Category Archives: writing

Filling the Gap


For a lot of people struggling in this economy, there are gaps. Gaps between the monthly paycheck and the monthly rent. Gaps between what we’d like to spend and what we are able to spend. Gaps created by too few hours and too low salaries. Gaps between the lives we want and the lives we have.

Now some of these gaps can be lessened by the adjustment of expectations. Goodness knows I’ve done my fair share of wants vs. needs charts; downsizing in favor of a more reasonable lifestyle, but at a certain point I
can’t cut back on the needs column any more (i.e. bills, food, good books…).

In my continued searches through a frustrating job market, I have noted the presence of some interesting opportunities to ‘fill the gap.’ Ways to make that extra bit of money finish out the month; or if you’re like me,
ways to make some money instead of none.

The most obvious of these fillers has been employed (pun intended) by workers of all types for years—the part-time job.

Whether it’s bartending nights or selling shoes on Saturdays, a part-time job is a good way to fill the gap. Scheduling is flexible, And it can also be a nice way to do something different a few days a week, in case your real job (or non-job) drives you bananas. As previously mentioned, I have been searching for a few part-time gigs to fill out my weeks and amp up my bank account. A few days ago I applied to a bakery in my neighborhood, so fingers crossed on that one.

Another ‘filler’ that suits me in particular are sites like gather.com or skyword.com, where writers can contribute articles with limited time pressure and be paid based on how the contribution draws in readers—more readers, more cash. This is especially helpful because it lends even more freedom from scheduling constraints, so if my free time is at 3am then that’s the time I use to get paid for writing. There’s also a relatively uncapped earning potential depending on the number and popularity of articles written. If I have lots of time to write a bunch of really engaging articles, I can earn quite a bit.

For those who are slightly less journalistically inclined I have also recently discovered a site called taskrabbit.com, a nifty idea that allows people with extra time to run errands for those without it. Need your groceries picked up, or you house cleaned, hire a task rabbit; a whole range of tasks for people with varied skills and extra time looking to turn those assets into cash. I don’t know about anyone else but I love this
idea. I signed up to be a task rabbit yesterday and am waiting to be approved sI can choose my first assignment. Perhaps someone out there needs me to make hem tea and read them a book…

My final source for odd jobs is the ever trusty craigslist. They have a section labeled ‘gigs’ that ijust bursting with small, one-time/ temporary jobs waiting for people with the time, talent, and inclination to get them done. If I remember correctly, that is how I found out about and started writing for this blog. It’s at least
worth a look.

These are the opportunities I’ve happened upon so far in my search but I’m sure this isn’t the end of the list. Someone before me discovered that sometimes people end up with more free time than they know what to do with and is out there trying to help us make use of these idle hands. To help fill the gaps, as it were. At the moment all I have is gap so hopefully using these strategies will help me keep my head above water as the real search continues.

Deadline Oriented


By Katherine Shaye

In my last post I noted that it is difficult for me to set my own deadlines. A friend of mine read this and remarked teasingly that I shouldn’t tell this to any future employers. This confused me. Yes, it made sense that no employer would want a worker who couldn’t meet deadlines, but I had never had this problem at work.

In fact I’ve been rather good at meeting work or school deadlines. My track record has been clean, showing up on time, turning in assignments, getting things done. I never asked for extensions or ignored due dates. But this was all in my work persona. For some reason those traits and habits aren’t translating into my day-to-day life.

Continuing my self-examination, I started wondering why this is. What are the conditions of a deadline that make it concrete in my mind?  Andhow can I make the goals I set for myself better fit this criteria? As always I have spent some time sitting with these thoughts and come up with a few answers that might help me understand the issue.

Expectation of completion – the first criteria jumped out immediately, an authority figure. Someone I respect who holds the expectation that I will get done whatever job they’ve asked. It gives me a sense of accountability that I have been tasked with something and that someone will know how and when I get it done.

So when it’s just me how can I set up that same sense of expectation? One strategy I’ve devised is to share my goals with other people. To write them down, say them out loud, post them in a blog, whatever. Some way to let at least one other person know and increase that pressure of expectation.

