30 May 2008

Keyboard wars

BBC Magazine published an interesting article on the comeback of the typewriter today. Reading it, I was flushed with nostalgia. You see, I still own a typewriter. Years ago, when I began hacking for a living, I would hammer out copy on a huge Remington in the office. It weighed a ton and was a frightening beast. The keys would stick and my hands would get filthy with grease and dust and the carbon from the carbon copy sheets that had to be inserted between three sheets of white A4 typing paper. My finger would ache at the end of the day (you read that correctly - I did say finger, and I'm still a one-finger typist).

Back at home was a lighter creature - my prized Olivetti Lettera 22 portable, in a pale blue zip-up case with its black handle. The Olivetti was my father's and dates back to the early 1950s. I was typing up features on it for punk fanzines before I'd left school. And when I left home, it left with me. I still have it, although I've not used it since May 1988. Its last job was typing my final dissertations for my degree while on a career break.

I've moved house a lot over the last 20 years and still I schlep the Olivetti with me as I can't bear to get rid of it. It's part of my career and I can recall many of the things I wrote on it. I switched to computers after I graduated and never used the Olivetti again.

One of the drawbacks of using a typewriter is the keys ruin your nails. Even after all this time, my nails split and break from tapping away, but not as badly as they used to. I find computer keyboards much easier to work with and I disagree with Will Self that computer-users don't think in their heads, but on-screen. When I'm writing, I've often written most of the article in my head quite a while before I start typing it up. And I relish being able to instantly delete typos or re-cast a sentence, without the hassle of tippex and blue pens. I have even, in the past year, tentatively started attempting to be a two-finger typist on my latest keyboard.

People will always have their preference - the number of novelists who use a typewriter is still very high (going on anecdotal evidence here, folks), whereas those doing other kinds of wordsmithing are always going to opt for a computer. My Olivetti is still in good nick, but it can't send emails, blog, surf the net or do my accounts for me.

I rest my case.

28 May 2008

Work 3, House Move 0

Despite the imminent house move, I am snowed under. It seems that the minute it was inevitable that Wordsmith Towers was going to shift, sod's law would dictate that I would be In Demand.

And so it transpired. Over the last two weeks, I have taken on 6 new corporate clients. Some web copy here, a brochure there, a mahoosive writing contract tossed in for the hell of it... On top of that, add in two press commissions for features (with a possible 3rd in the pipeline) and you might say my diary is full.

It seems to be an unwritten rule of freelancing that the more stressful your home life, the higher the chance of having work thrown at you. Obviously, I wasn't going to say no to anything. Moving costs and right here is where you start paying. Oops, sorry, wrong film. Moving costs, so new clients count as they offset the financial burden of shifting home/work. The only problem is, having said yes to everything I now don't have time to pack my stuff and move...

Right now, I've sort of got the phone/broadband doodah under control (but I might need to slaughter a goat just to ensure things go without a hitch) but I haven't had time to source a man with a van, boxes and all the other blah.

Which virtually guarantees that the Great Wordsmith Towers Move will be one almighty fuck-up. But hey, as long as the broadband functions and I can still work, does it really matter?*

Sod's law, innit. Normal service WILL resume at some point in the next 3 weeks.

*answers on a postcard to Wordsmith Towers II, Oop North

23 May 2008

BT? Bloody trying...

So, despite having a hefty workload this morning, I began the process of getting a phone number and broadband for Wordsmith Towers Mark II. I rang the orderline, got halfway through handing over my details (through gritted teeth as this was BT's call centre, which is in India and the staff tend to have impenetrable accents so everything takes ages as you have to get them to repeat things several times before you understand what is being said...) then got cut off. I rang back, and got cut off again within about 30 seconds.

I rang a third time and went through the process of explaining what I wanted (a line with a number plus t'internet - not rocket science) and was - oh joy of joys - connected to someone with a British accent. I got as far as having most of my order for the phone line taken when I was told there was "no service" for my new address. I asked for a translation and was told it meant there was "no service". I played verbal ping-pong for about 3 more rounds and was no nearer to understanding what "no service" means when my call-centre counterpart decided to slam the phone down on me.

