Monday, December 29, 2008

Playing games

One thing that those of us who are self-employed need to be aware of is how much time we waste. Especially those of us who are freelance writers. And what we are actually doing when we are wasting time.

One of the ways that I waste time is playing computer games. My favorite game at the moment is Bubble Shooter. It is one of those connect three of the same color and make them disappear games. I prefer games like that when I am thinking about writing, but too tired to do so or not super-inclined to do so. (Much like most of my time rating on Helium.)

The ideal computer game for me is one that I can take my time and think, one where if I come up with a good idea I can slip away and write it, then come back.

My wife prefers arcade games. Or at least, I think that they are classified arcade games. She has been playing a lot of Collapse! Crunch lately; she is also a big fan of Cubis.

These games require too much attention and energy to be useful when I am thinking about ideas for articles. They demand full attention.

I have thought about trying out Warcraft, but it looks like it would be really time consuming.

If I am completely goofing off, and dont care that I am not working, then I will play Blackhawk Striker or Phoenix Assault. But if I am actually planning on writing, then it is best that I stick to Bubble Shooter.

(If you are curious, my best score is 209,580 at Bubble Shooter.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Second time this month

So today is the second time this month that my rating percentage had dropped suddenly on Helium and I have lost my rating star.

To be more accurate, I did some rating and regained my star, then had it climb to two stars before it dropped to one and then none.

And this just makes me more likely to focus on Associated Content, abandoning Helium to its own graces.

It did not take a cracked crystal ball to be able to predict that a pattern like this was going to happen on Helium. Tying the earnings into the rating star system means that to get paid, you have to have a rating star. And the month-end bonus, which is not a lot to me (just three dollars) is a lot to some, ensures a frenzy of ratings at the end of every month as those people who are close to the edge rate rapidly to trying to get it.

What this means to a regular writer is that if you have work up on Helium is that you have to check in everyday to check your rating star and periodically have to rate (instead of writing) to maintain your earnings there. All this has done (ignoring the fact that those who are earning are earning more pennies than before) is to make the other writing sites, such as Associated Content look better than before.

I guess my biggest problem is that rates that were worth a rating star earlier this week, then two stars, are worth nothing today. It is like playing the stock market in terms of frustration.

Before you ask: no, I did not drop in the number of rates that I have done. Quite literally, rates that I did that were good quality earlier this month are now considered bad quality rates.

Helium has always played it close to the vest when it comes to defining what is a quality rate. But I think that it is safe to say that a quality rate must somehow tie into what the average rate looks like. Either the average quality has gone up or the system is awash in poor ratings.

Those who know my opinionated personality will be able to guess what I think.

So given the fact that I keep losing rating stars, I have to decide whether I should stick around on Helium or focus my time and energy elsewhere.

I figure that I have to spend ten mintues a day rating articles to be safe. And that is everyday.

(For those of you who are curious, my wife [the elementary art school teacher] is on vacation this week and next week; she is also tying up the only computer with internet access to do reasearch on her family tree; my computer time is limited until school starts again. But then again, I am a college student, Helium should not even be able to make me think about the following.)

So we are looking at fifteen hours of rating over a ninety day period. This is fifteen hours of writing that I do not get to do.

For someone with a thousand articles on Helium, this might not be a bad deal. Or maybe it is a bad deal. Lets assume that the average article on Helium is worth fifty cents a year. Lets assume everyone needs to do the same amount of rating (ten minutes a day); converting this to an hourly wage: 2.78 an hour.

(In my case, I figure with the number of articles I have and my income that rating pays about a dollar an hour. It is just too bad that writing an article actually takes time and my potential income from writing is actually higher than that, even if I am just writing for the college newspaper.)

And this is why I and many other writers on Helium were against the idea of tying the daily revenue share (the pennies) into the maintaining a rating star in the first place. It redefined the term "active member" to mean something much different than what it originally was.

Today, the active member has to be working on the site at least ten minutes a day. Just to earn a few pennies.

I understand why Helium did it; but as a small time writer without a lot of articles on Helium, it is probably not in my best interest to remain active on Helium.

To say that I am frustrated would be an understatement.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Big Fish, Little Fish

Something that I have pondered a lot over the last couple of years is when it comes to making money is it better to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond.

At the moment, I am neither. I am a little fish in a little pond, and a plankton when it comes to the big ponds. So for me, the question becomes a matter of what do I want to become.

