Sunday, May 11, 2008
Not Really a Journalist!
Have just about finished my article on Blue Bins and Recycling, will have to work out how to post pictures on here without sending my spacing crazy. I might post words and pictures separately.
Last Fridays' Open Media Day at the local Resource Recovery Centre was a fab experience. (Though jumping out of a friend's wagon in the car park and falling headlong in the dirt wasn't a great start!) I met some lovely people, found the waste processing fascinating and the resulting stacks of multicoloured bales amazing, like huge modern art installations.
It was a very positive experience in lots of ways and has inspired me to be even more of a "Recycling Freak" (in the words of Eldest Daughter.)
As far as writing goes, I don't think journalism will ever really be a serious option for me. I lack the objectivity needed for one thing, though I enjoyed the experience of 'being a journalist for a day' and learned a lot. There's no point in me competing with the guys (real journalists) who were there, so I've written my article from a personal perspective.
But for those of you who want to know more about journalism, here are a few links:
Blogging and journalism work well together, being expressions of the moment. Blogging is, after all, often seen as a form of online journal. Journalists from all over the world write blogs (individually) as do most major news agencies and networks. Blogs are also a great way to discover newsworthy ideas.
The Blog Herald: Blogging Lessons For and From Journalism
10 Journalism Tips For Bloggers, Podcasters & Other E-Writers by Spencer Critchley
Journalism Tips from the Telegraph blog
A consideration of the interaction of blogs and journalism by JD Lasica
Journalism and Social Media Tips from Blogs.Journalism.co.uk
The Blog Herald: A look at how twitter can be used for journalism
Breaking News on Twitter
Am fairly new to Twitter, but I can see how it has pretty awesome potential for journalism. News spreads quickly across the globe via those little tweets! Someone wanting information from widespread sources can ask a simple question on Twitter and have access to a phenomenal number of different perspectives. Twitter has a culture of community, of sharing information and ideas. I am fascinated daily, as a person and as a writer, by the possibilities (indeed, the realities) of Twitter. I imagine as a journalist I would find it a very useful resource:
The story of how James Buck used Twitter to alert people of his arrest in Egypt
Reuters: Breaking News, Twitter Style
Lots more examples in Marshall Kirkpatrick's post 'How We Use Twitter for Journalism'
Journalists are even using Twitter to find jobs
How to master Twitter if you're a journalist
With the leading national and international news agencies, newsrooms, journalists and a huge variety of other professionals, including academics, social commenters and politicians (even 10 Downing Street) on Twitter, sourcing immediate information is simple.
Another recent discovery that I've found very useful as a writer, which I expect is another excellent resource for journalists is the RSS Feed.
RSS Feeds and Journalism
For some basic general information, further links and steps to setting up your own RSS feed from a blog, see the post I wrote on Write Here! for RSS Feed Awareness Day.
Using RSS feeds as a journalist: advice from SourceWire
How to use RSS and social media for newsgathering by Paul Bradshaw
Finding Journalism Jobs by RSS feed
For anyone interested in becoming a journalist, I wish you well on your journey.
More about my own small experience later this week.
Have an excellent one!
(Also worth checking out, as somewhere with lots of information and advice relevant to online journalism, is contentious.com, Amy Gahran’s news and musings on how we communicate in the online age.)
Friday, April 25, 2008
All writers will encounter writer's block to varying degrees and for different reasons. Writer's block can be the result of too many ideas, or of none. It can be due to lack of confidence, or to perfectionism. It can arrive with too much pressure, or not enough.
Every writer is different. The way to get over writer's block is to know yourself as a writer, to understand your own reasons for writer's block, to try and anticipate it, and to have plans to deal with it when it arises.
Know Yourself as a Writer
Set yourself up for success by working out when, where and how you write best. Arrange your schedule to allow you the chance to write in the environment that suits you as a writer.
Arrange your writing around your strengths and weaknesses, if you are easily distracted make sure you have time when you will not be disturbed. "Ring fence your creative time," as Mark McGuinness explains in his free e-book, Time Management for Creative People.
Set up writing rituals to help trigger the creative flow. Write in a certain place, at a certain time, with a certain implement. Wear something special. Make a cup of tea. Play particular music.
Mix it up a bit. If something isn't working for you, change it. If you usually work best late at night, or in the kitchen, or in silence but are struggling with writer's block anyway, try going to bed and getting up early, writing in the bedroom, or a bustling coffee shop for a change.
Have a break. Try doing something completely different, especially something physical like a sport.
Change the scenery; go for a bath, or a long walk, or out on the town.
Use the other side of your brain; do your household finances, or some maths puzzles. Try some Brain Gym excercises.
Read. Do some research or read something you have written in the past. You might find a treasure that will inspire your current project. At the very least you will feel better about your ability to write.
Sleep on it. Look over tomorrow's writing project before you go to bed and allow your mind to work on it subconsciously.
Doing something on autopilot, like gardening or washing the pots, works in the same way.
Talk to someone. Tell someone what you are trying to write about, even if it's an imaginary someone. Talk to other writers, about the subject you are struggling with, or about writer's block, or just about writing.
Try some reverse thinking. Ban yourself from writing anything for a specific time, perhaps a day or two. You will soon be itching to get back to it and fired up with enthusiasm and inspiration.
The first draft of everything is shit
Write anything, no matter how bad you think it is. See it as a first draft; it's supposed to be full of mistakes to amend later.
Break down the task and write the easiest bit first. Start in the middle, or at the end.
Try a different form of writing. Switch from computer to pen and paper. If you're trying to write an article, write a poem or a letter. If you're trying to write a short story, write a list of the ten things you most want to do in life.
Draw up a mind map or write bullet points or a brief outline. Or try some freeform writing.
Write five words, a suggestion from Merlin Mann at 43Folders: "A block ends when you start making words on a page."
Play Mind Games With Yourself
Bribe yourself with whatever treat will work best for you.
Call on your muse. Light a candle for her, write a poem for her, throw a rock at her.
