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“The Local Wild”: Exploring Nature & Writing About It.

I’d like to share an exciting development (at least for me): I’ve been writing a bi-monthly column for my local paper since late June called “The Local Wild” that focuses on educating the community about the wonders that abound in the local ecosystem.

I’ll be sharing each of those columns here on WordPress, starting with the first one that was published June 20. The paper doesn’t have the headline room to print the titles I give each column, but I’ll be using them on this page to help you (and me) identify the topic at hand.

Since moving to rural Minnesota in 2014, I’ve fallen in love with the diversity of the ecosystem here. For some reason it’s many times more interesting than that in my homeland of Southern California; perhaps it’s just because it’s new to me? Who knows.

All that matters is that I’ve had a great time writing these articles and I feel so grateful that the local editor has agreed to both print my column and allow me permission to also share the column on my own page.

In closing, I hope you enjoy reading and learning about my local wild as much as I enjoy sharing with you what this Minnesota implant has learned.

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Read the first of “The Local Wild” here.

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The Local Wild: Weather According to the Woolly Bear.

Originally published in the Cannon Falls Beacon on September 13, 2018.

As the cool autumn weather eases us into another winter the woolly bear caterpillars are out and about, inching across many a road in search of spots to hibernate the winter away. These fuzzy little creatures are more interesting than one might think, with a biology that makes them a local wild marvel and a history that offers them up as any old school outdoorsman’s winter preparation guide.

all-black-wooly-bear-worm_Jessica-Woken_Aug2018

An all-black woolly bear (Isabella Tiger moth) caterpillar creeps across a sidewalk. Photo: Jessica Woken

The banded woolly bear caterpillar is typically identified by the band of reddish-brown around its middle sandwiched by a black head and tail. This larval insect will emerge in the spring as the abundant and unimpressive Isabella tiger moth, that fuzzy, bland orange moth fluttering around springtime porch lights in almost annoying numbers. But, as unimpressive as the bug may seem, this caterpillar actually creates its own “antifreeze” (glycerol) within its body chemistry, enabling it to survive frigid subzero temperatures and even, if it so happens, a winter encased in ice! In addition, instead of spinning a cocoon made solely of silk like other species of caterpillar do, woolly bear cocoons are made largely using their own fur. Little fuzzy marvels, indeed!

yellow-wooly-bear-caterpillar_jessica-woken_aug2018.jpg

A white woolly bear (Virginia Tiger moth) caterpillar munches on a leaf outside Cannon Falls Mayo Clinic, a cute but daunting predictor of heavy snows to come. Photo: Jessica Woken

Each year I seek out the road-crossing woolly bears with anticipation. Not only are their first appearances a clear sign my favorite season (autumn) is fast approaching, but folklore says the size of the woolly bear’s band is a good predictor of the upcoming winter: more brown means a milder season, more black means a harder one. Some even claim that spotting pale yellow or white woolies indicate heavy snow and blizzard conditions lie ahead.

In light of that, my personal sightings this season have caused me some anxiety. First, I found an all-black woolly; days later, an all-white one. What does this combination mean in folklore land? A very hard, long winter, with heavier than average snowfall. Oy vey.

According to science, however, the bands of the woolly bear caterpillar have little to do with future weather and more to do with temperatures when they hatched and how old the caterpillars are. Woolly bear coats get more brown with each molting or shedding, which can happen up to six times before the insect reaches its final larval stage. Also, white or pale-yellow woolly caterpillars are technically an entirely different species from the banded variety: these will transform into the Virginia tiger moth, basically an all-white version of the rust-orange Isabella.

Hard-core believers in the woolly bears’ abilities claim the caterpillars can predict winter weather to a stunning 80% accuracy. Interestingly enough, both The Old Farmer’s Almanac and The Farmers’ Almanac tout that they, too, achieve 80% accuracy. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts that winter 2018-2019 will be milder than usual, with less snow than average. Their rival publication, The Farmers’ Almanac, is on the woolly bears’ side: They claim a harder, snowier winter is on the horizon.

Who can we trust? Old Farmer’s, Farmers’, or woolly bear wisdom? It won’t be until we spot the pileated woodpeckers and hungry robins (the avian signs of springtime) that we’ll be able to say for sure who will have predicted correctly.

Author’s Note: Look out for other fuzzy caterpillar varieties out and about right now in the local wild, including American dagger and white-marked Tussock caterpillars. But beware! Individuals with sensitive skin can acquire itchy, burning rashes from the stinging hairs of those furry guys. Sometimes it’s best to look and not touch our local wild friends.

Left: An American dagger moth caterpillar held hostage on a red Solo cup. Right: A white-marked Tussock moth caterpillar with its signature red head and row of thick, stinging tufts. Photo: Jessica Woken

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No Longer “Just Writing”: Why Mountain Owl is Now “Creative Services”

When Mountain Owl Ink was in its infancy I was bound and determined not to make it a one-stop shop of bookish services. I cringed at the idea of offering that kind of general, overlapping service; I felt that providing services other than writing would water down my writing work and dilute my skill set.

Even so, potential clients would ask me, “Can you do layout and design?” No. “Can you help me publish?” No. “What do you do?” My answer: “I write. I edit. I don’t want to muddle that in publishing, drawing, layout, graphics, blah, blah, blah.”

“I just want to write. That’s it.”