Left to my own devices, I am, at heart, a niche writer. I am drawn to niches that no one else is doing; you know the ones that the majority of writers avoid because they feel that the pie is not big enourgh to invest work in.

Other writers, and entrepreneurs, tell me that in order to make the big bucks that you need to write to the subjects where the payoff is BIG. Yet these areas, when I work them, end up requiring more effort, time and energy than my normal niche writing. There is a reason that I fell into my niche; I know it really well.

For me, attempting the big pond work requires more effort and produces less income. Why? It is not my homefield. Plus, everyone else is doing it, so the pie is actually getting sliced thinner than the slices in my normal niche where there are only a handful of us working.

But that does not answer the question, except in the short run. Given the long run, is it better to try to be a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in a big pond?

I guess that I am just going to have to continue thinking about it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Annoyed and frustrated, but still did some work

Well, as the readers of my last entry know, I was annoyed with Helium yesterday.

I still ended up doing some writing, a book review of The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! which I decided to put up on Associated Content. I originally wanted to put it up on Helium first, but I was also having trouble getting them to accept the title there. So it ended up on AC first.

Did about a half hour of rating yesterday on Helium, regained my rating star; we will see how long I hang onto it.

Plan on continuing to work on my Tarot article series today.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just lost my Helium Rating Star

Today, I was reminded why I was against the very idea of Helium tying the daily earnings into the rating star system.

Yes, today I lost my rating star.

Since November, my rating percentage has been dropping. And overnight I lost two percentage points which wiped out my rating star. And yes, I am going to be told that I should have stayed home last night and rated a bunch of articles, rather than going out and doing my job as a lodge officer.

Yes, I am upset.

The drawback of tying the earnings to the rating stars has never been pointed out by the Helium staff. I know enourgh math to guess at the horrible truth; over half the writers will not get paid on any given day.

At the moment, I am at 72% on rating and with 134 ratings done; in order to regain my star, I figure that I have to do over a hundred ratings. And lets presume that my rating percentage is going to continue to drop. At a certain point in time, it is better that I abandon Helium than continue to fight the battle.

Essentially, I have a choice now. I can either focus on my writing or my rating. I started off in Novermber with a 82%; in the space of a month and a half, I lost ten percentage points.

Either other people got really good at rating, or my fears are true and the system does consider the majority to be the norm and bases what it considers to be a quality rate on the masses.

For those who don't know, I am the same person that loathed peer review days in my college writing classes. My sentences were considered too long; no one was present from my regular audience; and my classe mates were writing stuff that could have been ripped from any television sit-com.

Bottom line, Helium may have just lost me as a writer.

This college break I am booked nine ways to Sunday for time, between the lodge (mainly rewriting the entire website) and house repairs. I am supposed to be focusing on my writing, not spending all my time rating which do not increase my potential earnings.

I think that Associated Content just became my primary focus when it comes to online writing. And Constant Content all of a sudden looks a lot better.

I understand why Helium has to force their members to rate, but I think it is going to cost them a lot of good writers in the end, especially if the system is going by the majority to determine how good a person's rating skill is.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slow social networking

Yesterday, I went to the vast number of social networking sites that I am a member of (Tribe, MySpace, Facebook, etc), and I remembered why I don't go visiting them more often. My computer and them just don't get along.

It is all the ads that slow my computer down. I need to buy some more RAM for the computer that I am using for the internet. As it stands right now, just logging into MySpace took four minutes.

Hopefully, after I get more RAM (I am shopping around right now for it), I will be able to use the social network sites more. At the very least, I would like to see what my friends are up to.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Survived another semester

Well, it is safe to say that I survived another semester's worth of finals. I am not sure if I passed all of them (there is a big question mark over Ancient Greek History). But at least, I didn't croak during the middle of them.

So now, it is time to get back to writing for awhile. Or at least, as much as I can given the busy schedule over the next thirty-four days before the next semester starts; I have a carpet to rip out, a ceiling to fix, and several visits with friends, family and lodge members to deal with.

As for what I am going to attempt to write this break, I am hoping to finish the series of Tarot articles that I started in June; so far, I have only completed four of them and started working on three others.

I still have a week or two before I find out if I actually passed all my classes (again, Ancient Greek History is the one that I am worried about).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Is this the right path?

Tonight, I had one of those toxic writing friends moments. As I have probably mentioned elsewhere in this blog, there are some people that you do not talk about your writing or the things that you are doing to grow your writing business; simply because after talking to them, you end up feeling depressed or blocked. Toxic writing friends (not neccessarily a friend; it is just a generic label for the type of person I am talking about) are the wet blankets that drown out the muse and your will to get up and type in the morning.

