Writing Police

Writing Police

Screenshots of Grammarly

Pop Quiz time! Hands up everyone that has never made a single spelling or grammar mistake in their writing. Everyone with their hand up – go to the closest chalkboard or pad of paper and write 100 times: “I must not tell lies.”

No one writes perfectly – EVER.

It’s a simple fact of life. You misuse words, use the wrong word, overuse adverbs, slip into passive voice too frequently, get fixated on one word through a single paragraph, and go into comma overdrive. And while you review your work, it’s still your work. Since you know what’s supposed to be there, you overlook mistakes and miss things. It’s why writers use beta readers to catch those errors.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting the mistakes. We’re HUMAN. If you think your favorite author types out perfection, boy are you in for a surprise. Editors exist for a reason (and, no, it’s not simply to reject you). And even they miss things. It takes an effort of sheer will for me not to grab a red pen and start marking up some of the books I read. (Don’t laugh – I’m not the only person who gets that way)

However, there’s a line.

If you want to be taken seriously, you can’t hand in work that resembles The Eye of Argon. (Anyone who’s ever attended a Con knows that novella) Which means you need someone or something checking behind you. It also means having enough brains and maturity to admit you USE some kind of checker in the first place. You’ll gain more respect for the honesty.

Anything I write – be it work or fiction – gets a minimum of four reads from start to finish. (Yes, blog posts are an exception. You get these straight off the cuff) And, yeah, I catch things each time. Sometimes it’s just rearranging words or eliminating a sentence I don’t like. Other times it’s a mortifying realization that my brain checked out on me.

Fiction sits for weeks between readings, letting the story mellow and settle in my brain. Which was why when I went back to “Everapple” I realized my brilliant idea to leave the main character unnamed at writing made a confusing mess at the first re-reading. I had to scrap that “genius” and give her a name to untangle the confusion. Had I plunged into my editing immediatley, I wouldn’t have caught the problem.

I don’t have that same chance with work. I still catch problems, though. I also use Grammarly (and, yes, I sprang for the Premium version). You have the advantage of deciding the tone of your work, the level of your audience, and several other parameters. It’s a deeper check than the standard spelling and grammar review you get with your standard word processor. And it watches over your shoulder in EVERYTHING:

  • Word processors
  • Online (you can upload documents there, too)
  • Email
  • Even here in blogs

It won’t solve ALL of the problems for you, but it coaches you through most of them. Which is nice, since it builds your writing in a better direction. My initial articles leaned heavily on passive sentences. Since I turned to Grammarly, they rarely make an appearance. I naturally made the switch. It’s a subtle writing guide in addition to a checker.

However, Grammarly doesn’t get to touch my articles until AFTER I’ve completed the first two reviews. I trust myself over the AI, and for good reason. Grammarly is computer-smart. It does see things and pick up on errors I miss. It also goes off-the-rail crazy and tries to fix style choices and quirks that make my writing voice unique. It is, after all, a program. And if I were writing…okay, I’m actually not sure what I’d need to write to make it completely happy.

We get into arguments sometimes, which devolve into my screaming at the computer screen (always therapeutic). And it’s HORRIFIC when I try to use it with my fiction. Teaching Grammarly to tolerate pathos, alien dialects, and fantasical turns of phrase is an effort in futility. But it flags the things I’m worried about (to-be verbs, adverbs, etc.). It lets me tighten my prose between bouts of shaking my head.

Whether you adopt Grammarly or another tool, check your writing. And tell your clients you use the programs. They appreciate the extra effort you use to police your writing. It isn’t an admission of failure, it’s a mark of professionalism. And it saves them some time. They’ll still edit your work, but it won’t take them hours of sorting through your bad day.

And happy editors are GOOD things.

Quote

From THE NEMESIS by S.J. Kincaid

“Reality has no power against a collective delusion,” he said. “Every system is essentially a vast, shared delusion that exists merely because everyone has agreed to believe in it. The whole reason there’s power in such a thing is because most people want to believe in the same thing all those about them seem to believe. And sometimes those delusions are blatant mistruths, but it doesn’t change matters. Some will be outright fooled by their own brains into genuinely embracing a collective mistruth. As long as they are fashionable, and they are in fashion by believing in, people will uphold any falsehood proudly, for doing so makes them belong.”