Leave yourself in mid-flow. Stop for the day or move on to another project when you still have things to say. Make a few brief notes. You are more likely to avoid writer's block in the first place, if you sit down to continue something rather than to start something.
Work on more than one project at a time, have a busman's holiday and change projects for a while.
Try using a magazine article or news headline as inspiration, or a picture. Perhaps an old family photograph, or try choosing one at random from Photobucket or Flickr.
Check out some writer's forums or forums that discuss the subject you are writing about. Hang out on Twitter for a while!
Rating articles on Helium is a great way to trigger either inspiration or enthusiasm. Or both.
I think perhaps the most important advice to get over writer's block is: Don't Panic!
This too will pass. The more pressure you put yourself under to write when you have writer's block, the more you will tie up the creative process. Relax, have faith in yourself.
Do you suffer writer's block? How and when do you suffer? How do you deal with it?
Thursday, April 24, 2008
What is journalism?
Journalism is the discipline of gathering, writing and reporting news, and broadly it includes the process of editing and presenting the news articles.
The word journalism is taken from the French journal which in turn comes from the Latin diurnal or daily; The Acta Diurna, a handwritten bulletin, was put up daily in the Forum, the main public square in ancient Rome, and was the world's first newspaper.
News-oriented journalism was described by former Washington Post editor, Phil Graham, as "a first rough draft of history", because journalists often record important historical events as they are happening, but at the same time, they must produce their news articles on short deadlines.
Gyan Pathak suggests five categories of journalism in his book Forms of Journalism: An Internal and External History:
1. Information Journalism
2. Story form of Journalism
3. Mixed form of Journalism
4. Performance Journalism
5. Interactive Journalism.
American philosopher George Herbert Mead had previously suggested in his article "The Nature of Aesthetic Experience" published in International Journal of Ethics, 36, (July 1926) that there were only two models of journalism:
1. Information Journalism
2. Story Form of Journalism.
Within these broad categories (even if we consider there to be five), there are many sub-categories of journalism, which use many different forms of media.
What skills does a journalist need?
"Practicing journalists become experts in a range of skills such as researching information, interviewing, organizing, drafting and revising, writing for specific audiences, and judging the quality of current publications. Effective journalistic writing often has criteria different from other kinds of writing: it must be clear yet sophisticated, artful yet free of obvious embellishment. It must establish a voice of its own, yet be a window to credible facts. In addition, formatting skills require practice." (The University of Minnesota's Center for Writing)
A journalist doesn't just write. In fact journalists actively seek out and tell news stories, while they are happening. They interview people, research backgrounds and search out supporting details. They write a piece, proofread and edit it, consider the publishing layout and submit it all within an incredibly short time ... there are no extensions to deadlines in journalism!
As a broadcast journalist, for example, the skills needed include:
* following story 'leads', or generating story ideas
* researching stories, using sources like the internet, archives and databases
* visiting locations and deciding on the best way of presenting a story
* writing scripts or website content
* preparing interview questions and conducting live and pre-recorded interviews
* presenting in TV or radio studios or on location, and recording voiceovers for recorded material
* asking questions at briefings and press conferences
* directing a small camera/sound crew, or possibly operating recording equipment yourself
* editing stories to fit exact timings
* deciding on the best running order for bulletins
* making any necessary changes to bulletins as new stories break.
What is journalistic writing?
John Nery's NewsStand blog is well worth checking out for some great journalism insight. Here, he explains what distinguishes journalistic writing:
Journalism----news reporting in particular----involves the use of a special language.
“News English” is not ordinary English, although of course it uses the same grammar, the same diction. “News English” is spare, pared down, frequently direct, even formulaic, and with a syntax all its own.
Gospel.com have some useful advice about journalistic writing online.
And the Riley Guide has a fanstastic collection of useful resources for writing, boadcasting and journalism.
Why is journalism important?
The ASNE (American Society of Newspaper Editors) awards recognise "the unique ability of newspaper journalists to inform, to provide clarity and context, to entertain, to give voice to the voiceless and to right injustices by exposing wrongdoing."
Now that makes journalism attractive to me. The truth is I can't really see myself as 'a journalist.' But as a fledgling writer, I am enjoying experimenting with all sorts of writing. So I'm really looking forward to the open media day and to an attempt at writing a journalistic piece.
Monday, April 21, 2008
I've been struggling for one reason or another (all good!) to keep up with my posting schedule for the past week ... on all five blogs. :o(
Though I have managed to keep on top of the housework! :o)
Why is it that I can keep on top of my housework OR on top of writing, but rarely both? But I've been a very busy bee elsewhere, with things that are associated with writing ...
Student Parent Website
I had a very productive week last week, in fact.
I had a positive meeting with the Mature Student Adviser at Hull University about my Student Parent website. This is still in the planning phase, another learning curve I am beginning at the very beginning. I am unsure how to get a domain name, how to design and build a website and I still have to get to grips with HTML. I've heard Dreamweaver mentioned a lot, but I can't afford to invest in expensive software so will just have to teach myself.
The MSA couldn't help with any of that, but she did offer some useful ideas to consider in the content planning, for example to have information relevant from the very first thought of returning to education: "OK. So I want to get back into education. Now what?" A discussion about this triggered off ideas about information students need after they have graduated.
A Whole New Language
So, lots more to work on there. I have an outline in paper and am busy collecting useful references and resources. I found something recently about HTML, in the form of very basic tutorials (aimed at schools, I think) and I must find it, in my huge list of disorganised favourites, so I can put a link on here for anyone else interested.
I also attended a Writers' Cafe event at the local literary festival last week, and met some great local writers. I chatted with writers in the local Writing Circle and collected a membership form. Something else I have been meaning to do for ages ... now I just have to fill it in and send it.
I've also spent some time social networking online! I love how people share interesting thoughts and useful links on Twitter (just wish I could reciprocate!) but will write more about them in my Write Here! post.
I am still working on Gmail too. I'll write an update post later this week, when I've had more of a chance to play around with it.
