Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Time to give up on the writing?

Needless to say I didn't get any reply at all from the language magazine.  I'm now definitely at the stage of giving up - not because I have put a vast amount of effort into the whole thing but because I'm not convinced I really want to write in the disciplined sort of way that is required to earn money from doing so.  Have suddenly realised that sitting down and dashing off a few thoughts off the top of my head for fun will not do it!  So -- maybe the answer is to just do that - for free - and see where that takes me?  I think I'll definitely have a go at writing a bit about Galicia for http://www.hubpages.com/ and see where that get's me.  O.K so I'm not going to be writing the sort of stuff which will go 'viral' but maybe I'll get a few readers and also find out whether I really can write and what about.

The other Eureka moment I've  had was when it hit me why I was finding it so difficult having nothing to do - or rather nothing that I must do.  Not only have I been a single parent in full-time work since my younger son was four I've also been a student for most of that time.  I started a Master's degree in Education with the Open University whilst working in Edinburgh (commuting twice a week from Glasgow) but both before and since then have done all sorts of other assessed courses, ranging from the OU's science foundation course to a module in overseas development.  How did I manage to do all this when now with all this spare time I can't even get down to my Spanish in a systematic way?  It must all come down to lack of structure.  The OU did at least have deadlines for assignments which kept me at it - particularly when I was paying my own way.  Guess I should give myself one last chance over the next month or so to see whether I am capable of a bit more self-discipline and, if not, sign up for a course.

On the positive side though, there has been some progress with the voluntary work.  Had a meeting with the staff member from the Prince's Trust (http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/) and, all being well, should be able to get involved both in delivering their Enterprise programme (for young people aged 18 - 30 not in employment, education or training, especially those from disadvantaged groups) and in mentoring those who decide to take this forward by setting up their own businesses.  Have also heard back from the local authority re a possible vacancy for a school governor quite nearby.  Perhaps I shall end up being so busy that I'll  be able to get down to my Spanish and some writing as well!        

Friday, 29 October 2010

Two months on and feeling a bit stuck with my new writing career!

Well I have to confess that I've not completed another article sufficiently to post it although I have lots of semi-drafts and even more ideas.  Decided that I didn't want to self-publish any more without having a bash at getting somebody else to do the publishing and even paying me for doing so!  Also realised that I really needed to be a lot clearer about what exactly I wanted to write, for whom and with what purpose.    For example, do I want to entertain or inform?   I may be a clear communicator but what do I want to communicate?

Since the last post I've spent quite a long time finding and reading a number of books about how to write or more precisely to sell non-fiction.  Unfortunately this has made for some depressing reading.   There appears to be no substitute for in-depth research of potential publications.   Getting hold of those that seemed promising for my current list of possible themes - retirement, relationships, education and training - has not proved straightforward.  Even when I have succeeded I've found it impossible to identify which articles/slots are written by freelancers and which by staff.  And I've not even attempted the sort of detailed analysis wihch you're supposed to carry out (number of words, number  of words per sentence etc.)   Have also found it impossible to locate the short 'think pieces' in specific magazines which an article I read in 'The Writing Magazine' definitely says are there.  As for phoning up editors to ask if they are currently commissioning work and launching into this with 'I am a freelance journalist', I've had only one bash at this.  I was so taken aback when I got straight through to an editor and so nervous that I didn't even give the poor guy time to say 'hello' back before putting my question.  When he said 'No, we don't have a budget for proper paid journalism (apart from two 'regulars')' I thought afterwards that I should have offered to write something for free  in order to get a cutting.  I can hardly ring him back again to offer this now. (Would be freelance writers face a neat Catch 22 - you can't get published without cuttings of published writing and where are these going to come from if you can't get published....)

The other thing I've done is send an 'ideas' letter to a language magazine.  Will be very lucky to get a reply, especially as I have not been able to get hold of the journal itself which, according to all the books, is an absolute prerequisite for getting 'pitches' accepted.  (See, at least I've learnt the language.)  Anyway the articles are those that I've already written so at least I haven't wasted too much time (although it took me for ever to write the three para e-mail.)

