Archive for March, 2015
First, I should note: I am not related to Jennifer Armstrong. But! I have followed her writing closely over the years — first during her years at Entertainment Weekly, and more recently as the author of books like Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted (Simon & Schuster), which offered a definitive history of the classic TV series. Her blog also happens to be a must-follow on WordPress.com: She gives glimpses into her current work (she’s doing a Seinfeld book next) and she’s refreshingly transparent about the business (and hard truths) of being a freelance writer in 2015. I spoke with her via email about the business of writing and tips for how she makes time for her own blog.
You are in the middle of writing a book about Seinfeld, but you are also quite prolific on your blog right now, with posts about your book research and the business of freelancing and book publishing. Do you force yourself into a schedule, or is this more free-flowing, when the mood strikes you?
It’s a little bit of both. I’m finishing edits on my Seinfeld book, so that will no longer be taking up much time very soon. (And it was off my plate for a while right after I turned it in.) I absolutely have a daily schedule for working on weekdays (roughly 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a lunch/rest break from 1 p.m. to 3-ish). And this includes time in the morning dedicated to checking/responding to email, playing on social media, and blogging. I vaguely aim for daily posting, or at least daily thinking about posting; but I don’t force a post if I have nothing to say. I fall off this a bit if I have a lot of pressing deadlines for paid work.
Wait, so you respond to email BEFORE writing? I feel like all the Lifehacker blog posts tell us to ignore email until we’ve pumped out 700 words.
I like to get all my possible procrastination out of the way FIRST. Plus as a freelancer I get a little itchy not knowing what’s going on in my email/not responding to stuff right away. So I do one run at email (I like an inbox-zero when possible), a basic pass at Facebook and Twitter, then blog. I also like to know what’s going on in the world a little before I blog; if everybody’s talking about something that I want to write about, that’s good to know. This honestly often takes up most to all of my morning, but then when I come back to my desk after lunch I can just write up a storm for a few solid hours. I’ve always been better in the afternoon anyway. 3 to 6 p.m. tends to be my most productive time.
Your most recent writing on your blog has been about the business of freelancing, and what I appreciated about your original post and your follow-up post was how explicit you were about what’s required to actually make a freelance writing career really happen. Is it really still possible in 2015?
I do think it’s possible, because I’ve been doing it for three years and seem like I’ll make it another year. I also know other people who are doing it.
Your posts are also transparent about finances — like what you might be able to get from a book deal — and it seems like you look for a very delicate balance between being helpful and encouraging to those who want to pursue a freelance career, but clear about the realities of the publishing business right now.
No matter how many times people tell you how hard it is to be a freelance writer, you never truly understand until you do it. I guess we all like to believe we’ll be the exception. And that’s okay, as long as you’re prepared mentally. I teach at Gotham Writers’ Workshops, and sometimes I get students who are clearly thinking they’re going to just become freelance writers. It’s hard for me, even with lots of experience. If they still want to do it, that’s great; I just want them to know the reality.
In that same vein, I think my approach in general when teaching writing and doing one-on-one coaching with writers is exactly what you said: being encouraging while still being very tough-love realistic. I don’t want to get too “boo hoo writing is so hard!” Because it’s a great job. But you have to have a specific temperament that’s immune to rejection and loves the hustle. These traits don’t come naturally to all writers. I also think it’s important for us to talk a little more openly about money. There’s something specific to writers that makes us shy about it. Maybe because of writing’s proximity to art, like we’re supposed to be doing this only out of the depths of our soul and money shouldn’t matter? Writing really is a skill, and journalism definitely is. We should be paid for our work. Other professionals enjoy their work, too, and get paid decently for it.
Based on your past experience, what does the freelance market look like right now? Is it better or worse than it was, say, five years ago? I feel like we’ve seen a lot of new media startups take off, but it’s unclear to me whether many of them are using freelancers or simply hiring full-time staff.
Exactly! I am always loathe to say things are getting “worse,” though it certainly seems like it was more fun and profitable to be a freelance journalist, say, in the 1960s (or ’70s, or ’80s, or ’90s …). There are tons of startups now, and with venture capital. (That’s key because they don’t have to be profitable for a while, and yet they still have gobs of money.) I’m hopeful that this will work out well for freelancers. Those places are staffing up, but I’ve also successfully pitched a few. I certainly have a long list of targets right now! There’s also a lot more demand for the kind of stuff I write — pop culture stuff. So it’s still early to tell if Vox and the like are going to make a difference for us, but it does seem like the more outlets needing material, the better off we all are.
