29 August 2007

Feeling the burn and dreaming

The MS From Hell is but a distant memory and I'm looking forward now. I got off to a flying start this morning with a punishing workout at the gym, courtesy of the trainer tweaking my programme. Today, more editing is on the agenda, but at least the next lot is going to be reasonably problem-free.

I am itching to start researching my next pitch or two, but there's just no time right now. It will be at least mid-September before I can get stuck into writing again.

28 August 2007

Released at last

I have finally finished editing the Manuscript From Hell. Not a minute too soon. I had hoped to finish it Friday but, as could only be expected, the ongoing problems within said MS prevented me from dispensing with it asap. Not helped by the company assistant ringing me on Friday lunchtime and asking where it was, even though I had told her boss a few days earlier that there was no guarantee I would finish it by close of business Friday. The call soured my mood, unsurprisingly, and I began to view hara-kiri as a viable, even glamorous option...

In between, I have juggled a stupid number of other editing jobs, all of which have prevented me from researching an idea for a journalism feature I want to pitch to someone.

I am looking forward to next week's conference. It will be a holiday after the month I have had. I still have 3 days' work stretching ahead, mostly commissioning a handbook, but at least I will have time to sneak off to the shops at last and buy a much-needed new suitcase, some threads and something to read on the train south.

PS - I've dropped 3 pounds in 3 weeks from the new hard-line regime and am feeling the benefit already.

25 August 2007

Too busy Part II

It's been another hideously long week and I still haven't finished editing the book from hell. I have a full day ahead of me, too, but at least it doesn't involve work.

Normal blogging will resume after the bank holiday.

17 August 2007

Broadcast news and tears

My little weep yesterday evening at the end of a very long and stressful day reminded me this morning of Holly Hunter in Broadcast News. Hunter plays Jane Craig, a hard-bitten TV news producer who locks herself in her office several times a day, has a hearty cry, then pulls herself together 5 minutes later to go and bark orders at reporters William Hurt and Albert Brooks again.

I never understood why she was so weepy. For her, it was a routine part of her day. Undoubtedly, producing news is high-octane, stressful work. TV is also unbelievably shallow and fake. Broadcast News showed this 20 years ago: more recently, there has been a slew of stories in the press about faked TV programmes and crooked phone-ins. But why cry so much? I remember thinking at the time that the excessive crying by Hunter's character gave a rather skewed impression of females in the business.

I've never worked in TV and have no intention of ever doing so. Working in print is stressful enough. But I rarely cry over writing. What really stresses me is editing, when I'm not getting the right support at the other end. Hence yesterday's tears. I cried for a couple of minutes, long enough to destress, and then stopped. I have moments like that maybe half a dozen times a year. Sometimes, a good weep is the best way to let it out, then crack on.

Mind you, I can swear for England when I'm really stressed. I'm not going to repeat the filth that fell from my lips after I dried my tears, but suffice to say it would have made our troops in Iraq blush.

12 August 2007

" a week grasp of ritten Inglish"

Today's Observer has a story on linguistically challenged students at Imperial College.

I always have mixed feelings when these stories hit the headlines. I feel really depressed at the thought that educational standards in the UK have sunk so low. At the same time, the editor in me feels glee that a new generation of illiterates will require professional help: yes, more work for me! I know it's wrong to see a business opportunity there, but overall I'd rather see primary school teachers knowing their own language better in order to drum the rules into their pupils.

On a related note, a student posted on a forum for journalists that I use, asking about routes into writing entertainment stories for magazines, having done a degree in broadcasting production. Her opening two sentences contained no punctuation whatsoever. Her follow-up post was even worse - spelling errors, poor punctuation, sentences running into each other, no sense of grammar... I politely pointed out that if she was serious about a career in writing, she needed to work on her written English. Many journalists use the forums, quite a few of whom may be in a position to commission others, so showing you can write properly is essential in such an environment.

Did the student thank me? Of course not. I got a tart reply along the lines of "I didn't come here for advice on spelling, but to find out what course I ought to do". That is one budding journalist who is unlikely to progress far. Serious wannabes who want to become hacks eagerly lap up advice even when not asked for, so keen are they to build a career. But I do worry for the next generation of journalists when the education system fails to teach them to write properly in their native language.

10 August 2007

Faffing, features, phone calls...

