Monday, December 31, 2007

Being a writer is an actual job

One of my pet peeves, something that I have probably have mentioned before, is the simple fact that many people do not consider writing as a real job. This irks me.

My mother never considered it a real profession; in fact, she considers writing to be a sin (that last point I can see--it is a theological issue that I might talk about someday). Of course, this is the same woman who believed me babysitting my brothers and sisters was more important than me passing my Freshman Composition class in High School (I took it twice, but never had the time to write the term paper, hence me being a High School flunk out).

I have noticed a lot of other people do not consider writing to be a real profession. The only reason I started to consider it a real profession was that I was forced to make money doing it (for myself that is, I was always able to consider it a real profession for others as soon as I learned that it was possible to get paid to do it). Which is probably the nicest thing that I can say about the bad economy, it forced me into my real profession. Or what I always to do for a living.

But because people do not consider it a real profession, they have no qualms about interrupting you while you are writing. Take this week for instance, the wife is home on break (she is a substitute teacher) and she has the home remodeling bug. Not bad in itself, but she expects me to drop everything to help her. Some of the things that I am working on have actual deadlines, so I can't just drop everything to remodel the house.

And even if I didn't have deadlines to met (they are not important deadlines, but I do want to finish the work in a timely manner), I won't want to quit writing for a week just to make her happy. I have only so much time before the next semester starts, and I don't want to lose any of it to having to warm back up; if you take a long break from writing, it takes awhile to get back in the flow of things.

I am not sure if the wife is one of those people who does not consider writing a real job, but she sure acts that way. Then again, it could just be that she is self-centered and bossy (yes, I said that). But that is a whole another pet peeve of mine.

Well, I would like to complain some more, or at least slip in some more writing time, but the wife is asking when I am going to come and help her. Oy vey.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Leapfrogging on Helium

One of the quirks of Helium, one of several online paid to write sites that I belong to, is the ability to “leapfrog” one of your own articles. Leapfrogging involves replacing an article that you are unhappy and not earning anything from, with an article that is you believe is better. Leapfrogging is a necessary option given the Helium system.

Helium, named for the concept that the better articles in a title will rise to the top, uses a rating system. It is an old fashioned system in the sense that it uses writers to rate the work of other writers. It is a new fashioned system is the fact that the ratings are ran though an algorithm to figure out exactly where your article should end up in the stack. Thanks to the combination of fashions, one’s article can sink in the ratings like a stone, or rise very rapidly to the top.

The rating system is one of the most hated things about Helium. Given the fact that many writers don’t really understand how the system works, and that it is based on other writers’ opinion of the merits of one’s work, conspiracy theories arise about it.

Quite honestly, given the randomness of the selections that are presented to rate, I doubt that anyone is gaming the system. I will admit that it sometimes moves very slowly, especially when it comes to contest entries; but given enough time, at least for myself, my articles end up exactly where they are supposed to be. Others may disagree with me on this; after all, we all think that we are the best writers in the world, therefore rightfully deserving the number one slot.

Besides egos, there is also the small fact that Helium pays writers using a revenue sharing system. (Other revenue sharing sites include MyLot, Yuwie, Associated Content.) In the interest of attracting users, and keeping them, some web sites are beginning to share some of the ad revenue that they collect with the people using the site and providing useful content. On Helium and Associated Content, that content is articles.

Many people prefer Associated Content over Helium, due to the fact that Associated Content does not rate articles in the same manner that Helium does. On AC, each article is rated only against itself, and it has no bearing on your revenue share (AC calls it “Performance Bonus). Your rating on Helium does affect your earnings; even if only because the top five articles in a title get seen more than the others in the title.

So in light of this, writers on Helium are allowed to attempt to replace an article with another version; hopefully, one that does better in the ratings. It does not always work, causing many experienced Helium writers to wait until their work hit rock bottom before they attempt to write a better version.

This year, during my winter break from college, some of the writing that I am doing is revisions of my bottom dwellers. Not all of them. Quite frankly, some of my lowest rated articles are there simply because I don’t care enough that they are sitting on the bottom (if I think the shelf-life of an article is over, there is no point in wasting time rewriting it).

And besides, some of these articles are no longer current with my skill as a writer. Thanks to college, a couple of novel rough drafts, and just sheer experience as a writer, many of the articles I wrote there when I first joined are articles I now am horrified to have written.

