Showing posts with label Freelancing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Freelancing. Show all posts

Sunday, January 02, 2011

State of the Industry

I have been a freelance writer for 25 years; that is the length of time I've been filing income tax returns with enough money earned from writing to make it count. While most of my work has been with local publications, I think it is fair to say I have an idea or two about the freelance writing business.

It's never been this bad for me, and I am planning major changes in order to force an improvement as 2011 begins its march toward January 2012. However, I think freelancing for some people is working out very well, and if you are one of those folks who have adapted to this new environment, I salute you, and hope to be joining you in that adaptation in the upcoming year.

So what's going on with the work I do?

1) There are more people freelancing than ever before. Competition is fierce, and unfortunately quality has gone the way of rotary dial telephones. All that matters now is who will spit out sentences that sort of make sense for the least amount of money. Is this the result of the dumbing down of the population, or the culmination of capitalism? I think it is a little of both.

Some of these people will vanish when (if?) the job market improves. The people who are writing for $10 an article for newspapers at the moment will eventually go away. But they will have left their legacy of lower quality work for less money, and that is what many editors and publishers will expect.

Other freelancers, such as myself, are here to stay, including some of the new ones who might like it. I will always be a writer (which is not necessarily the same thing as a freelancer). And even if I end up back in the ranks of the employed at some point, I do not think I will ever stop freelancing. But I would certainly prefer that the decision to have lesser income from my work be of my own choosing and not because the economy is so pathetic.

2) Too many folks are doing it for free. One of the things that has really hurt freelancers is the person who will do it for nothing. Right now I am experiencing this in that one of my former clients has someone writing a couple of articles a month for nothing. Why do they do this? I don't know. They like the byline, maybe, or they want something to do, or they like the experience, or just the thought of doing it. I have on occasion donated my time to a non-profit and it's a feel-good kind of thing, but I can't understand why anyone would work for nothing for a for-profit newspaper or other publication.

The Internet has added to this. Bosses think, "Why pay for something when you can swipe stuff from sources online, whether it  is some half-written article, a photo, or whatever?" Free is free and nobody except the readers (and they apparently care very little) worry about quality.

A lot of companies, non-profits, etc., now expect people to give them writing and photographs for free. I refuse to do this. My time is worth something, and if someone doesn't value my time enough to pay me, they certainly don't value me. Why would I want to do anything with someone who does not value me?

Additionally, the Internet now gives foreign people who barely speak English the option to bid $2 on a piece  - and they will get it. The person they are writing for does not care if it is legible. I mean, come on, have you read a manual or warranty page for a product lately? Who knew grammar could actually be killed like that?

Writing for $2 is about like writing for free.

3) Freelancing is not free. Generally speaking, freelancing is not something you can do for nothing. At the least, it requires a computer. But you can rack up costs for things like a camera, a tape recorder, carrying cases, mileage on your vehicle, scanners, printers, and software, depending on what you're doing. Additionally, there are costs for Internet service, self-employment taxes, health care costs, etc. Add training to that for something special such as web design and you'll soon figure out what a Schedule C is on the tax form and be grateful that you can deduct some of that, because the money earned is not free and you'll have to write a check not only to Uncle Sam but also to your state government if you manage to be successful. This is another reason why I don't understand why someone would want to spend their own money to provide copy for a for-profit company. There are always costs of some kind involved, if only time.

4) Content mills are taking over. These businesses expect someone to write an article for $2 - $15 and and be grateful for the work. The articles, if one can call them such, are formulaic and written specifically for "keywords" and for website optimization. These articles are not about offering information; they're about getting the click (that is, getting the click on the accompanying advertisement so the pennies will roll in). If one is able to write these pieces quickly, making a decent sum of money may be possible, provided the writer is able to put dignity aside and go with the flow. I confess I am not a fan of content mills, though I hesitate to say I would never write for one. Never say never.

So these are some of the problems I am facing with freelance writing at the moment. I think it will change again within the next five years; what I don't know is if it will be better or worse. Would I advise someone else to do it? It depends on the person, but at this juncture I would not advise anyone to quit their day job. I would have said differently pre-2000.

Fortunately, I know where my shortcomings are. I don't network enough, introvert that I am, and I am not aggressive in my marketing of my talents. This, and other things, is something I must work on in upcoming months.

At least I have a goal.

Want to read more about the state of freelancing?

This article talks about freelance business journalism. It calls writers in this area "grossly underpaid" at an average of $25,000 annually.

This article, written earlier in 2010, talks about the rise of freelancers (estimates from 10 million to 13 million or more are not uncommon).

This article talks about what it's like to be a freelance photographer (30 percent of the time taking pictures and the rest trying to market or land a job - sounds about right).

This article talks about content mills.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

For Want of a Sled

Except for one day, I have been stuck at home since January 29. The January 30 snow trapped me, and I did not make it off the hill until Thursday, February 4. The snow the following day left a mess.

The driveway looks like this:



It's very steep. And quite long--almost a quarter of a mile.



I drive a Toyota Camry with a 4 cylinder engine and front wheel drive. The car does fine most of the time but getting it up the ice-and-snow covered driveway is another story.

I could park it and walk it, but the snow is slippery. I am a bit of a klutz. The two together spell "broken arm" or "twisted ankle" or some such. It is not a good plan.

My husband in past snows has actually shoveled out that hill, not with the tractor and blade, which is what you see above. No, he's used his back muscles and sweat to get all the way to the gravel. This time, I have suggested he forgo that. He's pulled something in his shoulder and I don't see any reason to aggravate it.

I cleared the deck myself, for the most part, pulling on boots about every hour and heading out with a squeegee and broom to keep it clear. I have a wounded wrist and I'm not really able to shovel the driveway, too.

With more snow expected, I expect to be home again for most of the week. My husband drives a big pickup truck with four wheel drive and all; he comes and goes at his leisure. If I need to go out, I wait until he can take me.

It is one of the great advantages of working at home.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Whole New World

When I found out 18 days ago that I would no longer be writing for the newspaper, a job I had coveted since I was 8 years old, I really thought my world had ended.

What would I do? What would happen? How would I pull my weight around the house? Contributing to the monetary account had always been important to me, and something I'd always done.

Thankfully the questions have now begun to dim. I still don't have a solid way to make a dollar but that is slowly losing its importance. I am gaining time and I am beginning to appreciate that. Now I have lots of hours to tend to my home, my yard, my garden. And most importantly, tender moments with my husband, not hurried smooches between interviews and government board meetings.

