Pen for Hire

My studio - about a 60-second walk from my back door.

My studio – about a 60-second walk from my back door.

I participated in a Freelancer’s Roundtable on WordPress’s Daily Post last week, Beyond Blogging: Freelancing, Getting Paid to Write, and Writing for Free. Of course, I was flattered to be asked, even though I do very little freelance writing anymore. Nevertheless, I was surprised by some of my answers, which I’ll elaborate on here.

My Typical Day

I get to my desk by 8:00 am, and I start with NAMS: I narrate the state of my mind onto the page, followed by affirmations. Then I meditate, at which point my mind is clear and still for a Single Task, which these days means working on my novel, Ellen: The Autobiography of Jane Austen by Ellen Wasserman.

I work on my novel till lunch. Ideally, after lunch I walk the dog, then return to my desk to write radio commentaries, editorials, or other paying work. In reality, I often run errands, attend meetings, and do chores. Right now, I’m in that sweet spot where I’m finishing a novel, and I often return to it in the afternoons.

And then there’s the business that supports writing. Today, I spent three hours planning a writing workshop, Mourning Our Mothers: A Daughter’s Day of Remembrance, scheduled for the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I wrote a press release in the afternoon, and met with a web designer in the early evening. I’m writing this post after nine at night.

Honestly, I don’t know if there is a typical day as much as there are ideal days and days that veer out of control. But this much I do know: I’m always writing, even when I’m apparently doing other things, like driving the car or opening the mail.

Paid v. Unpaid?

Writing fiction comes first, even though it doesn’t pay — yet. I do my pen-for-hire work in the afternoon. But this is relatively new. For years,  I had to be more concerned with income than I am now. Then, I was lucky and found freelancing jobs through networking. It helped that I had three salable skills: good writing ability, research skills, and medical knowledge. I did a lot of technical writing for major medical centers that was both interesting and lucrative. Most of this work was without a byline, but the paycheck made up for that. Now, jobs come to me, and I only take those that both interest me and pay well.

Writing for Free

I’m a great believer in “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Since the publication of my first novel in 2010, I call myself a novelist. Into the Wilderness won both critical acclaim and an award. I hope my next novel will earn money. Currently, I earn money by writing nonfiction, leading workshops, public speaking, and taking on private clients for developmental editing. I used to teach, but I’ve decided I’d rather have time to write than money. In a world where income is our default measure of success, this can be difficult.

That said, I blog for free because I’m passionate about writing; because it connects me to a community of writers; and because it ultimately builds an audience for when my next novel comes out. I also write for nonprofits I support, which beats baking brownies for bake sales: fewer calories, larger audience, and best of all — it keeps me at my desk.

Writing for Exposure

 I once met a writer who aimed to receive one hundred rejections in a year. In the process, he received eight acceptances.

Digital and self-publishing have made it so easy to publish that I think a lot of good writing never happens: new writers are impatient to see something in print and what goes out isn’t really finished. I think writing for peers is the first step, and then letters to the editor, guest posts, and newsletters are a good way to move forward. It’s important to distinguish between being published and being read.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin earned a PhD in English Literature, managed a medical practice, taught, raised children, kept bees, hiked 2/3 of The Long Trail (so far), and tells stories.

Everyone has a story to tell. Are you ready to tell yours?

Susie_John_Brenda_1962_03I love memoir; the intimacy of it, the truth of it. Memoir shares a life and time. Good memoir is both more and less than a history lesson or autobiography. The writer’s thoughts and feelings unfold with the story to reveal something larger.

More than simple facts, memoir shares the writer’s interpretation of events. My sister and brother are often amazed at both my memory for detail and my bald-faced lies. A poor, pitiful middle child, these are my truths and I wear them with pride. Each of us sees the world through a unique set of filters. There is no single reality. Facts are relative because our experiences and observations are filtered through our individual history, strengths and foibles.

For the past two years, I have been leading a memoir writing group. These writers’ experiences and observations span more than six, seven or eight decades so they have an almost infinite stockpile of topics. As they read their stories every week, I suspect that their eight grade English teachers beam down on them with pride. Technically, their writing has been solid from day one. However, while those technical skills continue to improve, their immeasurable growth has been in their ability to identify and share stories that are bigger than they are.

