#NaNoWriMo Kickoff!

So #NaNoWriMo starts in about 13 hours. I’m planning on logging in and starting off right at midnight. I think the folks at #WriteClub (@FriNightWrites) are planning some kickoff sprints, and if so, I plan on being there.

In the mean time, I’m using what time I can today to do NaNo prep. Here’s what I’m getting ready today:

-I’m taking my car in for an oil change and some scheduled maintenance, so it’ll be done before NaNo time. That makes one more thing off the list that I won’t have to worry about during November.

-I’m going grocery shopping today and stocking up on drinks, meals, and (hopefully healthy) snacks. When I get busy with writing, I tend to forget to eat. When there is no food in the house this usually means I’ll end up walking to the convenience store to buy a sandwich or something. I’m planning to avoid such distractions by being stocked up as much as I can.

-I recorded my current word count on “Contamination.” It’s currently sitting at 38,595 words. That makes my NaNoWriMo goal 88,595 words, though I’m actually shooting for 120,000.

-I’m finishing up all of the homework and papers I have due for my grad classes at Rowan University. I currently have one assignment due next Wednesday, but rather than putting it off and working on it later in the week, I’m finishing it today so it’s done before NaNo. That way I have fewer distractions to worry about.

I think that about covers it. I should be mostly free of distractions. I’m planning to write at least 2000-3000 words tonight, starting at midnight. Hope to see you joining me!

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My #NaNoWriMo Plan

Last week, I wrote a blog post about NaNoWriMo. I’d like to expand on that.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, I’ll be using #NaNoWriMo to write the rest of “Contamination,” the sequel to my in-revisions novel, “Manifestation.” I don’t have an outline, or much idea what I’ll be doing. I tend to be a pantser; I have an idea where the plot is headed, and I know pretty much exactly how the climax of the book is going to go, but I don’t know much about what will happen in between. I don’t much like planning out each chapter since I know my characters will go off the rails at some point and ruin any plans I have. For example, the original early plans for “Manifestation” involved Tock spending a decent length of time in college learning mechanical engineering, and by the end of the novel, well, let’s just say that there were at least half a dozen reasons why that had become completely impossible.

So I’m going into NaNoWriMo with basically no plans besides “write at least 2000 words every single day until you get to the big confrontation.” But wait, you say, isn’t this blog post titled “My #NaNoWriMo Plan”? Have we been deceived? No, dear readers, you have not (well, maybe you’ve been deceived a little bit, but just for fun).

The “plan” I speak of is my plan for getting motivation for finishing this novel. Motivation and support are a big part of writing. Anyone who does #WriteClub word sprints knows how much more productive you can be when there are people cheering you on and congratulating you on every word count goal reached. I need that support as much as anyone, and if you know me on Twitter, you know I’m the first person who will tell you “You can DOOO EEET!” So in the spirit of motivation and support, I’m planning on using most of my November blog posts to both give and receive the recognition and support that will make the difference in reaching our goals.

I know this works well for me since when I was first writing “Manifestation,” it was posted here each day on the blog. Originally, I didn’t even plan it to be a novel. It was more like a serial story posted a page at a time online. Only after finishing the first draft did I realize how much needed to be changed during revisions. I eventually took the novel off the website so that the scenes that were massively changed or cut wouldn’t still be up there (since some of the changes were extreme enough that the old version would dramatically confuse people who thought those events were still “canon” when they no longer are).

However, despite the fact that I no longer like the idea of leaving a first draft online, what I DID like was all the feedback I used to get. I enjoyed getting “likes” on those posts and hearing feedback in the comments section. It made me feel like my writing was worth the effort. It’s a lot easier to get through 100,000 words when you know at least a few people enjoy reading it and think it’s good. Otherwise, if no one has read a word of your book, you get near the end and start wondering if everything you just wrote is crap.

I don’t want to post all of “Contamination” here, but I want to get some feedback and see if people like what they see. So my plan is to post excerpts. Each time I do a blog post (which is usually Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday), I’ll post my updated word count along with a few paragraphs from “Contamination.” Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading the snippets I share, and if you do, I’ll know my effort writing this novel is worthwhile. If you don’t, well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

I’ll also be asking others if they want to share their progress as well. Maybe some people will want to post word counts or excerpts in the comments here, or maybe if you share them on your blog I can link from mine to yours. I’ll be happy to see what you all are writing so I can cheer you on. I know how important that support can be, so I’ll be eager to offer whatever I can. You just need to be brave enough to share (and hey, if I can share, so can you!).

So this all starts Friday. I hope you’ll be #NaNo-ing with me!

#WritingPrompt

20131023_214016 600x450

This is something totally random. Today, I was reading a book for one of my classes at Rowan University. The book was bought used. I found the note you see above tucked into the pages. I have no idea who wrote it. I have no idea what the note originally meant. However, since the book in question was a book about writing techniques and how to break out of your shell as a writer, I can only assume this note was meant for some kind of story.

