Where do you get your ideas for characters?

I saw a really interesting story on NPR yesterday, about a performance artist who develops characters from grocery lists. Hillary Carlip hunts for discarded lists, and then — based on clues such as what the list contains, what it is written on, and the handwriting — she creates a character sketch of each. She also goes a step further, though, dressing up as these characters (and boy does she look believeable!).

I'll definitely be checking out (her pun, not mine) the book, a la Cart, but this story made me think of how fiction writers — myself included — get ideas for characters. I know that I am fascinated with people, and often draw entire characters from short glimpses of strangers on the street. People-watching for character ideas isn't a new concept... but grocery lists?

How do you get ideas for your characters?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, July 30, 2008 At 2:30 PM 2 comments

Busyness

A friend teased me for not having updated my main blog in several days — all of my updates have been horse-related, rather than literary in nature. (Although to tell the truth, even the horsey blog posts have been a little less frequent of late.)

I've had several different forces in my life right now conspiring to keep me away from my blogs — and, sometimes, my work — but I'm going to try to catch up in the next week or so, so stay tuned!

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By Katharine Swan On At 10:48 AM 0 comments

My first few days cleaning stalls

The past few days, I've been juggling my deadline with family activities and, more importantly, with cleaning stalls at the barn. I started cleaning stalls in exchange for free board on Monday. It's dirty work, but I don't really mind it. I do, however, need to get a routine down so that I'm doing the cleaning during the most comfortable part of the day.

Cleaning stalls will definitely take some time out of my day. When you consider the amount of board I'm getting free compared to the hours I'll be spending, it's really like working a part-time job that pays minimum wage. However, if I do the work in the morning my freelance schedule won't be all that different than when I sleep in until 10:00 or 10:30!

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, July 17, 2008 At 9:39 AM 0 comments

When procrastination pays off

On Friday I blogged about procrastinating. I was dragging my feet about making a couple of phone calls, and had sent off emails in the hopes of arranging email interviews instead.

As it turned out, my email interview attempts did work out, although I didn't actually get a hold of someone from one of the organizations until the evening of the deadline. I communicated the delay to my editor, though, and he was okay with it. He knew about the hassles with my computer last week, and was perfectly understanding about the setback that had caused!

Despite the slightly missed deadline, the article was much more enjoyable to write thanks to my email interviews. I didn't have to play phone tag, or fret about the stupid way I ask questions when I'm nervous, or transcribe an interview (and cringe every time I heard my own voice). It's so much easier to exchange a few emails and just copy-and-paste the quotes I want into my article!

No matter what negative things anyone has to say about procrastination, the truth is that it does sometimes pay off. And some people — like me — actually work better when they're down to the wire!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, July 16, 2008 At 7:51 PM 0 comments

A few small changes

I have a few small changes that will be taking place later this month. Well, actually, they'll be small to you, because my blogs and websites will stick around, but they are huge to me.

Basically, I'm going to start cleaning stalls in exchange for free board for Panama at my barn. This eliminates a huge monthly expense and allows me to not worry quite so much about my income each month, but it also means I'll be spending a couple hours every day at the barn — more if I want to ride and spend time with my own horse.

To me, the exchange is totally worth it. I love spending time at the barn, and can easily spend two hours or more just doing nothing. At least this way I will have some wiggle room with my bills — and maybe be able to put the extra into paying off my credit card debt!

I'm not anticipating my new obligations to cut into my work time too much, since I already spend so much time out at the barn, but of course I'll have to make a few changes to my work schedule. Therefore I've decided to stop marketing for the time being, and to focus on a few of my favorite and most lucrative clients. So in a way, the changes are to my benefit in more ways than just getting free board, because they've encouraged me to reevaluate my current client situation!

Like I said, I still plan to maintain my blogs, my website, and my best clients, so for all intents and purposes this shouldn't have much of an impact on my career. In fact, I'm hoping that by focusing on my best-paying clients, I'll actually have a little extra free time for working on my own projects, and thereby advance my career!

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, July 14, 2008 At 10:30 AM 4 comments

Procrastinating on making a call...