Good memoir shares an event or series of events while simultaneously illustrating a universal theme. A camping vacation is more than logistics and an itinerary; it is a story of family love. A business deal is more than widgets in exchange for dollars; it reveals the good, the bad and the ugly of human nature. An illness in the family, physical or mental, reveals our fortitude, fragility or both, usually both.

No matter how ordinary it may, at first, appear on the surface, a powerful story will reveal something beyond a anecdote or colorful character. As you sit down to write a story, draft it, edit it and polish it, ask yourself, “What is this story about?” If it’s a good story the answer will be more than, “It is a story about the summer I spent with my aunt.” It might be something like: “This is a story about determination as illustrated by my aunt’s campaign to save the wetlands.”

The first story could easily devolve into a list of activities from a not particularly interesting discussion with a governmental agency to a hot, dull afternoon on a picket line. If you are witty and clever, the stories will be fun and entertaining. In the second approach, you will share what you learned from and admire about your aunt. It may even show how that summer helped transform you into the person you are today. This story will have depth and meaning and it can still be witty and clever.

So yes, memoir is personal but it’s not all about you. Good memoir goes beyond events and personal musings to share a universal truth. To resonate with others, the story must be bigger than a single individual and transcend the writer’s life. There are many truths to share; love and loss, courage and cowardice, family and friendship and more. A whole lot more.

Susan Nye
is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two short stories published in the NH Pulp Fiction Anthology Series. Feel free to visit her blog Susan Nye – Around the Table

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

Welcome to this Saturday Edition in which I share a little of what I’m up to with my writing (when I’m not here) and what I’m reading (between the covers and around the web). I’ll also pull back the curtain a little on my version of the writing life (but not so much as to be indecent).

I hope you enjoy this little diversion and encourage you to share your own thoughts, posts, and picks in the comments. I LOVE hearing from you and seeing the world from your perspective.

Happy writing! Happy reading! 



The Power of Happy

I just spent my morning dancing around to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Hey! Want to join me?

Wasn’t that fun? 

I swear, even the animals in my house seem to dig a little early morning dance jam. The cats come running from wherever they are in the house and little Benny swims out from his hiding place in the aquatic weeds to swish his tail.

At the beginning of the year, instead of a typical resolution like finishing my novel or getting a story published or losing twenty pounds, I decided to stick with something simple: Figure Out What Makes Me Happy. Do More of That. Truth be told, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, but I’m making progress. The hardest part is usually the figuring out part. We get so wrapped up in the shoulds of life that we forget about the bits that make us come alive. We lose track of why we’re here in the first place.

happier logoI recently downloaded a cool little app called Happier. The site bills the app as a “fun, social gratitude journal.” Basically, it’s a tool to capture the things that make you happy. I’ve only been playing with it for a week or so, but the simple act of recording what makes me happy definitely seems to make me … um … happier. The app helps you get into the habit of noticing your own happiness, and before you know it you’re noticing a whole lot more happiness than you might have expected.

The best part is that happiness makes you more creative and more productive. It’s true. If you do a few quick Google searches, you’ll find dozens of articles that talk about the correlation between having a smile on your face and being able to work harder and more creatively. This one from Forbes on how happiness boosts worker performance, for instance, or this one from FastCompany about how one agency is using happiness to increase creativity. Pretty cool stuff.

What I’m Writing:

happy blogAll this happy talk reminded me of an itty-bitty blog that I wrote back in (gasp!) 2009. (Was it really that long ago?!?) My Good Mood Gig Campaign blog was part of a 30-day competition for a writing gig with a vitamin company. I didn’t get the gig, but I had a lot of fun creating and running my very first blog.

I look back at these posts and wince a bit. I was, after all, only two years into my blogging journey. I was more or less fumbling along in the dark. Still, the assignment was an inherently fun one and – if nothing else – I was able to create a mini archive of happy stories including links to great music, videos, and other content.

And – hey! – even though I’m slightly embarrassed by the writing, it makes me HAPPY to realize that I’ve been making progress since then and continue to learn my craft and improve my writing with each and every blog post and column, article and essay. That’s enough to make me smile.

What I’m Reading:

Affiliate Link

Last week, I shared a great novel called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. This week, I read Robin Sloan’s follow-up Kindle Single, Ajax Penumbra 1969 (affiliate link). You know that feeling you get when you finish a book and really love it and don’t want to leave the world the author has created? I was definitely feeling that after turning the last page of 24-Hour Bookstore, so this 60-page story was the perfect “just-a-little-more” fix.