So where do I go from here?  Would love to send off my retirement article but still haven't identified a suitable publication.  I could also develop a few pitches without too much work as do have lots of ideas but am not optimistic about the chances of success - again unless I am clear about the targets.  One of the books pointed out that most would be writers imagine initially that they're going to just sit at their desks and write whereas most articles involve going out and about doing research, interviews, case-studies etc.  That was me - imagining I could just rattle off something witty and entertaining off the top of my head.  But the market for that sort of writing is far too competitive.  So do I want to do the 'out and about' journalism?  I remember as a young woman  thinking that although I could write I wasn't cut out for journalism because I wasn't pushy and confident enough.    That conclusion still holds.  As far as writing about education and training is concerned, already I feel a bit removed from all of this but  perhaps if I make progress with voluntary work in this field that would give me a basis from which to write.

So next steps then?  Back to Sheffield reference library to go systematically through back copies of specific magazines (assuming that they keep them) in order to do that essential detailed analysis of the market.  Send your unsolicited MS/pitches off.

If this doesn't work or I get stuck then it seeems to me there are two options:

  • Do some more writing for free.  Maybe I'm still stuck on this idea that nothing is really worthwhile unless you get paid for it whereas the most important thing is surely to be read and to influence, inform or entertain.  Doing some more would also perhaps enable me to clarify what I want to write and why.  Could have a go at writing letters or in the comment section of the Guardian, for example, as well as more on http://www.hubpages.com/ 

  • Think about doing a writing course.  The problem with this is that you may be buying 'a pig in a poke'.   Also one of the women at the creative writing class last year was doing a course with the Writer's Bureau, I think, and she said it was very hard work.  (You have to do the market research and identify your own targets just as I've described above.  On the other hand, since starting the writing course she had already had one article published in a local magazine.
It's all so much of a downer that I've seriously thought about going back to work but if I want to do something different I'm faced with exactly the same issues as those for beginning writers: researching the market, making contacts, selling yourself.  I'm too old for any of this!            

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Is it easier to confide in 'Internet strangers' than in 'real friends'?

Well, there doesn't seem to be too much activity on the volunteering front (schools and colleges still in holiday mode?) so I'm charging ahead on the writing front.  Apart from a new article  Teaching yourself a language: learn from my experience I've had a very small contribution to the Guardian's online community website published on Perspectives on Retirement.  What struck me about this was that in these couple of paragraphs (and on this blog)  I have shared more about my personal feelings and experiences of retirement with total strangers than I have with some close friends and family members.  Apart from anything else this seems to suggest that people I know should read my blog rather than talk to me, if they want to know what is happening in my life - which can't be right, can it?  Furthermore I've put my real name to the Guardian bit  under the probably mistaken apprehension that this might further my writing career.  So there is a remote possibility that people who know me slightly might get to read it - which is perhaps worst of all.  (Am reassured by the fact that nobody is yet following me!)

Still haven't managed to tackle my addiction to continually checking out how many people are reading my articles but I guess this will wear off when I realise that the numbers are going to decline rather than magically increase.  A similar thing happened with my (small but diversified) stock market holdings.  Whilst the stock market was rising - and the value of my shares was moving in the same direction - I couldn't stop myseslf monitoring my portfolio but once it - and they - started to fall, I suddenly lost my enthusiasm for doing this.  Nevertheless I am going to make an effort to increase 'number of page views' by doing some 'back-linking' - another new bit of Internet language for me.  Basically this is about identifying sites where you can place a link to your own articles so, for example, a foreign language forum would be a good choice to promote my articles on this subject.  The trick, apparently, is to manage to do so without being banned from that site for 'undue commercial promotion'.

Have also decided that I need to write about something other than languages, as the 'market' for reading articles on this subject must be a bit limited and, in any case, how much do I have to say in an area where I don't have any specialist expertise?  Had another go at a funny article on being a 'worst case scenario person' which has some relevance to me at the moment (for reasons which I am certainly going to resist the temptation to reveal) but found that it was turning out more educational/ self-help guide than humorous.  Perhaps the one article on retirement was the only amusing one that I had in me - we shall see!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Launching my beautiful new writing career!