However, that doesn't mean I need to lose my skills and stop writing. A break is one thing. Stopping is quite another.

So I set today as my day to start ... something. As I write this (the night before, really) I still am not sure what that something will be. A writing project of some kind.

Maybe a new website.

Or a nonfiction book.

A poem. Or two.

Maybe that great American novel.

Or a memoir.

Something.

I have set myself a goal of spending two hours a day on a long-term project of some sort. Hopefully I will wake up with an idea of what that will be and by the time you read this I will be at the computer, working away. Then I will spend another two hours trying to find freelance work.

I won't be telling anyone about my long-term project, though, until I am well into it. I don't want to disappoint.

But do ask me how it's going, okay? Because it is good to know that someone cares if I fill my time with something other than soap operas or a video game.

It's kind of exciting, knowing I am on the cusp of a brand new day.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My monthly tasks

I thought I would post a listing of what I wrote in April for the newspaper. This is about what I wrote every month. I am not including 16 other stories I wrote in April that are supposed to run in May in a special edition. So those could be added to this total.

I took this directly from my invoice to the publisher. The dates are the edition the story was printed in; most are front page stories and these are the headlines. I have blanked out a few names to protect privacy.

As you can see, this took a lot of time. I am still grappling with the idea of losing it, but I am sure that things will look up soon. Maybe even tomorrow - Mondays can be good days!

Anyway, here you go:

04/01/09 Crew starts moving dirt for ER Library
04/01/09 Photo: Eagle Rock Library construction
04/01/09 3 dozen laid off at Metalsa
04/01/09 Women’s legacies important component
04/01/09 Photo: F--- W---- with Attic Productions
04/01/09 Photo: R--- A---- at Historic Fincastle lunch
04/01/09 Photo: Board honors H---
04/01/09 Southern States delays rezoning request
04/01/09 It’s wait and see after water territory hearing
04/01/09 Septic system issues could be getting stinky
04/01/09 Overhead wiring gets reluctant approval
04/01/09 County signs lease for Boxley Fields
04/01/09 Court says garbage haulers can join suit
04/08/09 Master thesis looks at Upper James and Bay
04/08/09 Photo: I---- C-----
04/08/09 Photo: They’re off! Easter Egg hunt
04/08/09 Photo: Clean Valley cleanup – Town of Troutville
04/08/09 County budget down 1.7 percent this year
04/08/09 While unemployment rises, rate still lowest in the area/state
04/08/09 March building permits
04/15/09 B---- elected to head state’s CA association
04/15/09 Photo: J--- B-----
04/15/09 County seizes first house/asset forfeiture
04/15/09 Botetourt farmers market begins second season
04/15/09 Photos (2): Trash now goes to convenience center
04/22/09 Austin, Clinton, Wallace, Sullivan running again
04/22/09 County voters will have varying choices in June
04/22/09 Photos (2): Farmers market opens
04/22/09 Photos (2): Yard sale benefits Troutville Park
04/22/09 Former county attorney asks council to fight
04/22/09 County voters will have choices in June
04/22/09 Pen Women earn Kendig Award
04/22/09 Troutville Town Hall faces $200,000 repairs
04/22/09 $88.8 million county budget expected
04/22/09 Photos (2): British classics cruise BR Parkway
04/29/09 Stimulus means I-81 guardrails, paving
04/29/09 SCC plans September hearing on water territory
04/29/09 Motel says it wasn’t negligent in bedbug suit

+ 16 stories for special edition

Friday, November 14, 2008

Desperate Need

The weather’s colder. Money is tighter. Appalachian Power just announced a major increase in the electricity bill.

This time of year is downright hard for folks who are having trouble with their finances. Add a predicted recession to that and you have a recipe for cold feet, ill health and plenty of woe.

The Fuel Assistance Program run by the Botetourt County Department of Social Services currently has no money in it. Folks who need a little help with their light bill or their heat have nowhere to turn.

Donations are way down.

“We are in desperate need. We have no money,” Social Services Director Mary Lou Mullis said.
The program helps people out with a one-time payment for fuel. Companies will only bring 100 gallons of fuel at a time, so with prices running high the coffers are quickly depleted.

This program does not use state or local dollars. While there are some state funds available for emergency uses, the crisis program does not begin until January and funding for that program is limited.

The Fuel Assistance Program often helps people who fall between the cracks. These are folks who may normally work but have recently lost a job due to illness or lay off. With no money coming in, they are at risk of losing their electricity or heat.

“The government does not give us money for those people,” Mullis said. Everyone who receives funds is checked out and the need is verified before dollars are handed over, she said.

These folks simply need a hand until they can get back on their feet. Most recently a woman who had been very ill called saying she had a $10 balance on her light bill; the electric company was on the way to shut off her power.

A call from Social Services kept her electricity on. However, the woman has no family in the area and her illness has kept her from work for a number of weeks. Mullis worried that she would suffer until she could get well enough to return to work.

Senior Social Worker Brenda Holdren worries that even with government assistance money will be tight. The state is looking at a shortfall and she expects assistance dollars to be less than last year.

“We are desperately in need of money to help people to buy oil or pay electric bills,” Holdren said. “Just to keep these things going.”

Social Services is receiving several calls a day from people who are in need. They do their best to help but often can only make a referral to a local church or other organization.

“I anticipate its going to get worse,” Mullis said. “It’s not even cold yet.”

There are many folks in the county to worry about – the elderly, the disabled, next door neighbors who may be needy but not speaking up.

To donate to the Fuel Assistance Program, send funds to Department of Social Services, P. O. Box 160, Fincastle, VA 24090.


I wrote this article for The Fincastle Herald. It appeared in the November 11, 2008 edition.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Excellent Day


Thursday was a most excellent day.

The day was warm and the air clear. The recent rains had everything looking clean and pristine.

The tree blossoms were exquisite; they left my mouth hanging open in awe at the simple beauty of it all. The grass grew emerald green and the mountains had a tint of pink and green as the redbuds began to bloom and the oaks and elms begin to leaf out.

This wonderful day started out with a trip to the courthouse, where I did a little research (a favorite past time) and talked with friends who work there. Then I met briefly with my editor, who produced a box that someone had mailed to me.

A small present from a fan of my work, it was. I was pleasantly surprised.

I returned home for lunch, where my husband and I ate and had delightful conversation about the farm and the cattle.