I also loved having an excuse to use my usually neglected Kindle. It’s a first generation model that typically sits forlornly on my bedside table. I use it mostly to download and read book excerpts in order to decide if it’s worth requesting the “real” book from my local library. It was fun to actually read a full-length piece on the Kindle. Even if it was only a “single.”

Affiliate Link

The Kindle Single is really quite an ingenious product. Not quite a book, but weightier than an essay, the Kindle Single is often a perfect length read … especially when you’re really busy and making time to read anything more involved is just impossible. Animalish (Kindle Single) (affiliate link) by Susan Orlean is another Kindle Single that I own and have read more than once.

Maybe I have accidentally discovered a use for my Kindle beyond reading excerpts. Perhaps my Kindle is meant for collecting fabulous essays, short stories, and novellas – capturing them in digital format so they take up oodles of space on my shelves. Besides, it’s just fun to get that quick and instant gratification – click, and – whoosh! – there the piece is. And at $1.99 – $2.99 a hit, it costs less than a chai latte. Hmmm … I may be onto something here.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

book over

I just love this piece. It’s likely a meme adaptation, but the character is the creation of the fabulous Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half.  Her art and stories seem simplistic, but she has a wonderful way (as both a writer and an artist) of seeing right to the heart of a thing. Pretty amazing, actually.

So, that’s it for me (for now). Happy writing & happy reading & happy SPRING! Until next week. :)

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What’s your sweet spot? Are you at your best with a 500 word essay? Maybe your strongest work comes in at about 10,000 words, be it short story or in-depth article? Or is a book, fiction or nonfiction, your forte? Or at least your passion? Fiction or non-, news, opinion, comic or straight, long or short – the possibilities seem almost endless. Whatever your preference, do editors and publishers agree with you? Are you publishing your preferred topics at your preferred length or writing something else to pay the bills?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: My writing sweet spot is with destination articles and features. I wrote with a locally and New Hampshire focus for a few years, but have pulled out of some and lost another when it closed its doors last summer. Editors had minor, if any changes whenever I submitted, though, so that told me I was on target.

I have not taken the time yet this year to find new markets to submit to. Marketing and blog writing is paying me well and keeping me quite busy, so I’ve purposely focused on those outlets for now. I will get back to travel-related writing though, as it’s going to be a large part of my life soon!



Deborah Lee Luskin: I love the 500-word radio commentary and the 100,000-word novel. And they are surprisingly similar: I need to use only the right words – and leave out the rest.



Susan Nye: I love short, 500 to 650 words, essays and memoir. There is a wonderful challenge – what to put in and what to leave out or save for another story. Since they only take three or four minutes to read, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t lose my audience half way through. That said, I recently started writing short stories and it’s been a lot of fun. The greater length, so far 1,500 to 7,000 words, gives me tremendous freedom, more than enough to hang myself!

Most of my writing income comes from magazine work. I focus on food and a variety of lifestyle topics for regional magazines. My work requires recipe development, lots of interviews and some photography. Since writing is a solitary endeavor, interviewing and taking pictures gets me out and about and provides a nice break.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: I write long (novels), but at 500-1000 word spurts. And my blog posts tend to be around 350-500 words. So I think that is my sweet spot–how much I can write, while staying focussed.


headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: At the moment, it’s definitely shorter form pieces. My blog posts tend to run between 600 and 1200 words while my creative essays for my local column max out at 700 words. Like Susan, I like the challenge of working within those constraints.

My “marcom” (marketing and communications) projects cover a wide range of assignments from 700-word case studies to 2500-word point-of-view papers to 10,000-word ebooks and more. I don’t really prefer any one format or length over another, I just know I need to get into the right mindset for each type of piece and do my prep work accordingly.

As for what types of material I like to work with, I haven’t been working on any fiction lately, but I love creative nonfiction, opinion essays, and the personal narratives that live in my private journals. On the marcom side, I really enjoy crafting the high-level brand messages and concepts that help tell the Big Story of a brand. I also really like to work on educational content that helps my clients’ customers learn about a particular topic.

Mostly, my sweet spot is the moment after a piece of work is done. I do a brief but enthusiastic happy dance and then dive into the next thing.

A train! A train!

A train! A train!

