoWriMo ...


November has become globally known as National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, as it is affectionately called in many scribe-circles. I have participated in this November writing challenge on and off since its inception in 1999.
It wasn’t always a popular wordsmith thing to do and I recall many years back posting NaNoWriMo info to a members’ listserv of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, PWAC, and getting some flack feedback on it being considered ‘unprofessional’.  (Interesting perhaps unrelated side note here that my dictionary defines “bookish” as forming opinions through reading rather than experience.)  Well now … fast forward a decade plus later and it seems all the ‘cool kids’ are doin’ it.
The NaNoWriMo concept is that of a total honour system, one sets out to write daily, hammering out a month long 50,000 word draft novel manuscript. Now 50,000 words hardly constitutes a full on literary long-written tome by scholar standards, but as the site FAQ points out … “Our experiences since 1999 show that 50,000 is a difficult but doable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. The length makes it a short novel (about the length of The Great Gatsby). We don’t use the word “novella” because it doesn’t seem to impress people the way “novel” does.”
Much tongue-in-cheek type of humour abounds in the NaNoWriMo FAQ’s and info on the site giving the impression to take this experience lightly and enjoy the writing focused month. But nothing could be more of a juxtaposition than the droll Nano backgrounder info and the overly-enthusiastic member forums. This is a seriously serious month for many posting with little regard to children or full-time jobs. November for the dedicated wrimo is about nothing outside of late-night writing, self-deprivation and the dreams of a best-seller over-night (one-month) success (and the occasional use of too many hyphens).
Writer regions exist world-wide for those who want to dial-in and connect, launch the month, spend countless hours on-line chatting about what they are writing and given the volume of some postings, assuming taking valuable time away from the actual writing. Come to NaNoWriMo for personal reasons, take from it what you want, connect or not connect, post your word count daily if you want. At month end the goal is to spool in your 50,000 word document for a scramble and a word count and delete, earning the writer a virtual badge prize to proudly display. No editing required, no outlines or pre-thought pre-requisites just show up and write.

This 'hobby' writer site is not to be taken lightly, unless you wish to, as many heavy hitters have nailed great success including a reported over 250 NaNoWriMo novels that have been traditionally published. One of my all time favourite reads is a wrimo success story, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Visit the website and check out the press page and other cool details. Yes there is a greater cause, yes there are things you could purchase and support, but not a requirement to register, hang out as much or as little as you want and above all no rules to writing other than simply just do it! Set a personal goal, a vision of sorts, grab a pen or open a file, and start writing.

NaNoWriMo is not to be confused with Movember … although I am certain there are many unshaven cross over personal goals being met between these two very worthy global month long occasions in what used to be a sleeper of a month. November you are making a real name for yourself!
Enjoy the month no matter what your cause.
Write often, write always … and in November write daily!
(ps … yes I am using my real name at Nano (check out my profile) and am shooting for a 50,000 word first draft of a short story series in development, no I am realistically NOT thinking instant bestseller … but then one can dream …)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

a twist on summer reading lists ...

Many summer reading lists are published all over the web but a writer I know posed an interesting survey of sorts on his great blog in an attempt to spark a discussion and fuel his own future posts on his influential books.
I found this most enlightening and thought I would answer his questions here on my blog, but invite you to visit his blog of amazing thought provoking writing and if you are so inclined please answer his questions via his blog. Thanks Eugene Stickland for your writings and challenge to creative thought and dialogue. Stickland is an internationally celebrated playwright, poet, writer, a prairie soul and an illustrious Calgary resident.
Visit his blog and call for input on his influential book questions at http://eugenestickland.com/2014/07/02/eugenius-survey/ where you will also find dozens and dozens of great responses in his call which are fascinating reading all in themselves for anyone who reads or writes. Thank you again to Eugene for writing that which makes me pause to think.
Now my (MG) answers to Eugene’s (ES) questions shared here …

ES 1. “Which 5 books do you believe have changed the course of history, or at least the way we perceive the world? Some of these will be so self-evident that no explanation will be necessary, but feel free to comment on your choices if you like. Breifly briefly.”
               MG: I won’t even attempt to speak for ‘the world’ or changing history … but for MY world and MY history here are some (5+) of my personal top game-changers in no particular order (some great works of art, some not so much … but all shook up my simple thoughts and stuck with me) -
Legends of Vancouver by E. Pauline Johnson, The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger, On Writing by Stephen King, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Bridges of Madison Country by Robert James Waller, The Hour Before Dawn by Somerset Maugham, Sons by Pearl S Buck

ES 2. Be brutally honest: how many of these have you actually read?
               MG: I have read all, some many times over. For me a story that alters my very thoughts will call to me from the shelf again and again as if begging me to come out and play.  I have many favourite passages which I can be drawn to as if captivated by a magic act or by a bad car accident on the side of the road.

