Sometimes It’s a Long Road

Back in 2008 when I was first getting started as a writer, I was able to get on board with a small, independent computer game developer based upon my many years as a gamer and fantasy/sci-fi nerd. I spent 8 month writing and editing quests, storyline, dialogue and filler content for a game that then spent the next 2 years floating around in various stages of development.

Independent projects are often like that, because they are funded out of pocket and rely more on passion than big budgets and 100+ million dollar marketing packages.

However, I am pleased to announce that Academagia: The Making of Mages is now officially released to the public :)

This is a game targeted for kids to young adults, although I can assure you there are plenty of hidden gems out there for adults who have a passion for adventure and good fantasy. The best way to describe it would be to say it is an adventure game for kids of all ages.

At first glance it might appear to be a Harry Potter look-alike, but that is far from the truth. While the premise of the game itself is set at a magical university where students come to study, the world is vastly different from anything else you have ever seen before. The storylines of the game showcase the unique background and history of the world while involving you, a newly-minted apprentice, in the task of finding a familiar and coming to grips with your newfound powers, all while working your way through the intricacies of getting to know your fellow students, the whimsies of your fantastical professors, and plenty of magic to boot.

With literally thousands of variations on storylines and quests, I am proud to say that I was one of the few who were brought on board to bring this game to the light of day. It was a pleasure to work on it, and I can’t wait to see the kind of reception it gets now that is has finally been released.

Enjoy!

Academagia: The Making of Mages

Posted in Uncategorized

More tools of the trade

Tools of the trade are those little things that make life easier, regardless of which industry you happen to work in. I’ve talked in the past about my passion for Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but there are other things which can make or break a freelance writer’s career, especially if you are someone who, like me, spends the majority of your time on the road, or in and out of a physical office.

Two years ago I never would have said that a laptop was a necessity. Then again, two years ago I wasn’t working remotely; I was working out of a home office. And while having a desktop is a bonus, I think a laptop is certainly one of those things I would consider a necessity these days. Not simply for the mobility factor, but also as a backup plan. What if your power goes out? What if your hard-drive on the PC crashes? What if your ISP goes out for a day or two? What if, what if, what if? Having a laptop enables you to have a backup plan in case the first plan fails. But most importantly, as I’ve come find in recent years, the use of a laptop for someone who is continually on the go is simply without par.

Flash drives are a given. But having multiple backups is ideal. Personally, I have two different flash drives. I haven’t needed to move to an online/digital storage yet, but I know some people who do. Until my work folder gets over 20 gigs, I don’t see a need to actually upload my files to a server somewhere. Instead, I simply have a couple of flash drives that I update regularly with the important work stuff. In addition, Google mail has a nearly unlimited (7.5 gigs is pretty damn near unlimited for the average person working online) amount of storage space, and I generally upload my work daily to my Gmail account. Sometimes I do it hourly, depending on if I’ve got a big enough project going on and I don’t want to run the risk of losing progress. But most of the time it’s just a daily update. I know Mozy is useful for people dealing with larger chunks of data, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet.

PayPal. Honestly, who uses checks anymore? I haven’t even touched a checkbook in 3 years. 100 percent of my statements and bills are delivered to me online. I bill my clients through PayPal, and only PayPal. Why? I think the more pressing question is, “Why not”? Checks are like the fax machine…they are outdated, old, and quite frankly, take far too much of my precious time to deal with. Get it done instantly is my motto, and I love working online. Plus, there’s no messy paperwork, no need for filing cabinets, no need for dealing with duplicate checks and etc. etc. etc. Some people like to stay rooted in the past for tradition’s sake, but I say evolve with the times. I’m sure somewhere there’s a guy still using a hand-cranked printing press to make his weekly church newsletters, and more power to him…but for me, I like to stay up to date with the beating heart of technology.

Portable scanner. I saw this come up on a forum I’m a part of recently. Most digital cameras take high enough resolution pictures to substitute in a pinch, as well as cell phones. If you are someone who works on the go and you don’t have access to a scanner, this would come in handy. You never know when you might need to scan a document and get it back to someone ASAP.

iPhone/Blackberry/iPad/whatever. Personally, I don’t see the need for any of these gadgets when I already have a laptop. But, for some people, I know they can’t live without them. Me, I’m happy with a 50 dollar phone.

Adobe. Enough said. I don’t know nearly enough about their suite of programs, but I love the ones I use.

OpenOffice. For those of you who haven’t used Open Office yet…it’s free, and it’s just as good as MSOffice. Did I mention it is free? And it ports everything, so it’s extremely versatile. Love it! And honestly…why would I pay hundreds of dollars for MSWord when there is a completely compatible program running around for nothing?

