Rogue Ink

July 25, 2008

The Madness Must Cease

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 10:44 pm

All right, you denizens, you. Let us lay the rumors to rest.

First of all, my death, as Twain said, took place on a raft in the Mississippi. I was secretly shipwrecked on a desert island with Huck and Joe, but we decided to attend our own funeral, so here I am again.

I am not abandoning the blog. I am, however, overworked and underpaid, and trying very hard to pay as much attention to new clients as I need to in order to keep them. I’m also dealing with some personal crises, all of which conspires to leave me, at day’s end, in desperate need of a martini and a couple of harem girls, and (more to the point) in no mood to write.

I am not any of the following: sick, depressed, lost in the woods, worked into a death coma, entertaining Elvis and Bigfoot in my basement, or withholding my wisdom from all of you in order to keep it to myself. Truth be told, I’m not feeling very wise or funny lately, and this makes me not want to blog. Because the number one rule is what, people? Chorus it with me like the crowd at a Guns and Roses concert.

“Don’t be boring.”

That’s right. And there is nothing more boring than bemoaning my inability to write. Thusly the silence.

The Money Talks will continue, I swear, as soon as I get my head on straight. I realize most blogs fall apart at the three month mark, but this is like saying most marriages fall apart at the seven year mark. What it really means is that this is a damned difficult period, and dedicated folks will shove through. Which is what, more or less, I’m doing. Shoving through. You’re just not seeing this bit, because I can only write, “I’m stressed and tired and don’t feel like writing” so many times before I run out of monkey jokes that can be made in relation to that statement.

The website is due up tomorrow. I shall come around and persuade everyone to go say nice things about it. Or not-nice things. Whichever. We have reached a realm in which we can no longer be particular.

Love to you all, and thanks for your concern, truly. I’ll be up and running as soon as I can, I swear.

July 11, 2008

The Money Talks, Day Two: Hourly Rates, Calculation and Confirmation. And Confusion.

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 2:17 am
Tags: , ,

As many people have chronicled, freelancing means you are not only your own boss, you are your own accountant, secretary, marketing director, manager, public relations assistant, customer service representative, and intern. You are also that guy who is totally useless but who is so distinctly socially unnerving that no one questions the reason he is ever issued a paycheck. You are generally that guy when no one else is watching (which is what makes you different from that guy) but still. But you know you have moments when you wake up in the morning all cockeyed and unshowered and wander over to your desk vaguely scratching at your armpit and smiling in a vaguely disturbing way at the dream you sort of half-remember. That guy’s in there.

Assorted Professions Hours

Now, I am not going to calculate the value of those professions’ time. Especially creepy guy, because whatever he makes, it’s too much. Furthermore, if we actually figured out an hourly rate for each of those professions, we would discover something we had suspected all along but refused to say aloud in hopes that we were wrong. But we weren’t wrong, were we? No. For we are Legion. Or something. What was I saying?

Oh, yes. Whatever the combined total of the hourly rate for those professions is, you can’t afford it. That’s right. You can’t afford you. You will never, ever be paid enough. This is the fact of freelancing. Welcome to the party. Your much-needed booze is at the bar, where it’s supposed to be, but you probably can’t afford anything, so it’s good that the pub only serves theoretical internet booze, and not the real stuff, or you’d be sadly staring at a bottle of Glenfiddich about now wondering why at least the boss part of you doesn’t get paid a decent wage.

So let us abandon the battle of paying those professions a reasonable wage. In fact, we shall not pay them a wage at all. We shall instead double the wage we pay ourselves for our actual profession. Because let’s face it, you will never, in all your time as a freelancer, be able to issue an invoice that states someone owes you for accounting that you did for your own business. Although that would be a more honest way to go about it, sadly, that is not the way of the world. Which is why we are the Rogue.

Freelancer Hours

You don’t get paid at all for Assorted Professions hours. That sucks. So how much do you get paid for the Freelancer Hours?

Remember the first day of the Money Talks, where we figured out how much money I had to make daily? It was about $230. We’re going to round that number up to a solid $300 a day. Theoretically, I would work an eight-hour day, which would give me an hourly rate of about $35. Except that’s not at all what I need to make by the hour. Because of the Assorted Professions, who all need to get paid too.

Half your day is going to be taken up with work that is not Freelancer work (we’re going to discuss this more tomorrow, but assume for the moment that I am correct. Go on. It won’t hurt you). Therefore you need to make double your hourly rate every time you do billable Freelance work. Half for the Freelancer, half for the Assorted Professions. I told you they were never going to make anywhere near enough money.

So $300, divided by four hours now, is $75 an hour. Which, as it happens, is in fact my rate.

