30 April 2007

Computer says no

Well, the keyboard is officially stuffed. I had a splitting headache all afternoon after pounding away on my beloved P's sorry excuse for a keyboard, not to mention sore fingers and an aching shoulder. We have managed to fix mine temporarily and I'm typing on it now, but it's already tried to die again on me. Something is loose inside and unfixable on a long-term basis, so I have no choice but to haul myself to the PC shop tomorrow and shell out for a new one. It's that or risk my RSI returning by using P's again.

The printer is also dead. Permanently. P tried to repair it, but it refuses to work. So now we have to shop for one at the weekend. Not that I mind - I hate inkjets and have been planning for some time to buy a laser all-in-one, with scanner and photocopier. It's perfect timing. I just hope Wordsmith Towers can survive without a printer for 4 days.

Not been one of my better days. I suppose I should be grateful that the washing machine didn't blow up this morning...

Have also dealt with the ignorant paper ed by suggesting - politely - that they purchase a copy of Fowler's...

First day back at my desk

It started off well enough - I started editing the second half of a manuscript, and dealt with some emails. Then disaster struck. I switched off my PC so my cleaner could do my office - on rebooting, my keyboard refused to work and my mouse froze. Panicked, I rang my beloved P for urgent advice. Nothing worked and in the end I was forced to borrow his keyboard - it's old and it sticks so typing is a slow nightmare. Hopefully, we'll be able to sort out my own keyboard tonight. Then my printer went on the blink - I'd just typed up a few invoices but the printer would only spit blank paper at me. I sent the bills by PDF in the end, but I still need paper copies for my accounts.

That was my next task. The tax year has ended and I need to close my books. I spent an hour ploughing through bank statements to see who's paid me. It's mostly up to date. I just need to fill in the rest of my expenses then I can close the books and call my accountant.

I've received another request for help from the ignorant paper editor. I decided to let them sweat - I haven't replied yet as I'm still mulling over the best way to approach this diplomatically but firmly. I really do not want to be bothered by these stupid questions, they eat into my time and it's not my job to sort out this person's problems.

All suggestions on a postcard gratefully received...

29 April 2007

Barking up the wrong tree

I've just received a frantic email that reminded me of that phrase "having a dog and barking yourself".

I was recently asked to supply a regular feature for a new publication. Regular work is always good - it keeps me on my toes with the discipline of the deadline and it keeps my bank manager happy. However - in capital letters - my alarm bells keep tinkling ever so faintly in the background.

First there was the issue of fees (scroll down to read the second point 4). Then the publisher let slip on the phone that the editor had never, ahem, edited before. Well, that was hardly news - I'd already worked that out for myself from the sort of questions the editor was asking me in their emails.

That's just been confirmed. The latest email - without going into details - asked me a very basic spelling question, to which the answer should have been known. And if not, would have been found within about 2 seconds of consulting any decent dictionary.

To a certain extent, I don't really care as long as my invoices get paid on time. On the other hand, I refuse to act as an unpaid adviser to someone who ought to be at least competent in their role as editor. After all, if you are a dog you really should know how to bark. And if you're a publication editor, it stands to reason you should know how to edit your publication. If I get one more query of this nature, I shall start billing for time spent on consultancy...

26 April 2007

Withdrawal symptoms

After a week away from the keyboard, I have itchy fingers. And so, after the very serious nature of my earlier post, it's time for some trivia.

I enjoyed my holiday. The weather was glorious (I've even gone brown, which is unheard of for this cave-dwelling wordsmith, who prides herself on her porcelain skin) and I had some much-needed RnR. My first full day away, I had to do battle with the temptation to nip into an internet cafe. It was bloody difficult, given that there was one on practically every corner I rounded. I succumbed after 5 days, as I was footsore after trampling over Rome's 7 hills and its ancient ruins. The luxury of an hour in front of a screen and keyboard cannot be overestimated. And it cost me just €3 for the pleasure. Truth be told, I missed writing. Hence today's double blog. I just need to put finger to keypad.

But I digress. Having picked up my mails in the Eternal City, I got back to my beloved P and the hotel room only to discover that my cat had gone AWOL. Once I'd got over the shock, there was only one course of action possible. We got on the phone, changed flights and came home 2 days early. I was dreading returning, in case I never found ma boy, but I found him within 5 minutes, trapped in a neighbour's back yard, a bit thinner and slightly traumatised but otherwise intact. After hauling him back to Wordsmith Towers, there was only one thing to do. Boot up the PC.

