Feb 22

Working From Home: Pros and Cons

home office

photo by "jnyemb" (Flicker Name) under Creative Commons license

One of the perks of being a freelance writer (especially in a pedestrian/mass transit friendly place like Portland, Oregon) is the ability to work flexible hours.  At the present time, I work from a home office.   It can be an equitable arrangement, especially since my wife paints her pet portraits from home, too.  I keep regular office hours, which provides necessary structure, with the perk of lying on my bed when I need to take a writing/editing break.   But there are some down-sides, too.  Specifically … noise.

I have a complex relationship with noise.  On the one hand, I enjoy listening to loud rock or metal music and playing heavily distorted power chords on my guitar.  On the other hand, I enjoy absolute and pristine silence.  Like pin-drop silence.   I feel I can think much more clearly and with greater focus in silence, particularly when I’m editing.

It can be challenging to write and edit from home in my neighborhood.  My house was built during the housing boom feeding frenzy at the turn of the century (I love writing that), so there’s about six feet of space between my home and my neighbors.   Barking dogs, construction noise, and oblivious neighbors can be distracting during my working hours (and occasionally when I’m trying to sleep).

So if you work from home as I do, what are some solutions if you are a freelance warrior? (Aside from noise cancelling headphones, of course.)

1. Communicate.

I suspect that nine times out of ten, the person making noise doesn’t realize you’re working from home.  If you calmly and reasonably let them know that silence is a major component of your delivering quality service on-time, they will turn the noise down.  If the loud person is belligerent and disrespectful, I don’t advocate using half-remembered Tae Kwon Do moves on them.   But you’ll find that the law and your homeowners association is on your side.

2. Coworking.

My friend and freelance writer Princess Jones recently hosted a guest blog post (by David Sumner) about coworking.   When you cowork, you work in an offsite space populated by fellow freelancers or business owners.   I have not located a coworking environment in my immediate area (the Portland boondocks), and commuting  2.5 hours round-trip to a co-working space has as much appeal as working for The Man again.

3.   Commuting.

You can always rent your own office space and commute there.  There are often onsite perks (remote secretary, Wi-Fi, break room, fellow human beings). And yet, despite the downturn in the office space real estate market, it can be hard to find office space that has your desired square footage and budget.

Unless I find a local coworking environment that appeals to me, I’ll likely be renting office space this year.  I’ve been meaning to have a separate space for awhile, but with more construction headed to my area soon, it will become difficult to stay focused.  I hope to occupy a space, part-time, by the summer.  Until then, I’ll remain a home office warrior.

Working from home means that I have to put up with the occasional irritating noises.  I am ultimately grateful, though, to be working for myself.

Are you a freelancer who works from home?  If you’re salaried, are you allowed to work from home?

Feb 07

Music, Part Two

Just a note that Caitlin Lilly wrote a great blog post about standing apart and staying true to your beliefs.  It’s kind of a springboard from my blog post about music.  Check it out!

Jan 31

Your Favorite Music

As a freelance writer near Portland, Oregon, I appreciate songs that are powerful and meaningful.   Portland is a music-loving city.  And, of all the content in the world, nothing brings people together or tears them apart more than a song.   Many of my friends, past and present, would happily classify themselves as music elitists.   I’m firmly in the “I like what I like” category, and that includes songs (or bands) my friends despise.

I grew up listening to The Beatles, and the first song I really listened to for its lyrics was Don McLean‘s “American Pie,” which is one of my Mom‘s favorite songs.   When I entered adolescence, I went through a long phase where I only listened to classical music and soundtracks.  The first CD I ever bought was Gustav Holst‘s The Planets.

I wrote better to word-less music, and the music my peers listened to (alternative, hair metal, rap, and country) didn’t appeal to me at all.  There were certainly songs (particularly rock tunes) that I appreciated, but I definitely preferred Vivaldi to Vedder.  (Hmm, and that’s actually still the case …)

It wasn’t really until I discovered the band Garbage in the late ’90s that I found “my band.”  I saw them play a quick live set while I was in college, but when I heard their song, “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” on an episode of Homicide:  Life On the Street, I was hooked.   The intensity of Shirley Manson’s vocals, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson’s guitars/bass, and Butch Vig’s drums and technical wizardry creates music that speaks to me.  Their songs range from synth-pop to heavy metal, and the tone varies just as wildly, from love ballads to rock anthems.   I’m singling them out for this post because they’ve been on hiatus for seven years, but in 2012, they’re releasing a new album, on their own label, and they’ve set up several concert dates.

