Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Should we be allowed to criticize?

Most coloring groups on Facebook have a strict “No criticism” policy. The rules often state “If you don’t have anything good to say, move on.” But is that really such a good idea? If we are not allowed to receive criticism, how will we ever get better?

While I by no means imply that we should be allowed to tear each other’s work apart, constructive criticism might turn an enthusiastic artist into a good artist, and a good artist into a great one.

Most people know their own limitations. By looking at other’s work they know that their work is not up to par. They can see that others are better and often wonder ... how did they do that?

This is where constructive criticism might be helpful. Mentioning where the coloring artist went wrong, or what could be improved upon, might not only be well received but appreciated.

For instance. Some two weeks or three weeks ago I noticed a particularly striking image of blue flowers in this group. The coloring brought about a string of likes and comments of people falling over themselves to express how extraordinary this coloring was. 
My first reaction was ... I might as well give up. The artist, Pris David, commented “No, don’t do that. Keep practicing and you’ll be able to do this too.” Yeah right, like that was gonna happen.

So I emailed Pris and she started giving me some tips. I tried what she explained and ... it didn’t work. I tried again and again, but no, no luck.

Next Pris provided, in addition to more advice, a picture of what to do and what not to do. I tried again and ... hm, while I could see a tiny bit of improvement, my efforts still didn’t even come close to what she was showing me.
So Pris took it one step further and sent me a video.
I must have watched that video ten times, and not just looked at it, but studied it, along with the pictures she provided. And yes, eventually what she had explained, showed me with drawings and now with this video started to make sense.

So I tried again, sent her the result of my work, she delivered feedback and I tried again, and again, and again.

Today I’m happy to say that I’m getting there. I’m still nowhere near as good as Pris is, but if I can improve this much in two weeks, the future looks promising.

The blue flowers I colored earlier this year, the blue and pink ones were done last week.
Better, right?
JUNE 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Can cats tell time

If you’ve ever wondered if cats can tell time, I can tell you with absolute certainty that they can.

Some cat owners will agree, knowing that their cat greets them by the front door as they come home from work. But it goes further than that.

Take Mickey for instance. Mickey can be in a deep sleep, but come 6:15 p.m., he wakes up and moves to the kitchen. He knows that around that time I start dinner, and he gets his food. He doesn’t say anything, he merely sits there, looking at me. If he were able to talk, no doubt he would say “Hu hm, can you feed me?”
But speaking of talking talking ... Mickey never learned how to meow as such, but he’s a great singer.

For instance, last week my son Dieter went to Home Depot after work. Usually Dieter comes home around 4:45 p.m., but on that particular day 4:45 p.m. came and went, there was no sign of Dieter and Mickey got agitated.
He started pacing through the whole condo. First he walked up and down the living room a few times, next he went to check the bedrooms, he even took a look in the bathroom, and when he couldn’t find Dieter he started “singing”.

Yes I call it singing, because what Mickey does you can’t call meowing. He hits a note and holds it. He will hit another note for a few seconds, then go higher or lower for a few second more. All the while walking to and fro.

Each time Dieter announces that he will be late because of a meeting, shopping or a date, I dread it because Mick turns from a regular cat into an opera singer.

Gabriel can also tell time and is an equally great singer. Perhaps even better than Mickey because depending on the sound he sound he produces I know exactly what he wants.
Gabriel knows that, during the week, Dieter wakes up at 6:00 a.m. During the weekend he doesn’t set his alarm because he wants to sleep in, but Gabriel doesn’t know that. So, when Saturday and Sunday morning comes around, and Dieter doesn’t get out of bed around 6:00 a.m., Gabriel reminds him that it’s time to get up. And believe me, he doesn’t meow softly, he has quite a voice on him. A voice that says ... come on, get up, you’re late!