ES 3. How many of these books do you personally believe? Or Believe in?
               MG:  As a writer my first reaction always is to distrust and question everything I read. My second reaction is to suspend all beliefs and to let myself be taken on a journey through the words.

ES 4. Irrespective of the books you listed, what is the one book that you have read that has influenced you personally the most?
               MG: I know this might seem a little lame as the influential book that stands out was hardly a great literary work, but rather a light home-alone Saturday night single-girl read back in the day. It tells me as a writer that the underlying message, the truth of your story, is what you are telling as a writer, and the words, the passages, the scenes, are merely the pod to transport your truth to the reader’s soul. The story that stays with me often and creeps back into my thoughts via the smallest and mundane of everyday scenes connecting me back to the book is Robert Waller’s Bridges of Madison County. When I think about why that story stays with me it is probably because of time and place. Where life is at and from what frame of mind a reader reads is the journey. I read Bridges at a time when the concept of falling in love felt like an elusive fantasy and one of life’s biggest disappointing myths. This book, read in a lonely evening, changed my life. It reminded me that there is everyday good old fashioned love, but yes Virginia there is real knock down life changing crazy-in-love passion … and that it can change your life forever even if it is only for 4 days. The lesson for me in that moment in my life, in that evening home alone reading, was that love does not have to be forever but if done well it will stay with you forever. It changed how I fall in love.

ES 5. Do you believe that a book could still be written, whatever its mode of dissemination, that could wield as much influence as any of the books on your list? If not, why not?
              
MG: As a writer I have to believe, deep in my being each and every time I sit to write, that a life-altering read can still be written. If I did not trust that kernel of personal truth there would be no point in taking pen to paper. I don’t have to change the world with my writing, but I do write with intent to touch at least one soul beyond my own.

THANKS EUGENE …. looking forward to reading your follow up posts to the many many great responses on your blog … but mostly to reading your own personal list of influential writings.


Michelle

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

TOP TEN CHECKLIST for contracting freelance writing

As a freelance writer for decades one would think the basics should be second nature. They are well ingrained although the challenge is the market’s continual shift and the good ol’ how-to’s are constantly evolving. A writer can take many steps to secure freelance writing these days and many markets co-exist in which word-services are required. Freelance writer does not just mean magazine writer in these new times. Many professional freelance writers offer a cross section word services and have an array of business content skills. Work can be in the traditional magazine writing of article features but also encompass books, research, copyrighting, content strategy, business newsletters, brochures, newsletters and marketing materials, advertising, editorial management, press release and promotional materials, web site content, company report narratives, white papers, ghost writing and so much more. If it has words chances are a professional was enlisted to take the messaging to a professional polish.

A freelance writer is self-employed, contracted, home office based and an independent contractor. They are also their own salesman, book keeper, accountant, accounts receivable department, collection agent, janitorial services, human resources department managing benefits, insurance premiums, professional association and union affiliations and  the many other positions that run a large or small corporation all while being the star employee-of-the-month time and time again.

The initiating element for work in freelance that never changes regardless of the market one is earning in is the basic contract or assignment letter secured as a note of intent and a promise of a good faith payment to the independent worker. For the most part the polish of this arrangement often depends on the level of employment with larger companies and publications having formal multi page (often rights grabbing) contracts in place while many smaller or start up businesses use emails as confirmed assignment letters noting terms in the conversation writer to publisher/editor. Elements such as word count, rates, rights, deadlines, payment terms, kill fees and more are basic items to always solidify before starting any assignment or taking on any contract for words-for-hire.

As a starting point for an early career freelance writer and a refresher for a seasoned writer, taking the early steps to a mutual understanding of an assignment saves time and even rewrite frustration or payment lagging angst. In today’s busy web communication world much of the past formality to assignment has gone by the wayside. In the click of a few emails a well presented query from a solid qualifying writer can garner an assignment but often comes without a formal contract. As a precaution at the very least secure a basic confirmed email making note that it will serve as an assignment letter. Should there be a breakdown of any of the elements having this clear mutual starting point will be of great value for resolving issues or chasing a late payment or a worst case scenario kill fee.