So I figured I’d post it as a writing prompt. The seeds of a story are there. A mysterious stranger, an unplanned trip, a rendezvous that may not end up happening…

I’d love to see someone write a scene, a story, or a poem about this. I’m really curious to see what someone would do with it. If anyone wants to take up the challenge, I dare you to write something based on this. I double DOG dare you to. Then, let me know you wrote it (either leave a comment here, tweet me @cantrelljason, or email me at cantrellwriter@gmail.com). I’ll either link from my blog to yours if you posted it on your own blog, or you can send it to me and I’ll upload it here.

I triple dog dare you.

Advertising an Ebook

Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about advertising. I’d like to expand on what I said before.

Last time I talked about not using your Twitter account to spam advertisements, since a) it only advertises to the limited number of followers you have and b) it can annoy people and lead them to unfollow you. Instead, I suggested using online advertisements, and mentioned that I was using an ad service called Project Wonderful. My Project Wonderful ads for “Radiance” had, at that time, received 53,000 views and 36 clicks in the course of a week.

Most of what I want to talk about today is the way I’ve been experimenting with these ads. I know very little about marketing and advertising, though I’m learning a lot more as time goes on. I’ve done a lot of independent study into advertising, reading articles online. I’m also doing Graduate Assistant work with Rowan University’s College of Business. Working with the College of Business is (indirectly) teaching me a lot about marketing, which is knowledge I’m trying to apply to my own independent business of self-publishing.

Since I don’t know much about advertising, a lot of what I’m doing is trial-and-error. Trial-and-error is actually how I learn most things; I’ve self-taught myself a lot about fixing computer problems and building a new computer from scratch just by diving in when a problem arose and figuring it out as I went along. Likewise, I’m figuring out advertising just by getting into it and seeing what happens. I want to explain my results here since I decided to analyze the numbers, and I figured as long as I’m doing so, I should share the information in case anyone would find it useful.

So far, I’ve been using four total ads. I made each one myself, using the cover for “Radiance” and making some very simple modifications. Project Wonderful gives specifications on what size the ads can be, and each website I advertise on decides which sizes they display. For example, one site might use horizontal banner ads across the top and bottom of the page, while another uses skyscraper ads on the right or left sidebars. Here are the four ads, along with the stats on how they’ve been performing:

"Radiance" Leaderbar
“Radiance” Leaderbar

Since the beginning of October, the full length “Leaderboard” ad has accumulated 50,027 views (13,182 unique users) and generated 37 clicks (36 unique users).

"Radiance" Banner
“Radiance” Banner

The smaller “Banner” ad has accumulated 149,252 views (19,121 unique users) and generated 104 clicks (86 unique users).

"Radiance" Rectangle
“Radiance” Rectangle

The “Rectangle” ad has accumulated 23,233 views (8,007 unique users) and generated 14 clicks (13 unique users).

And finally, the vertical “Skyscraper” ad Radiance Skyscraper 160 x 600accumulated 136,184 views (33,348 unique users) and generated 122 clicks (116 unique users).

Project Wonderful also allows three other ad sizes (a half-sized banner, a 125×125 square, and a 117×30 small button ad). I don’t yet have any of those simply because I haven’t had time to create them yet, so I’ve stuck with the ads seen here.

I’ve got a bit more to discuss about how I’ve used the ads, but first I’d like to just look at the raw numbers. Obviously, the “Banner” and “Skyscraper” ads have been the most successful. I don’t think that has anything to do with size; after all, these are all big, clearly visible ads (as opposed to the 117×30 button ad that is smaller than your twitter avatar). Based on my experiences with Project Wonderful, I think the main reason those two ads have been the most successful is because more sites allow those sizes to be posted. The “Rectangle” ad, for example, is a bit of an awkward size; it doesn’t fit comfortably around the edges of most websites, so depending on your site design, there might not be a good place for it. “Banners” and “Skyscrapers,” on the other hand, fit easily on a sidebar or below the page.

Also, as a general analysis, I’d like to look at the ratio between views, unique user views, clicks, and unique clicks. I find this information important when considering what I’ve learned about how advertising works (which is so far very little, of course). First you need to build awareness so that people know your product exists. Then, a certain percentage of those aware of your product will consider making a purchase, and a certain percentage of those will actually make one (for a more thorough explanation, here’s a website that explains this concept, and also goes beyond it in much greater detail, including a discussion of competition with other brands). While this concept is far more complicated than this (with complications I’ve barely started researching so far), the most basic part of it is fairly straightforward.

Grand total, my ads have been viewed 358,696 times, with 73,658 unique users. So a little over 70,000 people are (in theory) aware that “Radiance” exists, and each one may have seen the ad about 5 times (assuming the same visitor had visited the page 5 times over the course of a few days). Of course, these numbers may not be as accurate as they seem at first glance, since one person might visit a page from different IP addresses. For my purposes, however, these numbers give me a good benchmark.

People actually clicked on the ad 277 times, and those clicks represent 251 unique users. That means that out of 73,658 people who visited a page with my ad, 251 of them actually saw the Amazon sales page after they followed the ad. That’s only 1 in 293 people.