Another reason why he meows (if you can call it that) is when he wants a drink from the sink. He has a full water bowl in the kitchen (I make sure that the bowl is full when I got to bed), but every now and then Gabe wants to drink from the bathroom tab. He meows, or shall he sings, so loud and so persistent until I get out of bed and comply with his request. When I get to the bathroom, I find him sitting on the toilet and then he looks at me and sings in a tone that says ... what took you so long?
Another reason why Gabriel flexes his vocal cord is when he wants to be on top of the cabinet. He has a fondness for high places, but getting there presents a bit of a problem ... he can’t jump. He rather, he sometimes lacks the confidence to jump. 
To get onto the wall unit, he has to jump on the cat tree, and for some reason Gabriel doesn’t trust that thing. He will manage it ones, twice or even three times just fine, and then the fourth time he will doubt himself and doesn’t dare the jump. So I have to lift him up, or at least steady the cat tree for him to get from a to b. To get my attention he produces a sound that almost says ... Help me! Please!!!
Ah cats ... you gotta love 'em

Monday, May 30, 2016

Writers, beware of typos

Bloggers are advised to post a few times a week, or even one post every day. As such some bloggers wonder ... where do I find inspiration? My advice ... spend some time on Facebook, within no time you’ll have inspiration coming out of your ears.

For instance, yesterday I noticed a post “How much should an online article cost”. The writer, let’s call her Ann, gave as an example that a 600 word article should fetch $150. I nearly burst out laughing.

While I fully agree that writers should be paid a decent fee, Ann needs a dose of reality.

I have been a freelance writer for close to ten years and never in all this time have I been able to negotiate a fee. A client will post an assignment, mention a fee, and a writer can take it or leave it.

I’ve also been part of several writing groups and the conditions were the same. The project manager stated the remuneration and I could accept and be part of the project, or refuse.

What bothers me the most about Ann’s post is that she’s like so many other bloggers. She wants attention for her blog, so she directs herself to writers and picks a title that is guaranteed to get their attention ... How much should an online article cost? What writer can resist having a quick peek?

Unfortunately, Ann should read her posts before hitting the publish button. We had a conversation on Facebook about this and some of the things she writes are:

“I average go between $35-75 for 500 words.”
I average go between ... what kind of English is that? I take it she means ... I average between $35-75 for 500 words.

“I have hooked up a couple of people here with descent paying gigs.” Descent? She must mean decent.

“I only submitted 4 names so not to overwhelm the client - your's was, of course, one of them.” Your’s? It’s ‘yours’ Ann, not “your’s”.

That’s three mistakes in one short conversation. And this from a writer who claims to make $35 to $75 per article. If I was a client I wouldn’t pay her $5, more so, I wouldn’t hire her to begin with.

Ann also recommends that writers find their niche. Hm, another one of those overused pieces of advice. If you don’t know what to say to fellow writers, say that they have to find their niche. Personally, I know my niche, but if I had to limit myself to that particular subject, not only would I have very little to write or blog about, my readers might get bored.

For my blog, I write about things I like, funny things, scary things, things that happen in Toronto, or things that annoy me. As a freelance writer on the other hand, I write about all kinds of things. Over the past ten years I have written a variety of articles, guides and product descriptions about:
  • The fall of the Berlin wall
  • How the Eifel Tower was build
  • The best gloves for winter
  • A variety of makeup articles
  • Gardening tips
  • Household appliances
  • Furniture (and most recently)
  • Men’s and women’s sexy lingerie.
While it’s fine to have a niche, a freelance writer should be able to write about anything and everything.

Finally, Vicky (not her real name) put her two cents into the conversation and stated “I have posted plenty of opportunities for this group. I have also reached out to several of you via PM when I have located something that meets your genre or voice.”

Which is true, but then Vicky isn’t just any writer. She has years of experience, is highly skilled, and to tell you the truth ... the things she writes about I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole because I feel I’m not qualified to write to some suggested titles.

My advice to Ann ... if she wants to be considered a serious writer, she should hire an editor. I did. My blog posts I write, proofread and publish myself, but when I write for a client I send my work to Alex.

As my editor, Alex reads my articles with eagle eyes that pick up on even the tiniest of mistakes. Not only does she spot typos, she also improves on my grammar. In short, when I get my work back, I’m confident that it’s the best it can be.

As a final word to Ann ... nothing kills the reputation of a writer faster than typos.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Is it legal to sell adult colorings

Coloring by Pris David
Adult coloring has turned into a rage. Publishers of such books state that they’ve never seen anything like it. Some coloring books are on their sixth or even tenth reprinting. Suppliers of pens, pencils and chalks are equally happy that adults all over the world have taken such an interest in this hobby.

While some people color just for fun, others are so talented that their work is fit to be framed and put on a wall. Which led to a question on Facebook yesterday ... is it legal to sell adult colorings?
I did a bit of research on this and found the following:

"You may use the designs and illustrations for graphics and crafts applications, free and without special permission provided that you include no more than four in the same publication or project."

