Resources for Freelance Writers

freelance writers

Key information for freelance writers

Writer’s Weekly Helps Freelance Writers

Writer’s Weekly recently published my success story. This online newsletter offers terrific resources for freelancer writers and I invite you to check it out here.

Writer’s Weekly editors are looking for more success stories and feature articles. In addition, the newsletter lists jobs for freelance writers and information on self-publishing.

Consider what has helped you as a freelance writer.  Was it something as simple as changing where you worked or how you organized your tasks? Did you adopt new technology or change your website?

This past month I downloaded the free trial for InDesign and used it to lay out and design a monthly newsletter for one of my clients. It was a challenge and I made mistakes. But I know I won’t make the same mistakes next month and by learning this software I now have more hourly work for this client.

What are you doing to challenge yourself as a freelance writer, keep your skills fresh and remain valuable to clients?

 

Thank You Notes from Kids

thank you kids thank you notes

Good habits start early

Do you send thank you notes?

Have you ever forgotten to send a thank you note?

I volunteered at our elementary school this month helping with an assembly and the launch of a new school activity, Kids of STEEL. Kids who join this program will get to run together once a week and learn about healthy eating. It’s right up my alley.

But after the assembly ended, our PTO president and principal realized they had forgotten to unroll the giant thank you sign they had created for these kinds of events.

“There’s just so much going on,” lamented our PTO president.

So I opened my big mouth and made this suggestion: “Let the kids take over saying thanks. Have the student government put together a gratitude team, and they can write thank you notes to volunteers and guests.”

We discussed photographing the large thank you sign and creating custom thank you cards. The principal is taking the idea to the teacher who advises student government, and I am hopeful they will give it a try.

The PTO can still write notes or send emails, but I think involving the kids has so many benefits. Writing thank you notes as a kid is almost as important eating healthy and exercises. Writing thank you notes is a physical, active way to help my children develop a strong sense of gratitude. I know that feeling gratitude can go a long way toward helping a child feel happy and satisfied in whatever path they follow in life.

Gratitude and Thank You Notes

I recently finished local Pittsburgh author Britt Reints’ book An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. Reints dedicates an entire chapter to the science of gratitude. She cites research that argues when we feel and express gratitude, we are happier. She also emphasizes that gratitude is not the same as feeling indebted, and I am working hard to help my children understand the subtle difference there.

Working with volunteers gives me many times to feel and share my gratitude. Over the past ten years, I have often found myself struggling to find ways to express my gratitude that matches the value of the gifts these volunteers have shared. I collected a list of the 100 most creative and relevant ways I’ve said thanks to volunteers and these ideas are available to you as an e-book called Thanks! 100 Ways to Appreciate Volunteers.

Should you force it?

Some families don’t have a habit of writing thank you notes. I often give my grandmother credit for building the habit for me, but really my mom was just as influential. She would often say, “Write the thank you note, or we’ll never hear the end of it from your grandmother.” I guess they had a pretty effective good cop/bad cop system going because even now I say those things to my children.

Technology offers lots of ways to say thank you now beyond the traditional handwritten note. And my family has used a variety of them, like the photo at the top of this blog. But we never abandon the thank you note completely. I do agree that the way we say thank you isn’t as important as remembering to do it in the first place. A true, heartfelt “thank you” is all we need to offer.

I have two requests for feedback here:

Do you value handwritten note more or less than other ways of showing gratitude?

What creative ways you have helped your children – or you have used yourself – to express gratitude?

Twitter and Women: The Right to Vote

Before Thanksgiving, I was excited to be a panelist at a meeting of the International Association of Business Communicators of Pittsburgh. The topic was “Applying Traditional Communication Skills to Social Media.” I do love using social media and I’m a firm believer that skilled communicators of any age can be effective on many different social media platforms.

Being a panelist was fun, but I was more excited to hear the questions from the audience. Other people’s questions spark some interesting ideas in my brain. Sometimes I blurt out those interesting ideas. And I did that at the IABC event.

A gentleman in the audience asked, “What historic events would have been different if we had social media when they happened?”

Before anyone else could answer, I said, “If we had Twitter, women would’ve gotten the right to vote a lot earlier!

Here’s why I think that.

Twitter and Women

Women and men like using social media, but trends show that women use it a bit more than men. A colorful info graphic on socialmediatoday.com states that 71% of women use social media sites. 62% of Twitter users and 58% of Facebook users are female. The ladies would totally rock the vote using these platforms, but especially Twitter.

