Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

It's Halloween! And I'm not deathly ill anymore! But I feel kind of fat because I've been eating a lot of candy. But it's Halloween! So everyone probably feels fat too. That makes me feel better.

Anywho, because this blog is one part freelance writing advice and one part comedy, I wanted to let you all know that I have completed the short film I've been working on and will post it to the site soon. The movie is near and dear to my heart as I, along with my creative partner, spent about a month on it (writing, acting, filming, directing, editing, etc.). If you like folk music, whiskey and murder, you'll love the flick.

I'm going to the Lincoln Lodge tonight to check out some spooky stand-up and then hopefully party a bit with some people afterward. But all play and no work makes me a poor poor boy. So before the festitivites get into full swing, I should probably get some things done. Actually, I probably should get out of bed first. It's 11 am? Really?

A Day of Pay

The other day I had a client request that I attend a seminar, which I am to cover for a custom publishing piece. She asked me how much I wanted to be paid for the day. That took some thought.

In the relatively brief time I've been freelancing, I have grown accustomed to working from the comfort of my home, oftentimes in my underwear. But sometimes a client requests that you actually leave your dwelling and attend something...with daylight. When this happens, you damn well better request they pay you for your time. Because the last thing any freelancer wants to do is wake up earlier than 9 am, wear a suit and ride a train downtown like a person with a real job.

But how do you come up with a day rate? Should it be a different rate than what you charge for writing? Does it depend on the event and how much work you will have to do there? For my assessment, I first broke the day down into hours. A full workday is 8 hours, so I decided to come up with an hourly rate and multiply it by 8. But what hourly rate should I charge? I typically bill a pretty penny for writing work since I provide quick turnaround and top quality. But this part of the project didn't involve writing. It just involved me sitting there and taking notes.

After wrestling with trying to nail down an hourly rate that A) was adequate for me and B) wouldn't scare away my client, I decided to take a different tactic. I estimated 20 workdays in the month. Then I calculated an adequate monthly pay and divided that by 20. And that was how I came up with my day rate. And my client was pleased with the number. Frankly I'm sure I lowballed myself a tiny bit, but mind you the second half the assignment (the written part) pays at my usual rate, so I was willing to give a discount for the promise of more pay on top.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I'm back in Chicago, and I'm sick. Nothing disrupts business or comedy like being sick. It's worse than travel. At least with travel, you aren't spacey all the time and can write a coherent sentence. That, right now, is a challenge for me.

And because of that, I'm keeping this post short.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Days Off

I’m in the midst of traveling to Missouri right now to visit my old college town and some old college friends who never left. I’m on a bus, and my Internet connection is very spotty, at best. This is the first time for me to leave Chicago since May. I need to get out more.

Travel is hard for me. And I suspect it is hard for many freelance writers. True, you can take your work on the road. But that can be a pain. Where’s a convenient printer? A fax machine? A decent workspace? And even if you find a decent workspace, it’s still not your workspace because there’s no monkey-head-shaped pen holder or a picture of yourself with a mustache drawn on it to inspire you.

Then there’s the lack of consistent Internet connection. The Internet is my lover. And I am in a very unhealthy relationship. If I can’t check my e-mail every five minutes, I get twitchy. In fact I think I might be freaking out the passenger sitting next to me with all this twitching. Come on e-mail! Work! Anywho, I do always make sure to set up an automatic away message prior to embarking on my travels. It gives me some piece of mind. That way if a client or prospective client or comedy agent or Hollywood producer decides to e-mail me while I’m on the road, they’ll at least know why I’m not pouncing all over their message like a cougar on a fat baby.

Also, I like to not have to do too much work when I’m traveling for pleasure. So I try to do everything I can to clear my schedule before making my trip. This can be difficult in that it either requires me to work extra hard in advance to create some downtime, or it requires me to not aggressively search for new assignments and just take advantage of the lull. This time I did a combination of the two. Last week I worked my fingers to the bone interviewing literally 20 sources for a major feature I’m working on. I also could have pursued some more work to fill up the last part of this month and parts of mid to late November. But I didn’t so that I could really enjoy myself. Hey! I deserve it.