However – and here’s the kicker – this is actually a bad way to calculate an hourly rate. This is a fantastic way to confirm that your hourly rate is in fact going to work for you, but it’s a lousy way to calculate one. Note: do not calculate your hourly rate off of the money you’d like to make. You will screw yourself, because you can come up with a budget (dinglefrapp, for those of you still with me) that is astronomical and justify just about any hourly rate in the world. Which is lovely, but totally useless when it comes to setting a rate that people will pay.

Although I double-dog dare you to try quoting someone a rate of $1,200 an hour and try to justify it by explaining that your Dinglefrapp Plus demands that hourly rate. Go on. I’ll wait. Meanwhile, the rest of us will calculate an hourly rate the normal way, and confirm it with the strategy I just defined.

The Simple Way to Pick an Hourly Rate

Ask around.

I know. It sounds so dumb. I wish I could say “climb a the tall mountain beyond the sunset. You will see a man by a tree. Do not speak to him, or he will kill you. Instead, walk around the tree and talk to the toad on the ground. Say, “Potato salad.” The toad will open his mouth, revealing a pebble shaped like a pomegranate seed (or possibly an actual, fossilized pomegranate seed). Take the pomegranate seed to the original statue of Persephone and stick it into the stone pomegranate in her hand. Then do the hokey-pokey. A dove will fly out of her hair and tattoo a number into your forehead with its beak. That number is the rate you should charge all and sundry for the services you perform.”

I cannot say this. (Actually, I can, I just did. But I lied.) Ask around. Ask every freelancer in your profession you can get your hands on. If they won’t tell you how much they charge – and this is the really smart bit – ASK THE PEOPLE WHO HIRE FREELANCERS. Ask marketing directors, PR people, corporations with a lot of output, hit up every contact you have and ask them how much they paid by the hour.

You will mostly get project quotes, not hourly quotes. That’s fine. Figure out how long it would take you to do the project, divide those hours by the total project quote, and you will have an hourly rate. Yes, I know. You’d think they’d encrypt this information or something, but no, it’s just basic division.

For freelance copywriters, I found that a standard basic industry rate ranged from $50 to $150 per hour. Most of the people up past $100 are seriously famous copywriters like Bob Bly, and I am nowhere near Bob Bly. I’m also not bottom of the barrel. So I was dealing with somewhere between $50 and $100, and guess where I wound up? That’s right. $75 an hour.

And then I made myself a dinglefrapp, and confirmed that $75 an hour was going to meet all my needs.

For the Clever People

Some of y’all are doing the math right now and saying, wait a second. $75 an hour times 8 hours in a workday times 40 hours a week times 50 working weeks in the year IS A SHIT-TON OF MONEY, DUDE. (And by ‘shit-ton’ we mean ‘$120,000’. You totally DO NOT MAKE THAT MUCH MONEY.

True. I don’t. Well done, mathematicians. But you have forgotten something, have you not?

Assorted Professions also need TIME.

Tune in tomorrow, where I will thwart you number-people yet again.

Subscribe. I have a bad taste in my mouth from all the math.

July 8, 2008

The Money Talks, Day One: How Much Money Do You Need? A Lot More Than You Think.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:41 am
Tags: , ,

Budgets suck. Budgets tell you that you don’t have enough money to do that, but you do have enough money to do this other thing, that you really don’t want to do, but which is smart to invest in for the future or whatall. Budgets are like the parent who told you no, you couldn’t have that toy you wanted when you were a kid, and refused to say why, just ‘because’. Except now you know why, and the reason is: you’re broke. Budgets are not, shall we say, harbringers of joy.

However. In order to figure out how much money you want your business to make, you have to figure out how much money you need. This is generally called budgeting, but since we have established that budgeting sucks, we shall call it ‘dinglefrapping,’ since our version is going to be more fun. Spoiler: Count Dracula is involved. Yes, I know. I’m excited too.

The Basic Dinglefrapp

The basic dinglefrapp includes all the obvious things – food, shelter, health, transportation, and that ever-important category of ‘miscellany’. ‘Miscellany’ is for all the stuff you forget you need until you really need it, like toothpicks or cotton balls or single-malt Irish whiskey (yes, they make single-malt Irish whiskey, and yes, you really need some. No, it’s not better than the best Scottish ones, but it is damned good. Yes, this parenthesis has gone on a little too long. No, I don’t know why).

The basic dinglefrapp is not difficult to figure out. You have your bills. Add them up. Round upwards, not downwards, because you will always spend more money than you meant to. Since I’m a single gal living on my own, my expenses may be less than yours. I am sure you will be able to adjust. My basic dinglefrapp breaks down about like so (rounding up because I hear math is easier when everything ends in zeroes. This may explain why my inclination is always to have no money. It is the ultimate zero, the lack of money.)

