Do You Express Your Beliefs in Your Writing & Networking?

I was reading my tweets and feeds this morning, and it occurred to me I have wondered since I got into this business how professional writers handle the distinction between their professional persona and their religious and political beliefs, for instance. I have been told by some people professionals in every industry, whether freelance or employee, should keep their beliefs to themselves and keep it business. Still others have said their religious beliefs, especially are an integral part of who they are, that it overflows into the workplace. They say this would be true even in a public work environment, should they not be working for themselves.

Since I began my career in freelance writing, I have read the work of others and seen a mixture of both points of view. There are those who put their name and face out there and say what they have to say and that's that. Then there are those who are more diplomatic, you might say, and choose to keep their professional life strictly on a professional level, regardless of whether they work in an office or a home office.

It is one of the ironies of the freedom of freelancing to think we are free to write whatever we choose for the most part, within the limits of the law, yet the views on whether or not to air strong opinions within the guise of your professional life vary from person to person. I supposed your decision would be based largely on the type writing you plan to do, and who your target audience is. If you are shooting for a twice-weekly analyst's seat on Bill O'Reilly, you better start spouting some strong opinion. If you prefer to keep your reputation strictly to that of a non-partisan contract employee, then it is probably best to keep strong personal opinion out of your writing.

Your target audience will determine your best course of action. If you are looking to catch the eye of a certain group, to be sure you should either be completely for them, or completely against them. If your aim is to get paid to write in a non-personal, completely autonomous way, then you should stick to writing facts. I asked the question on several of my blogging groups to find out the general consensus on personal ideologies in writing. What do you think? If you are a freelance writer, do you have a blog or other site where you express your beliefs publickly? Or, do you keep your two personas separate?
Here are the links to the group discussions on LinkedIn the question started...

Freelance Writers: Photo, Logo or Gravatar?

I have recently been asked several times whether or not it's best to use your personal photo, a gravatar or a logo on professional profiles and such. When I first began freelancing online, I used a head shot of myself, and not a very good one, for that matter. When I established myself as a business entity, I had a logo designed and now I use it as exclusively as possible. There are pros and cons for either side.

The pros for using your personal photo:

It makes your business dealings and writing more personal. Readers have a face to put with the work, and it gives an added insight into the essence of your writing.

It could possibly distinguish you, especially if you have a Image courtsey                                           common name.

I guess if you're hot, life will go about like it does for pretty people, and you'll probably at least get extra views.

If you become a famous writer, someone might come up to you on the street and rip your clothes off and cry in your face.

The cons:

If you become a famous writer, someone might come up to you on the street and rip your clothes off and cry in your face.

It totally removes your privacy. If you get a crazy client they might come after you.

If you're ugly people might not want to hire you. We all hope anyone would have enough integrity not to even give such a notion any credence, however we all know they're out there, especially when it comes to on-site work.

The pros for a logo or gravatar:

You maintain more of your privacy.

It looks more professional. Check out my logo. It is the same logo I use anytime I can, no matter what I'm doing, if I'm promoting my business. It is my hope the world over will come to know 'The Quill'.

You don't have to update your logo as you would a picture, to keep up with the times or your age. You can't very well have your high school graduation picture going around as your professional photo if you are thirty. You have to keep changing your personal photo if you publicize your age.

If you do keep your publicity photo current, you advertise your age. Whether you like it or not, your age is going to work against you from time to time, whether young or old. Depending on what genre you are writing for, or what type of business, you may run into age discrimination. This could possibly be avoided by a logo.

The cons:

You lose some measure of the intimacy you wish to build with your readers. Some readers won't see an actual person behind the piece of writing, rather a company or corporate presence.

Unless you are into graphic design or at least fairly handy with some photo shop type program, you may have to have a logo designed, for which you will most likely have to pay. When you purchase a logo, it's yours.