The TERMS OF ASSIGNMENT need to be clear and in agreement with both parties. Here are my TOP TEN suggestions:

1.      TITLE of the assignment / working title of the article
2.     DESCRIPTION including a few sentence narrative description of the assignment
3.      ACCEPTANCE noting approval of both the assigning editor and the writer
4.     DEADLINE clearly noted and also a note re the potential changes scenario as a writer you do not want to get into a constant rewrite scenario if the editor had a different perspective on the concept of the assignment (so making the title and description tight is key)
5.      WORD COUNT of the assignment (specific to payment per word or payment for a size range such as $1.00 / word or $600 for 800 – 1000 word feature)
6.     IMAGES be very clear if the writer is expected to supply or arrange for images as a writer can lose valuable unpaid time tracking down subjects or arranging for images sent to editor
7.      PAYMENT TERMS of when the payment be made such as on acceptance, or on publication, cheque, e-transfer, etc.
8.     KILL FEES that allow for scenario such as writer editor butting heads or an article going in-the-can as they say, on hold for a later issue (this is key if the payment was on publication and that dates becomes undeterminable or never)
9.     RIGHTS including noting agreement on parameters such as byline, one time print or other, English and/or French, Canadian or North America, print or web, and the dreaded moral rights (which very basically would allow your byline to stand regardless of changes to your words and other not desired scenarios for your work), serial, digital, future rights and more
10.   MATERIALS used to gather assignment can sometime be requested filed to the editor including interviews, research, contacts, etc. so be clear if this is not your intent as a writer to share these sources other than cooperation for fact checking if requested

I strongly suggest that at least these point and maybe more be clearly defined before starting any assignment. For early career writers also know that what is termed writing-on-spec is not a professional ask of your skills. A publication that suggests you pre-write the article before they decide if they buy it is not worth your efforts or compromising your professionalism, nor is writing for free to garner a clip (more on these topics in a later blog).

My experience urges professional freelance writers, or those working to be, to consider aligning their career path with a professional association. Membership for me in the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) for a decade has been invaluable to my knowledge of the writing industry and protecting my work while I grew my business.  Access Copyright is important to join as a rights holder. The Canadian Freelance Union is a key alignment and also many writing guilds are important organization to support who will in turn support your career.

After all this sage advice I am unhappy to report that even in spite of following my own solid securing of an assignment I have outstanding invoices against a start-up publication that has now ceased and has not met their payments to contributors. An unfortunate scenario, not the norm in my experience but having a solid paper trail of the assignments and payment information makes for a strong case against a non-paying publication. Again an alliance of professional association and an industry standard many work to uphold has been supported by the organizations and union I hold membership and even by those I don’t. I am grateful for the added support of TheStoryBoard.ca for covering the story as a warning to other freelance industry professionals and the concern alongside that story of the Canadian Media Guild.

Read the details of a publication start up not respecting their assignment agreements and the resulting non-paying market at http://www.thestoryboard.ca/warning-freelancers-revelation-magazine/ and watch here for follow up on how I and other writers are using our professional associations, unions and guilds to spread the word and hopefully recover the outstanding invoices or at the very least ensure this scenario does not happen again.


If you have other freelance writing assignment term suggestions please add to the discussion here in the blog comments as I am always happy to update and share this list.


Writing always,
Michelle

Friday, 10 January 2014

Resolutions + my favorite things = 2014

I have never made serious resolutions although I do have an ongoing checklist of things I need to get better at or at the very least find a better way to do. The sudden (yes it took me by surprise) arrival of 2014 gave me little time to think about making positive changes for the year ahead so here I am almost two weeks in just getting around to determining that a few writer-home-office resolutions might be in order.
Combine my enthusiasm for the onset of another year with a list of my favourite things to help make that happen and the outcome is the following version of the famous Oprah-style ‘my favorite things’ minus the free giveaways and car. Although some of my noted faves here include freebies you can access so it is not all sad that the Oprah giveaway shows are gone like the Detroit balanced budget.

One of my key resolutions is to be somewhat more desk-organized. A home office and way too many ‘jobs’ can wreak havoc on limited space combined with the hoarder-need to surround myself with all my favorite things that give me inspiration. My small but efficient office space (okay yeah it spills over to other rooms) is home to a wall of hundreds of books antique and new, 6 inch thick old hard cover dictionaries, a typewriter collection displayed around the antique inkwells, pens, paperweights, vintage office collectibles, an antique brass and glass claw piano stool resting spot for an antique autoharp, mouth organ, and  a guitar resting along side, vintage wooden letter trays, oak library card drawers and  paper sorter, and even a giant two foot tall 3 inch thick hard bound newspaper morgue volume of the original December 1940 The New York SUN (don’t  ask). Around all this is my tools, phone, recorder, cameras, printer, scanner, iPod doc, desk lamp (green glass banker of course), a few lap tops, iPod, iPad, iPhone, and then add to the mix my many many magazines both sorted into file boxes, clips binders and piled around (as I write magazine fortunately this is both an allowable obsession and a true write-off expense). Now kick it up a notch with the all-writers-have-it unhealthy addiction to stationery, paper,  notebooks, journals, file folders (orange), note cards, markers, pens and pencils, and things can get a little tight in a small space.