Say what you will about Helium; but at least they allow you to replace your trash with something more readable. I know that many people prefer Associated Content, due to the lack of a rating stack; but considering that an article there is forever and non-replaceable, perhaps Helium is the better vehicle for your writing if you are getting better as a writer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

And they look the same to me

So today, I was leapfrogging one of my articles on Helium.

(For those who are not familiar with Helium and the term leapfrogging, it is a process where you replace one version of an article that you wrote with one that you hope will do better in the ratings.)

Then, as is my custom, I started to rate articles. My theory is that is I do some rating, that means that my article will proceed though the rating system there at a faster pace than if I did no rating at all.

Besides, I am still trying to get back into the flow of things; call it a productive way of goofing off (it was either rate or do postings on MyLot). Either way, I figure I wasn't going to get much paid writing done today.

So there I am , rating away, trying to be useful to myself. And because I am rating, I am seeing the stuff that other people are leapfrogging (to successfully leapfrog one of your articles, the raters have to decide that it has as much merit or more than the original).

Maybe it is just me, but so many of these leapfrogs looked exactly the same. If there was a difference in them, I sure couldn't spot it. Now the leapfrog I am attempting (at this point, it is still pending) is a completely different version. It is not me trying to correct some small mistakes; it is me trying to get the article to sound more like me. So the raters that see my attempt are going to see a big difference.

And that is because there is actually a difference between the two versions. Even if it lands exactly where the previous was sitting, I figure I will be happier with the newer version (provided that the raters agree with me that it is the better version).

But this does make me wonder what is the point of leapfrogging an article that looks exactly the same as the original. Now, my crooked mind does tell me that perhaps they are exactly the same, and the writers are merely trying to get them rerated against the rest of the stack. In which case, I have to ask, "If you are unhappy with its placement in the ratings, don't you think that it will land in about the same position again if it is still the same article?"

In my mind, if you make no actual changes, then it should land exactly back where it was to begin with. And several of these leapfrogs could have used formatting changes at the very least. There was room for improvement.

I am pleased to note that one writer on Helium was leapfrogging for format changes. I could tell. I rated the better formatted versions higher than the originals (they were easier to read). And considering I tend to rate articles that have bad formatting down (if it is hard to read, it better be a really good article to stand a chance, or up against pure trash), they desired another go at being rated properly.

But outside of that, most of the leapfrogs I rated today seemed to be merely an attempt by some of the Helium writers to have another go at being rated without actually doing any more work. I wish them exactly the luck that they deserve; now, where is that eye of newt?

Vacation has been a bust

So far this winter break has been a bust. I have done very little, if anything, from my list of what I wanted to accomplish during this break. That includes writing.

The primary problem was that it took me a week and a half to recover from the semester. I know that I was recovering when I finally started to get bored. Boredom always drives me to cleaning, writing, and other assorted projects.

Unfortunately, about the time I got bored, the wife's vacation started. Originally, this was not going to be a problem (she has a list of remodeling that she wanted to work on); and considering that she wants to do it her way, I was off the hook to pitch in.

The plan of wife and mice went astray when she came down with the flu (or was it a cold). So she is still hacking up stuff (yes, it is that lovely), and is just thinking about starting the projects. She better hurry, she only has a little over a week left before she goes back to work.

In the meantime, I need to get back in the mood to start writing again. Wish me luck.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is commenting necessary?

The other day, I was reading a friend's blog. He was posting about the attack on Pearl Habour. I read it (sort of--I was tired) and looked at the pictures. But I didn't leave a comment.

Now, I did leave a comment on his post on why TV shows go bad. So, he does know that I was there. He sends me a note asking me why I didn't leave a comment. I sent him some answer back (basically I was tired that day), but it did get me to thinking.

What is the proper etiquette for reading blogs? Should we post comments to everything we read? Or is the mere fact that we are reading the blog be enourgh?

Both me and my friend came out of the Amateur Press Association scene. One of his pet peeves was the fact that many members would just write "RAEBNC." For those who haven't been a member of an APA, that means "Read and enjoyed, but no comment." Now, this was one of the reasons that he got out of the APA that we mutually belonged to; I left because I saw the writing on the wall (I had started to write about Golden Dawn in my zine) and realized that it was the wrong audience for me. That and I was starting to tilt at the print market.