Then I hopped back in the car. En route, I stopped in people's driveways and spoke with ladies I did not know as I asked if I could take pictures of their flowers and trees. They were enjoying the day, too, sitting back on their heels with their gloved hands dirty from weeding and planting.

Not a one turned me away.

I made my way to an interview, where the people I spoke with for my article were absolutely sweet and kind and wonderful to talk with.

The sky was a perfect backdrop for photos and I saw pictures everywhere I looked. It was as if my vision had cleared after being foggy for a long time.

Since this was the first day I'd been out and about for any length of time since I took ill in early March, I'm not so sure that analogy isn't spot on.

I returned home delightfully worn and happily tired by my excursion.

It really was an excellent day.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Newspapers in a Death Grip

The latest edition of the New Yorker offers an intriguing article, "Out of Print" by Eric Alterman, about the end of newspapers.

The initial paragraphs are an interesting history of newspapers in the U.S. Being a Virginian, I always thought this state had the first newspaper, the Virginia Gazette, but apparently Massachusetts beat the us to it by about 34 years.

The article in The New Yorker gives the Huffington Post credit for taking information digital, although this has been occurring in varying stages for a long time.

The article points out that without traditional media, there would be nothing for websites like HuffPo and similar sites to sound off about. This is the most important point of the entire article.

The author states it thusly:


... Huffington fails to address the parasitical relationship that virtually all Internet news sites and blog commentators enjoy with newspapers. (emphasis mine)

According to this very long story, HuffPo has created a community; hence, the hits from unique users. That means popularity and advertising revenue.

Everybody has something to say, it seems, and everyone wants the opportunity to say it.

Never mind that for the most part the opinions rattled off are worthless. Occasionally there is a gem among the inane, but it's infrequent at best. Essentially everyone is talking at once and no one is listening.

I have a naive view of newspapers in that I believe in the Fourth Estate (interestingly, I could not find a good definition online for what this means).

To me the Fourth Estate means an organization that watches out for the Greater Good. It sides with no one and nothing except Truth. It doesn't decry torture on one hand and okay it on the other simply because the government says water boarding is legal, for example.

I believe newspapers should hold views of the common man. If newspapers are political, they should only be so in a push for equality and in defense of the common man. If the views of the common man are completely opposite, as it seems these days, then maybe it's time for newspapers to give up this charade of neutrality and become a blue paper or a red paper and move on.

Newspapers have gotten away from Truth, however one defines that. They are now only about advertising dollars. That comes first. The news is secondary, something to fill the pages.

I have watched with something akin to horror as publishers have made decisions that have ultimately ruined their product. They've cut news staff, changed layouts and focus, and generally created the situation that exists now. In essence, newspaper owners have destroyed their own reason for being.

I agree entirely with this statement:


The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make “our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.” That may help explain why the dwindling number of Americans who buy and read a daily paper are spending less time with it; the average is down to less than fifteen hours a month.

By cutting staff, publishers have mutilated the sense of community that HuffPo professes to have found and taken advantage of. How can a community feel that the newspaper is a part of it if there is no presence?

If reporters do not attend events, from pancake breakfasts to government meetings, the relevancy of the newspaper ends. The community at large does not know the journalists and reporters and has no connection. They have no sense of ownership and participation in the news and thus no feeling that their needs and desires are reflected in the pages.

It is the knowledge of communities, whether that community is as small as a neighborhood or as large as a state - or these United States - that is missing. It takes a village to write a newspaper, frankly. One or two people can't do it all.

They miss far too much.

I am of the opinion that the Internet is not killing newspapers. Newspapers survived television.

Their demise began in the 1980s. Was it a result of deregulation, with the news now in in the hands of a few - a few whose motive is profit, not Truth?

This is not a problem of revenue or advertising. It is a political decision to make newspapers irrelevant. This is because newspaper stories, unlike the soundbites of TV, actually have depth. TV says such and such happened - a good, well-researched newspaper story tells you why it happened. TV does not do that particularly well.

When I read a newspaper, it is because I want to know the whys of an event. Or why a person is who he or she is. Only a well-written story can give me that information in a concise, if sometimes lengthy, method of communication. It would take hours of news footage to tell the same story.

The people in power - whoever that may be - do not want the whys of a story to be known and well understood.

This is why stories about the countdown to the battle of Iraq, for example, seldom touched on the past (which could have indicted the nation for its role in aiding and abetting the sovereign nation we were conquering and which never questioned the government rhetoric). This was a political decision in the newsroom. It had little to do with advertising.

I believe print edition of newspapers have a place. If ultimately they do not, then an electronic version of a newspaper, one in which journalists are paid to report real news and features and to be a part of the community, is a necessity.

Whether that online newspaper becomes a place of news or a place of inane chatter is in part up to the public and very much in the hands of the publisher.

Without good, dedicated staff and support of a publisher who wants to put out a good product that is again the voice of the common man, newspapers will indeed fail.

And then all we'll have left are a million opinions, and not an ounce of Truth.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Manuscript Submissions

In a comment on this entry about a writer's conference I was asked about manuscript submissions.

I noted that there was no discussion at the conference about proper formatting. I said in my previous entry that manuscripts should be double spaced, have 1" margins all the way around, use good white clean crisp paper, and have boring fonts (Times Roman or Courier or Arial, generally) and use only one side of the paper.

That is for hard copy submissions. Many publications still request submissions by mail. Others ask for a hard copy along with the article (and/or digital photos) on a disk such as a CD. Some might ask you to e-mail the document and follow with a hard copy. There are as many ways of doing it as there are publications.

Even if a publisher will take a document over the Internet, it still must be formatted properly. That can take some finesse because every e-mail reader pulls things up differently.

The most important thing is to follow the directions in the writer's guidelines for the publication you are working with. If they say hard copy, send them hard copy. If they don't go into detail about margins in the document, then follow the standard above. If they say send a disk, send a disk. If they say submit by e-mail, do that. If they want something in .pdf or .rtf or .doc format, be sure that is what you send them.

By all means, be professional in what you do. These are business people and they are operating a business.

In Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, Elizabeth Lyon states:


Be generous with your margins. ... Use 1" to 1.25" margin for all sides. It's standard to drop down six line spaces (or half an inch) before you begin your header.



She also notes that there is no longer two spaces after a period. This has been a difficult thing for me to overcome, because I was taught to use two spaces (I learned on a typewriter - remember those?). I think a lot of older folks (that makes me sound ancient, doesn't it) have trouble with this.