Skipping the Free Lane

Skipping the Free Lane

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Let me preface this post by reiterating a simple statement: I have the best job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING. After all, I took the time last week to explain why freelancing is the most amazing concept in the world. But, in all fairness (that’s such a terrible concept, isn’t it?) I now need to bring the excitement level down a few notches.

That’s right, lasers and jellybeans, it’s time for the crash. (Feel free to boo – I know you want to)

Why You May NOT Want to Freelance

No one likes to think about the “negative” side of things. And I want to make sure I clarify that these little snags aren’t necessarily BAD – they’re just less glamorous than the shiny bubbles I mentioned before. If you can swallow them, then you’re good to go. I just have this obligatory, guilty conscience prodding me to make sure I put ALL of the information out there. (That tiny creature in the back of the mind is annoying, by the way)

1. Organize or Die

Remember getting to stand on your own? No boss except you? That means all responsibility also falls to you. No one else keeps your shit together. Assignments come with deadlines, some come with templates, and all come with specifications. You have to keep track of ALL of those details. Slip up, and you’ll screw an article. Unhappy clients don’t pay you. If you’re part of a job board such as Upwork, those clients submit poor ratings that get published on your profile for potential clients to view. Guess how many want to hire someone with a poor performance review?

You can’t be the kind of person who “wings it.” You’ll end up overwhelmed and sink FAST. I use a TON of tools to keep my work streamlined:

  • Color-coded white board calendars
  • Excel spreadsheet of ALL assignments (also color-coded)
  • Evernote
    • Every client has a notebook
    • Each assignment is an individual notecard
    • All mandatory information gets bolded at the top
    • I create a checkbox with due dates (and cards are in order of due times)

Color-coding assignments by client makes my life a THOUSAND times easier. A quick glance at the calendar tells me who’s work is due when. The system allows me to usually finish my work early. I’ve definitely never missed a deadline. Can you hire a virtual assistant to handle all of this for you? Sure – but that’s money out of your pocket. The choice is yours.

I don’t have a 100% satisfaction rating and a solid string of five-star reviews for nothing.

2. Paperwork

You WILL need to do homework. That means investing in some books. If you can, talking with people who’ve done the groundwork helps, too. Freelancing is WORK. That means filing paperwork. Why? Because the government still wants taxes. And guess who has to file them? That’s right – you. You’re your own boss, remember? No one else is going to do it for you.

I lucked out. An awesome friend dumped two vital books in my lap and shoved me off the cliff as a start. I also had friends and family with their own businesses. They gave me the information I needed to set up my sole proprietorship. Every city and state is a little different, so make sure you look up the rules where you live. Just remember, as the money rolls in, YOU have to set aside the tax portion. YOU have to keep track of your client contracts. YOU have to be ready to juggle all of those W-2s come tax time (or fork over more cash for an accountant to do so).

It sounds overwhelming, and if you don’t do your homework, it WILL be. Once you have the basics under your belt, you’ll be fine. But you don’t have a boss or corporation to handle that pesky paperwork for you anymore. And when you’re used to someone else handling the tedious chores, it can get irritating.

3. Got a Healer?

Know what else you sacrifice as a freelancer? Insurance. Well, in theory. Basically, you just lose the comfort of a job that COMES with insurance. Freelancers don’t have a cushy life, much as society likes to think we do. In fact, if you poll most writers, they’re rampant with chronic illness. Most artists, in general, suffer from chronic disease and even cancer. And we don’t have the safety net of job-funded health insurance.

You have a few options:

  • Get a bubble (just kidding)
  • Find insurance on your own (watch your pennies)
  • Get on your spouse’s/partner’s insurance
  • Roll the dice and hope you never need insurance (may the odds be ever in your favor)
  • Start a GoFundMe

This is one of the biggest drawbacks to being a freelancer. Because healthcare in the U.S. SUCKS! Even WITH insurance, health costs get ridiculous. And if you fall ill and can’t complete your work? You’re out income. It’s a dangerous game. You need to take care of yourself (which is why you get my Dead Pool posts). And, honestly, you need to find a way to get yourself insurance. The risk is too high.