Out of all those clicks, there have been 3 purchases made in October (though I don’t know for sure if the purchases were made by people who found the ebook by these ads or from Twitter).

Breaking this down and rounding the numbers off, I find that for every 120,000 or so times my ad has been displayed, 24,000 individual people have seen it, about 80 have clicked on it, and 1 has purchased it. Based on that, I can take a rough guess that if I want to sell 1,000 copies of “Radiance” (which would make me $350 in royalties), I’d need to have the ad seen about 120 million times (or about 24,000,000 individual people).

Of course, there’s a few things I should explain about these ads. I’ve been mostly posting free ads, which generally only go on very low-traffic sites (mostly sites with less than 1000 page views per day). I’ve also posted a few penny ads (costing 1 cent per day per site they’re displayed on). It’s very likely that the numbers here would be very different if I were posting ads on, say, MS Paint Adventures, which gets over 2 million views per day at a price of about $50 per day. I’m not willing to pay $50 a day for an ad for a 99 cent ebook, since I’d almost definitely take a loss on the advertising costs.

There might be some other factors that influence the numbers I got. For one, my ads aren’t particularly fancy; the artwork for the ebook cover was designed by a professional, but I made the ads by cropping that picture and piecing things together in Paint. I don’t know enough about graphic design to know if my ads are particularly effective in their design. For another, my “Radiance” ebook is only a short story; when I get “Manifestation” published, the full-length novel might show very different numbers. Finally, these ads aren’t targeted to any particular groups. Since I post the ads for free, I just put them on the sites with the most traffic (many of which are webcomics). I might have more success if I could post ads on sites where the visitors are more likely to be ebook readers, but I don’t yet know enough to be able to do that effectively.

So that’s about it. I’ll probably revisit this topic again in the future to see if the ratios between views > uniques > clicks > purchases changes at all. In the mean time, I’ll keep trying to find more effective ways to promote “Radiance,” and if I find anything that is especially effective, I’ll be sure to share the results.

NaNoWriMo

It’s about that time that everyone is talking about #NaNoWriMo, so I figure I should talk about what I’m doing this year.

Last year, I used NaNoWriMo to write most of “Manifestation.” I had actually started the novel mid-September, and continued writing until December. But that’s because the total novel length was around 140,000 words for the first draft (I’ve since cut that down to closer to 120k). I wrote over 60,000 of that just in November, my single most productive month.

You might have noticed the little Word Counter widget on the sidebar there ——>
That’s the progress I’ve made so far on “Contamination,” the second book in my series. I’ve only been working on it sporadically, because I’m focusing most of my effort on “Manifestation.” There’s not much point writing the sequel before the first book is revised and published, after all. When I have worked on it, it’s mostly been because I was away from home. See, while I have a laptop, I don’t carry it to the store, the laundromat, or the mechanic most of the time. It’s not as light and portable as a tablet (one reason I want to switch to a tablet soon). I also never bring it to my (soon to be behind me) pizza delivery job. And since I don’t bring my laptop most of these places, I can’t work on revisions unless I’m at home or at school (the one place I always bring it).

I do, however, bring my smartphone everywhere (I’m writing this post on it right now). I have the ability to read Word documents on my phone, so I could open the novel here. However, the app I use to write with (simply called “Writer”) can only create plain text files. That’s fine for first draft writing, but no good for careful edits of a large document. It also lags if I use it for an especially large document, such as my novel. I can use a better app for read-only on my novel, but not for edits. So far, I haven’t found any free app that I’m satisfied with for edits, so the only thing I do on my phone is first draft writing.

That means that if I’m at the laundromat, or standing in a long line at the store, or waiting at work for a pizza to be ready, I can use my phone, but only to write new content. Pretty much every word of the 36k I’ve written on “Contamination” was written in this way.

So that’s been my method for the past year or so: edit “Manifestation” when I’m working at home, write “Contamination” when I’m out.

I still want to focus most of my efforts on “Manifestation,” but NaNoWriMo isn’t about revision. It’s about pumping out raw words and getting the novel done. So, I want to use it to get “Contamination” done. Or at least, get that 36k up to 86k. Then, when I finish with “Manifestation” (which at this point, may not be until early next year), I’ll have the sequel ready (or mostly ready) for its own edits.

The majority of “Contamination” will likely still be written on my phone. NaNoWriMo just means I’ll be setting goals and trying to crank out more words per day on it. I haven’t been focused on “Contamination,” so I don’t work on it every day (or even every week). That’s going to change during November. I can churn out a huge number of words when motivated, easily averaging over 3000 per day when working steadily on a project. I MAY be able to hit the 140k first draft estimated length for the novel before November 30th. I’m going to hold that as my goal. That means a double-length NaNo, hitting 100k in the month. I can totally do that.

So if you’re also doing NaNoWriMo, maybe we can be NaNo buddies?

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 11: Updating the Resume

So, if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’m quitting my job. Obviously, one of the most important steps to finding a new job is creating an effective resume.

