Friday, October 03, 2008

Interruptions While Freelancing

Everyone has experienced the rush and pressure of an impending deadline. You're concentrating and are on a roll. All of a sudden, the phone rings and you automatically pick it up. It's your mom. You ask, "What are you doing calling me on my business line?"

She replies, "Well I need to reach you right away and I knew you'd be sitting at your computer e-mailing."

"Mom, I'm not e-mailing. I'm working, and I'm on a deadline!"

"Yeah, but you have all day." She then proceeds to tell you all about so-and-so and what her new theory is about the cause of her marital problems. Next thing you know, you're calling your sister to tell her of the latest theory. By the time you look at your clock, a whole hour has passed. By that time, you have to check your e-mails to see if the potential client wrote back, then you get side-tracked reading other e-mails. Does this scenario sound familiar?

Here are some ideas to stay focused on your work:

* Have voicemail pick up your calls. Return calls later. Schedule a time for it.

* Make sure your children are occupied while you work. Tell them no interruptions, unless it's an emergency. Give them guidelines of what an emergency is. Set a time when it's ok to talk with you.

* If you have young children, or a baby, work around their nap time. Or hire a babysitter to watch over them while you work. You can also swap babysitting duties with a friend or neighbor.

* Tell your spouse, significant other, or any adults in your household not to disturb you. Give them a time when you'll be available.

* Don't make any calls when pressed for a deadline. Before you know it, you'll stay on too long chatting and precious time will be wasted.

* Don't check your e-mails when you want uninterrupted time. You'll get distracted and start reading other e-mails, then you'll start answering them all.

* If you have pets, make sure they're entertained (playing with toys), chewing on a rawhide bone (for your dog), or napping. When pets want your attention, they let you know. Cats can jump on your desk and sit on your papers. Dogs can pull and tug on you when they want your attention or want to go for a walk. Remember to plan around them too.

We all have distractions. The important thing is not to give into them (at least not for long!).

How do you handle interruptions?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Different Types of Grief

My dad died in 2003 at the age of 76, and my younger sister Becky died last year at the age of 49. I realized something: The experience of grief is different for each of them, just as the grief I'm experiencing for my dog, Toby, who also died last year, is unique from some of my other pets who have died. You wouldn't know this until you experience it.

I'm not ready yet to tell how my dad and sister died. I've blogged about how Toby died (see entry of June 15).

With my dad, I felt sadness at his loss, but I also felt relief because he had suffered so much from the complications of diabetes. I felt guilt, which will be clear when I write another time about him, and it took grief counseling to help me work through it and put it behind me. I didn't cry as much as I thought I would, and I found it easy to get back to my life. I thought of him often, but he didn't consume my thoughts. I know he had a long life, lived to see his grandchildren born, and enjoyed many years of happiness and sometimes heartache. He didn't talk about his regrets too much, especially about his four kids. Maybe he had them, but found it difficult to articulate them. I felt he had lived a relatively long time and it was his time to go. As time passed, it didn't hurt as much. Some days I don't even think of him. Sometimes I think of things he would say, like "I paid darn good money for that" or "Don't push it!" I have fond memories of him, but some are bad.

My sister's death, on the other hand, has been very difficult for me. It's not just because she just died last year. I do find that things get easier, but I think of her everyday. There is a big void in my life with her loss. We spoke everyday and had long conversations. She was my best friend.

Even though we were very different and didn't always agree, we were very close. When we were growing up, we had a lot of sibling rivalry (she's younger by three years), but we were always together. She always wanted to be with me. I tried to do things without her, but she always ended up tagging along.

As adults, we were much closer, became roommates, worked at the same place, and went dancing together. Eventually, we went our separate ways with very separate lives, but still stayed close.

Now every morning when I drive to work, something triggers thoughts of Becky, especially a favorite song of hers. Then I start recalling how much she loved to dance. My thoughts then drift off to a scene at the dance club we used to frequent and Becky putting on a show with her moves. Every time I think of these things, I get a big lump in my throat and try real hard not to cry, but mostly I do.

