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Monthly Archives: September 2009

BWCI already tweeted about this and posted it on Facebook, but let me post it here so it has a little more permanence: Burnside Writer’s Collective redesigned their site.

And if you haven’t already checked it out, here’s why you should:

1) It looks great.
2) It’s a lot more user friendly than it was before (I really like the box with tabs that show the most recent articles, recent comments, most popular articles, and tags).
3) I wrote another article (a review of Crazy Love) that should be making an appearance sometime soon.

Hopefully, when my newest article posts, Burnside editor Jordan Green won’t try to take credit for it like he’s currently doing with the review of Grace, Eventually that I wrote two years ago. (Kidding, Jordan. But not really…)

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My most recent article, “Deciphering Data Storage,” recently went live on Your Church‘s website. And let me warn you in advance: it’s technical and it’s boring.

Basically, this article was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Mostly because I knew nothing about data storage; I didn’t even know what direct-attached storage, network-attached storage, and storage area networks were, let alone the differences and advantages of these options.

Well, I know a little bit more now. And hopefully the article will be helpful for churches—even if they are as clueless as I was.

I’ve also updated my “Writing Credits.” I added that article, but I also restructured it so it won’t look quite as much like a jumble of links.

If you’re incredibly bored by data storage (I don’t blame you), I’ve finished a couple other articles that should be live soon. And they’re both a little more interesting. I’ll let you know when they’re available.

MiltonMy wife frequently tells me (often when I’m being more reclusive than usual), “You could be alone for a whole month and it wouldn’t bother you.”

That’s not true. But it’s not far from the truth, either.

I love being alone. I love focusing on a writing project without any distractions. I hate it when I’m jarred from a deep thought by a passing comment or flippant question. (And no, I’m not directing that comment at my wife.) When I worked in an office, there were days when I didn’t want to be bugged. It’s true.

If I was especially focused on something, I wanted to be left alone.

Well, now that I work from home by myself all alone without anyone to talk to…I guess that’s not a problem.

But do you know what I miss? Small talk.

Of all things, I miss small talk. Sure, I enjoy deep conversations, and I miss those too, but more than anything, I miss small talk.

Sports have always been a topic of small talk for me. Whether it was my dad, friends from school, college roommates, or co-workers, I’ve always had people in my life who were interested in discussing sports. Maybe it’s a case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone, because I never considered that this might be something of value to me.

Until this week.

This week I’ve watched:

  • Amazing tennis match-ups at the U.S. Open.
  • Jordan tributes leading up to his induction in the Hall of Fame tonight.
  • All the hype leading up to the OSU/USC football game tomorrow night.
  • The annoying fallout from Terrelle Pryor’s bumbled comments.
  • Big Ben moving around in a well-protected pocket, pump-faking his Steelers to an overtime victory (not to mention Polamalu’s amazing left-handed snag for a first-half interception).
  • If I still worked in an office, I’d casually say to someone, “Hey did you see that Steelers win last night?” or “Have you seen any of the U.S. Open matches?”

    Even if we only talked about it for thirty seconds, that would suffice. Without those interactions, I’m resigned to tweeting, and more tweeting, and writing blogs like this. And it’s kind of sad. (wah-wah.)

    For other people, sports might not be the default topic, but I’m wondering if this desire for small talk is universal.

    For you, maybe it’s the news that Ellen is taking Paula’s spot on American Idol. Or maybe the congressman who yelled “You lie!” in the middle of Obama’s address the other night.

    And maybe that’s why people ask about the weather (a topic that is completely universal and completely apolitical)—just, you know, to make small talk. After all, is anyone genuinely interested in discussing the weather?

    Maybe small talk is valuable to most people. Or even everyone. Whether or not it’s true for you, apparently it’s true for me.

    And there’s some irony in this revelation.

    You see, I’ve often told my wife that I hate small talk. I hate being asked, “How was your day?” just as a matter of routine. I hate giving obligatory and expected answers. It’s boring. And annoying. If something interesting happened, something worth sharing, I want them to assume I’ll share it. If they trust that I’ll share something interesting, they don’t need to ask.

    And don’t ask just for the sake of conversation. Anything done “for the sake of conversation” leads to boring, pointless conversation. And I prefer silence to meaningless conversation. Always.

    And so maybe I’m realizing that small talk isn’t completely meaningless. And maybe that’s why my wife likes asking, “How was your day?” Maybe that is her equivalent of my desire to talk sports with friends and co-workers. Maybe…

    So maybe I owe my wife an apology…

    ncf_a_pryor_600Dear sports media,

    I can’t sit idly by (on my couch) any longer.