Could you, would you

on a train?

Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, would you write on a train? Could you write on a train? You could if you applied for an #AmtrakResidency. Amtrak is now offering the opportunity for creative professionals to enjoy a long train ride to focus on their work.

'Amtrak, Train' photo (c) 2013, Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It started with an off hand comment by Alexander Chee in an interview in a PEN Ten Interview. When asked where he likes to write, Chee said “I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Writer Jessica Gross read that and loved the idea so much she took to Twitter and asked for what she wanted.

Behold the power of social media, @Amtrak was listening and created a test residency. Gross took a 44 hour trip from New York city to Chicago and back again via the Lake Shore Limited and wrote about the experience. Once the story of her adventure went live, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #AmtrakResidency. I even added my voice to the conversation. Again, Amtrak was still listening and the Amtrak Residency Program is now live.

#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.

Of course in the age of the Internet nothing is without controversy. Some have complained about the rights Amtrak asks for in the application. My take is that they are asking to use the brief application statement in their marketing materials others agree, your mileage may vary. Either way, read the fine print and if necessary consult a lawyer.

Some have complained that the government funded program shouldn’t be giving away free rides until it is self sustaining. To that I say “wake up and smell the marketing coffee”. No, not everyone can afford to pay their way across the country, but really, even if a small percentage of the interested parties, decide to pony up the bucks for a train ride (even a few hours long), that equals increased ridership. Increased ridership means higher revenues. Higher revenues mean closer to solvency. Will creative types taking to the rails solve all of Amtrak’s money woes? Hell no, but every little bit helps. Right?

One of the articles reported that more than 7,000 applications have been received. According to that author’s calculations, the chances of landing one of these prized Amtrak Residencies is less than the chances of being admitted to Harvard. Still, the buzz got me thinking. Even 2-5 days would be a struggle for me but, I could take a day and ride the rails.

I love riding the train. I don’t think there is any more convenient way to get from Boston to New York City and points South. Last year, I took the train from Boston to Philadelphia and I was thrilled with my level of productivity I wrote, both on my iPad and in longhand. I even read a book from start to finish. Trains in the Northeast, are cool, but the stops are frequent so the speeds are lowered. I can only imagine what it would be like to be on a long distance train ride.

I’ve read about other writer’s residency programs and they sound like a dream come true, but I am not at a point in my life where I can just disappear into my writing for weeks at a time. Two to five days? It would be a stretch, but I’d probably be able to figure out a way to make it work.

The Downeaster looks like it has a decent run from Boston, MA to Brunswick, ME. I was thinking of taking a day and departing from Boston and riding up to Freeport. Maybe in November during NaNoWriMo? Combine it with a lunch and little Christmas shopping at L.L. Bean then hop on the train to get back to work? The scenery would be different but my guess is the line would be less crowded. That means more seats in the quiet car.

Who’s with me? Can you write on a train? Have you? Are you going to apply for an #AmtrakResidency?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently at work on her first novel.

There is still room in the Deb Dixon “Book-In-A-Day Workshop”being held May 10th in Nashua, NH Sign up today!

I’ve recently been reminded of that all-powerful law of the internet which is: nothing gets deleted.


Careful- things could blow up in your face

It could blow up in your face

Even if you delete something you’ve written, someone somewhere has probably made a copy of it, or commented on it, or referenced it somewhere else. Trust me, it’s still out there.

And don’t even get me started about backup and cached copies. Information lives on.

In some ways this can work to your benefit. You have proof that you were on one side of an argument, or that you came up with an idea first (thanks to time stamps), but (and that should really be a large “BUT”) here’s where it can bite you in the butt –  the internet is not the place to take your petty arguments and your insecurities.

Especially if you are trying to establish a writer’s platform.

Witness the Lynn Shepard fiasco where she demanded that J. K. Rowling stop writing for adults and stick with YA to give other writers a “chance.” I’m willing to bet that that little poorly thought-out rant will follow Ms. Shepard to her grave.  As long as a copy of that post exists, there will be continued outrage.

Which is why, as a writer, you have to be very careful about what you put out there. A slip, a moment where your emotions take over from your brain and your reputation can be damaged for years to come.

Is it fair? Should you always have to toe the line just because you have a platform?

The answer is yes, but only if you want people to believe the credibility of your message. It’s all about impressions, baby.