Despite the enormous amount of pressure I am under to hit a lot of deadlines in a very short space of time, I am doing very well at skiving and procrastinating. Fact is, I perform best when the deadline is imminent. So even though the nightmare handbook I agreed to edit has a deadline just 10 days away, needless to say I have barely started it. This being the same handbook I moaned about on Tuesday...

I have written most of one of my features for a women's mag. I had 30 minutes of interview on my new toy, which is proving to have been a sound investment (pardon the pun), plus a bunch of notes. I wrote up 2/3rds from the notes, doing the quotes from recall, and was relieved that I had nailed them pretty accurately when I played the interview back. While my epilepsy causes me vocabulary problems occasionally, which is very distressing when you work with words for a living, fortunately it has not damaged my memory function too much. But I digress - I'll finish up the interview tomorrow and mail it to the ed, so it will be filed well before deadline. Leaving me just the other feature plus the handbook that I really do not want to edit.

Too late, I have committed to this project, more fool me. But I swear this will be last one I do for this particular publisher. The rate they offer is ridiculously low for the amount of effort they expect. Not even if it means starving in a garret would I do another book for them. Not that I'll starve when my beloved P takes such good care of me, but you get the idea.

I had a hilarious phone conference this morning with a company that I ranted about in a newspaper column last week. The PR person has been falling over himself to butter me up after I gave such bad press, so I agreed to participate in the call so they could solve my problems. It was utterly pointless. Their techy geek talked to me as if I were 3 years old and explained that I needed to reset various settings on my PC to resolve the issues I'd experienced. He wasn't telling me anything new - what he suggested was precisely what I had complained about having to do in the original article! Never mind. I guess he meant well. And I have been offered vast amounts of free kit to make up for my poor experience. One of the perks of hacking...

07 August 2007

Slack publishers, Luddites and lactic acid

Yesterday's gym workout was good. I came home feeling energised and managed to achieve more work in a day than usual. Today, of course, my shoulder muscles had seized up from lifting weights for the first time in 7 months and they ached from the release of lactic acid. I gave exercise a miss and focused on work. Or rather the lack of it.

Having agreed last week to edit a book and made it clear I would only work on-screen as opposed to on hard copy, I had still not received the electronic file at close of play yesterday. I was promised it would arrive by 8am this morning. By 10am, there was still no sign of it and I was getting twitchy. Emails were exchanged. This book is on a tight deadline, during which I also need to file copy with two magazines, so I was anxious to have as much time as possible in which to work on the manuscript. In the meantime, I couldn't start work on either of my features as I was still waiting for the striking posties to deliver a copy of one of the magazines so I could get a feel for it, and my interviews for the second mag were lined up for this afternoon.

This meant the loss of a day and a half in which I could do no work and earn no money. And it's not as if the publisher is paying me in gold bullion for this project. I was beginning to regret having said yes. The file finally turned up just after noon - they hadn't been able to send it because it was too big and it took them 36 hours to work out that it was because the illustrations were embedded in the document and needed to be stripped out. Duh. Sending files by email is not rocket science. Although perhaps it is to those who are not up to speed with using technology. But I would expect professional pre-press companies to take this sort of thing in their stride.

Bringing me neatly to my next rant. I mentioned Facebook on the email forum of my professional body, SfEP, the other day. I thought it might be useful for the SfEP to have an interest group on there so as to promote itself. I wish I'd kept my gob shut. I got rained on by the Luddites who couldn't see the point and had no interest in going on Facebook. No one was asking them to go on Facebook, only to support a possibility to promote the society to the wider world in a very busy and interactive environment. One particularly vicious poster suggested I was a pathetic creature who only has a social life on the internet. Well, no, far from it. I have a very busy social life, some of which is organised via the net. Honestly, these people probably think pigeon post is the most up-to-date form of communication...

06 August 2007

Home work is the curse of the self-employed classes

Wilde fans - feel free to put me on a hit list for so dreadfully paraphrasing Oscar's finest epithet.

However, there is a nugget of truth in today's title. Reader, I have grown fat. The drawback with working from home is that one does not get enough exercise. In my last salaried job (ended February 04), I had my daily trip to and from the railway station, with a walk at the other end, plenty of walking around the office during the course of an average day, plus two company-sanctioned workouts at the gym in the building every week.

