Microphone Check

*TAP* *TAP*

“Hello? Is this thing on?”

So…yeah. Yes, I am still alive. No, I haven’t moved to Canada (but more on that later.) And, yes, Misdirected has lain fallow for nigh on nine months now.

So, where the heck have I been, exactly?

Funny you should ask that…

In The Beginning, Was NaNoWriMo

So, in what has become a yearly ritual, I participated in NaNoWriMo last November. This attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in a single month has turned into a yearly nightmare of outlandish expectations and frustrating failure. Every year I fail. And, every year, my failure leaves me paralyzed with Impostor Syndrome for months afterward. (Yes, Impostor Syndrome is a thing. Google it if you are unfamiliar.)

My most recent bout left me unable to produce just about anything until March. Just sort of sitting around, whistling Dixie, waiting for the lights to turn back on in my brain. Everything I wrote was crap, and immediately disposed of. Everything I read seemed an order of magnitude above anything I could ever hope to produce. Good times.

So, this year, I have declared my liberation from NaNoWriMo. My wife and my family members have specific instructions: If I start making noises about participating in NaNo this year, they are to strike me firmly across the face multiple times and then tell me to go lie down until the feeling goes away.

I am sure that NaNo is an awesome tool in the right hands. One of the members of my writing team (BTW, I hate you, Joe) uses it to draft the entire novel he will be working on for the next year. But, alas, it is not a tool for me. Under normal circumstances, I can easily produce 50,000 words in a month. They just can’t seem to be all related to the same project.

So, if that brings me up to March of this year, what the heck have I been doing since then, you might ask? Oh, nothing much. Just supervising a literary explosion.

The Summer of Ash Falls

Since 2016, I’ve been working on a little project called “Ash Falls.” It is a setting I share with several other very talented authors, all telling tales of dark doings and grim forebodings in a fictional city in Oregon.

I kicked the whole thing off with the novel Inheritance. Then, for a year and a half – not a peep has been heard out of the city. I’ve added authors, edited books, rejected short stories, and generally made a nuisance of myself for two years now, waiting for the whole project to come to fruition.

And this Summer, it arrived. Hoo, boy, did it ever.

Somehow, it worked out that every single one of our initial novels (with the exception of my original one) was completed within a few months of one another. Instead of a measured release schedule of one or two novels a year, we suddenly were dealing with the release of FOUR novels within a four-month period.

Thus was born the “Summer of Ash Falls” event – a celebration of Ash Falls exploding from one lonely novel to a full back catalog of five novels, with two more on the way before the end of the year.

Since March of this year, I have been editing. I have been suggesting revisions. I have been hammering on release dates and looking over the shoulders of frustrated authors. In general, I have been shepherding this project along like a nervous mother dropping her “gifted child” off for their first day of Pre-K. Sure, I recognize the inherent genius in my authors. But will the rest of the world agree?

So far, the answer has been “Yes.” Pre-orders and sales have been really good, despite our having about $2.49 in Marketing funds to work with.

So, like the proud parent that I am, let me introduce you to my “kids.”

The Lineup Of Unusual Suspects

Never Bring an Axe to a Gun Fight

Surely you need a police procedural featuring werewolves, drunks, and immortal serial killers, yes? Then you need Holly, by William Aime.

What Heaven Didn’t Want, Hell Couldn’t Handle.

What is left when all you ever loved is taken from you by forces you don’t understand? Revenge. In another place and time, Rob, the protagonist of Reborn by Corinne Kunz would be a superhero. In Ash Falls…not so much.

Don’t Look For The Lost

Take one secretive coven, one morally ambiguous witch, and one BIG mistake, and you have Coven Ascending by Joe Mankowski.

And, coming this September to round out the #summerofashfalls event: the immortal bikers of J.M. Koczwara’s A Dead Sun Rises.

And we still have two more titles on the horizon: The Perpetuals and Fallen will be hitting the shelves before the end of 2019. And, if you are so inclined, you could always head back to where it all began and pick up a copy of Inheritance.

The Future’s So Bright…You Know The Rest

And that, gentle readers, brings us to today. The books are written, the editing (mostly) completed, and we are ready to look forward to 2020. Are there sequels coming? You better believe it. We won’t just leave you hanging on the fates of Brian Drake, Lydia Pike, and the rest of the residents of Ash Falls.