Some people try to stir things up on purpose. If your intent is to incite, then go ahead, but be prepared for the fallout. Have your counter arguments lined up and be sure to put your flame-proof suit on before you press that Enter button. If your role is to incite then be good and consistent about it, don’t then switch to world class whining – you’ll confuse your audience.

And a confused audience is one that leaves you.

If you are pissing and moaning about life and feel the need to dump on everyone, then be prepared for the backlash. When you publicly say that you can’t stand your neighbor, don’t be surprised when things get frosty at the mailbox. And when you trash a beloved author, be prepared for the (not necessarily fair, but understandable) one star reviews you end up getting on your work.

I’ve been asked to design on online blogging course for the college where I currently teach Technical Writing. Part of my class is going to cover netiquette (polite societal rules for blogging.) Another section in my class is going to be awareness and repercussion of actions. If you are going to publish on the internet (or anywhere for that matter) consider the implications to your reputation as a writer and to your platform, first and then write your piece second.

How do you avoid these sometimes tempting but always embarrassing lapses? Just as you can’t write a book without knowing what its purpose is, you shouldn’t ever write anything for the internet without knowing its purpose.


You must always know why you are putting fingertips to keyboard.  What’s the message you want to convey and perhaps more importantly, how is it that you want to convey that message?  And also is that message consistent with your platform?

If it’s not, then you need to decide if it’s worth the potential fallout.

If you want to be seen as a pulled-together writer, then you have to present the same coherent message at all times. A lapse in judgment – like Ms. Shepard’s – can do more damage to your career as a writer than you might think.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)


Success follows doing what you want to do. There is no other way to be successful.

Malcolm Forbes

Photo credit: Freidwall


It’s ok. Come on out!

Most of the aspiring writers I know wish they had more time to write. Their lives are busy, full of obligations and responsibilities. Practicing the writing craft is a luxury that gets tucked into the odd corner of the day, early or late and most often stolen.

My life is much the same and I bet yours is, too.

I make my living as a freelance writer, but my creative writing lives the life of a small, tenacious beast – always hustling and hoarding minutes, fiercely defending the small oases of available time like the precious territory they are. This clever little critter knows that sometimes you have to go underground to get things done, make yourself a hidden haven where you can do your work without interruption from the siren call of worldly duties.

But, sometimes, your creative creature needs to come up into the light. Sometimes, the best thing for your wild writer’s soul is to be in the world, enjoying the moment in the company of others.

I recently met a friend for coffee. We’d been trying to get together for something like six months, but the stars never aligned. Last week, I saw her in the parking lot of the grocery store and impulsively suggested a get together later that week. By some miracle, everything worked out and we were able to keep our date. It was wonderful. We sat at the small table with our steaming mugs and it was three hours before we looked at the time. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Just this morning (when I was meant to be writing this post), I had an impromptu conversation with my dad. I talk with my mom most mornings, but my dad is a night owl and not usually ready for chatting until later in the day when I’m all tied up with being a mom. This morning, mom was out so dad answered the phone. We wound up having a great conversation about life, reality, real estate, parenting, and half a dozen other topics. I hung up feeling energized and optimistic.

Each day, I spend some portion of my work day engaged in digital conversations with fellow writers in a private Facebook group where we discuss everything from how to price a particular kind of writing project to which Hollywood stars we think are sexiest. These random conversations never fail to make me smile, even when they are distracting me from my work.

But, that’s kind of the point. These conversations, these relationships are not just distractions from the work … even the Important Work of writing. These moments and hours of time spent in the light – in the world – with our fellow human beings are food for our creative engines. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, it does not flourish alone in the dark. Yes, we need time to craft and create, but we also need to spend time living. Hemingway, I’m sure, would agree.

You need time to write. I understand. You might feel guilty for taking time away from your writing to meet a friend for coffee, indulge in a long phone conversation, or muck about with “frivolous” online conversations. Don’t. Remember that art and life are inextricably connected. You cannot have art without life; and a life without art, for a creative soul, is not worth living. Think of your time spent above ground and outside your creative cave as refueling. I cannot yet even capture all the inspiration my recent conversations have provided – ideas, characters, stories. I feel like my store of creative energy has been replenished. And what a wonderful way to refill the creative well – spending time with beloved friends and family, figuring out – together – this crazy thing called life.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: qmnonic via Compfight cc


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