The wonderful thing about songs and lyrics is that you feel like the band or singer/songwriter is speaking about you and your experiences.  When you meet a fellow fan, then you feel an almost instant bond:  “s/he gets it, too.”  It is powerful stuff, and I speak from experience.  Garbage is also my wife Sara‘s favorite band, and when we both discovered this fact, it’s one of the reasons we eventually ended up together. :-)

 What is your favorite band or musician?  What makes you love them?

Jan 09

2012

I hope everyone had a great winter holiday, and that 2012 is treating you well so far.   As I mentioned last year, I prefer aspirations to resolutions.  My aspirations this year are basically an extension of last year’s …  grow, read more, and volunteer more.

I have one more entry in my “great writing” series:  songwriting.  Then I’ll be trying some new things here.

The main change you’ll notice is that I won’t preface each title with “freelance writer.”  It’s overkill!  You all know my occupation! ;-)

Other than that, thanks for reading, and I’ll hopefully have some topics of interest for you.  I’m always interested in your feedback.  :-)

Here’s to a great 2012!

What are your plans for the year?

Dec 22

Freelance Writer: Brand Loyalty, Empathy, and Coffee

I’ve mentioned to friends and family that working as a freelance writer  makes me more understanding of service providers I use.  I have to be the recipient of truly rude and reprehensible customer service to get growly right back.

Brand loyalty is earned not just by consistently great service, but when things don’t always go as planned.

For example … I love coffee.   I look forward to every aspect:  grinding the beans every morning, hearing the coffeemaker brewing, and, of course, drinking it.  One of my favorite coffee companies is Clive Coffee, which is based in Portland, and was founded in 2009.  Mark Hellwegg, Clive Coffee’s owner, roasts coffee in small batches and sells coffee/espresso equipment specifically for home use.   I order coffee directly from Clive Coffee, and have it mailed to me.*

A couple of months ago, I placed my order, and I received a confirmation e-mail immediately, as usual.  Then I waited.  And waited some more.  Usually, the shipping confirmation comes within three days.  My coffee supply began to dwindle.

I left a voice mail, and Mark Hellwegg e-mailed right away.   A seriocomic set of events followed …  printing labels were printed, but shipping labels weren’t … I waited some more and began seriously running out of coffee.

In fact, I began drinking my “last resort” supply of hotel room coffee pods, ah, acquired for me by various relatives and in-laws.

“Help me, Mark Hellwegg, you’re my only hope!”  was how I ended another e-mail.

Sure, I could have gone to the store and bought another brand.  But then I’d be only a few days into that bag when the bag of Clive Coffee got to me.  Coffee is best enjoyed when it’s fresh!  And, really, I had my mind set on Clive Coffee.  Brand loyalty means that much to me.

It turns out that Mark’s business was going through some growing pains.  But my patience soon paid off.   I received not one, but two bags of coffee beans for the price of one, and free shipping.

I could have gotten angry or Mark could have gotten defensive.  Neither happened.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and he did everything in his power to make things right.  And make them right he did, and then some.

We’re used to blaming the other guy, and don’t consider what it must be like for the person on the receiving end.  We just focus on our own pain or, worse, our inconvenience.  But every service provider (or employee, for that matter) is entitled to a mistake or a bad day … and a chance to fix it.

So if you hire someone this holiday season or in the new year, and the product or service is not what you expected, take a deep breath, and give the person a chance to make it right.

My precious ...

P.S.  I placed another order with Clive Coffee just a couple of weeks ago.  Everything went as smoothly as the lovely Lovejoy Espresso Blend I’m currently enjoying, :-)

*I could pick it up, but it would cost me about $5 in gas.  This is how I rationalize such acquisitions to myself!

Dec 02

Freelance Writer: Guest Posting … Again!

I have another guest blog post up for freelance writers (and anyone else) at Emily Suess’s blog.   This time I talk about how intuition can really help you  at the beginning of a project.   And I also link it to Star Wars.   Because, y’know, that’s how I roll.

Nov 14

Freelance Writer: My 7×7 Links Post

I was tagged a few weeks again by my friend and freelance writer Natalia Sylvester to participate in the “7 Links Challenge,” which highlights previous blog posts.   And here is the fruit of my, er, labor.