As far as Misdirected is concerned – yes, I should be getting back to a semi-regular writing schedule now. I will talk about what I am writing, what I am thinking, and what I am observing as usual. And I will NOT participate in NaNo this year. Nope. No sir. Not me.

As far as fitness-related info is concerned…there is not much to report. The results of the bariatric surgery are still holding up pretty well. I am all the way up to 189 (from 175), mainly due to the lack of dedicated physical activity that results from sitting in front of a monitor 24/7. But, my waistline is down to 34 inches and I can still hike 10 miles without collapsing afterward, so I am not terrifically worried. I just need to buckle back down and put in some time at the gym instead of just walking around the neighborhood to clear my head.

Thanks for all the concerned inquiries about where I’ve been and what has been up. I look forward to re-engaging with all of you in the weeks and months to come.

Sharpening My Pencil And Putting On My Sunglasses,

  • Jeremy

5 Reasons TextBroker Doesn’t Suck

Photo Credit: Roo Waters via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Roo Waters via Compfight cc

Spend just a little time out in the forums and message boards of Internet freelance writing, and you will begin to see common themes. “How do I earn a living writing from home?” is a recurring refrain. “Why doesn’t my blog get any traffic?” may be a close second. But no question seems to produce polarizing opinions quite like “Should I use TextBroker? Are they any good?”

What the heck are they talking about?

For those not already “in the know”, TextBroker is a service that connects lower-end writers up with clients wanting lower-end work. 500-word blog posts, multiple copies of product reviews, sometimes even 160-character Twitter posts – they all show up on TextBroker. It is commonly referred to as a “content mill”, and this is not a term of endearment. The pay is astonishingly low (about a penny a word) and the turnover is very fast, with most clients wanting smaller articles completed within 24 hours of accepting an assignment. Think day-labor, for writers instead of construction workers.

Many of the best-regarded writers out in the blogosphere will tell you to avoid TextBroker like the plague. It has been referred to as a waste of time, a scam, or a way to take advantage of new writers. One blogger went so far as to say that TextBroker “can sap your love of writing.” The general consensus is that you would be far better served by spending your time polishing your resume and sending out pitch letters instead of writing a 500-word biography on someone you have never heard of before.

With all due respect to those that have come before me in the freelance writing business, I must disagree. Where are my top 5 reasons why you should be using TextBroker.

1. TextBroker pays you to hone your craft.

A great resume, a stylish web page, and a perfected pitch letter are all necessities to become successful as a freelancer. But, at some point, you are going to have to learn to write – not just the blog posts that only your Mother and Aunt Edna read, but articles for clients who have their own ideas about what makes a great piece of writing. TB (because I am getting muscle fatigue from writing TextBroker) will give you a list of assignments that you can pick from, so you can choose the one(s) that you like best. You write it, submit it, and wait. Within 3 days you will have a response from your client, asking for revisions. Don’t be discouraged – this is great! You are learning how to tailor writing to the needs of a client – an absolute necessity for a freelance writer. If you don’t get a request for revisions, awesome – you just got paid to practice writing.

2. TextBroker teaches you to work under deadlines.

Those of us moving from blogging to freelancing are usually in for a rude shock. While we were working on our own blogs, we were able to meander around, putting up a post here and there – sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, whenever the mood struck us. TB will teach you to throw that idea right out the window. When you evaluate an assignment, you have ten minutes to decide if you want to write it or not. Upon accepting the assignment, you have only a few days in which to get it done (usually only 24 hours for shorter pieces.) You will learn quickly, as I did, that it is time to start using a calendar app of some kind, and to force yourself to write during a specific time, every single day. Early in the morning, late at night, whatever – you will find out quickly that you are going to have to treat this professionally. And turning writing into your profession is the whole idea, isn’t it?

3. TextBroker forces you to embrace research.

If there is one common complaint about TB, it is that the subjects are so weird. I have written articles about record companies, about funeral homes, about the subject of “crowdfunding” real estate investments. One of my most memorable articles was 3,000+ words on Egyptian Cotton sheets.  The common factor is that, in each of these cases, I knew nothing about the subject when I accepted the article. It forced me to go out hunting across the ‘Net, looking for reputable sources of information on these subjects. There is nothing that will trash your reputation as a writer quicker than the research method of “making stuff up.” As long as you are writing for other people, you will be performing research. TB gives you a great apprenticeship program for doing exactly that.