    I watch a lot of sports coverage. Too much. And I see this scenario all the time…

    1) After a game, you reporters ask an athlete a question.
    2) The athlete stumbles through an answer, and by the time he’s done talking, he sounds like a moron.
    3) You spend the next week replaying that snippet and lambasting the athlete. (If they answer a hundred other questions appropriately, however, those answers don’t see any air time at all.)

    Athletes are not public speakers. If you want to criticize their performance on the field or court, go for it. That’s what you get paid for, right? But come on, how many professions require someone to do an interview immediately following their day at the office? And how many of us would fare much better if this were required of us?

    But hey, it’s great for ratings…and that’s what matters, right? It’s all about getting your sound byte—regardless of what that player intended to say.

    Maligning an NBA star or an NFL linebacker is bad enough, but college students? The average college student is scared to death when they have to give an impromptu speech in speech class. Imagine how they’d feel if they had to do it in front of a microphone and video cameras. And imagine if they had to give that speech knowing that, if they screw up in any part of that speech, for the next week their words will reverberate throughout the blogosphere and be dissected by you analysts on ESPN.

    Well, that’s exactly what’s happening to Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback, Terrelle Pryor. And I’ve heard enough out of all of you.

    Yes, I’m familiar with the scenario: In last Saturday’s game against Navy, Pryor—in what appears to be the newest trend in college football—gave a shout-out by writing a name in his eyeblack.

    Problem #1: Pryor gave a shout-out to Michael Vick.

    Mentioning Vick’s name within a fifty-mile radius of the media, for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention for the last three months, is like dumping chum into a shark tank.

    So after the game, naturally, you asked Pryor why Vick’s name was written in his eyeblack. (Actually, I’m shocked you didn’t track him down to pose the question at half-time.)

    Here’s what I think Pryor meant to say: “Because I look up to Vick as an athlete. I’ve modeled my game after his. And even though he messed up, I think he served his time and he deserves a second chance.”

    I think that’s what Pryor meant. I really do. But that’s not what he said. Which brings us to:

    Problem #2: Pryor’s actual response:

    “I know what happened with him and, I mean, I don’t want to talk much. I’m just going to be very short and sweet with it.” (But he wasn’t.)

    “But I just feel he made his mistake and I think he just needs more support. Not everybody is the perfect person in the world. Everyone does—kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance.

    It’s clear why you guys are drooling over this story. First of all, it involves Michael Vick—and since Vick is like the scarlet letter of the sports world right now, I can understand the interest here.

    And, of course, if Pryor really believed that…if he really meant to say that everyone steals, kills, and murders…well, I can see why you’d report it. It would be newsworthy. And I would be glad you reported it if I thought Terrelle really believed that. If I thought for a second that Pryor could be that dismissive of murder, I would be shocked and disturbed.

    But that’s not what’s happening here. I’ve seen the video, and Pryor is clearly stumbling through his words, struggling to put a coherent answer together. Under his right eye, he wrote “Mika,” which is his sister’s nickname. And he even stumbled through that answer. So clearly, he didn’t feel too comfortable answering questions. Here, watch it for yourself:

    You guys couldn’t be happier about that response, could you? You probably salivated when you first heard it.

    Sure, I wish Pryor had answered that question more appropriately. Even more than that, I wish Pryor had the wherewithal to say, “Hold up, that didn’t come out quite right. This is what I meant to say…” But most of all, I wish you guys had enough class to not exploit a non-story like this. Especially a non-story that maligns a kid. Because that’s what Pryor is—a college kid who just turned 20 years old.

    So why don’t you find something else to “burn on,” Jim Rome. Save your self-righteousness and phony indignation for a real story, Jay Mariotti and Woody Paige.

    Yes, I know you guys make a living by creating headlines. But this is unacceptable. Why don’t you climb down from your soapboxes for a second and quit sacrificing a kid who struggled to assemble his thoughts.

    I mean, come on, I know none of you thinks Pryor actually believes that “everyone murders people.” Not even a serial killer or a psychopath would claim that everyone kills people. It’s ludicrous. Anyone with common sense can see this for what it is. (Well, unless they need a controversial headline for their sports column or a talk show.)

    But hey, even if you keep dragging Pryor’s name through the mud, at least he’s likely to forgive you. He believes in second chances—which you would know if actually tried to understand what he was attempting to say.

    But clearly, as you’ve proven time and time again, you don’t care. As long as it yields a story for you, everything else (including truth and intent) can take a backseat.

    There are enough compelling stories in sports (enough real stories), why don’t you focus on those and quit manufacturing crap like this.

    Sincerely,
    A sports fan who is sick of sports media

    procrastinatingwriter-main_FullThe first thing I would tell an aspiring freelancer is this:

    Aspire to be something else.

    Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t mind writing…and I could use a little extra income…so why not?”

    No no no.

