Tag Archives: writer

Managing Your Inbox

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

As you get deeper and deeper into the writing field you’ll begin to realize what a nightmare your inbox can be. Seriously.

And if you are already deep into the writing field, you are probably nodding your head wildly in agreement right now.

Today I’m going to share my most successful, and also the most simple tips I have for keeping up with e-mail. There are of course many ways to do this, and I’d love for people to chime in with their ideas, but for now, here are mine:

  • Tackle the inbox every day. Otherwise it adds up really, really fast. I always do mine first thing in the morning.
  • Keep high-priority items in the inbox. If I file these, I forget them.
  • Have more than one e-mail account. I use a gmail account for all my total junk (sign ups for restaurants, etc.), an info account for my inquiries and an editor account for the important stuff. Then I have a personal account as well. It really helps you filter things.
  • Delete things if you can. Don’t keep every response from everyone. I delete things and then empty my deleted items once a month or so…just in case.
  • Come up with a good filing system–and use it. My folder system saves me all the time–but I have to force myself to actually file things.
  • Get off lists periodically. If you sign up for a newsletter and find yourself deleting it every month, take the time to unsubscribe. It’s amazing how much time this saves you in the long run if you do it for everything you don’t use.

Got any other ideas to add to the list? If so, share them here!

Who Are You? Discovering Your Inner Writer

questionby Catherine L. Tully

This is a test…

What do you love?

Why am I asking you this? Because it can help you find what you are looking for in writing. Here’s the quote that got me started on this:

“The things that we love tell us what we are.”
-St. Thomas Aquinas

And if you want to be a writer, there’s no better way to wind up in the right spot than to know what you love to write about.

When you first start out as a freelance writer it’s all about trying to get established. Making sure you can pay the bills and building your portfolio are all-important, and often all-consuming tasks. While this can’t really be helped (everybody pays their dues in one way or another), once you head down the freelance writing path a bit, you might want to start thinking about who you are as a writer.

Or, at least, who you would like to be.

Here are a few simple ways to go about that:

  • Keep a list of your favorite magazines. This will help you see themes and overall subject matter.
  • Be aware when writing. Keep an eye out for times when writing is a pleasure instead of merely a job.
  • Journal. A professional journal is a great tool for learning more about yourself, your work preferences and your likes/dislikes.

I’m going to toss this out to the readers now…

How did you discover your inner writer? Any tips you’d like to share?

What Do Those Marks Mean?

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

Quotation marks and apostrophes: what do they mean? It may seem absolutely clear to you, but it’s obvious that a lot of society is losing the concepts. In fact, in the general population, things seem to be spiraling out of control.

Quotation marks seem to be popping up with stunning and usually inappropriate frequency these days. They’re for quotations: for setting off words that were said or written by other people. Or, if you’re writing dialogue, they set off words said by characters. They are not meant to simply add emphasis.

Of course, as with most things, it’s a little more complicated than that. Instead of quoting a specific speaker, you may be quoting a vague and undefined entity—popular opinion or common usage. But the idea is that you’re relating what someone else has said or written, in contrast to what you are writing.

This second form of usage can create irony or sarcasm—you’re quoting an unnamed source to show that you are not willing to take credit for something. For example, when speaking of the “cream” served with coffee, you might use quotation marks to note that you don’t think it’s real cream, and may even know for certain that it’s not real, but someone has identified it as such. There, the quotation marks are saying, “someone said it’s cream, but I’m not saying it.” The quotation marks alert people to the fact that it’s not your idea or it’s not something you’re saying is true, and actually suggests pretty strongly that you think it’s not true.

However, in recent years, I’ve seen an explosion of signs, menus, magazine ads, product packaging, and other writing for public consumption, where the use of quotation marks borders on the incomprehensible. It has actually become difficult to find a menu that doesn’t have masses of inappropriate quotation mark usage—though generally, the fancier the restaurant and the higher the price tag, the crazier the usage of quotation marks. What is one to make of a menu that lists something like this: “Fresh” Vegetables in “Butter” Sauce “French” style. Or one might come across a packaged food that claims to contain “real” cheese. So what are they really using, if it’s not real? Or who is claiming it’s cheese?

On the whole, only words being quoted get quotation marks. However, there are a few other places they can be used and not be goofy. Among the few other correct uses of quotation marks is when you are defining a word, because you are in essence showing what the word says. For example: extol means “praise highly.”

Apostrophes are suffering a similarly misguided fate. I think most of us have seen the school buses with the signs that say “Driver’s Wanted”? I think most editors will recognize right away that the sign has made “driver” possessive, while it meant to make it plural. However, obviously someone doesn’t get it—and this is not the only way one can go wrong with apostrophes.

The apostrophe has two basic uses: making things possessive and showing where things have been left out.

I think most people get the idea about ‘s to make a noun (but never a pronoun) possessive. Singular nouns get ‘s: the teacher’s, the dog’s, James’s, Mr. Jones’s. Note that a singular noun ending in “s” still gets an ‘s. A plural noun that does not end in an s also gets an ‘s: women’s, children’s, geese’s. Plurals that end with an “s” just get the apostrophe: girls’, footballs’, churches’. About the only exceptions are some ancient names: Isis’, Moses’, Jesus’. These have traditionally been made possessive without the additional “s.”

