What do you mean, the stimulus payments aren't working?

Not very long ago, I mentioned to a friend that the only thing my stimulus payment would be stimulating was my bill-paying activities. Evidently I'm not the only one:

Consumers Lean on Rebate Checks for Bills and Gas

I don't understand why they sound so surprised, as I have been predicting this for months. Most people I know are behind on their bills, or have credit card debt they want to pay off, or both. Our culture already allows people to live far behind their means by racking up credit, so by the time this stimulus payment was even discussed, most people were past the point of being able to spend it on frivolous shopping.

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, May 31, 2008 At 11:33 PM 0 comments

TGIF

I am so glad it's Friday... and yet, at the same time, so disappointed.

I mentioned in a previous post that my brother-in-law and his family relocated to Denver over Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, the craziness didn't end there. Here are a few of the highlights of my week, much of which has to do with the in-laws:

* Tuesday night Michael and I drove down to his brother's new place to help them finish unloading the truck. I ended up spending most of the evening chasing around my two small nephews instead. I was doing a lot of running after them and scooping them up before they made it out the door, and as a result my thighs were so painfully sore the next day that I could barely squat or walk down stairs.

* Wednesday morning I drove down there again after dropping Michael off at work, and helped my sister-in-law return the Uhaul truck. Of course, that entire ordeal took fully two hours longer than I had planned, which meant that I didn't have enough time to get any work done before Panama's training appointment — after which I had to go immediately to pick Michael up from work.

* Stressed out from not getting enough work done Wednesday, I stayed up until 4:00 am to get some stuff done. This was actually the most productive time I've spent all week, but I'm now a little sleep deprived as a result.

* Thursday I was supposed to have all day to work, but in the afternoon the owner of the barn where Panama is stabled called me with some concerning news: Panama appeared to have a mild case of colic. He's okay now, but I didn't get much work done Thursday either because I spent so much time at the barn with Panama.

* Today I took Michael to work so that I could borrow the car to go to Panama's farrier appointment. Unfortunately, an issue with my in-laws required that I move my appointment up, pick Michael up early in the afternoon, and then tag along while Michael helped his brother take care of the issue. Thus, another workday hijacked...

I still have a ton of work that I should be doing tonight or tomorrow, but nevertheless I am glad it is Friday. Hopefully we can find a happy medium with the in-laws in the coming weeks. I really like them, but I still need to be able to get my work done each day!

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, May 30, 2008 At 10:52 PM 2 comments

Lots of science fiction story ideas here!

I ran across this article the other day about a spacecraft that just landed on Mars. As I was reading it, I started thinking about how many starters there are here for a good science fiction story or novel. Since I already have more story ideas than I can use, I thought I'd pass these on to someone else who can use them.

Things to take note of:

* NASA doesn't know the fate of one of the failed soft-landing missions. The article says they lost contact with it before it landed. A whole lot of what-ifs to play with there!

* It only took the spacecraft 10 months to reach Mars. I don't know about you, but that's a considerably shorter span of time than I would have thought. Definitely a feasible amount of travel time for astronauts or even colonists.

* In 2002, water — one of the supposed building blocks of life — was discovered below the surface of Mars in the form of ice. Life on Mars? All kinds of great story ideas there! Someone with a good imagination could find a way to do that in a way that hasn't been done before.

* Phoenix, the spacecraft that just landed, carries with it a DVD with a "library of science fiction and art, as well as the names of more than 250,000 people." The DVD is designed to withstand deterioration, presumably in the hopes that someone — or something — will find it someday. If some type of life form finds this DVD, I wonder what assumptions they'll draw about us as a people?

All kinds of fun you could have with this story!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, May 28, 2008 At 1:15 PM 0 comments

My crazy Memorial Day weekend

I mentioned before that I had deadlines that would have me working over Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, work wasn't the only thing that made my holiday weekend un-holiday-like: My brother-in-law relocated to Denver this weekend to take a new job at Michael's company. We knew it would make our weekend busy, but we didn't expect that it would make it quite this crazy and stressful.