Herland feminist utopia

Imagine if women could read this as an e-book.

I’m a historian by training and the Progressive Era was the focus of my studies. I know how hard it was for women to organize, travel and communicate back then. We’re seven years away from the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and it’s still hard for women to organize, travel and communicate. But social media makes it a lot easier for women – whether at home, at work, wherever- to share ideas with other like-minded women and to get educated. I like to think there would’ve been tweets like “Fed up with the federal gov’t! Suffrage Now! #SenecaFalls” and “The U.S. doesn’t yet include US #Suffrage.”

Twitter users tend to have higher levels of education and higher income. I’m not saying that makes them better than non-Twitter users, but I do believe it’s likely they’d have more free time and financial resources to begin the organization and advocacy for the right to vote. And women working their butts off to make ends meet wouldn’t be able to take off work for marches and sit-ins and fancy conferences, but they’d also be able to engage in the debate, send tweets to elected officials, get donations, and raise awareness through social media.

So there are a few simple reasons why I think Twitter would’ve lead to women getting the vote quicker. I also think that Twitter would’ve made it harder for suffragists to jettison African-American’s right to vote. While many women fighting for the vote back in the 1920’s argued that giving white women the vote would counteract giving black men the right to vote, 25% of Twitter users are African-American and there’s no way their equality would be undermined if Twitter was a part society back then.

So what historical events do you think would be different if social media had existed when they happened? 

 

Healthy Snacks for Kids

Let’s Move Pittsburgh hosted their first ever Symposium on November 7, 2013 at Phipps Conservatory. The title was “Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice.” I really liked that title because so much research shows that when you give children choices at the grocery store, during preparation and during meals – and those choices are healthy choices – kids will choose good-for-them-food.

I also learned from Let’s Move that the USDA is rolling out a new Smart Snacks in Schools program.
Print

 

Healthy Snacks for Kids

I started thinking about places where I could increase healthy choices for my children, and our wonderful community soccer program came to mind. My boys have played soccer for about two years and I always cringe when they ask to buy Hugs at the snack bar after games.

So I started asking people about alternatives at the Symposium.

“Instead of Hugs, give the kids their water bottles at the beginning of the season and get them filled up at the snack bar,” suggested Jesse Sharrard, Food Safety and Nutrition Manager from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

I loved that idea because water is so important for young athletes and getting rid of those Hugs would reduce litter on the soccer fields.

But I know the soccer league relies on snack bar sales to fund a lot of the program. And if the snack bar has candy for sale, the kids will ask for that.  So I asked parents on Facebook what healthy snacks their children would actually buy.

Here are some of their answers:

  • Squeeze applesauce
  • Peanut Butter and apples
  • Fig Newtons
  • Carrots and celery sticks
  • Kid-styled Luna Bars
  • Pirates Booty
  • Frozen Go-Gurts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Bananas, Oranges, Apples
  • Yogurt-covered Raisins

So what are your thoughts? What healthy snacks would your kids buy at school or at concession stands?

How to Thank Volunteers

It seems very simple to thank volunteers, but as I learned today, “every ‘thank you’ is your next ask.”

I’m working on the annual report for a Pittsburgh-area non-profit and the design team is exploring the role of the annual report. Is it just to thank last year’s donors? Or can it somehow mobilize the people who read it into action?

As we prepare to thank volunteers who contributed to the non-profit during the season of giving, the holiday season, this agency is eager to encourage donors to get involved in a second season of giving during the spring when their donations and support wane.

So can we thank volunteers and encourage them to take action more than once a year? Can one little annual report really do all that?

I’m an idealist so I think it can. During the brainstorming meeting I was tossing out ideas left and right.

  • QR codes so people can scan and donate! (Shot down because QR codes are ‘out.’ Ok, so what’s in?)
  • Tear out calendar.
  • Pages that people can write on and take notes about their volunteer ideas.
  • Tear-out action cards.
  • Tear-out thank you notes so people can thank volunteers they work with.
  • Tear-out thank you cards that people can send to motivate new volunteers!
thank volunteers

Don’t Forget to Thank Volunteers

I think some of those ideas might get used. The team was interested in a lot of them. We’ll see what the budget can hold. In the meantime, if you’re looking for ways to thank volunteers, consider picking up a copy of my e-book Thanks! 100 Wonderful ways to Appreciate Volunteers. It’s the season of gratitude and maybe it’s time some volunteers in your life could use some thanks!