I haven't forgotten my article on Blue Bins and recycling, either. It has been postponed in basic draft state until an open media day at the local recycling plant ... to which I have been invited! Although I haven't heard directly from Mr B, he passed on my details to colleagues, one of whom sent the "ops note" for the event. Being such a newbie, I had never even heard of an ops note!
I also received a personal invitation by email from another of Mr B's colleagues, with a lovely note about how it would be "a good opportunity for me to meet other freelance journalists and the local media." She also pointed out that Mr B and she would be there on the day to answer any questions and that I should let her know if she could help in the meantime.
So my honesty was a good move in the end. I'm glad it was, because even if Mr B had decided I was an irrelevant nuisance, I would still have advocated telling the truth.
[In fact, having spoken to a friend who knows Mr B very well, I don't think he would ever think that about anyone. I have heard very good things about him, a young man filled with passion for his job and the environment, but a man who has a great deal of time for people too.]
To try and get myself in the mindset of a 'journalist' and come up with some good questions before the open day! (Any tips from experienced journalists much appreciated ... in fact, any tips from anyone, I have a great deal to learn here!)
I have recently begun thinking of myself as a writer, but a journalist? I think I need to start with finding out what a journalist really is, or more specifically, what distinguishes journalistic writing. A whole new post, as even journalism is made up of numerous sub-types, I guess.
1. HTML scares me.
(But I'm getting really into stepping out of my comfort zone, so that won't put me off learning it!)
2. Honesty is always the best policy.
3. People are usually glad to help if you ask them.
4. Social Networking rocks! I find the possibilities truly exciting.
Just one example of many this past week: Chris Garrett posted a request for info on Twitter this week. It was info about a subject I was likely to come across while researching something for Towards 2011 so I noted a couple of starting points Chris suggested and soon realised after looking at them, that anything I learned would be directly useful on Towards 2011 at some point.
So doing someone a favour had a postive effect on me in two ways: it always feels good to help someone out and I now have a long list of references for a future post on Towards 2011.
5. There is so much to learn! This is a very good thing because the day we stop learning is the day we die. Life is a learning curve.
The more I learn about, the more things I discover that I want to learn about!
Lessons to Learn
1. How to read and write HTML.
2. How to get a domain name and build a website.
3. How not to get too distracted by Twitter et al (though Twitter has been the main culprit recently!)
4. How I can offer useful stuff in return on Twitter.
5. How to be a journalist!
Hey! Finding this was quicker than I thought ... here's the link to the W3Schools' HTML tutorials.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Time-saver? Or time-hoover? Provider of tons of useful information, or overwhelming nonsense? The gateway to productivity, or the slippery slope of procrastination? It depends on how you use your email inbox, according to rocking Results Coach Dave Navarro, who started the week with this:
"You’ve got crap in your Inbox on a regular basis that you will never, ever read. Ever."
Dave's simple tips to cut email clutter reminded me that I've been meaning to set up a Gmail account. I need to set up another account as my current email is a very hippy nickname. So I want a more professional email address and I've read a lot recently about how Gmail is great as a productivity tool, but had been reluctant to give myself something new to learn at the moment (too many learning curves already.)
I mentioned this to Dave on his Million Dollar Leverage blog (in a comment about too many newsletters) and he replied:
"Gmail is easy to use … if you wanted to make it easy to get used to, you could set up an account and move all of your newsletters there :o)"
Which made me realise I had been making excuses (and putting off something that could make life easier) and that I really just needed to DO it!
Like all productivity tools/tips, using gmail is all about focus. The results I'm aiming for will be time released to spend more effectively elsewhere and the loss of that horrible feeling of panic everytime I open my email inbox.
I am an information junkie. I can relate to the question in Dave's comments by James Chartrand of Men with Pens:
"What do you do when you go to click “unsubscribe” and think, “But what if I miss THE ONE EMAIL that might’ve been the singlemost important email of my life?”"
Because I'm just starting to explore a whole new world, everything feels important at the moment, like tiny pieces of a huge map and I have no idea when one tiny piece might mean the difference between reaching my destination and ending up way off track. Or worse still, ending up going round and round in circles. Forever.
I've signed up to lots of emails, newsletters, e-zines and RSS feeds over the past three months, anything I thought might be useful (at some point) and the more I signed up to, the more I found!
And being so green, I fell for signing up to a few that offered one brief snippet of possibly useful info amid mountains of useless stuff (useless to me, anyway.)
I have decided to get a grip. And to use Gmail to do it:
Step One - Go to GoogleMail
No longer known as gmail all new accounts will be firstname.lastname@example.org
Click on Pick My Name and choose your email name and password. Use your existing email address for Google to send an email (almost immediate) and you have set up your Gmail account.
I suppose it should be Googlemail account, but it doesn't have the same effect. I think it's a shame that my email will be email@example.com too, because I'm all for making things short and sweet and I already have a pretty long name.
Step Two - Import Contacts
You can (apparently) import all the contacts from another email account, hotmail or yahoo for example. In just a few simple moves. One of which includes creating a CSV file. Hmmm ...
The Problem With the Solution
Yes, well I tried. I thought it would be useful for anyone else who was totally stumped ("Right. So what is a CSV file?") but after having a look online, I soon realised I was wasting lots of time trying to get my head round information written in a foreign language.
Not only that, but I tried to at least start by copying and pasting my Hotmail contacts into a word file. But I couldn't even work out how to copy them.
So. Despair. Then whole new brilliant plan. I would just transfer them by hand! I figured it probably wouldn't take much longer than working out the CSV thing.
(Having said that, I found this very simple set of instructions in the Googlemail Help Centre today! Having tried to find the information I needed yesterday at google and with a broader google search, I came across it in a link on Free Geekery's Enormous Gmail Productivity List.)
Two Problems: One Solution
I could still put Dave Navarro's advice into action, but in a slightly different way.
In transfering things one at a time, I have to think very carefully about whether I really needed to keep a subscription. So I'm getting a chance to sort through them one by one. This means I'm setting up a new, easier to manage account at the same time as restricting my email list.
