Tag Archives: blogging

It’s Baaaaaa-ack: Birmingham Restaurant Week, Winter Edition

BRWWIf you were missing my (amateur) food blogging posts, fear not! This week, Birmingham Restaurant Week is launching their first annual winter edition. As part of the deal, they’ve invited me to reprise my role as their food blogger. Steel yourself for an onslaught of gratuitous food photos and blog posts, and make your plans to treat yourself this week.

Here’s the deal: for one week, you can sample lunch and/or dinner from some of the best restaurants in town for ridiculously low prices. These places are offering prix fixé lunch and dinner menus for $5, $10, $15, $20, or $30.

Needless to say, I’ll be eating a lot (eight meals, to be exact). Luckily, I now have a gym membership, so hopefully I can find a balance between eating too much delicious food and staying active.

In any case, I’ll be visiting Cantina today for lunch and John’s City Diner for dinner. Stay tuned!

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

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Without the right spoon

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit to Viacheslav Blizniuk

Freelancing is a lot like eating a grapefruit without the proper spoon sometimes. It can be frustrating, barely rewarding, and energy consuming. Sometimes, it feels like you spend more energy trying to dig out just a little more fruit or juice with a blunt spoon. But once you’ve finally eaten the fruit and are squeezing the last drops of juice into your poorly paired spoon, you miss and spill the juice all over your shirt.

Or is that just me? Even better.

Over the past month, I’ve blogged my butt off for Birmingham Restaurant Week and been contacted by three different new clients. I’ve invoiced for more money this month than any other since I started freelancing full-time — a welcome change after having to dip into my savings in July. Even with all of these things going right, I’m still trying to figure out how this writing thing will work going forward.

Several of the sections of my blog have gone on to become recurring paid columns. Cocktail of the Hour is now a regular part of my articles for mental_floss. I was blogging about health and fitness in exchange for personal training, but the gym has since closed. In the past, I’d used blogging to keep myself accountable as a writer or for my own health, but it hasn’t stuck.

What I’d like to do is a weekly or monthly roundup post of what I did that week/month — where I fell short, what frustrated me, and any victories. I’d love for my blog to be a place where I can focus on what I’ve done rather than leaving it in my head to loop endlessly through a montage of small victories and overwhelming obstacles. I can and will do this thing, and I will do it right. I hope.

 

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How not to become a full-time writer

netflixI love writing. Building individual words into words and articles that demonstrate my knowledge and wit has been an incredibly fun way to spend my time and energy outside of bartending. However, I’ve recently become aware that some habits I’ve formed are not conducive in any way, shape or form to expanding my freelance markets. I’ve put together a list of the worst offenders to help others avoid my mistakes.

  • Netflix is a fantastic substitute for cable. However, there are millions of hours’ worth of TV shows and movies available instantly. Getting sucked into a show (or three or four) is easy, but extracting yourself is not. Start watching Supernatural at your own risk.
  • Complacency is easy. There’s something to be said for treating your current clients like gold — it’s absolutely necessary for a freelancer to succeed — but it’s another to stay within your boundaries because they’re comfortable. Taking action will mean facing rejection and bouncing back, but just asking could lead to possibilities you’d only imagined. After reading mental_floss as a kid, I never thought I’d actually have a column on their website, but I do. It’s more awesome than I could have imagined.
  • Networking is a buzzword for a reason. Writing and freelancing do depend on your knowledge, but breaking into new markets is just as dependent on who you know as what you know. Until you reach out to your friends and acquaintances, you’ll never know what opportunities their networks can offer.
  • A personal blog can be a great way to put your thoughts out there for the Internet to judge, but it can also turn into a distraction from real, paying deadlines and important personal connections. Balance is key.
  • Ignoring your limits is a great way to get yourself sick, overwhelmed and unable to function at all. Taking on too much work can seem like the perfect way to set yourself apart from the crowd, but it can also backfire — hard. If you get exhausted and miss a deadline, it’ll make an editor remember you in a way that can harmfully impact your personal brand.

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Blogging Bucket List

tin_bucket_ice_bucket2For a long time, I’ve been afraid to write a bucket list for blogging. I have a list of publications I want a byline in, but I’ve been subconsciously viewing my blog as a very personal project. Though its an active sample of my writing, assigning goals for its use holds me accountable and almost takes it out of my personal control.

Today, though, I’m taking the leap into commitment to my blog. I’ve started cross posting each cocktail history blog post to liquor.com and to The Southern Coterie, so in some ways it’s already gotten serious.

  • Marketing. Leveraging my blog to connect with new writing markets and clients will expand the possibilities for my writing career. It should also help me to overcome my aversion to writing about myself and pitching my services.
  • Traffic. I’ve recently reached out to several highly visible bloggers to guest post or regularly contribute to their work. These steps should hopefully boost my traffic and readership, which may aid in marketing.
  • Monetization. Though it might not pay any of my bills, using the blog as a passive source of income could provide a few extra dollars for my savings and/or retirement. It may not seem like a lot now, but every dollar put away now is one I don’t have to worry about in 40 years.
  • Connections. The connections I’ve made while blogging have been invaluable. It’s been a way to connect with other writers and like-minded individuals. Like social media, it’s a fantastic way to start conversations with those you admire. After the first connection is established and it’s natural, continuing the conversation over coffee is easy. In today’s world, that’s how some true friendships begin. I love this aspect of the web-based world and will continue to seek out and build these relationships.