One of the reasons that I don't leave comments often is that a lot of them would boil down to RAEBNC. I don't even leave comments for the writers who take part in the Weekly Page View Reciprocation List. I figure if I make time to read the articles that should be enough to satisify them. I never actually bothered to ask the members there exactly how they feel about this notion of mine.

Truth of the matter is that I have a hard time coming up with useful comments. What use does RAEBNC have to your typical writer or blogger? And if I can't help you write better (and some people really don't want the help), why should I leave a comment? Oh, occasionally, I will leave a "Wow" on some people's work because they wrote something that I wish that I would have done.

I am not the only one that has a hard time leaving useful comments; the Creative Writing class I took a couple of semesters ago was full of people who had to learn how to give useful comments (there was one student that never did learn the knack of that one).

There is also that whole backlinking to one's profile. I understand that it does help your ranking in the search engines, but when does it become spam (remember spamming gets your links slammed by engines; they have limits and then they declare it foul play) and do you want to look like a spam artist?

But ultimately, I think that comments should be restricted to Wows and useful comments, not RMP (read my page) and RAEBNC. Besides who am I really writing for? If I am just writing for myself, comments are just going to be generally ignored anyways. And most of the time, my writing better be pleasuring to me because that is the only audience that I am sure to have.

I am not sure who he thinks that he is writing for. I am also not sure what he thinks being a blogger is about. In my world, comments are nice, but they are not really necessary.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Aarrgghh! Is that a Black Widow?!

Today started off with an aaarrrgggghhhh! The wife on the way out of the house spotted a spider by the stove. Taking a closer look at it, she woke me up to take a look at it.

Now, spiders are one of her totem animals. So we have a general rule of not killing spiders in the house. We made an exception for this one.

It looks like a Black Widow. I could be wrong; after all, I have never seen one up close and personal before.

To my own amusement, I was more interested in taking a picture of it than I was whacking it. I have been taking pictures of all the spiders in the house lately because I swear we have a dozen different types around the house.

In the end, I did spray the whole area down in bug spray. I don't want the cats to get poisoned--they like to stalk and eat spiders (yes, my totem animals eat hers). But why do I have to collect the bad mojo?

Friday, December 14, 2007

No Child Left Behind

I have been uneducated most of my life, at least by the formal standards of the education system. I had more of an education than my dad did (he did not finish Junior High), but not by much. I became a High School dropout, being short one class, and deciding to leave town rather than do summer school (not that I would have passed the class--Freshman Composition on the third pass--my home life was pretty bad).

Because of this I ended up working for twenty years in food service, along with the occasional side job that required a warm body and no piece of paper. The fact that I did not have a piece of paper, and that it was a writing class that I was short, always came to be a surprise to many of the people I worked with. I was always writing something, or reading a book; at the job, I was normally the best educated person there.

Ironically, this included college students (the Burger King I worked at was across the street from the campus). This puzzled me for some time. Ok, it still does. I sit in the classroom today, a forty-two year old college student, and am amazed that some of my fellow classmates actually managed to get into college. Maybe, it is because it is a community college; nevertheless, there are still times where I am the most educated person among my peers (my fellow students).

It was in philosophy that I finally figured out the reason for me being appalled by the education and general lack of knowledge exhibited by my classmates. Or rather, I was outright told by the professor. It is the "No child left behind" act.

No child left behind was a wonderful idea, maybe, on paper; if you are willing to ignore the fact that you can't force kids to learn and school districts to increase funding. Lack of interest on the part of students, and on the lack funds on the part of the schools, is the coffin of the no kid left behind act. In the end, all the no child left behind act has done is to cause school districts to rewrite the tests in such a way that any monkey, randoming filling in circles, could pass the test and earn a diploma. In essence, the no child left behind act has resulted in lower standards; it hasn't helped anyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Writing about fruitcake

So yesterday was the first day of my winter break. I hang around the internet, did some cleaning around the house, generally just goofed off.

I did one short short yesterday about an unwanted fruitcake. While doing it, I realized that I spent too much time this last semester in philosophy; I ended using a Voltaire reference. It is not bad enough that I am writing about fruitcake; no, I have to say something that only makes sense if you have read Voltaire. I keep telling people that college is not good for my writing style.