Moria Anderson Allen in her book Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer has an entire chapter on formatting your manuscript.

For print manuscripts, she says:


Good paper (20-pound bond minimum, never erasable
Double spacing
1-inch margins all around (at least)
A clear, readable font
Paragraphs indicated by indents, not by an extra line space



She goes into great detail on formatting; it's probably the best chapter on this that I've ever read. She also goes into fonts and electronic submissions (which have their own set of rules).

I mention all of this because it is an important detail. It would be awful to have created a great work that never sees print simply because in the final phase of creation the writer is sloppy.

Lyon also says, "If you're rather be writing your book than editing for format, hire a perfectionist to edit it for you."

I think that might be me.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Self Publishing

June from Spatter commented on my last entry about the writer's conference and asked thusly:



But I am surprised that self publishing, etc wasn't discussed more. Was
this conference sponsored by traditional publishers?


Good comment. I have lots to say in response so I thought I'd do an entry about it.

I don't know who sponsored this conference, but it did lean toward traditional publishing. I was surprised at the lack of reference to self-publishing myself.

I have never self-published for myself, although I have helped local historical organizations with special self-published projects. I know many "traditional" writers who eschew self-publishing.

But I know a number of people who have self-published and been very happy with the results and with their sales efforts. I think self-publishing really depends on what you're writing and what you're doing it for. I see self-publishing as a trend that will continue and grow as traditional publishing (i.e., somebody pays you upfront for your efforts) continues to decline.

My main concern with the trend toward self-publishing is that I think it takes story away from the masses and hands it over to those who have the money to print a book. I realize it is not all that expensive to have a small first run, but even so it is more than many people can afford. I have seen prices and quotes ranging from $400 and up, by the way.

I am concerned about that aspect of it, because that takes story away from the people who need it most. It continues class division, too. So I hope that we always have a mixture of traditional publishing along with self-publishing, so that everyone at least has an opportunity.

By the same token, self-publishing gives life to works that otherwise would only see the inside of a drawer. Sometimes that isn't a good thing - some things don't deserve to be published. But many times good works are simply overlooked by the traditional publishing industry.

As a chapter in The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing notes, the work of Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and Ben Franklin saw the light of day because it was self-published.

Personally, I would self-publish if I thought I had something worthwhile. I have a bunch of poems I've considered self-publishing but I've never gotten beyond the "yikes, this would cost me $$$" phase in my research.

I also think very good things to self-publish are local histories, family genealogies, family memory books, regional photo books, etc. Not everything pertains to the entire nation, after all.

So those are my thoughts on self-publishing. Comments about the process, particularly from anyone who has actually done it for themselves, are welcome.

June also asked about manuscript submission formats. I'll address that in my next entry.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, Part II

Today was the writers conference. It lasted from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; I left at 4:15 p.m. I was (and am) very tired.

I greeted a lot of people I knew but hadn't seen in a long time. I was pleased about that. I saw again two fellow bloggers, Becky and Ms.E. Becky introduced me to a blogger at Smith Mountain Lake but unfortunately I didn't write down either the name of the person or the blog.

I knew five of the presenters - K.R., D.S., K.A., S.C., G.C. I also saw L. Adkins, who has published several books about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I interviewed him for an article about two years ago. He could have been a presenter himself.

A few other people I hadn't seen in a while were G.J., who is another freelance newspaper writer, and B.C. Also E.G., whom I knew from college.

A new person I met was Keith, who is a former editor of Omni magazine. Keith gave the lecture on blogging, which I unfortunately did not attend. At lunch he was very kind to my friend G.J., who is in her 60s and a little lacking in knowledgeable about things like blogs. She is, however, always willing to learn. I admire her for that.

I estimated the crowd at less than 100 but could be wrong. They had four classrooms going so I never saw everyone all together except for in the hallway, coming and going.

I haven't been to many writer's conferences lately so I don't have much to compare. The last one I attended was the Blue Ridge Writer's Conference at Roanoke College in about 1992. I have attended the Hollins Literary Festival since then, several times over, but since they don't call it a conference I don't think it counts.

Anyway, the good things about today's conference:

Networking

Seeing old friends and making new acquaintances

Hearing a few good talks. Sharon McCrumb's talk, which was the very last thing I attended, was worth the admission price all by itself, even if she did have a head cold.

A renewed determination to do something else with my work. In my spare time. Whenever that is.


The bad things:

There was a lot of noise bleed over from room to room; it was very distracting.

The lectures were only offered one time, so if there were two you wanted to go to at the same time, you were out of luck and had no chance to make it up.

The lectures were very much "old school" publishing. Aside from the blogging lecture, these talks were about publishing as it has been. I would have liked to have seen something about marketing yourself and your work and something about using the Internet to your advantage. I also would have liked to have seen something about research on the Internet, or maybe even "maximizing your Blackberry." Hearing about John Garner's book On Becoming a Novelist is certainly worthwhile, but then so is knowing how to find you what you want in a database.

And everyone takes for granted that people know how to format a manuscript. They talk about doing all the right things for a submission and neglect the very fine details - double space, 1" margins all the way around, use good white clean crisp paper, boring fonts (Times Roman or Courier or Arial, generally) and only one side of the paper. The old pros do this in their sleep, but I have seen manuscripts using both sides of the paper, single spaced, etc., etc. It's not that this is a hard thing; people just don't seem to know, and I suppose the lecturers just forget to mention it.

Lunch consisted of a wheat bread sandwich with cheese, lettuce, cucumber and sprouts. One of my lunch mates complained a lot about the sprouts. I didn't mind them but it was a lot of carbs.

I did not learn anything I didn't already know, but then I have been freelancing a long time. I am sure for many people much of the information was new.

All in all not a bad day, but it certainly made me tired!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Roanoke Writer's Conference

There is a writer's conference this Saturday at the Jefferson Center.

I am going. Will I see any of my fellow bloggers there?

It actually begins Friday night with a speech by Sharon McCrumb, but I do not plan to attend that at present.

Saturday is when the lectures and classes and things are happening.

The schedule has a line up of local writers besides Sharon McCrumb - Dan Smith, Kurt Rheinheimer, Ralph Barrier, Sarah Cox and others. Many are affiliated with the Blue Ridge Business Journal, I note.