My, how my perspective has changed!

Bunny is frustrated with Phil and Mieux's recent, um, "activity."

Gaining Perspective. Aug 23, 2017.

Mountain Owl Ink has transformed over the past five years, especially since adopting one new motto per year for the last three years to keep us on our toes: 2016’s “Just Say Yes” (no associated blog post–the motto was quite unofficial back then!); 2017’s “See Farther”; and 2018’s “Baby Steps”), I’ve come to realize one very critical detail about writing that I had absolutely wrong when I first started out in 2013:

Writing isn’t just about writing.

It’s widely understood that communication is about 80% body language and only about 20% the words we use. (Of course communication is much more complex than that, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll stick with the 80/20 rule!)

Body language (the 80%) is the visible: what we can see, feel, and touch. Speech is the invisible: those things spoken, the audible words we hear but cannot touch and the feelings elicited by those words.

The experience of reading is much the same.

In the same way a conversation has a speaker and a listener, so the act of reading has two participants: The writer and the reader.

Let me break it down for you:

The Reader’s Reading Experience

Everyone–with the exception of the dyslexic–hears a voice in their head when they read silently. It’s commonly called an “inner voice”, but the act of silent reading actually activates the muscles of the vocal cords, lips, throat, and mouth to move (if only minutely). In the scientific world, this is called subvocalization.

hand-person-girl-woman-photography-pattern-1215168-pxhere.comSubvocalization is reading’s body language response: The physical reaction our bodies make to words received via the page. The invisible part of the communication is the “inner voice” itself: that strangely audible yet inaudible voice that can’t be touched but can definitely be heard and experienced.

 

Subvocalization is reading’s body language response: The physical reaction our bodies make to words received via the page.

The Writer’s Communication: The 80/20 Difference

Obviously the writer’s actual words–their choice of words and the way in which they order them to create the voice of their book–make a difference to the reader’s response. The novice writer’s base assumption is that correct word choice and order is all that’s required to cause the reader to respond positively to their message.

That’s simply NOT true. Why? Because reading is so much more than words!

Just as 80% of communication is through body language, so 80% of the reading experience is the physical nature in which the words themselves are displayed.

If an author assumes that being a good writer is 100% about word choice and order, they’re 100% wrong! They’re completely missing out on the physical aspect that comes with the reader’s experience. In other words, the author is assuming that all communication is verbal, that none of it is body language. How tragic!

Let’s try it this way:

A Loving Example

Consider these three words: “I love you.” On a computer screen and in an unassuming font, perhaps they “sound” kind to you. There is no verbal inflection you can hear by reading them, no hints as to their source or implication.

But what if I typed them in bold, in bright red, and centered the words on a single line? Now read it:

I LOVE YOU.

Does it “sound” different now? Louder, more forceful, more certain and confident? How does it feel? Different? More intense? Maybe seeing it this way makes you happier; maybe it makes you uneasy. Whatever it does, it likely has a different effect on you from the first time I wrote it. And how about this way:

i love you.

Does that read like a gentle and warm whisper in the ear? A sweet nothing? Adding an ellipsis changes it even more:

i… love you.

Now what? Does it sound hesitant, quiet, shy, maybe even a little embarrassed? How about this:

I love you.

Maybe, written this way, you’re left confused. Hurt. Why say “I love you” only to cross it out? you may wonder.

From start to finish, the three words stayed the same. I didn’t even change the font. But the physical differences in their layout and design–color, page and line placement, emphasis (i.e. bold, italic)–help to demonstrate the power and importance of the writer’s “body language”.

If subvocalization is the reader’s (the listener’s) physical response, what is the writer’s (or speaker’s) physical communication device?

Simply put: the layout and design of the book itself.

Why Mountain Owl Now Goes Beyond “Just Writing”

MountainOwlInk_coloronyellowbackgroundWith this concept in mind, I couldn’t well leave the layout and design of books up to someone else. If I was working to help authors communicate to their readers with an experience in reading, I had to also offer to involve myself in the other 80% of the work.

That’s why we no longer describe ourselves as offering “writing services” as we did from 2013 through last year.

Mountain Owl Ink is now in the business of offering “creative services”.

Yes, of course we still (gladly!) offer writing, editing, and proofreading. But alongside those things Mountain Owl Ink, LLC also performs these important–nay, critical–tasks that allow writers and authors to communicate at their best:

  • Complete, print-ready book layout & design (on Adobe InDesign)
    • for both print and eBooks
  • Graphics assistance
    • Direct Illustration
    • Digital Graphics Creation
  • Amazon Kindle and Amazon KDP publication assistance
  • Writer’s Coaching
  • Complete Manuscript Reviews
  • Assistance with creation of Author Websites and Sales & Marketing Materials

Just as being an actor isn’t only about regurgitating lines of script but about conveying the full breadth of humanity through a performance deep in body language to an audience eager to hear (and see) a tale be told, being an author isn’t only about putting the right words on a page: It’s about lending a full human experience to your readers, your audience, through the language of visual design and aesthetic.

Being an author is about lending a full human experience to readers through the language of visual design and aesthetic.


Have a creative project on your mind? Contact Mountain Owl Ink today. We offer a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION to let you know if and how we can help.

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It’s On: MOI Gets Credit on Copyright Page

Copyright pages are something most readers pass over immediately. But, if you’re an editor, writer, or publisher, you likely find this page that’s hidden between cover and main content and full of legal information as fascinating as I do.