Do you think this influx also creates an opportunity for established freelancers to “auction” their stories to a highest bidder? Say, similar to book publishing’s system? It feels like online publishers for a long time benefitted from the lack of competition for story pitches, allowing them to keep their rates down, and I wonder if that is changing too.
I hope so! I do feel like I have a few more options, and find myself sorta auctioning them in my head. That is, strategizing to start with the place most likely to pay well. Some digital outlets also pay surprisingly well, which is a change that just started to happen after the terrible “free” trend of several years. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with a few digital outlets recently when they told me what they’d pay for something.
Beyond the freelancing advice on your site, you’ve written a lot of great posts about your books in progress—including your forthcoming book on Seinfeld. Do you have a strategy for how you write about your books that aren’t yet released? Do publishers have “feelings” about how much you share and when?
I used to think I shouldn’t reveal ANYTHING. But honestly, the more I’ve read about this, the more I think the opposite is true. Little tastes of books get people excited, and sometimes I sort-of “workshop” stuff online. If people seem excited about it or have questions, maybe I’ll put even more in the book. Also, when I’m really in the thick of a book, it’s hard to blog about anything else! I’ve shared more about the Seinfeld book than any other I’ve done, and it feels like it has gained me followers and helped build excitement for the book, which is great. And so far my publisher hasn’t expressed any feelings! I do know that with previous books, they didn’t want EVERYTHING online. But a little bit strategically seems to work.
I think that makes a ton of sense. How did the Seinfeld book idea first come together for you?
Well, I write about TV shows, and it’s hard to imagine a show that’s had more cultural impact. It’s as simple as that: This is a show that went off the air 17 years ago, and somehow people are still constantly talking and writing about it! If you write books about TV, you can’t do better than that.
Were you always a fan? I remember not really loving it (or perhaps more appropriately, not getting it) when it first aired.
I don’t think I’ve ever identified as a Seinfeld Fan (with a capital F). That made me nervous at first about tackling the book because I know how passionate some of the fans are. (Many, many people are sure they are THE biggest Seinfeld fan.) I always liked it and thought it was smart. I’d almost always watch the reruns when I encountered them while flipping through channels. I never got tired of the show. (Miraculously, I am still not.) But I think not identifying as the biggest Seinfeld fan ever helped me, ultimately, in writing the book. It gave me some distance from the show and the phenomenon.
I wonder if working on something that has had such a huge cultural impact presents its own challenges when putting together a book—the material is plentiful, but perhaps too plentiful?
And yes, there is tons of information! Ultimately that ends up being a good thing when you’re writing a book, but it was more challenging to organize than my previous books. The other challenge is finding anything new to say about it! But I’m happy to report that I did get a few “scoops.” I also tried to look deeper into how and why the show struck such a chord and continues to have such relevance to this very second. That, to me, is what makes the show unique among its contemporaries, and even among all other classic TV. It feels like it’s still on today, it’s so pervasive in our culture, even though the last episode was filmed in 1998.
Back to your blog: Do you have friends or colleagues with whom you share your draft posts before you publish them? Or is it more of an off-the-cuff process for you? I’m just wondering whether there’s a process for professional writers when it comes to when you decide you need or want a second set of eyes.
I don’t usually do that much with blog posts; only if I’m writing something delicate that I want to make sure comes through the right way. Otherwise I usually churn out a post and move on. But I am generally a huge fan of having people read stuff, especially longer pieces. I won’t turn any book or proposal in without doing this. I’m lucky in that my partner turns out to be a great editor (though he’s not a professional). I also have some friends I go to over and over for this, most often my friend Heather Wood Rudúlph, with whom I wrote Sexy Feminism. We ran a website together for about eight years, so we know we collaborate well. We read each other’s stuff and have monthly-ish phone meetings to bounce pitches off of each other. I love doing this as a freelancer because we don’t have the advantage of story meetings like staffers do. Ideas always get better when you talk about them.