4. Motivation

You’re the boss. No one can MAKE you do the work. Except you. If you don’t “feel like it,” nothing gets done. Which means you don’t complete your assignments, and you don’t get paid. No biggie. Freelancers can’t have “off days.” You can’t submit sub-par work. If you aren’t at your best, you have to step up and tell a client you need more time. It requires a level of frank honesty that you didn’t have to present at other jobs. (Face it – were you always as sick as you claimed? I know for a fact people I worked with lied through their teeth)

You don’t want your reputation to slip. Your work is YOU. You’re representing yourself on a public platform in a way no other job really does. And lazing around doesn’t work. No one’s going to walk through your office and bang on the desk to urge you to get to work. (Okay, so I have a tiny demon that jumps on my desk, but it’s not really motivating)

You have to have an inner drive to get up and work every day (or whatever you set your schedule to). You need to tackle every assignment with the same level of enthusiasm. If you can’t, don’t accept the work. It’s better to turn a job down then submit half-assed crap.

5. What’s a Vacation?

Surprise! Freelancers don’t get time off. Not officially, anyway. No paid vacation, no paid sick leave. Sorry. You DO make your own schedule, so you can elect to take time off whenever you want. You just won’t get paid for that break. So consider those vacations wisely.

If you’re a writer, you CAN use trips to a certain advantage. For instance, you can pitch a story to a magazine centering around the location, the activities you’re planning, etc. The fact you’re not asking them to foot the bill for the trip AND already planning to have boots on the ground helps to sell the story. You just need to make sure you choose the appropriate market and find a unique angle for the story. And you need to realize there’s a good chance they’ll reject the pitch.

Tempering the Excitement

Freelance writing IS the best thing that ever came into my life. It just came with strings attached. (Newsflash: everything does) If you want to follow your freelance passion, make sure you shine a light on EVERY aspect of your chosen path. If you know where the pit traps are, you’ll be better for the journey. You may still fall into them, but you’ll have a better chance of climbing out the other side.

Restraining the Happy Dance

Restraining the Happy Dance

For those that may not know, I’ve been working as a freelance writer (officially) since April 2020. That translates to around only five months. In that time, I’ve had to change my yearly budgetary goal twice. Something I never anticipated happening. (Not that I’m complaining or anything)

Earlier this month, I receieved Top Rated status on the Upwork job platform. Essentially, it reflects the fact that I have 100% job satisfaction from my clients – something I pride myself on and tout in my proposals. It’s also something I work extremely hard at. (My perfectionist streak comes in handy)

None of that holds a candle to getting a video call from a client and getting told they’re bumping my hourly rate. OR hearing the praise that my work is so well structured and written, it beats some of the full-time writers they’ve worked with over the past FIVE YEARS. (Honestly, that was the bigger compliment for me as I sometimes still wonder if I’m any good)

Now, if you want to know how I feel about something, you can read it on my face. I have no idea how I managed to keep my composure to finish the call before jumping up and dancing around the office. They didn’t retract the offer or statements, though, so I think I did okay. (And then immediately regreted the fact I was wearing a t-shirt and hoodie – that “wear anything” idea can bite you in the ass sometimes)

So, yeah, I’m beginning to believe this crazy ride was worth getting in line. And today feels really damn good.

Freedom!

Freedom!

Freelance Writer Needs
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I won’t lie: I have the best job in the entire world. In my down time, I marvel that it took me so long to get my act together and start on this path.(Here’s a huge secret, lasers and jellybeans: if you have a dream – GET TO IT!) That’s how fantastic my life is. And, so , out of purely educational purposes, I’m going to run through all of the reasons you might consider making a similar career choice.

Why You Want to Be a Freelance Writer

When I first ventured into the freelance world, I wrote a sample blog article about working from home. Of course, now most people are pros at working from home. That ISN’T one of the points I’m going to hit on (exactly), though it’s certainly a perk. Nope, I have five other reasons to delve into.