Rent and utilities: $900
Loan repayments: $400
Food: $150
Health insurance: $130
Gas: $40 (gotta love no commute)
Miscellany: $150

Don’t ask what’s in miscellany. I honestly don’t know. I just know the money is gone at the end of the month. It could be cotton balls and whatall, but what’s more likely is that it’s my tribute to the Queen of the Moths or something. I fork over the cash, she doesn’t send her brethren to eat me in the night. This seems more reasonable, especially since I know perfectly well I don’t have any cotton balls.

My Basic Dinglefrapp: $1,800 monthly. Cool. Now let’s shake it up.

Dinglefrapp Plus

Aw yeah. Dinglefrapp Plus don’t play. Or rather, it do. Dinglefrapp Plus is all about the non-necessities.

You also need money for books, for entertainment, for vacations, for random moments of stupidity, for eating out, for the random sock puppet you just have to have, for ice cream on a summer night, for the glass slippers you’ll need for the ball you might get invited to, for the impromptu surgery you’ll need to get the glass out of your feet when you smash them, which you will the very second you forget they’re made out of glass and the laws of physics always work against you and your fairytale recreations.

Make the budget for the lifestyle of your dreams. If I had my druthers, I would spend $100 a week on books, and this is not an exaggeration. I want druthers bad. What are druthers? They sound amazing. If, in the lifestyle of your dreams, you went to the movies once a week, by all that is holy, stick that in the dinglefrapp. If the lifestyle of your dreams includes buying a 1985 Aston Martin, go ahead and budget some monthly cash for that. If the lifestyle of your dreams includes getting sunk in a bathtub full of porridge while the cast of Spring Awakening serenades you, I regret to inform you that you are insane and should probably commit yourself forthwith.

But dinglefrapp for it anyway. You never know.

Harold’s Law

Many of you will be automatically discounting the Dinglefrapp Plus about now. “Look,” you’re saying. “That’s all well and good, but I don’t need to put anything in my dinglefrapp that is not essential because I am scared that I will not get the bills paid if I do not just focus on getting the important things taken care of. I’ll skip going out to the movies. I’m fine. Really, Dinglefrapp Basic is fine with me.”

I do not know how you can bring yourself to doubt an institution called the Dinglefrapp Plus, but since the dissent has been making itself known, I shall rebut. I had a perfectly reasonable goal of $1,800 a month. Perfectly doable. Why am I tacking a bunch of extra stuff on there to eff it all up?

Because of Harold’s Law, my friends. Harold’s Law will get you.

Harold’s Law is similar to Murphy’s Law, which states that if anything can go wrong it will and at the worst possible time. Harold’s Law states that any stated goal will be missed by just the hairsbreadth necessary to make you think that were you a better man, you would have attained it. (Harold was kind of a bastard. He got his head flushed a lot in grade school.)

Now, I have circumnavigated Murphy’s Law many a time, because one of its sub-components is that anything you anticipate going wrong is not the thing that will happen. My strategy for overcoming Murphy’s Law is to worry constantly about all of the worst things that could happen and completely neglect to worry about the trivial ones. This leaves Murphy’s Law no option but to make something fairly minor go wrong, which I then fix easily with my mighty skill and come out looking a dashing rogue indeed.

Harold’s Law also has a loophole, and it is essential to understanding the logic behind the Dinglefrapp Plus. Harold’s Law states that you will fail to miss your goal by a hairsbreadth, no matter what that goal might be. If your goal is $1,800, you will fail to hit it. You will only make $1,700. If your goal is $5,000, you will fail to hit that goal too, but only by a hairsbreadth. You may only make $4,700. And wouldn’t that be a damned shame?

Huge Unrealistic Goals.

If the triviality of adding a bunch of fun stuff to your budget is simply beyond you, set yourself a huge unrealistic goal. A big expenditure. A down payment on a new house, six months’ worth of vacation expenses, a candelabra from the original Count Dracula castle. Make it a real one, make it something you badly need, make it something you thought you might begin saving for some time way in the future. The future is here, and it has a Huge Unrealistic Goal squatting in the middle of it.

My personal Huge Unrealistic Goal for the next six months is a valiant attempt to get out of debt. I want to pay off all of my student loans. They total about $18,000. I just tacked on an extra $3,000 to my monthly goal. Take that, Harold’s Law. The rogue ain’t playin’.

Some of you will already have Huge Unrealistic Goals by sheer dint of having more responsibilities than I do. You may have spouses, children or really spoiled houseplants (seriously, they don’t need the designer fertilizer. You realize it’s not actually unicorn dung, right?) and thusly your entire life is already a Huge Unrealistic Goal, and you really don’t have the energy to contemplate adding anything more to it.