Dependence on completion- this was an especially important motivation for me at my last job, where ten people depended on me to keep my deadlines , so that their housing, food, and work schedules stayed in order. If not turning in my report meant someone in the office couldn’t get their work done on time that motivated me. If not grocery shopping meant putting strain on the food availability for my team that motivated me. Now, if I don’t apply for that job today, I’m the only one affected. I am more likely to make exceptions, procrastinate.

A possible solution to this might be to envision the longer chain of effects meeting or not meeting my deadlines might have. Sure if I don’t apply for a job today the sun will probably still rise tomorrow but if I don’t apply for jobs then I won’t get a job and without a paycheck I can’t make
rent. That would certainly affect my eleven housemates. And not in a good way.

Commitment to completion – Often times I find that when I set personal goals I either set the bar super low so that if I ignore it I can make up for it later or crazy high so that if I don’t reach it I won’t feel bad because it was a stretch in the first place. I can’t say that this is a healthy way to approach goal setting. I’m already making room for myself to blow it off or fail. I haven’t committed to my own success.

Now that sounds like a self-help-book line if I’ve ever heard one but unfortunately I think it’s the truth. Getting over this particular hurdle in goal making will require more than just a casual reassessment of my goal setting tendencies. In essence it will require me to start putting stock in myself and taking my own deadlines quite a bit more seriously.

Though these tactics may not be bulletproof and I still may spend some days wrapped up reading a good book rather than writing my own, I think that they will help me change my thinking around setting goals for myself.

So in the spirit of honoring my own deadlines I will now return to working on the book manuscript I aim to have finished by the end of this year, Imaginary Me. And anyone reading this can feel free to help hold me to it.

A Situation Only a Journalist Could Dream Of Part 1


By Bryan Lawver

I have my first graduate class this week, but before I start talking about grad school, I would like to talk about what I did after finishing my undergraduate classes. Not the relentless job hunt, or the angst, but what I did right after graduating; the not-necessarily-productive part. The “this is just for me” part.

There are a lot of opinions floating around about what to do between undergraduate and graduate school. Some people say that you should get a job, or an internship, or spend time honing your craft – whatever it may be.

I went to Iceland.

The plan felt more like it formed around me, rather than I had an authorial hand in it. It started with a tax return, an unexpected call from a sibling, and a fondness for Icelandic rock music, and in the beginning of May 2010, as my classmates were walking across an auditorium in caps and gowns, I was – along with a friend – boarding a jet owned by Icelandair.

Our timing was fortuitous. A volcano beneath Eyjafjallajokull, a glacier seemingly named by a cat walking across a keyboard, erupted that spring. It covering acres of Iceland in ash, and stranded hundred of international travelers; generally making life even more difficult for a lot of people already living in a particularly forbidding landscape.

Okay, fortuitous might not be the right word. In the end it may have been a bit sociopathic. But that’s how it felt to us. I was a writer, and my companion was a photographer. This would be a great chance for us to cover something momentous, something unique; something that might get noticed. We ran the idea by a professor from our school – who was also a contributor for a local newspaper – who said that he would pass it along to his editor.

And then off we went. If this all sounds rushed and ill-planned, that is simply because it was. We went, despite the myriad of ways that we expressed and explained and excused ourselves to friends and family. We had the idea in our heads and we were determined to have fun.

The first thing I noticed about Iceland was that we were about to crash into it.

At least that’s how it looked. We descended slowly, painfully slowly, through what I assumed to be a layer of clouds. I was looking straight down out the window, waiting to break through so that I could see the island from above and watch our approach. What I saw instead, the instant that we broke through, was the ground just feet below us.

I jumped, not even having enough time to register my own fear, and then realized that what we had been passing through was a thick blanket of fog.

The same sheet of gray cotton lay over the countryside in the cab that we took from the airport to Reykjavik, trying to make small talk with our cab driver. He spoke English, but not well. I was disappointed to realize that I could not use him as a source for my article.