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Peace and quiet

If you remove the tag, you've got a sofa that looks remarkably like ours!

If you disregard the tag, this sofa looks remarkably like ours!

My couch is my refuge. I don’t actually have a desk, so I usually settle into a spot on the center cushion. It’s not particularly comfortable, which is part of the appeal — I have to be productive so I can get up and move before I mess up my back. Instead of slowing falling asleep, I can concentrate on writing.

Once I’m settled, I usually check my e-mail, Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone’s posting material that’s interesting and/or pertinent to the day’s writing. If not, I start researching. After opening 10-20 pages in separate tabs, the writing begins. The first draft usually gets trashed or overhauled. The second is bearable, and the third usually gets posted.

It might seem silly to spend so much time on each piece, but I’m a perfectionist. This set of tendencies also motivates me to give even more time and focus than my personal posts. As a freelancer, each story/article/post that carries my name also impacts my reputation. No pressure, right?

Wrong. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that mediocre writing was equivalent to failure. After some time, it became ingrained. Since then, writing has been fun, but it’s also riddled with anxiety. This feeling gets worse if I cut a deadline too close or skip a few days. My anxiety level is also directly proportional to the size of the assignment — if it’s a short piece for my blog, I’m fine. For my first two mentalfloss.com pieces, each inspired a fear that’s almost a paralytic. The results have been awesome, but that part of the process isn’t fun.

Working through this emotional block can be a challenge to any writer. For me, breaking these tasks into manageable chunks like transcription, research and writing makes them less daunting. On any day where I’m feeling off I can knock out one or two of the preliminary steps. After a few hours or days working like this, each article is broken down into its components and outlined. At this point, I’m raring to do anything other than grunt work and usually knock the actual writing out quickly.

My process might not be the healthiest, but it’s mine and it usually works. Allowing myself the time to go through these steps and create new writing is especially important during this month’s Blog Like Crazy challenge. After scheduling out my exercise for the next month, I’m looking forward to seeing how a new balance impacts my blog and writing career.

Have a different process? Please share it in the comments!

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Why I blog

For the past year, I’ve blogged to clear out my head. Cataloging my thoughts and organizing them into an ever-evolving portfolio has landed me a couple new writing gigs and has put me in contact with some of the most interesting people I know. It constantly challenges me to interact with words and other writers, which always expands my world.

All of these things have been surprising. I resisted starting a website or blog for three years because I didn’t want to be obligated to create content that might delve into my personal life. For this sometimes introvert, the idea of writing about my life was terrifying. Though I absolutely adored seeing my name in print, I could avoid including any personal details in these articles. Sharing them with my social networks gave me joy, and it was almost enough.

Starting to blog made it easier to form or re-form personal connections with others online. Sharing blog posts on social media has started conversations with old connections I’d been meaning to contact, and has proved valuable in freelancing as well.

It’s also changed how I write. Nowadays, I only commit to writing for a few carefully chosen unpaid outlets. Each has been selected or recommended to break into new markets, advertise my services or to follow my passion. These pieces receive the same care and scrutiny as their paid counterparts, but they can be a drain on time and energy if they become the majority of your work.*

Despite my work schedule, blogging remains a way for me to keep up with my friends and family even when our schedules overlap so much. For me, it’s also become an exercise in commitment and punctuality. It’s made me more aware of deadlines and my own boundaries, and more appreciative of times I can disconnect.

More importantly, it’s given me a sense of the value of my own time. I’ve taken that for granted in the past, and have exhausted myself. Since that point, I’ve put a premium on my time, and if an activity or assignment doesn’t meet that threshold, I don’t accept it. In conjunction with a standard for spending time with friends and loved ones, this system has done a lot of good for my sanity.  Time can’t be recuperated, and I’m going to spend mine as wisely as possible.

*And you’re not building your portfolio. In that case, building a library of high quality clips can be more important than pay.

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How to find content writers

searchWhen your company is expanding into a new market or trying to establish itself as an expert source for information, setting up a blog (or blogs) can be the fastest way to do so. Starting a blog also creates the need for quality content. In the STEM fields especially, knowledgeable writers with accessible style can be difficult to find. That said, knowing where to look can be half the battle.

  • Ask your friends and colleagues. Here in Birmingham, it’s hard to walk more than ten feet without tripping over a writer. Chances are that one of the people in your network knows at least one person with the desired expertise. If not, they might know someone who could learn it quickly.
  • Seek out talent in house. Does one of your employees run a top notch blog? If so, would they be interested in a modified set of responsibilities? It’s a win-win; you get to recognize your employees’ abilities and they get rewarded for going above and beyond.
  • Find blogs you like in your field. Search them out on Google or look through trade articles. Even if they’re not local, they might be able to produce quality content at an affordable rate. It never hurts to ask.
  • Look through freelancers’ portfolios. Sites like Contently, Pressfolio and Writerfolio offer solid samples of writers’ work. Many freelancers also host portfolios of published work on their websites. These tools can give you a solid sense of a writer’s ability to mould her writing style with a publication’s.
  • Search social media profiles. Searching keywords like “freelance writer” on Twitter or LinkedIn can yield an abundance of professional writers. Chances are that one or more of them will fit both your budget and your vision for content creation.

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