Skype. Who needs ridiculously-high phone bills when you can talk, chat AND video chat 100% free? As long as you have a stable connection and a webcam…welcome to the world of instant, global communication without a dime given to those damn telemarketing companies.

These are just a few of the tools that I use in my daily freelance writing. What are some of your favorites?

Posted in Complete Writing Solutions Travel Tips, Freelance Writing Resources Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

A non work post: my weekend plans

So, one of the things I don’t mention in my professional bio is the fact that I grew up on a dairy farm/ranch. It’s not a lifestyle I’ve been much a part of in the past 14 years, ever since heading out on my own at 16 years of age. Needless to say, I’m a bit rusty on some things.

I’ve kept in touch with my roots to some degree. I’ve always lived within a few hours of my parent’s ranch up in the Rockies, and prior to moving to Bulgaria and going into Location Independent mode I would come up here and help with things during the summer such as building fence and general maintenance around the place.

However, since I’m spending the entire summer up here before heading off to Cancun and the start of my new adventure, I’ve been spending some time getting back to the basics.

My little brother is 17 and he does rodeo and team roping, so I’ve been going to those events from time to time. And while I’m not helping with the day-to-day running of the ranch because I’m busy with my writing and travel plans, I’ve been slowly getting back in the saddle…literally.

Last week was my first time on a horse in 14 years. My little brother was laughing, but was actually surprised at the end of the first day, with his comment being, “Wow, you can actually ride pretty good!”

It’s like riding a bicycle. Which is the cool part.

Downside? Well, I’m in good shape. I run 6 days a week, do plenty of jump rope plus work out on a Bowflex, generally hitting 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes every morning, outside of Sundays. But nothing can prepare you for saddle bruises.

Still, I’ve been taking little 1.5-2 hour rides to get used to it again, and this weekend we are taking a camping trip up into the back country.

The ranch is up at 8,500 feet and is backed up against government land. We went riding up in the hay meadows the other day and my brother was pointing to some ridgelines in the far distance where a couple of canyons are located and mentioned that we should go camping. Seeing as I haven’t done backwoods camping on horseback in years, I figured what the hell.

So this Saturday we are taking off on the horses with some of his friends and going as far back as we care to go. Should be a 4-5 hour ride in, then we’ll camp for the night and come back Sunday afternoon. It’s bear country. And mountain lion territory. And elk, moose, and plenty of deer (they run a hunting program out of the ranch and this area is where they take the hunters sometimes, depending on what they are looking for), not to mention who knows what else.

I haven’t been camping in the Rockies in about 8 years, and we are going up between 9 and 10,000 feet, so it should be a really fun adventure and a nice change of pace from the daily writing, a chance to get out in the outdoors and enjoy Mother Nature in her rawest form.

Provided I don’t cripple myself with a 4-5 hour horse ride, of course. That point is still up for debate.

Posted in Uncategorized

Another look at content mills

It’s been some time since I took a closer look at content mills for the readers of the blog. The last time I covered the topic here at the Complete Writing Solutions blog was back in January and February when I did the content writing experiment using a variety of sources to top out at 53 dollars an hour using sources that some people claimed paid “less than minimum wage” or “below a livable income”.

While I may be a bit behind the times in terms of catching content rates these days (to be honest, most of it is because I really don’t care to be bothered by anti-content-mill doom-sayers, because I make a healthy living working through such mills), one of the writing groups I am a part of made mention of this article, discussing the whole Mahalo thing.

The comment I left over at the group I’m a part of was this: if you look at the comments left within that thread, you will notice this claim: “The requirements for these Guide positions will be that they produce 25 pages, spend 12 hours a week in the workroom doing page updates and 10 questions or answers weekly. At 1300 a month, this work out to a little more than minimum wage for most, and with the self-employment tax, less than that.”

This is a direct quote from the article.

Now, before I even get into the math for the article, I’d like to note the following: read the comments on the thread. Most of them say “great reporting” or some varying degree of praise for the accuracy of the article. This is where I’d like to chime in.

1300 dollars per month, working 12 hour a week, or 48 hours per month, is 27 dollars per hour. Subtract the 15% self-employment tax and you are at 23 dollars an hour. That’s $44,000 a year (assuming a full-time position) against the median annual salary of 35-36k a year for U.S. citizens.

What’s federal minimum wage again? $7.25 per hour in 2009. Median wage for average U.S. citizen in 2009 was just over $18 an hour. Not my stats. These are the numbers released by the federal government.