I am procrastinating today, big-time. Remember that looming deadline I mentioned? Well, in order to write the article, I have to do two short phone interviews — and I really, really don't want to.

It's too bad about the computer problems, because if I had started this a little earlier, I might have been able to get a hold of both people via email. I've just sent emails to both of them in the hopes that it might still work out that way, or at least to break the ice regarding a phone interview — although I suppose the emails could have been just another way of procrastinating!

Don't worry, though — I'll get it done, and on time, too!

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, July 11, 2008 At 2:20 PM 4 comments

Saving gas: The value of a virtual world

This morning when I visited my library's website, one of their links — a headline advertising their ebook collection — stated "Save Gas: Download a Book."

I love seeing references like this. I've long thought that we're heading toward an increasingly virtual world, but now gas prices are hastening this transition. Compared to Europe, our country has pretty poor public transportation systems, and because most of our cities are so sprawling, walking or riding a bike isn't always an option, either. As a result, we're doing our shopping online, telecommuting more often, and even now getting our reading materials online. Don't want to spend gas and time on grocery shopping? Instead you can order online from grocery stores. Don't want to stand in line at the post office? Order and print out your postage online.

I personally think it's a great trend. It preserves our environment, cuts back on fuel consumption, and saves us money. Of course, as freelance writers who work from home, we're considerably more invested in the development of a virtual world. I've met with a client in person only twice in three years — the rest of my work is done online, and to a lesser degree, via phone. Most of my research is done online — via Google, academic databases, and my library's ebook collection.

So for the sake of discussion, I have a question for my fellow freelancers: How do you take advantage of the conveniences of a virtual world?

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By Katharine Swan On At 9:21 AM 0 comments

Deadline crunch

Despite the peace I made with my computer problems on Tuesday by reading while I fixed the problems, losing two days of my week to computer problems has put me woefully behind.

Most of my clients are able to be pretty flexible. The deadline that is really causing a problem, however, is one for a local magazine. Because of the press date, there is only so much leeway my editor can give me. So for the next few days, I anticipate being pretty stressed!

Have you ever noticed that when catastrophes occur, they usually choose the most inconvenient time to do so — such as when a deadline is looming?

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, July 10, 2008 At 9:40 AM 0 comments

Sign a petition to protect mustangs

I don't know how many of you follow my Pony Tales Blog, so I wanted to alert you all to an issue that I'm really fired up about right now.

Last week, I blogged about an article I saw, reporting that the BLM — the division of the government responsible for controlling the mustang population by capturing and adopting out wild mustangs — was considering euthanizing mustangs to control the population. This is a major reversal from the policy for the last several decades, which has been to protect mustangs as a symbol of American freedom and the western frontier.

This morning I blogged about a petition to the BLM, asking them not to euthanize mustangs. Just recently, I checked back to find that signatures are accumulating quickly! I know it has absolutely nothing to do with freelance writing, but I hope all animal lovers reading this will make tracks over there to sign the petition.

Thanks!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, July 09, 2008 At 5:58 PM 0 comments

No more computer problems!

I am happy to report that my computer at last seems to be fixed! After removing Norton Antivirus on Monday, and reinstalling Outlook yesterday, my computer is running faster than it has all month. This morning my computer started up in a matter of minutes, and Outlook loaded almost instantly. Wow! I'd actually forgotten what that was like!

The computer problems of the past few days have put me behind, but for the most part I should be able to catch up quickly. The only thing that is worrying me is a rather involved assignment that is due on Monday. I will need to hustle on that one!

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By Katharine Swan On At 8:31 AM 0 comments

Fixing my computer, one problem at a time

Since blogging yesterday about my computer problems, I've heard from several different people about the evils of Norton. And, admittedly, that's just a taste of the complaints I've found online. I sure wish I had researched Norton Antivirus better before renewing and upgrading my subscription — but, hey, my computer had come with Norton Antivirus 2005 installed on it, and I never had any problems with it back then!