I'm still officially on holiday so I'm not contacting clients and all work remains on hold until Monday. I had the added bonus of catching up with EastEnders tonight and an Archers omnibus then I got down to the important business of surfing the web. I had a quick flick through the forums I regularly frequent then discovered I'd been quoted on here. Having moments earlier been looking at my stat counters, I had wondered why this blog's statistics had gone stratospheric, so now I knew.

I'm quite flattered. Ok, very flattered.

That aside, it feels good to be writing again. I'd really missed it, despite the delightful distractions of Italy. I'll be back. I did, after all, chuck €0.10 in the Trevi fountain. And I went to see the Pope (ok, not strictly true - I whizzed through the Vatican museums then took perverse pleasure in sending a postcard of Rome's synagogue through the Vatican post office with a stamp of JP2 on it to my frum sister who lives in a converted church). And sourced a possible story while away.

I'm totally knackered, but happy to be home and welded to my computer again, with ma boy sleeping on my desk as per usual, my beloved P nearby and still 3 free days before the sordid business of earning money beckons once more...

And now - it's time for bed.

Alan Johnston

Alan Johnston banner

I'm a bit slow with this as I've been away having a much-needed break, but while abroad I popped into an internet caff to check my mails and read the news. No surprise to hear Yeltsin finally pegged it (the Stoly clearly had preserved him well over the last decade), but I was also delighted to see the BBC are running a massive campaign to drum up support among other freelances to help secure Alan Johnston's release. (Blimey, that was a long sentence.)

So I'm adding my tuppenceworth.

I feel desperately sad for Alan and can't begin to imagine what he is going through. Or his loved ones.

I just hope that by tacking my name on to the campaign, I'll be helping a little bit.

I'm not religious but I'm sort of "praying" that whoever is holding him is going to do the decent thing and set him free. We do not need or want another John McCarthy (held for nearly 5 years just for doing his job).

My thoughts today are with all journalists working in difficult and dangerous situations. The death rate in our profession has been appallingly high in the last few years. The injury rate is way too high too. And kidnapping reporters is one of the shittiest things that can happen to you just for trying to bring the story out.

Chin up Alan, we're all rooting for you.

19 April 2007

Knackered but chirpy

I've had the nightmare week from hell but the end is in sight. I worked over the weekend and have put in 16-hour days since then. My phone rang practically off the hook, my inbox overflowed and I was ready to rip someone's head off their shoulders. I don't believe I have ever been this busy since I turned freelance. I'm not complaining - it's good to be in demand. I turned away a client on Monday because I was simply too busy. I've never done that before. I've turned clients down because of money issues or a gut feeling that the job would turn out to be more hassle than it was worth, but I've always somehow squeezed in the time for another job. Not anymore. I still want the business so I'm about to fire off an apologetic email and suggest we work together in the future.

I lost a working day on Tuesday as my brain decided to misbehave on Monday evening. I had another seizure, just a little one, and my beloved P was there to take care of me. That was the first seizure for months, but I wasn't surprised - I've been working too hard and getting stressed. On Tuesday, I felt crap - post-ictal headache and sore muscles. I did very little work and slept in the afternoon. Yesterday I was raring to go and started work at 7.15am. I had a lot to catch up on.

The postie brought good news this morning - I have become an Advanced Member of the SfEP.

And the paper that commissioned me loved my budget piece and wants another feature from me.

May's diary is already looking full, which is good, but I really do need to sit down and think about how I'm working. I need to be more organised and I need to stop taking on silly little jobs that are interesting but not big earners. Time to reassess is needed.

And on that note, I'm downing tools for the rest of the week.

13 April 2007

Writer's block

I'm struggling with writer's block today, hence the blog in the hope it might stimulate me to get something creative on paper. I'm halfway through writing web copy for my lovely graphic designer's new website and the inspiration has just - gone...

I am feeling stressed. Yesterday was one of those nightmare days when everything conspired to go wrong. A client wanted extra work done with no warning and I have no time to do it, so I spent a fair bit of time trying to outsource the work to someone else, time I should have spent on getting on with things. And I'm still waiting for clearance to give my sub-contractee the go-ahead. Two people contacted me wanting work done next week as well, and I had to say no. I hate turning away new business but I really had no option. That meant more time looking up contacts to pass on to my callers so they could find an alternative writer. I am fully booked for the next month and am already contemplating having to work over the weekend - again - when what I really want to do is spend time with my sister and unwind.

My phone rang non-stop yesterday too, causing further distraction and disruption to my working day. I am busier than I have ever been right now - while this is good, part of me longs for the days two years ago after I first went freelance when I had time to potter between jobs and do the paperwork at my leisure. Those days are long gone and now I am seriously considering if I should outsource my paperwork too so I don't lose control of my business. I feel like crawling into bed and pulling the duvet over my head so it all goes away. But I'm made of stronger stuff than that.