By now, I'd been on the phone almost an hour and was no nearer my goal. I decided to bypass the call centre and order online. This took me to a page that told me to call but - yay! - it was a different number and in fact the sales office, staffed by Brits in the UK. The angel at the other end wrapped the whole thing up for me in less than 30 minutes, including giving me my new phone number, ordering my broadband, arranging for the engineer to flip some switches on the nearest telegraph pole (for that is the secret of resolving "no service" apparently) and arranging to have my router and phone sent to Wordsmith Towers Mark I so I don't miss the delivery.

You see, it didn't have to be so hard, did it? Why couldn't the call centre in India have just transferred me to start with?

Step 1 of the move has been accomplished. Time to celebrate with a well-earned glass of something 70-proof...

The secret to moving a home-based business

I'll be honest - I'm still figuring this one out. Moving house is stressful enough, but this is not just a case of flinging my clothes and books into boxes and then unpacking at leisure as I settle in.

This time, I need to move my freelance business too. I'm home-based so this all needs to be carried out as smoothly as possible with the least amount of disruption. The key here is planning. I'm already informing my regular clients that I'll be moving shortly. Today, I'll be ordering my phone line and broadband so it will hopefully all be up and running by the time I need to move my office.

My emails and URLs will, of course, not be changing but I need to pay my printer a visit to order some change of address stickers for my letterheads and cards. Freelance colleagues have also been immensely kind in helping me put together checklists of what I need to do and buy.

I'm fortunate that I'm not moving far and my landlord is a friend. I've already got the keys for Wordsmith Towers Mark II and I have the luxury of being able to move piecemeal over the next 3 weeks once I find a man with a van. The aim is to move as much of my personal stuff as possible first, then shift the office last...

Stay tuned as I discover if the theory is going to work in practice!

18 May 2008

Shifting priorities

Apologies for extended radio silence recently. Wordsmith Towers is on the move!

Blogs may be a bit erratic over the next few weeks but I'll be doing my best to stay up to date. Don't go away now.

13 May 2008

The jobs we love and hate

It doesn't matter what your freelancing specialism is, jobs from clients can still be broken down into types. Freelance Switch has handily drawn up a list of 20 freelance jobs and how to identify them.

I've run into pretty much all these over the last few years. That said, type 18 I always refuse. I've been offered a fair number of dodgy jobs since I went freelance, a good number of them being asked to write for plagiarism sites.

I only once did a 2 - never again. You learn the hard way how to spot them in future. Likewise the 3.

My favourite clients are a 6. The jobs may not always be interesting but they pay well and that's important when you need regular income.

I'm still waiting for a 1 and a 19...

11 May 2008

Media Diet Week 19

Press: I see Eve has had a revamp. I do believe it's the first since it was launched. I don't like the new logo - it looks as if they tried to go retro-chic with it but it just looks old-fashioned. I note the irritating SJP is on the cover again. I'll never understand why magazines are so obsessed with her as I don't rate her as a "fashion icon" at all. Eve gets a plaudit for putting an over-40 on the cover, though. A lot of mags seem to do this now, simply because there are so many interesting, high-achieving women around in their 40s. Yet us over-40s still lack a decent magazine that reflects our interests (note: this includes dresses with sleeves, work, other interesting over-40 women and culture). I'm sick of mags that only show frumpy clothes, or clothes for teenagers. I hate spaghetti straps. I also despise the sole page devoted to book reviews (usually ghastly chick lit) and films - why can't magazines cater for women who interested in cultural issues? I'd better stop here before I really go off on one.

Blogs: last week's Media Diet entry came a little early for my discovery of the very splendid Fleet Street Blues, a new jobs and gossip blog that is well worth a plug. And I see they had the good taste to choose my template. In other news, I'm busy putting together yet another blog, which I won't be plugging here simply because it'd be a bit too obvious. That'll bring my blog total to 6...

