Monday, November 30, 2009

Missing the pitch

Sometimes it happens: you see the perfect story for a publication you're familiar with, at a time that hits the zeitgeist in a way that's a touch provocative, completely relevant, and yet not so out-there that it doesn't have mass market appeal.

And yet, something holds you back. It's a busy week. There are other stories. Or worse, you develop the pitch but decide to look at it again in the morning, with fresh eyes.

And then, when the morning comes and you step out to the porch to get the paper, you see your idea on the front page (teased -- I'm a "lifestyle" writer, after all).

It's easy to curse these moments, and yet, with more thought the situation can be seen in a more positive light. While I missed the byline and subsequent paycheque, in this biz I have to be a bit of a Pollyanna. So I've developed a few ways to remain optimistic at the whole missed pitch:

1. Confirmation of news judgement: If someone else thought of it, and you thought of it, and the story ran, then you're doing something right. (Just not enough of it.)

2. Getting on with the 'geist: Sometimes a story/ issue engages the writer so much that they think it marks some pivotal moment in humankind. It's rarely true, and often leads to fruitless searching for new ways to explore the issue, so missing a story might just a be an efficient -- if not financially productive -- way of avoiding all that.

3. No need to wait for that cheque: OK, I'm reaching here. A late cheque is better than no cheque at all, right?

4. Motivation for the next time I'm up to bat: Don't let it happen again! Fire off that pitch, follow up if you don't get a response, but don't let it happen again.

Don't blame your gumption (or lack of). Don't analyze the freelance budget. Just pitch, and pitch often.
(And always take your own advice.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good Hair

On the table today: Researching the new "So In Style" (black) Barbie and Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair.

Hoping to write a piece on hair weaves, chemical relaxers, etc. I've come a long way! Just last year a friend "revealed" to me her hair was a weave. I felt sooo naive. Or maybe I just wanted to believe it was real, and avoid all those questions that aren't a part of my particular ethnic make-up.

It is sometimes awkward, writing about a culture you're not a part of. But we do it all the time. And it would be cowardly to not pitch the story just because I'm afraid of some political incorrectness. So here goes!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Marketing Me

I'm finally getting a made-to-order website. I like to think of it as an online portfolio, but I can't avoid the fact that it will be my face to the online world. A freelancer can hide out in PJ's, communicating primarily by email and thus avoiding stylish office wear; but a website takes away some of that anonymity, and recently I've come to think of it more as a virtual office.

People will (hopefully) come by this virtual office and expect some representation of what me and my work are all about. They'll judge, and they'll do it quickly. How do I make the perfect first impression?

After my first meeting with my website designer, I thought we had a plan: put my bio and this very blog front and centre on the homepage. Work would be displayed by category, separate buttons would take visitors to my page on various social networking sites, and there would even be fun interactivity goings-on, like flying seagulls and a pronouncer for my name.

Displaying scans of my work was hard enough (newspapers are big, and for some reason I chose to organize all this in the weeks before my wedding). Now, my homepage doesn't look so hot. Plus, this blog isn't something I see as front and centre to my writing. So, back to the drawing board...

We need something simple -- for one, because I can't afford to cough up too much more cash for a redesign. And as a generalist who hopes to write for American markets, Andrea and I decided simple and sleek was best. Usually I would just go on Google Images and search like mad 'till I found some inspiration (a little, illegal trick I learned from a former boss). But this time, I need to keep it legit.

I have to admit I spent way too much time looking for quotes about writing and journalism. Unfortunately, there aren't too many positive quotes about journalism out there, and besides, I always think those inspirational posters are a cheesey aspect of office culture, so I've decided against that direction.

My dog continues to inspire me -- even if it's just to get out of bed or out the door -- so his pretty, perky face is on the table. I'm imagining a Photoshopped image of young Foster throwing his frame into the air, catching a ball with his mouth.. kind of what I feel like I do when I get an assignment letter!

Then I found a very intriguing website. Or at least a thumbnail of a website design. On Design Licks, a previous winner (Nov. 16) showed a black and white aerial map of a city, with little blue Twitter-like flags marking.... well, I don't know, because apparently I don't have the version of Flash required (or the memory to support such downloads). But it's for a German site called "Gent," and I'm thinking of ripping it off (even if it's a porno mag).

Monday, November 16, 2009


An interesting article in Psychology Today brought back memories of graduation, specifically the morning after a rousing party with some of my peers in J-school.

The hangover had firmly set in, and a friend popped by to pick up ... okay, here's where the hangover-cloud comes in ... a cake? Yes, I believe it was the tray on which a celebratory cake of some sort had been consumed from the night before.

This friend, who shall remain nameless, always held a very esteemed place in my mind. The go-getter, the organizer, the one with lofty goals. AND she was NICE. (One time I even revealed my envy -- I mean, esteem -- for her to one of my teachers, who kindly said that this student had a lot of support from family in the city and we're not all that lucky. I've tried to hold on to that consolation in the years that followed, but as I watch her Skype location dart from one exotic locale to the next, it sometimes feels like just that: a consolation.)