As part of See Farther (MOI’s business motto for 2017) and 2018’s Baby Year concept, I creatively contracted with my latest client, real estate agent Rich Cordaro of Pennsylvania, to help move MOI forward and check off one of my writing bucket list items: having my name printed on a copyright page.

Of course, the ideal and perfect situation would be for the copyright page to be all about ME: me as the author, me as the editor, me as the illustrator, et cetera. To have my name on the copyright page of a book that is truly and completely all my own!? Ahhh… The dream!

But let’s get real. We’re working in baby steps, remember? So as part of the contract with Rich I offered a reduced rate in exchange for copyright credits on his book, The Essential Guide to Selling Your Home. I’m pretty strict when it comes to setting my rates–after all, I worked long and hard to earn the experience that enable me to justify the rates I charge!–but you have to consider that charging fees is not all about what you can get in money, but also about what you can get in benefits.

The Benefit of Barter

Not to beat a dead horse, but bartering really isn’t a dead concept! Some people even took bartering virtual and it’s a big hit (in larger, urban areas, that is).

Even though the typical method of payment nowadays is cash, there are still many businesses (and even governments!) that will exchange services for product, service for service, product for product, et cetera. It’s a great way to get goods and services that you otherwise couldn’t afford, or non-monetary and immaterial benefits that can’t be directly valued (like a copyright page credit).

This latest project with Rich is a perfect example of mutual benefit from a strategic barter. Sure, I could have charged my usual rate and made more money, but that wouldn’t have accomplished anything more for me in the long run. By negotiating a lower rate for copyright page credits, both parties got the best deal: Rich saved money and I got to check a box on my bucket list!

Richard Cordaro_Essential Guide to Selling Your Home

Rich Cordaro and I worked out a contract where I would be mentioned on the copyright page of his book in exchange for a reduced editing fee.

About Rich’s Book: A Well-Thought Real Estate Guide

Rich and I found each other via Upwork and I’m so glad we did! Working on this book with him was such a joy and it’s rare to have a client as open, flexible, understanding, and focused as Rich Cordaro.

He wanted his book to be easy and fun while still making sure readers would be able to understand and apply his real estate advice. Could I do that, he asked? Of course I could!

We brainstormed ideas during the first couple months. Once those were solidified we worked together to…

  • blend graphic illustrations into the text;
  • create worksheets;
  • develop an Index and Glossary of Terms; and
  • offer the book in both print and electronic versions.

Not only was Rich a pleasure to work with, but I was also able to gain some really valuable experience during the project, like…

  • Learning more about the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP) requirements and process;
  • Learned about the 99Designs process;
  • Get hours logged using Adobe InDesign as a publishing layout tool; and
  • Get [more] hours logged for Adobe Photoshop (to turn hand-sketched images into digital graphics).

Good experience is hard to put a price tag on. Even though Rich has expressed his joy with the project’s end result to me more than once, I can’t help but feel like I got the better end of the deal on this one.

And THAT’S the proof of a great barter: When both parties feel like they got the better piece of the pie!


If you’re in the market for an easy how-to real estate selling guide, please pick up a copy of Rich’s book ($9.99 paperback, $3.99 Kindle). He really lays out his strategic–and proven!–selling methodology in an easy-to-read fashion (i.e. no confusing lingo!); the worksheets contained within the text can be immensely useful; and the graphics we put inside the text make it a fun and quick read. (And, no, I don’t get any portion of royalties. I just think it’s a great book!)

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Can Talk, Can’t Write: Why Voice Recognition Software Doesn’t Make for Good Authorship

I frequent a chiropractor who knows I type a lot. She has asked me numerous times if I have purchased any voice recognition software (VRS) — like Dragon — to help give my hands, arms, and everything about my desk-sitting posture a break during long(er) shifts at the keyboard.
As of yet, I have not invested in such software.

I know my chiropractor uses VRS regularly: While waiting in the exam room, I can hear her in her office talking (albeit muffled) to her PC, giving it medical notes and telling it about her last patient. I’m certain she doesn’t do much typing, which is good considering she needs her hands for healing and shouldn’t subject them to the dangers of carpal tunnel syndrome, but VRS doesn’t work for someone like me who writes as a profession.

Why not?

Speaker’s Brain vs Writer’s Brain

First, speaking and writing are completely different in that we use different words, phrases, pauses, et cetera for each, so how we talk and how we write (or, conversely, read) are not nearly the same thing. The reason is because the parts of the brain that handle speech and writing work independently from one another. Perhaps this is why some people have such difficulty reading out loud: They have yet to teach their brains how to bridge the talking-writing/reading gap.

Granted, some people speak well. I’m not one of those. I know if I really focus and pull myself together I can make a pretty good speech without inundating it with a bunch of um’s and awkward silences, but speaking is just not where my strength lies.

My strength is in my ability to write well, which comes in handy for those clients of mine who have trouble putting together a written sentence that doesn’t read like an automaton typed it out.

Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you can write.

Second, VRS marketers have convinced the general populace that if they can talk, they can write. HA! If only that were true!

Most people understand that talking and writing require different skillsets and talents. Unfortunately, there are those who really do believe they are (or can be) great writers because they can talk. They feel VRS is their savior!