A gravatar can be so generic that it literally is like that belonging to someone else. As in, the actual gravatar other use. Many sites that offer gravatars for commentators use the same one unless a specific image is specified. Even the sites that allow you to choose your gravatar usually have a bare minimum of choices, so you will no doubt have the same gravatar as many of the other members. Not exactly the best way make your work stand out.

So, what is your preferred method? Do you use a personal photo or a logo or gravatar? Do you use a gravatar in some places and your photo in others? Join in the conversation and tell us your chosen method for representing your presence online.

Time-Management Can Really Be a Butt

When I first started my writing career, I found it so hard to put things together, and manage my time. Once I learned the value of a schedule and how much more productive I could be, there was no stopping me. It took time, don't get me wrong. It takes ten times actively doing something or twenty-one days (depending on which old lady you ask) to learn to make or break a habit. Think of the glass as half-full. If you go ten days and stick to a schedule, you've got it. You're doing it.

Schedules are important for writers because they help them stay organized and make the most valuable use of their time. Most of the working productive world uses some kind of scheduling device, or nothing would ever get done, and the world would be in chaos. For professional procrastinators, those who don't manage their time well or are easily distracted, getting into the habit of following a schedule could mean the difference between a golden career opportunity and a hobby that never goes much of anywhere.

Anyone who operates their own business, whether a writer or a plumber, has to operate on some kind of schedule. There are professional scheduling systems and software, and then there are simple spreadsheets with chunks of time blocked off in thirty-minute or one-hour increments, for instance.

When I decided to get organized, I turned to none other than the queen of organization herself, Julie Hood. Julie gives away one of the most detailed, helpful organization kits I have ever seen. She has everything in there the professional writer could need to keep up with their time, their expenses, jobs completed, you name it. She even gives some printables that are invaluable to the new freelancer about how to manage time. The kit is free, but Julie offers classes and other books for sale. She also sends out the occasional newsletter telling what neat stuff she is going to be offering next.

After trying several different kinds of scheduling and note-taking systems, I seem to have found myself back at the old school, so to speak. I have a plain schedule with thirty-minute increments of time blocked off. There are no bells and whistles, but there are two blank columns, so I write my schedule on the left side and my notes, to-do list and phone calls on the right. As far as note-taking goes, here again I am not very technologically-inclined. I can do all of it, don't get me wrong. I have just found sometimes the old way works better. For instance, when I am reading my feeds, I take a fresh sheet of lined paper and put a label at the top with the date, that says, "Feed Notes". Then I write down the name of the site, and I write down any interesting headlines. Chock this up to my obsessive need to clean things out. I can't stand to leave my feed reader half-empty, for lack of a better way to put it.

Sometimes you find technology simply won't cut it, and the old way is still the best way. I love all these funky new electronics that will keep up with every aspect of your life for you, but for me, I'm still going old school, I guess. I write my notes on legal pads, and my handheld is a leather dayplanner. I like to tell myself I'm pretty technologically advanced with the dayplanner. Hey, it's not scraps of paper, right? But the point is, no one in business for themselves, especially freelance writers, are going to make it unless they are successfully able to keep track of all their appointments and to-dos.

What do you think? Do you have a snazzy little Palm, iThingy, or other such electronic device? What is your success story for managing your time? Leave a note and let us know what do.

Building an Enduring Blog Presence

The other day, my eight year-old daughter handed me her notebook she practices her times tables in and declared, "Mama, this is not easy." My daughter is actually a very bright little girl. She just made her first bad grade in her short school career so far, and she cried like she had lost her best friend. That's why I was shocked when she seemed ready to give up so easily. Granted, having only so far made it to third grade, she hasn't really had all that much difficult school work. Usually, though, she is a little more proactive in her educational endeavors. I explained to her school is not supposed to be "easy", that it is about learning, which means being challenged and tested.