Do it anyway. Add a Demi-Size Unrealistic Goal. Maybe it’s an extra couple hundred toward starting that restaurant you’ve always dreamed of where all the dishes are composed of gummi candy. Maybe it’s your kids’ college fund. Add it on there. Seriously. You need it. Here’s why.

Shoot for Absurdity. When You Miss, You Might Wind Up in Functional. Well, You Won’t, but You’ll Have More Fun Than the Other Bastards Who Missed and Didn’t Try for Absurd.

Give yourself a higher goal than you need. Your Huge Unrealistic Goal is there to fail. It is okay if it fails. That is its purpose. The entire point of your Huge Unrealistic Goal is to circumnavigate Harold’s Law. The dream may not happen, but you will always eat, and you will always pay your rent on time, and the houseplants will rejoice in unicorn dung.

The Demon of Complacency

When your goal is only $1,800 a month, you can justify all kinds of things. A nice way to break down how much you need to make is by dividing that monthly sum up by the day. You need to make $50 a day. No problem, right? Hell, that’s Californian minimum wage. You could make $50 a day serving up decaf venti soy no-foam half-shot cinnamon two-shot vanilla lattes at Starbucks. And you’re a professional, right? No biggie for you to make a couple hundred a day. So you might as well take today off and go to the turtle races, and make $100 tomorrow instead.

I can make $1,800 a month without trying too hard. That’s two to three clients a month with mid-to-low sized projects, and that is doable. It is also a ticket to Complacentville, and we do not advocate that sort of thing. The great rogues of history would have sneezed, yea, sneezed upon such a paltry sum. It is not worthy of roguishness. Set yourself a huge goal, a worthy goal. A scary goal. I’m shooting for something more like $5,000 a month. I can’t make that easily. I have get my day started earlier, got to work hard. No time for Complacentville when the Huge Unrealistic Goal is calling you home to Awesometown.

Your goal has to freak you out a little bit. It should get your heart moving in the morning like opening your eyes to a marionette with one of those weirdly creepy Victorian masks for a face. If you open your eyes in the morning and the first thing you think of is, “Fuck. How’m I going to make $300 today,” I guarantee you that you will get out of bed just a little bit faster than you would otherwise. Unless that marionette was dangling right above your face. You’d probably get up pretty quick for that.

The Daily Desperation.

Peter Bowerman, author of the excellent Well-Fed Writer books, said he put up a piece of paper over his desk. He started with his goal number. We’ll take mine – $30,000 in the next six months. Then he made a list, like so:

$30,000 in six months
$5,000 per month
$1,153.85 per week
$230.77 per workday
Where’s the $230.77 coming from today?

His was much more impressive, since somehow he managed to get his math down to the point where his final number was a nice round $200. I don’t know how he did that. Clearly Bowerman can do math. The point stands, though. When you’re sitting in front of your computer and you don’t have any work lined up, that number is motivational. It’s not an absurd number, but it’s enough to freak you out. Get the blood moving. Shake up your sanity. (I just figured out where my Miscellany money goes. It goes to stock up on sanity. You can get a six-pack of sanity at Costco for $49.95. Very reasonable.)

That’s a fair amount of money per day. Makes you a little desperate, a little panicky, but in a good way, in a controlled way, in a way that suggests you could fix this problem if you could just figure out whether it’s the red or the black wire that gets you blown to smithereens. And you can fix the problem. The red wire is doing nothing and feeling sorry for yourself. The black wire is getting some business. Which one of them is going to save you? (Note: if you cannot figure that one out, kindly do not be the person who will save us in the event that someone leaves a careless bomb lying about an important building in which I reside. Please leave that task up to people better suited for it, like Bruce Willis. Thank you for your attention regarding this matter.)

We’re going to talk about how to apply your newfound Unrealistically Huge money needs to your rates tomorrow. Tune in.

Subscribe. More Money Talks on the way.

July 7, 2008

Introducing The Money Talks

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 1:33 am
Tags: , , ,

There are a few things that are considered off-limits for social conversation. Politics, sex, and religion for a start, though the lesser-known impolite topics include the possible carnage four velociraptors could wreak on a hospital ward, the precise shade of red in someone’s blush (comparisons to a slab of raw liver are thought to be particularly offensive and can actually get you beheaded in certain African provinces), and keychain collections.

Now, if you’re very clever, the heading of this post tipped you off to the conversation taboo we’re going to be dissecting. I will give you a hint: it is not introductions, or talking. Both of those are actually considered wise to use in a social situation, especially in tandem. Very difficult to introduce someone by blinking rapidly in Morse code.

