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Setting Rates or How Much Do You Charge?

When I was first starting out as a technical editor, one of my biggest concerns was how much to charge. The idea of setting a rate for my work was exciting and frightening at the same time.

I had no idea where to begin. I’d heard that technical writers earned more than technical editors, but knowing that didn’t help me figure out what to charge for my services. How much was more?

Deciding to be proactive about setting my rates, I picked up the phone and called three technical writers I knew. They referred me to some editors they knew.

The editors were very helpful, although a few of them refused to share rate information. Those who were willing to share rate information also shared some tips about how to present rates to clients. I’ll cover that in an upcoming post.

I learned that rates for technical editors covered a broad range—from $15 to $65 or more per hour, depending on your knowledge, skill, and experience (length of time working as a technical editor).

After talking with two of the technical writers I knew who each had almost 20 years of experience and were mentoring me, I decided to charge $20 per hour. They thought I was experienced enough to charge $25, but I was nervous, so I started lower. Within six months, I raised my hourly rate to $25 because I realized they were right. A year later, thanks to one of my mentors, I raised my hourly rate to $35.

In my next post, I’ll explain how that happened and in a future post, I’ll talk about how to set your rate.

5 Things Writers Should Not Ever Say to Editors

I’ve sat on both sides of the editorial desk and I’ve learned a few things from being both a writer and an editor.

Writing, even freelance writing, bears similarities to regular jobs. Writers often develop business relationships and even friendships with the editors they regularly work with. However, there are some things writers should not ever tell editors, not even editors they consider friends.

Here are 5 things writers should not ever tell editors:

1. I Hate Writing About This Topic.
Editors appreciate writers who are enthusiastic about their assignments. Although editors know that the most successful articles are written by writers who are passionate about a topic, sometimes they just don’t have a choice. They have to assign a topic to someone who probably is not be interested in it. That’s when they ask one of their trusted writers to help them out. If the writer tells the editor that they dislike or hate the topic they’re going to write about, when the editor needs to assign future articles, the writer may only receive assignments that are in his specialty area.

2. I’m Only Writing for You Until I Get Published Elsewhere.
No one appreciates knowing that they are second choice. Editors know that every writer is looking for their next writing gig. However, only those who are indifferent to others’ feelings would say so out loud. Make each editor you work with feel like they’re the best one.

3. I Only Write Because I Have To.
Editors love what they do and they know that the best writers are those who love to write. They also know that the best writing comes from writers who are passionate about writing and about what they write. So do your best to be enthusiastic, even if you’re only pretending. Who knows? You may talk yourself into liking writing.

4. I Earn More Money Than You Do.
Editors already know this. They don’t appreciate you reminding them. And although technical editors earn more than most editors, they still earn less than technical writers. In spite of the fact that editors already know that writers earn more than they do, they prefer to work with you as part of a team and not think about how much more you earn.

5. Don’t Change What I Write Without Letting Me See It First.
Editors work with many writers. They do not have time, nor do most publications permit their editors to provide writers with a copy of their articles prior to publication.

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10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises

I’ve written before about how writers need to treat writing the same way they treat exercise. Do it regularly—everyday, if possible, because the creative muse easily grows rusty and stiff when it’s not used.

To that end, I’ve developed a series of Writing Warm-Up Exercises you can do to get your creative muse revved up.

If you were following me on Twitter (@writersinkwell) several months ago, you have probably done these 10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises. Try them again because this time you’ll write even more. You should know, however, that these 10 writing exercises are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I have developed more than 100 of them over the years. Someday, I’ll make all 100 available. Until then . . .

I’ve collected the 10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises I posted on Twitter and now you can read them here in one place. Print this post and keep it on your desk to help you get warmed up each morning.

These exercises work best if you can do them at the same time each day. However, if you can’t, just doing them daily still helps get the creative muse working more easily.

Writing Warm-Up Exercise Guidelines

Remember to set a timer, so your thoughts and your writing are not interrupted by you having to look at the clock.

