Monday, April 01, 2013

April Fool's Day (Directions Change)

I love that I am talking about this topic on April Fool's Day.

Have you ever plugged away at something and plugged away at it, only to feel like the whole thing was hopeless. Then, as soon as you left it alone, it all came back full-circle?

This is what has happened with me and my freelancing business.

I have plugged away at it for almost 7 years now. Now, admittedly, during that time I had one small child and then added another one to our family. I've also dealt with PPD, sleep deprivation, and massive allergies. We moved. There have been some bumps.

In this time, to pay the bills, besides writing and editing, I have worked reception for a chiropractor, written resumes, and been a moderator on a medical website. I have also learned about SEO (search engine optimization), blogging, and a bit about magazine writing. I've done several stints back in technical writing. Plus, I have edited for role playing games (yes, like Dungeons and Dragons), PhDs, papers for research for the local school board, and blogs. Right now, I am just coming up for air after editing a 1000 page book on labour relations.

After we moved in August of 2011, I spent a year off. I didn't intend to take the whole year off, but with volunteering in my youngest child's preschool room several times a month, being a Beaver leader, and volunteering at my oldest child's elementary school, plus digging through boxes and just trying to figure out where everything went...the year disappeared on me. Life got in the way of work. I'm not complaining, mind you, as I did enjoy myself. However, I got a bit derailed.

Last fall, I tried to put it all back together, with some mixed results. After Christmas, I had decided that I was going back to a regular job (sometimes a regular paycheque calls my name, I will admit). I started to send out resumes. I've even had a few interviews over the last year.

And then Murphy started to giggle.

I got the job editing that massive book (part of me wants to say I will never agree to do something of that size again, but that would be lying to myself and to you) and a former client came out of the woodwork to inquire about blogging. I've found myself starting to make lists of things to do and inquiries to make.

I have my own little side project underway.

The truth of the matter is that my brain is going in high gear again. And the potential for more work keeps occurring to me on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. It's a little shocking.

Apparently, I am not done with this. Not by a long shot. I do need to learn how to work smarter and get more clients. I need to focus some of my efforts. I need to earn a reasonable living at this, and not play at it. Not that I was or intended to play at it before, but there was an awful lot in the way over the last few years. (Thank goodness for school.)

So, if you can smell a faint burning smell, it may just be my brain. Don't worry...this is more my natural state of being!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Ask...

We've had a good weekend, despite lots of work involved. There was much visiting with friends and drinking wine. Not so much that it overtook the rest of the weekend, but a really nice balance of it. That, coupled with another two chapters of editing (I feel a little bit like The Little Engine that Could as I keep poking away at this project) made for a full and busy weekend.

Speaking of work, I have been editing a book on labour relations (it's pretty interesting, actually). Through the end of January and into February, I did the content and copy editing portions. It's 1,000+ pages, so it's no small feat. Now I am working on proofreading it. The deadline is Thursday, so I ought to be there instead of here, but a little time for my own brain doesn't hurt either. I am excited to be done, because editing a book that is this long is a little like running a marathon (I've done a few half marathons, so I have a clue what I am talking about here). The funny part about being busy though is that it seems to create more busy-ness.

Does your brain work that way too? The more I do, the more I have in my head. The less I do, the fewer projects occur to me. It's a little like the law of inertia, but for my brain.

The big deal here is that I have another potential client talking to me about blogging, my current client would like more writing work, and I have an idea for a personal project that will involved a photo blog (and nope, it's not going to be a 365 photo blog...they are interesting, but not quite it). I am not ready to talk about the photo blog in specific details yet. At least not here. Some of you will know more about it, because I have been slowly talking about my idea and asking questions along the way.

The thing about doing a photo blog is that it is scary! It's a topic I don't normally approach. It's a medium I don't normally use (I'm the word girl, not the image girl!). And I have to ask people to do things for me. That last one is the kicker. I realized through this process that I am not good at asking for things I want. I am not sure what that says about me, but it is a deep truth I have unwittingly unearthed. The greatest part is that the people I have spoken to have been supportive and many have volunteered to help. The more I ask and the more I talk about this project, the more comfortable it becomes and the more people I have enlisted to help. I am beginning to believe that it will see the light of day...and I am excited.

That said, Thursday is a few short days away and I need to get back to proofreading this book. Only 290 pages left...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Looking Young

Yesterday I mentioned that I have been at the beginning of a conversation about conceptual boxes. Today, a perfect example of that fell into my lap.

As a little background...I have been working on editing a book for a client. It's about labour relations and I am the last man on the team, so I have some catching up to do. I've been working since sometime in January and have managed to do a content and copy edit on the manuscript (it's 1000+ pages, so this is no small feat). I am working on the proofreading now, but this is the pre-publication proofreading and there will be one more bash at that when the print copy happens.

Today I met with the project manager (I was hired by the author) and we discussed strategy.

The first thing that happened when I arrived was she looked at me and said, "My, you are young!"

(My husband is incensed and called her unprofessional. He does have a point.)

I laughed, because I didn't know how to take it. And this is not the first time someone has told me that. I told her that I was not as young as she probably thought. She wanted to know what I "do". (The answer to that is nothing. I barely moisturize. I got some great genes.)