Actually, Dave was way ahead of me (which doesn't surprise me at all) and when I told him I'd set up an account, he said:
"Use your gmail account wisely, and use it as a staging ground to build better email habits. One step at a time!"
So I started by deleting five emails that are focused on selling me things I can't afford. I am only transferring emails about writing. Those that are for writing (parenting, green issues, crafts, feminism) I will leave in Hotmail for now.
My Results Hero says:
"The only important emails? The ones you actually take action on. You don’t need every list, every feed … you just need to take action on what comes your way. But you can’t act on everything, so you have to limit your focus. If you narrow your focus, and take constant action, you won’t regret missing the other emails."
I've been asking myself two questions as I look at each subscription:
1. Will I be doing myself a serious disservice as a human being if I get rid of this?
2. Will I be doing myself a serious disservice as a writer if I get rid of this?
(Although Hotmail will have research for specific subjects I write about, Gmail will have the things I think are essential (besides knowledge of a subject) to becoming a freelance writer.)
I haven't yet got the incoming emails to test it out, but I get the impression that one of the things I'll find most useful is the labelling and filtering system. Another post!
1. Dave Navarro rocks!
2. Having too many email subscriptions is really bad.
3. Getting things done even when you'd rather not feels really good.
4. Signing up for a Gmail account is easier than I'd thought.
5. Moving things individually from one email address to another is an easy way to decide the real value of a subscription.
6. Having two email accounts means you can keep things separate.
Lesson I'm Hoping to Avoid
Having two email accounts is really bad.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Social Media Starter Moves for Entrepreneurs by Chris Brogan
Friday, April 11, 2008
Although I haven't really written much, I have been doing things that don't need as much concentration or creativity, but are important things to do to keep me moving towards my goal of becoming a freelance writer.
I've been through my collection of newspaper/magazine articles and sorted them into helpful categories. I've collected examples of publications where I might be able to submit an article. I've cleaned the house and cleared the decks. I've avoided looking at my detailed To Do list and in preference have used only my calender, which has only the essentials on it : Bills to Pay, Meetings to Go To and Writing Deadlines.
Making those my only priorities for a few days has helped. And today I feel much more motivated to be creative. I written a post about Twitter for Write Here! and will write a post on here to catch up a bit. Then I'll do some more work on my article, perhaps write a first draft. Although I think it might be better if I spent some time organising the references and facts and figures I have collected before I start writing a proper draft.
This is what I've done this week:
Mind Map to Outline
From my original mind map, broadly taking into consideration the research I've done, I have drafted a brief outline of my article. I have organised headings (usually questions) plus the odd note under an introdustion and five main 'paragraphs' although each of these will be more than one paragraph when finished. The word 'paragraph' will eventually be replaced by a sub-heading, as they occur to me.
Article One: Going Green With a Blue Bin!
Why Go Green?
Preserving the Earth as habitable for future generations - conservation
Facts and Figures
How much waste is produced every day/week/month/year - per individual/country?
How much waste is recycled every day/week/month/year - per individual/country?
EU targets for recycling?
The Blue Bin Scheme - 6 months - figures?
Began last October - progress?
Mr B - "a success" - figures? (how many people recycling, how much waste recycled)
Mr B - "people abusing the scheme"? (dog waste/bicycle/televisions?)
What can go in blue bins? / What can't go in blue bins?
Different types of paper and card?
Margerine tubs! (why can't plastic be recycled?)
Proposed/possible future changes?
Addition of other materials to the list of recyclables?
Mini sites? (special collections for the disabled, etc.?)
Tips for getting the most out of blue bin recycling?
Wash out tins and bottles to prevent contamination of paper.
Where and how is the rubbish (waste?) separated?
Process - hand sorting
Where is it recycled?
What is it recycled into?
Where can other things be recycled?
White goods -
Electrical equipment (television/stereo) -
Mobile Phones -
Glass - never decomposes but can be endlessly recycled
Clothes - recycling helps other people too
Furniture - recycling helps other people too
Quotation from council and/or green party?
Where/how are these recycled?
Recycling in the home?
Garden (bird-feeders from tins, scarers from cds, etc.) -
Paragraph Five: Ways to avoid recycling?
Going paperless -
Consumer choice - packaging. bags, etc.
Buying in bulk - less packaging (also less transport miles)
Rechargeable batteries - save money as well as preventing toxic leakage into environment
Re-use or Repair?
Blue Bin Scheme - how is it defined as successful?
Quotes - Council and consumers?
How does it make a difference?
Why it's such a great idea!
Easy, takes no money or effort or time to do something important.
Mr B is a real person, but I didn't think it fair to include his real name here without asking his permission! But that's something else I did this week ...
Researching Possible Sources
I began this whole thing by looking online to try and discover a little more about blue bins, having got one myself, and really wanting to make the best use of it. So I looked at the local newspaper website and the local government recycling site first, then I looked at the wider issue of recycling.
While doing this general research, I found five names of people I thought might be able to provide some interesting information, a personal comment, some more specific details, some facts and figures or some further possible contacts.
Contacting Possible Sources
I decided to send an email rather than call them on the phone, because I'm a coward! No, seriously, I'd rather turn up in person than talk to someone on the phone if I don't know them, but realise that's probably not the most convenient (or welcomed) way to approach people.
So I sent a copy of the following email to each of the five people, but I decided to send it separately, so I could address each person individually, rather than address it to one person (or 'Dear Sir/Madam') and then include the others in the Cc: list.
But I realised it might be helpful if they all knew the email had been delivered to the other people as well, so I included a list at the bottom:
Dear Mr B,
I am writing an article on 'Recycling and the local Blue Bin Scheme' (to submit, in the first instance, to the local Evening News.) I began researching the subject recently, from a personal perspective as I was unsure how to best make use of my own blue bin, but think other people might find the information I found useful, and it will also hopefully support the blue bin scheme.
It seems a good time, as the scheme has now been running for 6 months. I would like to include a comprehensive list of items that can/can't be recycled in the bins, to suggest alternatives where applicable, and to explain the process of recycling the waste after it has been collected from the blue bins. I would also like to include any prospects of future development.