‘Why hire a ghostwriter,’ they say, ‘if I can just talk into my computer and it writes everything I say for me?’ This is especially true for professional public speakers: I’ve had conversation with a number of them who feel personally attacked when I criticize their writing, as if I were saying they’re terrible speakers as well!

They may be upset with me for correcting their writing, but I know that what they’re really having trouble understanding is that people don’t talk the way they write.

Human speech is riddled with vocal inflections, fillers (e.g. um’s, uh’s), and slang that just has no place in good writing. In bad writing? Sure. In Facebook posts and texts? Why not.

But would anyone take seriously a book full of slang, misused and misspelled words, um’s, and awkward phrases? I doubt it.

Bottom line: Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you can write.

VRS: A good tool

VRS has its place in the writing world. It’s a great tool for creating rough drafts; for getting down ideas if you can’t type quickly; or for train-of-thought writing. I’ve used Windows Voice Recognition software occasionally when my carpal tunnel is acting up. It’s a good tool, but it ends there. Rarely does VRS result in a draft that doesn’t require heavy-handed editing.

Having a good tool at your disposal does not replace the need for good engineering to back up a good product, and writing is just that: the engineering of stories.

When a new client sends me a manuscript, I can usually tell by the end of the first paragraph if they used VRS to draft the entire thing because the writing is so bad. I have no problem with editing those manuscripts — it’s my job, after all! — but sometimes my clients are left in shock when I send them a document with so many markups on it that it looks like my red pen had a sneezing fit.

Fine tuning the product

If you’re the type of person who prefers to talk over type, that’s great. Nothing wrong with that. However, don’t disregard the importance of having that work edited by someone who has a knack for writing. That “someone” doesn’t necessarily need to be a professional you hire and pay (although a second set of eyes on a manuscript never hurt). You can certainly edit your work yourself.

Before you publish, consider these tips on how to edit if you rely on VRS for the initial draft:

1. Read your work out loud.

Reading what you’ve said back to yourself can reveal many a writing hiccup. Sometimes VRS uses “our” instead of “are”, “there” instead of “their”, or just mishears what we say altogether.

Common mistakes are easily discovered and rectified by reading the draft or manuscript out loud to yourself.

2. Print out your work onto paper to read it.

Our brains process things differently on a screen than on a piece of paper. Studies show that we absorb information differently (that is, better) when we read from paper than off a screen.

Print your draft as a hardcopy and read it, away from screens and distractions. I like to read drafts in bed or while laying on the couch (that is, away from my desk and PC), because then my mind is in a place where I can review it as if I were a regular reader, not an editor or writer.

3. Use a ruler or other straight edge to read each line independently.

Remember how we learned to read, line by line, in elementary school? There’s a reason children learn to read that way: Blocking out the next line removes the distraction and anticipation of what words are to come, improving our focus on the words were reading at the moment.

This is an editor’s trick that can reveal errors you might otherwise be blind to. 0ur brains tend to fi1l in gaps or “autocorrect” mistakes our eyes see because it knows what things should look like, even if in reality they are completely different.

For instance, did you notice those errors in the last paragraph? There’s a zero instead of an O in “our” and a 1 in place of an L in “fill”. If you’re an editor and your eyes are trained to find things like that, you probably saw them. Otherwise, you likely glazed right over without a second thought.

Breaking up paragraphs into independent lines can help put a stop to your brain’s autocorrect function, making errors pop out.

Again, VRS can be of great help for authors of all types, even ones with a preference for typing like me. The good thing is that the accuracy of those programs continues to improve as tech gets better. However, I doubt any computer program will ever be able to replace the need for editors because writing is an art and one that can’t be substituted with a machine.

I’m hoping to soon acquire VRS to help me draft some of my longer projects — my carpal tunnel would certainly thank me, and my chiropractor could then stop worrying about my slouchy, computer posture.


Do you use voice recognition software? If so, which one and what do you think of it?

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Consequences Of: Precisely Why We (Freelancers) Write Contracts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Contracts are important to your business.

Start With A Contract…

Every job — EVERY. JOB. — needs to start with a carefully detailed agreement between you and your potential client. That is: A contract.

Ideally, you’ll have a basic contract prepped beforehand so you don’t go through the trouble of having to write one from scratch (they take longer to draft than you’d think). From this basic form, you should leave blanks to fill in specific information regarding the particular project at hand. For example, duration/timeline, fees, name of the project, what you’ll do, and what you won’t do as the hired freelancer.

It’s critical that expectations for payment and related consequences for failure to pay are included in the verbiage.

I’ve mentioned before two ways you can protect yourself from non-payment: an arbitration clause in the contract itself and refusing to send the completed product to the client until balance due is received in full.

However, I have yet to address including accrued interest.

An Interest in Interest

Charging interest on fees unpaid is just a way of incentivizing prompt payment. Don’t get crazy here. This isn’t an opportunity for you to tack on an extra 25% to your bill and make money off of nothing but thumb twiddling.

Be reasonable and keep the interest rate to single digits, enough of a charge to be irritating but not enough to deter a client from wanting to work with you in the first place.

Also, consider the term: Are you adding the interest after a month, two months, three months? For me, I feel a month is more than enough time for a client to either pay up or get back to me either with requests for changes to the final product. So, once the bill hits its one month unpaid mark, I tack on the agreed upon interest and resend the invoice, making sure the client knows that they agreed to this increase at the start of the job (reference or quote the clause of the contract, if possible).