That conversation with my little got me to thinking late that night. I see a lot of blogs come and go. I have seen many blogs come to the scene with a bang, then fizzle out like a journey-belabored star. What gives Darren Rowse and Jennifer Mattern their staying power? What do Deb Ng and Seth Godin know the rest of don't? While I won't pretend to know those blogging superstars' secrets of success, I will tell you there are some basic principles that will lay the ground work for a relevant, enduring blog.

Know what you want to accomplish
v Entertain
v Inform/Educate
v Enlighten
v Propagandize
v Sell

Establish goals to help yourself reach milestones to measure your progress
v Certain number of posts/day-week-month
v Certain number words/post
v Certain number followers by certain date
v Building amount of commentary

Establish a routine with regularly scheduled tasks
Each day of the week, do routine maintenance:
v Link check: check for broken links
v Culling your ______ list
v Checking for any aesthetic mishaps
v Promotional maintenance
v Re-tweeting old post at least once a month
v Advertising for guest bloggers every month

Always be on the lookout for creative ways to improve your blog
v New kinds of ads
v Add your own white papers, e-books, etc on sidebars
v Don't crowd too much on blog-makes it too busy and difficult to read

Now that you have taken care of the aesthetic and technical details, what about the stuff you actually write?

*Keep it fresh-Don't do what everyone else is doing (ok, everyone does this one, but it's practically a requirement on a list like this, and I would be remiss to leave it out).

Seriously, is there anything that hasn't been written about? According to an advertising executive interviewed for a television show a few years ago, there truly is nothing new under the sun. We just have to learn how to keep improving everything. If you are one of those that buy into the theory everything has already been written about then maybe you could try jazzing up some of your old posts with updates from new information that has been discovered since you first published it.

*Don't decorate to compensate-Keep it simple:

With all the pretty colors and cool fonts available to computer users these days, it’s hard to control the urge to decorate to compensate. While you do, of course, want visual appeal to draw the readers' eyes, after that you just better be a darn good writer. Keep in mind some basic facts about Internet readers. They generally have such a plethora of information available to them and so people have lost the ability to just read. Now they scan headlines, bullet points, and emboldened & italicized print to get the crux of the work. However, remember using all sorts of different font and paragraph formatting is going to clutter the view. Highlight your high points, but *keep it simple*.

*Even if you feel like you have nothing to say, stick to your schedule:

Try typing the most mindless rhetoric possible. For example, as a freelance writer for my blog I might start out with the following: "Freelance writing is when people pay you to writer but you only work for yourself and you have to pay self-employment taxes." Not exactly Shakespeare, right? That's ok because since I have allotted the time from my schedule to blog, then I'm going to blog.

What are some ways you made your blog into a successful blog? What are your suggestions for someone new to blogging? Leave a comment and tell other readers what your methods are.

Don't Cheat Yourself Out of Readers

I was reading my feeds this morning, and finally started coming awake and paying attention when I realized I had just spotted the third occurrence of archived articles being reposted. Keep in mind, there is nothing sneaky about it. The authors all very clearly represent the articles as being from the archives. Many times the articles are relevant to the season or current events.

I have used retrospective posting a time or two, because the subject matter was relevant to some current event or trend. It seems as though using a stand-by method too much would reveal the author as not having anything to post. Personally, I enjoy links back to old posts, especially if they are all topically relevant. Posts that were popular when first published are good for referring back to.

What would constitute too much of a good thing in this instance? The thought has occurred to me it might be interesting to posts some of the more popular articles from the past month on the last day of the month. Maybe that would make things a lot more simple and time-efficient for bill paying, and cleaning up the financial end. Of course, you always want to make a review at the end of the month of what discoveries you and others have made on your blog.

If not overused, retrospective posting can be a good thing. Helpful in the way of time consumption, it is simple to set up, leaving more time for other tasks. It can be a good way showcasing articles some readers may have missed. Bloggers should be mindful they are being judeged by their creativity as well as how prolific they are. Using a stand-by method is acceptable from time to time, but should never be employed as a primary means of having blog fodder just to produce content.