Sometimes so many things are going through my head on the way to work--problems and trying to find solutions to them, funny things that happened to me (which I always want to tell Becky right away, and it's painful when it hits me that she's gone), or planning my day. No matter what it is, my thoughts drift to Becky, and I cry. I usually get control of my emotions once I pull in the parking garage at work. Ofentimes, my coworkers don't realize I've been crying--that is, until I talk about it.

Anything can trigger my grief for Becky--talking to her daughters, being in her house with all her things around, see photos of her (I still can't display any photos of her yet), wanting to discuss something wit her, wanting her opinion, etc. I'm not sure when, or if, my grief for Becky will end. It's easier, but it's with me everyday. It feels like her loss will always be part of my life.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Contacts Can Come in Handy

When you're a freelancer, over the years, you get to know other people in your field. I've been pretty lucky because I've been in the publishing business for a long time.

I work full time as a senior editor in the health care field. I've made lots of contacts with other editors, proofreaders, and writers who work full time and/or freelance. I've worked in many fields: legal, financial, engineering, education, computer, and medical.

My rolodex and e-mail address book are full of contacts from various areas of expertise. Whenever you can't take a job, offer to recommend someone else. Before you do, though, make sure that the person is reliable and right for that assignment. Have the freelancer you recommend let you know if that assignment worked out. Follow up with the client to find out if someone (doesn't have to be the contact you recommended) was chosen for the assignment. If not, offer to recommend someone else.

Contacts also come in handy when you're working on a project and are striving to finish it in time, but you hit a snag. Even though I haven't tried this personally, some freelancers hire someone else to work on a portion of the job. This is risky. You should be familiar with that person's work. Even if you are, you should review the work, because overall you're responsible for that project.

Other times if you're editing a book, for example, the client might ask you if you can do the index. Be honest if you don't have the expertise for indexing. But offer to recommend someone who will do a good job on it.

Besides getting contacts from your previous jobs, conferences and professional associations are also good sources. Associations like the Editorial Freelancers Association, Media Bistro, and LinkedIn are invaluable. So start networking and compile your contact list. It'll come in handy one day.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Most Dogs Fear Fireworks

I've only had a few dogs who weren't afraid of fireworks on the Fourth of July.

My dog Toby, who passed away last June, was afraid of fireworks. He would stick close to me. When the real loud ones came, he would hide in the bedroom in the corner of the room. And I found out a few weeks ago that my little dog Desi is also afraid of them. I thought, "Oh no! Here we go again."

I live around several schools, and after a high school graduation ceremony, the fireworks displays were set off. They were not only beautiful but they were also very loud. They sounded like explosions. Desi was outside at the time and I was watching TV. He walked in fast. I spoke to him calmly, but he ignored me and walked straight to the bedroom and went underneath the bed! He's small--only about 10 pounds. I tried to coax him out, but he stayed there for almost an hour. When he came out, he jumped on my lap and cuddled. After a few minutes, he walked to the door and looked out, but he was afraid to go outside. I went outside and he eagerly followed me, staying real close. He was finally satisfied everything was ok.

Then yesterday, someone set off fireworks around 9:30 p.m. Desi was asleep on the bed. I talked to him soothingly and petted him. When I walked out of the room, he jumped down and went under the bed. Even after I went to bed, he waited another half hour more before he jumped on the bed to cuddle and sleep.

The animal shelters are always full this time of year because of dogs who bolt and keep running. My neighbor's dog Sasha is terrified of fireworks too. She's a rottweiler, but she'll jump in the tub. When she comes out, she's trembling.

I remember when my dad was in the hospital and I was taking care of his dog Princess. She was terrified of fireworks and he always had to bring her in before the fireworks started because she would jump at the windows and tear the screens. In my dad's neighborhood, the kids start setting fireworks during the day. I went over and brought her in the house. Once she was inside, she was fine. I stayed with her most of the day, but I had to return home in the evening to be with my dog Toby. I left her in the house. I came again early the next morning (the 5th) and she was happy to see me. I let her out and checked the house thoroughly, but there was no sign of mess or damage. Whew! I stayed with her a few hours, then went to see my dad in the hospital.

I had made arrangements to have my dad's step-daughter Isabel check on Princess and to feed her dinner. Around 5 I got a call that the gate was found wide open and Princess was gone! We searched everywhere to no avail. We put up signs and kept driving up and down the blocks for days. We even searched the local pound. We were beginning to think the worst. We wondered what to tell my dad. When my dad would ask how Princess was or how she did on the 4th, we lied and said she did fine. I felt terrible. Finally, after a week, someone called. The man said he had a female dog that matched Princess' description!