Writing a resume is like any other kind of writing. There’s going to be a rough first draft. You’ll need feedback and critiques from others. There will be multiple revisions. Eventually you wind up with a finished product you’re willing to send out.

I went through the early drafting stages of my resume back in spring, in Professor Laura Mangini’s Professions in Writing Arts class (the website used by the class is publicly accessible, so if you want to read some tips and resources for resumes and query letters, go check it out). This was a wonderful class, and one of the reasons I’m proud of Rowan University. The class was entirely designed to help students make resumes, cover letters, and networking connections to help their future careers. Part of my grade for the class was making a resume! I essentially got an easy A in this class just for getting the help I needed improving my resume. Pretty sweet deal, eh?

Since that class, I’ve had a few improvements that required updates to my resume. Here’s the current version:

Resume 4.0

FYI, if anyone reading this knows of a job in the South Jersey/Delaware/Philadelphia area, you’re more than welcome to pass this along (or email me at cantrellwriter@gmail.com with details). I’ll also gladly do the same for you.

Now, there’s some things I’d like to discuss about what went into that resume, and also what did NOT go into it. For starters, it doesn’t list every job I’ve ever had. If you’re a college student or recent college graduate like me, you’ve probably worked a variety of low-skill jobs like being a cashier, working in a restaurant, cooking, cleaning, or performing manual labor. I’ve worked such jobs for most of my life. Now, I will definitely say I learned a lot in some of those jobs. I know a lot about labor laws, health codes, food safety, customer service, managing inventory, and resolving on-the-job conflicts. I’ve got about four years of management experience, which includes a lot of valuable skills. Yet you’ll notice those skills and jobs are missing from my resume. Why? Because they’re mostly irrelevant to getting a writing job.

I don’t really need a future employer at a magazine, newspaper, or publisher to know that I know the safe food storage temperatures for refrigerated or hot foods (under 40 degrees for cold foods or over 140 degrees for hot foods). I really don’t need them to know that I am skilled at creating food prep lists or managing inventory to make sure the food ordered gets used before it’s expiration date. None of these skills are going to make them want to hire me as a writer.

What I want them to know is how I did publication layout at SLACK Incorporated. How I photoshopped X-rays and photos of medical procedures to be formatted properly for a magazine page. How I helped select works to be published for Glassworks Magazine and sat on the editorial review board. How I used all of the writing and editing skills that I’ll be using when they hire me. Because they will hire me, as soon as I show them how skilled I am.

Of course, this resume needs some polishing still. That’s why this week I’ve contacted some of my professors at Rowan to get their professional help and advice. That’s also why I’m posting it here; if anyone has advice for me, I’ll be happy to hear it. Likewise, if anyone else needs help with their resume, I hope that the information I’m sharing here (and on the sites I’ve linked to) will be useful to someone.

Of course, getting the resume ready is only the first step. I’ve still got to figure out places to send it to. I’ll write another blog post in the future detailing the process and letting you know what types of places I’ve applied to. With any luck, anyone reading this blog will be able to follow along as I explore opportunities, get interviews, and eventually quit my job and start a real career.

Meet Author Megan Joel Peterson

Hello all!

Today I’m proud to share with you the work of Megan Joel Peterson, an author friend of mine with two novels you should check out. Here’s some info about her books:

The Children and The Blood

Children and the Blood Cover

Book One of the Children and the Blood
By Megan Joel Peterson

Blurb

A forgotten life.

A secret war.

Eight years ago, an exploding gas main killed Ashley’s family and left her with a childhood she can’t remember. Eight years later, the forgotten past is behind her and life on her isolated farm is all she knows.

Until that past comes looking for her.

Until men with superhuman powers hunt her down in the night, determined to take everything she loves away from her again.

If you’re interested in checking out this book, you can find it in any of these places:

Amazon: Ebook and Paperback
Amazon UK: Ebook and Paperback
Barnes and Noble: Ebook and Paperback
iTunes
Kobo
Smashwords

Megan also has a sequel out:

Taliesin Ascendant

Taliesin Ascendant Cover

Book Two of the Children and the Blood
By Megan Joel Peterson

Blurb

The war isn’t over.

And new enemies await.

Life on the run hasn’t been easy, but so far, Ashe has survived. But now Carter has ordered her away from the Hunters to find her family’s people – an order she can’t refuse, no matter how much she wants to stay.

Following his command will bring her into an unknown world, however – a world filled with new enemies and old prejudices that will demand more of her than she can imagine, at a cost higher than she’ll ever be willing to pay.

You can find Megan’s second book in any of these places:

Amazon: Ebook and Paperback
Amazon UK: Ebook and Paperback
Barnes and Noble: Ebook and Paperback
iBooks
Kobo
Smashwords

Author Biography

Megan Joel Peterson-Summer 2013

Megan Joel Peterson lives somewhere between the cornfields of Illinois and fantasy worlds filled with magic. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of Illinois, and has worked a little bit of everywhere over the years. Now she spends her days and nights creating new stories, and thinks writing is the best job she ever could have asked for.

