The Pitfalls of Freelance Writing in Pittsburgh

freelance writing pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is home to lots of creative types!

Freelance writing in Pittsburgh isn’t always perfect. In fact, it can be full of pitfalls. But what if there was a cushy landing waiting at the bottom? I love doing freelance writing in Pittsburgh. Over the past four years, I’ve enjoyed working the organizations like Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, Cancer Be Glammed, and teli. Right now I am enjoying my freelance writing work with Farm to Table and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, as well as writing for national magazines.

Why I love Freelance Writing in Pittsburgh

I have learned a lot in my time as a freelance writer and not all of it pertains to writing. There are lots of extras, both good and bad, that come with a corporate position. Here is a quick list of seven potential pitfalls of doing a freelance writing in Pittsburgh that aren’t so bad after all.

  1. No organized community service. I miss blood drives! In my previous work in the non-profit world, the office manager always organized the blood drives and volunteering was part of my day job. It was easy and a no-brainer. Now that I’m a freelance writer I have to make my own volunteering opportunities. That could be a con, but now I have a chance to pick which causes really matter to me. I’m starting a creative writing club at our elementary school, I’m volunteering with the Food Bank and promoting healthy eating for kids.
  2. No office kitchen. I have no where to take leftover party food! When I worked in an office, I could keep extra sweets and snacks out of my pantry by donating it to the office kitchen. Problem solved. Now as a freelancer, a lot of those leftover pieces of cakes and cookies stick around the house. But as a freelance writer, I’m also not tempted to eat treats brought in by other people. No 4:00 sugar rush! And I can usually avoid the guilty obligation to buy popcorn and chocolate and wrapping paper from co-workers who are fundraising for their kids.
  3. No chit chat. Not working in an office means no water cooler talk. That’s good and bad. It means I don’t have people to bounce ideas off of easily. It means I have to use the phone, social media and scheduled meetings to share ideas and get feedback. That does require extra effort on my part. But losing the water cooler means also means I get to avoid hurtful gossip and misinformation. A definite pro!
  4. No suits. Working from home means there is no need for a business wardrobe. This feels like a real pro for me most of the time. I can do my freelance writing in my workout gear and make sure I have no excuses when it comes to running, cycling or lifting weights. It does make it hard sometimes when I need to dress for a presentation or networking event, but I think this feature has helped my budget and my overall health. I haven’t worn high heels in several months and I don’t miss that at all!
  5. No sick days. As a freelance writer, I still have to work when I’m sick. I’ve taken time off when I’ve felt really bad, but if it’s a bad cough or a sore throat, that doesn’t stop me from writing. That mean seem like a con, but the good part about not working in an office is that I don’t have to work around other sick people. Why do people insist on coming into work sick? No one’s handing out medals for coming into work on your deathbed! And since our nation has really failed to support families with excellent parental sick leave rights, I can now stay home with my sick children and keep working. That’s a real pro.
  6. No carpool. I don’t have anyone to carpool with to work. No HOV lanes for me. When I do have to drive somewhere, I am on my own. But I also don’t drive to work everyday. There are many days I don’t drive at all. That has to be a pro.
  7. No trivia club after work. It is harder to socialize now. It’s very easy to stay home, tuck into my work, and neglect personal relationships. But I am a social person and I make an effort to get out to different kinds of networking events and community activities. And I’ve also tried to prioritize friendships with people that really match my personality instead of gravitating towards someone who just happens to work in the next office. It’s been good to meet a variety of new and interesting people through my numerous freelance writing contracts but it’s also been good to explore friendships that are not related to work. I think in many ways, non-work friendships can be healthier and less stressful. There are so many great people in Pittsburgh, I don’t think I’ll ever truly lack for excellent socializing!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Help for Moms of Picky Eaters: Mom Talk with Denise LaRosa

I am so thrilled to share the link to a truly fun conversation I had with Denisa LaRosa, host of Mom Talk with Denise LaRosa. Denise and I are both Pittsburgh moms, but she is raising girls and I have all boys. We share a common goal in helping our kids develop a healthy relationship with food. Denise is a former elementary school teacher and I admire anyone who can tackle a classroom full of kids.

Denise is the founder and CEO of Mom Talk with Denise LaRosa, LLC, a multimedia platform designed to motivate, inspire and inform mothers. Denise’s website focuses on “providing mothers with encouragement, support and resources as they travel the journey of motherhood.”

Denise and I had a inspiring talk about what inspired my books and how I encourage my kids to try new foods. But her website has many more resources for moms.

Moms learning from Moms

Moms learning from Moms

Denise and I are both supporting the Burgh Baby Diaper Drive and collecting diapers for the smallest members of our community.

Make a change in a little one's life!

