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Friday, June 27, 2014

TransFormers 4: Age Of Extinction Reviewed (Spoiler-Free)

Michael Bay shows commendable maturity and uncharacteristic restraint behind the camera as he delivers the fourth film in the TransFormers franchise. A reboot disguised as a sequel, TransFormers 4: Age of Extinction is almost on par with the first film and far exceeds the last two over-caffeinated outings.

It's been four years since Megatron and the traitorous Sentinel Prime led the Decepticons in battle against the Autobots in Chicago. The battle resulted in the loss of thirteen hundred human lives and the destruction of the alliance between the Autobots and the world's armed forces. All TransFormers, Autobot and Decepticon alike, are being hunted and executed on sight. The survivors run and hide for their lives. Broke, desperate inventor Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) makes an alarming discovery, and the story takes off from there.

This is no longer about Autobot and Decepticon, it's about Autobots betrayed and run down by those they'd sworn to protect. Most visibly affected is the leader of the scattered Autobots, Optimus Prime, who is darker here than anything we may have seen him here to date. For the first time, we see the infallible leader question the very tenets that have made him such an endearing character over the years.

This is arguably the best human cast assembled for a live-action TransFormers movie. Mark Wahlberg fits, though he won't make you believe he's a nerd. He excellently demonstrates the all-consuming passion that every creator endures, so much so that he hasn't realized that his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, because Rosie Huntington-Whiteley wasn't available) has all but grown up. Her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor, who continuously fades into the background) comes through when needed, except for a moment at the film's comedic high point. Kelsey Grammar is absolutely harrowing as the antagonistic and completely ruthless Harold Attinger, whose motivations for wanting to see the TransFormers eradicated is only revealed at the end of the film. Stanley Tucci is, as always, flawlessly ridiculous.

Michael Bay actually paces the film to allow for character development instead of hopping from one blistering action sequence to the next. He manages to wait until just before the film's climax to unleash worldwide carnage. That isn't to say the other action sequences aren't up to snuff; it's a Michael Bay film, and he delivers.

TransFormers 4 holds the promise of a return to form for the franchise. I'm hoping it's a step in the right direction, instead of a hapless tumble down the corrupted rabbit hole, like the last two films were. This is worth seeing and especially worth the price of admission for 3-D.

Thanks for reading.

A Guide To Freelancing Part 6: 3 Places To Find Work

At long last, after all the planning, prepping, pitching, and procrastinating (on my part), we at last come to the final chapter of launching your freelancing career; finding work.

So I present to you the three best options for a new writer to ply their trade.

1). Guru
One of the internet's oldest and most well-reputed freelancing sites. In my opinion, Guru is the first place every freelance writer should go to get their feet wet. They have been assisting writers since 1999 and, at the time of this posting, there are more than four hundred and fifty writing projects available for bid.

This site uses an escrow system to ensure both parties protection. This allows you to get paid without worry. Guru is also ready to mediate any client/freelancer disputes. Their reputation, the assistance they offer, and the work availability makes this a favorite go-to site for novice and experienced freelancers alike.

***Note: Non-paying members may only bid ten times a month. There are membership options that will allow you to increase this amount. I recommend checking them out.

2). E-Lance
Another long-standing freelancing option. E-lance got its start about the same time as Guru. A testament to this site's security and sterling reputation is that you may never find another freelancing site that boasts this level of repeat business.

Virtually 75% of all project managers have been using the site for years, and as such have become very comfortable with a very specific set of freelancers. You may see requests for specific people in a great many posts. Don't let that stop you from bidding. You never know when you may impress someone.

E-Lance has a similar escrow system to Guru so you can rest easy knowing your money is waiting for you. It just may be a wee bit more difficult to get your foot in the door here.

But if you want to knock down a wall, you bring a hammer.

***They feature an Android app and like Guru, if you choose not to pay for membership you have a set amount of bids you can place per month.

3). Freelancer
This site is relatively new, founded in 2009, but its acquisition of allowed it to become one of the net's largest resources for freelance writers. This is an excellent site to find all types of work. However it's so conglomerated that even the most experienced and talented freelance writers may have a hard time standing out.

When they say it's the world's largest freelancing marketplace, they are not exaggerating. There are more users here than all of the members of Guru and E-Lance combined.

So there you have it, the three best sites on the web to find freelance work. There are many more that may suit your interests but on these three are a solid place to start.

These series of blog posts will help jump start your journey into freelance writing. If you are looking for additional information, I will be compiling more detailed information (how to guides, screen shots, walk thru's, additional sites, etc.) at a later date that will be available on Amazon or private purchase.

Thank you for reading and following along, and I wish you the best of luck in your career.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Guide To Freelancing Part 5: Five Steps To A Winning Pitch

At last, after all of the planning and prepping, we delve into what makes or breaks a successful freelancer; the pitch.

Note that the pitch is not just you selling your work, it's you selling yourself. The more accurately and articulately you can convey why you are the best person for the task, the higher your chances are of standing out and being awarded the contract.