1. You Get to be You

While I fully admit I’ve never worked in the food service industry (which is for the best, as I lack the grace and dexterity required), I’ve worked in most other industries in the past. They all have one thing in common: soul-sucking requirements placed by management. Uniforms, rules about tattoos/piercings/hair, and restrictions on office decor. It’s conformity at it’s worst.

When you freelance, all of those little nit-picky details float away. Case in point: for work today, I’m wearing Harley Quinn socks, comfy shorts, and a Bruni tanktop. (And before you snicker about my being a slob, all of them have purple on them – so there) The majority of my clients communicate via direct messaging or email. Which means I have the freedom to dress exactly as I want. My personality gets to shine. I can experiment with whatever hair color I want and play around with my pixie cut. I tossed out my boring, practical tennis shoes in favor of adorable Demonia Cult shoes. My geeky wardrobe might raise eyebrows out in public, but it makes me happy and keeps me smiling.

My office is ME. (I promise, photos will come as soon as the new prints I ordered arrive and get framed) Oh, sure, I have reference books on my shelves, and there are sticky notes, notebooks, my whiteboard calendars, and pens (well, at least one that Tonks hasn’t stolen) present at all times. But I also have tiny stuffed animals, Funko POP! figurines, shark teeth, and signed photos and posters from my theatre days. I don’t have to suffer with the decor foisted upon me by others. I get to decide what I want to have around me, channeling my creativity. It’s the best kind of freedom!

2. You’re the Boss

You decide who you want to work with. At this point, my work schedule is full. (I’m not exaggerating, either. My calendars – yes, I had to break down and buy a second one so I have two months up at a time – have up to three assignments due every day) While I still duck onto the job boards and submit proposals here and there, a lot of my work now comes in through invitations. (Awesome feeling, by the way) I make the calls on what I accept.

If you don’t want to work for a certain price, you can make that call! If you don’t want to accept a job, you have that choice! You hold the power to make all of those decisions! There’s no weight sitting on your shoulders, telling you you have to do something because…well, you can fill in the blanks. If you aren’t comfortable, or you feel something’s off, you have the right to step back and say, “No.” It’s the most liberating feeling ever!

Even better, for people like me who demand nothing less than perfection for themselves, freelancing grants you to outlet you always wanted. Clients WANT the best, and they respond to the exacting standards you set for yourself. I have a 100% satisfaction rating on Upwork (one of the job platforms for freelancers). I’m damn proud of that rating, too. I’ve rejected job offers that prioritized quantity over quality. I don’t compromise my standards, and I can do that because I’M THE BOSS!

3. NO Co-Workers

Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. After all, I have Assistants that wander into the office and interrupt my work every day. However, they’e not on the payroll.

However, in general, those obnoxious people you want to throttle on a daily basis? Yeah, they don’t exist! People who get away with breaking rules that you get slammed for, people who sit around on their ass all day while you get sniped at for breathing for 5 minutes, and people who lie through their teeth to get out of work? Not here! It’s just you, baby! You can stretch out and breathe in the freedom of not having to deal with those irritations ever again.

This goes in conjunction with being your own boss. You don’t have to deal with the inequality inherent in the workplace. While a client may employ more than one freelancer, odds are you won’t interact with them or even speak with them. (You may never even know who they are) Even if you exchange messages, they don’t share your workspace. You can always let messages pile up while you work and answer them when you’re finished. (The equivalent of a “mute” button you wish existed in the real world)

4. 9 to Whatever

Freelancers create their own schedule. Yes, you have to meet deadlines set by your clients. You negotiate a lot of those deadlines in the first place, though. (And, most of the time, they’re a day and not a time) As far as WHEN the work happens, that’s up to you. Want to work through the wee hours of the night? Go for it! Want to stick to standard daylight hours to match a family member? No problem. Want to skip a day? No one’s going to say anything (provided you hand work assignments in on time).

You’re in control of YOURSELF. (I know, it sounds crazy, right? Almost like you’re an adult) I don’t work weekends. I save those days for family. Obviously, holidays are hit or miss (since I am working today – but I did my research ahead of time to minimize my working hours), but you can make a decision not to work holidays, if you choose. I’ll take the week of the wedding off, which means working my ass off right up to that point.