The classes are:

The Short Essay, Writing Local Histories, Blogging, Short Fiction, Writing for the Theater, What Magazine Editors Want, Using Children’s Stories to Make Your Point, Writing What You Know, The Radio Essay, Writing About Country People, [as opposed to what? People are people... aren't they? I'm just sayin'... this will probably be one of the classes I attend].

Also, Writing About Your Family, Freelance Writing in This Region, The Memoir, Writing Persuasively and Getting Feedback, Emphasizing Your Point with Stories, Writing for Children, Finding Stories in Your Back Yard, Writing About Sports and Selling It,How a Book Store Works, Tell it Slant; Using Historical Events in Fictional Works, The Basics of Poetry, Writing Opinion, and Using the Internet for Research.

I am a little sorry to see that none of the courses will be repeated. If you miss it the first go-round, you're out of luck. Obviously you can't be everywhere at once.

I am a excited about going and I am hoping to see some people I haven't in a while. I also hope to meet new people. Who knows, maybe I will make a good connection for my freelancing. Or renew a connection I've lost or forgotten.

If you're going and want to meet up or at least say hello in the hallway, drop me a note. I'd sure like to shake your hand.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Days Like These


I have in my house stacks of things I have written. Hidden in the closet are journals that I am pretty sure I need to throw away. They are epistles of ire and wrath and sorrow. They will do no one any good if they are read.

Yet I cannot bring myself to toss them without looking at them, in case there is some jewel of a line stuck in amongst the tirades. And since I haven't that kind of time, they don't get tossed.

I thought today to post a poem, so I looked through my "poetry" folder on my computer. Is this all there is? I wondered as I glanced at the files. It is all that is on the computer, anyway. But there is a file labeled "poetry" full of words - words I know I will never publish and which will never see the light of day unless I look at them - in the filing cabinet. A hard copy of my amateur efforts to write like the masters, these poems are bittersweet and pretty terrible. The better poems are on the computer, and there are not many of those.

The folder needs to be thrown away; all of those words, once agonized over, will never lead to anything meaningful. And yet I cannot bring myself to toss it away.

What is this need, this desire to hang on to these little scraps of soul? I don't need them, for sure. I am no longer that person. That person has grown up, and turned into ... well, me. I could no more write the words I wrote in 1988 as the person in 1988 could write these words today. Time has bent forward, and I have gone with it, growing, changing, creating and moving deeper in and then out again. Ebbing, flowing, like a tide trapped by the beams of the moon, I move on.

It's like a dance with myself - a step forward, a half-step back. I gain ground, sometimes in large strides, only to look backwards at where I have been. I cannot retrace my steps. I cannot go backwards. I could end up in the same place but the journey would change me.

The pond water lies calm, but toss in a pebble, and it churns. The water may grow smooth again, but it is changed forever.* A journal may hold words that were true at the time, but are they true today, or has change made them lies?




*I swiped that bit about the pond from the last scene of a Xena: Warrior Princess episode, Dreamworker.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

When You Grow Up

Thirty-five years ago, when adults asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up," my answers were as varied as the days of the week.

I like rocks, so I wanted to be a geologist. I had a collection of shiny stones, culled from various rocks around my parents' farm.

I like history and digging in the dirt, so I wanted to be an archaeologist. I envisioned myself discovering long-forgotten cultures. Maybe even a spaceship to prove we were seeded.

On other days I wanted to be a forester, a teacher, an astronaut, and an adventurer. At one point I wanted to travel back and forth across the Bermuda Triangle until I disappeared, so I could solve the mystery.

Mostly I wanted to be a writer. I remember, distinctly, telling my mother that I would one day grow up to write for the local weekly newspaper. I also wanted to write a series of books like Carolyn Keene. I wanted to create my own Nancy Drew, a hip girl character who would save the world. I wanted to write beautiful poetry that would move the world.

I did not want to be a secretary, which was my mother's job, nor did I want to be a business person, which was my father's job. My mother made being a secretary sound like the most miserable thing a human being could accomplish, and my father made being a business person sound so unscrupulous that it wasn't for me.

However, I tried both; I was a purchasing agent for a business in Roanoke for about two years before I gave that up. I couldn't deal with the business climate - too much cheating, too much sexual harassment, too much not-being-paid-the-same-as-the-men. I couldn't abide it.

Then I was a legal secretary, and I worked in that for about 10 years (off and on). Like the corporate world, there was too much cheating, too much sexual harassment, too much not-being-paid-the-same-as-the men. I could only abide it for a decade.

I started writing as a stringer for the local newspaper in 1984. My first published article was about making apple butter. A year later, I was on staff part-time. Eventually I returned to secretarial work, but remained a stringer.

It is writing that I love. Writing has allowed me, vicariously, to be all the things I wanted to be growing up.

A forester? I can't tell you how many articles I've written about the National Forest.

An archaeologist? How many articles about the history of my county and its towns have I written? More than I can count.

A geologist? There are quarry proposals, mining businesses ... it's not quite the same as gathering shiny rocks, but I'm there.

An astronaut? I've been up in a hot air balloon - that was about as high as I really wanted to go.

A teacher? What are my articles, but ways to teach the public about what is going on in their government? I see it first and foremost as teaching and explaining. It is much more than reporting to me.

So maybe I didn't travel the Bermuda Triangle, but I have solved some of the riddles of county government for fellow citizens. I'm not so sure it's not the same thing.

This is my 500th post on this blog. When I began it in August 2006, I didn't know what it would be or why I was writing it. I still don't, but I am okay with that. My blog has turned into a depository for my creativity, someplace to try out new things, to think different thoughts. It is a work in progress; it is growing, and it will continue to grow. Do we ever really grow up, after all?

Mostly my blog has been a place to meet people who think similarly, who love life and nature and one another, who find grace in the world around them and see through eyes that somehow veil some of the harshness of the world. Making friends has been an unexpected gift.

I am grateful and humbled to be read by anyone. I hope that this journey has been and will continue to be, if not an inspiration, at least something that makes you, my gentle reader, think every now and again.

Whoever you are, I wish upon you many blessings, today and every day. I wish for peace for us all, for kindness for man and animal alike, for good times and laughter. May joy find you, and may you hold it close for many days to come.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking Back at 2007

Before I launch into what I am hoping will happen next year, I thought I'd look back at what happened in 2007.

About this time a year ago, I wrote a blog entry about what I hoped might happen this year. How did I do with those plans?

1. We completed the renovations on the old house my mother left me. I say "we" but this was my husband's project. I was merely moral support.

