Friday, October 17, 2014

Reduction Junction What's Your Function?

There was another round of layoffs at my newspaper. And by layoffs, I mean “a reduction in workforce.” 

21 people were workforce reduced, including one of the editors I worked with. I mean with whom I worked. Whatever. Screw it. Who cares about grammar?

OK, I do. But not right now.

I’m not a real journalist anyway. That is, I know that many newspaper staff writers see freelancers as wannabes, unless the freelancer was once a staffer. That’s fine. I don’t have the college degree or the beat-the-streets-get-shot-at-and-live-through-it background that most real journalists do. Often, when I interview someone for an article (or, more often, an advertorial) and they want to email photos, I tell them to send them directly to the editor because “I’m just a freelancer who works outside the main office.”

“Just” being the operative word. “Outside the main office” meaning part-time, at the cluttered desk in my home office, with no makeup on and my dog at my feet. Not exactly Lois Lane, Girl Reporter. Even though I have the wardrobe.

Vintage Pendleton suit. Fake bun. Haven't had that much real hair since the '80s.

My lack of inner sanctum/newsroom experience does not mean I don’t sympathize with those who’ve lost their jobs. It is particularly distressing to know that at least one person who was laid off had been there 25 years. He has good skills and some connections, so my hope is that he finds another job soon.

But the reality is that if you look at writing jobs now, most organizations aren’t looking for seasoned professionals to whom (good grammar, right?) they have to pay a living wage. Nope. I’ve seen ads for “writing interns,” which means recent college grads who live with their parents and will take any crappy job that pays their car insurance.

I’m sorry this isn’t one of my wittier posts. I’m just not feeling it today. Please forgive me. To make it up to you, here’s a key chain slogan I wrote and sold (for $75, I think) to a social expression company about fifteen years ago, when I used to be fun.

"Just" being the operative word.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Have Some Thinks Before You Call

I have complained way too many times about people not calling me back. For this I apologize.

But I’m once again sharing this cartoon thingy. (IT’S NOT A MEME, because “meme” means something else, says My Daughter Who Has A Bachelor's Degree in English. What do I know? I'm just a little ol' freelance writer with a degree in Bullwinkle Studies from Whatsamatta U.)

Here’s when you don’t have to call me:

Three or more days after I have spoken to you, because it’s highly likely I have finished the article and turned it in already and have moved on to the next article or two or six. I am sorry if you forgot to tell me something during our interview, but I won’t be able to add it because it is usually too late. Also, I will generally call you within a day of our interview if I feel the article is missing something or if I need to do any fact checking.

Oh, yeah, and don’t call me after 5:00 p.m., because even though I work at home, I would prefer you not call me in the evening (or on weekends)—unless we have a prearranged time for a return call—because I am doing family stuff, like making dinner and giving the grandkid a bath and putting him to bed and reading him “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think.”

It’s a very good book. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Blogging for Dollars

For those of you who are too young to remember “Bowling for Dollars,” it was a TV show I watched when I was a wee lass. I believe the host was the inimitable Chick Hearn. There’s also a “Dialing for Dollars,” which I only knew about from this song.

I’m a little depressed right now. It probably doesn’t help to listen to Janis. But, oh, that voice. Those bracelets.

I’m in my last quarter of CSU, East Bay’s art museum and gallery studies certification program and am now doing a feasibility study. Meaning, I'm trying to figure out if it's feasible to open a vintage purse and fashion museum in Southern California. Part of this study involves creating a business plan, so I hit up an organization that offers start-ups free advice from retired execs.

Yesterday, I put on my 1940s mustard-colored silk blouse and a gray pencil skirt that looked better about ten pounds ago and some uncomfortable-yet-fabulous heels and met these guys at the local chamber of commerce.

Here are the heels.

Fabulous, am I right?

The execs talked to me about the pros and mostly cons of opening a museum, which was very good advice and which I appreciated. It was also very discouraging. I’m not going to get into that part, because I still have to write my business plan, no matter how discouraged I am. But this is not the point.

Because this is my writing blog, the point of this post has to do with writing. When the two retired execs—gentlemen I liked very much—found out that I am a professional freelance writer, they encouraged me to stick with it. One of them said I can make good money blogging. Which is probably true. For some people. Not me. (Note: I do make a little money on Google ads, mostly on my vintage purse sites, Vintage Purse a Day and The Vintage Purse Gallery. I am not trying to sound ungrateful. I am, in fact, very thankful for those clicks. It's just that it's not make-a-living income.*)

He was quite adamant about the blogging, but also mentioned ghostwriting. Also not for me. I know these things from over two decades of experience selling my writing. The other gentleman felt I should expand my writing business, even though I explained that I’ve written everything—from articles to button slogans to press releases to novels to... everything.