I haven't accomplished any billable work yet this week, but my computer problem is close to being resolved. Yesterday — with my computer running painfully slow — I uninstalled Norton Antivirus 2008. This was after Norton's tech support responded to my demand for a refund (due to the virtual unavailability of customer support) with some troubleshooting instructions — not only did his instructions actually set the virtual memory to a smaller size than what my computer already runs, but my computer actually hung while following his troubleshooting instructions! By the time I got it up and running again, I was madder than ever, and responded that I was removing the software and wanted a refund.

So I spent yesterday removing every trace of Norton from my computer. Unfortunately, every time Norton has caused my computer to hang or crash, Outlook has been open — which I suspect has caused damage to the hard drive where the program was written, because I've been having a lot of problems with Outlook lately.

So a complete fix also required me to uninstall and reinstall Outlook. I spent the morning backing up my .pst file (good gravy that file takes a long time to back up!), and then uninstalled and reinstalled the software. Now I am waiting for Mozy to restore my backed-up .pst file — and hoping that the online backup service works the way it's supposed to!

The good news is that I'm not stressing out so much about it today. Rather, the down time of waiting for backups, installations, and un-installations has given me plenty of time to read. I've read at least 200 pages today (finishing one book and starting another), which has made my day pretty pleasant, despite all the computer problems!

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, July 08, 2008 At 1:36 PM 3 comments

Way to start the week

You may remember that about a month ago I had some computer problems. This inspired me to update my Norton Antivirus software and renew my subscription, as I was concerned that a virus could be causing my problems.

Unfortunately, ever since downloading the new software from Norton, my computer has been running even slower — painfully slow. I can't do things I used to be able to do just fine, such as run my scanner at the same time as I am running other programs. I suspect it is the fault of the Norton Antivirus, since the Norton processes are almost always using tons of memory, and since Windows now has to manually end one of Norton's processes (ccSvcHost) every single time I shut down my computer.

Although I've been having problems with computer speed, my email client not running properly, and other things all month, this morning I had the infinite pleasure of starting my week with some major problems. For some delightful reason, my computer froze right after checking my email, and my email client hasn't worked since.

I tried troubleshooting the slow computer problem in the first week after downloading the new Norton Antivirus software, but their instructions (of course) did not fix the problem. I've been meaning to go back and email them about the problem, so of course I tried to do that this morning.

What I found irritated me even more. On the Norton customer support site, you have three options: live chat, which requires you to download software; phone, which costs $9.95; and email, which is free. Since my computer is already running slow, and I suspect it's because of Norton's software, naturally I'm not going to download any more of their software, so live chat isn't an option. Nor am I going to pay ten bucks for them to fix a problem their own software caused. So I opted for email.

When you click on the email option, you are directed to choose your problem. Technically, mine is installating and running, but when I click on that it tells me the only option I am allowed is live chat. Clicking on the "return a Norton product" selection enabled me to email them, though, so that's what I did.

Screw this. I don't have time to be dealing with a slow computer all the time. I'll try a different antivirus software. Anyone have any suggestions?

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, July 07, 2008 At 10:14 AM 4 comments

A quote for bookaholics

I have my iGoogle homepage set up with a "Quotes of the day" section. One of the quotes today is particularly relevant:

Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
- Arnold Lobel

I have stacks of to-be-read books in various places throughout the house, so I can totally relate. I know that many of my other fellow freelancers, such as my friend Kathy Kehrli, probably can too!

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, July 05, 2008 At 2:15 PM 0 comments

Clay Felker of New York magazine dies

I can't really say I knew who he was, though his picture does look familiar, but it was a top headline this morning: Clay Felker, the editor of New York magazine and other publications, has died. Apparently all of us writers have him to thank for the way magazines are today:

New York’s mission was to compete for consumer attention at a time when television threatened to overwhelm print publications. To do that, Mr. Felker came up with a distinctive format: a combination of long narrative articles and short witty ones on consumer services. He embraced the New Journalism of the late ’60s — the use of novelistic techniques to give reporting new layers of emotional depth. And he adopted a tone that was unapologetically elitist, indefatigably trendy and proudly provincial — in a sophisticated Manhattan-centric sort of way. The headlines were bold, the graphics even bolder. (Excerpted from the New York Times article)

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, July 01, 2008 At 12:34 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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