Studying at the University of YouTube

YouTubeLogoA few months ago, I, a freelance writer and publication layout artist, was contracted to make a series of videos. Of course I was thrilled and my imagination went wild with creative possibilities, but as with many projects, dreaming is easier than doing.

In the past, I’d only worked with Windows MovieMaker to produce rather simplistic videos, but for this project, I would have to step up my game. I soon discovered that I was already in possession of Adobe Premiere, one of the best video editing software programs on the market. Unbeknownst to me, it had come bundled with my copy of Adobe Creative Suite. The bad news was that I had absolutely no idea how to use it; and being such a highly technical, professional-grade program, it’s neither user-friendly nor intuitive. With Adobe Premiere, you gotta know what you’re doing from the get-go.

For the first few days, I futzed around with the help files, but to no avail. Sure, they provided the basics for getting started, but for the kinds of bells and whistles I wanted in my videos, they were an exasperating labyrinth.

Just about the time I’d decided to lower the bar and revert to my old friend Windows MovieMaker, on a whim it occurred to me to see what YouTube might have to offer in the way of tutorials.

Gadzooks!…I’d hit the Motherlode! On my first try, with a few well-chosen keywords, I discovered top-notch tutorials on every technique I would need to make my video vision a reality, not to  mention a few nifty little tricks along the way.

Just out of curiosity, I began exploring tutorials on other software programs that a freelancer might need. What I found was a seemingly endless array of video lessons on every task and topic imaginable:

Need to learn how to do a mail merge in MS Word?

Want to sharpen your advanced Excel skills?

Like to find out how to add eye-popping special effects to a digital image in PhotoShop?

Thinking of starting a blog on WordPress?

Fancy a professional Facebook page for your freelancing services?

Crave a makeover for your website?

Then head for the University of YouTube. It’s not just for goofy fratboys anymore.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

Good Blogging Habits

438223_86537119by Catherine L. Tully

If you blog, there are a number of “good habits” that you can cultivate. As with any type of writing, getting into a regular groove and doing simple maintenance tasks can be a great help. Today we’re going to talk about a few of these…

Hook up social media

If you haven’t already done this, it’s worth investing a few moments. Get your blog together with your social media accounts by either utilizing a site like Twitterfeed (which also hooks you up with LinkedIn and Facebook), or install a social media plugin. Social media is a great funnel for more readers and it gets more eyes on your words. You can’t afford to be without this.

Check periodically to make sure your content is indeed being fed to the social media sites. The nice part about this is that it is a “habit” that you don’t even have to worry about much once you set it up!

Update your plugins

If you have plugins installed, be sure to update them when you are notified there is an update ready. This helps to insure everything will work properly. Here’s more info on that.

Be social

Don’t forget that blogging is a form of social media. Keep the “social” in there by taking the time to comment on other blogs regularly. It’s a good Karma thing. 🙂

Google your blog

I’ve seen my posts turn up in crazy places–some good–some not so good. Keep an eye on what is going on with your blog content by checking the web here and there for your stuff.

Update things periodically

Freshen up your bio, update your copyright and make sure your navigation links are working. Schedule in some time to just make sure things are current and working. Think of it as “light housekeeping”.

Back it all up

I can’t emphasize this enough. Back up your site regularly. Make it a weekly or monthly thing and put it on your calendar. Here’s a primer for WordPress users. Here’s one for Blogger users.

Do you have anything to add to this list?

What You Can Learn About Freelancing From Vinyl Records

Josie and the Pussycatsby Joe Wallace

When I am not freelancing, I sell vinyl records on Etsy,, and on my vinyl blog Turntabling. Vinyl records is a passion of mine and also an additional revenue stream for me, helping me stay in business as a freelancer and remain generally self-employed.

Believe it or not, the two worlds have a LOT in common. The whole reason I turned to vinyl in the first place, years ago, was because of the freelancer’s need for diverse income sources. Clients come, clients go. Some pay on time, some never do.

So diversifying the income portfolio, as it were, is a must–you want to eat every day? Make sure you have three or more checks arriving at various times in the month. Save up a cushion to deflect the problems created by those late-payers. That’s the message the freelance life has consistently given me since I started in 2002.

But the most fascinating things I’ve learned about freelancing from vinyl records can really be summed up by that Josie and the Pussycats vinyl record you see here. Look at this thing! You probably laughed when you spotted it, right? But here’s a fascinating little piece of data–that record is, at the time of this writing, up for sale on Ebay (not by me) for TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.

It’s sealed, very hard to find, and somebody might actually pay that $200 to get it. MAYBE NOT–but there’s actually a chance, because of that tricky combination of nostalgia, impulse buying, and the near-eternal appeal of vinyl records for some.

The lessons I take away from this for the freelance life? Pretty simple but very important:

1. Like the vinyl record, your services are worth what people are willing to pay for them. I have been paid $200 an hour or more for my work. I’ve given it away for free, I’ve bartered, I’ve cut people deals. But at the end of the day, you get paid because a client was willing to pay and you were willing to do the work. It can be counter-productive–at least for me–to view freelance work in terms of fixed, unchanging price tags.

2. There is a market for expensive services, and it’s harder to find. In the vinyl market, I have customers willing to pay large dollars for rare, near impossible-to-find records. But I have just as many who simply want good, decently priced vinyl they don’t have to scour the earth to purchase. Balancing the high-paying hard-to-find commodities with lower-priced volume income is key. When it comes to my writing work, some writing has much greater inherent value, and therefore costs more. Some is intended to keep Google’s attention focused properly through steady posting and dependable content. This lower-priced work is not the same research-intensive stuff as the high-priced material, not should there be an expectation that it be anything more than what it is.