I want to do something different. I want to take my vintage fashion hobby and turn it into a business. Which I now believe needs to occur on a much smaller scale than I envisioned. Which is also not the point.

The point is that I know all about being a writer and these guys don’t. They don’t know that it’s extremely competitive and it’s very hard to break into other aspects of writing because even an established writer doesn't get consideration. For instance, I’ve registered on several different freelance sites and bid on jobs, only to see some grad student (note: nothing against grad students) charging a lot less—or worse, just doing it for a byline—get the job.

As for blogging, that’s changed so much in the last ten years that to make money at it you have to pretty much have a *full-fledged commerce site—not just a simple blog. 

But what do I know? I’m just a writer. With fabulous-yet-uncomfortable shoes. Which is kind of an analogy for where I'm at right now. I wonder if Janis had a song about that.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Price of History

I’ve been doing my regular freelance newspaper work, plus newsletter and magazine writing gigs as they come up. Occasionally, I’ll get people asking me when I’m going to write the next book, but that’s not on the horizon. Not the immediate horizon, anyway.

My huge, time-consuming project lately has been working on the unpaid* (more about that below) internship portion of the CSU, East Bay certificate program in Art Museum and Gallery Studies.

This quarter, I took notes from videos and films that were archived at the Strathearn Historical Park & Museum in Simi Valley, where I live.

Thanks to the intrepid (also very cool and awesome) park coordinator who applied for and received a grant, a number of films and videos were digitized and put on an external hard drive. Most of the videos, which started out in 1980s VHS format, were oral histories from members of pioneer families. These “old-timers” shared their earliest memories of life in Simi Valley, from picking apricots to riding to school in a surrey to performing in amateur operettas at the community center to plowing through an angry farmer's haystacks in a Ford Model A to... you get the idea.

I took the drive home, plugged it into my laptop and watched all the films and videos, while taking notes in MS Word on my desktop. Some of these films were three hours, and took me all day to look at, mostly due to sound issues (the videos’ and my failing hearing—thank you, 1970s punk rock concerts). I'd have to start and stop and restart and stop and listen carefully, over and over. I wrote down what was on the tapes—usually general things, but some transcription, including what I felt were useable quotes, should the museum ever decide to do a compilation of the area’s history in a modern video.

Here's the deal: I live in a very stereotypical Southern California suburb. Seriously. We now have three Walmarts and a population of about 127,000. I moved here in 1988 when there were no Walmarts and fewer than 100,000 people and I was pregnant with my first child. Yeah, it was different then, but it’s an understatement to say Simi Valley was a lot different a century ago, when there were mostly farms and ranches in the area and no tract houses or strip malls. I heard one early resident say there were 5,000 people living in Simi Valley when she was here in the 1920s.

So, what did I get out of this?

An enormous education about Simi Valley history. 

A huge curiosity about my surroundings. For instance, my house is where Patterson Ranch used to be. I wonder if the avocado tree in my back yard and the walnut tree in my neighbors’ were part of that ranch. 

An understanding as to why the folks who grew up here in the 1910s and ‘20s were so unhappy (on those VHS tapes) about the city’s “progress” in the 1980s.

A profound sadness. Yeah, it’s the circle of life and all, but most of the people on the tapes are gone and that makes me sad. I can't help it.

Gratitude. I’m happy these tapes were made and you can figure out why. I don’t have to tell you.

This was the best *unpaid job I ever had because it paid so very well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Getting the Point

 At the end of 2008, I made it a goal to send out a query, submit an article, come up with greeting card ideas, or enter a writing contest every day of 2009. I wrote a journal documenting this fiasco, which I think is a fair representation of the life of a real working freelance writer.

I tried to sell my experiences as a book. This endeavor didn’t pan out. Naturally. Because these things are either ironic or expected, and occasionally both.

I’ve been periodically sharing these stories in this blog and decided it's time for another tiny tale from that year of writing dangerously. 

A movie came out in 2009. It was a romantic film/chick flick/date movie about a 19th century poet. Exactly the type of movie I would never, ever go see. Or buy. Or watch by accident. (For the record, my all time favorite movie is Die Hard. The first one. The ONLY one.)

A contest was run to publicize the movie about the poet (who was not played by Bruce Willis). You could enter via mail or Twitter. As part of my goal of sending out something writing-related every day, I tweeted my "love letter." As of today, four-and-a-half years later, I couldn’t find the winners’ list, but this tweet still exists:

I was one of the winners. It took me about thirty seconds to write the love letter and a few more to tweet it.