Issue Plenty of Reminders

Nobody likes paying interest, but nobody likes to be surprised with it, even if they agreed to it.

Send reminders for payment frequently after the initial billing to give the client plenty of opportunity to pay up. And, prior to tacking on interest, remind the client what will happen — what they agreed would happen — if they continue to ignore your request for payment.

For example, make this note on the invoice reminder just before adding the interest onto the bill: “The balance due will increase to $xyz after mm/dd/yyyy due to interest accrued per our contract (Section A, Line B).”

And if they still refuse to pay? Time to whip out the arbitration clause, and be ready to to take it seriously.

…End With A Contract.

Luckily I haven’t had to add interest onto my invoices except once. But I’ve always protected myself with the interest clause up front — just as I have with the arbitration clause and other contract terms — just in case.

Sadly, when unsavory clauses of contracts have to be utilized, that usually means the freelancer-client relationship is ending permanently. It’s like the nasty breakup of the freelance writing world.

You ain’t getting back together. Ever.

However, instead of mourning the loss of a client, remind yourself that it’s best to end it with this person anyway. Who wants to work for someone they have to beg for payment? Nah. Not me! No thanks!

There are plenty of jobs out there with clients who are more than happy to pay, and pay promptly, so don’t fret over losing a bad client. #Letthemgo.

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Baby Steps: Starting Out Anew

In January, I declared a new motto for Mountain Owl Ink in 2017: See Farther. You probably don’t know that when I created that motto I had no idea I’d give birth to my first child in a few short months. And, how appropriate, because I’ve come to realize there is little that makes you see farther into the future more than having a child.

Then, on November 17, just over a month after my son was born, I had recuperated from childbirth and gathered enough of myself together to reflect upon 2018, the year I’ve come to call The Baby Year. And, like my 2017 motto, I’ve just come to realize that the name takes on a double meaning:

Not only is 2018 the first full year of enjoying my literal baby, but it’s also a time for me, in my “baby” stage as a new mother, to reevaluate myself and make changes. It’s a time for Mountain Owl Ink, in light of those changes, to restart itself in infancy and move forward in baby steps.

Taking Baby Steps

When my son takes his first steps, it will be something new. I’ll be amazed at how he’s developing. I’ll be happy and proud and slightly afraid as I am faced with the reality that he’ll forevermore be increasingly mobile.

At the same time, to him his first steps may not be much of a shocker. He would have been working toward that goal for a while, his whole life, in fact. After all, before he stepped out, he’d have been working on looking around, at rolling over, at sitting up, at standing, all these things would have happened before he took that first step out.

So, while I, the outsider, may be shocked at the development, to my son it’ll be something he’d been (more or less) planning on and pursuing for some time. It will be exciting, I’m sure, but it won’t be a surprise.

His developmental leap, from my perspective, will be just another “baby step” for him.

What Baby Steps Mean

In this light, baby steps are those small leaps forward that we take that go largely unnoticed by the outside world. They can be internal (emotional, mental, or spiritual changes within us) or they can be external (physical changes or material achievements, like a diploma or accolade), just as long as they bring us closer to a preconceived goal.

As an example, when I decided to wake up every morning and get dressed as if I were going to an office (even though I worked from home), that was a mental change I made even though it materialized as me wearing different clothes. But, did it matter how I dressed to the outside world? No. Absolutely not. Nobody knew that I was in office wear while puttering around my house. Did anyone notice I wore heels while I did laundry or vacuumed? No! But I certainly did. That was an attitude change — an internal baby step — that brought me closer to a preconceived goal (that is, taking my business seriously and not just as a hobby).

Baby steps mean you’re working toward improvement, whatever “improvement” means for you. And, when you can track those steps, you’re better able to see how far you’ve come — and how much farther you have to go — to reach a goal you’ve set for yourself.

But that brings up the question…

Can baby steps backtrack?

Absolutely.

When my son starts walking, he’ll undoubtedly fall down. He may just bump down onto his heftily padded rear end (thank you, fluffy cloth diapers!) or he may topple forward and hit his head on the floor.

After such disappointment (and pain), he may not think that walking is as great as it’s hacked up to be. Nobody really wants to face plant on the floor. Nobody wants to be disappointed after putting in so much work and effort.

But he WILL keep trying, because that’s what babies do. They don’t obsess about what happened last time; that’s a grown up thing. Babies just keep on keeping on.

And that’s what babies can teach us: To stop obsessing about “last time” and just keep on. Sure, we’ll face road blocks, disappointments, backtracking, bumps, pain… but those are ways to learn to baby step better, not reasons to avoid baby stepping at all!

Let’s Learn from Babies

So, 2018 will be MOI’s Baby Year. I’ll be starting over with a fresh perspective about what I want from me, about what’s important to me and how I might get there (a little of this I already shared in my last post).

As a result, MOI will be shifting gears. I already know that that’ll involve working more on my own projects and less on being hired out to work on other people’s publishing dreams.

I also know that Le Mieux will be taking a temporary pause while I create a clearer path for it’s development (can you say website and swag?) and movement forward. That’s a sad thing to admit, but sometimes we need to backtrack in order to baby step forward. Nobody knows this better than writers, who sometimes have to face the difficult task of tossing a few pages in order to change the story and make the whole of the book better.