 

It can be hard to be patient when kids refuse to eat. Moms know that many times dinners and meals with picky eaters end up in food fights and battlesI Denise and I shared great ideas on how we take our children to the grocery store, get them involved in cooking and encourage them to try new foods. I invite you to listen to this podcast and check out more from Denise!

 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Advice: What not to write

This is a list of writing advice I’ve heard on what not to write or how not to write. It’s probably a little fiction heavy, but I’m open to non-fiction writing not-to advice. Feel free to send suggestions of what and how not to write. But I’m also interested in examples of when going against this writing advice works.

1. Don’t use  “started to” or “began to.” People don’t start to cry, they cry.

2. Don’t tell us a character “felt” something. Show us how the character feels.

3. Don’t use passive voice, for instance “She was informed by a friend of her mistake.” Use “A friend said she was wrong.”

4. Don’t use adverbs like “happily” or “greedily.”

5. Don’t use cliches, like “she balled her hands into fists” or “she rolled her eyes.”

Advice from other writers:

1. Avoid “to be” verbs unless the sentence is awkward without them. Just about always avoid expletive constructions (exception for weather only, I think). Avoid unnecessary attributions. Avoid most attributions other than “said.”

2. Use Wordle to figure out what words you’re overusing. Then use a Find command to eradicate as many of them as possible. Do this with your top ten most overused words.

3. If your story makes perfect sense without a chapter, delete it.

4. Don’t start a sentence with “There” or “It” or “This,” especially if you can’t pinpoint what the pronoun is referring to. Start with a strong word instead. – Beth Skwarecki

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Tasty Buckets for Writers

My friend and fellow writer Beth Skwarecki attended the 2014 National Association of Science Writers Conference and returned with these notes as a souvenir. I’m sharing them unedited for your investigative pleasure.

TASTY BUCKETS
Define your “tasty buckets.” Not every project has to fill all the buckets, but on balance they should all get filled.
MONEY is one tasty bucket, but there can be many more.
We stopped to write down some tasty buckets. Some people shared theirs and they included:
working with people I like
learning/investigating new ideas
writing for big name publications
feeling appreciated, getting feedback
What about yucky buckets, for things like PITA factor? Turn those into a positive – “easy to work with,” “pays on time,” etc.

Simple 3-bucket approach: Money, Satisfaction, Career advancement. Any assignment has to fill at least 2 out of 3 (or if it’s enough money, that counts for all 3)

GOALS
“Goal-free careers plateau more often.”
“What will success look like for me?”
Good goals are Specific, Attainable, have a Timeframe, and are Measurable.
Decide on goals that fill your tasty buckets. Create a timeline for each goal, with action points or milestones to break it into smaller pieces with near-term deadlines and tasks.
Small pieces need to be very small and specific.
Example: I want to get better at writing narratives -> I should take a workshop -> I will spend 30 mins on Tuesday at 11am reading about available workshops

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Reading Goals for 2015

books reading

Books in Waiting

In 2015 I plan to read 100 books. While that total number of books may seem high for some people, but the goal itself seems straightforward, right?

Wrong.

Debate 1: Does it count as having read a book if you listened to an audio book?

It turns out people don’t actually agree on what counts as reading a book. No one is debating between ebooks and print books, rather the debate is between audio and print books. In the past month, I’ve been involved in at least three debates about whether listening to an audio book counts as reading a book. I say yes. Lots of people say no. I don’t often listen to audio books, but I did listen to one huge book (Dad Is Fat) on a long drive. So the audio book debate doesn’t impact my book total but it does explore the definition of ‘reading’ a book. Is it only using one’s eyes? What do you say?

Debate 2: Reading to Kids

The other debate I’ve been in about my book goal is whether I can count the books I’ve read to my children at night. Depending on which child I’m reading to, I might read a few chapters or up to five picture books. Can I count those? My husband said reading picture books to kids should not count toward my total. But I disagree because I feel that somehow implies picture books aren’t ‘real’ books. So I’ve decided to only count the books I’m reading to my children at night only if I’ve never previously read the book. Sound fair?

I’m already 10 books into my goal and feeling good that I will reach 100 before the end of the year. I’m also absolutely adoring the books I’ve read so far! The full list is on my Goodreads account, but here are a few of the books I’ve really enjoyed:

Paperboy
Brown Girl Dreaming
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Coraline
The Age of Innocence (Dover Thrift Editions)
She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer

Do you have a reading goal for 2015?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

New Ebook Released: “Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteers”

I’m so pleased to announce that the new version of Thanks: 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteers is now available on Amazon. This ebook is a handbook full of concrete suggestions for any volunteer manager or leader who needs creative, thoughtful ways to show their gratitude for the hard work volunteers provide.

I’ve been on both sides of the volunteer-organization relationship, and effective gratitude truly stands out to me as an essential piece. It’s not optional.