Away we go!

1. Most Beautiful Post:  I really like the blog post from February 15, 2010 (my birthday) where I talk about re-starting my freelance writing/editing career.

2.  Most Popular Post:   Based on the number of comments, it’s my post on great screenwriting.

3.  Most Controversial Post:  It hasn’t been completely written yet.  But when it goes live, it’ll be a doozy, :-)

4.  Most Helpful:  I think this post about not letting other people define you had some good advice.

5.  Most Surprisingly Successful:  Hands down, it’s my blog post from early last year on business plan writing.   I was just riffing broadly on my experiences, and, to this day, it is my most-viewed blog post. 

6.  Post That Didn’t Get The Attention It Deserved:  Oh there are so many, ;-)  But I really like this blog post on website content writing.

7.  Post I Am Most Proud Of:  It’s a tie.  I wrote an online testimonial to the awesome Lauren Edwards, who gives some of the consistently best writing advice I have ever read.  I also am proud of my blog post about taking a much-needed vacation last year. 

There ya have it!  Hope you enjoyed the mutual trip down memory lane, :-)

(And if you’re inclined to do your own 7×7 link post, consider yourself tagged!)

Oct 30

Freelance Writer: Television Writing

When I was a kid, I remember writers and commentators refer to television as, “the idiot box.”  And it’s not hard to see why, when you consider the shows that have gotten on the air over the years!

Humor is particularly difficult to write.  What one person thinks is funny leaves another person cold.  I rarely enjoy mean-spirited humor beyond the initial shock value.  An entire show built around laughing at someone’s misfortunes or being deliberately insensitive doesn’t interest me.  It seems nihilistic to me.  This is one reason I don’t like shows such as  South Park or Arrested Development.

If a show has a lot of heart, it tends to win me over.  My favorite shows right now are two comedies:  Parks and Recreation and New Girl.  To be fair, characters on both shows  sometimes laugh at others’ misfortune, but the person doing the mocking usually receives some kind of comeuppance.  Plus, you can tell the characters truly care about each other.  There is no hint of nihilism.

Check out this great clip from Parks and Recreation:

The heart of great writing on television is connecting with great characters.  These two shows have that in spades.

What are your favorite television shows?

 

 

 

Oct 03

Freelance Writer: Excellent Website Content

I love writing website content.  It’s challenging and rewarding.  You have to engage people’s interest, and (hopefully) “convert” them into customers … or entice them to return.   For today’s blog post, I want to focus on two websites that engaged me through excellent copywriting, as well as effective visuals and superlative design. (And I have no connection to either one except as a prospective customer.)

SurveyMonkey:  I’ve been thinking about sending short surveys to past clients.    SurveyMonkey (which operates a branch out of the office building where I used to work) impressed me immediately by making its Plans and Pricing information easy to find, in a tab at eye-level.  After I clicked on the tab, there is a clean list of bullets and a “see all features” function that gives you more information, concisely.  Survey Monkey’s tiered pricing plan starts at “Free.”   Can’t beat that!

Pong Research:  This one requires some back story.  Cell phone radiation was an issue in the back of my head until the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Green American magazine hit my mailbox.   Then I became seriously concerned.  Before reading that issue, I carried my smartphone wherever I went.  Afterwards, I decided that probably wasn’t such a good idea.   In May, the World Health Organization stated that cell phone use can increase the risk of cancer.   So I started to think investing in a smartphone case that reduces radiation was a good idea.  I read about Pong Research, which makes cases for smartphones.  The company’s website is clean and informative, with sections on its products, how the case works, and even “why they care.”  The only problem … they don’t have a case for my particular smartphone (Blackberry Tour).  Until I switch phones, I keep my smartphone off my body as often as I can!

So there you  have it … two websites that have excellent content and engaged me as a potential customer.   I’ll have some other examples of effective website content in the future.

What are some websites that you enjoy?  Which ones engaged you as a prospective customer, or as a casual viewer?

Questions!!

(Image is in the public domain.)

Sep 15

Freelance Writer: Guest Posting!

I have a guest blog post up for freelance writers at Emily Suess’s blog, as part of her super cool “Writers Week” blogstravaganza!  The effort is pretty extraordinary, and I’m proud to be a part of it.   Check it all out if you have a moment!

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