My brother-in-law was supposed to leave Saturday night and get in on Sunday, but loading the truck took longer than expected. In the end he didn't leave until late Sunday night. Then it took longer to make the trip than usual because he couldn't drive the truck more than 55 or 60 miles per hour. To top it off, the trailer that was pulling their second car blew several tires, and they had to wait for more than an hour for a Uhaul mechanic to come rescue them.

Because neither my brother-in-law and his wife had slept Sunday night, Michael and I drove out about three hours to meet them. We took turns driving so that they could get some rest. Unfortunately, we didn't arrive at my brother-in-law's new home until about 10:30 last night. We unloaded about half the truck into the garage, stacking boxes haphazardly, until we could reach their bed and a couple of blankets. Even so, it was 12:30 by the time Michael and I left — and since both Michael and his brother had to get up early this morning, neither of them got much sleep last night, either.

What did you do over the holiday weekend?

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, May 27, 2008 At 12:23 PM 1 comments

Holiday weekend? What holiday weekend?

I keep remembering with a start that this weekend is Memorial Day weekend. For the first time in several years, we don't have any plans to go on vacation or do something holiday weekend-ish.

It's just as well, too, as I'll probably be working. I have a couple of deadlines set for tomorrow-ish, and I'll be scrambling to finish those up (I hope) by the end of today. Even if I do succeed in that, however, I still have some other work that I've neglected for the sake of these deadlines, so I anticipate playing a little catch-up this weekend.

Even more notable, since I've been thinking of next week as a full week, I've also been planning it as a full week: Although I don't have anything due on Monday, I do have several projects that I told clients I'd have finished by Tuesday or Wednesday. Whoops...

What about you? Are you taking Memorial Day weekend off to do something fun, or — like me — are you stuck working through the holiday weekend?

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, May 23, 2008 At 9:58 AM 2 comments

Tornadoes in Colorado today

I've been rather unproductive today because I've been watching the sky so much (not to mention repeatedly putting the car cover back on my car because of the strong winds): There has been a tornado watch in our area all afternoon.

The threat of tornadoes isn't all that common in Denver, so I've been fretting about how to get two big dogs down our narrow, steep basement steps — neither dog has ever gone down them. At the same time, I'd have to also get two cats downstairs — the difficult part there being keeping them down there, since the door is upstairs.

The wind was really bad earlier, and as a result I watched the sky quite a bit, but then it died down. More recently, the sky has grown dark, and the wind has picked up again. Needless to say, I haven't gotten much writing done since it did.

Northeastern Colorado did see some tornado damage today. I had to fight back tears when I read the quote from the guy who said he lost his dog and cats, mainly because that has been my biggest fear all day.

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, May 22, 2008 At 4:53 PM 5 comments

Another self-published novel success story

It's really too bad self-publishing has such a bad rap in the industry. Generally people assume a book is self-published because it wasn't good enough to get picked up by a traditional publisher, but really there's a lot more to it than that. Many of the books that do get picked up are crap, just marketable crap. And there are plenty of reasons why good authors choose to self-publish — for the better royalties, for example, or to avoid giving up rights to, and control over, their work.

With all this in mind, I really get a kick out of hearing self-publishing success stories — such as this one, from NPR, about a self-published Christian novel that has made a number of bestseller lists.

Of course, it definitely helps that Christian fiction is a hot genre right now, not to mention that there's lots of community networking opportunities there (which can help sell books). Although in William P. Young's case, the marketability of the book was inadvertent, it just goes to show that self-publishing success requires as much business sense as writing skill!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, May 21, 2008 At 9:23 PM 0 comments

Going rates for writing services

I am occasionally contacted by newbie or would-be freelance writers seeking advice. One of the things they often ask is how to determine one's rates.

Thanks to yesterday's Screw You! words of wisdom, I now have an answer. In her email to the absurdly low-paying client, Kathy cited a page that lists acceptable writing and editing rates. The rate listed here for writing articles is $50 to $110 per page, or $40 to $125 an hour.

Admittedly, I don't always make that, but I am always adjusting my rates as I feel it's needed. That is the beauty of working for yourself — you can give yourself a "raise" any time you want!

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, May 20, 2008 At 11:13 AM 4 comments

Beware of GigCrib.com and GoFreelance.com!

