Ideas Come From Staring Out The Diner Window

Sometime last Wednesday I decided to treat myself to lunch.  I grabbed my notebook and a pen to go with me just in case any ideas wanted to come along.  Its a small notebook, the kind that fits in a pocket.  I hiked the 15 minutes up to Kmart where they still have a restaraunt for lunch.  Yes, our Kmart still has one of those old family diners attached to it.  And while it has come to look more generic and cookie cutter over the years, I hope they never close it either.

Anyhow, back on topic.  While I was sitting at my booth, after ordering a Reuben and fries, I started looking around like I usually do.  I remebered as a child the old dining rooms of Woolworth’s and Kmarts predecessor S.S. Kressge.  They’ve only been gone for about 20 years.  This brought my attention to the ketsup bottle on the table.  Heinz 57 Varieties to be precise.  Now what the heck does that mean?  57 varieties.  This made me think of writing about it; which in turn makes me get out my notebook and find a blank page.  I write down the topic “What’s behind the 57 in Heinz ketsup?”  Then I conclude that this is some odd thing that people think up when sitting in diners.  This thought leads me to wondering about how Kmart came up with the old diners in their stores and how many are left.  This gives me another topic to write about.  So I write that down.  Now I’m sitting there staring out the window wondering about these two ideas, when another topic pops up…clouds.  I’m looking at the clouds outside and think, “what the heck is a cloud really?  And why are they there?”  I’m not a weather person.  But this gives me a third idea to research.  And so it goes. 

By the time lunch arrives I’m up to 15 topic ideas.  While eating I continue to think and look out the window.  This has now become a fun game for me and ideas just keep wondering along.  I add another ten topics to the list, as well as about five ideas for this blog.  As I’m finishing up lunch, I’m also thinking about where all these topics can eventually go.  There seem to be a few places. 

After lunch I go out and wander Kmart to see if I could use anything.  I did need pet food.  Looking around the store makes me wonder how big stores like this seem so stocked with stuff, yet don’t really have much of anything I want.  Another topic!  It just keeps going. 

Now I take my notebook with me everywhere.  You never know where the next idea is hiding at, or what other ideas it may bring along?

People keep wondering how topics and ideas are created.  Others simply tell you that they just are created.  I’ll give you my words on it too.   Just get out of bed and look around you.  Go outside and let the world hit you with information.  They’re out there, topics everywhere.        

Be Aware When Being Paid

I know this topic has been covered somewhere before.  But, since I am now currently going through it myself, I figured I’d write about it firsthand.  Maybe that would help give someone else a better idea of what it feels like. 

Lately I’ve been picking up a few writing gigs that looked promising.  There were a few jobs on the writing boards that I applied to, and two of them got back to me.  One was for rewriting news stories into my own words, kind of fun.  The other was work in Keyword Density and that was interesting since that kind of work is simply writing a piece around certain words.  The first job got submitted on time, but then I never heard from the guy again.  So no pay there.  The second job was submitted yesterday.  I’m still waiting for word from that gig to see if there were any problems. 

Tip: be aware of possible problems if the person you are working with suddenly stops emailing or communicating with you after you submit your work.  This either means a “hit and run” where they never meant to pay.  Or, the pay is delayed and there will be a hard time collecting.

Another job that I had two months ago also looked promising.  This job was for continuing work dealing with generic topics and research.  The people who commisioned the job would send me a list of topics to write about, usually five items, and then I’d have X number of days to submit.  All went well at first, and the money would show up about a week later.  Then the money slowed down, and then stopped completely.  But the list of work kept coming right on time. 

Tip: If at any time the income from a job begins to slow down or gets delayed, beware.  Watch to see if the delays are reasonable or if they seem to get progressively longer.  Inquire about delays if they get over two weeks without any word as to why.  Be polite. 

Tip: Always, always, keep record of any information concerning payment for work that you do.  Keep track of how much each article is worth, and try to lock down a deadline for payment. 

Another trick I’ve caught recently is when people do not put any pay information in the ad, nor do they tell you it will be for exposure only.  My feeling on this is that these people are looking for writers who are so eager or so despirate to write for anything that they can get.  The trick here is simple; get the writer onto the job then either don’t pay and explain that it was for exposure only, or simply grab the work and run away. 

