Too many years with a one button mouse

Too many years with a one button mouse has kept me from knowing all the terrific features that are delivered by a two button mouse. Picking synonyms in Microsoft Word by simply choosing a word and right clicking is a new, great joy. And invoking a thesaurus at the same time is an even happier happening. Why did I take so long to discover this?

The “Magic Mouse” that comes with an iMac is a single click device. One button. Making it into a two button device is done with software: you enable its two sided function by selecting that choice in your System Preference settings. You then click on the right side of the mouse and voilà! Thanks to Linda Dodge for pointing this out. Now, does anyone need a beat up, hardcopy thesaurus?


Joining a professional organization

I’ve joined a professional organization, the non-profit Editorial Freelancers Association (external link). It seems to be the best of the few groups that cater to freelance writers. It’s run almost completely by volunteers and members, most of whom are full time freelancers. Cost for a year, including a one-time sign up fee, is about $175. There’s a job board, a newsletter, on-line education classes, an e-mail discussion list, and other benefits. I think the cost is reasonable compared to other professional organizations. And the job list appears solid, serious, without any of the outrageous employer postings featured in the low cost freelance sites. I’ll give it a try and report back.


Canadian, eh?

I’m studying Canadian English, to better write for Canadian clients. It’s quite mystifying. Microsoft Word has a Canadian English setting, but it is very liberal and it permits major errors, such as writing defense instead of defence. It’s really quite hard to know what to look for. Travelling instead of traveling. Fulfilment instead of fulfillment. Anaemia instead of anemia, and so on. I’ve ordered two Canadian English dictionaries (external link)  and that should help. Best to get right in and wallow in the subject. In the meantime, I’ve found a good resource.

The Canadian government has a language portal (external link) that delves into the many facets of Canadian usage. Grammar, punctuation, typography, vocabulary, and translation are all introduced. Spelling, though, for me, remains the biggest mystery. The site gives a small list of words that differ from American spellings, however, it properly reminds me that a true list would run into the hundreds and still be incomplete. As they put it:

“The recommended spelling authority is a reliable Canadian dictionary such as the Canadian Oxford or Gage Canadian Dictionary. It is important to choose one and use it consistently. Both publications are based on research into Canadian usage, contain specifically Canadian terms and reflect the usage of most federal government departments and agencies more closely than do American or British dictionaries. When they list two spellings for a word in the same entry, choose the one entered first. When two spellings are given separate entries, choose the primary spelling, which is the one followed by the definition (the variant simply refers the reader to the primary entry). For scientific and technical words not in Gage or the Canadian Oxford, check Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.”



Two directions for the internet. And freelancers.

Where are we going with the internet? Google says that it will rank sites higher which have mobile compatibility. Yet all things video continue to lead the internet. Low bandwidth versus higher bandwidth. For freelancers we will have to get used to both. We’ll have to write shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, and we’ll have to start learning about video. Among other things.

Today I have retired my six year old iMac. It had 4 Gigs of RAM. My new machine has 16 Gigs, enough to do some pretty heavy duty video processing. But why am I doing this? Millennials call us authors “creatives.” That means we can’t just be about writing. Today, we have to be familiar with editing text, images, audio, and moving pictures. It’s called creating content. And it’s what every website owner expects of us. Soldier on.

2015-05-05 12.39.43

New tools for new writing

As an older writer I’m used to old things. A copy of the The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk’s Element’s of Style, and a good thesaurus. Things change. Now, writing for the web, I have to add new tools for new writing.

Internet writing demands acquaintance with so called keywords, familiarity with Google Analytics, and a passing knowledge of SEO, search engine optimization. The key to remember is this: your writing matters little if someone can’t find it. And nobody can find it unless your writing ranks high in search results.

I’m now writing exclusively for the web. The content I generate, and I despise that wording, is linked inexorably to the algorithms that search engines employ. I can be more valuable to my employers, my clients, if I know more about search. Can anyone recommend a good primer? Right now I am learning as I go, and it is indeed a new world filled with new tools.


