Helpful Resources for Freelance Writing

freelance writing on keyboard

The keys to great freelance writing

Do you belong to a community that improves your freelance writing? I’ve found that freelance writers tend to be very supportive of each other. They don’t mind offering help to other writers and sharing effective resources. There are several communities that I rely on for help, from in person meetings right here in my neighborhood to people all around the world.

The Business of Freelance Writing

If you’re a freelance writer looking for some useful resources to grow your understanding of marketing, web site design, contract negotiations and more I recommend The Freelance Writer’s Den and The Renegade Writer.

The Art of Freelance Writing

If you’re looking for places to hone your literary skills as a fiction writer or even a creative non-fiction writer, check out Scribophile. I also love the classes available at Women on Writing. Their blog posts are definitely useful, too. For children’s writers the place to be is the Society of Children’s Books Writer’s and Illustrators.

Social Media Freelance Writing Communities

There are lots of great resources with active social media accounts for professionals looking to improve their freelance writing skills and their business. One of my favorites are Studio 30, a group that not only offers writing prompts weekly but shares the posts of members on social media for increased engagement and feedback. StThe other favorite is Readers Aloud. This unique Facebook group offers members the invaluable opportunity to submit their work, have it read aloud by another member and recorded as an audio file. Listening to one of my stories read by an incredible narrator was an unbelievably powerful way to tackle a round of revisions.

 

What communities do you use to improve your freelance writing, from the business perspective and the artistic approach?

Trying New Foods

Not everyone likes trying new foods. It’s funny that while my husband and I will be adventurous about our eating out and about and restaurants, we often exchange nervous looks when our CSA serves up a vegetable that neither of us are used to using.

Enter the red cabbage.

red cabbage

Nothing scary here

It’s actually quite beautiful when you look at it up close. I did a tiny bit of reading and found a simple recipe that I could make without too many opportunities for mistakes. For me, trying new foods needs to be simple.

red cabbage detail

A work of food art

The recipe is simple. Chop the cabbage. Add some lemon juice and warm up some chicken or vegetable broth. Cover and steam the cabbage for about 5 minutes. When it’s done you can add garlic, salt and pepper, ginger, sesame…all kinds of flavors. So easy my three year old helped me cook it.

cooking red cabbage

The color of this cabbage was exciting for my son.


If you’re looking for ways to add color to dinner and interested in trying new foods, this isn’t a bad choice. The flavor is mild and it’s not too hard to clean or chop. Apparently the lemon juice keeps the cabbage from turning blue while cooking.

trying new foods warm

Trying new foods – Some like it hot!

The Taste Test

The real test came when the steamed cabbage appeared on the dinner table. We don’t pretend to our kids that we like every food we serve for dinner. We think it’s important that they see us actually trying new foods. We want them to know we understand how they feel when they’re encountering something new and that’s it’s tricky for us, too.

kid trying new foods

Trying new foods is easy for some people

We had salmon, pasta and sauce and red cabbage for dinner tonight. My three year old eagerly scooped some on his plate because he helped cook the cabbage. My husband and I tried it and found it to be mild and possibly improved by the addition of some zinger flavors like ginger or even soy sauce. My picky eater chose not to try it today (but that doesn’t mean he won’t later). My oldest took a tiny taste then grabbed a bigger bowl to enjoy a larger portion!

 

 

Tricks For Picky Eaters – Why they don’t work

tricks for picky eaters may not work

Me and my picky eater enjoying an honest meal

Parents, if there is one piece advice I wish you would follow it’s this: Tricks for picky eaters don’t work.

My picky eater recently discovered he likes fresh spinach with ranch dressing. He won’t take it cooked on pizza or mixed in with pasta, but if I set aside a few fresh leaves on his plate and he’ll chomp it down. Another entry in his copy of My Food Notebook! This kid usually avoids salads and fresh vegetables with a passion, so this was a huge victory for healthy eating.

But when we ran out of fresh spinach and our CSA sent us Romaine lettuce, we were faced with a dilemma.

Do we put the Romaine on his plate and tell him it’s spinach?

That’s when I realized: Tricks for picky eaters are not worth it.

Setting aside the dishonesty for a moment, just do the math.

He already likes spinach. If he likes Romaine, too, that’s 1+1 = 2 new fresh healthy foods to enjoy!

He already likes spinach. If we tell him the Romaine is spinach and he decides he doesn’t like it, that’s 1-1 = 0. We’ve just lost a food.