More Advice on Writers Conferences

This year I’m heading to my first writers conference. I’m gathering tips and advice from people who have been to writers conferences before. So I asked one of my good friends Beth Skwarecki about her most recent writers conference. She’s also really analytical and never takes things at face value, which makes her a great science writer. We met last year when she agreed without ever having met me, to be my writing mentor for National Novel Writing Month. Since our first meetings, which were quiet and focused on writing, we’ve had some interesting shared adventures like hiking with our kids and spotting an owl as well as visiting gun and archery ranges. Yep, we’re exciting people.

Beth recently attended a science writers conference called…ScienceWriters hosted by the National Association of Science Writers. Pretty much it was science writers heaven to judge by her enthusiastic – almost giddy – tweets and emails!


Writers Conference Tips

Before Beth jetted off to London for SpotOn, another science conference, I asked her to share with me some advice for a great writers conference experience.

From Beth:

I suspect ScienceWriters is a different beast than other writing conferences. Not sure how much of this applies elsewhere. That said, I jotted down a few thoughts.

To know about writing conferences like ScienceWriters:

Editors want to meet writers. Writers want to hear cool stuff from PIOs. Freelancers want to compare notes with other freelancers. Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone; you won’t regret it.

Don’t skip the parties. Your conversation starters are:

So where are you based?
Are you a freelancer / who do you work for?
What sessions have you gone to? How was that one? Which ones are you doing tomorrow?
Have you been to these conferences before?
We’ve emailed / I follow you on twitter / etc / and I just wanted to say hi in person.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer and don’t have tons of clips you’re proud of, and somebody asks you who you write for? DO NOT PANIC. It’s OK to say you’re new. Mention a thing or two you’ve done. Or just evade the question and tell them about the latest topic you wrote about, or something you’re interested in. They’re not fact-checking your resume, they just want to start a conversation.

When there are food tables, skip the first one you see. The ones at the back of the room have shorter lines.

There will be times you have to choose between sessions. Don’t sweat it too much; just ask other attendees later about how that session was. Sometimes I’ll skip a session if I know it’s likely to be blogged or videotaped, and instead choose something where the in-the-moment experience will be the best.

You don’t HAVE to do anything. If you want to skip a session to write, go ahead. If you’re partied out, feel free to hole up in your hotel room. Just not all the time.

NASW has lots of field trips and opportunities to meet researchers. Even if what they’re doing seems boring, put on your interviewer hat and start asking questions. Imagine an editor has told you “This person does super cool stuff, but you’ll have to dig to find out what it is.” Ask dumb questions, smart questions, anything that comes to mind. Stumped? Try “What is the worst part of your job?” and “What’s the most exciting thing in your field?”. Those two questions, if propelled with just a little bit of “so tell me more about that,” can cover anywhere from minutes to hours.

We did a “Power Pitch” session which was like speed dating with editors. It was AWESOME. Here’s my approach, which seemed to work well for me.

Find out how it works. Wake up early to sign up (they did a lottery in the morning)
Know, ahead of time, who your first (second, etc) choice of editor is. Have a list of pitch topics.
Don’t worry about fleshed out pitches; there isn’t time. Think in terms of headlines and hooks.
Here’s what I would usually say:
I’m [name] from [city] covering [beat].
(Business card swap)
I ask: Where does your pub fit in the news cycle? What counts as a good news peg for you?
Maybe another quick question or two to narrow down where their needs intersect with the kind of stuff I can write (topic areas, word counts, etc)
Rapid fire pitches: a headline, a few sentences of explanation if needed. Get a yes/no and move quickly to the next. Time will be up before you know it.
They won’t assign stories on the spot; it’s more of a rapid fire “Do you want a pitch on this?”
If they give a yes, or a strong maybe, I star that pitch in my notebook.

To check out Beth’s science writing, a good place to start is her Pinterest board. But I’d highly recommend following her on Twitter, too.

 

Using Sight Words in Your Children’s Writing

If you’re planning to write for children, especially early readers, you need to be familiar with sight words. Sight words are a group of several hundred words that make up the majority of words used in children’s literature. New readers need to be able to recognize sight words by sight because many of them cannot be deciphered using phonics. Pretty confusing for a young kid but also essential if they want to be successful readers. Teachers and editors know these sight words – but, aspiring children’s writer – do you?

sight words

First Grade Sight Words

There are tons of resources online for writers who want to gain familiarity with sight words. I’m pretty lucky because I have a first grader! We are working through five books this year, each with five lists of words that my young reader will master before the end of the school year. Can I brag a little and mention he’s already completed the first two books and is ahead of schedule?

