July 2011


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When I first started out as a freelancer I was focusing more on magazine writing.  And as most writers know unless you’re an expert in the field, who knows everything about everything, then you’re going to need to conduct interviews to get quotes and add value to your piece. I enjoy speaking with different people from all walks of life because I get to learn some new things along the way. Because my writing tends to focus more on medical and health issues, I pick up all sorts of interesting gems of information from nutritional foods right in my cupboard (Who knew!) to alternative and complementary medicinal practices (That makes me say “OM”).

But once the interviews over, I’m filled with a sense of anxiety — really, a sense of urgency about the interview. No, it’s not about whether or not I missed a vital piece of information or if I failed to ask the most obvious of questions. I can’t really say that it’s even an issue of reflecting back on interview and wondering if I pushed the boundaries in my line of questioning.  Actually my sense of urgency come from my resistance to the process of transcribing.samsung digital voice recorder yv-120 (ii)  Forget the fact that I cringe at the thought of just listening to my own voice (c’mon I’m not the only one who feels this way). Considering that I may have a couple of interviews to transcribe for different articles the idea of listening to my voice over and over again is not something that I look forward to. But besides that I think the process of transcribing digitized interviews is the fact that it is a super duper time consumer. Take one featured health article that I’ve written, I most likely interviewed three to four experts and each interview will last anywhere between 30 to 40 minutes.

At the start of my freelancing career, I was heavily focused on magazine writing.  But once reality set in (the bills do have to get paid), my dreams of seeing my name in the big-time glossies began to fade away–quickly.  And my lofty goals of magazine writing were replaced with a sudden urgency to write for content mills.  Thankfully, before I became a content mill writing junkie (I had a short stint with Associated Content before the Yahoo takeover), I found an alternative stream of income within textbook publishing, book researching, and ghostwriting.  All of these opportunities were literally just a matter of luck.  In another post I’ll talk about how I turned a one time opportunity into a great professional and personal relationship that fostered new work opportunities for me.  But back to my issue–transcribing.  Not only do I loathe the process of transcribing, I just don’t have the time anymore–not even even with my trusty text-to-speech software, Dragon Naturally Speaking (which I love and I’m actually using to write, really dictate, this blog post).

My workload has been a bit skewed lately as I’ve been focused on other things besides magazine writing. And although I have a few articles slated to appear in a trade magazine in the coming months (as well as a health piece an editor approached me about), I’m trying to get back into the swing of things because I do enjoy magazine writing.  And a  series of events in my family has raised a myriad of health questions in my mind that I’m getting ready to pitch to a few publications. With that said I think I’m ready to utilize an outside service to handle my transcription woes.  But, I’d like to do some research and before making a final decision.  In the meantime, I think I’ll stick to the time-saving advice from Linda Formichelli (Renegade Writer) who suggest transcribing just the bits of your recording that you need to use to include great quotes and information in your article as opposed to transcribing the entire recording.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how other writers handle transcribing interviews. Do you use a transcription service? Did you hire a college journalism major?

While my spam settings are strict, I tend to find, every once in a while, an e-mail that has avoided detection and winds up in my inbox.  Today, I noticed an e-mail for a job that began with a casual (and lower case) “hi” — such informalities are indicative of mass e-mailing and reeks of unprofessionalism.  And I’m not interested in working or pursuing a job in which the “potential” hiring manager is so lax in his or her search to fill a position.  So, I definitely avoid random solicitations for job offers no matter how up-my-alley it may sound.  Usually, I’m asking myself: Where on earth did he get my e-mail anyway?

SCAMThese sort of e-mails get a prompt click and wham, it’s been spammed!  There are so many signs that freelancers can look out for to avoid the pitfalls of job scams. So, what are some red flags in the freelance job market that you should avoid?  Well, here are some big flake alerts that I’ve outlined for you below:

  • THE ATTACK OF MISSPELLED WORDS: If the job posting has spelling and grammar errors you have to wonder about how real the job actually is.  A small error in a job advertisement of a well-known company versus a company that doesn’t produce any hits on Google are two different things–and I’m not going to be so suspicious of the former ad, besides mistakes happen.  You just have to be aware of who is making them and just how many of these errors there are. So, be wary of advertisements that are riddled with spelling and grammar errors.
  • ADS THAT REQUIRE DECODING: Skip postings that sound vague; if you’ve read the job description and you still can’t tell what you’ll be doing–skip it.  You’re not creating highly classified documents for the CIA or FBI.  Ambiguous job descriptions are headaches in disguise where you’ll find yourself doing more than you should for little or no pay.
  • WORK NOW, WE’LL PAY YOU LATER (MAYBE): Have you ever applied to a job and a writing test was required?  Don’t get me wrong they are jobs that may require you to take a copy editing test or produce a writing sample for book publishing gigs.  And I’ve done both for established pharmaceutical companies (copy editing jobs) and book publishers (book development projects), which was expected given the nature of the work.  But, if you find that the tests you’re expected to turn in is a full assignment that’s taking a lot of your time then think again.  Because some writing tests serve as real work that writers are doing for free.  And once you submit your “test” you may never hear anything back about the job.
  • HMM, WELL-ESTABLISHED SITE DID POST THIS AD: Don’t fall for ads just because they are listed on reputable websites.  It’s always a good practice to research the legitimacy of jobs on your own.  Relying on job sites to catch all scams means putting your time and money completely into the hands of a third-party.  Sites such as MediaBistro can provide great leads.  But, once you identify a job you’re interested in take over the reigns and do your own detective work.
  • PAY US TO HIRE YOU: You shouldn’t have to pay for information about jobs.  For instance, paying members of MediaBistro get access to restricted information.  However, anyone can get a free account to access and apply for jobs posted on their site.  Many other well-known job sites offer employment information without requiring users to pay.  If you’re asked to pay for access to job listings, employee training material or anything related to the work just move on and continue to watch out for sites that ask you for money.