More to come… See you in the new year!


Is 2018 YOUR baby year? If so, what changes do you foresee making for yourself, your business, etc.?
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2018: The Baby Year

They say a baby changes everything. Well, I’d say a baby changes most things.

We’re entering the holiday season and that means holiday music. Right now, I’m thinking of Faith Hill’s “A Baby Changes Everything.” Not only because I really enjoyed the film that featured this song (“The Nativity Story”), and not only because I like Faith Hill (pre-2010), but because one month ago I had my own baby boy. And, man, has he changed a LOT of things!

(Sharing this video just because I can. Boo-yah.)

I say “a lot” and not “everything” because, at my core, I’m still the same person. The Jessi who was there pre-baby still exists. I still like to write, illustrate, create. Though my son is pretty much the cutest and most precious thing ever (EVER), I don’t want people to forget me in the midst of cooing and cuddling with my wee little babe.

But my interests have taken a slight re-direction. I want to write, but now my genre lies elsewhere. Things I used to care about matter less (or not at all), and things I hadn’t even considered before matter much, much more.

So in quiet[er] moments, while Luke is napping, I think, “Yeah, my baby has changed a lot, but I still want to write, and I want to write about things I’m passionate about. But what am I passionate about now?”

Well, I’ll tell you what I’m passionate about now: pregnancy, birth, the parental struggle, and the raising of babes in this crazy, hectic, going-too-fast kind of world.

Passions Change. We Don’t.

9b93ee82b6591583d7921026f1ee747a--real-estate-quotes-philosophical-quotesWe are not the things that interest us. Interests are merely tastes, and they change as we grow and adapt to the changes that happen to us over time.

As a kid, even in elementary school, I was mesmerized by the conception and birth process. How could a baby be made… from nothing? Freakin’ magic! I would (shamefully) hide in corners of my school and public libraries flipping through books about childbirth.

This past year, the experience of pregnancy not only engulfed my life but fascinated me on a deep intellectual level. Finally I was justified in researching everything there was to know about it without feeling awkward or guilty. I’d always had this curiosity, sure, but the experience itself literally changed me, mentally and physically.

As an inquisitive person, I discovered certain aspects of pregnancy to be misunderstood and miscommunicated. As a writer, I developed a journalistic photo book concept (with the creative and jestful help of my midwife) that I hope to bring to fruition in 2018.

As a parent, I’ve unexpectedly had to adjust my ways of thinking about the world. My direction and attention as a writer has not gotten less ambitious, the execution of my ambitions has not become less complex, but the projects themselves (at least the end products) have become simpler.

A series of science fiction novels has transformed into a series of children’s books.

A long-winded, autobiographical piece has evolved into the photojournalism book mentioned above.

In short: The simple has become more intriguing. I try now to see my work through the eyes of my little boy so I can connect with him.

And isn’t connection with one another — whether from parent to child, adult to adult, friend to friend, etc — what this life is all about?

And that’s why 2018 will be different. It is the Baby Year, the year that my work’s direction will take a slight detour into the simple, the pure… the baby. ❤


Jessi Woken proud mommy to Luke, as well as the owner and writer of Mountain Owl Ink, LLC.
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“Sorry, Not Sorry”: Don’t Apologize For Clients’ Oversights

There’s no doubt that, no matter how upfront you are, at one point or another you’ll end up  with a client who just doesn’t return the favor.

I don’t mean clients who are outright rude, inconsiderate, or cheap. Those types are easy to spot and stay away from (or handle appropriately). I mean those clients who are nice but who communicate in such a way as to leave a little lingering guilt in their wake for whatever and possibly any reason.

They’re like that relative who says they love you as you are but somehow have a way of criticizing you vaguely enough to make you question yourself.

I’ve had the displeasure of working with more than one of these types and, while I’ve never had problems with them paying their invoices (they’re too “nice” not to), I usually have to bite my tongue when emailing or talking with them because they’ve, knowingly or not, insulted me or my work.

This post focused on getting paid what’s rightfully yours. Now, I want to tell you about a type client species called…

The Reluctant Acceptor

The Reluctant Acceptor is the client who will accept the work and pay what you’ve asked, but will leave you feeling like you still did a substandard job and didn’t fully, you know, deserve their money.

But, you know: They’re so nice they’ll pay you anyway. Maybe.

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Consider this scenario:

You work on a project that lasts several weeks. Like the responsible freelancer you are, you provide your client regular updates at the end of every week to let them know where the project stands. With this update you include not only a time sheet (that shows when and how long you worked, what you worked on during that time, and how much the invoice has currently racked up to, even though it may not be payable immediately) but also includes a draft of what you’ve so far written.

Look at you, being all professionally transparent! How considerate!

Basically, you’re doing everything you can to let the client know what’s happening and what the current bill looks like.

It’s not up to you to force the client to review these updates. Sure, you HOPE they will, but if they decide not to that’s their choice. Regardless, you’ve made your best effort to keep them informed and move forward with the work, as planned.

Then comes time to submit the final product and the final invoice, which is now due for payment. You send the invoice and shortly thereafter the client emails, shocked that the amount due is so much. On top of that, they’re less than satisfied with the product!

From Anger to Actuality

Receiving an email from a client who hasn’t kept themselves informed and essentially blames you for their shock and dismay can be infuriating. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself screaming profanities — or at least thinking them, if you’re in public — at your computer screen. You’ll wrestle with the temptation to write immediately to explain how their laziness is to blame, not your lack of effort.