Helping him master sight words includes very common techniques that we use to learn new things every day: repetition, frequent exposure, and in his case, a relaxed approach to the process of learning the words.

Writing With Sight Words

Research shows that children learn these sight words best when working in small groups with adults, so I’m also a volunteer in the classroom helping other children master their sight words. I flip over index cards and gauge how fluently the children read the words.

There’s so much more to writing for children than just picking a high interest topic like dinosaurs or princess fairies. Word choice can make a story just the right level of challenging for a young reader and very useful to a teacher.

When I’m working on a children’s story that I plan to submit to a magazine, agent or publishing house, I return to these lists. I look for places where I can substitute adult words for a sight words.  Lists of sight words are available online.

 

National Novel Writing Month 2013

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2013

Start writing!

It’s almost National Novel Writing Month! Are you tackling the challenge this year? I didn’t win my first year (2011) but I did win last year (2012) after a massive, 7000 words in one day final push at the end of the month. I have a much different plan for this year’s NaNoWriMo. I have a strong plot outline that I’m using as the foundation for the story, I know my characters’ backstories and innermost desires. I’m ready to do this. Are you?

Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about what leads to success in my writing. I often have to think for several days, even weeks, about what I want to write before I sit down and put the words to paper or laptop screen. It helps my writing for ideas to ferment in my brain for awhile. I’m so curious about how other people tackle their writing. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped acting on story impulses, but I think I’ve matured a little and am producing better work when I remind myself that time and careful thought before I begin the act of writing adds value.

So what works best for your writing? Working frantically on spontaneous ideas or slowing coaxing a story into life?

If you want to find me and add me as a writing buddy during NaNoWriMo, search for me under the name OneSweetWriter. Good luck!

Tips for Attending a Writing Conference for the First Time

writing conference

SCBWI is on Twitter @SCBWI

This fall I’m heading to my first writing conference, the Western PA regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This conference is in Pittsburgh so I will be able to ease into it without the stress of travel and being in a strange city. But in February 2014 I’ll be heading to my second writing conference, the big SCBWI conference in New York City. As a member of the SCBWI, I have access to a really excellent local critique group. One of the other members in this local critique group recently went to her first writing conference. I asked her what she learned after this first one, and her advice and insights were so excellent I felt I had to share them here with you!

Tips for Your First Writing Conference

I attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference in Cleveland.  I was excited and nervous and secretly looking forward to a break from my usual weekend routine of kids and running them around!

I am a creature of habit so once I found a table to sit at for dinner, I went back again for lunch the next day.  I wouldn’t do this again, it is better to mingle and try and meet more people.

If you click with someone ask them what sessions they went to and what they learned.  Also, what sessions they are going to and have them report back in.  I had a hard time picking what I should be attending, so this was nice, it gave me a clue to what I was missing out on (you can’t do it all!) and let me share what I learned with others, helping commit it to memory.  It is a bit of an information overload.  If you are going with a writing group I would try and structure it so you cover as many workshops as possible and debrief each other later.  Alas, I was by myself!

Ask others how their critiques went, I had a couple random people let me read theirs.  It is helpful, even if you don’t know the whole context of the story.

Before attending write what your story / stories are about in three short sentences.  This will help you be concise if asked by someone what you are working on or what you have written.  Plus, you sound more professional.

I would also pay better attention to who the keynote speakers are when signing up for workshops.  The agents and editors present were all keynote speakers and I had also signed up for sessions with them.  This was good and bad.  Good, because I got to know them better.  Bad, because some of the information from their workshops was a bit redundant with their keynote addresses.  In the future I think this would help me pick between two workshops I really wanted to attend.

Another interesting note is both the agents ended up attending one of the workshops an editor gave that I signed up for. Makes total sense now that they might do this and it also provides another opportunity to sit next to an agent and get to know them.

Final thought – it was really exhausting!  I was surprised how tired I was.  You get so much info and at the same time are thinking about your stories and what you need to do.  It sets your mind is spinning.  It is fabulous and inspirational.

OK – that’s it, hope you find it helpful!
Amy