Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

May 27, 2009

Questions Your Dog Wouldn’t Even Answer

Filed under: Technique,Writing — Barb @ 10:40 pm
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Photo on FunnyDogSite

Photo on FunnyDogSite

When I’m doing research for a project, one of the things that I have to force myself to do is call people. I’ll google, go the library, even read microfilm first.

I’m not sure why I put off the inevitable. When I finally pick up the phone and stutter through an introduction, folks are usually happy to share information with me.  The only negative experience that I’ve had was when I called Junior High Schools and interviewed school secretaries to get the number of students who were taking international school trips over spring break.  I was writing an article on youth traveling without parents.

These secretaries must  haveworked for the NCIS because several of them considered this info part of national security and referred me to the district superintendent’s office.  I had to use different sources to write the article.

A newspaper editor once gave me a piece of advice that helps in these situations. “Prepare interesting questions. Not the run of the mill crap.”

When interviewing an interesting character, rather than ask questions like: “How did you get started?”

Ask Questions like: If you were just getting started, what advice would you give yourself?”  We all love to read advice from our older, wiser selves.

So it’s true. Polish your questions when you have to do research. Make the questions irresistible.

So tell me….

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?


May 20, 2009

Slouchers Who Can’t Sing or Write

By Del Ray Artisians

By Del Ray Artisians

What does a choir director say to someone who truly can’t sing?

  • “I’m sorry, we’ve run out of robes.”
  • “We need strong singers like you in the congregation to help them sing the hymns.”
  • “I wouldn’t want you to strain your voice.”
  • “Did you know singing can aggravate sinus problems?
  • “We still need good people for the handbell choir.”
  • “It’s a shame composers don’t write more songs in your style.”
  • “You have a unique range – you hit both notes well”
  • “Did you know there is a new Bible study starting the same night as choir practice, I think you’d get a lot from it.”
  • “You have excellent posture.”

Of all the choirs I’ve participated in, I’ve never heard any of the above statements. NOT BECAUSE I’M A GOOD SINGER.  No, I can’t read music and I tend to follow the voice of whoever I’m standing next to (usually, I’m about a quarter-beat behind them.) I know I’ve thrown folks off the tune.  One gal used to cover her ear when I stood next to her. She kindly said it was to hear the note in her head, but I’m pretty sure it was to block out the rest of us—especially me. That’s okay. She had this vibrato-thing going on and her high notes sounded like one of those ululating women in India.

So why do I sing? Because I enjoy it. It’s a wonderful oral release of spirit and soul. The more I do it, I improve.

I believe it’s the same with writing. Within our group, I’ve never heard a suggestion to stop straining fingers or brain cells and give up writing.In a critique group we share our thoughts about what will make each other’s work stronger.

Like opera stars, the words roll off some folk’s papers like music. For others, the work may be closer to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Why do we write? Because it’s a wonderful written release of the spirit and soul. We are explorers. Why do we evaluate each other? To improve; and the more we do it, the more we improve.

There are layers and goals for our writing.  Sometimes we write only to please ourselves.

Sometimes we consider being represented, so we must grow our skills and write to please an agent.

For those who want to sell their words, then we polish our abilities until they please an editor and publisher.

The higher the stakes, the greater the possibility of rejection. That sends us back down the road to improve some more.

The Can’t Sing Choir at Morely College in East London is a community choir. It’s made up of people who don’t have the confidence to sing or have been begged not to. Participants begin with making a noise and learning rhythm. Some are quite challenged.  They progress through crazy exercises like hitting your left knee with your right, and  then hitting your right knee with your left hand. “It frees the body.” says singing tutor, Andrea  Brown. “You’re so concentrating on d0ing the exercise that the body is less rigid and the vocal mechanism is freer.”  If participants hang in there and take level 3 of The Can’t Sing Choir, they get so good they admit: “Well, yes, we actually can sing.”

With work, we can learn to sing. With concentrated passion, we can learn to write.

Now about that posture……

May 13, 2009

E-Book Aversion

Filed under: Critiques,Writing — Barb @ 10:05 pm

All the experts say that it’s the future. We’ll be downloading our e-books onto our reading devices.  Kindle is probably one of the better known handheld devices. You download your reading material onto your reader, then off you go.

They do have their benefits. You can load 1500 books on them—perfect for travel and easing backpack strain.

They are thin and feel great.

If you run into a word you don’t know, an in-line dictionary will give you the immediate definition.

You can bookmark, and yes it even shows the graphics (though not well-according to reviews).

There’s net connectivity in the U.S.

What bothers me is that the e-books on Kindle are not transferable.  You can’t lend the book out without handing over your device.  If you delete the e-book to make room for more books in the memory. It is gone.

This means: No sharing among friends. No reading and re-reading years later. Books are meant to be a one-time use.