2. I obtained one new client this past year.

3. I wrote no fiction. Or very little, anyway.

4. I did not return to college.

5. I stopped biting my nails! I'm not sure they look any better, because I keep them cut very short, and they are frail and brittle, but ... they are not bitten!

6. I set no career goals. At least, none that I remember.

7. The bathroom was repainted. This, again, was a husband chore.

8. I planted a larger garden. Not much larger, but bigger than the previous year.

9. My husband's website, Septic Tank Advisor, still languishes and is in need of content. It does have a couple of new pages but nothing to brag about.

10. I did not build a website for myself.

Those are things I thought about last year as I looked forward. Now I want to see what I actually accomplished.

Health

I did not lose weight. This has been a big disappointment. I also developed a heel spur, which interfered greatly with my exercise. To my credit, I did not let this stop my exercise routine. I continued to find ways to exercise during the hour I alot myself in the mornings. I was afraid I would break the habit. But I did not and I am still exercising every morning, almost every day, for at least 50 minutes.

Later in the year I developed a problem with my neck and back, but thankfully this is better. So I am hoping for better health in 2008, which would include continued exercise and weight loss.

My problem here? Chocolate - which I once did without for 10 years and am sorry I started eating again - and a 3 p.m. slump that sends me on a rampage almost daily in search of some kind of pick-me-up.

The Rest of My Life


Since I didn't write the great American novel, I wondered what I did with my time. This is what I did:

1. I wrote about 315 blog entries.

2. I read or listened to these books: Sacred Sins, Chopping Spree, The Gift, Agnes and the Hitman, Destiny, Rhapsody, Prophecy, Drop Dead Beautiful, Mad Dash, Sam's Letters to Jennifer, The Mists of Avalon, Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, A Walk Through the Fire, Armageddon's Children, Listen to the Silence, Whiskey Sour, Can't Wait to Get to Heaven, Pieces of My Sister's Life, Daughter of the Forest, How I Write, Lean Mean Thirteen, Low Country, Family Acts, Cheap Diamonds, Sheer Abandon, The Wizard's Daughter, Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, The Dangerous Hour, The Shadow of the Wind, Shem Creek, The Secret, Magic Hour, The Quilter's Homecoming, Creatively Self-Employed,The Passions of Chelsea Kane, Trickster's Queen, Full Bloom, Trickster's Choice, Queen of Broken Hearts, Summer Reading, The Great Far Away, Kurt Vonnegut Audio Collection, Rococo, Tara Road, Milk Glass Moon, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Still Water Saints, The Same Sweet Girls, A Year of Wonders, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and The Sugar Addict's Total Recovery Program.

I am a little surprised by the list. I counted 54 books. Is that right? I had no idea I read so much. That must be at least 220 hours just in reading (3 hours a book). Of course, many of those are audio books, heard in the car, so I am doing double duty there. And I read fast. But still. I wonder if I should read less....

3. I wrote 337 articles for various local newspapers, all of which published. I had 93 photos published in the same newspapers. I wrote 7 articles for a magazine, of which all but one published, and 12 book reviews (which I think all published but don't hold me to that). Obviously most of my efforts go into the newspaper work. I really enjoy writing for the newspaper but I do wonder if this is the best place to exert all of this effort.

I spent very little time on marketing myself, or looking for better writing markets. I think this is a place I am lacking, because it could bring in new work. So this is an area to focus on.

However, I am so busy doing all of this other writing that I don't really have time to focus on anything else. I think I've hit on the problem - I need to give something up. Maybe that's reading, or maybe it's something else, but it looks like something needs to go if I am to make way for other things.

On the other hand, perhaps I'm perfectly happy with things as they are?

There are 8,760 hours in a year. I estimate that I spent 220 hours (at least) reading books; let's add another 40 hours reading magazines. I probably spent another 320 hours writing/reading blog entries. I spent about 1,070 hours writing articles. I spent probably 300 hours answering e-mails.

That's 1,950 hours accounted for. Obviously I am not working 8 hours a day. But, a regular work week uses up about 2,080 hours and that's with coworkers, etc., which I don't have, so I am not far off a regular 40-hour work week.

If I slept 8 hours a night, that's another 2,920. Add another 1,095 for meals.

Now, if my math is right, we're up to 5,965 hours of the year gone, leaving the remaining 2,795 hours, or 53 hours a week, for things like cleaning the house, doing the laundry, kissing my husband, gardening, and grocery shopping. Also for doing my bookkeeping, filing, and all the other things that go along with running a business from home but what isn't writing.

Now that I have this information, what will I do with it? What will this do for me in 2008?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Known Unknowns

It happens again.

I am in the grocery store, and a voice calls out. "Oh, hi! So nice to see you! How's your husband?"

"Oh, hello there," I respond. "He's great." Mentally my mind races, clicking through my Rolodex brain as I try to figure out who this person is. Not her, not her, oh darn.

"Everything okay with you?" I ask, hoping for a clue. "Your loved ones well?" Notice I go straight for the generic. I learned my lesson once about asking after a husband when I didn't recognize someone; her husband had recently passed away. Now I don't even take a stab at a spouse or parent or child.

"We're fantastic, just working hard. It's so great to see you! Merry Christmas! Gotta run!" Off she goes.

I am at a loss.

Unfortunately I have hit the store when the older folks are there for their senior citizen discount. I seem to know a lot of older folks. I am stopped again.

"Oh! Hey, I read your stuff in the paper, that was a great article," says another unknown shopper. "You do such a fantastic job."

"Thanks. It's been busy, lots of meetings," I say. Mind races again. Flip, flip. Not her, not her. Oh darn. "How are things with you and yours?" There's that generic again.

"Oh, we're great, you know it's always run run run this time of the year. Joe said he thinks I never sleep when the calendar hits December." Joe, I think. Who do I know with a husband named Joe... Mind races... Rolodex flips. Darn. I have no idea. I don't know anyone named Joe.

"It is a busy time," I reply. "What about this weather? Can you believe it's in the 70s?" Since I am still clueless, I move to a safe topic.

"It's so warm it's almost scary," she confides. "Well, toodles, I have to run!"

Who are these people? I recognize their faces. I *am* supposed to know them... brain, click into gear!

Next aisle. Someone else speaks my name. I know where she works, but not her name. Still, that's something.

"How are things at the library?" I ask, happy that I know something about this person.

"I work at the bank," she says.