I would appreciate any information (or other sources of information) you could give me regarding this. I also wondered if you would like to make a comment on the success of the blue bin scheme?
I have sent this email to Mr S, Mr D, Mr G, and Mr. B.
I received two auto-response replies to say that the recipient was away from the office. I also received a very helpful reply from Mr B (thank you, Mr B!) who suggested I call him to discuss my requirements. I did but he wasn't in, so I left a message, then sent another email to thank him for his reply and include a brief outline of my article to give him an idea of what I was doing, with my phone number.
'Talking' to Sources
He very kindly called me and we talked for a while about recycling and the blue bin scheme generally. He was lovely, he gave me lots to think about, invited me to an Open Day for the press, and suggested I contact him again for any further information.
So the following day I sent him a list of more specific questions:
Mr B, (although I used his first name as that is how he addressed himself both by email and on the phone)
Thank you for calling. Sorry I was a little lost for words at first, youcaught me off guard as I hadn't expected you to reply so soon! And thank youfor all the great information. I didn't have my notes to hand, so missed acouple of questions:
1. What happens to the waste after it has been sorted? Where does it go tobe recycled (assuming it is sorted and then taken elsewhere)and what is it recycled into?
2. Do you have figures to support the scheme being a general success,perhaps the amount of waste (combined or individually) now recycled,compared to when the scheme started?
3. Do commercial/industrial properties have blue bins (or similar)?
4. Are there plans to include other materials in the future (like margerine tubs ... I feel really guilty, now!)?
5. I recently had a replacement bin, which seems larger than most. Is thisbecause you have increased bin size generally?
OK, so there's a few more than a couple! But if you can help with any ofthem, it would be much appreciated.I really appreciate your time, Mr B. I should point out, to be fair, that Ihave yet to have anything published in print. In fact this will be the firstarticle ever submitted by me, so it might well not be accepted (but we allhave to start somewhere!) I'm just starting out on the road to freelancewriting, by writing various blogs and I've published a few articles onHelium. I'll include links at the bottom of this, so you can see the sort ofwriting I've done. The blogs are more personal and the Helium articles moreprofessional, but both are very different to my article on blue bins andrecycling.
I'll send you a draft before I submit it, probably towards the end of thismonth. Can I quote you on the success of the scheme, perhaps with referenceto some figures? Do you want me to mention the problems and any action youmight take to resolve them ... I forgot to ask, what will you do if people refuse to use the scheme sensibly? Is the ultimate penalty a fine?
I can't believe people are so silly ... well, I can, but you know what Imean! I have found the blue bin a great way to do my bit for recycling(thank you!) and such an easy way too, it doesn't cost anything in money ortime or effort.
Wishing you and the scheme continued success!
I look forward to hearing from you and finishing the article. If it isn'taccepted for publication by the Evening News, perhaps it will be of some use elsewhere. You would be welcome to use anything I write on your recyclingwebsite.
Now, there may be a lesson coming up here as I haven't had a reply from him. I'm hoping he's just very busy, but a little worried that I have made a mistake on two possible counts:
1. The email from me leans towards the friendly rather than the professional.
It's fine line and having thought about it, it's easier toed on the phone (easier still in person) because we have immediate, continuous feedback. But I always get so flustered on the phone! And even when I do have notes in front of me, I find it difficult to concentrate on reading, writing and listening at the same time, so usually miss lots of important stuff. So I tried to write the email in the same tone as our conversation, but may have missed the mark a little.
2. I have admitted that I am not a published writer.
Now, I know this is the wrong thing to do when submitting a query letter to an editor, having read lots of advice about queries in the Dabbling Mum's excellent ebook. But in this case, I felt it was only fair to fess up, as he is obviously a busy man, with a press Open Day coming up. The bin scheme is 6 months old and will likely mean lots of articles are submitted on this very subject, from lots of much more experienced writers.
I didn't think it fair to ask for his time, without being honest about the fact that (although always much appreciated by me) it might not have a positive result. I imagine a positive result for him would be more promotion for the scheme.
So, we will see what happens ... a self-constructed obstacle on the path to freelance writing, perhaps? That's ok, I knew there would be obstacles and although it's a bit silly to build them myself (I'm sure there are enough already), as long as I learn something from them (and hopefully help others not to make the same daft mistake) obstacles are a good thing.
I've also drafted a query, but will post about that next time. Because I've done some writing today, I feel in the creative flow again and will try and post over the weekend to catch up a bit!
Have a great weekend!
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
On a Personal Note
I haven't posted on here since Friday because I received some rotten news about a friend and haven't felt much like writing, or in fact doing anything, for days.
I spent most of Monday visiting my friend at the hospice and most of yesterday and this morning mooching around in a miserable frame of mind, not being able to settle to anything, before reading the Dabbling Mum's Business E-zine. DM had listed "10 Top Tips For Writing A Super-Responsive E-zine." I have been thinking about starting a couple of e-zines/newsletters and it made me think ... while it's ok to curl up on the grass at the side of the road now and then, journeys only happen when we're moving.
It made me realise I could share this with you and offer some tips to try when dealing with your own curve balls in life.
I realised I have to do something, I have to keep moving forward, even if it's only baby steps for a while. I looked through my To Do List and decided on one thing to do for my article every day for the rest of this week, besides writing a post every day on here. Everything else will be simmering on the back burner for a while.
So I made a phone call. To someone who had replied to an email from me about the blue bin scheme. He wasn't in so I left a brief message and sent another email with a brief outline of my article. And it made me feel better that I had done something, one small something.
Feeling a little better made me want to do more ...
Doing Just One Thing
A lesson my Mum taught me was: Do just one thing.
We often feel overwhelmed by things and the more overwhelming things get, the less we do, the more things become overwhelming.
But if we can do just one small thing, it has a positive effect in so many ways:
We have done something practical, meaning one less thing to do
We feel good about something we have done, which is a nice feeling so will make us want to do more
We have changed an "I can't" into an "I can" which makes us feel more positive about our abilities and so raises our aspirations and our expectations for the future
Sometimes doing just one thing can trigger an avalanche of doing things.