I still get up at the same time in the morning - 5.45ish - but instead of leaping into the shower when the alarm goes off, followed by dressing, making up, breakfast and the race to the train, I have become lazy and developed bad habits. At 5.45, I stagger downstairs, brew tea and sit at my PC reading emails, surfing the net, doing sudoku puzzles and faffing on Facebook. I do this until about 8am, whence I shower, dress and tidy the house before the cleaner arrives, before starting work at 9.

Well, no more. I had a wake-up call on Saturday evening. I knew my weight had crept up because going to the gym was something I'd resume tomorrow, but I actually cancelled a night out when I discovered I couldn't fit into any of my going-out clothes. None of them. So this morning at 5.45, I skipped the tea and the PC and hit the shower before heading off to the gym at 6.45 for an hour's workout (last done sometime in January).

Reader, I won't be boring you with Bridget Jones-style reports on how I'm doing, but I have set a goal to drop 4-5 kilos and a dress size within 4 weeks. It's not that difficult. I'm fed up with having only two pairs of jeans that I can get into, so from now on I'll be heading out the door at 6.45 on a regular basis.

Working from home means you have to find ways to stay fit, as it's so easy to turn into a desk potato. My motivation is my fabulous wardrobe of vintage clothes that I long to wear again...

03 August 2007

What have I done?

In a moment of madness, I agreed to take on the handbook editing job I was offered yesterday. I had a phone chat with the editor at the publishing company and it all seemed straightforward and the money is ok. Now I am panicking that it will all go tits up* when the pressure is on in the run-up to going to press.

* This is a trade technical term.

I'm being kept buoyant by fan mail about yesterday's national newspaper article, and the fact that the company I ranted about are being exceptionally nice and not suing me. This might help me forget about the potentially foolish agreement to to do the handbook...

02 August 2007

An odd sort of day

It's been a funny sort of day. My insomnia returned with a vengeance at 2am and I crept downstairs to get a glass of water and entertain myself for a while on the PC. The first thing I did was look on the website of a well-known national newspaper to see if it had published my feature. It had and I was very excited. Then I remembered it was 2am and everyone else was asleep so I had no one to share the moment with.

I returned to bed a couple of hours later, spent another hour trying to fall asleep again and eventually got up just as my beloved P was heading to work. I spent some time copywriting blurb for my lovely graphic designer as we are doing a joint pitch for a coveted contract. The publisher rang to confirm they are offering me a book to edit. That's my next 17 days accounted for then... Then it was time to knuckle down and fill in my disability forms for the government.

Towards the end of the afternoon I got another call, this time from the company I was ghostwriting for last week. This time, they are offering me the job of editing a handbook, including commissioning many of the articles for it. I have tentatively said yes, subject to discussions.

Then the icing on the cake - the national newspaper emailed me to say the company I'd had a moan about in print wanted to talk to me. Yikes! I wondered if I might be laying myself open to a lawsuit. Or conversely a bunch of freebies... I bit the bullet and mailed back. No response yet, but I'm still alive... and I had fanmail too.

Life is good. Bring it on.

01 August 2007

The work graph

As a freelance, my workload fluctuates enormously. It's often difficult to predict how much work I will have on in any given week or month. Sometimes I don't even know exactly what I'm going to be doing tomorrow.

Last week was very busy and not helped by a bout of unwellness on the Monday, which meant I was frantically playing catch-up the rest of the week. This week, I was looking at a quiet spell and I welcomed it. My books need doing and I have a pile of invoices to send out. Having completed some ongoing work yesterday, out of the blue I was commissioned by a magazine I've never written for before. The rate is not brilliant, but it's a new market and the topic is an area I'm keen to break into so I said yes. Today, I was also offered a book to edit, to be confirmed by the end of the week. It's been several months since I last had a book to get stuck into, so I said yes to that too.

Now, all of August is looking rather full (assuming the book is coming my way). Today will be spent invoicing clients, closing last year's books for my accountant, getting this year's accounts up to date and - if there is time - chasing some pitches I sent out a while ago. These are the jobs I hate most of all but they are essential when you are self-employed. Rule No. 1 - keep track of the money!

I could plot my days on a graph, but it's more practical to keep my desk diary up to date and book work in on Sunbird. I log into this at least once a day to keep track of my commitments. I also use ReminderFox to ensure I don't forget appointments and the like, as it has a handy pop-up window. Tools like these are vital to ensure my freelancing goes as smoothly as possible.