Website: www.meganjoelpeterson.com
Blog: www.opalescentokapi.com
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/meganjoelpeterson
Twitter: www.twitter.com/meganjopeterson
Facebook: www.facebook.com/meganjoelpeterson
Google Plus: gplus.to/meganjoelpeterson
Tumblr: meganjoelpeterson.tumblr.com
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/meganjopeterson

* * *

I certainly hope you find Megan’s books intriguing and decide to go take a look. I also recommend you follow her on Twitter; she’s a very sweet and supportive person.

And if anyone else is interested in sharing information about their book and doing some cross-blog networking, email me at cantrellwriter@gmail.com.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 10: Quitting My Day Job

Today I came to a decision. I’m quitting my day job.

I didn’t quit today, because I learned from the mistakes I made when I was younger. There were times when I quit a job with no backup, no plan, and no idea what I was going to do next. It’s never the smartest thing to do (though each time I did it, it was under some severe stress and absolutely horrendous working conditions). So instead of just up and quitting, I’m sending out resumes starting tonight. As soon as I find even a part time job, I’m leaving the place I’m at now.

Let me tell you why.

First, I’ll explain what happened today. Then, I’ll list what’s happened over the last seven years (seven years I’ve worked without a raise, which I only did because the tips were good and I wasn’t qualified for anything else until I got my degree).

I deliver pizza for Pat’s Family Restaurant, located in the Marlton Crossing Shopping Center at 101 Route 73 South, Marlton NJ 08053. I’ve worked at this store since it opened five years ago, and before that I worked for two years at another Pat’s store in Woodbury Heights, NJ.

One of my jobs as a delivery driver, in between taking deliveries, is to take out the trash. My store is in a strip mall, and we share a dumpster with about a dozen other businesses. Over the last five years, about once a week, one or more of the other businesses dump their garbage on the ground. They do it when the dumpster lid is closed. When I take out the trash, I need to use a broom to push the lid open and flip it back so it stays open, since the dumpster is rather tall. When the lid isn’t flipped completely open, however, you can still throw out your garbage just by lifting it a foot and tossing the garbage in, then letting the lid drop back down. Any sensible, responsible person can easily lift the lid and throw their garbage inside.

The owner and manager of Andrea’s Boutique, located in Marlton Crossing Shopping Center in Marlton, NJ, is neither sensible nor responsible. She has, at least half a dozen times in recent weeks, dumped multiple bags of garbage on the ground near the dumpster. This is a violation of New Jersey Statute § 39:4-64 (2004). It is also disgusting, childish, and rude. As a result of her actions, the dumpster area is constantly covered in filth, rotting food, and other grime. This has attracted rodents, and my store manager has frequently had to call the exterminator because of the ongoing problem. He has also frequently made me pick up Andrea’s trash.

I decided that I was done cleaning up after a litterbug, and today I found her garbage bags on the ground, carried them back to the back door of her store, and left them there for her to clean up. I also left a note which read, “Do not place your garbage on the ground. Open the lid and place it inside the dumpster.”

She became angry over being told that she was a litterbug, and complained to my manager in an attempt to get me fired. During the ensuing argument, she referred to me as “not worth her time,” said that I was “just a lowly employee,” and asked me “who I thought I was” for telling her not to throw her garbage on the ground. I retorted that most people learn in kindergarten not to throw their garbage on the ground, and that she should grow up and take responsibility for her actions. She spewed repeated insults at me and belittled me, and in response I used profanities (because I’m the sort of person who says what I mean, instead of veiling my insults behind a facade of moral superiority).

While I freely admit that my actions were rude and there are more appropriate ways to address a litterbug than leaving notes, I do not believe I deserved to be disrespected and talked down upon. This woman harassed me at length, speaking to me as if I were less than a human being and beneath her attention.

In a discussion with my store owner, I was told to “just deal with it” and that he expected me to promise this woman that I would gladly pick up her garbage (he actually said I should tell her “gladly”). He said this because he wanted to placate the woman and shut her up (Behind her back, he later said, “Forget the bitch, she’s not worth it.” His words, not mine. I called her a bitch to her face.). I disagreed with the idea that I should be responsible for cleaning up another person’s garbage, but I played the part of a good employee and issued a formal apology to Andrea for yelling (even though my yelling was in response to her screaming and insults) and for leaving the note (even though it was in response to her repeated illegal littering).

I fully own up to the fact that I acted unprofessionally and verbally lashed out in anger. I readily confess that there are more appropriate ways to have handled the situation. Andrea, however, continued to proclaim that she had every right to dump her garbage illegally “because she can’t lift the lid” (her words).

This is not why I am quitting my job. It’s just the most recent drama and disrespect I’ve dealt with. The proverbial last straw.

The primary reasons I am quitting my job are the following:

– My manager frequently sexually harasses the female employees. He makes lewd suggestions about sexual things he wants to do to them, or things they should do with the food they are about to serve. He also frequently sets his sexual harassment to music, singing lewd songs to the tune of whatever happens to be playing on the radio. He makes similar comments about female customers after they leave. The other drivers do the same thing, frequently commenting on which female customers and employees they want to do certain things to. One driver has frequently said he only wants to deliver pizzas to “hotties.”