My personal opinion is ... when in doubt, contact the publisher of the coloring book and ask.
It’s not like the coloring artist is going to make thousands of dollars from selling some pictures.

One designer, let’s call her Annie, stated “Bottom line, respect the artists. They work very hard to create the coloring books we use. That is their bread and butter. Would you want someone taking from your income you support your family with? Not to mention, yes, the artist can sue you.”

Annie has a point, but her reasoning may not be the best one. Suppose someone sees a framed coloring and wants one too. She might rush to the nearest bookstore and buy Annie’s book so she can color too. Or she might ask the original coloring artist to color one for her. One thing might lead to another and the coloring artist might buy more and more of Annie’s books.

Another artist, let’s call her Brenda, wrote ... I email free weekly illustrations. You can color and sell them if you want.” If Brenda ever decides to bundle her drawings in a book, guess who will make the most sales? Annie who doesn’t want to share, or Brenda who markets her work with free drawings?

Another person, let’s call her Olive, commented ... “Just trying to understand. If I paid the artist for the book, then it’s mine to alter and do what I want. I've already paid the artist.”

I agree with this. If I buy a plate, I can serve dinner on it or smash it to pieces. It’s mine to do with as I please.

Then last night I got to thinking ...

If I buy a design for a sweater in the knitting shop, and knit that sweater, can I legally sell it?

If I bake a cake following the recipe someone posted online, can I sell that cake?

If I buy chocolate and melt it down to make Easter eggs, can I sell those eggs?

What about Bible phrases people sell on online. I found this particular tile on Zazzle. Did the seller obtain the rights to use this phrase from the author?
What about this pillow quoting John 14:27. Did John give permission to use his creativity for commercial purposes?
Let’s take this even further.

Vincent Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest painters, yet he never sold a painting in his life. These days though, his paintings are so expensive that only the super rich or museums can afford his works.

If we follow the provenance of Van Gogh “Starry Night” we discovered that the master GAVE this painting to his brother Theo. From there the painting traveled to several owners, increasing in value over time. Today Starry Night is worth over $100 million.

Incredible, isn’t it. Is it ethical for anyone to make millions on an artist who died in poverty?
My message to designers ... if you make $10,000 from your coloring books, why begrudge someone $10 for selling a coloring. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Do I have a future as a sexy writer

As I mentioned before, as a freelance writer I’m always on the lookout for new job opportunities. To help me in that quest, I belong to a website that regularly posts titles for articles and product descriptions.

At one time there was a client that posted over 500 titles, requiring a 200 word description of anything and everything that belongs in a kitchen, from an electric mixer to a wooden spoon.
The products didn’t need to be described as such, but rather “sold” to potential buyers, give them a reason to use their credit card.

I picked up quite a few titles and received a 5 bar rating for all of them. The feedback I got from the client was that t
hey loved, not only my sales pitch, but the casual and often funny style with which I highlighted certain features of the product.

Strengthened by this glowing review I felt confident to take on other product descriptions.

When another client posted a batch of 300 titles I glanced over the requirements and they were nothing to sneeze at. Each product description needed only 50 words, but the client listed a string of do’s and don’ts. In was a case of ... do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, make sure of this, make sure of that. I had to read the specifications three times before I could make heads or tails of it.

After looking at the various titles, I picked one for a two slice toaster, wrote a description and sent it off for approval. And ... I got slammed.

This was wrong, that was wrong, this had to be rewritten, that needed some work, etc. So I rewrote the piece and it came back yet again for more revisions. Eventually it was accepted but only received a 3 bar rating (standing for “good”).

I tried another title, this time for a yoga mat and my description came back yet again requiring a revision.

After that I thought ... to hell with it, there’s no pleasing this client. And for what he was paying, it just wasn’t worth the trouble.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who reasoned this way as the remaining 280 titles sat there untouched. Every now and then a brave intrepid soul picked up a title, but minutes later put it back. Eventually the client removed the titles, nobody seemed interested them.

Next a furniture store posted titles for bed descriptions. This was a direct order, meaning only I could pick up these titles, which I did. At first everything was fine, but after five or six description, the client messaged me that description 1 looked like description 4, and description 2 looked like description 5. He was right but then again, how creative can one be with a bed? It’s a rectangle, it has a wooden or metal frame, it has or doesn’t have a headboard ... there’s really not that much to say about a bed.