Tip: Be very cautious of ads and posts that don’t specify how much they are willing to pay for your services.  Usually no mention of payment means no payment.

The last type of ad that I’ve been running into within the past two weeks, are the ads that tell you to state your pay rate.  This may sound fine, and you probably think you can get some good money since you are naming your own price.  This is not always true; especially since what you think your words are worth is almost never what the job poster thinks words are worth.

Tip: Look around the job boards, and see what the going rate per word is.  It’s going to look very small.  I’ll warn you of that now.  Most jobs go out for about a penny a word; and a slim few go out for more unless you have a proven record or it’s a steady full time job offer.  An example of the going rates that I’ve seen are $2.50 for 250 words, or $5.00 for 500-600 words.  I have seen jobs go out for $1.50 per 400 words and I’m not sure of the reasoning behind that yet. 

Another type of job that I picked up once was a job I know I will never try for again until I am sure I have the time.  The job was posted on the usual job boards, and wanted about 50-75 articles of 250 words a week.  The pay amounted to about $25 per 10 articles written I believe.  The problem, I came to realize, was that the research I needed to do took up more hours in the day than I had the time for at that point.  There is a related type of work I’ve seen as well.  Jobs wanting about 10 SEO articles written per day.  For me, I need about half an hour to write a good keyworded article without doing any research.  That alone is 5 hours of work per day.  This is why I don’t do these types of articles.     

Tip: Always be aware of what you are able to do in a certain time frame.  Some of these little jobs out there seem to pay good or great.  But the amount of work, or the deadline may not be worth the attempt to get quality work out in time.  Ask yourself if you have the time.

One last bit of work that is related to the above and which you may come across.  I answered an ad once where someone was looking to add writers onto her staff to complete assignments.  She seemed professional at first, even had a nice website set up.  What made this a pipedream is when, after the person had found about four people to work, it was revealed in an email that she wouldn’t be able to pay anybody up front.  Payment would come after awhile when she picked up enough clients.  This is a person who decided to set up a ‘writers service’, go out and look for tons of work, then farm it out and hope to get paid enough.  A few jobs came in, but were mostly the type mentioned above with many articles needed in short order.  Needless to say, the ‘writers service’ didn’t last more than a couple of months.  The website went down about a month ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.

Tip: Be aware that there are people out there, just like you, trying to grab as much work as possible.  Not every ‘company’ is an actual business.  Some of the jobs out there are from other writers who got too much work for themselves and now need to farm it out fast to get paid. 

These are just a few of the things I’ve come across within the last six months or so.  I’m sure there are more out there, I just haven’t seen them yet.  If a great job comes along, usually it will be from someplace OTHER than a job board; usually it comes from referalls or from someone who liked work you did for them before. 

The habit of daily publication

It’s been about a week since I’ve started this practice.  I’m trying to get into the habit of sitting down each morning and working on two published items.  This could be a blog entry, or a piece that I am doing copywriting for, or something I am putting out under my own name.  It doesn’t matter what the combination is, as long as two pieces of work get put out there each day. 

The idea behind all this originally was that, if you are going to be a writer, you have to write.  And if you are going to do writing, you have to practice at it each day like any other artform.  This was my big downfall.  While I always told myself I was a “writer”, it was always something I’d “find real time for someday” or “get back to again”.   I’d get all fired up about it, and I’d write a bunch of pages for a short story or a group of poems.  Then I’d stall out and “get back to it again”.  I’d go onto freelance writing job boards and pick up a job or two.  While those were fine at the time, I never managed to follow through and go back for more.  And I’d keep going at it like this for years.  Well, then I figured out that I’m not really a writer if I don’t actually sit and write; and finding sites like Helium and Associated Content helped, along with getting a few good posts onto my one blog at MySpace. 

After picking up another blog on the America Talks Back website, along with a few copywriting jobs, I thought it might be nice to see if I can do this more often.  Fast forward to about a week ago.  I now have three blogs, MySpace, America Talks Back, and here on WordPress.  I also write for Helium, Associated Content, and Triond which publishes on multiple sites.  There is also a forum I started posting on this morning, as well as a copywriting job which was just completed this morning.  While it may seem like alot of different places to write, I like to keep things fresh and changing.  This gives me the choice of writing something different each day; which makes it easier to keep going.   