Protect yourself because the Internet can be a cesspool of virtual cons that can cost you time and money, and as a self-employed contractor, I (and you) can’t bother with losing either.  So, do your research and follow your gut.  And if you’re not sure ask another person for advice (because if it’s too good to be true then it most likely is).

There are solid job opportunities out there that you can find through sites like MediaBistro, Journalism Jobs, HittList (medical writing jobs mainly) and more.  And I’ve found opportunities through all of these sites…but I always check out the companies before applying.

FireworksWith my birthday less than two weeks away and as the July Fourth holiday weekend begins to wind down later tonight (not before I indulge in a bit more ‘cue), I’ve been doing some introspective work on where my freelance business is and where it’s headed.  At the moment, I’ve been steadily networking and securing opportunities as a freelance researcher and writer on various book projects as well as in magazine writing.  And I have a healthy draft shaping up for my first fiction novel.  So, things have definitely been progressing nicely–thank goodness.

We’ve all heard the saying that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.  Thankfully, I’ve been pretty lucky because most of the work I’ve secured has come through people who’ve referred me.  It took me a while to get to this point in which I felt that I was capable of being an independent contractor.  But in the months that I’ve been self-employed, I’ve realized that it’s not about a final destination (securing jobs and making a wage)–it’s about creating a career working for myself.  I love what I’m doing now, and I think the challenge going forward is creating a career, which a few months of successful freelancing doesn’t prove.  The good thing is that I believe that I will get there because what I was doing before wasn’t the answer.  And at least now I’m completely invested and invigorated in the work that I’m doing, which is what matters most.  I’m, for the first time, experiencing what people mean when they say they love what they do–now that’s passion-filled living!

I am at a turning point in my life where I’m realizing that independence means freeing myself completely from living with the shadows of an unfulfilled life, just sitting idly by waiting for someone else to recognize my potential.  Well, I got tired of waiting.  It’s my life and so it’s my responsibility to see that I make the most out of it because I’ve got only one lifetime to make it work.  People say life is short.  And I always say it’s the longest thing we’ll ever experience–it just seems short because we spend way too much time thinking about doing things rather than doing ’em.  Just think about how long your book idea has been swirling around in your thoughts before you actually sat down to write it.

What is your dream for your life?  And are you living it now.  Given a canvas with paint and brushes, we would all create a different picture of what invigorates us and gives us a sense of purpose and joy. I’ve always had a passion for writing and an interest in health–so, it’s natural that I find myself drawn to the work that I am doing now.  For me that means working from home as a health writer and researcher for magazines and authors.

This weekend I’m reminded to live boldly and go after the things that I want, by taking a bit (And a bite of a grilled burger–Provolone cheese, please!) of a lesson from the Declaration of Independence that boasts our right to pursue happiness among other things.

So, what will the future hold?  Well, I’m hopeful and working toward greater things.  When I sit back and appreciate how much my life has changed in such a short amount of time, I believe with certainty that an amazing experience is in store for me.  And on this warm, sunny July 4th I plan on watching the fireworks light up the sky–a symbol of the brightly lit future I plan on experiencing.

Happy Fourth of July!  And keep pursuing your passions without regret.

This week I was working on another book assignment when I was reminded of why I love my reference management software, EndNote.  Although I jumped on board pretty early in this project, there were about 60 references that were already collected.  But, they were “loosely” formatted — meaning that they weren’t complete (e.g., missing volume, issue, or page numbers).  And I know if I didn’t get a handle on these references now it would just be one more thing I’d need to do anyway — so why not now when the project is in its early stages.

So, I opted to just sit down and find all the references that were mentioned. And it took about three hours two find these references using Google Scholar and ScienceDirect (I used ScienceDirect as a backup for articles that I couldn’t find using Google Scholar, which was infrequently).  Now three hours may sound like a lot of time.  But, there was a time when many people (including myself) can recall, before the days of the World Wide Web, when you had to manually format your own bibliography — on a typewriter no less.  What

And I’m one of those people who attended college when EndNote was around.  But my school didn’t have a license for this product, and so I was spending a tremendous amount of time trying to remember the rules of how to write a bibliography for books and journal articles.  Oh, the pains!  So, imagine my joy when I started working as a freelance researcher and started using EndNote.

When I think of the few hours it took me to plug in some information and have a database pull and export my citation directly into EndNote, it’s a huge time saver.  Google Scholar is a great database to use and it’s easy too.  For example, if I was looking for articles written by a particular author in 2011 then I’d type in author: type in the name in Google Scholar (see below).

Then I’d select the year because that would help narrow my results, and the first result was actually the correct citation (see below).

Although I mainly use Google Scholar to import references into EndNote, I ended up using ScienceDirect when I wasn’t able to find a particular article.  ScienceDirect is particularly useful when you have information such as the volume and issue numbers.

Both Google Scholar and ScienceDirect allows you to easily export citations into your library.  In Google Scholar, you need to setup your preferences:

1. Click “Scholar Preferences”

2. Scroll down to “Bibliography Manager” and select “RefMan”

3. Click “Save Preferences”

And afterward I sync my EndNote library with my EndNote Web account to back up my references and share certain references with others.  EndNote has been the only reference management system that I’ve used.  While there are many other types of reference assistants, I don’t have any experience using them to make a comparison with EndNote.  Recently, Thomson Reuters released a new version, EndNote X5, which has new features such as viewing and annotating PDF files, adding and transferring file attachments to the Web among other things.  I’m excited about these upgrade features.

What reference manager do you use?