Happy Theme Thursday, ladies and gentlemen! Let’s take a look at our two newest free themes, Saga and Satellite:
Saga, designed by the talented Justin Tadlock, is a theme tailor-made for writers, by a writer. The theme’s impeccable typography and attention to detail make for an enjoyable reading experience, and with support for large featured images and multiple post formats, Saga is flexible enough to be used as a photoblog, a personal journal, or a tumblelog.
Read more about Saga on the Theme Showcase, or activate it on your site from Appearance → Themes!
Satellite, designed by me, is a snappy personal-blogging theme with beautiful typography, prominent featured images, and a fresh, modern look. Customize it further by adding links to your favorite social networks, a site logo, custom header, or custom background.
Get to know Satellite better on the Theme Showcase, or give it a spin by activating it from Appearance → Themes!
Kathy Cano-Murillo will present on how she became A DIY Success.
Erick Prince-Heaggans will present Around the World in 80 Posts.
Because this is the first event of its kind, we’re eager to get as much feedback from attendees as possible.
And since it’s not always easy for people to travel to attend conferences, we’ve decided to bring Press Publish Portland to you (or at least to your computer) via livestream, for free in exchange for sharing your feedback on the event with us in a follow-up survey.
No joke! On Saturday, March 28, you can watch presentations from our two main tracks of fantastic content from the comfort of your own home. Just register for a free ticket using your WordPress.com account. We’ll email you instructions on how to access the livestream on Saturday. We’ll be broadcasting live on the Press Publish website, from 9am to about 5pm Pacific time.
Unlike our other conference tickets, the free livestream ticket does not come with the WordPress.com Premium upgrade or VaultPress Backup Bundle. We’ll ask everyone to fill out a survey after the event is over, so we can get your feedback and make future events even better.
So if you’re interested in learning how Mary Laura Philpott went from anonymous blog to book deal, how Kelly Bejelly took Paleo from blog to business, or any/all of the other amazing sessions to be found on Portland’s schedule, head on over to Press Publish to register for your free livestream ticket for this Saturday’s event in Portland, Oregon.
This April, we’ll be offering Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit. Writing 101 is a write-every-day challenge designed to help you create a writing habit and push you as a writer, while publishing posts that mesh with your blog’s focus.
What is Writing 101?
Writing 101 is a four-week course that runs from Monday, April 6, to Friday, May 1, 2015. Each weekday, you’ll get an assignment that includes a writing prompt and an optional “twist”; prompts are your topic inspiration for the day, while twists push you to experiment with writing techniques and tools.
Who else is really building their writing habit?… I wake up multiple times each night to check the time and see if it’s time to get up and write because I’m so excited. I’ve never felt this way before! I think I’m in lurve.
Molly, Knocked Up Knocked Over
You can mix assignments however you like: Respond to the prompt, and ignore the twist. Try the twist, but write on your own topic. Use both the prompt and the twist. Publish what you write on your blog, or use it as private writing practice. It’s up to you! The only mandate is that you write every weekday.
- You’ll receive a new writing prompt via email each day at midnight UTC. (Not sure what time that is for you? Use this converter to figure out your local time.)
- There are no weekend assignments — you’re free to expand on a weekday post, write something unrelated, or (gasp!) spend some time away from your blog.
- As in all Blogging U. courses, participants will have a private community site, the Commons, for chatting, connecting, and seeking feedback and support. Daily Post staff and Happiness Engineers will be on hand in the comments to answer your questions and offer guidance and resources.
- If you’ve taken Writing 101 before: yes, these will be the same prompts. Blogging U. courses always repeat unless we specifically indicate that a course is new.
Ready to register?
We’re excited you’re joining us! Fill out this short form to get started:
Note: you won’t receive an automated confirmation, but you’ll get a welcome email with full details just prior to the start of the course.
Happy Theme Thursday, all! Today I’m pleased to present two new free themes designed especially for longform writing.
Designed by yours truly, Resonar is an elegant blog theme with full-screen Featured Images. It’s perfect for blogs about fashion, food, or design, and the layout works especially well for longform features with large images. The combination of gorgeous images and beautiful typography creates posts that make an immediate visual impact.
Read more about Resonar on the Theme Showcase, or activate it on your site from Appearance → Themes.