So, in my alcohol-induced half-day depression, and with a bright-faced go-getter at my door, I collapsed. I let this girl hear my sad story about how I don't think I'll actually make it out there in journalism 'cause I"m just not... her. Not willing to file innumerable forms and put in countless years for a permanent position with a national media company. Not willing to volunteer my summers away in the hopes that I outshine the other unpaid interns. Not willing to trust that the future will all be fine if I just buy a pantsuit and keep my nose to the grindstone.

I can't remember what she said but it really didn't matter. She was nice, the hangover wore off, and I continued on with my own, unique career path. It hasn't been completely boring, but it's not a bio that would rock anyone's world, either.

But Psychology Today came at me today with some good news: the bad economy doesn't foster skyrocketing success, so we should just lay back and enjoy ourselves!

In A Vacation From Your Dreams, Judith Sills, PhD. argues: There's a hidden bonus in our mass loss of net worth ... It's a respite from ambition.

For Sills, the news her own competitor (well, a slacker she knew in high school) had lost his job meant a relief from the rat race:

"My own practice has felt the sting of this economic downturn and, if Marty has it worse, maybe I don't have to scramble so hard. Maybe I can just be grateful to be where I am."

She also points to an increase in the barter system and a genera 'giving up' when it comes to meeting annual sales. All of which sidelines the sideways glances. Sure, it's being replaced by communal fear -- but at least we're in this together.

Of course, it can't all be R&R, especially if you're the type to read Psychology Today. Use the extra mental space to do some big-picture planning. Go back to school. Or just step up to plan the Christmas party.

I do love the way she finishes this advice:

"Being forced to stand still can help you figure out if your ambitions truly coincide with your strengths and passions, or if they represent a younger, different you -- a restless you who will always want more.

Now, I've already changed career tracks once in this decade, so I'll stick with journalism (for now ;). But within these slow(er) afternoons, there's definitely room for cogitation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Enjoying the down time

Is it possible? I used to be able to take the ebbs and flows of freelance life with ease, trotting off to the coffee shop for a session of reading and window-gazing on days like today.

The work keeps coming, this I know. But I haven't pitched a solid story in months, it seems, and I'm out of practice so I should be boning up on the cold emails and the perfectly crafted pitch. And the coffee shop doesn't feel appealing.

Maybe it's my new status as wife and dog-owner? I do feel a twinge of guilt when I spend money on myself, knowing my guy carefully calculates how many colour copies he can make with the bit of change in his pocket. And the guilt upon leaving Foster for anything that doesn't directly relate to filling his bowl (or meeting his vet appointments) ... well, that's a given.

Maybe it's just this new office. What's different? For one, I can't stare out the window at passersby. I thought that was a good thing, an attention-saver.

And another thing: we don't have a kettle, which means tea time is a confusing task of boiling water, standing by the stove (dont' want another *accident*), and then re-heating said water after the first cup is done. Might as well have taken the dog for another walk, with all the walking and impatient looks.

Lastly, the house is a mess. The last house was also often a mess, but this room is smaller. Fewer places to look.

That's it. This afternoon, I'll clean. It's the only way to justifiably use my time and energy in an act that will benefit all -- and hopefully feed my writing life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Just say No -- to work

Not that I'm adopting a slacker lifestyle, or encouraging anyone to do so, but I've recently realized that I have a bit of an addiction (if it's possible to be mildly addicted -- is that a contradiction in terms?). To work.

I've never said no to a story, and this Friday I almost cancelled plans with a friend (not to mention my dog) in order to do a casual catering shift for a person I've never met, for a wage I didn't know, during hours undisclosed.

And I'm not even sure it's the money, though I do love depositing cash into my account. We just made rent, and all signs point to another month of steady work with my usual publications -- and maybe even a few new ones. Plus, we have this back-up account that we can access in case of emergency. It even earned us $23 last quarter.

So what's the deal with my penchant for work? I think it may all go back to my inhibitors -- or lack thereof.

See, back in my college years (and I mean that literally, not as some Americanized version of university), I drank quite a bit. Heck, I even enjoyed imbibing with gusto in during university, and for some years after. But my partner isn't much of a drinker, and my body says no, but during these years I often wrestled with the whole "why do I do this?" (often while wrestling w. a porcelain altar), and a friend in psychology offered some advice on the subject.

He said some people are born with more inhibitors than others, or should I say more "inhibitory neurotransmitters."
We all have both inhibitory neurotransmitters and excitatory neurotransmitters, but some have more than others. The later spark an action; the former tells the brain NOT to do an action.

The idea makes sense to me. It wasn't that I wanted to get shitfaced or really liked the taste of alcohol -- but saying no felt like a lot of work. And now, saying no to work seems like a lot of work. I'd rather take on the task and deal with the consequences than make the mental leap and say No.

But life is changing. My husband curbed my enthusiasm for booze, and now I have to think of him (and my dog) when I make decisions. I already made one big leap this year; maybe next year I'll try scaling back my workload.