However, it goes back to that idea I have been chewing on: conceptual boxes. Someone looks at me and assumes I am young. The underlying assumption about being young is that I am also inexperienced. She didn't ask me about my experiences, my education, or any other qualifications. She also assumed that because I am editing this project that I might not be able to write (she asked and I actually laughed out loud, because 80% of my work experience has involved writing). There were a lot of assumptions.

I wish that I could say I rarely bump into that, but the truth is that it is everywhere. I've had people assume I don't have an education, that I married young, and that I am a typical stay at home mom (whatever that means, because even the women I know who do that are far from typical). Part of me takes a perverse pleasure in them being wrong.

What would happen if we stopped assuming things by looking at people? What if we asked questions? What if we were more honest about ourselves and about what we do?

I suddenly have a vision of the first year or so of university, where the typical questions were "What is your major?" and "Where do you come from?" (I never could answer the second one, because I was a military child.)

Perhaps these boxes are useful in some way. A way of cutting through to people and things we are interested in? I find them annoying though. I like that life is complicated and messy. That there is so little about the human condition that is easily defined. I like poking around, asking questions, and learning. Maybe these assumptions allow people to dodge away from those activities? Maybe this is an armour against the work of really finding out about others?

Do I have assumptions? Absolutely! I suspect that the difference is that when I find mine, I don't hide behind them. I ask myself why, where they came from, how they serve me. The next time you stumble upon one of your own assumptions, see if you can recognize it, name it, and figure out how it came to be.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Asking, Life, and Contemplations

I've had a lot of reactions and interactions lately that have brought me back to a place where I want to write. Both here and elsewhere. I thought I would start here.

Most of the time, I do use this space to write about parenting. Some of that is a success, because I've reached out and connected to other parents here. I've also been able to come back and read about small things my boys have said and done along the way. A few weeks ago I was searching for a specific post and ended up reading a bunch of my own posts; I'd forgotten that Xander used to call a futon a "crouton" and that when Liam didn't like what you said to him he would turn his head and shut his eyes. Funny stuff. They are still a bit like that, but also more their big boy selves. I will write more about them soon.

I also use this space to talk about me and about work. My work is such a changing creature that it is hard to define at times, so I know I don't always do a great job at that aspect. Also, in a world that defines success by the money a person makes, it can be difficult to discuss work when you don't make a ton of money. Or when you have big empty spaces of time where you are bumbling around or dealing with other aspects of life.

I've been having an ongoing conversation these days...well, the start of a conversation anyway...about boxes. Conceptual boxes that is: how we see ourselves and how others see us. How that affects who we are and what we do on a daily basis. This conversation is linked to another idea I have about being true to one's self; I know some people who are really truly themselves and others who are not at all. I find both ends interesting. If you find me verbally poking sticks at you over the next while, know that I am building these ideas in my head, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for engaging that conversation any way you can. I understand that some of you are able to do so freely (and have!) and that some will find this more difficult. I am driven my challenge, so if you find it difficult and need me to back off, please be kind about it, but let me know.

Today I watched a TED talk by Amanda Palmer where she talks about asking for input and connecting to the audience and to people in general. I found it incredibly powerful. I recognized what she was saying about connections and creating. About asking. About bravery to do things a little differently. These are ideas that have danced through my brain many times, though in different ways and with different results.

Slowly, I am threading these ideas together. I am not sure what will come of it, but it seems like out in the distance there is the shadow of being or creating.

The last comment I want to make is that I have also stopped posting because I love interaction. I love words and ideas and a big of give and take. It's the reason that social media sucks me in. The same reason I spent a fair bit of time on mommy boards when my kids were small. And the last while, there were so little comments on my posts that I wondered if they mattered at all. Or if I was talking to the wind. I've had a change of heart on that: I'm going to thread ideas together and talk about them here, whether there is an outward manifestation of the conversation or not. Comments here may not be the whole picture of what is going on. I know from real-life comments that there are people reading and I may be giving them things to think about or connecting to them in some way, regardless of whether they comment. Also, I have not been the most prolific at commenting on the blogs I have been following either, but some of them have spoken loudly to me and have even contributed to the thought process I am currently enjoying. (Thank you Heidi!) Some of the people and events that have contribute to this new line of thought can't be mentioned here, but know you are all valued and appreciated.

So, hello. And welcome back to the conversation.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Return and Updates

It's been a long time since I've blogged. I spent the summer with my brain on neutral. It's not a pleasant feeling and not one I am used to, but I literally couldn't write a thing if I had wanted to. It just wasn't there. It's not that we didn't do things (we did LOTS!), but my brain was quiet and my fingers followed suit.

The beginning of September has come and gone. The boys are in school again, Beavers began last week, and this week swimming lessons start up. Our schedule is shaping up.

Xander has meandered off to school with great confidence. I sometimes wonder who that boy is, when he asks to cut across the field and join the crowd outside of the doors? He still talks about not wanting to go to school, but his actions speak louder. He can't wait to get there! My social butterfly loves being with his friends, and his active brain is happiest in school. Not that he doesn't like to laze around and watch television on the weekends, mind you, but this is a happy kid who goes to school.

