Friday, April 30, 2010

Writer Humor: I Shot The Serif

After being a little heavy at people yesterday, I thought I would share a wee bit of writer humor today:


If you don't find it hysterical, well, that's why writers are a special breed unto their own! ;-)
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

How To Really Quit Your Day Job

One of the things that I often hear from people who find out I am a freelancer is "Oh, I wish I could do that."

I say, "You can. What's stopping you?"

This usually gets a nervous laugh and a swift change of subject. Others will laugh and then go, "Oh, I could never do that because of {list of things that may or may not be true obstacles but are usually artificial barriers in my mind}"

The thing is, if you really want to do it, find a way to do it. And if you fail, learn from that and try again.

However, you don't have to be an idiot about it, and there is a lot of great advice out there for people looking to make the switch from day job to freelancing / owning their own business.

I was reminded of that today by Dave Navarro's guest blog on IttyBiz {which is a fabulous resource site, btw}. The post is called, "How To Stop Screwing Around And Really Quit Your Day Job" and if you're even thinking about leaving your day job behind, go read it. Don't tell me you wish you could be a freelancer or have your own business. That doesn't get you anywhere.




Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Twitter Trumped By Telephones In Small Towns

One thing that repeatedly jars me out of my optimal work zone when I am visiting my parents is the telephone. It rings all the damn time. Rings are not limited to the land line either - my mother's cell phone rings constantly, and often at the same time as the land line. Just because it can.

The telephone ringing off the hook serves a serious purpose in a small town. It serves as the Twitter of the greater Western Nebraska network in which my family lives. Information moves by phone from one end of the state to the other at practically the speed of light. Good news, bad news, weird news. . . people 300 miles away know about it in real time out here.

Ringing Telephone

"Did you hear that. . . .?"

Oh, people have email. But why bother to type out an instant message when you can pick up the phone and call?

In fact, when you receive an email out here, it seems as though it absolutely must be either preceded or followed by a phone call. There's "I'm going to send you an email", "Did you get my email?" and "I just saw this email. . . " All three phrases seem to be independent merit for a phone call to talk about the contents of the message.

It completely baffles me. I don't know if it's a generational thing, a cultural thing, or a technology thing, but I never cease to be amazed at the network of information that is being shared out here over the phone even though other message distribution systems are in place as an option. Sometimes I think Twitter or some other social media network will spring up to replace the ever-ringing phone, but at the moment telephones reign supreme.

And now if you'll excuse me, the phone is ringing. . . again.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

Freelancers Look Like Crap

The doorbell rang this afternoon, and I had one of those moments. You know the one. . . Oh, no, someone's going to see me like this!

You think I would be used to this by now. After all, I've been freelancing for a while now, and pajama wear at 4 in the afternoon just comes with the territory. My postman in North Carolina got to see me with a full blue clay mask on one day, too. I'd been busy typing away on an interesting project all day and I answered the door when he knocked without thinking. It happens.

Now, I know that there are other freelancer advice sites out there that will tell you that the only way you are ever going to be a successful freelancer is if you get up and dressed in the morning. Otherwise, you just aren't serious about your business. I mean, how could you possibly be serious about your business unless you are in business attire?

I sometimes wonder where these people find the extra time in the day to waste on hair fixing, shaving, make up applying, doing laundry, and ironing. For that matter, they're a lot less busy than I am if they have time to roam the mall for new business outfits and hit up the dry cleaners on a regular basis.

Frankly, I've got clients who would love it if I never showered again and just worked on their projects non-stop. After all, they don't have to smell me.

I've had to draw the line somewhere, and I fight for personal time. I especially fight for that very wonderful personal time - guilt free personal time, where you are honestly all caught up and not just saying you are so you can have a nice weekend with the family.

Naturally, there are trade offs in every decision you make. I've decided that unless I'm planning to see other people that day, my hairstyle is called "out of my face" and my outfit is modeled after the consistently popular style known as "clean". This means that most of the time by professional standards I look like crap, but I'm (mostly) okay with that.

In my experience, there are thousand of successful freelancers just like me, sitting in comfortable but ugly pants at the computer, wearing natty t-shirts left over from college or high school, and living in fear of unexpected guests at the door. Other people may be better dressed, but I'm getting my work done.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Tips For Writers

As I zombied out of bed this morning, I thought that I would share a few nuggets of tax wisdom with my fellow writers, based on my experiences over the last week doing my taxes. I finally finished in the wee hours of the morning last night, but there's no reason your experience can't be better than mine!
  • Turbo Tax is a friend. Look, it's all well and good to be doing your taxes by hand. You're a smart person, and you can do it. But let's face it, we'd all rather be writing. Turbo Tax is your friend - your friend who remembers to ask you things like, "Would you like to enter your home office expenses now?" and "Did you know you qualify for a deduction?"

  • Save that receipt and write on it. You know you should be saving your receipts. You may even have a system. What you really need, however, is a ball point pen. Use the pen to write on the receipt what it is for, why you are saving it, the amount, and the date. This not only helps you get the receipt categorized properly, it also saves you when the faint printing on the slip from the store or restaurant fades out entirely. You won't be staring a smudgy piece of carbon paper wondering, "What was this for?" when you've got all the data in real ink.

  • Print out statements and summaries. I know, I know... the trees are crying. However, when I'm trying to find the transaction that matches up for my set of drawers for the office, being able to flip to it on the printed page vs. having to scroll through pages online is a real time saver. Also, you can then bundle these statements with your notes and tax forms for filing, so that everything you need will be in one place should you ever be audited.