Yes, it’s bothersome, but the folks that predict the future say this won’t bother a young generation. They are used to disposable products, and have little emotional problem with buying something each time they want to use it.

It’s great for publishers. Maybe it will generate more income for writers.

But what kind of throw-away mentality are we fostering?

Besides, there’s just something about perusing book stores or libraries and lounging in the aisle, reading  and sampling books to your heart’s dreams.

Dead -tree media will fade away. It”s the future of publishing.  So the experts say.

May 11, 2009

Wanna Learn More about Being a Word Ho?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Susan Landis-Steward @ 11:08 am

I’ve had some people ask me about mentoring them through the whole getting-paid-to-write thing and am thinking about starting some sort of online doodah where folks can submit samples, proposals, etc. and talk about the business of writing business copy.  We’d cover sites we found interesting, bidding processes, and all the crap that goes into making us good word hos. It would, of course, be free and we’d mentor each other. I’d like to see a show of hands and suggestions for format (blog, email list, etc.)

May 8, 2009

Shake Your Money Maker, Girls

Filed under: Writing — Susan Landis-Steward @ 2:05 pm
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Ah, the promised “How to make money writing online” post. Guess it’s time. Just sent off two pieces, and still have to finish rewrite on a speech, but I need a break between the two.  Yep, as I boasted on my blog ( I am now making bucks as a word ho.  And I’m here to tell you how.

There are lots of sites that broker freelance writing. So far, I’ve used three of them. All with a modicum of success. Some with a big modicum.

First, for those of you new to this, No fees, low pay, but pretty simple. Just sign up and start writing. You need a PayPal account to get paid. Get one. Free, easy, and safe. Textbroker pays roughly $.01 per word. After the first five articles you write, your work is evaluated and you may move up to level four which pays an almost indiscernable amount more. Average pay per article (250-500 words as a general rule) is $2-5. Crap, you say. Well, if you can do ten an hour, that’s a whole lot better than working at McDonalds. Even five an hour and you’ve made better than minimum. Practice here to get your confidence up. Most of the articles are stuff you can research on the web as you go. Some don’t require any research. I’ve got dibs on those!

Downside: once you start writing, you have to finish. I have yet to find a way to save work and come back later. If you find one, let me know.

Moving on up: Demand Studios has lots of articles that need to be written. When you register, you have to submit a writing sample to prove you can write. Once accepted, you have your choice of flat fee articles or revenue sharing articles. I’ve done a few revenue sharing and think it’s a bad deal. Maybe I’ll tell you otherwise in two years when I’ve made more than $.56.  You can reserve ten flat fee articles at a time and have a week to write them. Most are short, blog post type articles (250-700 words) in several different formats paying anywhere from $5 to $15.  Go for the How To and How Does articles because they pay the most.

Each article type has a template and explicit instructions for what they want. Read them and use them. After you submit your article for review, an editor will critique it. You get one shot at a rewrite so make sure you understand and do as the editor asks. On this site, the editor is queen. Accepted articles are paid on Tuesday nights and the money usually shows up in your PayPal account on Friday. Once an article has been accepted, you are free to choose another one. So, if you get all ten articles off to the editor by, say Thursday, with acceptance a couple days later, you can theoretically pick and write another ten in time to make the Tuesday cut-off. So earning potential is anywhere from $150-$300 a week.

And the big time: Elance is where the good money is if you a) know how to write good samples for your portfolio and b) take the time to figure out how to bid and c) are willing to pay a few bucks a month for the membership.  I can’t stress the first. You need samples. Short ones, long ones, serious ones, funny ones. Put them in the portfolio section of your profile, and have more to send when people want samples of specific types of writing. Elance brokers jobs anywhere from $50 to $25,000.  Writing jobs include blog posts, copy writing, marketing, ghost writing, academic writing, ebooks, the list goes on.

Some caveats: some buyers are looking for plagiarism (“read this site and rewrite their copy so it passes Copyscape” — technically legal, certainly unethical. The work you do affects your soul. Don’t do this.) Others want you to do their homework for them (“need 5 page paper, 12 pt font, one inch margins, Times New Roman, footnotes in MLS style. Due tomorrow.”) These are a violation of TOS (terms of service) and should be reported. This is also an ethical issue. I worked my butt off and spent a year writing my thesis. Don’t be part of an essay mill unless you also raise puppies in filthy, overcrowded cages.

Bidding. Learn how to bid. Here’s some things I’ve learned.