The Money Talks

Rogues laugh in the face of social taboos. Usually we just do it for a lark, but this shunning has purpose, yea, and reason too. Don’t get used to it; we think those damned monkey assassins put something in our chai again.

The Money Talks are going to be a week-long series on the dollars behind running a freelance business. We will use real numbers and set real goals. We will not shun away from stating actual dollar figures, as is usual, because the Rogue has noted that blogs that attempt to discuss money without actually, you know, discussing money, generally succeed in providing no useful information to new freelancers other than the sole thing they already knew, which is: You’re on your own, kid.

The Rogue reasons that most freelancers have figured that bit out, and are just looking for a useful equation to help them along. We can do that. The Money Talks will attempt to help new freelancers (and old ones) figure out how much money they should be making, how much they should be charging, and what to do with the money once you’ve earned it. We will try not to get too off-topic so as to be easy to follow along. We cannot promise there will be no ninja jokes, though. We are hilarious, after all.

The Money Talks shall be held at The Lusty Weevil, the official pub at which the Rogue spins out these regular rants of demi-relevance. Pints all round are on the house for all participants. Debate is welcome; trolls will be shot on sight. Cupcakes are also welcome, but they better have real frosting.

The Reason for The Money Talks

Money is a topic frequently raised by bloggers – freelancers, writers, marketing folk – anyone and everyone who could offer useful information on money has blogged about it. Most of the time they’re not useful, and I’ve figured out why this is. They’re too damned polite.

Politeness keeps most bloggers from actually discussing numbers. (I don’t usually discuss numbers either, but it is out of fear of the numbers themselves. Mathematicians are going to bring the apocalypse, you mark my words.) Most blog posts on money go something like this: I can’t really tell you how much I make, or how much I charge, or how I figured it out. Politeness has bound me, and I don’t want to tell you about my finances, and besides, it’s all based on the individual. I learned the hard way, so should you. Tra-la!

They don’t do this out of unkindness. They do it out of fear. Most freelancers I’ve met are actually pretty happy with how much they make and how they arrived at their numbers. They’re not willing to share how they did their calculations because they fear that someone else, some evil internet person out there, will descend upon them and say, “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, those rates are too low, and it’s unprofessional to suggest otherwise. Also, your business is a sham and I heard that you keep Care Bears hostage in your pantry. You bastard.” Then their blog would be the subject of much misdirected anger, involving pitchforks and townsfolk, and all because they made the enormous mistake of discussing money.

I have considered the possibility of the townsfolk and pitchforks actually appearing, and I find it is a valid threat. However, seeing as my home is more or less an arsenal of medieval weaponry, I feel it is worth the risk. I shall go forth into the tempest, bare my little roguish soul, and take my chances with the beast.

(I like how you all tried to hold me back there. Very touching, that. You’re probably going to forget my birthday too.)

Never fear, my denizens. I shall take precautions. Here they are.

Precautionary Measures for the Money Talks

We’re going to be discussing my theoretical income. This income may actually become my real income at some point in the future, all going according to plan. Not discussing real numbers is what we do when we’re ashamed to admit our income or would prefer that others not judge us on it. I intend to circumnavigate this by being just revolutionary enough to discuss my actual ambitions, and just ashamed enough to not admit what precisely the gap is between those ambitions and my current income. It is a fine line, and I walk it like an Olympic gymnast, my friends.

So when we discuss how to calculate your financial goals tomorrow (yes, tomorrow, this is a long post already), we will be discussing my personal financial goals. They will be real. They will involve numbers. You are free to change those numbers according to your personal goals, capabilities, and religion (ooh, looky there, I mentioned religion too. Taboos are going out the window today).

In order to calculate my personal financial goals, I will be using actual numbers from my personal budget. They’ll include things like my rent, my food budget, and how much I spend regularly on meerschaum pipes (yes, this is a big enough expenditure that it warrants mention in a budget. You can substitute whatever you like in this category, no matter how weird. That’s me working for you. You’re welcome). These are numbers which should surprise no one and that I’m more than happy to put forward. They’ll also (hopefully) make my calculations for a proposed income pretty darn accurate, and then I’ll have blogged and balanced my budget, and we call that multitasking.

Yes, I’m using you as an excuse to calibrate my finances. I’m sorry if that makes you feel dirty and wronged. I will try to be funny while I do it, if that makes you feel any better, but I will totally still be using you.

Things I shall not be discussing are how much money I made last year, or last month, or this week, or ever. The past is in the past, people. That’s why they call it that. We look forward to the future, where the money is. At least, that’s what the leprechaun told me.

Remember How I Told You Rogue Ink Wasn’t a Business Blog?