It’s a freedom you can’t find out of the freelance world. But it makes my life a MILLION times easier. I can schedule appointments whenever and work around them. I don’t have to go grovel to a manager and face an annoyed or disappointed look because *gasp* I needed to see the doctor. I don’t have to apologize to a frazzled receptionist when I have to beg for a weird appointment time to avoid inconveniencing my job. It’s one less stress in my life.

5. Personality’s a Plus

Does your regular job hand you binders of precisely how you’re supposed to behave? Do you get scripts of recitations to make sure everyone speaks and behaves exactly the same? You’re such good little sheep. Freelancers don’t have that problem. In fact, clients seek out freelancers precisely for their individual personalities! Ditch the uniformity and find your voice!

I get templates for some of my work. Clients want specific formats for the blog articles they request. Which I don’t mind, because I understand the look they’re adhering to. But within that framework, the voice and writing style are mine. It’s what the clients liked in my proposal (or the writing samples they clicked on in my profile). If they wanted a different voice, they would have hired someone else. Instead, they picked out my little quirky voice from the pack.

Instead of focusing on trying to follow the pack, you get to stand out. You WANT to stand out. Find your voice and make it sing. Figure out what makes your writing (or other freelance work) unique and play it up. The humor and geek culture references I always slipped into my narratives in other jobs (and caught flack for) are what earn me clients and five-star reviews now. You have an element of your personality destined to shine, and freelancing will turn it into a diamond.

Fly Your Freak Flag

Drone jobs suck the life out of you. I know – I’ve been there. Now I work my dream job, the job I assumed was always out of reach and impossible. It took NOTHING more than having the confidence to step up and say, “I want it.” It sounds insane, but it was that simple.

If your dream involves a freelance opportunity, then start exploring your options. You won’t regret it. Languishing in a job you hate – you’ll regret that forever.

Photographic Demon

Photographic Demon

Our little squishy faced demon

Check either my or my fiance’s phone, and you’ll find hundreds of pictures of the Minions. No surprise there; parents take pictures of their kids. Especially when their kids are irresistibly adorable. Of course, trying to catch some of those moments requires sneaking up on the buggers since not everyone enjoys the paparazzi. (Firefly, in particular, doesn’t enjoy having his photo snapped) But there are exceptions to every rule.

In our house, it’s Tonks.

Not only is she adorable (you know it’s true), but she POSES for the camera. She knows precisely where the lens is on every camera (including the computers), and she plants herself in the best light and location to ensure someone gets the shot. Of course, this also translates to her adding herself to video conferences, Zoom meetings, and Skype conversations. (A camera’s a camera, after all)

Tonks - the most interesting kitten in the world

I’m sure people think we set up some of the pictures we take. They look THAT posed (case in point to the left). But it’s really a matter of glancing up and snatching up a camera. She’s simply photogenic. And where the other three usually only give us a brief nanosecond to capture an image, she’ll pause until we get the photo right before moving or resettling and destroying the perfect picture. (Vanity, thy name is Tonks)

Tonks is the most ridiculous kitten

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of other cats, and my phone and pocket drive are full of pictures. Rarely have any of them have produced such consistently, ridiculously perfect pictures. I mean look at this! (And, yes, she likes this particular pose – as I’m sure you’ve noted…or you will) It’s absurd! You can even see her eyes dart back and forth, asking, “Did you get the shot, Mommy? Did it come out?”

For Christmas last year, I put together a children’s book detailing her story for my nephew. I was spoiled for choice when it came time to add the pictures to the book. There were so many, some I’d even forgotten about. It made writing the story more fun, because I was able to add funny little touches here and there. I mean, when you find a photo of her with her paw on a wallet, how can you NOT slide that in there? It came out a hundred times better than I ever imagined, and my nephew (and niece) thought it was great.

While I don’t use my own images in my freelance work, I absolutely slide mentions of my kiddos in (where appropriate). They make my writing more approachable, allowing me to connect with the readers on a personal level. And I often remember these images when I’m writing. They’re tiny stories in and of themselves.