Flexible Priorities: Redirecting Energies
Stuff happens ... sometimes it's wonderful stuff, sometimes it's truly horrid. But life is like that, it throws a curve ball sometimes and we have to be flexible and make changes to priorities, while never losing sight of our goals.
For the next few weeks, I will be spending more time with my friend and have less to spread around elsewhere. My friend and her family (and my girls) are my main priority at the moment, but she would be horrified if this meant I gave up on priorities I already have.
She has always encouraged me to be a writer and has always found my "I will do, one day" reply thoroughly frustrating! She is excited about all the writing recently and amazed at my new-found ability to set proper goals and work towards them logically.
So I've amended my goals for April. I realise now that I had set the bar just a little too high. Writing four articles as a total beginner might have been feasible if life had been perfect ... but assuming it would be, was a bit silly!
So, instead of submitting four articles (one every week) I'll write two, and I'll submit them by the end of the month.
The second will be about International Women's Day, which was started almost 100 years ago, but about which it seems little is generally known.
In response to the lack of information we could find, Aliqot and I have started a communal blog, Towards 2011, which we hope will become a conversation, a way for women around the world to share their experiences of being women (though this is not to exclude men, a male friend of mine is writing something about working in the care profession.)
Plus we hope to promote the centenary of IWD as a way to celebrate the women who began it all, with huge sacrifices in very difficult times. And who knows? If it takes off, perhaps we will be able to do something to support vulnerable women around the world, by arranging practical help or by fundraising.
As I research and write the article, I will have information I can use for posts on the blog.
I am known for being able to put a positive spin on almost anything, but even I can't see anything positive in my friend's situation. But seeing the positive way in which she and her family are dealing with it all is thoroughly inspiring.
Writing an article about amazing women feels like such a positive thing to do at the moment. A way of celebrating my wonderful friend. A way of letting her know in writing how much I have always appreciated, will always appreciate, her.
When I submit it for publishing, I will ask if it can be dedicated to her.
Friday, April 4, 2008
"Write what you know!"
The common saying applies, at least as a starting point, when freelance writing. I don't expect it would be a good idea to begin by writing an article (for example) about a subject you know little or nothing about.
Expand on your knowledge and experience
Choosing a subject you feel comfortable with is a good start. A subject about which you already have a sound general knowledge and/or personal experience will be easier (and quicker) to write. Better still, choosing a subject you find interesting will mean any further research needed will be a treat.
From subject to topic
A broad subject will contain many sub-subjects and infinite topics to choose from. From a starting point subject of Parenting for example, sub-subjects will include Parenting Teens, Discipline and Education (among many many more!) The sub-subject of Parenting Teens for example, can then be broken down into topics including things like Behaviour, Communication or Drugs and Alcohol.
Mind map your direction
A great way to break a subject down and clarify your direction is to draw a mind map. I'll do a whole post on mind mapping at some point as I think it's a fantastic resource and life strategy. But a simple explanation is:
Draw a small circle in the middle of a blank page (A3 is best as it gives you plenty of room) and write one word in it. (Try and stick to just one word, but don't stress if you need to use more, as in the following example.) This might be a starting subject (Green Living), a sub-subject (Recycling) or a topic (Blue Bins.)
Add thick tapering lines (like branches) radiating out from this central concept, above each of which you can write another word (again, try to stick to just one word.) From Blue Bins for example, you might have words like:
Then add further 'branches' off each of the main ones. Add words to these and then continue the process, adding more branches and more words:
- Which items can go in a Blue Bin
- Which items can't go in a Blue Bin
Which items can go in a Blue Bin
Using colour and images is very helpful in mind mapping, plus it makes a mindmap another enjoyable form of creativity.
(I'll dig out my first article mind map and post it over the weekend ... a picture is always worth a thousand words!)
Specific article ideas
A mind map will probably trigger off specific ideas for articles. But there are a number of other useful ways to find ideas:
Online Search Engines
The International, National or Local News
Sometimes, totally random ideas appear out of the blue.
I was sitting in the dark waiting for a late train at the tiny local station recently. I hadn't taken my phone, there was nobody to talk to or anything to do other than sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. For some bizarre reason, I had formed an article in my head by the time my friend arrived, about how a man's dating behaviour can be related to the way in which he drives a car! For example, slow and excessively cautious (Sunday Driver) or fast, loud and arrogant (Boy Racer.)
Random, because it's not the sort of thing I'm writing about at all (although dating has been a recent interest, I've been totally sidetracked!) and bizarre, because I have no idea where the thought came from.
I didn't have anywhere to write my idea, which might have been a problem, had I not had a friend to tell as we walked home (where I immediately made a few notes.)
Notebooks are great for storing your random ideas and questions, I rarely leave the house without one. I also usually have my phone, to make memos or to take pictures.
You never know when a flash of inspiration might arrive!
Cut out and keep in files, folders or boxes, anything you find in newspapers or magazines that inspires you or has information relevant to your subject, or is written in a style you admire. If you're ever stuck for ideas, a browse through your inspiration collection will trigger plenty of ideas.
Too tired to think properly but I need to post something to stay on track and to feel less pressure when I get up in the morning ... I did contemplate leaving it and writing two posts tomorrow. One of the difficulties with freelance writing is having to write when we really don't feel like it, so I'm determined to get into the habit!
But it is very late so this will be a very short post with no links.
Just a thought ...
When does a writer become a freelance writer?
Is it when the first piece of writing has been sold? When a writer has actually earned money from their writing?
Or is it when the first piece has been published? Or does a freelance writer have to be published more than once? Or many times? Or regularly?
Or is it as soon as you decide to write that very first piece for publication? Or when you submit the first piece?
Or is it when you change your mindset and see yourself as a freelance writer?
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The word 'freelance' comes from the time when knights would offer their services to the highest-paying Lord, so being 'free lancers.'
In the same way, freelance writers offer the services of their pens!