3. Go where the market is. I’ve tried selling on Amazon, at fan conventions, on Etsy, eBay, Bonanza, and many other places. When one avenue isn’t working over time, I ditch it and move on to something else. If you’re pounding your head against the proverbial wall in one area of your freelance career, it may be time to look elsewhere for better results. This is a notion that has served me very well since 2002.

There’s more, there’s SO much more…but the last lesson I can impart from my experience selling and collecting vinyl records is knowing when you’re in danger of overstaying your welcome.

Joe Wallace sells vinyl records, writes about military issues and finance, and runs several blogs and social media concerns. Since 2002, he’s written for acres for magazines and the Internet. His credits include American Fitness, Indie Slate, HorrorHound Magazine, and is one of the many essayists featured in a forthcoming book about obscure and under-appreciated horror films. You can reach him by email at jwallace242 @ gmail.

Lo-Cal Snacks For The Writer

by Catherine L. Tully

laughing cowDo you sit a lot? Find the weight creeping on – even though you try to get a walk in now and then?

Let’s face it. Writing isn’t exactly a recipe for losing those pounds. Research, writing and revising take time, and that time is spent in a chair. This means less exercise, and ultimately, a diet reality check.

Even so, there are some healthy snacks you can indulge in that won’t add up to a big gain in girth. Here are my go-to faves. Feel free to share yours in the comments section. I’d love to find a few new ones!

  • Microwave popcorn. Get the 100 calorie bags and use spray butter. It’s delicious. And popcorn is a whole grain. Seriously.
  • Blueberries. Full of antioxidants and darn tasty too. You can eat a whole lot of these without adding up to anything calorie-wise.
  • Cucumber tomato salad. Chop each veggie and add Paul Newman’s Light Balsamic Vinaigrette. Simply delicious!
  • Laughing Cow cheese. It’s not funny. It’s true! This stuff is tasty and not too crazy calorie-wise for cheese. Spread on a few crackers and it will hold you for a while.
  • Coke Zero. This is so much better than diet Coke. Try it with a big slice of lemon and see if it doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth for a while. You’ll see…

OK writers…what do you have for me? 🙂

Productivity x 3

ManageYourDaytoDayIn recent weeks I have been using my annual spring/summer sabbatical from publication layout work to develop several of my own creative projects…simultaneously. What I’m hoping is that by summer’s end, everything will come together in one grand fait accompli. I have a detailed game plan for each project. I have to-do lists based on ‘Critical Inch’ thinking. And each morning, I put my feet on the floor and get right to work. But it’s a rare day that I actually accomplish everything I set out to do.

It seems there’s always something to derail my best laid plans: a loyal client in need of a random project with a tight deadline, a roadblock created by equipment or software conflicts, or a seductive offer by someone who wants me to play hooky for the day. So although at the moment my time is completely my own, I don’t always make the best use of it to further my creative goals.

In the past month however, I have discovered three inspiring resources that have made a tremendous contribution to my productivity: one book and two apps.

The book is titled Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Published by 99U, it contains a series of essays by freelancers and entrepreneurs offering their insights on how to maintain creativity and productivity in an increasingly distracting world. No matter how busy you think you are, it’s well worth taking time to read it. And if you have a Kindle and subscribe to Amazon Prime you can borrow it free of charge!

App #1 is called RescueTime , a free downloadable app that monitors how you spend your time on the computer and generates a weekly report. It’s customizable according to your routine tasks and activities and can be a real eye-opener for those who are wondering why their days disappear so quickly without yielding productive results.

App #2 is called FocusBooster, another free downloadable app that consists of a simple 25/5 minute timer. It’s based upon the Pomodoro Technique, “a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s. The technique uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals (referred to as “pomodoros”) separated by breaks and is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.” Although deceptively simple, this method of dividing your workday into manageable bursts of activity with breaks in between is a remarkably effective productivity tool.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.


Summer And The Writer

by Catherine L. Tully

Welcome to summer!

SF ViewIf you live in a warm climate, you may not appreciate the summer weather quite the way I do in the Midwest. Being locked up all winter long makes one want to sit outside and work and luckily, as a writer, I can do that.

Working outdoors is one of my favorite things to do, but even opening a window to get that breeze seems to make my writing sing that much more. As a celebration of the season, I’m going to list my top three things to do work-wise in the summer…feel free to share yours in the comments section below:

  1. Backyard bonanza. The easiest and sometimes the most rewarding is simply to head out to my yard and set up camp for the afternoon. I’ll take my laptop, a cool drink, my cell phone and a comfy chair and settle in. If it’s rainy, the front porch is a good substitute.
  2. Placid park. There’s a park not far from my house that is perfect for writing. No playground, not too many puppies and a big, shady tree to sit under on my soft blanket. My tiny cooler comes with me and some times I even pack a sandwich if I think I might stay for a few hours.
  3. Cool cafe. For the really hot days I set up at a cafe with a good view. There’s nothing quite like looking out a big picture window at a flower bed and sipping a coffee from the comfort of an air-conditioned seat. Some people may prefer the patio, but I’m not a hot, hot weather gal, so the view is enough for me. If I have to be outdoors on a 90-plus day, I pick a rooftop spot. They typically have a better breeze!

What is your favorite place to write in the summer weather? Or, if you live in a place where there is beautiful weather all year long, what do you do to take advantage of it?

Do tell. 🙂

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