1. For each exercise, write in what I call ‘Stream of Consciousness’ and do not edit anything. Just write.

2. Select an object on your desk & write about it for 2 minutes.

3. Look out the window and write for 3 minutes about the first thing you see.

4. Write for 5 minutes about the last book you read.

5. Write for 5 minutes about your favorite recurring daydream.

6. Write for 5 minutes about planting a summer garden even if you’ve never done it

7. Write in the first person for 7 minutes about what it’s like to be a pirate.

8. Write 7 minutes about yourself from your pet’s perspective.

9. Write 8 minutes in the 1st person about your life in an 1865 log cabin.

10. Write for 9 minutes about your first day of school.

Write 10 minutes about when you realized you wanted to be a writer.

If you want to be a good writer, whatever you do, don’t stop writing!

Character Is the Stuff that Stories Are Made Of

Most of the people who know me are unaware that I am a writer. Oh, sure, my business associates and my clients know I am a writer. However, most of my neighbors and several of my acquaintances have no idea that I write for a living. Why?

I stopped telling people that I’m a writer several years ago because I got tired of hearing 18-year-olds say they wanted to write their autobiography because they’d “had such an interesting life.”

“At 18?” I want to ask, scoffing derisively. Since I’m polite, I don’t usually scoff, derisively or otherwise. However, I do find myself immediately growing impatient with young people who think the world wants to hear their story just because it fascinates them. Certainly some young people have lived lives that others may want to read about, however, that number is miniscule.

Do I sound jaded? I hope not, however, I fear I may. And, yet, each time someone says something to me about how fascinating or interesting their own life has been, I find myself recalling a conversation I had years ago with one of my university professors, a celebrated artist in her native country.

She said that in her twenties she’d met and had become friends with the famous painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso. A few years after they’d met, she asked Picasso if he would paint her. Picasso refused with a gentle, yet meaningful explanation. He told her to ask him again in 10 years when she was in her mid-thirties because then her face “would have character.”

When 18-year-olds tell me their life story is book material. I want to tell them to wait until they’re 50 or 60 or older to write their autobiography — when their life has more character.

Steve Jobs died this month on October 5th. He was 56. Now Steve was a man whose life had character. He and Steve Wozniak had a dream about putting a computer on every desktop worldwide. And with just that dream, they built an empire. Apple computers, iPads, and iPhones are just about everywhere. Jobs and Wozniak changed the way people worldwide do business.

Jobs, in fact, went on to build several empires. He will, perhaps, be remembered as one of the most amazing innovators of our time. Think different is an Apple mantra.

The Macintosh computer changed the world and the lives of many millions of people when it was introduced in January 1984. And Steve went on to become a living legend.

When we speak about a life that has character, Walter Isaacson’s biography of
Steve Jobs is one that is well worth reading, especially for those 18-year-olds, so they know to aim for the stars.

Character is the stuff that stories are made of. Develop that and you have a story worth writing—and reading.

Rest in peace, Steve, and thank you for changing the world for the better.

Never Give Up—Persistence Is the Key to Writing Success

Many writers joke that the road to writing success requires you to paper your walls with rejection slips. For some writers, rejection slips are crushing. For others, they’re merely a stepping stone on the road to writing success. They take them in their stride and continue writing.

Persistence is the key to writing success because the opinion that something written is good or bad is subjective and I’ll explain what I mean by that in my next post. Today, I want to remind, no, I want to urge every writer to always persist. If you want to be a successful writer, you must keep writing.

At a certain point during World War II, the world thought Great Britain was sunk. And, it was feared, if Britain lost, so did all of Europe and the United States, as well. But Winston Churchill knew that his country could not afford to give up. He demonstrated that by his stubborn persistence. And when the tide of war turned in favor of the Allied Forces, Churchill shared the greatest key to his and Britain’s success with the students at Harrow School.

Churchill said, “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.