Today Writing Frump reminded us of one of the most important reasons for our freelance writing community: to band together and keep each other informed.

Since posting a short exposé on GigCrib, she has been getting many comments from her readers, but she is also worried about how many others have been taken in by GigCrib's fake ads. She has therefore implored the rest of us to post about it and help spread the word about GigCrib.

GigCrib appears to be an affiliate of GoFreelance, a company I have blogged about several times before:

1. The very first post about Freelance Work Exchange's possible scam
2. A rant about FWE's habit of spamming the job boards
3. An announcement about FWE changing their name to GoFreelance
4. An email from Rob Palmer about my blog posts and some information on GigCrib.com
5. New information about a potential GoFreelance.com scam
6. Rob Palmer's failure to keep his word
7. GoFreelance's new policy of stealing resumes

My posts regarding Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance.com still attract a lot of search engine traffic, and I am still getting many emails and comments from people sharing their stories or just thanking me for posting these warnings. In fact, I just received two emails this weekend, so Writing Frump's request came at an opportune time.

I advise all freelance writers to stay far, far away from Freelance Work Exchange, GoFreelance.com, and GigCrib.com. Not only is it completely unnecessary to pay membership fees in order to find work, these sites are also potential scams that typically make it next to impossible for you to cancel your membership!

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, May 19, 2008 At 10:10 PM 6 comments

A website for your book

I noticed this article on NPR about several debut novel websites, and thought my readers might be interested.

When newbie or aspiring writers email me asking for advice, one of the first things I usually tell them is to create a website. A writer's website is like a storefront: It establishes you in your clients' minds as a professional.

So it makes good sense that debut novel should have a corresponding website. Think about it — how many times have you finished a really great debut novel, and wished the author had other stuff you could read? A website allows fans to delve deeper, satisfying their interest and making it more likely that they'll remember your name — and pick up your next book when it comes out!

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By Katharine Swan On Sunday, May 18, 2008 At 7:00 PM 0 comments

A new laptop for writers

I hadn't heard of them until today, but apparently Asus makes a line of super-small laptops called Eee. The Asus Eee 900 just recently came out, introducing some major upgrades. (Click here for a well-written, informative review of the Asus Eee 900.)

It sounds like the Asus Eee 900 is the perfect solution for freelance writers who want a laptop for writing on the go, but don't want it as their main computer. With its limitations — only 12-20 GB of memory, "flimsy" mini keyboard, and small screen — it's definitely not powerful enough to be used as a primary computer. It also lacks external drives (though it does have three USB ports).

However, if you already have a desktop as your primary computer, a little Asus Eee would give you the portability you need to work outside or on the go. Its benefits — affordable ($550), lightweight (2 pounds), and WiFi capabilities — make it a great little computer for someone who wants a laptop only for writing on the go, and therefore doesn't want to spend a lot of money on it or give up their desktop.

Of course, I still adore my little Averatec, which — as my primary computer — enables me to write wherever I want. Click here for more links with information on laptops for writers.

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, May 17, 2008 At 6:04 PM 0 comments

Attention Craigslist users!

Did anyone see this headline?

Craigslist faces off against eBay

I knew that eBay was part-owner of Craigslist (according to this article, 28 percent). What I didn't know was that it was against Craigslist's wishes: A former Craigslist employee had sold the stocks to eBay.

Now eBay is apparently trying to strong-arm Craigslist. They are complaining that Craigslist is "trying to dilute its [eBay's] stake to reduce its potential influence over the company's board."

Knowing how eBay operates, I don't blame Craigslist one bit. Craigslist strives to create community and provide services for free, while eBay (who also owns PayPal) has the ultimate goal of raping users for every penny they possibly can.

Despite the problems with low-paying and non-paying writing gigs, I have found many of my best gigs — and longtime clients — on Craigslist. I hope they can continue to hold out against eBay!

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, May 13, 2008 At 1:00 PM 4 comments

Happy Mother's Day!

I hope all the mommy writers had a great Mother's Day!

I, for one, spent Mother's Day with my "fur children." We took a walk in the morning, and in the evening I rode my horse and spent some time at the barn.

How did you spend your Mother's Day?