Today, yet another client posted a title. Just one title to test the writing site and get his feet wet I suppose. The title ... “Black fishnet jockstrap”. I have to admit, I don’t know much – say nothing – about jockstraps, but there was a picture and the client made no demands, only specified that the description had to be sexy and selling. Okay, I could do that.

So this is what I wrote ...

If you think ordinary underwear is boring, this black fishnet jockstrap is for you. It’s breezy and comfortable and when meeting that special someone, allows a preview of – shall we say – your equipment. While the front plays a peek-a-boo game, the back leaves nothing to the imagination. If you have a firm derriere, you might as well show it off.

The client accepted within 10 minutes, gave me a 5 bar rating (meaning excellent) with the message “Love this!”

Goes to show ... I get slammed describing a two slice toaster, but give me a black fishnet jockstrap and the client is pleased as punch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who is Ms. Pepperpot

Most people give their pet a name. Whether they call their cat Fluffy, Mandy, or Cesar, or their dog Cuddles, Mitsy or Max, pets are individual who need a name.

In addition, many pets also have a nickname. In the case of my lot, there’s Mickey who we occasionally call Blacky; Charlotte who also listens to Lotteken; Gabriel who also goes by the name of Mr. Blue eyes; and Holly who is Ms. Pepperpot.
The nicknames of Mickey, Charlotte and Gabriel are rather obvious, but why we call Holly Ms. Pepperpot might need a bit of an explanation.

Holly, you see, is rather temperamental. Not only is Holly very vocal, she regularly hisses. Not at me, but Dieter is frequently on the receiving end of a stream of air through her wide open mouth.

Don’t blame Holly, he’s asking for it. He knows that she doesn’t like being kissed, but he still asks for kisses, or worse, steals a kiss when he gets the chance.

Holly also grows a lot. When Dieter picks her up, and it doesn’t suit her, she growls. When she’s laying down somewhere and he moves her, she growls. When he holds her and asks for a kiss, her hiss is preceded by a growl.

So, because she’s so temperamental, we often call her Ms. Pepperpot.

Now, for the first time this morning, I was on the receiving end of her wrath.

As always, when I shower, Holly came with me to the bathroom. She usually sits on the toilet, yet for some reason, today she’d positioned herself on my towel. When I stepped out of the shower and reached for my towel, she growled at me. When I tried to pick her up and move her, she swiped at me, twice.

I ended up having to take a new towel because Holly simply did not want to be moved. Once I’d dried myself off and moved to the sink, she spontaneously vacated her position.

When you have a cat with a temper, you learn to adjust.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Freelance writing ... slave labor?

As a freelance writer I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities. So, when I noticed a headline that read “Writers Wanted” I clicked to read the details.

The ad read as follows:

Writers wanted for a high volume of work for a newly created website. Must be experienced in informative article writing, on subjects such as fashion, personal care, nature, architecture, and technical writing. Please send resume and two samples of your work to ... (and there was an email address).

Twenty-four hours later I received a response that the manager was pleased with my submission and could I please let them know my rate expectations.

This I thought a little strange. I’ve worked for a few websites and there’s never been any room for negotiation. The project manager informed writers of a set rate for their work, and writers could take it or leave it.

Not knowing what to charge, I Googled “Writing rates” and “Writing rates per word” and found out that the going rate is anywhere between $0.40 to $2 per word. 

So that’s what I communicated with my potential employer.

Another twenty-four hours later I received the reply that my paying standards could not be met. Okay, I was flexible. If it meant regular work, I was prepared to work for less.

The next email was a bit of a shock though. The website owner informed me that for a 1,000 word article he was paying his writers $4.

If you’re like me, you just leaned a bit closer to your computer screen, squinted a little or adjusted your eye glasses ... $4 for a 1,000 word article? Did you read that right? Yes you did, that’s the offer I got.

Needless to say, I turned it down. This wasn’t just working for peanuts, or shells of peanuts, this was working for dust of shells of peanuts. Now I do wonder ... did he get anyone to agree to this rate? Is anyone desperate enough to work for so little money?

People in general are against sweatshops, which is considered slave labor, but isn’t getting paid $4 for a 1,000 word article considered slave labor too?