In years past I’d subscribe to writing magazines like “The Writer”  or “Writer’s Magazine”  and call myself a writer because I read these mags.  All the theory in the world won’t help if you don’t practice the craft in the first place.  I loved calling myself a writer because it’s what I wanted to do.  Now I love to write because it’s just what I want to do.  And if you continually do something, especially daily, it becomes something that has to get done as part of the daily routine.  And I don’t mind at all that writing has now finally become part of the daily routine.  It’s about time actually.

Writing – Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other

The one thing that I have noticed since deciding to be a writer, is that there are so many people out there looking for “how-to” and so many more offering simple words of advice.  Words like “just sit down and write”; or “give it time” when it comes to earning money; or the famous “write what you know”.  What I haven’t noticed, or rather have noticed a lack of, is the number of people who can take you from the very beginning right up to where they are today. 

So, here’s how I came to write this.  First I asked myself some basic simple questions. 

1. Do I want to write, or do I want to write for money? 

2. Do I enjoy the writing enough not to really care if I earn any real pennies for it?

3. Do I want to write my own stuff, or do I want to be handed topics and simply write what I am asked to?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, for right now, yes it doesn’t matter how many pennies I can make at this.  I want to write.  I know that money won’t come easy, it never does when you want something to live off of.  But I want to write.  It doesn’t matter if I can afford it or not, it’s what I must do to make any happiness in my life.  It is what makes sense of things to me.  It gives me something to look forward to each day.  I’m not looking to be the next Tom Clancy; I just want to be me for right now.

Yes, I can write. Hell I can write all day if I didn’t have to do the day job to earn a living.  And that’s my goal eventually; to get to do what I want and earn enough of it to stay alive.  Right now, I’d be happy getting up to $1,000 a month as a writer.  That would pretty much replace my income at the JOB.  Yes, I make next to nothing.  But, to get there, as with any “business”, it will take lots of work and time.  So for now I go out and look for ways to get my name out there.  A writer needs exposure, the exposure gains the first few pennies.  And yes, it’s like the snowball analogy – it gets bigger and better along the way.  Well, I am just starting with the tiny snowball.  Let’s hope it gets bigger. 

For now I’ve started with three PPV sites; Triond, Helium, and Associated Content.  I’ve got about eleven articles on Helium with a total of 95 cents earned thus far (I’ve only been on for a couple of months).  Triond has about six articles; and as of today, I earned my first penny there.  I’m still waitig for approval of content from AC.  But, before you all go “so”, it’s a start.  I’ve got published credits to my name, ever so small they may be.  Right now I’m going for all the exposure I can get.  I’ve begun building my own website as well.  And for now, it rests comfortably on Tripod as a free site.  Yes, there are banners and it may not be “professional” for a lot of people, but just starting out you go with what you can for as little as possible. 

I’ve also managed to get a blog here, and another on America Talks Back.  This may eventually lead somewhere, or maybe not.  I just like to write about things that interest me some days.  There’s also my MySpace blog.  I use that for offbeat comments and observations. 

For work, I go to Online-Writing-Jobs which is a free job board for writers.  There’s a link to that someplace around here.  And while the “free” part means low pay or no pay jobs, it still gives the writer some access to work.  I check in there about twice a week or so.  If you apply to a few jobs there, something will come to you.  Keep the emails flowing out and someone will get back to you with an assignment.  Just watch what you apply for, and make sure you can handle the work.  Then, as with any business endevor, any income you get, reinvest it into getting more work.  If you gain enough to afford a subscription to another work site, get it.  That’s my next move.  Then the plan is to keep sending emails and keep getting more work.  Meanwhile, I’m writing more articles for the PPV sites and blogging to keep my writing fresh and flowing.  Also, I’m in the middle of trying to get onto a couple of sites as a columist or contributor.  Yes, again, it may be for no pay – but the whole game starts with exposure.  I know enough from being in business; no one will care if they don’t know you’re there. 