It is also not a formal ball. We are not at a long table with the King fore and the Queen aft. There is no china on the table and there are no gold-rimmed wineglasses. It is not sixteenth-century Versailles and there will not be courtly dancing later, and I note an extraordinary absence of pompadours. There is no reason we should confine ourselves to discussions that would be appropriate in those circumstances, especially when breaking those rules could give our fellow freelancers a leg-up on a difficult project. We are the denizens of the Lusty Weevil, people, and we say it with pride. We are a rowdy crew and there is no limit to what can be talked about over a pint of Guiness and a game of pool.

Propriety is dead at the Lusty Weevil, denizens. Join us tomorrow for The Money Talks.

If you subscribe, I’ll tell you how much I spend on kumquats.

July 3, 2008

Good Editors are Overrated

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:58 am

Usually, when I write copy, there’s a built in editor. This editor is generally referred to as ‘the client’ and really hates it when you make editor jokes at his expense. You are not allowed to get all huffy and ‘artistic’ (which we evidently pronounce with extra ‘ee’ in our ‘tis’, the better to demonstrate the sarcasm that those quotation marks imply) with the editor, because you are not William Faulkner with a brilliant new style of prose and the editor does not have to keep the comma where it is lest the millennium go out having never seen sound, fury, or absurdly long run-on sentences. The client is an uber-editor, and even if he is wrong, he still gets to make the change. Why? It’s his copy. He paid for it. He gets to be the editor.


When I write my own copy, I get to be my own editor. This sounds delightful. Theoretically, myself-as-editor would simply pound myself-as-writer manfully upon the back, offer writer-self a cigar and an inch of good whiskey, and tout me as the greatest thing in English literature since the invention of the word ‘coitus’. Editor-self would overflow with praise for the superbly chosen verb in paragraph three, which so perfectly expresses the unique qualities of my character, and writer-self would shake her head modestly and say, “Well, really, it’s the simplest thing in the world to choose the right words for yourself, but try doing it for another character.” And editor-self and writer-self would share a hearty understanding chuckle, and settle back in large armchairs, loosening their ties.

I am not sure why all my editor-fantasies take place in the roaring twenties, but they do. I believe Dorothy Parker is to blame. I keep thinking of her and Robert Benchley and their editor hatred, and their tiny office of which she said, “One square inch less and it would have constituted adultery.”


My fantasy, sadly, is not true. I blame myself for not smoking cigars. I cannot edit my own work because I never know if it’s any good. I need an editor. I need at least one other person to bounce a few words off of, else I start to get metaphysical. Is this a good word or a bad word? Is there really a good and a bad? Is there such a thing as a word, if you really think about it? Does the word ‘word’ really connote wordiness if it has to define itself? If you eat a hot dog with no bun, is that an inappropriate breakfast? Who shot JFK? Do my shoulders look square in this shirt? Does one really need to put pants on in order to get the mail? Why is it that you can never use the word ‘biscuit’ in a solemn context? (Try it: the biscuit died horribly in a brutal Nazi attack. Somehow still funny. I do not know why this should be. What is funny, anyway? Is humor simply the rubber glove we put on before the prostate exam?) And on and on it goes.

I need an editor. A good editor steers me clear of words like ‘prostate’, provides a deadline, and fine-hones the edge of prose. When I write something passable, the editor asks that it be made tighter, a little funnier, a little more professional, a little more excited, a little more cowbell. The editor is like that guy who wanders into the kitchen just before a perfectly delicious soup is about to be served out, tastes it, and asks mildly, “Don’t you think just a tad more salt?” (Or tarragon, or whatever. The bastard always knows what the damn soup needs.) Whereupon the cook tastes it, knows that the soup is quite good, but that, damn the man, he’s right. Tarragon it is.

No one at the table would have ever known the difference, but the cook knows, and the guy knows, and since the guy is the one holding the cook’s prize collection of anteater skulls hostage, the cook does what the guy says, secretly resenting him for being right.

Picking an editor.

When it comes to editors, you have three options: good, bad, and average. We’ve already covered bad editors – they’re your clients. Now, you say, using the power of logic at your command, clearly good is better than average, you need not tell me why. Carry on! For I shall find myself a good editor forthwith. But I say unto you Nay, my friends. Nay not. For the good editor will lead you astray.

Good editors

Good editors are scary. Good editors are people who have seen prose that would level mountains in their day, prose that would make Attila weep and Mussolini reach for his handkerchief. Good editors have a fiendish command of grammar and syntax and can recite (with footnotes) any section of the Chicago Manual of Style in a three part harmony while juggling particularly slippery koi fish with their toes. Good editors will, ruthlessly, make your copy as good as it can possibly be without an angel appearing in the blue heavens wielding a trumpet like it means it this time.