“But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period–I am addressing myself to the School–surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Writers are especially vulnerable to an enemy called defeat because they put themselves and their writing on a very public stage. And, as we know, anything in the public eye is often criticized, justly or unjustly, and sometimes just for the sake of something to say by someone who otherwise has no opinion about most things.

So, to you, my readers and fellow writers, I say, “Persist and never give in to feelings of defeat. You know what is in your heart. Now, write it.”

Dip your pen into the Inkwell and share with us one of your writing successes.

Write On With Confidence!

Cara

The Writers Inkwell Muse

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A Cure for Writer’s Block—Part 2

A Cure for Writer’s Block — Part I

Writer’s Block often strikes unexpectedly. I’ll be writing just fine and then, nothing. The words won’t come. They’re on vacation. No contact phone. No email. Nothing. Not a word.

When I first started writing for a living, my frustration level would rise quickly and fear would set in. “How can I not have the words to write?” I’d ask myself. “I’ve been writing ever since they put a pencil in my hand and taught me how to write my name in kindergarten!” That would only make it worse.

I knew I needed a more effective approach. It took a while, but eventually I began to find ways to cure writer’s block. Once I realized that it was not permanent, I was able to put aside the almost choking fear that would swallow up my ability to think clearly and calmly when I was suffering a bout of writer’s block.

I began to view writer’s block as a boulder blocking the way of my car on the Pacific Coast Highway. What’s the cure for that? Move the boulder. Go around it. Walk around it. Climb the hill. Go over it. Turn around and take another road.

Are you beginning to see that there are multiple solutions? The beauty of multiple solutions is that you only need one, so you can continue your journey. How I cure bouts of writer’s block depends on a lot of things, including where I am physically at the time (home, a client’s office, an airplane, or someplace else), what I’m writing (or supposed to be writing) about, how I’m feeling (happy, sad, fearful, irritated), what’s going on in my life and in my world…I could go on, but you get the idea.

One of my most subtle cures is to write about something else. The other day, I was working on a technical document for a client and the words wouldn’t come. Instead of trying to force them, I switched gears and hand wrote a thank you note to a friend who had done an unexpected favor for me a few days before.

After I finished writing the note, I returned to my computer and there they were—technical words—flowing smoothly, logically, and effectively. Sure, this was a simple block and a simple cure. What matters is that it worked.

This is the second of several ways to cure writer’s block. As I compile the various methods I use, I will share them with you.

Please dip your pen into the Inkwell and let us know how you cure writer’s block.

Write On With Confidence!
The Writers Inkwell Muse

Writers Are Like Sharpshooters

I recently had the privilege to practice pistol shooting with a friend of mine who is an expert sharpshooter. It had been some years since I had had a gun in my hands, so I was shamefully rusty and felt like a complete novice. ‘Have things changed so much,” I asked myself, as I struggled to remember all of his instructions. Then I realized that I hadn’t been properly trained and my friend was teaching me what I should have learned all those years ago.

When this man is in the field, you can be confident that he is doing everything right. Every move he makes is deliberate. focused on his target. His life depends on it. When he squeezes the trigger, he hits his target, every time. He is an expert sharpshooter. A true marksman.

A good writer is a lot like a sharpshooter. Most writers know that the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” refers to how powerful words are. They know that a well-placed word (much like a well-placed bullet) can break a heart, make someone cry, shatter dreams, or emotionally scar you for life. Conversely, the right word or words can mend a broken heart, make someone laugh, make you believe in your dreams, or heal an old wound.

Some writers are better than others at selecting the right words to convey their meaning. Writers who do this best are like sharpshooters. They can hit their target every time and their readers know that they can count on them to deliver.

How do these writers do this? They practice. They hone their craft through daily practice, just like my friend. Practice. Practice. Practice. It’s a litany that they live by. Although our lives may not depend on the well-placed word every time we write, our livelihoods certainly do. We know we must practice our craft daily if we want to earn our living as full-time writers.

So dip your pen into the inkwell and tell us how you hone your craft.

Write On With Confidence,

The Writers Inkwell Muse