So people working here, despite the recent cuts, are still making more than the average U.S. citizen, and 3 times the federal minimum wage. For this job to even approach minimum wage, the Guides would need to work a total of 180 hours per month to come to 7.25 dollars per hour. 180 hours a month…that’s 45 hours a week.

I’m not denying that what happened with Mahalo was sketchy. But what is also sketchy is the alarmist reporting that happens on the Internet today regarding content mills. The vast majority (not going to plug any actual percentages in here) of negative comments left regarding content mills are nothing more than Chicken Little voices, screeching that the sky is falling when in reality it’s nothing more than imagination.

Point in case? The article I just linked to. Shoddy reporting using exaggerated numbers that weren’t even remotely fact-checked before they were published, and plenty of readers on the bandwagon sucking the information in like sponges, adding to the hordes of other, uninformed and uneducated masses.

Here’s some real reporting for ya. Demand Studios, one of the largest and most reputable content mills on the Internet, pays their average writer 15 dollars per article. These are 400-500 word McWriting articles. They aren’t meant to have a lot of meat on their bones, they aren’t meant to win any awards, they are just meant to fill random web pages with content that Google can latch onto. It’s subcontractor work. Yes, I make more money working with my own clients (and so do almost all freelance writers who have regular clients). But the beauty of working with places like Demand Studios is that I can walk in with no skill other than the ability to string two sentences together, and they already have the work ready for me. That’s more than 50 percent of my job done for me. The reason why I make more money with traditional clients is because I have to spend the time drumming up work, negotiating rates, negotiating schedules, signing contracts, doing research, and eventually getting around to writing the article. Time = money. It’s a time-tested fact. Using content mills, half of my time is erased out of the equation by the company, so it is only natural that I write for them for less than I do for my own traditional clients.

With that being said, I decided to start doing some non-trade-related articles at Demand Studios recently, to see how I would fare with actual articles where I didn’t already have 15+ years of experience on hand to use as a reference against. I’ve spent the past two weeks pulling articles about health and fitness topics, backpacking and hiking, car maintenance, and random How To and other types of articles that are on topics I have written about extensively in the past 2 years, but am not necessarily an “expert” in, according to the Studio. I am referencing travel articles based upon my 10+ years exploring and 2.5 years living in Bulgaria, as well as extensive health and fitness projects (including over 200,000 words for one client) in particular.

If I type by hand, it’s taking me about 30 minutes per article. That’s 20 minutes of research to make sure I’ve got credible sources, to scan the articles for the information I need, and about 10 minutes to actually write. If I use Dragon Naturally Speaking (my program of choice for production work), I’m doing a minimum of three per hour.

So at the least, I’m making 30 dollars per hour, and at the most I’m making 45 per hour. I’m walking in like anyone else can, typing a keyphrase into Google, finding references, citing sources, and writing investigative pieces. Tack on 15 percent unemployment tax and you are looking at 26 to 38 dollars an hour.

26 dollars an hour @ 12 months a year = $50,000 a year. 38 dollars an hour @ 12 months a year = $73,000 a year.

What was the median wage for U.S. citizens again? That’s right…just over 36k a year in 2009.

Now here’s the thing: I don’t work purely for Demand Studios. I use them as filler work. And when I stick to my trade articles, I still put out 4 an hour. 60 an hour for filler work. Not bad. But lately I’ve been branching out, mostly to prove a point, but also to test myself to see how I would really fare if I were to walk into Demand Studios like any other writer out there and push myself beyond my niches and see if I could make a livable wage.

The short answer is yes: I could make between 50k and 73k a year working purely for Demand Studios.

The long answer is that I’m not everyone. Not everyone types as fast as I do, not everyone will read and research as fast as I do, and the vast majority of writers at Demand Studios are putting out 1-2 articles per hour, not 2-3. But the point is, it is possible. And even if someone were to only push out 1 article per hour at a place like Demand Studios, they are still making double the federal minimum wage.

Remember, folks. Don’t believe everything that you read, and until you can put your fingers on some hard facts and numbers it’s hard to see the real picture.

Posted in Freelance Writing Resources Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Working on the reboot

Let’s see…getting the Twitter account going again, re-booting the Facebook page, and focusing on a new direction. Stay tuned as I continue to make updates to the website and new connections. With my latest travel plans moving ahead at full-steam, I’ll be making some guest posts for some friends, covering new topics, and focusing a little more on travel writing tips rather than just general freelance writing tips.

In the meantime, feel free to browse through some of our past topics, such as my Content Writing Experiment from back in early 2010, which proved to be fairly popular with the Freelance Writers Working for Content Mills in terms of proving that yes, you can make far more than minimum wage working for content mills :)

For more reading you can get up-to-speed with some of my past articles such as The Myth of Art, The Importance of Diversity, Exploitation of Writers: Fact or Fiction, and Knowledge is Power.