The Dreaded Beast--Fruitcake

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Last final of the semester

Well, today is my last day of college this semester. I have my Political Science final today. It should be interesting to take considering that it is an essay style test (must answer five of seven questions), and use two quotes from the textbook in each answer.

Then starting tomorrow, I get to spend an entire month repairing things around the house, working on this and my Golden Dawn blog, and trying to bash out some articles and short stories. Basically, my vacation is not really a vacation; it is a month of intense work as I try to make up lost ground (opportunity cost).

And in a month, I get to start it all over again. I have signed up for one Literature class, one Humanity, one Psychology, and one History class. Should be an interesting semester, especially considering that two of the classes are going to involve lots of reading (they are taught by the same professor that I had this semester for Philosophy).

Friday, December 7, 2007

Carson Daly--bad news for striking writers

Last week, Last Call with Carson Daly announced that they were going to go back to work, despite the Hollywood Writers' Strike. Reading the article, my comment was "Carson Daly uses writers?!"

I have seen Last Call; there is no evidence that he uses writers. If he does, I am shocked. Do these writers stand outside Home Depot, or whatever one would find day writers (probably Dunking Donuts), because the writing on that show has never been very good.

And having watched a few of the espisodes this week, I find that Carson Daly without writers is as good as Carson Daly with writers. There is a reason why he is on so late. It is either him or an infomerical.

Not that I am saying that he is bad. It is just that occasionally I ask how much he is paying his writers. The skits he does sometimes stink. And their function seem to be burning up time.

His improv this week has been just as effective at burning up time. And he is not paying writers to hack it out. He may want to consider not bringing the writers back after the strike is over.

And yes, I realize that I should support the Hollywood Writers' Strike. After all, they are my brothers in arms. Well, not really. I am not a member of the Union. Nor am I ever likely to be a member.

Nor am I likely to be famous enourgh to ever be on Last Call, or any other talk shows for that matter. It is not that I won't like to be on such shows; it is just unlikely to happen.

I understand the complaints of the Hollywood Writers. If I was a member of the Union, I would be fighting for the same income. But I would be worried about my job, if Carson Daly can survive without writers, imagine who else can also.

Just a link to my Helium profile

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Results of National Novel Writing Month 2007

Yesterday was the last day of the National Novel Writing Month. Many people, myself included, attempted to hack out the entire rough draft of a novel out in the space of a month--fifty thousand words worth of writing in thirty days. Some people succeeded; I was not one of them.

Yet while I did not reach my goal, I do consider last month’s effort (on my part) to be a success. I finished closer to the goal than I have ever came before. I ended up writing 41443 words to be exact. More if you count the amount of wordage I wrote last month on the various term papers I ended up completely.

If I could have gotten all the writing I did to go all in the same direction, I would have crossed the line this time. Unfortunately, term paper season ate me alive. In the end, I wrote over ten thousand words spread over a couple of papers--so far, one of them has turned out to be an A, still awaiting further grades to be reported.

And I consider parts of the rough draft that I wrote to be useable; or at least, parts will be usable after some revisions. Whether or not, it turns out to be a novel or just a short story (or perhaps a novella) will depend a lot on what can be fixed.

As always, this writing project was a learning experience for me. What I learned this project was the strange things that occur to me when I am trying to make an idea fix into a novel. Perhaps some of the strange ideas are good, I need to let the story sit awhile before judging parts of it. Then again, I have to finish a dozen scenes before it can be set to rest for awhile--as I said term paper season was a conflict with National Novel Writing Month. But I should have those scenes written by the first of the year--at least, I can say that I wrote the rough draft of an entire novel this year; and that makes me a winner despite not hitting the goal of fifty thousand words in thirty days.

Another thing I learned was that I can still surprise myself. At the end of this long stretch of writing, I find myself busy outlining another novel. That surprised me, I figured that I would not want to look at the keyboard for a good month afterwards; instead I find myself working on my next novel already.

For many, this will not be a surprise. In my case, it is. Sometimes, I forgot that I am a real writer. If nothing else, this last month was a good reminder that despite the expectations of those people around me, and society in general, that at heart, I am best at being a writer.

So here is to the end of National Novel Writing Month, while I did not write enough to make the goal, I am still happy with my results--and here is to next November, when I get to do it all over again.