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By Katharine Swan On Sunday, May 11, 2008 At 10:28 PM 4 comments

Freelance writers: How to avoid getting cabin fever

All work and no play this time of year gives freelance writers cabin fever this time of year! My last post was about the challenges I'm facing with the onset of warmer weather; this post will be about how to enjoy the warm weather enough to stave off cabin fever, but not so much that your business suffers.

Here are some tricks I usually use to get out and enjoy the weather:

1. Work outside. This one is my favorite, which is why it goes first. I love taking my laptop out on the front porch to work during the warmer months. (This year, though, I'll probably need to invest in a new battery — I have only about a third of the capacity as I had last summer.)

I may also try taking my laptop out to the barn to work this summer. That way I can be around my horse and still get work done. I may even have access to wireless there, since the stable owners have it up at the house!

2. Get out during lunch. Last summer I usually took an hour for lunch and just read. This summer I'll probably be spending long "lunch breaks" at the barn. The barn's owner, Karen, also has a full-time telecommuting job, and she often takes her lunch break atop her horse's back.

3. Take daily walks. Even if you don't get out to do much else, a walk is a nice treat. Last year during the warmer months, Michael and I took a walk every morning before he had to go to work. We're planning to do that again this year — providing I can readjust to the earlier schedule.

4. Go out in the evenings. I don't know about you, but summer always makes me think of socializing more. Being sure to get out occasionally in the evenings helps stave off cabin fever, particularly back when I was otherwise cooped up in the house for days on end.

5. Plan a day off for summer activities from time to time. Not too long ago, I rediscovered the advantages to taking a vacation. I also plan to take a day off here and there during the summer. Living in Colorado, heading up into the mountains from time to time is a nice treat; and of course, I'll probably spend at least one of those days at the barn.

Of course, the biggest problem with getting out during the summer is that it usually makes you want to work even less. Hopefully you are more disciplined than I am — I have no doubt that I'll be spending many unplanned afternoons at the barn this summer!

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, May 09, 2008 At 8:03 PM 7 comments

Finding a happy medium

The weather is getting warmer now — and staying warmer. No more freak snowstorms between warm spells! But along with this warm weather comes a very tempting set of distractions.

I've always had my heaviest workload during the summer, so not having a chance to enjoy the warm weather has pretty much been the norm for me. This year promises to be different, since I now have horsey responsibilities to make sure I get outside regularly. Unfortunately, this also means that I have the unique challenge of trying to balance horse time with work time.

Yesterday is a good example of why this will be such a challenge: I had a horseback riding lesson at 12:30, which turned into an entire afternoon at the barn. As a result, I didn't get as much work done as I'd hoped. It's like the clock stops for me when I'm at the barn, even though it goes on ticking everywhere else. I can spend hours there and be perfectly content.

As a reminder for me and a tip for you, I am going to write my next blog post on how to find a proper balance between work time and play time.

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By Katharine Swan On At 2:19 PM 2 comments

New magazine article

I recently started writing for METROMODE, a Denver gay and lesbian magazine. Although I'm straight and happily married, I have been writing for gay and lesbian publications for a couple of years now, starting with The Rainbow Babies during the summer of 2006.

Anyway, the April/May edition of METROMODE recently came out, and inside its pages is my first article for the magazine: a profile of Senator Jennifer Veiga, the Colorado legislature's first openly gay politician.

My name was even listed in the masthead under "Contributing Writers." I'm so proud!

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By Katharine Swan On Sunday, May 04, 2008 At 2:06 PM 4 comments

Advice for freelancers on Salon.com

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a Salon.com article by Catherine Price, chock full of tax advice and other suggestions for freelance writers.

Price has some pretty good advice for freelancers, such as maintaining a separate account for your business income and expenses, paying your quarterly estimated taxes on time, setting aside a percentage of your income for taxes (and then not touching it), and contributing to an IRA.

(For the record, I only do one of these, and that's to make my quarterly tax payments on time. I haven't self-destructed yet, so you might be okay with the bare minimum, too.)

Anyway, a few of Price's suggestions made me think, "Hey, that's me!" Here they are:

"Do not wear your pajamas after noon."

