Savvy Freelance Writer

The Craft of Narrative Nonfiction


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Organization as a Game Plan?

I’m always looking for a better way to manage my writing business. Yes. Business. Being a freelance writer is at least as much as managing the business aspect of the role as the actual writing – if your goal is to make a steady income.

I’ve been a freelance writer for about five years – writing for much longer than that – and I’ve done okay, but nothing stellar. What I mean is, you won’t find me in the pages of the six-figure income books! But this year I had a solid plan to make a steady, very respectable income, from my existing clients. I know. As freelancers you already know the sad punchline to this tale. My biggest client hasn’t gotten any new requests for content in six months. Talk about bad news! The good news is, I’m one of their writers and as soon as they have more business, I have more business. The other good news is that I have several other clients who continue to generate business for me.

It’s time to pitch some ideas. Many ideas, in fact. It occurred to me the other day that my current process is designed for someone who pitches occasionally, rather than for someone who pitches on a regular basis.

I determined that the problem with my current system is that it is:

  • Paper-based
  • Inefficient
  • Doesn’t work

I mean by all of this that once something is printed out and filed, it is out of mind. That may be a result of running in many directions at once, but I rarely meet a freelance writer who is not in the same situation. I think it’s part of the job.

My new system is not paper-based:

I create folders in Scrivener. These folders hold all the research sites and documents I have on a topic. This is important because I find that researching a topic takes two passes at the start. The first pass is to establish that this is as interesting as it seemed and that there is enough readily available information for me to get up to speed. The second pass is when I am ready to write a query and have determined my angle. With everything right there on my desktop, I don’t have to do research twice or have a bookmarks bar that is so big I forget about what’s not on the screen. (Yes. Out of sight, out of mind was a saying created with me in mind!) To be sure I don’t space out about my queries, I leave Scrivener open on my desktop. When I get on my computer, it’s right there!

At the start of one week, I look through what I have in Scrivener and pick five topics that have passed the first screening. I make a list on my Note pad and let those five topics spin around in the back of my brain until the Friday of week two, when I write my queries and send them out. With five queries a week going out, I’m greatly increasing the odds of getting an assignment. When I’m done generating queries, I start a new list on my Notes pad.

For the actual pitches, I plan to use either Evernote or Circus Ponies Notebook. I’m not sure which. I’m giving them both a try and I’ll let you know.

Fingers crossed!

 


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Apps to the Rescue

I’ve been running like a fool, trying to keep track of too many things between too many devices.  The result?  An exhausted, frazzled me.  And a hot mess of note, notecards, notebooks, pads, scraps of paper…

Today I decided it was time to tackle it all and find a way to get my iPad, iPhone, and Mac to play nice with the software I use most often.  The result — SUCCESS!

I use Scrivener for my nonfiction projects. I’ve also started to use if for organizing other projects.  For instance, I’m using it to keep track of everything associated with the redesign of my website and the associated considerations for the type of business I’d like to pursue this year.  If I were in my office all day, I would just work in Scrivener on my computer but most days I have at least an hour or two of accumulated time when I could be doing something work-related but I’m not in my office.  Don’t get me wrong!  If I’m caught up with my work, I actually read or catch up with friends.  But sometimes that’s just not possible.

I’d read somewhere that I can use simplenote to synch with Scrivener!  The Scrivener program is on my desktop, with the data file in Dropbox so I can access it from my laptop if I want.  The simple note app is on my iPad2 and my iPhone4.  The data file is in the cloud.  I watched a video about synching the notes I make or the changes I make to existing content and voila, I can do work on my iPad and synch it back to Scrivener.  It really works!

I also have started using Evernote to keep track of my ideas.  There is an app for my desktop or laptop as well as for my iPad2 and my iPhone.  The data is stored in the cloud so all I need to do is log in and add a note or make a change.  It’s available to all my devices whenever I want to plan or work.  It’s simple to use and I have the notes categorized with tabs to I can see by market, stage of progress, overall topic, etc.  For me at least, it’s far more useful than a simple reminder or ToDo list.

So as long as the cloud and Dropbox and Evernote are available, I’m good to go …

What software and/or apps do you use to keep track of your ideas and work in progress?  Please share your experience!


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Safari 5.1 Reading List

I’m a reluctant recruit to Apple. I went over to the dark side several years ago when Scrivener was only offered on that platform. The benefits from Scrivener alone were worth the trip. My gorgeous desktop iMac is another. And now, I’m delighted to have a third reason for being on a Mac.

The newest version of Safari is necessary for my WordPress blog and so, not very enthusiastically, I upgraded. To my delight, there is a new feature called the Reading List. This little puppy takes care of one of the most vexing problems of our time: How to keep track of things you want to read online but don’t have time to read immediately. Believe me, I’ve tried making a special Bookmark folder for those items, putting them on the Bookmark bar, etc. Ultimately I’ve wound up with a tremendous amount of clutter and many things unread that I really wanted to read.

With this new Reading List feature, I just add them the way I would add them to my Bookmarks Bar and voila! They’re there and I can view them all or just the ones that are unread. I can also clear the list when I want to.

I’m a firm believer that software/apps should make our lives easier rather than more encumbered.  For me, the Reading List is an instant hit!


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What’s All the Fuss About Scrivener?

Scrivener is a writing program for the Mac. I’ve just learned it is also in Beta for Windows, as well as a new OSX Lion version for Mac. Several writers I know have likened it to OneNote. I’ve used OneNote and for me the programs are entirely different. That may be a personal thing. By that I mean it may be the way I used OneNote and not anything about OneNote itself. With that in mind, I thought I’d tell you why Scrivener is the app that got me to switch – kicking and screaming and still reluctant after three years – to a Mac.

I am not by nature a tidy person. Give me a piece of paper today and unless I literally pin it to the wall, it will be lost in a whirl of papers by the end of the week. It’s frustrating and I have gone to great lengths and through remarkable feats of creativity to have this not be the case. But it is. Repeatedly.

I am not by nature a person who works in one place. I roam from room to room and work wherever it is quietest at any given time. I used to keep my papers in portable files and lug them around with me but that got old – fast – when I began work on a book with thousands of pages of documents and scores of very big and dusty books.

I am by nature a person who works on more than one thing, at differing stages for each project, at one time. I’ll be doing preliminary research for one. Tracking down primary sources for another. Completing a draft for another. You get the picture. And it may be a while until I cycle back through.

I am by nature a person who hates to lose things. When I can’t find something it doesn’t just ruin my day and waste by time, it produces a sort of blue melancholy that can best be described as a mini-pity-party. As anyone who writes is well aware, there is not time for pity parties, mini or otherwise, in our jammed days.

Being a person who hates to lose things, works wherever it is best at that moment, and yet is not tidy – and lacks sufficient wall space for all my important papers – it became necessary to find a solution. A foolproof solution.

Enter Scrivener.

I have it on my laptop and my desktop. I keep the working file up in the “cloud” and bring it down to where I am when I need it. Find a pdf of an out of print book on Google Books? Not a problem. I download it and bring it right into Scrivener. There’s a website I absolutely must remember for this project? Forget adding it to the 2,469 bookmarks I already have. I link it to Scrivener where the page is saved with the link intact so I can go to it from within Scrivener. Photos? Into Scrivener. Interview notes? Scrivener. Anything else? There’s a way to have it incorporated into Scrivener.

Once it’s in Scrivener, I can search and anything in any form that meets the criteria is identified. Nothing is ever lost. It’s all in one place. I can organize it different ways. I can make notes on it in different ways.

It’s the equivalent of one big wall.

And it’s tidy!