Scrawl, designed by Caroline Moore, is a clean, responsive theme with bold featured images, fancy image captions and pull quotes, and plenty of space for your content to shine. Post details fade in when you hover over them, so readers can focus entirely on your beautiful content when not navigating your site. A slide-out sidebar provides ready access to secondary content, including Social Links, Custom Menus, and Widgets.
Read more about Scrawl on the Theme Showcase, or activate it on your site from Appearance → Themes!
We love blogs, but we love websites, too. Small businesses, personal portfolios, non-profit organizations, government websites — bring ‘em on! These four sites are each beautiful, effective, and built on WordPress.com.
Purple carrots, green grass, red tomatoes — rather than clashing, the images on Sandyfoot Farm’s site suggest abundance and health. Popular free theme Sela is the perfect backdrop for these Virginia farmers’ vibrant vegetables.
Sela‘s built-in “front page” template gives them space for a welcome note and and three areas highlighting key elements of their business like farmers’ market appearances, farm shares, and their farm blog. The theme’s default sans-serif font plays well with the Sandyfoot logo and keeps things feeling streamlined, even amidst a riot of color.
Ever thought about visiting Winnipeg, Canada? You will after seeing Only in the Peg, the adorable online showcase the city’s tourism board built using the premium Adventure theme. While the site retains a blog-style layout, its use of featured posts, widgets, and a menu create a home page feel.
Replacing the theme’s stock adventure travel images with retro-mod patterns and a trio of cartoon clothespegs — Mister, Missus, and Lil’ Peg — gives the site a fun, family-friendly vibe. We especially love the punch of orange in the site’s logo, and shadow of Winnipeg’s skyline spanning the header. Next stop, Manitoba!
Even we are hard pressed to tell what theme graphic designer Trina Lambert uses for her personal site — pared down and bold, it puts all the focus on her, where it belongs. (Hint: it’s Clean Home, a free blog theme.)
Clean Home already features bold text against a crisp white backdrop; Trina takes that a step further, removing the theme’s standard red title text and creating a stripped-down home page with a few well-placed graphics. It’s an eye-catching presentation that gives visitors an immediate sense of her style.
New Zealand’s Leading Change is a network of social entrepreneurs committed to fostering social and environmental change. On their website, they lead the charge using the free theme Edin.
Edin is tailor-made for business and organizational sites. Leading Change makes the theme their own with an engaging image layered with their mission statement. Swapping out Edin‘s chunkier fonts for lighter, leaner Futura keeps things modern, in line with the organization’s forward-looking stance.
From themes like Goran, Creative Portfolio, or Swell designed with websites in mind to malleable blog-style themes like Twenty Twelve and Oxygen, WordPress.com lets you go beyond the blog. Free themes and tools allow anyone to build a professional site quickly and easily, and add-ons like premium themes or the WordPress.com Business plan, mean the sky’s the limit.
A “collection”: a subjective and ideal ensemble of objects that reveal the profound traces of our character.
What is a fashion collection made of? It’s a multi-dimensional journey, facetted by experiences both immediate and distant. Shreds of discoveries, recollections transformed by memory, imaginative anticipation… Treasures brought back from unfamiliar lands or explorations into the intimacy of a wardrobe. A sentimental anthology of iconic images and ridiculous photos that still have primordial meaning. Essential references and other, more singular ones that belong solely to the chapel of our personality.
That’s what a fashion collection is. It’s an inventory that embraces everything: a solemn past, a fertile present and the inevitably dreamlike future. A collection is a travel diary. It’s an open-ended journey into the world that reflects the daring paths of the spirit. It’s a sentimental adventure made of scattered inspirations and great aspirations. And it has only one means of locomotion: intuition.
The intuition of a garment and the way it’s orchestrated are the key to style. Understanding the excellence of a basic — the better to take it somewhere singularly imaginative — will always be the best path. This collection is a proposition of style, an invitation on a journey about finding the momentum to transcend what we know so well in order to take it toward something we’d like to discover.
Images via Louis Vuitton
Maybe you’re working on a 365 project, with a photo for each day of the year. With a couple months under your belt, you might be looking for a new theme to showcase your work. Let’s check out four themes where the typography and color palettes step aside so that your photos get your visitors’ full attention.
Made with photographers and photobloggers in mind, Cubic is eye-catching and bold out of the box. Its pleasing homepage grid showcases your posts’ featured images.