– All of the managers ignore problems like the garbage dumping, even when my coworkers are the ones who do it. When I complain about having to clean up after my coworkers, I am asked “Why are you making a big deal out of it?” The other employees continue to leave messes for me to clean up, including garbage left on the floor inside the store, garbage spilled out back, and unsanitary messes left on the food prep tables.

– The cooks frequently harass me and my coworkers in Spanish, thinking that I don’t understand them (they don’t know I speak a good amount of Spanish). When I walk by, they call me “Gordo” (Spanish for “fat”), and numerous curse words (“Cabron” = “asshole,” “Chingaro” = “Fucker”). When I tell this to the manager, I am told to ignore it.

– The cooks also frequently drop food on the floor and still use it. If you’ve ever ordered a cheesesteak or a hoagie from Pat’s, there’s a good chance the roll may have hit the floor and still been picked up and used. Over the past seven years I’ve seen this happen dozens of times. The cooks also work full shifts without ever washing their hands, use cleaning chemicals right next to the food so that it might splatter and contaminate the food, mop with filthy water that smells like sewage, and leave spilled food kicked under the counters because they don’t feel like sweeping it up.

– Some of my coworkers, those who are in the owner’s favor, are allowed to treat everyone with disrespect (even more than what I described above). One, a relative of the owner, has repeatedly cheated on his delivery dispatches in order to get more deliveries than other drivers, frequently speaks disrespectfully to the other drivers, never helps with any of the work that needs to get done, and on at least two occasions that I’ve witnessed, has altered the tip amount on credit card receipts, stealing money from customers in order to get more money for himself. During an argument I had with him one day, he screamed and cursed at me, then spat in my face. Literally spat in my face, a thick glob of saliva. When I complained to the manager, he said “I know the guy’s an asshole, but just don’t talk to him.” Despite the fact that my boss saw me reduced to tears by the disrespect, he simply told me to “Man up and deal with it.” The employee who spat in my face suffered no consequences.

– The owner requires me to run personal errands for him while on the clock. It could be argued that “requires” is hard to prove, but when the man who signs your paychecks says he needs something done, sometimes you’re faced with the knowledge that you have to either do it, or risk having your hours and pay cut (he has cut my hours in the past without cause, and on one occasion I almost didn’t pay my rent that month because of it). Errands I’ve been required to run for him include going to the liquor store, taking his car to get gas, picking up his dry cleaning, and buying socks for his son (he provides the cash for the purchases, but makes me go to the stores for him).

– When I transferred stores (from Woodbury Heights to Marlton, because Marlton is a busier area), I was given a pay cut based on the logic that “All drivers at the new store are going to be paid the same.” This despite the fact that at the time, I had two years more time working for the company, and the other drivers in the Marlton store were brand new. The pay cut has cost me approximately $3000 since then.

These are the highlights. This is not counting all the generic bullshit of working in an unclean restaurant, dealing with long hours, being screamed at by customers when the cooks made a mistake on a delivery order, and so on.

So where does this leave me?

Well, the majority of what I’ve listed here is things I’ve dealt with for years by telling myself I’m not going to be at this job forever. About three months ago, I wrote that I was now a “professional writer who delivers pizza on the side.” I’ve decided that I can no longer deal with the filth, the disrespect, the low pay, the sexual harassment, the coworkers cursing at me in another language, and the fact that every time I complain about these things, I am told to “deal with it.”

If I worked for a large corporation, I would go above my boss’s head and file a complaint with someone higher in the company. When I worked for Pizza Hut, they had a system in place to allow such things. Pat’s, however, is a family-owned place. The owner and general manager of my store are cousins. They back each other up no matter what. Even when someone spits in my face.

I recently read a book by Nancy Peacock, titled “A Broom of One’s Own.” I highly recommend reading it. In it, Peacock describes her life as a struggling writer who worked as a house cleaner, even after she had published two novels (since she wasn’t earning enough money from writing to quit her job). In the final chapter, titled “Quitting,” she talks about a time she quit her housecleaning job, and about times she quit writing because of frustration. When speaking of one of the multiple times she had quit and gone back to it, she says:

“Quitting exacts a price, not just on my writing, but on my soul. When I can’t give my soul what it needs through writing, I go off in search of some other bright ball of yarn. And what I need to learn is that I don’t have to be so extreme. When my soul yearns for the tactile, it’s okay to weave. In fact, it’s a good thing for a writer to be nonverbal for awhile. It’s a big lesson for me to learn that being a writer shouldn’t mean that I’m chained to my desk twenty-four-seven.

Another big lesson is to finally understand that once I am a published writer I will always be a published writer, but that I will also always be an unpublished writer. I will get rejection slips, no matter what the New York Times said about my first novel. And hopefully I will always have material in need of some work, because if I don’t have the pages I have I will never have the pages I love.”