Upon arriving in Reykjavik, I was relieved to find that the man’s unfamiliarity with English was not the norm. Nearly everyone under 50, I was later told, spoke English fluently; and I saw evidence of this everywhere. Signs and menus in English, clerks effortlessly switching languages when they realized that my companion and I suffered the mono-lingual handicap. I thought about the imperialism of English, and what this meant for the culture of Iceland – usually isolated from the world by its physical solitude and the inscrutable mindset that seems to pervade island nations. I asked a lot of Icelanders about this, and no one seemed to care much. There has always been Icelandic music and literature and film, and there always will be, I was told.  Some things are expressed better in Icelandic, and they will continue to be.

Damn, I thought, another dead-end topic.

We trudged on, moving from a hostel to the house of a group of students whom we had agreed to stay with. We bounced along, visiting cafes by day and bars by night, having a good time, but always on the lookout for a good subject, a photo opportunity, a striking detail to open my article.

I probably would have gone on this way, perpetually disappointed, if we hadn’t rented a car and driven into the country.

CHECK BACK NEXT TUESDAY FOR PART TWO!

I Dreamed a Dream


By Katherine Shaye

It is hard for me to distinguish at what point in my life I went from the dreams of childhood to the career pursuits of an adult. If I’d stuck to my guns when I was eight, I’d now be a retired Olympic gymnast reliving my glory days on a talk show. Instead, I am now (among other things) an aspiring novelist, a dream that I’ve picked up only recently. So what’s the difference between my dream now and my dream then? Aside from an increased ability and drive to pursue an actual career, I would say not much.

It makes me ask myself – what really makes my dream worth chasing, and at what point do I put it on the back burner in favor of something more practical?

The reason for this sudden introspective rant is this:

Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?

An article pointed out to me in a writing forum by an editing friend who thought the topic deserved some discussion. After reading it, I have to wonder, do I have skin thick enough to enter into a rapidly changing, somewhat shrinking industry, where only the truly great and quickly adapting survive? What will it really mean to be an author over the next 10 years as I try to build a career and get published? Am I gritty enough to stick it out?

I look back at where I started. Back in my early college days when writing was just a way to blow off steam and get silly daydreams out of my head. I wrote a lot, but rarely finished anything— ideas flitting too quickly through my head for me to sit with just one.  Writing was just a hobby; I was allowed to be flighty. I’d gotten a few comments from friends along the lines of “It’s pretty good,” and “I really liked it. Is there more?” Nothing I really took seriously. There was even one English paper that came back with the comment, “Very well written. Wish it were more on topic.” All praises, but nothing that said “This is it, you’ve got it. Go be a writer.”

My lackadaisical writing career continued like this until senior year when real life started looming and I decided to get adventurous. What if I really did become a writer? It was time to do some learning.

I joined a writing forum (or Accentuate Writers). Nothing fancy, just a place where I could upload my work and have it critiqued by other people in the same position as me—new and unpublished talents, testing the waters to see if we were
up to snuff. Reviews poured in and I shared my thoughts with others. I was getting positive feedback and gaining much needed confidence. Things were rolling along nicely.

Then I got my first negative review. I’d like to say that the critic didn’t know what he was talking about, that he was jealous of the profundity of my piece. But that would be a lie. This critic, while very curt and clearly not a fan of my work, gave me nothing but good advice—not that I could acknowledge that right away. It was the kind of feedback that cuts a little too close to honesty, usually echoing insecurities you already had about
a piece. They were comments I definitely needed but didn’t necessarily want.

Cue the week of mourning.

I didn’t even look at my computer screen for the next seven days, most of my time spent ignoring the fact that I’d ever picked up a pen at all.

Finally, I went back. I reread the punishing critique, picked out the relevant bits and reworked my story.  A week later, I entered it into a short story contest and a month after that I found out that the piece had won first place. It was getting published. My greatest sense of failure and success all wrapped up in that one little piece.

Fast forward to now.

Is this the story of a burgeoning artist’s epic struggle towards success? Not really, but it is the beginnings of a journey, my journey, and I suppose the point is that none of the rest of it matters. Writing is something I love to do and it’s worth a shot. Even in a potentially failing industry, even if I’m not any good. It’s still worth it to try.

CHECK OUT SOME OF THESE SITES FOR ADVICE!

Because I Said So
Vicki Winslow’s Blog
Tammyholloway
Stress Management for Writers

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