Isabel picked her up and brought her home. She was in good condition. It turns out she went for miles down a main street and hid in the back of a business (so they would lock her up at night and fed and cared for her during the day). Princess was extremely lucky. I was so grateful. I gave the guy a gift card to a restaurant in appreciation.

I worry how Desi will be tonight. People told me to tranquilize him, but I don't like the idea of drugging him. I'll see how he does this year. If need be, I'll tranquilize him next year.

Some surrounding cities ban fireworks. I wish mine would. I'll stay home the entire weekend to be with Desi and my cat Kelley (who doesn't appreciate fireworks either, but she stays put). How do you keep your dog calm?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ways to Market Your Services

I always find it difficult to find new clients. I'm not an assertive person, so it's always challenging for me to market my services. But the opportunity presented itself at a writer's conference I attended on May 28 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

I was really looking forward to hearing Jacquelyn Mitchard (author of The Deep End of the Ocean) give the keynote address. She did not disappoint. She was down to earth, comical, gave good writing advice, and spoke of her challenges in writing.

The three breakout sessions I attended were extremely helpful to me. The first one, on personal essays given by Victoria Zackheim, was informative. She spoke about getting to the "heart" (emotion) of your essay and read a few examples from her new book, The Other Woman. Some of the questions raised were about how to prevent getting sued when listing someone's name (her advice was to change the name or let the person know what you're writing about so there are no surprises later) and how to find an editor (I turned around to see who asked that question so that I could talk to her later. I did manage to talk to her after the session. I gave her some leads and gave her my business card.).

The second breakout session I attended was called Fictional Seeds. It was given by Lisa Lenard-Cook. She defined fictional seeds as fleeting thoughts and impressions. She suggested writing your thoughts or ideas in a journal, on a piece of paper and place it in a bowl later, or in a computer file. She suggested that when you start writing, keep saying (or thinking), "and then...." She discourages outlining for fiction and stated that contests are a good idea. She announced that she has a new book called The Mind of Your Story that discusses some of her suggestions. Of course I bought it!

The third session was "Ask the Literary Agents." Four agents answered questions from the audience. Following are some Do's and Don'ts that they discussed.


* Be passionate about your work when making a pitch.
* Send query letters to agents you have thoroughly researched.
* Go to an agent's Web site for guidelines.
* Make sure you're a good fit with your agent.
* Love your material. Ask yourself, "Would I pay $25 for my book?"
* Keep queries short (what is your book about and why is it important or relevant to you as a writer).
* Ask your agent questions. There is no licensing board for agents. Do your homework. Shop around.


* Get bogged down in detail for your pitch.
* Be nervous when making a pitch.
* Be too specific in your query letter.
* Call it literary.
* Mention that everyone in your family read it and loved it.
* Send a query letter as an attachment.

The agents said to pitch a memoir, write a book proposal, do a competitive analysis on memoirs that are similar yet different from yours, and send an outline and a sample chapter. Memoirs need to be different. Ask yourself, "Is my story that compelling?"

They stated you can have more than one agent for different genres, but you should focus on one you're good at. An agent also stated that when agents take on a new client, they usually do a five-year plan.

I came away with so much information, and many of the sessions confirmed what I already know: keep writing, give it your best, and put your heart into it.

I was able to make several contacts from talking to people throughout the conference. I handed out my business cards, gave advice on editing, gave people leads if I wasn't able to help them, promised to review a book proposal (free of charge), talked about editing to those who didn't understand the editorial process or know why a book has to be edited (yes, there are some who believe that!), and gave a recommendation to send their work out for critique. It felt good. I felt empowered and confident that I can market my services! And all with little effort or anxiety on my part.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Toby: Gone One Year Today

Most people think that their pet is the most unique of anyone else's. I'm no different. My dog Toby was special and unique, and now he's gone. He died one year ago today at 14 years of age. I had to have him euthanized. I haven't been able to write much about him because it was so painful. It's a little easier now.