Sigh.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Forest and Climate Change

From a press release I received yesterday (emphasis mine):

A recent Forest Service determination finds climate change could affect the distribution and diversity of plants and animals in the United States. ...

U.S. Forests can also play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Use of wood products in place of alternative products can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Growing shade trees around buildings can reduce energy use. Large scale cellulosic ethanol production from wood
may become an economically viable option for offsetting fossil fuel emissions. ...

Everyone should be interested in the forest because forest management includes water and water quality. A majority of our water resources come from federal National Forest land. You may be interested in a synopsis of the full report, which you can find here:

http://www.fs.fed.us/research/rpa/2005rpa/Key_Msg_Talk_Pts_RPA_Update_112807.doc

Personally, I found it eyebrow raising to see something coming out of the current administration that actually acknowledges climate change ...

Up until the current president took office, as a rural news writer I had unfettered access to the district rangers. I wrote about a vast range of topics related to forestry, including endangered species such as the James spinymussel and a particular bat that's found only in Craig County, land formations, tree harvesting, Smoky Bear, fire safety, hunter safety, etc.

Within two months of the current president taking office, my access to the forest rangers ended abruptly. I was told I could no longer talk to the rangers; I had to go through the PR office in Roanoke.

The stories about the forest and the U.S. Forest Service and what it was doing locally ceased overnight. In the last seven years, I've written very little about something that takes up about 20 percent of the land mass of my county. The exception has been the federal government's efforts to sell off forest land to pay some of its bills, which made the national news everywhere. (The effort failed.)

My hindered access to the Forest Service and the lack of stories coming at the local level was my first hint of how bad things would get at the federal level. I questioned the lack of access, but at the time no one knew about such things as the PATRIOT ACT and spying on citizens and asking folks what books they check out of libraries. No one thought we'd turn into a police state so quickly... and this was before September 11, 2001.

Eventually the local ranger offices closed because the government "consolidated" the Forest Service work force.

There are lessons here in what I've written, and implications for the future. But we have to be paying attention to see. Are we, I wonder?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Quarry, Part II

It is hard sometimes to write about the things going on around me. Take this quarry thing, for instance, which I started writing about this morning.

A part of me wanted to testify. I wanted to say to the officials, "Don't do this to my neighbors."

I wanted to say don't make my neighbors have to run air purifiers that have filters that look like this within a day:




Don't make them worry about asthma and bronchial problems and wonder if the industry down the road is to blame.

Don't make them wonder if the red rainwater that falls around here sometimes comes from the industry down the road. It's preferable not to have red rain at all.

Don't put that quarry five miles from our historic county seat and then expect it to withstand 30 years of continuous blasting (I don't care if the blasting expert said that amounts to "only" 30 minutes of blasting. It still shakes the house.).

I wanted to say those things and more, but I did not. I could not because I write government articles for a living and it is necessary to maintain objectivity in my work with the paper.

What I did was write several articles about it, as professionally as I could. The first was what I normally write, a "hey folks, here's what's coming up before the planning commission." The second was an update with a slant that officials were doing something new - they were actually checking for endangered species. It was also news that they'd found some.

Then I wrote about the planning commission meeting and then the meeting yesterday where the proposal for a new quarry was denied.

I am fairly sure my articles were not slanted to show my opposition to the project, but I can never be sure and it is always something I watch for. I try to write objectively.

At least one person thought I was in favor of the project. But when you're writing about an emotional issue, people often think any mention of the other side means you don't favor them. It's not a situation the messenger can win in and I no longer try. I do the best I can.

My editor did write an editorial opposing the project. He opposed it when it first came about three years ago, too. I'm not sure he could have been objective about my work on this issue because he was very much against the project.

For my part, I conversed with people who lived far enough away (about five miles) from the proposed industry to think they would not be affected. I tried, and failed, to convince them that they were wrong. At least, they did not show up to voice their concerns as I'd hoped.

Fortunately this time the proposal fell through. But what about next time?

Because there will be a next time.

Actually none of this is what I originally sat down to write this morning. I wanted to write about this issue from the standpoint of business and how corporations are killing us.

I wished to point out that living near an industry, and "near" can be defined as next door or miles and miles away, is challenging. There are so many unknowns in the things people do to make money. It is all about the dollar and not the environment or quality of life for those who are already in residence.

Who cares about endangered spinymussels or historic buildings or people with asthma, anyway?

I do.

I guess that's really what I wanted to say.

The Quarry, Part I

(The above photo was taken Christmas Day, 2004. The smoke is from the cement plant. When the stakes let go, I can see it from my house.)

I live about four miles from a cement plant and quarry. The industry is on property that once belonged to my ancestors, who are also my husband's ancestors. His branch of the family ultimately sold parts of their farmland for this big hole in the ground.

While I can't do anything about that, since I wasn't even born, I do feel some responsibility for this environmental apocalypse.

On Monday as I worked, I was on the phone with a person who lives a similar four miles from this same industry, only in the other direction. As we spoke, there was a blast. "That was from the quarry," we both said as the sound came from all around us and also through the phone lines as we each heard it.

My house let out a resounding crack as something settled.

So over at least an 8-mile land area, that blast rattled windows. Living near such a thing has challenges. It's dusty, for one thing. Even four miles away. Fine white powder settles over the furniture within minutes of dusting. We run four air purifiers in the house to keep the dust down.

It was with horror that I saw that another quarry application was before the planning commission this month. As a writer covering government for the paper I try not to take sides on issues, but I do live here. This quarry would be about 9 miles away from me as the crow flies; about 11 by road.

I wrote my articles about this as straightforward and unbiased as I could. I am sure I did not succeed because at one point I was accused of being biased in favor of the developer.

Which of course was completely wrong. I thought this was a terrible project. Not just because I think quarries, which leave big gashes in the land, are bad. This particular quarry would be located within 100 feet of a major tributary to the James River.

The business people thought this was a fine idea and apparently were nonplussed at the idea of the stream vanishing in their quarry pit.

(I'll continue this later...)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

13 Resources for Writers

Creative Marketing Solutions. Marcia Yudkin is a marketing guru. She has a free newsletter that comes out on Wednesday. Highly recommended.

LibrarySpot. Encyclopedias, research resources, etc.

ThinkExist. Quotations finder.

Encyclopedia Mythica. A resource for myths, legends, religions, lore of all kinds.

Character Building Workshop. Great list of character archetypes.

Biblomania. More than 2000 works of literature along with study guides, also research references.