TV/radio: not much to report this week. The Apprentice was a hoot, purely for Michael's splendid gaffe over the kosher chicken. Don't they teach anyone anything in schools these days? I'd expect even a half-Jewish schmuck like Michael to know about kosher meat, though... I don't often listen to Radio 2 on a Saturday after Jonathan Ross, but I managed to catch Hot Gossip yesterday. Hosted by Claudia Winkelman, it's a very funny panel game based on tabloid tittle-tattle. I'll be tuning in again.

Books: I finished the brilliant Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid, who delivered not one but two crimes for solving, plus a tentative glimpse of Tony Hill's ghastly abusive mother. No doubt she'll be making an appearance in a later book. On a crime fic roll now, I've just started Minette Walters' latest: The Chameleon's Shadow. It's shaping up well so far.

09 May 2008

The truth about working from home

I received a press release today promoting next Thursday's "National Work From Home Day". I thought it was a joke at first, like the release I received about National Orgasm Day (which turned out to be a) true and b) an excuse to flog pelvic floor toners, I kid you not). But no, National Work From Home Day is a genuine "day".

Like those annoying awareness weeks for all kinds of weird medical conditions and the utterly bizarre such as Compost Awareness Week, national whatever days seem to be rife. I'd bet my trusty copy of NODWE that we have an official day for something at least 300 times a year.

So what is the purpose of NWFHD? Apparently to promote the benefits of working from home to employers so they can let their staff out of the office one or two days a week. Apparently, 3.5 million people work from home, but I was a bit miffed to discover the stats do not include the self-employed, making it somewhat meaningless for those of us who work freelance (or even homeworkers doing piecework to earn vital money in the country's poorer households).

So, nothing for us to celebrate, or even mark then. Somehow, I don't think Interflora will be ringing my doorbell next week to present me with a bouquet of flowers simply for having the gumption to work for myself. I've no idea how many non-employees are home-based but I bet it's more than 3.5 million staffers who don't commute one day a week and think they ought to be commended for it.

True, working from home frees you from the grind of the daily commute and gives you control over what you do, when you do it and how, but the staffers are probably still being checked up on... And the downside is that when you are home-based, friends and family think you're not really working and will try and invite themselves over for coffee or ask you to run errands (I soon knocked that notion on the head).

And the plus is that if, like today, I feel like skiving, I can. My workload today consisted of a gym workout, some surfing on the net, writing a couple of invoices, paying in some cheques, picking up a prescription, fielding a couple of calls about prospective jobs, pondering a potential pitch and having a long and leisurely walk in the sunshine. I'd like to see staffers try that.

I just don't get the point of NWFHD - if the purpose is to get big businesses to sign up for a charter mark, surely there are better ways to get them to improve working conditions for their staff, instead of creating yet another tedious Day that no one really cares about.

Anyone for an Awareness Fatigue Awareness Week?

05 May 2008

May Day, May Day

So, call me Billy No-Mates if you must but I spent the bank holiday working. I did have plans to do something nice outdoors yesterday but circumstances and the weather conspired against me.

I had, though, planned to work today anyway. I am well behind on a copywriting project I should have delivered sometime last week and today seemed like a good opportunity to catch up. Thus, I have spent most of the day strapped to my keyboard, writing metatags and trying to inject some pizzazz into the rather dull topic of energy audits. In between, I surfed Facebook and a few other welcome online distractions.

What else are public holidays for?

(I do plan to take time off in lieu this week.)

03 May 2008

Media Diet week 18

Press: after the holiday, it was good to get back into my normal newspaper routine. I've read very widely this week - on top of my usual Guardian/Sun habit (one serious, one tabloid), I also delved regularly into the Telegraph, Mirror and even (ssh!) the Mail while following the appalling Fritzl case in Austria. I've spent so much time reading I'm behind on my work. The world stops when a story like that emerges and there are just no words.