I had a vet who makes house calls come to my house when I discovered that Toby had great difficulty holding up his hind legs when using the bathroom. I could tell it was so humiliating for him when I had to clean him. I knew when he could no longer function on his own that it was time to have him put to sleep.

My wish was for him to die on his own, but every time I felt he was failing and would die soon, he would rally, start eating, and get stronger. That's how things went for few months. I noticed he was eating less and less and then finally hardly eating anything at all. It amazed me how he could survive on so little. But he was losing weight rapidly. He kept up his daily routine--barking at people passing, dogs being walked, and howling when he heard the sirens from police cars or fire engines.

He also played with his squeaky toys everyday. I was amazed that he would keep to the beat on the music on the radio or he would create his own music. I would say that he was playing his "concertos." He would entertain me everyday, right up to the day of his death. He had one special toy that I called Mr. Beethoven.

You see, Toby was suppose to die years earlier. He had a major stroke when he was 8. I was trying to put on his harness for our weekly trek and he jumped on the bed as I instructed him to. He was so excited and was squirming. As I was trying to snap it into place, he slumped off the bed to the floor. He started convulsing. Then he just laid there and didn't move. He couldn't get up. My neighbor had to carry him to the car for me.

The vet said that if he didn't regain the use of his legs or was not able to use the bathroom, I should probably consider euthanizing him. I couldn't accept that. I took him home (I found the strength to carry him). I laid out lots of comforters on the living room floor and I slept with him the first night, hugging him all night. He would lick me. My kitten Kelley laid with us too. (They had a special bond, but that's a story for another time.) As the days passed, I could feel that Toby would fight to get better. I carried him to the back yard and we all laid down to enjoy the chirping birds and the sunshine. He crawled away from the blanket so he could pee. Late at night, he would crawl to the kitchen to urinate instead of peeing on the blankets or on the carpet. Days later I could tell he was stronger. He was determined to go the front yard, which had two steps. It took him a long time, but he crawled to the top of the steps and slid down. So smart!

The vet was surprised at his progress. He recommended physical therapy at another facility, but I declined, not only because of the cost, but because I knew that Toby could not tolerate long car rides. (He had many fears and riding in a car was one of them. He had been dumped from a car and abandoned when he was 4 months old. Some neighborhood kids brought him to me because they knew I had put my dog Gema to sleep when her cancer had returned. It was evident that Toby had been an abused puppy.)

I devised Toby's therapy to strengthen his legs. He became stronger and his walking improved. The vet commended me. He said, "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it." Toby's gait was never the same and our long walks were now out, but most people could never tell he had had a stroke. He was my hero!

He took such good care of me for 14 years. We went through so much together. He was in tune to my emotions and always knew when I needed to be comforted, especially when my sister Becky died. He was my constant companion. A big hole was left in my heart when Toby died. I miss his companionship and his beautiful concertos.

Even though I got another dog (Desi) a few weeks after Toby died, nothing replaces him. I still miss him, even after a year. There is no timetable to grief. I will always honor his memory. He left me with so many stories to tell!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Felt Validated at Pain Conference

On May 30, I attended the first-ever Women in Pain Conference held at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. This was the first time a conference was held on the subject of pain where both clinicians and women experiencing chronic pain were participating in the same conference.

What kind of chronic pain do I have? It's a long list. I've never written about all my conditions before because i didn't want people to know. That has changed. I have congenital hip dysplasia (dislocation) in my left hip; rotator cuff problems in my right shoulder; recovering from a dislocated left shoulder; ligament damage in my right hand; trochanteric bursitis and ilotibial band syndrome in my right hip; osteoarthritis in my hand, shoulders, back, and hip; and degenerative disk disease along with a bulging disk. Most of these conditions are from an injury I sustained in February 2006. I never dreamed I'd still be dealing with these conditions and with the horrible pain.

I'm actually proud of the way I've handled my pain. I try to lead a somewhat normal life despite the fact that I'm always in pain. The only give-away is that I limp. However, most people do not know when I'm in pain because I cover it up pretty well. I don't want any one's pity.

I've never been one to label myself as disabled, but I suppose I am. I have a handicap placard for use when I park. I only use it when I have to park far or when there's lots of hills or steps that I need to avoid. I don't mind walking when it's flat. For the most part I leave the handicap space for someone else. Besides I don't particularly like the stares I get when I get out of my car when I park in a handicap space. I know they're trying to figure out what's wrong with me. I guess they have it figured out once they see me limp.