My advice? Don’t.

Take a few breaths — or a few hours — and let your anger die down. Responding with emotion isn’t going to get you anywhere (at least not anywhere good). Let that anger dissipate into actuality — when you can bring yourself to rationalize and realize “Hey. This is the situation. I made every effort to keep them up-to-date. It’s not my fault and if the client’s going to be upset about it, they’ll have to deal with that” — and then respond to their email with your usual professionalism.

Don’t let the client’s business immaturity infect your work. You’ve been responsible and mature up until this point and there’s no reason to let yourself slip now. Reacting out of emotion can land you in professional hot water, risking not only having the client refuse to pay the invoice but also risking them mouthing off about your sub-par work, high prices, and bad attitude to everyone they know.

Remember:

First impressions are great, but its really the final impressions that stick.

Invoice aside, there’s a chance this client also insults the work you’ve done. (This is especially infuriating if they’re a repeat client who knew what kind of work you produce in the first place.) Obviously they could have guided you in the right direction or called it quits early on, but that would have depended on them doing their part. That is, reviewing the updates you offered in the first place.

Again, it’s the client’s laziness at fault, not your lack of effort.

Reluctant Acceptors use guilt throwing as a way to get out of paying for something they know they should rightfully pay for, like your time and hard work. They make weak excuses and quietly whine to get you to back down, to admit this is your fault… to get them out of their own jam.

But, you know what? It’s NOT. YOUR. FAULT.

You did your part. You sent the updates. Remained available for correction or redirection. Responded promptly to their concerns and questions. Made what you were doing and how you were doing it very, very clear. Short of finding them in person and shoving a printed copy of your work in their face for them to review while you stood over them like a vulture, there was nothing more you could or should have done to keep them updated on their own project.

The big takeaway here?

Never apologize for your clients’ oversights.

Some client complaints ought to be recognized for what they are: guilty admissions of their own oversight and laziness!

In my experience, these clients easily give in and pay their bill after a single firm and professional email from you stating, if anything else, that you’re sorry they are dissatisfied with the product/invoice but that you gave them ample opportunity and time to address those issues from the beginning onward.

cat-laughing

“You think this is MY fault? LoL!”

(NOTE: Be careful how you respond. Being empathetic about the client’s feelings — however misdirected they are — is not the same as saying you’re sorry you’re billing them or that you’re ashamed of the work you’ve done. For those two things you should not be sorry! If you are, you need to seriously reassess your rates and/or your craft.)

You’re not a crisis negotiator or a counselor. You’re a writer. Don’t beg them to pay or change their mind. Don’t ask for an explanation of why they feel the way they do. Don’t try to amend their emotions.

Now is the time for them to grow up and pay up, not discuss the terms of the project or the amount being charged. Those things should have been settled before the project was completed (ideally, before the project was even started).

At the end of the day, you deserve to be paid. If the client wants to argue, refer to the project contract for the verbiage on client updates and payment protocol.

And, by all means, hold the final product “hostage” until you are paid and you can officially close the project. Seriously. If this isn’t part of your contract, it should be. As part of weekly client updates, I don’t offer clean and editable .doc files, nor do I send PDFs that don’t have glaringly obvious and annoying watermarks plastered all over them (because a plain PDF can be uploaded to Kindle and — voila! Ebook!).

In short: Until the client pays you IN FULL, the work you do on their project ISN’T THEIRS, it’s YOURS. To say otherwise is like saying the burrito the guy at Chipotle built to your specs is yours, even if you haven’t paid for it at the register. (Mmm… burritos…)

Once you’re paid, submit to them editable .doc/.docx files, PDFs, unlocked image files, or whatever else they need to do what they want to do. But never beforehand.

Closing statement: Don’t be sorry! And never apologize for your clients’ oversights.


Jessi Woken is owner/operator at Mountain Owl Ink LLC. Read more about her and her company at www.MountainOwlInk.com.
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Asking For Money: Why We’re Afraid To Do It and Why We Shouldn’t Be!

A contact of mine — let’s call her Nancy — mentioned something that happened to her:

A freelancer she’d hired with whom she’d become friends with during the course of a project started sending vague ‘What’s up’ texts.

“It wouldn’t have been awkward,” Nancy said, “if they actually had something to say or share, but it was just text-y small talk. You know, ‘What’re you doing?’ and ‘How’s things?’ We don’t small talk in person. Why would we small talk on text?”

Even though emotions are notoriously difficult to decipher in texts, “I knew something was up. I could just feel it.”

Turns out, she was right.

As a result of some recent life drama she’d completely forgotten to issue payment on the freelancer’s latest invoice. She knew she was the one to blame for the slip and apologized, saying she’d pay them right away — “I was mortified. How could I forget to pay them?” — but the freelancer was also apologetic… for bringing up the subject in the first place!

“That struck me as weird,” Nancy said.

And, I agreed: It is weird. But also, sadly common.

Why Are We Afraid To Ask For OUR Money?

Can you imagine your telephone company apologizing for asking you to pay your bill? Of course not! They’ve provided a service with the expectation that they’ll given money that is, in a way, already theirs.