Blogs: sod the blogs this week - I was persuaded to sign up for Twitter instead. Seems like most of the hackosphere is tweeting away - I spotted many people I know and many I know of. I've had fun getting a little community going around my own tweeting and was quite flattered to see some top journos deciding to follow me. No doubt the excitement will wear off soon, like it did with Facebook, but I suspect I will find Twitter more useful for work. Talking of Facebook, a PR company I like very much (and it's not often I say that) held a groundbreaking 2-hour live chat there this week so small companies could ask questions about PR and the media. I swung by for a while and ending up getting an idea for a pitch and making a very useful contact.

TV/radio: I watched the first episode of The Invisibles on Thursday, expecting it to be like Hustle - stylish and witty. It wasn't. It was dire. What a waste of a talented cast. I missed two episodes of The Apprentice while away, except I didn't really miss it - this year's crew have failed to excite me yet and most of them seem fairly indistinguishable so far. Until Wednesday, when I saw what a cow Jenny Celery is, what a bully Lee is and what a pointless pin-up Alex is. Over in Ambridge, not much is happening as usual, but that's why I like it - it ambles along slowly and undemandingly, yet is compulsive listening. Ross the Red-Top Wannabe is back digging for dirt again and I just loved his blog on the Archers homepage.

Books: I've just started Val McDermid's Beneath the Bleeding. I'm several chapters in already and I doubt it'll take long to finish as McDermid is usually unputdownable. It's another of her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan thrillers so I'm expecting great things and so far it's living up to expectations. And I've a stack more crime fic to get through after this one. I'm a happy bunny.

02 May 2008

Fit to work*

According to all kinds of official measurements, I'm disabled. I have had epilepsy since 1996 (officially diagnosed in 1997 after a battery of EEG tests). My epilepsy entitles me to a Disabled Railcard, a concessionary bus pass, free prescriptions, Disability Living Allowance and various other things.

And yet I don't feel disabled. I have roughly 2 seizures a year, which is not a lot, although they are full-blown ones and 2 minutes thrashing around on the floor can effectively take 24 hours out of my life as I recover. The problem is I never know when one will strike as I don't get "warnings", which means that technically I'm at risk every minute of the day - I could drown in the shower, collapse while crossing a road or die from SUDEP. So far I've been lucky - almost all my seizures have taken place within the home and I have rarely injured myself. I do take care to reduce risks, especially when out and about, but I don't wrap myself in cotton wool. I just get on with life. If I have a seizure, so be it.

I'm relieved developing epilepsy has not affected my ability to work, apart from the occasional speech problems due to loss of vocabulary (the part of my brain where my seizures start controls this skill), which is a pain in my line of work. It's caused the odd hiccup when interviewing people on making phone calls. Otherwise, it's business as usual. Freelancing gives me extra freedom because of the epilepsy - I don't have a stressful commute, I can rearrange things if a seizure strikes and I don't have to plead for time off for medical check-ups. Having control over how I work matters because I'd be lost without work. I've always worked and been independent - not being able to work would mean a major reassessment of who I am.

Who I am is still me, plus epilepsy. I don't hide my condition and I don't get offended overly much if people make jokes about fits (although people being PC and saying "thought shower" instead of "brainstorm" does offend me). I don't care about being judged either.

Where do I fit in on the great scale of disability? Somewhere fairly insignificant, I expect. I suspect that because I don't see myself as disabled, others don't either. My disability is not obvious, I'm not a wheelchair-user. Occasionally I get asked why I have a concessionary bus pass because I don't "look" disabled. Er, it's because I'm not allowed to drive, that's why. In fact, the biggest hassle is people finding out I'm not allowed to drive and assuming I must have been nicked for drink-driving. So now I'm in the habit of tacking "for medical reasons" on to the end of that particular sentence.

Interestingly, over the last couple of years I have been stunned to discover just how many of my freelance colleagues working in journalism and editing also have disabilities. Freelancing is clearly an attractive option when you have health and mobility issues to take into account.

* This is a "Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008" post. Read more here.