In 2013, the Independent Sector calculated that the average value of a volunteer hour is worth $22.55. Many non-profit organizations could not begin to pay volunteers that rate for all the work they do. But these same organizations are constantly looking for ways to show volunteers they are valued and appreciated.

It is so hard to find the right volunteer for the task at hand. So organizations look for ways to keep excellent volunteers engaged and to let volunteers know they are valued. One of the best ways to show volunteers they are valued is to frequently utilize their expertise and skills. People love to feel needed.

Another way is to learn who they are as people. In Thanks!, many of the ideas I’ve offered are based upon knowing the personal preferences of the volunteers who donate their time and efforts. Knowing how the volunteers prefer to work, what is motivating their choice to volunteer, and how they prefer to be recognized are key aspects of developing a strong relationship between your organization and your invaluable volunteers.

Gratitude goes a long way and this book offers a hearty list of 100 unique ways to say thanks. What is the best way you’ve ever been thanked for volunteering?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Good Book Trailers

I love the idea of book trailers and hope one day I’ll have one for my as-yet-unpublished books. In the meantime, I’m very proud to share the excellent book trailer for Defective, a book written by my Pennwriters critique group partner Susan Sofayov.

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but this trailer had me move the book higher in my giant “To Read” pile.

Check it out here and let me know if you’ve read the book.

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Creative Writing Ideas

Some people have difficulty accepting input on their creative works, especially creative writing. I think they worry that if they incorporate someone else’s idea, the work isn’t their own. But I really love getting creative writing ideas from people, especially children, mine or anyone else’s kids.

People new to writing often say, “I shared this story with my kids and they loved it!” Unfortunately that phrase smacks of amateurism. It’s great that your kids love it, but your kids also love you and kids can’t often separate their feelings for a person from something the person creates. Most adults can’t even do that! So while it’s great to ask kids for their opinions and creative writing ideas, it takes time to learn when their advice is valuable.

Brainstorming and Creative Writing Ideas

So while I refrain from mentioning if my kids like something I’ve written, I’m pretty shameless about working with my kids for brainstorming and inspiration. They have some great creative writing ideas. But I don’t stop there. I use other people’s kids, too. Just yesterday I called a friend’s third grade son and he really solved an obstacle I had in my app idea.

Recently my middle son had a friend over and they kept shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho, oh no!” That phrase sparked a story in my brain about either a clumsy Santa Claus, or a not-so-helpful assistant to Santa. Over dinner I shared my ideas with the boys and we decided to write a story about Santa’s new puppy who gets into all sorts of trouble.

I like Snowball and Blizzard. creative writing ideas

I like Snowball and Blizzard.

 

 

My kids really got into the story development process. My fourth grader brainstormed character names for the puppy. He did this on his own, without me asking. I love that he knows I will listen to his ideas and that he cares enough about my writing to contribute and make it stronger. I also love how he knows not all of these ideas will work. That’s a big concept for a young kid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good titles are hard for me. creative writing ideas

Good titles are hard for me.

 

Not only did my middle son and his off hand comment turn into a creative writing prompt, he suggested alternative titles. I was calling the story “Santa’s Best Friend” but I really like “One More Helper.” Titles are so hard for me but titles and cover images sell books and stories. I love how he suggested more than one alternative title.

 

 

The boys also suggested topics for other stories. They are little generators of creative writing ideas. The middle one wanted to read about an apple seed, so that became “Root Camp.” And again, the middle one wanted something about salt and pepper, so I am in the process of writing a kid’s mystery about which seasoning pushed pepper out of the spice cabinet.

The older son gives me great critique on my middle grade work. He tells me if he understands the dialogue and if it sounds real or not. He also tells me what doesn’t make sense to him when I describe action. He’s doing a lot of text analysis in class right now and his critique skills have definitely improved.

I don’t ever mention to editors or agents how my children feel about my work, but that doesn’t mean I’m not asking them. I value their input and their ideas. But I also involve them in the creative process and share my struggles and confusion with them. I let them know when I’m stumped and if they help me figure out a missing piece of the story, or fix that line that doesn’t rhyme in my story about dinosaurs rocking out I give them full credit.

It can take awhile for a child to learn that not all of their ideas will be used. And it can also take awhile for people to accept input on their creative works. But it can be so effective to get outside input. In this Publishers Weekly podcast, author Holly Black described how she develops some of her works by sharing rough drafts and general ideas with her critique group. Her process sounded really familiar to me and really validated my ideas that getting input can make a better final product.

Are there certain people you trust when it comes to contributing creative writing ideas?

Are there certain people that you never listen to?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Sexism in Kids’ Books

I read a lot of children’s books but lately I’ve been really angry to discover so much sexism in them. My second grader is now reading chapter books but he still wants me or my husband to read with him, so I get to check out of a lot of books I’ve never read before. One of our favorite series is Junie B. Jones. We found the Ready Freddy books to be enjoyable but a little too repetitive. But recently I’ve had two very unpleasant discoveries of sexism in some popular chapter book series.