I won a $400 Mont Blanc fountain pen. It looks like this.

 Not mine. I got this pic off someone’s unsold eBay auction.

I kind of wish they’d sent me the four hundred bucks instead of the pen, so I could say I make $48,000 an hour.

I tried selling the pen to one of those We Buy Gold and Fountain Pens places, but the young woman who worked there had no idea what it was and had to call her boss, who did know what it was, which I figured out because she got very weird during their conversation. Like, when you’re listening to one side of a phone call and the person knows you’re listening and says, “mmmm hmmmm” a lot so they don’t give anything away.

Also, she was trying to get the pen to work (it didn’t have any ink in it) by pressing the tip very hard on her desk blotter, which made me cringe.

I think they offered me $50. Or maybe it was $100. I don’t remember. I only remember it wasn’t $400. So I left.

The pen sat on a shelf in my office for four years.

And now for the happy ending to this YAY I WON A WRITING CONTEST FOR DOING VIRTUALLY NOTHING BUT I DIDN’T GET ANYTHING OF VALUE WHICH IS MY DESTINY story: My daughter learned to love schmancy fountain pens while in college and studying abroad and being all cultured ‘n’ stuff ‘n’ junk.

She graduated from college last June and I gave her the fountain pen, which I think she likes even better than her graduation gift, which is a 1930s vanity with mirror. (She knows all about schmancy makeup, too. I get my cosmetics from CVS.)

This ending makes me even happier than winning the contest. How's that for unexpected?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Freelance Writer Mad Libs*

Dear _____ (proper noun)

It was really________ (adjective) ________ (verb + ing) you at the ____________ (place). You seem to be a _________ (adjective) ________ (noun).

When I told you I was a freelance ___________ (job title) who works mostly for the __________  (proper noun) newspaper and you said you ___________ (verb) for them, too, I thought, “How could I not know your name if you are a fellow ____________ (job title)?”

Later, I found out from your ____________ (relative), who was also at the ___________ (place), that you ___________ (verb) letters to the ____________ (job title of a person who edits a portion of a newspaper).

Again, you seem very _____________ (adjective), so I do not judge you for your inability to differentiate between being a _____________ (job title of someone who gets paid to write) and a ______________ (person who comments on stuff that’s in a newspaper).

However, you really aren’t a ____________ (job title) and you probably shouldn’t tell ___________ (plural noun) you meet at _____________ (places) that you are a ______________ (job title) because it’s simply not ______________ (adjective).

____________ (adverb),

________________ (my name)

*with apologies to the creators of Mad Libs and to my childhood.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It’s the End of the Job Market As We Know It

More news from the job-seeking front.

Let’s start with the Craigslist ad, which appeared about a month ago. I copied and pasted it here in its entirety, blanking out a few details using asterisks because Xs just make it look like it’s a job in porn.

compensation: *****
telecommuting okay
We are a growing ***** company in ***** currently accepting resumes for a project support position. This position will be part-time with some flexibility in work schedule. While the main duties of the position are centered in document production and editing, there is also additional need outside of these responsibilities with other administrative tasks. 

- Large amounts of work creating Publisher documents for technical and leadership training from various forms of notes combining existing materials and hand written notes and comments. 
-Content and format editing of documents for publication.
- Administrative tasks -- will serve as a back-up to administrative staff with duties such as printing web-based reports for clients, creating and editing Word and Excel documents as needed.

- Possesses a strong sense of urgency to complete high quality work.
- Strong attention to detail.
- Able to multi-task and handle multiple projects at the same time.
- Able to work well under pressure and strict deadlines.
- Able to work in a team environment and has outstanding communication skills.
- Motivated and has a "can-do" attitude.
- Resourceful and solution-oriented.
- Proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel, and Publisher and willing to learn other Office programs. 

This will be a part-time position with required hours varying according to project work status. The applicant will be required to provide their own computer (preferably a laptop) for work production. Although this individual will be required to attend occasional office meetings, the majority of work will be done in the employee's own home and at their chosen hours.

How fabulous is this? It’s perfect for my schedule. I could keep my current freelance assignments, plus I’d still be able to pick up my grandson from school.

So, what’d I do? I emailed a cover letter and my resume, that’s what.

Did I hear back?


It’s not that I’m upset that I didn’t get the job. I just don’t understand why I didn’t get an acknowledgement. A generic “Thank you for your email. We will get back to you if you meet our requirements.” Or “Sorry, this position has been filled.” Or something. Anything. I don’t get it. Why is silence OK? Is it because it’s a buyer’s market?

Thanks for listening. I feel fine. Really I do.