My 2014 plan is to continue to love all the things I love and to finally use all those things I have been saving earmarked as too special to use - leather journals, good pens, fancy paper, monogrammed paper clips and even coloured printer ink when the mood hits me. My favourite things/get organized resolution starts now. Feel free to check out any of these faves and let me know how they stack up, or if I am missing out on something more FUN-ctional you might want to let me in on.

1.      First up on the use it lists has to be my many decorative (Paris themed) colourful storage boxes piled around the room – with the addition of cute custom labels these will be handy to file away some of the clutter of colured index cards, stickers, business cards, overflowing pencil piles and so much more.

 2.    My pens and pencils might seem out of control to a non-writer but on the flip side might seem lacking to a writer but keeping dozens of my favourite pencils on hand and sharpened to a point at all times is a must with my pick being billed as the world’s most comfortable, the Dixon Tri-Conderoga HB2 with a triangular shape perfect for endless doodling writing.

3.     On the list of too special to use journals and notebooks check out the Moleskin Evernote SMART Notebook combined with the Evernote app to take your hand written notes to your computer files in a snapshot.

4.     No writer’s office is complete without at least one or three vintage typewriters, one of my favourites being the classic minty green (not the actual famous Jack Kerouak) Hermes 3000 – a gem and types like new. A little much for a coffee shop writing-date when my iPad and keyboard cover suffice.

5.      My new favourite (as in free) software tools to organize my writing life have proven to be invaluable this past fall when life cranked up my work life in a good way. For accounting simplicity, web based, easy invoicing and simple bookkeeping check out Waveapp – the free version is more than enough power to drive a home office.

6.     The other great free software tool that has cleaned up my act in a big way is the project software insightly. This powerful free tool not only lets me break down my clients into simple project lists it then keeps track of all my assignments, task at hand, scheduling and lets me attach all the emails related to each project with a simple send out of any email.

7.     My lust for leather and my need for a functional briefcase/knapsack has sent me looking in a million directions for one serviceable bag – of the way many collected over the years none seem to serve well although my now vintage favourites have always been my Queros collection (yes I have had a few) – so on my list of 2014 things to own is a new, as in from this millennium, Queros leather bag (or two) … currently considering a combo of small briefcase  and one great messenger bag purse or maybe a knapsack.

8.    Not to take away from the love of reading an actual book but surprisingly one of my faves that has me reading way more simply because it is so simple to always have a library in my pocket is the lovely little KOBO MINI. Not as fancy as its more expensive bigger versions but it is a perfect time and space saver for an easy ongoing reading and anything that lets me read more when I step away from my desk is a good thing.


9.     Not that footwear has much to do with writing but for those who work from home and rarely wear shoes (let alone pants) I have a new best, will own them forever and travel with them always fave that is really the slipper of boots. PAKEMS are designed by a brilliant woman in Colorado with end of the day comfort in mind for skiers or hikers, but these apr├Ęs-ski booties are the best ever not-shoes a writer can own. High top or low and plain or print the design is amazing and my pink-plaid Pakems make my feet smile.

10.  Lastly, limiting my picks to ten, is my goal of not so many hard copy magazines underfoot in files and a commitment to read more of my magazines on my iPad. Many apps are out there to help bring them into your e-reader fast so I will check out the few recommended such as Zineo, the Kobo magazines app, and more – if you have a favourite one please do let me know and help me save about a zillion trees from my office recycle piles.


So whatever works for your home office embrace it and remember to quit saving all those oh-so-special goodies for an occasion – the occasion is now, 2014, the year of using all your favourite things. As one of my dear friends says, “Gotta use your stuff!”
Happy New Year!
Michelle


Ps … one addition that has nothing to do with organization and resolutions but everything to do with New year’s celebrating, no matter what time of year, is my favourite find beverage of Writers Tears Irish Whiskey. Folklore has it that when Irish writers cry they have tears of whiskey. If you truly want to embrace this writer’s drink of choice there is even a Writers Tears Writers Club.