Ok, break over. Moan over. Time to crack on.

11 April 2007

Scooping myself

I've been in possession of news of a hot local scandal for a month, during which time I've been itching to break it. I haven't, precisely because it's time-sensitive and I was waiting for the right time to crack open the story. Plus, I didn't want to land someone else who was involved in the proverbial and there was the thorny issue, too, of losing a valuable business contact if I attached my name to the story.

Matters came to a head last night as it was time. After pondering the options this morning, I rang the local paper, anonymously, and tipped them off. To my delight, the journalist I spoke to revealed that the paper was already investigating the scandal but from a completely different angle and the information I passed on was something they hadn't known of. The paper, of course, will get the scoop and I won't get any credit for my part.

I'm a bit gutted that I won't earn anything from this, but I shall be satisfied by seeing an even bigger version of the story splashed (on the front page, with any luck) later this week. And I'll be glad that the public will at last learn that they had been fooled.

On a brighter note, I've just landed a regular pitch for a foreign publication. It was touch and go for a while, as the publisher dithered over whether to pay me the rate I had asked for. Today I had confirmation that I would get the fees I want, so it's full steam ahead.

09 April 2007

10 things about clients

5 clients I love:

1. Clients who pay me on time. Yes, I know talking about money is supposed to be impolite. But a wordsmith can't survive on fresh air alone. If my terms says 30 days, that means I expect you to pay me within 30 days. Clients who settle immediately get gold stars.

2. Clients who give me a clear brief. I'm not psychic and I don't have a crystal ball. Clients who tell me exactly what they want get the job done faster and better.

3. Clients who are interesting to chat to. I like getting to know my clients better as it gives me more insight into what makes them tick. It's one of those things that helps me do a better job.

4. Clients who give me free rein within the brief. Because it means they trust me to do a great job.

5. Clients who give me feedback. Praise is good for stroking my ego, but constructive feedback is even better.

5 clients I loathe:

1. Clients who pay late. Pretty obvious, this one. And clients who don't stump up until I start having to threaten legal measures (mercifully, this has only happened once so far) are welcome to find another chump. Because I won't be doing any more work for them.

2. Clients who are vague. If a client is unsure what they want, I'm happy to talk things over. But if I ask specific questions and don't get clear answers, it's unlikely I'll be doing much work for them again.

3. Clients who are not honest. If a client tells me they have a 50,000-word manuscript that needs editing and I price the job on that basis, sending me a MS that is twice as long (and no doubt thinking I'll do the job for the price first quoted) is only going to irritate me. It's a waste of both our time and I have to recalculate the cost, await approval and somehow squeeze extra time for the additional work into an already overflowing schedule.

4. Clients who dither about budgets. If a client commissions me for a piece of journalism, I expect them to tell me their rate per 1,000 words rather than be asked what I charge. Frankly, if I then pick a figure and the client says "I'll get back to you", that sets my alarm bells off. It's your publication and if you don't know much you can afford to pay, perhaps you should be looking for another career...

5. Clients who think I'm available 24/7, even on public holidays. Since Good Friday, I've received 3 editing jobs (all on hold), 7 emails (ditto) and 2 Skype calls. Clients who think it's ok to call in the evenings when I'm watching EastEnders are liable to head the top of my death list.

04 April 2007

The business of business

I watch very little TV, but one programme I always enjoy is The Apprentice. I tuned in last year, as you can see, and got hooked. This year's series looks as if it will be equally enjoyable, not least because none of the current candidates appear to have watched the previous series. They are making the same stupid mistakes as before. Cue big sigh.

All these candidates with their MBAs and experience in large companies, and they still appear not to have a clue.

I'm not just a freelance - being self-employed means I run a business and I'm damn sure that if I were on The Apprentice, I'd be doing things very differently (not that I'd ever humiliate myself on reality TV). I've been freelance for two years and it was a steep learning curve, but I've made very few mistakes. There are things, with hindsight, that I'd have done differently, but I've made no serious screw-ups.

Call it instinct, or just common sense, but running a business (at least of one person) is not that hard. You'd have to be a complete idiot to make a real mess of it. Which is why I'm gobsmacked at the sheer incompetence of Sir Alan Sugar's candidates, who are supposed to be the creme de la creme. Frankly, I wouldn't put them in charge of organising a pub crawl.

Still, that's the main attraction of tuning in - it's an object lesson in how not to do business.

01 April 2007

Blog meet

Attention all you bloggers in the north-west!

Yer Mam is hosting a "beer and blog" pub gathering for bloggers in Manchester and surrounds. Details on Yer Mam's blog. Kick-off is at 3pm...