Honesty is the best policy. And you know what? He tried the Romaine because it looked like spinach, and he gave it a so-so rating. That’s better than a no!

Hidden Vegetables

Some parents hide vegetables in recipes in order to get their children to eat healthy, nutritious foods. I’m not throwing stones here, Moms and Dads. I’ve done it. I’m just saying that the payoffs for a kid understanding that they actually like healthy foods are big.

Imagine the bliss of seeing your child voluntarily eat fresh fruits and vegetables! Don’t trick your picky eater into eating them, help them find a way to enjoy them.

There are plenty of posts about tricks for picky eaters, but I’d rather help my kids learn ways to try new things. I believe it will help them when they are at school, at friend’s homes, at restaurants and more.

Simple ways to help picky eaters:

  • Prepare the vegetable in a variety of ways.
  • Ask the child to help you select the vegetable.
  • Involve your child in cutting, cooking and serving the vegetable.
  • Celebrate each time they try a new vegetable – don’t punish them for not trying it.

 

Fiction Writing Contests

fiction writing contests are a great place to get feedback

Many of my stories begin as handwritten entries in my journal.

Fiction writing contests are a great way for me to work under pressure of a deadline and to learn about new fiction publications. While many literary journals and publications will pay writers when their work is accepted, fiction writing contests come with a fee. This fee goes toward the prize money for the winners and frequently to produce a special publication of winning entries.

Some fiction writing contests also offer the opportunity to receive feedback from the judges in the form of a detailed critique. These critiques can require an extra fee but it’s usually not exorbitant. I try to enter a contest each month. I’ve never had any wins, until this year!

Recent Awards

Recently, I learned I was a finalist in a contest from Writer Advice for my short fiction story “After Cake.” While I didn’t win an award, it was great to hear from the contest host that my story “stayed with her.”

I’m also pleased to announce that I was awarded an Honorable Mention in poetry from Spark! A Creative Anthology in their second contest. I typically do not write poetry. But my entry, “Protagonist,” was a story that had a very poetic soul. It just would not be forced into a traditional prose format. So I took a risk and told the story in the form of a poem. The gamble paid off and I garnered my first award recognition for fiction writing!

Online Critique Groups

Spark has strong ties to an excellent writing and critique website called Scribophile. I love Scribophile. I have received incredible feedback on work I’ve posted and read some incredible things posted by other writers. If you have stories you want to tell – fiction or not – I highly suggest joining the site. Post something that you might want to enter in a contest and get it proofread and polished.

Even if you only consider yourself a fiction writer as a hobby, take a risk this year and enter a fiction writing contest. But don’t get discouraged if you get tough feedback or no awards. I’ve been entering contests for a long time, several years in fact. And this year I feel I have finally developed the skills to draft, revise, seek feedback, revise again and finally find the right contest for the story I’ve nurtured.

So put your work out there. And don’t forget to come back and tell me if you win!

Skinny Pete’s Kitchen growing among family friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh

Farm to Family Skinny Pete's

Pittsburgh families deserve delicious food!

Who’s hungry? Join me at Skinny Pete’s in Avalon for Farm to Family, a fantastic new option and from one of the truly family friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh. Parents, grandparents and kids can come together to enjoy a special meal in a relaxed fun atmosphere.

Kids get to create their own meal while adults can take a breather and enjoy fresh farm-to-table offerings from Skinny Pete’s. Kids also get their own copy of My Food Notebook to record the foods they’ve tried.

We need more opportunities for families to enjoy delicious food in a family-friendly setting – and Skinny Pete’s is making it happen. Even if you can’t stay for dinner each meal is available for carry out.  Make your reservations today and stay connected with Skinny Pete’s on Facebook. 

How to Edit Your Writing

a pen and a journal

Write, Read, Revise

Are you working on a novel, like I am, and need to edit your writing? It’s not easy but there are a few tricks that writers use, like starting at the back and reading forward, setting the writing aside for a few days and coming back to it, and reading it aloud. Each of those techniques is helpful but I recently discovered another resource that has made a powerful impact on my revision process called Readers Aloud.

Listen Carefully

When you join Readers Aloud, you have the opportunity to ask other members to read your writing out loud and record it. They then send you the file, you listen to the playback and make changes as necessary.