Book of Days. A listing of calendar events and word definitions. Very interesting site; useful for history writers especially.

Guide to Grammar and Writing. It is what it says it is.

Freelancer's Copyright Guide. By the National Writer's Union. Information about copyright.

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. An interesting place to browse; some of the free reading is helpful.

Craft of Writing. An article about using MS Word's editing features; especially helpful for the "track changes" feature.

Funds for Writers. A listing of grants, contests, etc., for writers. Two free newsletters, one for small paying contests and another for higher paying contests. Highly Recommended.



Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The good stuff is available if you can become a member, but some of the free reading online is interesting. Of particular interest to freelancers is the "Writer Beware" section, which lists organizations and persons to avoid in the writing business.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Day in the Life

5:42 a.m.

Wake up and listen to husband banging around in the bathroom as he prepares for work. Remove night splint from left foot. Stretch toes on both feet in hopes of keeping plantar fasciitis pain at bay.

6:00 a.m.

Put feet into Crocs as advised by podiatrist who said "never let your bare feet touch the floor." Shuffle into kitchen to discover husband making his breakfast and utilizing microwave. Forgo cup of hot tea in favor of hot water from the spigot. Sip with straw because of mouth pain from last week's oral surgery.

6:15 a.m.

Check e-mail. Discover in newsletter from Microsoft that an upgrade is required to MS Outlook because of time change. Attempt to make upgrade, but discover I have to know exactly what version of XP I use. Realize that to find that out I need to change my display because the DPI is set large so I can actually read what is on the screen.

Kiss husband goodbye. Make cup of green tea. Finally figure out how to change DPI back to normal sized. Download the MS stuff and cross fingers. Seems to have worked. Put screen back to large DPI thing. Check e-mails, read blogs.

Look at clock and realize it's nearly 8 a.m. Go get dressed.

9:00 a.m.

Settle in with bowl of soggy Rice Crispies, eaten with soy milk and a baby spoon (because of mouth surgery). Read the Roanoke Times like every morning.

9:10 a.m.

Oral surgeon's office calls, says bump in mouth was a fibroma. Is this different than a mucocele? Who knows. Make a mental note to ask the surgeon on Friday.

9:30 a.m.

Leave to interview a daycare provider for story in newspaper. Go down dirt driveway (1/4 mile) and remember that I forgot to take Tylenol. Actually, I forgot to take any of my morning medication. Drive back up driveway in cloud of dust. Take meds, check on curling iron while I'm at it. Return to car.

10:00 a.m.

Arrive on time for interview. Acknowledge that I do indeed have a fat lip and stitches in my mouth. Do interview, grateful one person likes to talk and I don't have to ask too many questions. Take pictures. Little boys are enthralled by fat lip and black space where stitches are visible. They follow me around like puppy dogs and offer me dump trucks if I will smile.

11:10 a.m.

Complete interview. Drive to newspaper office, visit editor. Allow him to download photos so I don't have to upload them. Discuss other articles.

12:00 p.m.

Arrive home, eat lunch consisting of chicken w/ rice soup (using little spoon, sigh). Read newspaper. Note that VDGIF may cancel hunting season because of drought and fear of forest fires. Talk to husband on phone; he has meetings all afternoon. Check e-mail, download photos to my own computer so I can write cut-lines.

1:00 p.m.

Decide I better go to grocery store while I have the energy. Take a different route to vary routine. At entrance to supermarket, realize I forgot to stop by bank and by the recycling center to dump off old newspapers. Also should not have turned into supermarket because I need to go get gas before I get groceries and must go through dreaded Exit 150 to reach Citgo station. Leave supermarket.

1:30 p.m.

Get gas and go to CVS for medication to clean out mouth. Even though I am brushing my teeth three times a day, I fear the stitches and ensuing healing scab might create an offensive odor and I want to prevent that.

1:40 p.m.

Wonder how I ever thought I would get back home by 2 p.m. Decide to stop and rinse off dust from car. Go to bank. Drive to supermarket and realize in parking lot that I forgot to stop by recycling bin again and tell myself to do that on the way home. Bebop into supermarket with canvas totes in hand because I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and not bring home those aggravating plastic bags. Note I am the only one in the store carrying canvas totes and feel superior.

2:30 p.m.

Check out and pay $71 for enough groceries to fill two totes. Note in head that this is about six hours worth of work for me. Remember good ol' days when I paid $0.85 for a loaf of bread and a $1 for a quart of milk. Wonder if I am imagining those prices.

2:55 p.m.

Nearly home. At mailbox, realize I forgot to stop at recycling bin again. Decide to do that tomorrow.

3:00 p.m.

Note that car is dirty already from dusty driveway. Unload groceries. Realize I am out of freezer bags and add that to the list for next trip. Put stuff away. Stare at chicken. Review "buy one get one free" and price tag. Check receipt and try to figure out how much I paid per pound for four pounds of chicken. Discover I cannot figure out what I actually paid for the chicken in totality, much less per pound. Get calculator, add, subtract, multiply and divide to no avail. Look at watch. Give up. Freeze half the chicken, prepare other half for baking.

Consider calling friend who cooks to ask if there is a way to keep top of skinless chicken breasts from browning too much in oven. Decide she would laugh at me and do not make call. Determine to set oven timer to turn chicken over and to not overcook like last time.

3:15 p.m.

Note that left foot with heel spur, which hasn't hurt for several days (probably because I've been off it and on pain medication because of my mouth surgery), is aching a lot. Note also that little ball in sock of right foot is grinding into little toe. Remove socks and shoes and put on Crocs. Take another Tylenol. Wonder if I should rethink my policy of eschewing western medicine as much as possible. Wonder if I have rethought it and don't realize it.

3:30 p.m.

Decide I deserve something and fix a bowl of chocolate "dairy free" soy dessert. Only have one spoon of chocolate dessert left so add french vanilla "soy dream" dessert to bowl. Stir to make it all look like chocolate. Eat with baby spoon.

3:40 p.m.

Stare at computer screen. Think of article from very long meeting last night that I need to write. Read e-mail, respond. Read article about Republicans picking on 12 year old boy with health problems and scratch head with WTF attitude. Read article about NBC purchasing Oxygen. Read article about newspapers declining and think, that's what I said.

4:00 p.m.

Check chicken. It isn't too brown on top and I am happy. Decide to write blog entry and then get to work on articles. Know I will write into the night and work late to make up for day's dawdling. I am back in the zone.