Peacock’s novel stuck with me for the last couple of months. Ever since reading it, I’ve wanted to quit my job and focus on writing. So that’s what I’m going to do. I haven’t worked much on “Manifestation” for several weeks, because I’ve been too busy with school and work. And it’s exacted a price. I feel like I’m neglecting something important to me, a novel I love more dearly than I can explain, because I’m too worried about paying my bills and living a comfortable life.

Except that it’s not a comfortable life. It’s a life where I work 12 hour shifts, trudging through the rain and snow to deliver pizzas to people who tip me 85 cents. It’s a life where I see a mouse scurrying across the floor of my restaurant, and know there’s a cesspool of crud in the dumpster area behind the store. It’s a life where someone can spit in my face and walk away without consequences. That’s not the life I want.

So I’m quitting. I have alternate sources of income (my paid blog writing and Graduate Assistantship job at Rowan, and my freelance work). I’m going to search for a new job, something in writing, publication, or anything along those lines. Something where I can work in an office at a computer, putting my creative mind to work and using the skills I went to college for, instead of taking out other people’s garbage. Something where if I am insulted at work, there is a proper set of procedures for me to get the conflict resolved instead of being told to “deal with it.”

Something, maybe, where I’ll make less money (despite all my complaints, I make a lot in tips, enough to live a financially secure life). But there are things more important than money. There’s respect. There’s creativity. There’s pursuing my dreams instead of trudging along at a dead end job.

So I declare it, here and now, not caring if my manager reads this (I doubt he will, but I don’t care if he does). I’m going to work tomorrow, but I’m only staying at Pat’s Pizza for as long as it takes for me to find at least a part time job someplace else (or if they fire me first). Even part time would help me make ends meet while I focus on my writing. And that’s what I want to do.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 9: #10k1day

As a freelance writer, one of the issues I have to deal with is deadlines. I’ve written a bit earlier in the blog about time management and dealing with deadlines, but what I don’t think I’ve touched on is crunch time. The problem of catching up on an assignment when the clock is ticking and you don’t have enough time left.

I have very little free time right now. To give you an idea of how little, here’s an example of what I’ve done this week (from last Friday to today). Assuming I sleep eight hours a night, I get 112 hours of active time in a week. Here’s a breakdown of how I spend those hours:

112
-14 hours of time (about an hour each morning and another at night) spent getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and getting ready for work/school each day, driving there, then driving home, and taking care of mundane things when I get home like checking the mail, changing out of work clothes, paying bills, etc.
= 98 hours left
-33 hours a week at my day job delivering pizzas (a job which I now consider to be supplementing my writing job, even though it is still technically my primary source of income).
= 65 hours left
-15 hours a week working for my Graduate Assistantship job and my blog writing job at Rowan University.
= 50 hours left
-10 hours a week in classes at Rowan (four nights a week) and another -10 hours or so doing homework for those classes.
= 30 hours left
-15 hours a week doing work for my self-publishing career, such as working on advertisements for “Radiance,” working on writing or revisions for anything I’m working on in the “Arcana Revived” series.
= 15 hours left
-3 hours a week writing blog posts on here.
= 12 hours left.
That leaves me about an hour and forty-five minutes left each day to eat, shower, run errands, and do anything else around the house, or (God forbid) do something fun. Sometimes I manage to squeeze out a bit more time (such as by eating while I write), and maybe get an hour or something to play a video game. For the most part, however, I have no time.

I’m sure that a lot of you have similarly packed schedules (likely replacing time spent on school and homework with time spent taking care of your kids, etc) and know what it’s like to have no free time. So what do you do when you get down to crunch time?

I have a freelancing project due tomorrow. It’s 15,000 words, and I had written about 5000 of it over the past two weekends (I cheat by squeezing in time to write at work, writing on my smartphone in between pizza deliveries). I tried to find time throughout the week to continue working on it, but things kept getting in the way. Fatigue made it hard to make progress on some nights, and some times a homework assignment that should have only taken me an hour took me two hours because I was too tired to focus.

As a result, I woke up this morning with 10,000 words left to write, and one day to do it. So I started writing with a #10k1day goal in mind (those of you who follow me on Twitter @cantrelljason saw this, and cheered me on, for which I was grateful).

Writing 10k in 1 day is hard. It takes focus. I do some of it by doing #wordsprints, and I average about 800 words in a 30 minute sprint. I keep the TV off, I only pop on Twitter every half hour for some encouragement, then get back to the task.

A common question I get when doing #10k1day is “How do you do it?” 10,000 words seems like a lot, and people find it intimidating. But really, it’s easy if you focus on the small steps. Most people I see posting word counts on sprints can easily do 600-700 words in a 30 minute sprint. By that count, 10,000 words takes about eight hours. It’s like clocking in for a full day of work at an office job. Is that a lot of writing? Hell yes. But it’s doable, if you stay at it.

I find 30 minute word sprints is the best way to handle it. Write for awhile, then take a short break. Get a drink, go to the bathroom, have a snack. Then come back and stick with it.