Freelance writing comes in many forms, varying widely in content, structure and style, for many different audiences:
Fiction: Poetry, short stories, screenwriting and songs. Novels are usually seen as something entirely separate, but they seem to fall under the same definition? Are novelists freelance writers? Perhaps not, as I get the impression a novelist will generally work for one publisher and with one agent?
Non-fiction: A huge variety of genres and subjects, including articles, reviews and books.
Journalism: Print, audio (radio), visual (TV) and online.
Copywriting: Sales and marketing.
Ghostwriting: Writing something that will be offically credited to another person (for which the original writer may or may not be acknowledged by the publisher.)
Greetings Cards: Usually poetic, perhaps humourous, short pieces for inside greetings cards. All the large card publishers use freelance writers and Blue Mountain hire writers for their online cards.
Fillers: Very short pieces for columns or small spaces on a magazine page, usually useful tips, jokes, quotations, or interesting facts.
Articles: Factual pieces, in many different forms, for a mind-boggling array of publications both on and offline (newspapers, magazines, e-zines, journals, brochures, pamphlets, newsletters ...) They may be professional or personal in tone, they vary from a few hundred to a few thousand words, they may include pictures or graphs, they may contain facts or opinions, or both.
Essays: Hmmm, not sure what to make of these. I can't think why anyone would want an essay unless they are studying something in an educational establishment (whether real or virtual) ... are these essays really being bought by students? Surely not! How would they get away with that?
There are a variety of other, often specialist, types of non-fiction writing, under subjects such as medical and technological writing.
Freelance writers write reports, resumes, business plans and speeches.
Then there is writing specifically intended to be read online, on websites, adverts, newletters, reports, ebooks and blogs.
Blogging is a form of freelance writing too! I don't have enough experience to work as a freelance blogger, but I thinks it's worth receiving Problogger's RSS Feed to keep up to date with the Job Board, it's interesting to see what's out there. Recent jobs on Problogger have included:
Stock/Financial Markets Blogger
Health and Fitness and Nutrition Blogger
Summer Olympics Blogger
Political Gossip Blogger
Make Money Online Blogger
So, with all these types of freelance writing, is there any wonder it's so easy to find the whole concept of freelance writing a little overwhelming? Plus each category covers numerous subjects and styles, and can be found in a wide variety of places.
I have definitely found it all overwhelming but on the other hand, it's amazing! And exciting, that there are so many places to sell writing. I think the trick is probably to stick to one type (or at least to focus on one) although a beginner might do well to try a few until they find their niche.
I found it easy to eliminate some from the list immediately. Fiction really isn't my thing (I struggle with the imagination needed) but I'm an information junkie and I love research. Although I enjoy politics and current affairs, I don't know enough to write about it and I wouldn't be able to keep a detached view of things. I have never tried copywriting but I get the impression that it needs to be very sharp and succinct, something I'm really not very good at (ahem!)
My background is in academic writing - researching history and theory, looking at something from lots of angles, analysing previous opinions or facts and putting it all together in a useful, novel format (well that's the theory, I did pretty well at undergraduate and masters degrees, so I must have been doing something right!)
The skills I developed while studying at uni seem to translate really well into article-writing. So, that was easy, I never really considered other freelance writing, though I always keep an eye open as some of the other types are very interesting and I might try them some day. The next things was to decide where to write, for which type of publication, what sort of articles about which subjects ...
Well, this is long enough, I'll get to all that another day!
For anyone else wishing to focus on article-writing, I have found the following very useful:
The Freelance Writers' Database (UK)
Trente Steele's excellent resources for freelance writers - it's well-worth signing up for his free Smart Writers newletter, full of tips and links for writers, including Nick Daws' blog
If you love writing of any kind, have a look at the Aelf's Bloggery
Lots of Articles on Articles here
And last (for now), but definitely not least ... The Dabbling Mum
I first stumbled across The Dabbling Mum a couple of years ago and found loads of really useful information about writing (alongside other information including parenting, business, contests, shopping, reviews and recipes.)
The Dabbling Mum is in fact one of the most useful resources I have discovered so far, as a Mum who is attempting to be a freelance writer, particularly. I have recently exchanged emails with the real Dabbling Mum, who is truly lovely and has been incredibly supportive of my new freelance venture. I am hoping to submit an ebook (craft-based) to the Dabbling Mum website very soon.
Sign up for the Dabbling Mum's three free newletters. There's one for business, one for parenting and one for writing, all of which are filled with lots of helpful advice, tip and links. You can sign up for them at the bottom of the homepage (link above.)
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
I've done some preparation to try and make it easier.
I took everything off my desk (aka the kitchen table) and put back only things that will support me achieving my goals. I wish I knew where I'd read that great tip recently, so I could give you a link (I'll try and find it and add it later.) Plus a few things I love: a pretty china bowl for the paperclips; a beautiful tiny pink drawstring bag filled with crystals, and a plant ... thinking about it, from a Feng Shui perspective, they are all very useful as well as beautiful!
And I actually sorted through the things I removed and found proper places for them, or (deep breath) ... threw them away! (Or palmed them off onto the girls!)
I've (just about) caught up with emails and RSS feeds. I've read them all and marked those I need to action as 'unread', because if I file them in a folder (even if it's named: Urgent Action!!!) I'll forget them. If I leave them in my inbox, I won't. This goes against much of the advice given for productivity (that we should clear our inboxes daily) but it works for me. And that's what it's all about ... finding our own best ways of supporting our productivity. It might take me afew days, but I'll get round to any action I need to take, rather than finding something way beyond action, hiding in a forgotten file or folder ... sometime next year. (Obviously if action really is urgent, I just do it. Or add it to my list of things to do before I go to bed.)
I think I'm a Visual Organiser ... I read about that somewhere recently too and it was really interesting, I must try and find it ... these are the things I read and think will be useful, file them in my way-too-long list of favourites, in a folder ... to be forgotten.