The only exceptions to the rule about never using an apostrophe for a plural is when single letters are made plural that might look like words without an apostrophe. So if you’re talking about X, the plural is Xs, but if you’re talking about A or I, you’d put A’s or I’s, because As and Is are words, and would therefore be confusing.

Pronouns are never made possessive by means of an apostrophe. You just add the “s”: hers, ours, yours, its. If it’s a pronoun and there is an apostrophe, it’s a contraction.

As for replacing things that are left out, again, I think a lot of folks get the general concept, but there is one recurring error that makes it clear that the concept is a bit vague for some, and that is the reduction of and to n. It’s ‘n’—not ‘n or n’. The apostrophe replaces what is missing, and with and, since both the a and d are gone, you need an apostrophe on both ends.

For dates, if you’re leaving off the century, an apostrophe is used: ’01 or the ‘90s. With ‘tis, the initial i of “it is” is replaces, while in it’s, it’s the central i. (And remember —no pronoun is made possessive with an apostrophe, so its is the possessive, and it’s is the contraction of it is.) An apostrophe can represent more than one missing character— nat’l for national, for example.

An important application of using apostrophes to notify readers of missing characters is in dialogue. It is virtually impossible to reproduce colloquial speech without a solid understanding of where the apostrophes go. So this isn’t just information for newspaper reporters or sign painters.

So watch those marks. The way you use them may be saying more than you think they are.

BIO: Contributor Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer, food historian, and traveler. She loves history, geography, culture, literature, and language—and the place where all of these intersect. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative, Waltzing Australia, and keeps two blogs, http://www.theworldsfare.org and http://www.waltzingaustralia.com.

About Writing Deadlines

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

While I could sum this up in one simple piece of advice (don’t miss a deadline–ever!), I’m not here to talk about if you should or should not make your deadlines as a writer. I’m talking about timing here…

Sometimes life hands you lemonade. You’ll get five great clients at once. They are all well-paying gigs and the work is more than you’ve had in six months. So what’s the problem?

They all want their work done at the same time.

This happens more often than you might think. Deadline drama is something that every freelancer dreads–but it’s also part of the game. If you can’t avoid this issue, then you simply must cope with it. How you do that depends on your comfort zone with tackling the work. Here are some choices:

  • Do one project at a time until they are all done. Depending on the deadline date(s), this may or may not be feasible. Still, some people work best this way, completing one task at a time…even if they have to work extra hours.
  • Stagger the workload. Say you have five projects. Do a day for each during the week, and clean up loose ends on the weekend. This way there is variety, yet you are still keeping everything in motion.
  • Load the weekend. Not an ideal plan, but if need be you can tackle a chunk of each on the weekend days. Sometimes you just have to suck it up.
  • Draft, proof, polish. In this method you will just blurt out all the rough drafts first. Then, proofread each for obvious errors, such as spelling or usage problems and formatting. Then, polish. This way you have everything done, and you can really work on making it shine if you have time left over. If not, well, at least it’s all done.

How do you handle multiple deadlines? Got any tips to share?

When Writing Is Rough…

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

Everyone who is in this field experiences some rough patches. Times where they are blocked, discouraged, burnt out or just plain tired. This is normal, expected and healthy–so long as you don’t get stuck there.

Every career field has its ebb and flow, so down times are nothing to worry about. But if you are stuck in a rut, fried beyond repair (or seemingly so) or feeling really funky, it may be time to shift gears. Here are a few tips for getting through those dark times and coming out on the other side, refreshed and ready to go….

  • Give up. By give up, I don’t mean quit. I mean give up on trying to power through for a while and focus on something else. Can’t write that article? Put it aside and work on marketing yourself. Don’t have another query in you? Go through your old work and try and sell some re-prints. Sometimes going forward no matter what–just doesn’t make good sense.
  • Go away. Perhaps the cure is nothing but a simple change of scenery. Do you always write at home? Go to a coffee shop for a week and see if it replenishes your drive. Take your laptop to the park and set up shop for the afternoon–and write something fun. Getting out of a rut can sometimes be as easy as changing the background.
  • Get moving. If you’ve been sitting at a desk day after day, churning out copy, perhaps you need a little physical activity. Nothing beats depression like a brisk walk or bike ride to get those endorphins churning. Try it. You’ll see.
  • Get feedback. If you’re feeling down, sometimes talking with another writer can help snap you out of your funk. We’ve all been through hard times here and there and there’s nothing like someone in the “biz” to help you get some perspective on things.

What do you do to get out of a downward spiral? Help another writer and share a tip or two!

Short & Sweet vs. Long & Detailed

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

Which kind of writer are you?

Most of us fall into one of two camps–people like me who can’t seem to add length to a piece to save their lives and…

People like my co-editor, Joe, who have to trim and cut to fit a word count.

Everything I write comes out short. I dread assignments where they want 1,500 words and think to myself, “Do sidebars count?” every time I get one. I have to go into the assignment thinking about how I’m going to stretch it. Now I can do it, but it takes some doing. It’s simply not my natural style.

Other writers (like Joe) are the opposite, penning a lengthy piece and then having to decide what they can leave out in order to fit the word count. I think they have it easier. I’d prefer to cut rather than add…it just seems to flow better.

Funny thing is…traditionally my style of writing works better for the web, and I have written mostly for print in my career. Joe’s style works better for print, and – you guessed it – he’s done more web writing. Funny isn’t it?

Which do you prefer?

(Note: I thought about adding to this post, but it’s really just as long as it needs to be. Right?)