It wasn't the writing that was difficult -- I couldn't wait to get started with this but first I had to go through the laborious process of writing a profile and downloading a picture -- and the only one on my computer that was even approaching suitable was about eight years old! This was all fairly straightforward but what was really a drag was having to get to grips with the business of ensuring that what I wrote was marketable, in other words that I chose titles, subjects and keywords which would ensure that my articles showed up on Google searches, preferably not 30 pages behind all the commercial organisations with which I was competing. On the one hand I wasn't really expecting to make money from the whole process but on the other why was I writing if I didn't want any readers?  I found the process pretty frustrating as having carefully followed all the advice about using the Google tool to check keywords I carefully selected a title for my article, where the competition wasn't too fierce but where there were also a reasonable number of monthly searches - a bit of niche marketing in other words!  Having uploaded this,  Language Exchange Web-sites: Hints and Tips on How to Use Them,  I then discovered that this apparently wasn't showing up at all on Google.  The web-site, which is very clever, shows you where your page views have come from and I was amazed to discover that two people had managed to find it via Google which I certainly couldn't. 

Looking on the positive side I now know a lot more about how web-sites and Google in particular can make money although it is clear that I'm not going to do so.  For example,the other website which I was trying out, http://www.wikinut.com/ , enables you to track how much money you are making.  By the end of the first day I had earned the princely sum of 0.001p! That is what the website itself will pay me but I've also signed up for Google Adsense which in theory enables me to earn money directly from Google every time somebody clicks on one of their adverts.  This is quite clever in that the adverts that Google inserts into your article are tailored to the subject matter so lots of adverts about language schools in this particular one which somehow makes it look more professional.  However if you think about the number of times you click on an advert that you happen to spot on a webpage you'll understand why the earning potential from this route is rather limited (once in a blue  moon?).  Using Google itself you can find stories of people getting thousands of page views and earning the princely sum of £75 per year from Adsense (perhaps an exaggeration but you get the picture) - good to see that there's no censorship!

The fundamental problem though,  is that I've found myself in a real beauty contest.   I'm totally obsessed with number of page views for my articles.  (Yesterday I was looking at them about every half an hour - it's a great displacement activity.)  This  is ridiculous when I haven't even had the courage to tell friends about these articles -- the only people who know so far are in South America or Spain  and I'm not even sure they got the link as I sent it from the web-site. It's ridiculous to be obsessed with number of page views because I am never going to write the sort of stuff which is going to be very popular. What 'Hubpages' are looking for, for example,  is obviously lots of practical 'how-to guides since this is what a lot of people use the web for.  This is not to say that all the articles are about this - you can write about anything.  My plan is to use these websites to work out what it is exactly that I want to write about and what my style and voice is going to be.

The other issue though is that it's not just an external beauty contest, it's an internal one:  there are all sorts of ways for community members to register interest in each other's work, not just commenting but also sending fan mail and becoming a 'follower'.  I suppose I should look upon this as an opportunity to get some constructive criticism although to be honest I haven't seen a lot of this in comments on other people's articles. The only one I've had so far turns out to be from a website rather than an individual, the main purpose of which was to tout their own wares.  It's clear to me, though, that if you want to succeed in the internal beauty contest you've got to spend quite a lot of time interacting with other members and reading their articles - and do I want to do this?.  The other website, Wikinut, is just the same but I think has a lot smaller readership at the moment  so I may not continue to post articles there.  This sort of website, though, does raise interesting issues about the downsides of giving everybody access to 'publishing' on the web, in particular quality control - of which more in a later post.   

Friday, 13 August 2010

The first three months

At the time that I decided to retire I was self-employed but I still had to plan ahead and let the companies that I worked for know that I wouldn't be available for new projects. As it turned out my timing was very good as due to the change of government and the financial downturn, work has become much scarcer since. In the run-up to retirement, though, I was extremely busy, very stressed out and certainly  didn't have any time to start planning how I would spend my time. So it was that round about the middle of May this year that I found myself twiddling my thumbs.