I was incredibly lucky to have Nicolas Frantela read my work. He is a professional narrator! You’ve got to check out his blog The Eternal Loop. His voice was liquid, smooth, like sonic honey. My characters sprung into life at the sound of his voice. Just recently, The Healings, a book narrated by Nicolas went on sale at Amazon. I will get it just to hear him read it.

Hearing your work read aloud in someone else’s voice is clarifying and incredibly valuable. I could tell right away what parts needed to be changed so they sounded fluid and natural. I was also proud when I heard certain sections flow right off my reader’s tongue. It feels so good to know something I wrote sounds wonderful.

It’s never going to be easy to edit your writing. There will be phrases that are dear to you, that took you forever to construct. But if they don’t sound right when read by someone else, it’s a problem. You need to be ready to chop, rewrite, and add until it’s crystal clear.

All writers should check out Readers Aloud and Studio 30, another great online community for writers. And don’t forget to be generous with your own time and read someone else’s work!

 

Homework for Writers: Writer’s Digest January 2011

The next assignment in my Homework for Writers series!

Writer's Digest magazine

January 2011 Writer’s Digest

Writer’s Digest January 2011

Obviously looking to meet the New Year’s resolution crowd, this issue is all about writing and outlining a novel.

– Differentiating between idea theft and simultaneous discovery. This isn’t something I am worried about. This issue lists three ways to tell the difference: Plagiarism is a theft. Trends occur in submissions and not avoiding critique groups out of fear.

– A round-up of ‘literary goodies’ in the Top Shelf section suggests gadgets for writers like AquaNotes, a waterproof notepad for when ideas hit in the shower and the website I Write Like that lets you upload some of your own writing and tells you which famous writer you resemble.

– There’s a good piece on how to fix email blunders. I’ve had my fair share of these but don’t really see myself implementing an email checklist before I hit send. That’s too big of a behavior change for me. Right now I’m just working on slowing down before I hit send.

– A profile of agent Daniel Lazar from Writer’s House who loves historical fiction. I think I could be friends with this guy. In the Breaking In section, I skimmed the books until I saw a YA novel that intrigued me, and was again reminded of the time involved from pitch to publication: over four years.

– I enjoyed the article about the value of a good mentor but actually haven’t found one for my fiction.

– I am working on a YA novel of my own, and my favorite chapter is my first. This issue of WD offers eight ways to write a great first chapter and I think I’ve already incorporated several, including a strong character, the tense, careful amounts of detail. Next is a big article on the emotions that drive our characters is valuable if we want them to live and breathe on our pages. There are basically writing prompts and cues provided here, questions we should all ask ourselves as writers.

– Three secrets of great storytelling: cause & effect, it needs to be believable (even if it’s not real) and escalation – ‘the heart of a good story is tension, the heart of tension is desire.’ Make the reader want what your character wants, or at least know what your character desires.

– When your novel stalls, you realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Good thing I’m a runner. I used to let this common occurrence bother me, limit me, but even though I’ve stalled on working on my current manuscript I haven’t let it get me down. And I haven’t stopped thinking through the story. Just like these tips recommend, taking a step back and evaluating the big picture can help. I need a build-up of ideas in my tank and then they flow right out on to the page.

– The publishing world expects writers to handle much of their own promotion today, and there’s a good article in this issue on the benefits of selecting and working with other writers, in your genre and out, to promote the group of books and benefit together.

Other posts in the Homework for Writers series

September 2010 – The Big 10 Issue

September 2011 – Best Selling Secrets

October 2011 – Get Your Agent

How Can We Raise Healthy Kids if Parents are the Problem?

logo for Let's Move Pittsburgh, healthy kids

It’s never too late to inspire change.

I attended a fantastic meeting yesterday discussing ways to support healthy kids hosted by Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Any event at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens puts me in a good mood, but this topic is dear to my heart. I not a perfect parent but I do value resources that help me and my community raise healthy kids.

We heard inspiring information from Healthy Armstrong, a community partnership that has made great strides in the past ten years. But no one had any illusions about how much more needs to be done. As I listened to the excellent ideas Healthy Armstrong had implemented in schools to help kids eat healthy and be more active, like Monster Salads (who can resist eating a monster-faced salad), I had a specific question waiting.

“Did any parents object to these changes?”

“Yes,” our speaker acknowledged. “Ten years ago when we took fries on the menu, there was a boycott. But it’s not like that any more.”

I thought about my own school district where parents objected strongly to the removal of 400 calorie cookie from the snack items available for purchase at lunch. I thought about the subtle ways my school district has blocked concerned parents from working with school staff.