So why are so many freelancers shy about asking to be paid? Just off the top of my head, maybe they’re worried they…

  • #1: Won’t receive future work from that particular client if they nag for payment.
  • #2: Will be told their work isn’t any good and that’s why they’re not being paid.
  • #3: Have a client who never actually intended to pay.

There may be others, but these three particular fears stand out. However, when broken down, they’re actually pretty pointless. Here’s why.

Worry #1: Fear of No Future Work

Has it ever happened that a client will not offer more work if you nag for payment? YES. However, the keyword here is “nag.”

There is a critical difference between professionally asking for payment (even professionally demanding payment) and nagging about it. The latter involves whining, complaining, pleading, insulting the client, and other annoying dialogue that will only manage to get you blacklisted and not respected (or paid).

If you’re sure you’re being professional and the client is still playing hard to get, consider this:

Do you want the kind of client you have to wrestle money out of at the end of every project? If your answer is “no” (and it should be!), then just get payment ASAP for what you’ve already done and let them go their merry way.

Then there’s this: If your fear of not getting rehired is getting in the way of you asking for payment, then freelancing simply isn’t for you. Sorry, guy.

But, if you’re willing to bravely face the “Pay me” discussion, there are

Ways To Reduce Your Anxiety Over Getting Paid

  • Write a Contract and include an arbitration clause.
  • Write a Contract and include terms for an upfront deposit.
  • Write a Contract and set terms for payment at project milestones, like:
    • Setting up an escrow account in a money handling service like PayPal, or
    • Directly arranging the work through a site like Upwork, where escrow is already a fixture in the system.

I mention WRITE A CONTRACT multiple times because doing business without a contract is just asking for trouble. Contracts are Freelancing 101 and, if you don’t have one handy to present to clients at the start of every job, I strongly encourage you to draft one now.

 

Incorporating details like an arbitration clause, upfront deposit terms, or payment deadline terms can help payments stay on track and on time and leave your worries to more critical matters… like just doing a good job on the project!

Worry #2: “Your work isn’t worth it.”

Let’s consider what “freelancing” means in the first place.

By definition, a freelancer is “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

No commitment to any one employer? It sounds so… freeing, doesn’t it? ::wink:wink:: But that also means that the employer (or client) also has no commitment to YOU other than those terms they’ve agreed on and are legally held to (you know, via your contract).

There are two good reasons to nix this worry in the bud.

First, if payment is dependent on TIME (i.e. $/hour), you should get paid for work done even if the client doesn’t like the end result. This is part of the hourly arrangement: pay is largely independent of product (unless, of course, the product is grossly disastrous, in which case you should let the client keep their money).

Flat fee arrangements are tougher to negotiate, as they more strongly imply a product-dependent payment system (“I’ll pay you for 5 hours spent writing XYZ” vs “I’ll pay you $100 for an article on XYZ.”).

Either way, consider including one or both of the following in your contract(s):

A. Require an upfront deposit (e.g. 30% or 50% of the full fee, or the equivalent of 5 hours of work) before you even begin. This encourages the client to feel vested in you and the project and offers them the opportunity to show they’re serious about holding to their end of the bargain.

B. Use an Escrow service. Arrange escrow through PayPal or set up the job through a writing brokerage, like Guru, Upwork, or Servicescape (though, beware: ServiceScape demands a steep 50% commission!).

The main trouble with using a writing brokerage is that if the client hasn’t used it before they’ll have to set up an account and learn how to use a new platform, which they may not be eager or willing to do. In this way, PayPal is easier because the client doesn’t need an account to deposit funds into a PayPal escrow.

Finally, let’s say the client really did intend to pay you and they are dedicated to the project. What gives? Well, it’s time to ask yourself a hard question:

Is your work worth paying for, or not?

Either you produce a good product or you don’t. Unless the client can point out glaringly obvious reasons why they shouldn’t pay you (e.g. outlandish editing mistakes, blatant spelling errors, or an article that’s off-topic) clients may use the excuse “I don’t like it” to see if you’ll let them off the hook.

Why would they want to get off the hook? Two reasons come to mind:

  1. They changed their mind about the project. Maybe jumped the gun and hired you before thinking it through, or didn’t realize that a writing project is actually a lot of work (for them, lots of reviewing and approving your work). Or…
  2. They didn’t realize how much it would cost and are facing sticker shock. (See “Hard Truth #3” HERE.)

Don’t give in: Neither of these excuses are your fault and you still deserve your money! Be firm about receiving payment, about the amount due, and about your end product, especially if the client had many chances to cancel the job or make changes along the way that would have alleviated the above two problems.

Worry #3: The client never intended to pay.

Unfortunately, this does happen. And it doesn’t feel good because you realize you’ve basically been scammed. In fact, one of my first clients hired me to write a few product descriptions for $10 apiece. After I submitted the work, they fell off the map.

Classy.

Look, some people will do this. Why? Because some people are jerks. And even with safeties in place to protect yourself, something as small as $100 due won’t get you much attention in small claims court or be worth the trouble of hiring an arbitrator. In my case, I wrote it off as a learning experience and a monetary loss on my taxes.

 

At the end of the day, a solid contract with clear terms and expectations from both parties will help alleviate anxiety over all aspects of payment, from initial deposit to milestone payments to final invoice.

Other than that, all you need to do is provide a product worth paying for.


Have you had any experiences with non-payment? Share your stories — and solutions — in the comments.