4. TextBroker fills in the gaps in your schedule.

Right this second, I have several pitch letters out, a couple of articles being reviewed for publication, and no actual writing assignments due. So, after I finish up my weekly blog post here, I am going to head over to TB. Why? Because spending time earning something is better than earning nothing. Being a freelance writer means leaping from assignment to assignment like a frog between lily pads, trying to keep your head above water. TB can create a series of smaller landing spaces between each of your “real” writing jobs.

5. TextBroker can springboard you to bigger and better things.

At the beginning of this month, I made about $200 writing 3 short blog posts for a TextBroker client. The client liked my writing well enough on a small project that he approached me about writing the first 3 posts for a new business website, with the promise of more work like this to come in the months ahead. TextBroker has built-in support for individual client/author relationships completely outside of the “pick an article and write it” model. I had a good looking profile with good writing samples, and the client liked them enough that he was willing to pay my “personal” rate of 25 cents a word to have me craft these pieces. This is not as uncommon as you think. TB can also invite you to “teams” where you will be collaborating with other authors and editors on steady streams of articles for regular clients. The opportunites are out there, if you are willing to invest a little time and effort to go find them.

Despite the many negative reports about TextBroker, I think it provides a powerful springboard for those of us getting started as freelance writers. Maybe we should be happy that there are so many writers out there working on “polish” instead of working on writing. That way, TextBroker can remain our little secret.

  • Jeremy

Disability Strikes

Photo Credit: nicoletowles via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: nicoletowles via Compfight cc

One day, you are carrying on your life like any normal person. The next day you wake up and discover that your life is no longer your own: you are in the grasp of an adult-onset disability. You have no context – you have not been dealing with this your whole life. All you know if that the life you have known is gone, your freedom is gone, and most of the people you thought were loved ones are somehow gone too.

Welcome to life as a disabled adult.

This was me, back in 2004. I had spent over a decade developing a successful career as a database developer, specializing in converting old, worn-out databases into shiny new relational databases. (The years around Y2K were amazingly good for this kind of work.) In a single car accident, I went from a job worth over $75K a year to moving back in with my parents, who began attempting to figure out how they were going to provide continuous care for me for the rest of my life.

But wait, there’s more!

Now, this is not where my story ended. I was able to get some treatments that restored at least a part of my ability to function. I was able to get married, and take a stab at living without constant care. Thanks to the SSDI I had been paying into my whole working life I was able to provide at least a little income into my household.

I began living by the “box” philosophy: instead of living in a wide open space, I was now living in a box, created by my disability. But there was nothing keeping me from finding out exactly how big that box was, or from pushing against the sides in an effort to make the box bigger. And that is where I thought I would remain for the rest of my life – clinging to the top half of the lowest rung of the Great American Success Ladder.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

At the end of 2015, a new specialist made some recommendations for treatments I had not tried before. Within weeks of starting the new meds, I began to notice changes. Big ones. I was no longer constantly depressed. My health stabilized and began improving. Most importantly – my brain function, so long destroyed by my previous medications, began to return. I was suddenly in possession of nearly the same mental faculties as the people around me. I was still not stable enough to return to the “normal” workforce, but surely there was something I could be doing from home, right?

I had been maintaining my blogs for years, mainly as a means of demonstrating to myself that there was still a person locked inside this body. Every article was a defiant gesture against my disability – there is still a person locked in here! I began looking for anything I could do somewhere on the ‘net that involved writing. Earlier this year I discovered TextBroker – a site that would pay authors for small “ghost written” pieces. I tentatively accepted an assignment from their website, worked on it for a bit, then turned it in. Astonishingly, it was accepted. I had found a way to begin contributing to my family again that was not only sitting around the house and waiting for the Social Security check to arrive every month. I was, suddenly, a freelance writer!

Wrapping Up

So far, the months have been good to me, and places like TextBroker and Contena are providing new clients and venues for my writing. My fondest hope is that maybe (someday?), I will be able to turn off the SSDI trickle, and create a better life for my family somewhere North of the poverty line. Only time will tell.

If you are a prospective employer, you now know where I was during my 13-year absence from the workforce. If you are another disabled person, the most important thing I can say is: Don’t give up! Keep looking for solutions, keep driving your medical team crazy, keep reminding yourself that you are still worth something, even if the evidence says that you aren’t. And if you just dropped by to say hi: Hi, yourself! Thanks for dropping in.

– Jeremy