Liam has had a rougher time adjusting. It is his first year and he has only gone for one week now, instead of the two that are under his brother's belt. Liam also takes longer to warm up to activities in general. It's just who he is. He does like his teachers, and he comes out grinning from ear to ear, so I think he will be okay. So far, he talks about library, gym, music, and the caterpillars (the class has caterpillars that are making cocoons and becoming butterflies; I believe there are three butterflies at last count). On our walk to school this morning, we met one of his classmates and the two of them were grinning at each other. I think that is another positive sign.

Unlike Xander, Liam is in the new all-day-every-day kindergarten program. For Liam, this means a consistent schedule (the old program was Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Friday with random Fridays thrown at both), a play-based program, and a fair bit of adjustment from last year's 2 afternoons a week at preschool. For me, it means a lot of time on my hands and missing his little presence.

I've gotten used to having Xander at school. Liam not so much. Frankly, I am a little bored without him. This is an adjustment for me too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Working Friday: Niche

I've decided that I don't talk about work nearly enough, so I am instituting a Friday theme on work.

Here is the thing about writing and editing: it's a pretty open field. You can do almost anything in communications: work for big business, banks, newspapers, magazines, and even freelance. There's volunteering, interning, contract, and in-house work. Most of us do some combination of these or all of these things at any given time.

I've worked as both an editor and a writer in technical documentation. I've volunteered for the newsletter of a non-profit organization. I've edited PhD dissertations (copy editing, mind you), the Ministry of Education papers, and role playing game manuals. I've done resumes, web pages, and SEO articles. I've blogged for pay. I've written a magazine article.

It's quite a variety. Here's what I have discovered about myself: I am incredibly attracted to editing because I like making a piece that was decent into something fabulous. However, I've also been stiffed the most when I do editing. Since I cannot eat my fingers or pay the mortgage with monopoly money, I tend to steer away from editing these days. Turns out I am practical like that.

I love that I can get information from people and make it into something that stands out. When I wrote about purified water in manufacturing industries, it was amazing to mine the information from industry experts and put together an article that was concise and readable. My Mother read it and understood what they were doing and how! (Mom is a nurse and has no background in water processes at all.) When I read something that makes my eyes glaze over, I know that this is not the kind of writing I want to produce at all. I am obsessed with readability, audience, and presentation.

Writing, editing, interviewing and researching are skills that are transferable from one end of the writing spectrum to the other. So why do I have a hard time keeping my freelance business afloat?

I've been doing work on this question. It seems that one reason for my lack of work is a lack of niche. As a generalist, it is harder to sell my skills. I've spent time reading articles about niches and talking about the kind of work I like to do the most. After a lot of conversation, thinking, and writing, I have a handle on where I am going.

I've enjoyed writing articles the most, whether they were for SEO or magazines. With a background in technical writing and a vast interest in projects in and around the house, I am gunning for the DIY market. I'm also interested in writing on health topics and parenting themes. So, as I develop my focus, I am striking out again and pushing back at an industry that leaves me flying high one moment and laying flat on the ground the next. It's a wild ride, but it's my path. If you have any connections or suggestions, I am happy to take all the help I can get.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Manners, manners everywhere...

I've been selling things on Kijiji. We have a load of extra things that we no longer need: an outgrown tricycle (both kids are on bikes now), a fishbowl left behind by the previous owners, and our jogging stroller (if the kids don't need a tricycle, they sure don't need a stroller!), to name a few. I go through this stage about once a year and slowly the stuff trickles out of the house and a bit of cash trickles in. It's a good deal, because I get a bit of space back too.

However, I am constantly amazed at the lack of manners and common sense that people display when buying items off the internet. The questions! Think it through: if I have a jogging stroller up for $50, what is the likelihood that it is either a big brand name (if it was, I'd have posted that too) or has an attachment for your car seat? If you are looking to push your child in a stroller that is meant for rougher terrain and can be used while you exercise, this is your deal. If not, move along. I am okay with it not being the stroller for you. ;) When you ask me if your 2 year old will fit on my tricycle, I am going to have to ask you how big your 2 year old is. It's a tricycle, so it will either fit your child now or he or she will grow into it. Asking me if I can knock 25% off the price makes me feel like telling you I can do that, but I will have to remove the handlebars first.

But when you ask to see it and I give you my phone number, please reply. Even if you found something else, it's okay. A seller isn't mad about that. I promised you nothing. But isn't it plain good manners to reply with "thank you for your information, but I am not interested"?

Though my snarky answers to your questions are on the tips of my fingers, I am polite and reply with the information you have requested. Please return the favour and be polite back.

I wonder sometimes if the internet has made our interactions with each other less polite. If somehow it has made us forget that there are manners here too. I've seen it on Facebook, message boards, and in texting. Somehow, because the other person isn't in front of us, we feel free to let basic manners go. I've actually been called names over my opinions/suggestions/experiences on Facebook before! And I have seen people refer to other people in such rude terms that it made my eyes bug out.

So, let's remember what our parents taught us: say please and thank you; use a little common sense; if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, and try to treat people as you would like to be treated.