  • Remember deductions mean you, too. Just because you are self-employed or work out of your home doesn't mean you don't qualify for tradition work related deductions, so be sure to check for them. For example, in 2009 we have a $400 Making Work Pay credit available, but I wouldn't have thought to apply for it if my Dad and Turbo Tax hadn't mentioned it.

  • Extend if you must. Extensions are available, and you can file for them online. The catch is that you have to pay what you think you owe now, or face penalties later. However, if you're really struggling to sort things out, go for that tax extension. Just don't procrastinate about getting them in later!
I'm sure there are many more tax tips out there, but these were just some that I'm focused on today as I finish my 2009 taxes. I've already made notes to make next year easier, and I love hearing everyone's tax advice!
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Adjusting Back To American Life

It's been a little over a week now since I've been back in Nebraska, which is where I think of as home no matter where I roam. I think it's a little obvious by now that I have no interest in living here full time (Dear Snow: I hate you) but I still think of it as "my" place in the world.

That having been said, it's being weird being back in America. I think that as a result of being a frequent traveler, it has gotten easier for me to switch into "away" mode, or even what might be described as "international" mode. This sometimes makes it difficult for me to 100% switch back to being an American, or for that matter, being a Nebraskan.

A couple of other things that have been hitting me this past week:
  • Noise. In Ecuador, or for that matter, China, SE Asia, and many parts of Europe, they don't do the indoor speakers thing. In America, nearly every venue you visit for dining, coffee, or entertainment comes with its own soundtrack. At Sunday brunch at the Golden Spur Steakhouse (huge portions!) I got hit with both the piped in music AND a video screen displaying the accompanying video. Needless to say, the tabletop conversation suffered.

  • Price. I'd told everyone that for my 30th birthday I wanted funds for a new wardrobe. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that one of the things that happens when you move to cheap country like Ecuador and then come back to shop in an expensive country like America you get sticker shock. Hardcore sticker shock. I know a girl paying $110 per month for her unfurnished apartment in Cuenca. I'm sure as heck not paying $110 for pants in Lincoln. Why hello, ebay. . . I've become a fiend. It's like bargain shopping again, only with shipping charges. Ouch!

  • Weather. Gusts up to 50 mph today. . . and because I'm inherently Nebraskan, I think that's not that weird. There's also been snow since I've been home, while I know in Cuenca they're not facing much more than rain and you can wear t-shirts even at 8200 feet. Just makes me marvel at the differences the world's geography generates, and motivates me to dig more jackets out of the closet.
What hits you when you travel and move around? Do you find it easy to switch back and forth between places? What becomes normal or odd for you?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why Ecuador and Why Cuenca?

Why Ecuador and Why Cuenca?

I've had many people ask me over the last few weeks and months "Why Ecuador?" and its natural follow-up, "Why Cuenca?" I imagine that this will only intensify since I am planning to go back later this summer.

The short answer for me is that it is affordable, warm enough, and full of people with whom I get along. There is also the lovely Kookaburra Cafe, Bar Inca, and the Tutto Freddo that all have food I very much enjoy.

However, I am not the only one who is a fan of Ecuador at the moment. International Living's 2010 Quality of Life Index rated Ecuador as #3 in the world for best climate. Cuenca, my city of choice, is listed as one of the easiest cities in the world in which to retire (although thank goodness it isn't chock full of retirees!) There are several younger expats in the city, keeping it from being a glorified retirement village.

Other fan worthy facts about Cuenca and Ecuador include:
  • The water in Cuenca is one of the cleanest in South America. You drink straight from the tap with no problems.
  • They use the US dollar (which has its pros and cons on a macroeconomic scale, but sure makes life easier on the ground!)
  • People are friendly (muy amable) and the country is very navigable
  • Did I mention there's no snow? I like that part A LOT!
Thus, for me, "Why Ecuador?" boils down to my corner of the country offering me good company, good food, and an affordable price of living. I can make fan lists like the above for more justification, but there's just a feeling on the ground that makes me happy to be choosing Ecuador at the moment. Will it be a permanent choice? Who knows! There's a whole world out there and I'm a chronic nomad. However, it is the choice for now. . .

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter!

However you celebrate Easter, I hope you have a fabulous day. I'm back in Nebraska with the family, so I know that my day will be filled with bad jokes, good food, and great company.

I'm too old for Easter Egg hunts, officially (although unofficially I will still be competing when I can) so I have to settle for Easter Egg humor:

The Halloween Style Eggs


The Murder in Progress


Cute Egg Couple


The Why Aren't You Enjoying Your Easter Egg


Have a wonderful Easter!
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Two Months Later, Facebook Responds To Help Request

As many of you know, way back in February, I had my Facebook account hijacked. I reported the hijacking almost as soon as it occurred and had several of my friends also report it so that the issue could be resolved more quickly. However, it was still several days before Facebook help replied, and weeks went by before my account was finally restored.

Now it is April, and I was surprised to receive the following note in response to my original request for aid:


We apologize for our delayed response to your inquiry. Unfortunately, we will not be able to answer the ticket you have submitted. We have recently made improvements to our Help Center to better assist people with problems like the one you are experiencing. If you have not been able to resolve this issue, please visit the Security section of the Help Center and submit a new ticket using the appropriate contact form. To assist us in diagnosing your issue, please carefully review each of the options in the Help Center and select the contact form that best describes your situation:

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Thanks,

The Facebook Team

It's an odd message, especially considering that it comes to me:
  • Two months after I reported the issue
  • After they fixed my problem
I can only conclude, as have many others, that Facebook lives in its own special bubble. Within that bubble, there is an alternative universe known as the Help Center. Lord only knows what standards of reality prevail there.

For further amusement, you can read about what happens when the Help Center advises the Customer Service department and Product Development teams in Lisa Barone's excellent post:

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