So without further ado, let's see what does goes into a compelling pitch.

1). Address Directly.
When you craft your pitch, if the would-be client has included their name in their project overview, use it. Address your pitch directly to them. Not only does it show that you read the entire pitch, but people are more likely to read something that has been addressed to them by name.

2). Introduce Yourself.
This should be the first line in your pitch; your name. Not your skill set, not your years of experience (this comes later), but your name.

3). Demonstrate Eagerness.
Do you want this job? Then ask for it! Passion is contagious and catches like fire. Actually tell your prospective client that you're interested in this job. Everyone has to work in order to pay bills; employers will always notice a skill set. Those who couple their skill set with passion will stand out.

4). A Summary of Your Skill Set
I'm going to let you in on a secret. If you've bid on a job, the client is automatically going to presume that you possess the skills necessary to do the job. Otherwise, what would you be doing there in the first place?
Almost all of your competing bids are going to be saturated with lengthy explanations of their skill sets--and that's it. Your client may have hundreds of bids to sort through; they are more inclined to pause for the ones that get straight to the point. You will have a complete portfolio to demonstrate your capabilities if so requested, so keep your skill set to three sentences at the most.

5). DO NOT Use Templates.
I can understand that templates are time-saving and even convenient. They are also the biggest mistake you can make in your pitch.
While it's okay to craft your own templates, never, ever use the exact same pitch for multiple bids. The internet makes the world a small place, and the moment you appear robotic, you're done. The human mind is trained to recognize patterns and if your pitch looks exactly like everyone else's, you're going to be passed over.
But if you break the pattern, use a pitch that is wholly your own, your odds of getting noticed and hired increase substantially.

So there it is, in five steps. Demonstrate passion and desire to do the job, be personable and friendly, open to building a relationship with your client, state, but don't brag, your skill set, and above all else, be yourself. I promise, you'll find yourself gainfully employed sooner rather than later.

At the end of this week, I'll close this series with the best places to find work. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Accept Responsibility.

Downtown Seattle By Night. Courtesy of Avery K. Tingle.

While going over my post orders this past weekend at work, a co-worker asked me if I was opening a heavy iron gate before the end of my shift. I told him I wasn't.

He'd asked because opening the gate entails securing a heavy rail to the gate that, if left unsecured, could severely injure someone if it came crashing down. He'd asked everyone about opening this gate and none had claimed responsibility.

I told him that I hadn't been responsible for opening the gate before that night, but to avoid someone being seriously hurt, I would assume responsibility for the task from that point forward. 

It takes two minutes to secure the railing and in those two minutes, I've prevented someone from being seriously hurt or killed, and kept my employer from being sued.

How much could we change our environment if, instead of passing the buck, we simply raised our hands and said "I'll do it."

How much could we change our environment even more if, instead of attempting to deflect attention from our own shortcomings, when we did wrong, again, we raised our hands, stepped forward and said "I did it."

How much could we change our environment if we stopped assigning and started accepting? How much could we benefit if we stopped saying; "That's not my fault," and started saying, "Show me how I can keep from doing that again?"

How much could we change our environment if we accepted our humanity, our errors, and our opportunities to grow and learn?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Guide to Freelancing Part 4: Creating a Workbook

Let's talk about repeat business, because this is where much of your residual income will come from.

Your ability to succeed in this business will depend on your ability to sustain a working relationship with your base list of clients. Landing new clients is very important however being able to tap your client list for repeat business is your bread and butter, so to speak. 

In anticipation of your new client list, pick your favorite office software and/or app for your mobile device. If you're not the most technologically inclined, pick up some red and blue ink pens and a few legal pads.

MS Office is a standard tool, however, for the more frugal PC users I also recommend one or more of the following;

  • OpenOffice: Free and functions much the same way as Microsoft Office.
  • LibreOffice: Also a free facsimile of Microsoft Office, not quite as daunting.
  • Evernote: Free, and the last note-taking software you'll ever need.

This part of the blog forward assumes some proficiency with MS Office.

In order to have quick easy access to important client information. Open a new Excel spreadsheet; save it as "Client List"; and create a two tabbed document. The first tab will keep track of client specific information, the second tab will track each project.

First Tab - "Basic Client Information":
1). Company Name
2). Contact Name
3). Contact Address
4). Contact Phone Number
5). Contact Email Address
6). First Contact - This is good information to keep on record as you may be surprised at how long you may retain certain working relationships.
7). Payment Issues - Do they pay when they promise or do you have to repeatedly request funds.

Second Tab - "Project Specific Data":
1). Contact Date
2). Initiated By
3). Requested Project Terms
4). Date Accepted/Rejected
5). Why - If either party rejects the offer.
6). Type of Project - This helps establish a baseline when requesting work in the future. If you write an epic fantasy novel for a client, you may not want to ask them if they need an article explaining the intricacies of a smart phone.
7). Commission For Project - Over time this establishes an expectation of the pay scale this client may be inclined to offer for your future mutual endeavors.