My favourites are beyond useful at the moment and I really need to sort them out, but the truth is have found it overwhelming. So instead of opening them with the intention of clearing them/tidying them up/organising them properly all in one go, I have decided to do them by the end of April. I'll tackle them a few at a time. I think I'll need to do about 30 a day ... no kidding, I told you they had got out of hand! I'm such an information junkie and find so many different things interesting.
I've decided on my 'buckets!'
Having read 'Time Management for Creative Professionals' by Mark McGuiness of Wishful Thinking a while ago, I have finally got round to putting his advice about 'buckets' into action. Buckets are the places we keep information; "physical or virtual containers where you capture important information, demands and commitments so that they can’t ‘leak’ away and be forgotten. You should have as few of these as possible, but as many of them as you need."
My Buckets are:
My Monthly (Master Plan)/Daily TO DO Lists
(My Favourites List is not a bucket!)
And I have started a Monthly Writing Goals Notebook (my fifth bucket) and listed, every blog post, every article, everything I need to do this month to set up a website for student parents and everything I need to do in April for an ebook I'm writing. I haven't dated them or put them in any order, except for marking the odd one for a special day, or noting where two or more may be linked, because I think you can just be too damn organised! I like (I need) some flexibility in any schedule.
I've started Article One!
I've drawn up a detailed outline, made a list of contacts for possible sources of further information or quotes, read loads of articles on the local paper's website, and organised a list of some interesting facts and figures about blue bins and recycling in general.
I'll write a post at the end of the week about what I've done ... date on the calendar (etc.) for submission: Next Monday!
Until then, I'll do a few more posts about preparation.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
(Besides the three I struggle to keep up with already! And the articles and books I'm working on. And the student/parent website I'm designing ...)
Yes. I do. Because this is a whole new adventure in my life and I'm loving it/I'm learning so much at the moment and I want somewhere to record it all/I want to share the things I learn along the way and hopefully help others who are starting out on the same journey.
Written by a total beginner (and by someone who gets a bit freaked out by it all and wants to run away or, at the very least, stick her head in the sand), this blog will certainly be a steep learning curve ...
The lovely Dabbling Mum (thank you, DM!) took time out of a busy schedule recently to advise me to focus Write Here! on freelance writing. I had been thinking about shaking things up a bit on there; moving away from a collection of random posts to a blog with more focus. Having played around on it for almost three months, I think it's time to get serious. But I'm reluctant to give up my Moon posts and I really want to write on creativity/productivity and wellbeing, so have decided to leave Write Here! as it is. (Pretty much.)
But I've taken the Dabbling Mum's advice to heart and feel really inspired to write a blog about my journey into freelance writing ... from the very beginning.
I've done a fair amount of personal and academic writing but have no experience of being published. I've done plenty of research about freelance writing though, so it will be good to get it all out of my head, to organize the scribbles-on-scraps-of-paper into meaningful information, and to finally act on all the excellent advice I've been given.
While I love a challenge and enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone, I've learned where the boundary lies between pushing myself and tripping myself up. So although I'm starting another blog, I'm working it into the things I'm already committed to writing. I'm going to stick to my decision to write Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Write Here! I'll still write one post a week on Student Mum. I'll write once a day on Life is a Learning Curve/The Freelance Writing Learning Curve.
Clever, hey? Haha! Because both blogs are Learning Curve blogs, I get to write an extra blog but without putting any added pressure on myself. (No, it's not cheating ... it's called lateral thinking for self preservation!)
The truth is, I suspect, that I will write more on this Learning Curve, at least for a while. I'm feeling so enthusiastic and excited ... I already have a growing list of posts I want to write.
I have always loved that proverb. But it isn't quite right. A journey usually starts way before the first step, in planning and preparing, in collecting all the things we need. Before that, even ... in deciding where you're going. Perhaps. Sometimes, the best journeys are those where we just head out with no idea where the wind will take us. But when we have a destination in mind, we must make some decisions and take some actions before we set off, so that we give ourselves the best chance of getting there.
Not that I expect it to be all smooth going, not that I would want it to be, but I do want to get there.
So the first few posts on here will be about the preliminary work I've done before that first step on the journey towards my destination. My destination, just to be clear about it (because writing my goals on my blog has really helped me stick to them), is to be a full-time freelance writer, to earn my living from writing. Not in a rich-and-famous kind of way, just in a keeping-the-wolves-from-the-door kind of way. Having everything we need, rather than everything we want.
The first step is to get something published. The preliminary steps include researching the subject, doing lots of reading and actually writing. I have learned about the best place and time for me to write. I have learned something about my style of writing, my strengths and weaknesses, and my preferences. I have learned how to motivate myself. I have realised that choosing to focus on just a few, simple goals and putting them in writing, means I have a good chance of sticking to them.
(Ongoing) Preparation/Preliminary Steps:
Understanding the concept of freelance writing.
Finding the best time and place to write.
Developing writing skills.
Finding motivation and inspiration.
Learning how to set deadlines that work.
Thinking about the possibilities of freelance writing.
Reading and talking to freelance writers.
Assessing magazines and newspapers for style and content.
First Step of the Journey:
To submit an article to a local newspaper about blue (recycling) bins.
I've been thinking about this for a few days, since stating it as a goal on Write here! I was concerned I'd chosen something that everyone might already know about and therefore an article would be of no interest to an editor. But I think if I expand it slightly (to include some other things that can't be recycled in the bins, for example) it might prove a more useful/desirable article. Unless people are really into recycling, they might appreciate some of the facts and figures I found when researching it for personal reasons.
I still have doubts. But I know that self-doubt is the fast-track to procrastination for me. So I have decided I will acknowledge doubts, consider them carefully (in case they do in fact have good foundations) and then totally ignore them.
Ha! A little easier said then done ... but written is a different matter. I have discovered, through writing a blog, that putting goals in writing helps me achieve them. (Part of that is the fact they are more permanent than spoken words, part of it is that I'm writing them down in public so feel I have accountability, and part of it is that I have had amazing support and encouragement from fellow bloggers.)
So, it will be interesting to see if writing such an intangible intention will have the same positive results ...