  • All blue links either give you information or take you someplace. Run your cursor over them to find out what they do. On the job search page there are two important pieces of information. If you look at the buyer’s name, you will see the number of jobs they’ve hired and total paid. If they’ve hired ten jobs and paid a total of $100, RUN. First, they are in violation of TOS because the minimum job is $50. These people want something for nothing. DO NOT WORK FOR THEM. On the other hand, if I see ten jobs and $2500 paid, I know that buyer is willing to pay for good work. Of course, there are some new buyers and this trick doesn’t work. Then I read their bid carefully, see what my gut tells me, and only bid if I think they want really quality work.
  • The link that shows the number of bids will show you high, low, and average bids. You will see lots of bids for $50. Most of these come from India and other places with very different costs of living. On the upside, the more reputable buyers and the ones who want high quality, are usually willing to pay more. Make sure your portfolio shines. Because I’m new to the Elance world, and my ratings are not yet significant, I tend to bid just south of average.
  • When you write your bid, make sure it is letter perfect. Don’t ramble. Tailor it to the audience. If someone wants a humorous style, write in a humorous style. If they want professionalism, make sure they get it. I start out with a sentence stating my credentials (award-winning journalist with 25 years experience), then I add a line or two related to what they are looking for. (I’m a gardener. I have a degree in Computer Science. As a trained theologian. Whatever establishes that I know what I’m doing with their topic.)
  • Put the bid in writing. There is a place to enter the amount you are bidding but make sure you place a VERY specific bid. “I am bidding $200 to write 20 blog posts on xyz, each post of 250-500 words on assigned keywords. I will have these completed within one week of acceptance.” BE SPECIFIC. Everything you write in the Elance formats will provide documentation if you ever have a disagreement with a client.
  • Attach samples if requested and also point them to the samples on your profile.

The money thing: Elance charges $9.95 a month for membership. This buys you 20 connects which you use to place bids. Jobs under $500 cost 1 connect, $500-1000 are 2 connects and so on. Some jobs are “featured” and will cost more connects. This just means the buyer was willing to pay a bit more to weed out the trash.  You can buy more connects  at the rate of $5 per 10 connects. Elance keeps track of all this for you so you can easily see how much you spent at tax time. And if you are freelancing, you will want to itemize. I deduct my cell phone, my computer, my internet, part of my house and utilities, all my business supplies, professional dues, mileage that is work related, and Elance fees. I spend about $25 a month for my membership and extra connects. I make over a $1000. You decide if it’s worth it.

Elance also deducts around 3-8% as their commission. Again, this is deductable and a record is kept at the same place I just mentioned.

Caveat: If you are just starting out, it might take some time to get jobs. I’ve got years of experience and some good clips. I got a quick start. Hang in there for six months, and keep trying. Read the forums, talk to other providers, and above all study everything you can find about the bidding process. In the meantime, write samples. Bring them to Chrysalis and let us help you polish them. You might also try bidding fairly low on some jobs at first, just to get started. Once you have a reputation and some rankings (I’m already in the top 13% which isn’t high enough to be a top contender, but I’m getting there), you’ll start getting better jobs.  Also, go to the section on My Stats and read how to raise your ranking. One way is to take the free tests.

Warning: the tests are stupid. Everybody knows that. Everybody bitches about it. But clients would rather see a verified 89% on English grammar than a self-assessed 100. And you will notice, if you look at profiles, that most folks who self-assess give themselves straight 100s. Bull pucky. And Elance will rate you higher for tested assessments than for self-assessments. Take the damn tests. If you screw one up, don’t put it on your profile. Just wait two weeks and take it again. Also note that the 89% in English grammar does not reflect your standing in the world at large. You may be 99th percentile there. But here you’re compared to other writers. Some of whom are damn good. So 89% against real pros means something. And you can ALWAYS retake the test at two week intervals until you get your score where you want it to be.

Anyway, I’ll keep you up-to-date when I find other good sites. I’ll probably also write more on Elance as it is quite comprehensive.  In the meantime, start writing. You, too, can be a word ho!

May 7, 2009

Women Writing without Claws

Filed under: Critiques,Motivations,Sisterhood,Writing — Barb @ 3:54 pm
Tags: ,


In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to post about the sisterhood found among friends.

I’ve seldom thought of my mother as a girl with friends.

I cubbyholed her as “Mother,” until she had a stroke and our roles switched. It was at that point I wondered about her dreams.  Did she go to dances and giggle with her friends about boys? What did she tell her friends that she felt on her wedding day? Was it the support of her friends that allowed her to endure the hard life she had?

I asked her about the  hopes of her heart, but I discovered that her disappointments and secret yearnings were only shared with friends; with me she took the steady philosophy of “Mother”, and said,  “There’s responsibilities to do…so you do it.”

That’s when I realized that often it’s our friends that contribute to the untold stories within our lives. Perhaps we should celebrate “Friend Day” right after Mother’s day?

Perhaps that’s the beauty of an all-woman critique group? In addition to writers, we’ve become friends, helping mid-wife the words of our stories  and holding the chapters of each others’ lives.

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