Many times I've been made to feel that the pain is in my head because I didn't "look" like I'm in pain. The doctors have yet to prescribe a pain medication for me that won't knock me out or make me feel with I'm "under the influence." I keep telling them that I have to work and don't want to feel impaired when I'm driving. Therefore, I don't take anything hard during the week. But I find myself looking forward to the weekends so I can take Vicodin, which will let me sleep at least and will relieve the pain. It doesn't matter when I wake up. I'm in no rush. All I take during the week is Tylenol, which does not help me.

This is the first time I've been around women who "feel" the pain I do and struggle with a lot of the same issues I do. I learned about organizations where I can go to for support (such as the American Chronic Pain Association and the American Pain Foundation). I learned a lot about the pharmacology and traditional approaches to pain management. The organizer of the conference, Cynthia Toussaint, is a true inspiration. Her organization, For Grace, will help many women.

I feel validated because most the women were made to feel it was all in their heads, just like I was. I also learned that women feel pain differently than men and that clinicians listen to men and treat their pain more effectively than they do women. We're told that it's stress and we're often prescribed antidepressants rather than an effective pain medication. We often leave the doctor's office without a plan.

I've yet to absorb everything I heard at the conference. They gave so many handouts, books, plus all the information in the binder we received. Most of these women suffer (I don't like using this word, but I can't think of a better way to describe it) much more than I do. I admire their strength and they yearning to learn. I came away with new contacts, many resources, and a new resolve to join the effort of advocacy for women in pain.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Raising Your Rates

I just finished a huge proofreading job for a legal publisher. I returned the chapters in batches. My client praised my work, emphasizing my attention to detail and my thoroughness. Now why don't I have the nerve to ask for a raise or to inform them what my new rates are? I know I need to work on being more assertive and proactive in my freelance business.

Here's how it should be done:

About every year or so, you should evaluate your rates to see if they are keeping up with the industry standard.

The Editorial Freelancers Association has posted "Common Rates for Editorial Services," which includes type of work (such as copyediting, proofreading, indexing, research, and writing, among others). A range of fees is included based on a certain pace of work. For example, you can charge $20-35 per hour for proofreading 3-10 manuscript pages per hour.

Taking the proofreading example a little further, there are different types of proofreading--on hardcopy (proofreading page proofs against a manuscript) or electronically (using Adobe Professional). There are different levels of text (basic or technical). Your rate can vary from client to client. The assignment can range from proofreading a young adult novel to a physics textbook with equations. Your rates would be different for these two types of jobs.

As you get new clients, you would give them your new rate. They don't have to know that it's a new rate. For your existing clients, at some point (beginning of new year perhaps) you would inform them of your new rate (like when you accept a new assignment). You can tell them what you've done for them on previous jobs that they've appreciated. You can always negotiate. Now I just need the guts to ask!

As I was writing this draft, I got some good news! My biggest client (the legal publisher) just contacted me and stated they're giving me a raise! They said that I was "long overdue" and that it would be an "incentive" to take on additional assignments. Of course things don't usually happen this way. I was lucky with this client. How do you increase your rates?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A New Year, A New Start

I can't believe almost 9 months have passed since I last posted an entry. And here it is already February. A lot has happened, and yet nothing has really changed. But I'm different.

You see, since my younger sister died last January, I never thought I'd get over her loss. But I'm finding out that things are getting easier and that I can be happy once again. It's so different without her, but I make the best of it.

My beloved dog Toby died in June. He was 14. It was so painful to have to put him to sleep. I wanted him to die on his own, but he didn't. We were so close and he was a wonderful companion. I knew I had to let him go because he was suffering so much.

I was lost without Toby. Now I had two voids in my life. I decided to fill that hole. I got another dog. I adopted Desi in July. He's quite the character. He's turned my life upside down and I wouldn't have it any other way. He's brought laughter back into my life.

I've made personal, financial, and business goals for 2008. I'm doing ok so far. I'm on track. How about you?

I'll try to post on a more regular basis. I'll do a personal post, such as this one, and one business-related. Let's see how I do.