Disgusting

Here’s one example that angered me:

flat stanley sexism

From The Original Adventures of Flat Stanley

IMG_0831

From The Original Adventures of Flat Stanley

I stopped reading here and had a conversation with my son about it. I asked him what he thought about it, and he said Stanley should just wear the costume to trick people. I explained gently that it hurt my feelings for someone to think it was disgusting to dress like a girl. In this case, I hoped to build the notion that all politics is local in my son, so he could realize sexist statements like this have implications for people he loves.

It really bothers me that my son read about a character, the hero specifically, who thinks it’s disgusting to dress like a girl. The Flat Stanley books feature a little boy who becomes flat and uses his flatness to help people. And his parents are unfailingly polite. But this is a pretty rude sentiment to indicate it’s disgusting for a boy to dress like a girl. It’s pretty culturally insensitive, too. While it may the reality that boys find it disgusting in our culture to dress like girls, what that does is reveal the underlying belief that girls represent something boys should not admire or want to look like. That being a girl, looking like a girl, is undesirable. But it’s ok for girls to wear pants like boys, wear sports uniforms like boys, and be called tomboys because it’s ok for girls to emulate someone with more power in our social system. But according to this passage you’d have to be an idiot to want to dress down the social power ladder.

This message is subtle but persistent. Kids are reading it and believing it. A similar sentiment is repeated in one of the newer chapter book versions of the Amelia Bedelia stories.

Even Worse

amelia bedelia sexism

Amelia Bedelia: Unleashed

When I read this passage to my son, I stopped reading and fumed. It made me so mad. I made myself calm down and asked my son about it. He said he didn’t know what to think. I asked him if he would let a girl help him at school if he was in trouble. He said “you’re a girl, Mom. You help me.”

I know the power dynamics are different when the kid is seven and he’s thinking about his mom. But reading this sentence indicates that boys should not let girls help them at school, because that’s proving he’s so weak, so incapable of protecting himself from bullies (who were mocking his purebred prize-winning poodle), he’s reaching up to girls for help. This statement from the author is based on the assumption that girls are weak and less powerful, and implies that getting a girl’s help means this character even weaker than girls.

It made me sick. I’m getting rid of both books.

I’m all for freedom of speech and I’m super against censoring and banning books. But that doesn’t mean I have to allow my children to read these books. It also means I’m ready to have this conversation with my kids whenever they encounter any kind of racist or sexist or discriminatory language in books.

Sexism is Scary

I supported the We Need Diverse Books movement and I really do believe books should reflect more about the reality of the world we live in. But even though institutionalized sexism is a reality, I don’t think it has a place in children’s books. I work hard to challenge ideas from our society that pink and purple are girls’ colors or that boys are better in sports. I let my boys wear nail polish whenever they want and I would even let them wear skirts or dresses if they asked. (They haven’t.)

It’s scary to think of our kids as objects of ridicule if they attempt to challenge sexism. But it’s scarier to me to think of my boys adopting sexist beliefs and then acting on them as adults.

I urge you to look for ways that books perpetuate sexism and have the conversations we need to have with our kids to change this inaccurate power dynamic. And I urge you to challenge your own thinking and look for ways you could be continuing these stereotypes. Talk to your children about sexism (and racism, and all kinds of discrimination) and be part of the change.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Notes for NaNoWriMo (Write)

Started these notes on Nov. 7, one week into NaNoWrIMo.

– Write.

– Use those 15 beats. Write out several versions of the story you think you want to tell.

– Work on those character descriptions early in October. Know those characters before hand and your story will flow.

– Read great books all month.

– Definitely block that time off on your calendar. That is working great!

– In October, start minimizing meetings that you accept in November. Get work done in advance whenever possible.

– Still schedule in your running and exercise.

– Journal the month before.

It’s now Nov 30, and I finished NaNoWriMo on Wed, Nov. 26.

– Don’t worry too much about exercising but a good walk helps.

– Don’t try to avoid caffeine by drinking that herbal tea called “Easy Now.” You may be allergic to the flowers in it. It gave you vertigo, possibly.

– Absolutely respect the time you have blocked off to write. That worked perfectly.

– Write scenes even if you decide not to use them later and even if they don’t make sense with previously written scenes but you think they may fit with the story after you revise it.

– You’re going to feel bad about your story at some points. Keep writing anyway. You can revise it!

– You love parts of your story. You’re going to feel so good you sat down and wrote this. You can revise it!

– Telling people, out loud, that you’re going to win, helps.

– Write with a friend. Write by yourself. Write in the morning or the evening, or both. Write a lot. Write!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner write

(I hope I remember to come back and read this in late September 2015!)

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.