But the biggest tool that I find helps me out is posting my wordcount goals on Twitter and getting support from others. When I’m at 1200/10000 I feel like there’s a long way to go. But when I hit 6400/10000, everyone starts shouting “YOU CAN DO IT!” By then, I’m in the home stretch, and realizing that I can do it if I just stick with it. And if I tried to give up, I’d have a hundred people screaming at me that I’m not allowed to give up.

I don’t recommend doing a #10k1day often. I reserve it for when I have deadlines. Days I don’t have deadlines, I think 2000-5000 words tops is plenty. Otherwise you end up brain-fried and wanting nothing more than a nap. But if you’re up against the wall and HAVE to get it done, you can do it. Just get a squad of Twitter cheerleaders and post your progress every 30 minutes. Make it a challenge. I always make myself succeed at challenges because I’m a stubborn mofo. So if I tell myself I’m going to do it, I do it.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 8: Networking

This is a two-part post. First I’d like to discuss networking, then I’d like to DO some networking.

So let’s start with the obvious question: What is networking, and why is it important?

We’re all pretty familiar with social networking on sites like Twitter and Facebook. It’s about making connections with people who have similar interests, goals, and skills. But professional networking is slightly more complex, and something I don’t think I’m very good at.

No one ever “taught” me networking. My mother mentioned it to me once in my life, but never elaborated on it or tried to teach me how to do it. School doesn’t really teach you how to do it . . . but school can be a good place for it to happen on it’s own.

For example, a couple of weeks ago at Rowan University, I was reading the school newspaper, The Whit. Specifically, I was reading an article about congressional politics, written by Matthew Turner, a Rowan student who also writes for Metro Philadelphia. He saw me reading his article and we started discussing politics and trading “business talk” as fellow writers. At the end of the conversation, we exchanged business cards.

This was professional networking taking place, entirely by accident. We bumped into each other, talked shop, and make a connection. I’m now using that connection to share Matthew’s professional name and background to a wider audience (if anyone who reads this post decides to check out Matthew’s articles or follow him on Twitter, he’s benefiting professionally from our brief encounter). Since he has my card, it’s possible he’ll also pass my name along to others at some point. The more people I give my card to, the more this can happen.

Networking can also happen when you work with someone and share their name to other potential clients. For example, my short story ebook, “Radiance,” features cover art by a very talented artist named Ravven. I link her name from my blog regularly, and I’ve raved about her work and her professionalism on Twitter. It’s possible she’ll find more clients this way, especially since if anyone asks me if I know a talented artist, her name will definitely be the one that comes up.

This type of professional networking goes beyond the casual networking I do on Twitter. Mostly, I’m on Twitter to make friends. I maintain a single account for my personal and professional life (though I know some people maintain separate accounts for each). This means that sometimes you’ll see me on Twitter talking about boobs, ranting about politics, or showing people pictures of the holes in my socks. Other times, you’ll see me posting links to news articles, friends’ blogs, and other such things. I blend these two, for better or worse (and I understand on some level that my silliness and dirty jokes could be hurting me professionally).

So while Twitter is a place for me to meet professionals and share important business information, it’s also a place where I goof off with my friends. Some spaces are more professional and less personal. I have a LinkedIn account (which I barely use), which is dedicated to purely professional stuff. I also have my blog, which tends to be a mix of personal and professional. I focus it more on the professional side, such as with posts about my professional career. I also consider my stories, fairy tales, and articles to be professional, since I post them here to showcase my writing abilities. But even though I focus my blog on professional things, sometimes I post really stupid random shit.

But since I definitely want to use my blog to promote my professional career, I’d like to expand that with networking. According to WordPress’s dashboard, I get an average of about 40-50 unique visitors to the blog in a week (which is more than I actually expected). That’s not a huge audience (though I’m grateful 40+ people care about my writing!). It could be a lot higher. Considering I’ve only had this blog up for a year, I have no idea if this is a good or bad number. But I’d like to increase it.

So here’s the part where I reach out. I’d like to do some cross-blog networking. I’ve posted on my friends’ blogs for flash fiction short stories before, and there’s a few blogs I regularly comment on, but I’ve never done something organized on a professional level.

So if you have a blog, and you’d like to network, post a comment here, email me at cantrellwriter@gmail.com, or hit me up on Twitter @cantrelljason. What I’m most interested in doing is swapping guest blog posts with people. I’d like to post in various places talking about my short story, “Radiance,” and promote it a bit more. And I’d like to put guest posts up here about your work, whether it be a book for sale, another type of project, or whatever. It’s not going to be as organized and themed as the flash fiction events my friends are running, simply because I’m too busy with school right now to develop and run something that focused. I’m just looking for simple, straightforward blog-swapping. I might organize something more elaborate in the future (since when properly motivated, I can devise some quite epic collaborative story ideas), but for this time I’d like to keep it basic.

So, if you’re interested, and you have something you’d like to promote, or you’d just like to some write something random on my blog, let me know! I’ll post pretty much anything you want to write on here (as long as it’s not like, dinosaur porn or something).