Yeah, I am sometimes (okay, often) guilty of violating that commandment. But I'm getting better! A few years ago (before I had my horse responsibilities to force me out of the house at least every other day), I would sometimes go a couple of days without changing out of my pajamas. But I'm getting better, I promise! Now I change into sweats first thing when I get up in the morning.

"Take a shower. At least every other day."

I can't tell you how relieved I am to know that I am not the only freelancer who struggles with this. Although visiting the barn frequently has created some incentive to bathe regularly, there doesn't seem to be much point when all I do is hang out at home. And of course, there are also times when I am so busy that I feel like I don't have time to shower.

"Get health insurance."

When I read this paragraph, my jaw dropped. There is another freelance writer out there who is also type 1 diabetic! Someone else who knows what a nightmare health insurance can be for a freelancer! I just about jumped for joy. I don't even know Catherine Price, but I do know the heartache she went through dealing with our country's crappy health system... because I've gone through it too.

Anyway, I highly recommend Catherine Price's article for freelancers. My guess is there are a lot of things on this list that other freelancers can identify with.

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, May 02, 2008 At 11:31 AM 0 comments

Scheduled posting comes to regular Blogger

I have interesting timing — Blogger just announced today, shortly after I first started experimenting with scheduled posting in Blogger in Draft, that the scheduled posting feature is now available to everyone in regular Blogger.

In other words, you don't have to log in to Blogger in Draft at all — just start future dating your posts from regular Blogger, and they'll publish at the date and time you schedule them!

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, May 01, 2008 At 6:10 PM 0 comments

Blogger in Draft: Testing, testing, 1-2-3

I can be a little skeptical and resistant to change, so I'm just now trying out Blogger in Draft, a beta version of Blogger that was announced last summer. The feature that clinched it for me was scheduled posting, something I always wished Blogger offered: The ability to schedule posts to publish automatically at certain a date and time.

This post is scheduled to publish in about ten minutes, so we'll find out the scheduled post feature works with my FTP setup. If it does, I may be using Blogger in Draft from now on. It's a great feature, one that I could use to avoid long periods of not blogging — like the one this blog saw recently!

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By Katharine Swan On At 2:51 PM 2 comments

Digital libraries and Google Books

I am fascinated by ebooks. Though like many people, I much prefer the feel of a book in my hand, I also believe that ebooks have their uses. They provide instant access to research information, and thanks to compact ebook readers such as the Kindle, enable you to take multiple books with you without changing the amount of purse or luggage space you need. As someone who packs a minimum of three or four books every time I take a trip, this sounds particularly appealing to me.

I first heard of ebook libraries about six months ago, and honestly I can't think of a better idea. With just my normal library subscription (and an account with NetLibrary that my librarian set up for me), I can access hundreds of books instantly and get the information I need, all for free. I can't think of a better

So when I saw an NPR story on libraries that are digitalizing their book collections, I was instantly intrigued. The story talks about how some are opting to handle the digitalizing themselves, while others are relying on Google. Of course, the catch is that books digitalized by Google are only available on Google.

I have gotten research for some of my articles via books digitalized by Google, so after listening to the story I decided to visit Google Books. I was surprised at what I found: hundreds of fully digitalized books to choose from, including popular, modern titles such as Gregory Maquire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. The ebooks are free and fully searchable, the only drawback being that they are only accessible online.

While I understand the concern that books digitalized by Google will only be made available by Google, I also have to admit that Google Books is offering an amazing service here. By scanning books belonging to libraries that can't afford the expense of digitalizing their collections, Google is ensuring that the information is still made available to the general public.

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By Katharine Swan On At 12:34 PM 0 comments

A new sidebar link and an apology

A friend pointed out to me last night that I had neglected to put a link to my horse blog, Pony Tales Blog, in my sidebar. It's there now, for anyone who wondered.

Also, this same friend reminded me that I haven't been posting here as much lately. Actually, I have been neglecting almost all of my blogs lately — all except my horse blog, I'm afraid.

I'll make it my goal to get caught up in all my blogs over the next few days, so stay tuned for new and exciting blog posts!

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By Katharine Swan On At 12:29 PM 0 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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