At first things were quite frankly grim and I simply didn't know how to spend my time. As I said to a friend, I seemed to be spending all my time doing things like clothes shopping which I am very bad at and could, thankfully, scarcely squeeze in at all when working full-time.  I went to town more often and even visited the supermarket instead of doing all my shopping online which is what I have got used to. I did spend a bit more time on my Spanish but not in any systematic sort of a way. What I really missed was a routine. Frequent trips to our flat in Galicia, northern Spain helped to break up the monotony but didn't really help me to solve the problem of what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

It took me a while to grasp that what I was missing was not just something to keep me busy but the experience of doing something that I was good at and which I would get some recognition for. When I thought back to my first maternity leave I remembered crying over the dishes on the first morning of this because I didn't know how I was going to manage without work!  Obviously adjusting to retirement was going to be much more difficult because the loss was supposed to be permanent rather than temporary. Paradoxically once I had understood this I also realised that my recent experience of gainful employment had only provided limited support for my sense of identity and self-esteem. And I certainly hadn't laboured under any illusions that the work that I was doing was ‘making much of a difference’ to people's lives - in spite of the rather grand sounding projects in which I was involved.  So I set about looking for activities which would help to nurture my sense of who I was and my self-esteem.

First of all, I looked for opportunities to do voluntary work. Because of my background in research into education and training I was most interested in becoming a trustee, for example, a member of a school or college  governing body but I'm not sure I've got the experience to secure one of these positions.  However I also have a background in social work which widens the opportunities so I  signed up with a web-site called Reach  http://www.reachskills.org.uk/ which specialises in matching volunteers with organisations looking for people to fill trustee or similar roles.

As indicated in my profile I have a passion for Spain and for learning Spanish.  Nowadays learning a language is something that I'm never going to be good at  - my memory is so poor. I can't believe the number of times I've looked up the word in the online dictionary and then forgotten it and had to look it up again 15 minutes later. (I know - I should have written it down the first time.) However I have at least adopted a more systematic approach as a result of joining the U3A - University of the Third Age for those not familiar with this organisation. I’m now a member of a small advanced conversation group which meets on a weekly basis. However such a group didn't exist when I joined up so I had to take the initiative myself by organising the initial meeting. This like all the other U3A groups is run on a self help basis: individual members take it in turns to act as facilitator and everybody prepares short pieces to say on the chosen topic. Fortunately somebody else has agreed to take on the administrative role of notifying members of topics and meetings. So far this has worked really well: it has encouraged me to write a piece on Spanish every week which is something that had been missing in my previously rather haphazard approach to language learning. The whole process of getting the group established seemed so straightforward that I decided to see if I could get another group going - for movie-goers and I've taken the first steps towards doing so - more about this next time. 

In the run-up to retirement I'd attended a creative writing class as, like many people, I'd always had dreams about writing fiction or possibly drama. The class was very badly run but this didn't excuse the banal quality of the few pieces that I had attempted. Nothing daunted, I still had creative writing down on my checklist of things to do in retirement when I suddenly realised that it would make much more sense to try my hand at writing non-fiction. What a relief to be able to ditch the 'creative writing' fantasy! Given that I have spent much of the last decades researching and writing extremely long and complex research reports,  reports nevertheless which were intended to be accessible to non-specialists, this was really a ‘no-brainer’. I immediately set to on the Web to lay locate advice and opportunities for freelance writing and discovered that there were a number of websites to which anybody could submit articles and which claimed. moreover, to offer the possibility of income generation. Within the last week  I've written and uploaded my first two articles- you can see the one about retirement Planning for Retirement or Ten Reasons to Continue Working  by clicking here.This has been a huge learning curve for me, especially in terms of the technology but it will be interesting to see how I get on.  Over the next few months I’ll be writing in this and other blogs about the success that I’ve had in all these ventures and how my efforts to build a new and more satisfying life for myself post-work are progressing.