Other attendees noted that they’ve hosted events for parents to learn how to cook healthier, buy fresher food, eat better.

“No one comes,” they all agreed.

Why aren’t more parents willing to eat healthy?

At more that one school, parent groups will host fundraisers selling junk food items in an attempt to support the school. Our school district hosts a fundraiser that puts teachers behind the counter at a fast food restaurant and the school administrators actually called parents at home to encourage them to bring the children to buy food.

What are these activities teaching our kids?

Thankfully, some kids are learning the right messages and making changes on their own. Chef Mike from the City Charter school shared a moving story that showed kids may be the key to encourage parents to make some changes.

“We had a student who loved a menu item we made, and asked for the instructions. But I got an email from the parent saying ‘don’t send this home with my kid, I can’t afford these ingredients.’ Well, next time we did the menu item we showed the student how to make it and what to buy. He used money from his own part-time job to get the ingredients. He made it for his parent and the parent emailed me and said ‘thank you.’ They finally realized it wasn’t that bad.”

Let’s Move Pittsburgh focuses on children birth to age 8. That’s key because as Healthy Armstrong knows, even with their changes, 35% of kindergarteners come into school obese. Something needs to change at home.

Has your child ever inspired you to adopt a new healthy behavior?

Three ways to thank teachers (or anyone) on National Teacher Day

Thank you note written by a child, thank teachers

Keep it simple.

Tomorrow is National Teacher Day – time to thank teachers! My oldest is in second grade and he wanted to write a real thank you note.

“But what should I say? I can’t just write thanks,” he panicked.

So I told him a thank you note is easy to write if you keep three things in mind: keep it simple, specific and special. My eight year old wrote a great thank you note following those guidelines, and you can, too.

Three keys

Simple: He didn’t use fancy words or phrases. He just used the word thanks.

Specific: He was specific about what he was thanking her for: being his teacher, teaching him things he didn’t know before second grade.

Special: What made this teacher special? Her sense of humor. He loved her funny jokes. Mentioning this special trait of hers is a great finish.

As you can see, there are small mistakes in his note and the lines aren’t perfectly straight. But no one (not even a teacher) is going to worry about those things when they are focused on the huge sentiment this letter conveys.

It’s important to me that my three children take time to thank teachers. I’ve learned that saying thank you is an important life skill, whether it’s between family and friends, a business and customers, or a non-profit and volunteers. I created Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteersa guide that makes it easy to say thank you to anyone.

 

Is my child eating right?

As a parent, I often wonder, ‘is my child eating right?’ Is my 8 year-old getting enough calcium? Is my 5 year-old

Boy eating whole wheat bread

Boy cannot live on bread alone.

getting enough fruits and vegetables? Is my 3 year-old getting enough protein?

In our house, I’m not exactly worried about the amount of food they eat. They eat a lot. But are they are eating the right kinds of food?

I’ve often wondered how they would handle life if we suddenly faced food depravation. I’m really intrigued by the Live below the Line pledge. I think I could do it, and as a mom of three young children who tend to eat quite a lot, I think it could be a powerful lesson I thought, how would they react if I was only able to give them the minimum daily requirements?

Kids between the ages of 4-6 only need between 1,500-1,750 calories daily.

AGES 4-6 Sample Menu
Serve meals with 3/4 cup of low-fat milk; switch to water if your child is still thirsty. Have water or 100% juice at snacktime. Don’t exceed 6 ounces of juice daily.

breakfast
1 small whole-wheat bagel spread with 1 tbs. nut or seed butter
1/2 cup fruit salad

lunch
1/2 turkey-and-cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Yellow pepper strips with 2 tbs. low-fat ranch dressing
1/2 cup sliced strawberries

dinner
2 oz. fish (such as cod or tilapia)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
4 asparagus spears roasted in olive oil

snacks
1/4 cup hummus and 10 baby carrots
1 small box raisins

Menu from Parents.com “How Much Does My Child Need to Eat?”

Does this seem like the right amount of food for a child ages 4-6? Would your child eat these foods?

We use My Food Notebook to track the foods my children eat with the goal of helping them 1. learn to try 2. realize tasting new foods is fun. Even though my to-do as a mom is already pretty long, I’m considering tracking my children’s eating habits for a few days and learning if they are getting most of their calories from healthy nutritious sources. Have you ever tracked your child’s foods to see where they are getting their calories? Or do you just eyeball it?