Once you have this set up, you're ready to go. 
This is the final post in the planning stage of becoming a successful freelance writer. 
Next week, we'll get into finding and landing work.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Guide to Freelancing Part 3: Using A Portfolio To Protect Yourself

As we move further into these tutorials, you'll notice I'm putting a lot of emphasis on planning. This is for when we move into finding, pitching for, and acquiring work, so you won't scramble to get yourself together when a client offers you a job.

Assembling a portfolio is akin to preparing a resume; it showcases your best work and serves as something that can be presented to potential clients when they ask about your writing skills, because a lot of them will.

Additionally, it protects you from being scammed.
This happens more often than it should; you may run into a client who will ask you to write a "sample" of their project to "prove you can do the job" or some such (a client asking for a five hundred word article may ask you for a two hundred and fifty word summary).

This is a scam. What happens is that this "summary" you provided was the actual assignment. You provide this, never hear from them again, and shortly thereafter, the job posting is removed. I confess I've fallen for this more than once.

A ready portfolio gives you the ability to respond to such requests by saying; "I don't feel comfortable doing that, but I do have work samples available for your immediate perusal if you'd like to see them."

Wise words for the successful freelancer.

Assembling Your Portfolio

Your portfolio is your snapshot of your skills as a writer, showcasing your best work. If you have anything that has been well-received, this would be the place to put it.

If you haven't created anything, this would be a good time to start. If you specialize in fiction, create three short stories in different genres. Now is not the time to improve your weaknesses. If you specialize in dialogue, write a compelling scene between two characters. If you specialize in description, write a tale of a beautiful (or apocalyptic, your call) world.

Create between three and five pieces of work. Put them in a place on your computer where you can readily access them.

Having work you can show upon request makes the difference between getting the job and being passed over. When someone asks for your work, you want to be able to hand them something immediately, rather than throw something together while your client strikes a deal with another freelancer.

Thanks for reading. Best of luck to you

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014: Lessons Learned From Time With A Soldier

Image Courtesy of Memorial Day Quotes

I've seen a lot in life, and there's a lot I can relate too.
Anytime I hear someone talk about their experiences in the Gulf, or Iraq, or Vietnam or Korea or any one of the seemingly endless stream of wars throughout our history, I freeze. I have no idea what to say. I can't even imagine (Literally. I'm a writer and I can't imagine what it's like to have this stuff in one's head) what that must've been like.

So when it comes to Memorial Day I always struggle with what to say because, what could I possibly say that would do any of our servicemen justice?
But I'd like to honor the sacrifice, so this year, I'd like to tell you about a man I met a long time ago. I was nineteen, way more arrogant than I am now (if you can believe that), and under the impression that karate was everything.

I'll call this man "Mike". He was early fifties, I'm guessing, and in pretty good physical condition, though all I see is "old man". He's a former Green Beret, or so he claims, and back then I'm not nearly smart enough to know what that means.

See, back then, we're both homeless, and the only way we earn money is to fight. Tonight, we're fighting each other.
I expected to take him down quickly. I was very, very wrong. In fact, it's one of the first times I ever remembered becoming frightened while fighting. It's mortifying to hit someone so much older than you with everything you have, and I mean with so much force that you nearly go down yourself--and he barely takes a step back.

I learn that night was Close Quarter Combat is. I also learn that I hate it.
It's controlled chaos, and nothing I can do will keep him away. He bats my moves away as though they're nothing and then something is restricted. My arm, my leg, my neck. I hit the ground so many times I lose track.
I'm never hit just once. It's always a minimum of twice. It's like my stomach is unfolding and I can feel his punches inside of me.

I confess, I win by cheating. He had me in a chokehold that had I stayed in another ten seconds, I may not be here to tell you this story. He was too close to the wall and I was able to use momentum against him. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure he let me get away with that.

But after collecting my winnings I become a nuisance. I follow him everywhere, almost demanding to know what he does. I've never been hit like that, held like that. I didn't even know techniques like that were possible. Tell me how. Tell me now. Show me.

In the height of my arrogance, I demand to know and threaten to beat him up again. I wince as I write those words.

But finally, he relents. And he does show me a few things. I ask him where he learned that stuff.
And he tells me.
He puts images in my head that give me nightmares for weeks. He tells me of things to horrifying to be made up, his eyes in a faraway place as he recounts the atrocities of war, frequently clasping his dog tags to keep himself in the here and now.

I don't know what to say. I listen.

He disappeared a few weeks later. I never saw him again.

To those of you who serve our country, who allow these things to lodge permanently into your mind, to the families that sacrifice time and risk never seeing a loved one again because they believe in something great, to those who are still on the front lines fighting that there may never be another September 11th...

Thank you very much for your service.

Happy Memorial Day.

Thanks for reading.