Also, as a freelancer, traveling or taking a vacation requires a cost/reward analysis. Is the cost of losing some work worth the reward of the trip? For me, I needed a break from the city, and I’ve been working basically non-stop since I began my freelancing career in June. So for me, the analysis was simple. In addition, while on the road, I don’t really have the ability to work on comedy. I’m in the middle of editing my second video short (which I co-wrote, directed, filmed and acted in as well). I can’t do any editing while I’m gone since all my footage is on my external hard drive, which I didn’t bring for fear of damaging or losing. I’m also missing an improv rehearsal on Saturday. But still, there will be time for making funnies when I get back. And the rest might help refresh my comedic abilities, since being funny all the time can make one a little too serious.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Different Strokes

Some creative writers like having pay jobs that are as monotonous and mindless as possible. These are jobs like secretary, receptionist and anything with the word "assistant" in it. For these creatives, devoting half the day to being bored creates a build-up of creative juices. When the writer finally gets home at the end of the day and curls up next to his or her laptops with a cup of green tea and a bag of Funions, the dam built up by the work day is torn down and a flood of quirky ideas comes pouring forth. The downside is sometimes the job is so boring that its wears you out. Yes, you can actually become fatigued from being bored. So that by the time you get home, all you wan to do is brew some green tea, crack open the Funions and stare at the wall because you've done enough data entry for the day to fill a Bible.

Other creatives opt to have interesting jobs that they feel facilitate the creative process. Jobs like antique furniture mover, meter maid and baker fit into this category (all jobs I've held by the way). These jobs offer fresh, new experiences for the creative to use as material. The downside: They can be fairly labor intensive. Antique furniture is heavy, and sometimes all you want to do after lugging a 500 lbs. marble birdbath up a flight of stairs is crack open a few beers and call it a night.

Finally, some creative writers actually choose to write to balance their lives. Currently that's what I'm doing. I write technical copy during the day and funny, wacky sketches, jokes and scripts at night. For me, this is the best fit. The two really seem to feed off each other. The techincal writing is very structured, which increases my ability to structure my comedic writing. The comedic writing is about finding your audience, which really feeds into my ability to hone in my technical writing audience. The downside to this is I can get pretty burnt out from writing so much all the time.

Which is why I still don't know why I started this blog.

Let me know what you do to balance out your creative side and keep your checking account above the zero mark.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Let's Be Logical

It's a writer cliche: "There are numbers? I can't do numbers. I'm terrible at math."

The creatives love to boast about their mathematical and logical ignorance. I guess the worse you are at math, the more likely you are to be the next Kerouac. And if that's true, then I'm surprised Kerouac could count to 10.

But it's not true. Creative people can be logical. And it doesn't have to detract from how creative you are. It's a lot easier to think outside of the box if you can measure the dimensions of the box first. Otherwise, how else would you know you were thinking outside?

Personally, I've always tested higher with my math skills. On the SATs I got a near perfect score on the math section. I did well on the verbal section, too. But on paper, I obviously was destined to be a scientist, a savant or a guy that guesses your weight at carnivals. And I almost went to college to become an electrical engineer because, after all, tests don't lie. But what I realized was that my love of logic and mathematical apptitude doesn't counteract or negate my creative abilities. In fact, it can enhance them.

Good writers, good creative writers like Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell and those of that ilk, do a tremendous amount of research when working on their books. Comedians like Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford spend a lot of time poring over their jokes, refining them to maximize their laughter quotient. A script writer must calculate the unveiling of a plot in order to ensure that the pacing will be exactly right. All of this takes a very skilled, highly functioning left brain.

So let's do away with the old cliches and embrace our nerdy, logical sides. Pens and rulers unite!

The First Post

We all love blogs, don't we? They're so easy to make. A few clicks on a Web page and you have an open forum to discuss any topic you want. You are publisher, editor and author. Ultimate control!

That's something we often don't get as a writer. If you're in house at a publication or an agency, odds are you're answering to your editor. If you're the top editor, then you're probably answering to your publisher. If you're independent, you're answering to clients. And everybody is answering to an audience.

But a blog is selfish. It's your opportunity to spout off about your views on politics, that Mexican restaurant down the street or your roommate's lack of hygienic knowledge. You don't even have to play to the tastes of an audience because in the world of the Internet, the audience will find you.

However, sometimes, as a writer, it's not a bad idea to actually take this blog thing a little seriously. And although I've birthed countless blog bastards throughout my life, most of them have withered away and died due to a lack of love and affection. And I think the reason being was none of my blogs had a clear-cut goal. They've all been meaningless ramblings about what's going on in my life. They were tickets to ultimate freedom, a world of unbridled writing that didn't have to play to the whims of anybody.

I'm tired of contributing to the overcrowded Internet landfill, which is full of abandoned Web sites and blogs. I want to create something meaningful, something with purpose.

This blog is that. By day I am a technical freelance writer. By night I am a comedian. One is left. The other is right. One is Bruce Banner. The other, the Incredible Hulk. Balancing these two sides of myself is a challenge. But it is possible, and doing it successfully can be very rewarding.

This blog is dedicated to the battle between the left and right sides of the writer's brain, and how it doesn't have to be such a tug-of-war. There can be peace. Even prosperity. You just have to expand your mind.