Content creation jobs from Craigslist and otherwise

I am always looking for part-time writing gigs that I can do from anywhere. What’s called working remotely. This is a short list of companies that have treated me fairly.

Ajax Union

This Bronx based company paid me for a writing test. They asked me to make changes to my submitted article, I did so, and I have not heard from them again. Sigh.

Demand Media Studios

A content creation company. They’ve just accepted me as a technology writer after I passed an unpaid writing test. They need short articles on a variety of topics. They give you a byline for every article you write as well as a modest amount of money. Nice.


In a weak moment I applied here. Though accepted, I thought it over, and then turned them down. $1.00 for every hundred words.


This one is unusual, but they may have work for a freelancer. Stripe is a San Francisco company that processes internet credit card payments. I applied for a customer service job because it was work I could do remotely. I filled out their application and their recruiter called me up. They decided not to bring me in for an interview, but I thought they had been fair by at least talking to me.


Editing – It’s Not Personal

Few things are as intensely personal as writing. It makes sense then that any comment or correction from someone else is taken personally. It should not be viewed that way. Your editor is there to help you succeed, not to engage in a mindless attack.

A magazine editor knows a periodical’s style, its past articles, and what its readers and advertisers expect. You may know your subject well, but the editor has the larger picture in mind. And the smaller picture. Grammatical corrections should be regarded as ways to improve as a writer, to keep learning a trade that will never be mastered. But what if major changes are desired?

Typically, you’re sent a contract, you write an article as directed, and you send in your piece. You don’t envision writing it again. But you may have to. Here are some comments I got on an article on gold mining I wrote for Invention and Technology. I had put an enormous amount of time into the work, thought I did a good job, and I was fairly happy with it. Then this came across the transom; suggestions that would demand, at least in my opinion, a near complete rewrite:

The main problem we had with your article was its organization. It seems to alternate between past and present with no real pattern, and as it goes along, the balance shifts more and more towards present-day mining. We think the point of the article should be to draw connections and parallels between the old and new, and as the article now stands, those connections are sometimes obscured.

One possible way to organize the article would be as follows:

(1) start with a vignette about modern mining, by either an individual or a company, since that’s the hook of the story–that they’re still doing it; then
(2) go back to the 1840s and 1850s and say how mining was practiced then, including panning for gold in a stream, which is the image most people will associate most strongly with the Gold Rush; then
(3) say how the basic principles of mining are much the same today, but the challenge has shifted; instead of using primitive tools to find relatively high-quality veins and extract small amounts of gold, today’s miners use very sophisticated tools to find low-quality veins and extract tiny amounts of gold.

It might also help to say a bit more about the social and economic background of mining past and present. We get the impression that Gold Rush miners extracted most of the gold that was easy to get at, so now it’s mostly companies instead of individuals, but this is never stated explicitly. It also sounds like today’s creative use of spoil makes the difference between profit and loss–is that a general characteristic of the industry? Has gold mining revived over the last few decades as technology has improved, or has it always gone along at a modest level? Our editors would also like to see more of a human element in the historical sections, explaining how things changed over the years and who changed them. We’re not asking you to provide a name and a sentence of biography for every advance you mention; rather, we would like to hear more about a few of the inventors who are responsible for the biggest advances.

Sheesh! The editor thought that none of these changes would require me to write “multiple pages of new material,” never-the-less, it sure seemed that way. Rather than being finished, or almost so, my writing seemed to begin again. So be it.

My contract was for a fixed price. I thought I had already put the hours in that justified me getting paid. I wanted, though, as any writer does, a long term relation with the publication. This was my second article for I&T and I wanted to write many more. It was logical to make this cadre of editors happy, for the future. After I completed this major revision I went on to revise it lightly two more times and I’m glad I did. The finished work was profusely illustrated by the I&T staff and it showed off my writing very well.

The published piece is at this link: Gold mining article. It’s an 18 meg download so be prepared. None of it would have been possible had I taken offense at all the editing recommend. The editors wanted the best work and so did I. Editing – it’s not personal.

Picture of article.

American Heritage of Invention and Technology.