In this case, it wasn't even my conversation. I was just an innocent bystander. My mother-in-law called about the monetary difficulties that my brother-in-law is having. I got involved because the wife kept asking me about my opinion about the situation. Honestly, I would rather soak my head in gasoline and set myself on fire; that is how toxic the conversation was in my opinion; plus I really didn't want to get involved. My brother-in-law is still going to school, but needs to take out a large private student loan to survive. He is unemployed at the moment, as so many other people are, and needs a co-signer. I would go into more detail, but the finer points are not important.

Now, I understand being unemployed (ignoring my freelance and internet writing) and going to college. I also understand needing a co-signer. In my case, I am unemployed because restaurants can hire someone else for less than they would have to pay me (ten years of restaurant management is not necessarily a plus in today's or yestersday's job market). Fortunately, I have my wife (an elementary art teacher) who is willing to co-sign for me. As she notes, we are in this together.

What got me thinking was that he is trying to borrow much more money than I am. We are both working on bachelor's degrees; he is aiming for something to do with computers (programming or something like that, I think) while I am aiming for literature. He is going to ITT or Devrey, or some school like that (can you tell I don't play much attention to his life?). I went to the Community College of Denver for my Associates (ok, I need to back-transfer a science class for the piece of paper) before moving on to the University of Colorado at Denver.

Now, I am not sure that his degree is actually going to be worth the price he is paying to get it. In theory, the type of job that it will allow him to get will pay far more than the job that I am going to qualify for ("Would you like fries with that?"), even with an advanced degree. But will his degree be worth the investment? Will he actually use it?

For that matter, will what I am doing (college and writing) be worth the investment that I am putting in? I am not sure. The happy little cynic in me says no, or is that the voice of my mother? Either way, I am not completely happy with the seed of doubt in my head. Ahh, the toxicity of it all.

Fortunately, it should be a short bout of writing block. After all, I have a completed article that I wrote in long-hand today that I need to type up tommorrow, then I got finals all next week. It should keep me from thinking about the possibility that I am just wasting my time and energy chasing a set of impossible worthless dreams. By the time the dust clears, I should have forgotten this toxic conversation which is the trick when dealing with toxic writing friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Parade of Lights

There are some things that I do not misss about my old job at Renzios. One of them is the Parade of Lights. For those of you who do not live in Denver, 9News helps sponsor an annual Christmas parade in downtown Denver every year.

When I was working for the downtown Renzios (which closed the year before I started going back to school), we stayed open late that night. For the first few years that I worked there, it was definitely worth staying open for the event. The overtime was nice, and the restaurant would turn a profit, a rather nice one, for the event.

This all changed when the Denver Pavilions shopping complex opened up just a couple blocks down the street. After that, staying open for the Parade of Lights was not worth it, but we were still required to by the conditions of the lease.

As I said, I don't miss the Parade of Lights. It is not that the Parade was boring (I always ended up seeing the tail end of it), or anything like that; it is that I just do not miss that late night, or the exhaustion that came with it (in the good times) or the boredom and robbing of my writing time (in the bad times). In the end, I am happier studying for my fall semester finals and attempting to be a sucessfully freelance writer.

Enjoy the Parade of Lights, either from home (it is broadcast on TV) or in person, but don't expect me to see it this year; I have an Economics final to study for.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Red Letter Day Fall Semester 2008

Today was that marvelous day of the semester when I learned whether my sacrifices for the semester were going to pay off or not. This year, not only have I neglected my business (something that you can do when you are self-employed), skipped an issue of writing for the student newspaper of the Community College of Denver (technically, I am independent contractor, so that is also self-employment), I also blew off National Novel Writing Month; I have also ignored friends and delayed meeting new applicants for the lodge. But today was the red letter day...the day when I learned that barring serious accident (like death or complete paralysis) I am going to pass all of my classes with a C or better.

In previous semesters, I learned my fate much earlier, but the standards of the University of Colorado at Denver are higher than the Community College of Denver's. It is always nice to have the burden of having to ace one's finals off one's mind. I just need to do a good job on them, don't have to get a perfect score (though a perfect score would really help in two of my classes).

So it is official: I am actually going to pass my first semester at the University of Colorado at Denver.

I guess it is time to think about getting back to attempting to write for money...