Cutest demon on the planet

So, yes, you see a lot more of Tonks in the Photo Bomb tags than the other kids. It’s not intentional, and she’s not the favorite of the household, by any means. She just happens to be the most photogenic and demanding in front of the camera. I mean, how do you resist taking a picture of that face? It’s impossible! That little demon just begs to be immortalized on digital film. Which is why we’ll continue to do so.

Terribly Horribly Unacceptably Unavoidable

Terribly Horribly Unacceptably Unavoidable

ly bottlecap
Bottle Cap that Thinks it’s an Adverb from Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr

Adverbs. These little pieces of grammar are hotly debated in writing circles. Along with the Oxford Comma, you find people aligned on both sides. You also find people that want to put banning adverbs into The Rules. While there’s some truth to cutting adverbs from your writing, outright banning of the poor things is unrealistic (and kind of impossible).

First off, what is an adverb? Adverbs, in the simplest explanation, are words that modify or qualify adjectives, verbs, other adverbs, or entire sentences. To eradicate the misconception, not every adverb ends in “-ly.” Do most of them? Sure, but not all. Want an example?

Deadpool’s costume is deep red.

In that sentence, “deep” is the adverb modifying the word “red.” It qualifies the color, adding additional meaning. However, (and this is where the debate comes in), it’s sloppy writing. You can do better than “deep red.” Just open a box of crayons, and you’ll see at least ten other options that substitute for “deep red.”

Deadpool’s costume is blood red.

Deadpool’s costume is maroon.

If you know the comic, the first one works from the merc’s perspective. The second appeals to the sensibilities of writers who hate extraneous words. Neither is technically wrong; one just uses an adverb while the other doesn’t. (See where the debate gets into the grey zone?)

Newbie writers tend to overdo adverbs. You read an average sentence and count ten of them. WAY too many. The sentence is clunky and difficult to read. Slicing it apart and trimming those excess adverbs in favor of stronger language improves the readability dramatically. It’s something that’s gained with experience. And, yes, I’m speaking from my own personal growth. When I go back and read things I wrote ten years ago, I cringe. Turn on Word’s tracking, and the paragraphs BLEED. I mean, look at this:

They were strong hands, large-knuckled but curiously delicate; unhappily, at the moment, they were shaking so badly he didn’t dare try to lift the knife to eat his cooling supper.

Horrible! Count the adverbs in there! And just try to get through reading that drivel without stumbling! (I can say this – I wrote it) Awful, terrible, and in need of ruthless editing. However, do I need to eliminate all of the adverbs? No. (Yes, the -ly words all need to go. I don’t know what I was thinking)

And this is where I argue against the “Death to Adverbs” camp. Adverbs aren’t the enemy. They DO serve a useful purpose, even in speculative fiction. The problem comes in when they result in sloppy, careless writing. We ALL use adverbs (anyone who denies is lying through their teeth). I know I was writing when I was tired or out of it when I skim over a passage and see adverbs sprouting like weeds. My brain switched off and let autopilot take over.

It isn’t the end of the world, it just means I need to rewrite and tighten up the language. Prune the worst adverbs out and choose better words. Am I using adverbs in dialogue tags? Okay, then I need to go back and examine the dialogue itself, see what I can do to make sure emotion’s coming through in my word choice so I can eliminate the tags. Have I zoned out and let “very” sneak in? Time to purge it and figure out stronger descriptors. (I will stand with the camp that opts to ban the use of “very” – it’s weak)

Then we get to the grey zone.

How many -ly words are there? I don’t think all -ly words are bad. People use them in normal conversation, so I refuse to ban them from my characters’ dialogue. Unless I’m writing a historical piece, I need human beings to speak like human beings. And guess what? Humans speak with adverbs. It needs to sound REALISTIC! I’ve deleted and then replaced adverbs within my dialogue numerous times, realizing I made my characters sound too formal. Not good.

Can you overdo adverbs? Of course. Can you find better word choices most times? Sure. Does that make adverbs the enemy? Definitely not. If you read over your work with a critical eye, you’ll see where the line is. But never let anyone tell you all of the adverbs have to go. You’ll end up writing like a computer, and no one wants to read that.