So there you have it, my first few steps trying to make writing move from simple hobby and loveable pastime, to something more.  I don’t know how long it’s going to take; and in a way, I don’t really care.  Some days it will matter more than others I’m sure.  But for now, if you are a real writer, just writing can be enough.  It just makes the day feel better.

Watch Where Your Words Go…

Last night I was setting up to publish a couple of articles on Triond.  Well, one of these articles got rejected.  Why? It seems it had already been published someplace else.  Now I thought “Gee, this is odd – since I haven’t tried to publish this article yet”.  But yet there it was, already published on Associated Content.  Triond checks all incoming submissions for being original and not published elsewhere.  If it is, they give you the link to where the content is published.  And this is actually a good thing if your stuff gets taken out from under you unknowingly. 

So, I bring up a new window in my browser, then copy and paste the link provided me.  Lo and behold, there is my article….but under someone else’s name.  I click on the headline to read the article, and find that – yes, this is my work word for word.  Not one thing was changed from the original which still sits on my computer hard drive.  The whole thing wouldn’t have been too bad if it had not been for the fact that I was commisioned to write that article by a “company” back in February of this year.  The article was never paid for; so I guessed that it was either rejected or the rights reverted back to me.  Either way, it was still my work.  I figured that I’d write the author and ask them how they came to possess the article in quesiton.  I also explained to the author about being commissioned for the piece, but never paid for it.  I also explained that I was not calling her a thief, nor the person who caused me not to recieve payment.

Anyway, I decided to look up the other articles “written” by this author since there was a partial list of her work, as well as the option to ‘View All’ of her work.  And then believe it or not, I find two more pieces I had written for the “company” back in February.    Now those two articles had been paid for; so in reality they were no longer mine.  But, the one thing I know about Associated Content is that they will not tolerate someone buying work and posting it as their own.  So I wondered if they knew about this.  I had decided that I would write AC and let them know about this.  Yes, I know some people would call it sour grapes and all.  But putting up content as your own, on a site that expressly forbids buying content and then posting it, after you bought it from somewhere……I’m sorry, that’s just plain wrong – and to me, extremely lazy.

So now I’m waiting to see what goes on here with that.

But anyhow, for those of you reading this – watch where your words go.  If you go onto a site where you bid on jobs, such as any of the freelancing sites out there,  there will be people out there looking to steal work away from it’s producers.

So, here’s a few things to watch for.

1. If you are contracted for an article – do not assume that it isn’t going under someone else’s name.

2. If you submit an article for payment – keep records of when and where it went to.

3. Keep all emails for those whom you write for; AND, keep those emails for a few months after you complete the assignment (especially if something goes wrong).

4. Keep track of all incoming payments – if one is missed politely inquire about it in a reasonable manner and time.  Don’t let it pass as a missed payment.

5. If an article goes unpaid, find out why.  Was it rejected?  Is payment simply late?  Watch if they seem to give you stock answers about how often payments are made and how they must wait for their clients.

6. If you can, sign up to Triond or one of the PPV sites like that.  Then submit any unpaid or rejected work for publication.  The reasoning for this is that the article should NOT show up as posted someplace else.  If it does, there’s your stolen work. 

7. Find a way to get Copyscape.  This is not only a good way to make sure your work is considered original, but it also will tell you if your work is out there under someone else.

8. Realize that your words, once they leave your hands, can land just about anywhere out there on the Internet today.  Be mindfull of the fact that you probably have no control over that.

9. If you are going to do any work for free, make sure you at least get credit for the piece. 

If you really want to keep most of the control over where and how your words are used.  Stick to the sites where you write under a bi-line or community setting (ie – Helium, Suite 101, Associated Content, Triond, etc.)  If you don’t care, or are into mostly SEO or copywriting work, get paid for it.  There are some people out there who form up a “company”, find work for hire, and then try to farm it out to writers either for free or next to free.  You will know these types when you get burned by one or two. 

Writing is not a bad thing.  Writing is not an extremely difficult thing.  But as with any service oriented endevor, there is unfortunately a business side to things.  And there are those who know how to manipulate the business side of writers; or at least think they can. 

Be proud to be a writer – but be careful of where your words will go.