Consider this subtle, almost ethereal application of Cubic at WE THE BIRDS, a site “dedicated to the travelers, the nomads, the free spirits, the culturally aware, the expat kids.” The Birds’ muted photography looks fantastic with the theme’s dark filter option for featured images. Using the site logo feature, they’ve uploaded a beautiful feather illustration that lends a unique, personal touch to their site.
Minnow‘s gray color palette accentuates photography. The social links menu knows its place: front and center on the homepage, it will encourage visitors to share your work on their favorite social networks.
We loved Minnow in action at AMSTERDAMMING, a fun, vibrant, photo-filled blog chronicling life in Amsterdam through Andra’s eyes. Her photo collages are particularly stunning. A short trip through her blog, and you might be ready to pack your bags for a visit or even a move to the Netherlands.
Radcliffe’s full-width images are ideal for showcasing your latest photographs.
Check out Radcliffe in full force at JONASRASK|PHOTOGRAPHY, where, as a visitor, you get a wonderful sample of Jonas‘ incredible work simply scrolling through stacked images on his homepage. Jonas intersperses stark black and white featured images with brilliant color, to great dramatic effect.
Editor‘s large and sophisticated typography and gray color palette offer the perfect canvas for any photographer or photoblogger.
Rob Moses‘ sharp red and blue site logo is the first thing that grabs your attention, until you catch sight of his work; you can easily lose yourself scrolling through his stunning photos of life in Calgary, Alberta. Winter is particularly beautiful, as seen through Rob‘s lens.
Which themes do you love for photography and photoblogging? It’s always wonderful to see how WordPressers put themes to work.
Registration for March’s Blogging U. courses is now closed, and both courses have started. Check back later in the month to learn more and register for April’s offerings!
Blogging 101: Zero to Hero — March 2 – 20
Blogging 101 is three weeks of bite-size assignments that take you from “Blog?” to “Blog!” Every weekday, you’ll get a new assignment to help you publish a post, customize your blog, or engage with the community. Whether you’re just getting started or want to revive a dormant blog, we’ll help you build blogging habits and connections that will keep you going over the long haul.
You’ll walk away with a stronger focus for your blog, several published posts and a handful of drafts, a theme that reflects your personality, a small (but growing!) audience, a grasp of blogging etiquette — and a bunch of new friends.
Photography 101: A Photo a Day — March 2 – 27
Photography 101 is a photo-a-day challenge. You’ll publish new posts, make new friends, and hone your photographer’s eye.
Photography 101 is a four-week, intro-level course open to all, from new bloggers to hobbyist photographers to pro-shooters. Use the camera you like: a phone, a point-and-shoot, or a dSLR. Each weekday, we’ll give you a new photography theme and tip — we might share advice on composition, tips on working with different light sources, or image editing ideas — and the community critique will inspire and motivate you.
How do Blogging U. courses work?
Blogging U. courses exist for one reason: to help you meet your own blogging goals.
- Courses are free, flexible, and open to all.
- You’ll get a new task to complete each day, along with some advice and resources. Do them on your own time, and interpret them however makes sense for your specific blog and personal goals — we’re not grading you, we’re not checking that you complete every task, and there’s no “wrong” way to use the resources we give you.
- You’ll receive each assignment via email. Each assignment will contain all the inspiration and instructions you need to complete it. Weekends are free.
- Each course will have a private community site, the Commons, for chatting, connecting, and seeking feedback and support. Daily Post staff and Happiness Engineers will be on hand to answer your questions and offer guidance.
How do I register?
While you’re free to register for both, we encourage you to try one course at a time, to be sure you get the most out of the experience. All courses will be repeated throughout 2015.
To register, fill out this short form. Registration for each course remains open until the day before the course begins. You won’t receive an automated confirmation email, but you’ll receive a welcome email with more detailed instructions before your course(s) begin.
Registration for these courses is now closed. We’ll announce April’s Blogging U. offerings later in the month!
Happy Theme Thursday, all! Let’s dive right into a new free theme:
Designed by Mel Choyce, Lyretail is a stunning visual treat for your personal site. The theme puts your social presence front and center, displaying social links prominently below the site’s title and logo, so readers can easily find you on your favorite social networks.
Read more about Lyretail on the Theme Showcase, or activate it on your site from Appearance → Themes!