Nobody wants to hand their work over to a good editor.

Now, the good editor will make the copy spectacular, it’s true. The trouble is, the good editor is a judgmental bastard. The good editor knows the difference between splendid prose and mediocre prose and he knows with meticulous precision exactly where you fall on that scale, and I will tell you right now it is not where you wanted to be.

The good editor is that friend who, when confronted with the age-old question about the jeans and the relative corpulence of one’s gluteus maximus, will respond not with the gentle, “A little, yeah,” but with “if you simply set aside half an hour a day for exercise for perhaps six months the extra four and a three-eighths inches of flesh on your hips would diminish and the jeans would look quite nice, I believe, at that point. Tell you what, go off for six months and try it and let me take a look at what we’ve got then.”

What we will have then is a fat rear and a couple hundred empty pints of Ben & Jerry’s. You don’t want to ask that friend about your butt. You don’t want to give them the shot. Good editors, I am firmly convinced, get fewer clients than average editors, because good editors do not make their writers want to stab themselves in the face before they would offer up writing to be criticized.

Average editors

Average editors, on the other hand, don’t always know exactly what’s wrong with the writing. They might say it feels a little too moody, or a little off in this section, or that this seems redundant. They don’t know the answer, and they can’t give you any advice on how to avoid getting there, but they can usually point to the section that’s not working, and they can tell you why.

Average editors fix things halfway. They offer a sentence difference that communicates better than your original, but their sample sentence is blessedly mediocre. This gives you, the writer, the chance to translate, to reassert yourself as a master of the craft. The average editor is basically the sidekick to any hero. Remember how Robin would say “Holy Onion Rings in Special Sauce, Batman!” and then Batman would suddenly realize that the answer to everyone’s problems, particularly the Joker’s, was a deep-fried onion ring of crispy goodness? That’s what the average editor does. The average editor does not save the world. The average editor merely offers the random expostulation that somehow triggers Batman into action.

I have an average editor. She’s a great woman, and very smart, but she doesn’t know more than I do about my craft. She can just see it from a different angle, and she can tell me if it looks fat. Which, apparently, it does. I’m going to go fix that. My way. My way, I should tell you, does not involve a half-hour of daily exercise. It does, however, involve onion rings. And Bon Jovi. Aw yeah.

Good editors never let you listen to Bon Jovi.

Subscribe here and now and in the afterlife in butterscotch heaven, Batman!”

July 2, 2008

War on English: Homophones Their/They’re/There

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 6:30 am

They lurk in the silent places. You cannot hear them coming. They are wily and crafty, and if there is anything a rogue fears, it is wit and guile in beings that have no right to it, and an evil intent behind using them, besides. Also, words that sound like OTHER words, which is what homophones are. Such sneakiness is reserved for members of the Rogue Guild, and no others.

It is the evilest of intent behind the homophone. It seeks to sunder the meaning from a word and render it laughable. And it is laughable. I, for one, will mock it roundly. Commencing thusly.

There their they’re

A devilish trio, these, and perhaps the most notorious of the homophonic coven of havoc. The young folk in particular are guilty of mistaking any one of these for its evil sibling, relying on the sound to convey the purpose. This is a mistake, for anyone knows that if you give a homophone a vowel he will go and take the whole goddamn phonic, and there is no dealing with a word like that.


Their is possessive, clutching subjects to itself. “That’s their box of half-eaten Spam and no, I don’t know why” or “Their children sneeze too loudly.” Grabby little word, their, always taking hold of objects and giving them up to unseen persons. Accusatory, too, pinning the blame elsewhere. This may be why their is rarely mistaken for its fellows, though its fellows are often mistaken for it (goes round and round your head like a bad night on Vicoden and Guiness, doesn’t it). Also, it’s hardest to spell.


They’re is a riotous word, a contraction in fact, a gleeful shortening of ‘they are’. It chatters incessantly. It wants to spill the secrets. They’re is, in fact, a gossip of a high order. “They’re going to the movies and they’re sitting in the back row.” “They’re coming, hide the marshmallows.” “They’re going to smell like tuna now, you watch.” They’re confuses the hell out of most people, perhaps because of the chattering, or the apostrophe. It’s hard to tell.


There is the most distant of the three, quiet and placid. It can be found, often, over there, in a place that is not this place. It is perhaps the most deadly of the three, for it is easiest to spell, and most frequently is taken for the other two. “There is a house,” it says softly, “over there.” And just as you look to see what it meant, it’s off taking they’re’s place in a description of the previous evening’s antics.

They’re taking their tares there.

Everyone got that? Good. What about this one?

Their taking there tares they’re.