    If you are only mildly interested, then find another source of secondary income. Like a paper route. Or a lemonade stand.

    Because freelancing is a lot of work. And the work/reward ratio really isn’t anything to get excited about.

    But if you’re still with me, still interested in freelancing, here are the five biggest lessons I’ve learned about freelancing.

    1) Look For Opportunities Everywhere—even if they don’t pay
    When I first started freelancing two and a half years ago, I looked everywhere for work. For example, I found one assignment on Craigslist (but beware, there’s a lot of scams on there). I also agreed to write articles that paid me nothing. Sometimes the exposure is worth it. Other times—especially for those with limited writing experience—it’s just good to bolster your writing credits.

    Even though I almost have more freelance work than I can keep up with right now (a good problem to have), I’m still doing some work for free. (We’ll call it “pro bono’ to make me sound altruistic. Even though I’m not.) Recently Matthew Paul Turner used his blog (JesusNeedsNewPR) to host a Sex Week, and he tweeted that he was looking for contributors who were willing to write honestly about sex. Long story short, I contributed a post, “The Truth about Santa Claus and Sex.” Even though I didn’t get paid, I was happy to do it because it was an opportunity to write creatively and honestly (my favorite kind of writing) and it was a topic about which I’m passionate.

    I also submitted a book review to The Burnside Writer’s Collective last night. I’m not getting paid for that, either, but again, it’s worth it to me. I enjoyed the book and wanted to review it; I also appreciate Burnside and enjoy being part of that community of writers/artists.

    And sometimes the exposure can be as valuable as the paycheck.

    2) Editors Are Your Best Friends—The More the Merrier

    The day I got laid off (aka: The Day I Became a Full-Time Freelancer), I emailed every editor I knew to offer my freelancing services. Thankfully, I knew a lot of editors. In some cases, I was given work. In other cases, those editors referred me to other editors looking for freelancers. In the three months since being laid off, I’ve done work for many of those editors.

    Of course, I was lucky because I had already worked with some of them (as a fellow editor and also as a freelancer). But even before I became an editor, I was working to cultivate relationships with editors. Don’t hesitate to offer your services. In at least one instance, back when I had very little experience, I told an editor I would work for free because I wanted more experience. He didn’t have any jobs to assign at the moment, but it got his attention. Very few people offer to do work for free. And making that offer shows that you’re serious about it.

    If you get an opportunity, no matter how trivial or mundane it might seem, take it seriously and do a good job. If you do that, you’ll get your foot in that proverbial door and you’ll be a step closer to finding a friend in that editor.

    3) Accept ANY Project
    Editors often need freelancers to do things that aren’t related to writing. Offer to help with anything. I don’t care how unglamorous it might be: keywords, indexes, compiling a list of sources or related links (I’ve done all these things). It’s important to take these opportunities seriously. If you want to be trusted with the projects you would like to do, then you need to prove your mettle with the tedious and mundane.

    And again, accepting assignments reinforces your willingness and interest. And if you do a good job, future projects will follow.

    4) You’re NEVER Too Busy to Accept Another Assignment
    When I was an editor, I was busy. Like all editors. So when I needed to find a freelancer for an assignment, I wanted it to be quick and easy. So who did I contact first? Obviously, I’d contact the freelancers I’d worked with in the past—starting with the ones who were the most dependable, and most likely to be available. If my most reliable freelancers stopped being reliable, they would have been bumped down my list.

    So when an editor contacts me to see if I’m interested in a project, or to see if I have time to take something on, I always say yes. I don’t care how many buns I have in the oven (unless that aphorism refers to babies in the womb, and I think it might—because I would care very much about that), I will accept that assignment. Any assignment.

    Because I know, if I start passing on assignments, I’ll get bumped down that editor’s list, and some other dependable and available freelancer will start getting the first shot at new assignments.

    I don’t care how busy you are—and, truth be told, the editor doesn’t either: they just need to find someone willing to do their project. So when given an opportunity, take it. Always.

    5) Quality is Key—but so is punctuality
    Obviously, if you don’t have the skills or the commitment necessary to do a good job, you won’t get assignments. Quality is infinitely important. But assuming that you’ve got the talent, then the next most important thing is punctuality. When editors give you a due date, they want to know they can expect to receive a polished final product on (or before) that date.

    This can be difficult, especially if you take point #4 seriously and sometimes take on too much work, but it’s essential. Once you start turning in projects late, that editor is going to think twice before giving you the next project.

    To be honest, though, I should probably admit that punctuality is my biggest struggle. So I should probably take my own advice. Especially since I’m writing this blog right now when I have an article to finish (due yesterday) and another unfinished project (due today).

    So I’m going to get back to work now…and if you’re still interested in freelancing, good luck.