See the problem? See how it just DOESN’T MAKE SENSE? The homophones are silent and deadly, like certain kinds of gas (hm, second fart joke in as many days. I should never have read that Mike Myers interview). They will stink up your writing like nothing else. We shall be adding more soon.

July 1, 2008

5 Smart Things to Do When You’re Going to Abandon Your Blog for a Time

Filed under: Blogging — Tei @ 4:20 am

In advance, I realize I have done none of these things. However, as the wise man said, sometimes we only know what we should have done in retrospect. Of course, the other wise man said, Try not. Do or do not. There is no try. And I think we can all agree that wise men who are puppets beat out wise men who are men any day. Therefore, here’s all the stuff I should have done before taking a leave of absence from the pub.

1. Tell people.

This is smart in most situations. Not, obviously, if you intend to rip off a bank. Or throw a surprise party. Or fart in a crowded elevator. Or if you see Sally Bowles’ mother on the street directly after seeing Sally herself in one of the most dazzling burlesque reviews in the German World War II circuit. In those situations, as Ms. Bowles tells us, mum’s the word. However, if you are about to disappear off the face of the earth and you don’t want to stand your bloggers up, you should probably let them know about it.

Did the rogue do this? No.

2. Plan posts for the nonce.

Nonce is an amazing word, and we should use it more often. For one thing, it rhymes with ‘sconce,’ another delightful word and surprisingly lovely decoration not often encouraged by today’s overhead-light loving set. For another, ‘nonce’ indicates ‘for the duration’ in a much more pleasing, romantic way. If I had planned posts, ‘for the nonce’ would have described my absence beautifully. For the nonce, please enjoy these delightful posts I have prepared with my own two delicate hands for you, I might have said. And you would have swooned both at the lusciousness of my prose and the exquisite construction of my posts, and not noticed my absence in the comments at all.

What actually happened was more like ‘while you fucking left us’. As in, ‘while you fucking left us, there was nothing to read and we contemplated drinking all your booze and peeing in the corners of the pub.’ You don’t say stuff like that with ‘for the nonce.’ Try it. ‘For the nonce, please enjoy trashing my pub.’ It doesn’t work.

Did the rogue plan for the nonce? No, she fucking left you.

3. Ask someone to blogsit.

This is a cooler way, I think, of saying ‘guest post’. It’s more or less the same theory as house-sitting. You get to come in, make use of my space in whatever way so pleases you, and as long as you don’t annoy my neighbors or burn the place down, I’ll thank you for keeping an eye on things and making sure Brett keeps his kilt right where it’s supposed to be.

Guest posts also neatly eliminate the necessity for number two, if you are so inclined. You can even still use ‘nonce’. Try it. ‘For the nonce, please enjoy the verbal stylings of my friend King Writacular.’ Works a treat.

Did the rogue ask someone to blogsit? No, because the rogue does not ask nicely. After the rogue was done asking, her intended guest-poster was weeping in a puddle of jam and eggnog. Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.

4. Plan something really cool for your comeback.

If Cher went on tour again (and oh, you know she will) and she didn’t bust out the most ridiculous outfits you had yet laid your eyes on, would you not be horribly disappointed in Cher? Would you not demand something with absurd amounts of fringe and a hat to make the good women who attend horse races cringe? So would I. Similarly, your return to the blogging stage ought to come with sparkles and spangles and other sp- beginning words. Spaghetti comes to mind. Your reappearance should be dripping in spaghetti. The oft-cited Incident of Calvin & Hobbes would not have been the glory that it was without the spaghetti, nor would it have required capitals.

The Spaghetti Return. That’s what your blog comeback should be. Or spork. Ooh, sporks. Spinach? No. Definitely not spinach. I hereby forbid everyone from returning to blogging with the word ‘spinach’ in their post.

Did the rogue use the word ‘spinach’ in her comeback post? She did.

5. Become Cap’n On It.

I have a devil duck whose name is Cap’n Onit. This is neither here nor there, but I feel you should know that the name has been put to good use. Once he conquered Florence (true story). At any rate, the name Cap’n Onit arose because, as the name implies, he always was.

On it. He was always on it. Keep up, people.

Which is what you should be when you return to blogland. Every day a new post, every day new glories. Which is the single only item on this list to which I shall be adhering. Since it is also the last item on this list, I shall feel I have done well. I am Cap’n Onit, people. New blog posts all the week, including tomorrow an entry into the War on English, because we all know the bloodshed between the grammarians and the text-messagers is what pays the electric bill around here.

Is the rogue on it? She SO is.

One extra special bonus DON’T for leaving your blog.

DON’T come back to blogging, post one tantalizing promise-I’m-back post, and then disappear for another week.

Did the rogue – shut up. I don’t want to play this game anymore.

Subscribe. I’m back.

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