Posted in Freelance Writing Resources

Gone with the wind!

So it looks like I’m going Location Independent for sure starting in October!

I’m starting off with a stint in Cancun for at least 3 months, but it may turn into 6 depending on how much I like it. Will be working during the weekdays and spending my weekends exploring the Yucatan and the surrounding coastline. After that I’ll be working my way down through Central America and eventually into South America.

In the meantime I’m remaining up in the High Country of Colorado spending the rest of the summer getting the necessary visas together, any shots I need for some of the countries down there, and generally just planning. I have no time frame or itinerary. Basically, I’m going to be taking my laptop, camera and necessary clothes and going on an extended working holiday.

“Is this a vacation,” you ask. Well, yes and no. It’s a working holiday. Meaning, I’ll be working while I’m enjoying foreign destinations. So yes, I’ll be on an extended vacation, but I’ll also be working as a freelance writer for the duration.

One thing I am working towards is moving my career more in the direction of travel writing rather than simply SEO, copy writing/editing and the general freelance work that I do. I’ll still do these things, but as I pass the 10 year veteran traveler mark I’d like to start steering my career more in that direction, especially as I begin to work as I travel.

In any event, that’s the update for now. I’ve already reserved my accommodations for October – January in Cancun, and I’ll be heading out at the end of September.

Posted in Complete Writing Solutions Travel Tips, The World Is Your Oyster

The beauty of working freelance

One of the benefits of working in digital media is the absolute freedom when it comes to office space, needing a vehicle, a permanent residency and so on and so forth. As long as you have a laptop and a passport you are good to go.

In fact, many freelancers work what is considered the Location Independent lifestyle. While I myself have not been completely location independent in the past few years, I did have a base of operations in a country where the cost of living was roughly 1/3 of what it is in the United States, which allowed me to spend a lot of time in countries around the Mediterranean and Aegean.

Now that I’m back in Colorado for a few months, I’m already looking towards the next step of The Journey. Right now I’m contemplating one of two choices.

First, I could stay in Colorado for the winter and look towards heading back to the Mediterranean next spring/summer. But I’ve spent a lot of time in and around that area already, and while I certainly have a passion for it, I’m thinking that it might be time to try something different.

Which leads me to my second choice. Working my way down through Central America and then into South America.

My travels aren’t something I’ve talked about much on this site because I’ve focused most of my efforts on providing writing tips for the readers, but now that I’m single again after 9 years I am looking towards a new path. I am debt free and work as hard as I want in order to live the way I want to, and the question I asked myself today was, “Do I really need to remain locked into one location?”

The short answer? Nope. Not in today’s day and age when WiFi connections exist in all but the most remote locations in the world and most countries around the globe allow you to stay for up to 6 months on your passport alone. My office is my laptop.

Yes, there are downsides to being constantly on the go without a permanent place of residency, but it depends on your outlook. If you love travel, are beyond the addiction that most people have to “things” such as fancy cars, big houses and lots of “toys” to make your neighbors  jealous, and have a sense of adventure…there is a great, big wide world out there just waiting to be explored. And when you work online your office goes with you, no matter where you go.

So, I will say this: I am actively and currently researching the reality of spending the next year (or two or three) living and working my way down the coast of Central America and South America, exploring the ancient Aztec, Inca and Maya ruins, the Amazon and the wines of Argentina. I’m thirty years old, debt free, I have a decent savings and a global supply of work that only continues to grow as more and more countries around the world enter into the Internet world and need websites and written content to fill their business pages.

I haven’t made a final decision quite yet, but I plan on having my mind made up by the end of August, so that I can begin preparations to either find a place here in Colorado or start my new adventure in October. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated as I find out more!

Posted in Complete Writing Solutions Travel Tips, Freelance Writing 101, The World Is Your Oyster

The value of cheap entertainment

In a working world where the vast majority of Americans seem to be forced to work obscene amounts of hours in order to barely eek out an existence, the value of entertainment seems to have gone up even more than in the past. I’ve been lucky enough to have been living/working abroad for the past few years, which has enabled me to live for a relatively low amount per year compared to my American counterparts, but I’ve noticed that despite most people complaining about lower wages, no jobs, and a crappy economy the latest movies that come out continue to set records for volume of tickets sold/amount of money made.

On top of that, video games continue to rack up higher and higher volume in terms of sales. And while it might be a personal viewpoint, I honestly believe that in the economic crunch the value of entertainment has gone up even more, because people have traded “going out” with friends to simply hanging at home playing games or going to a cheap movie.

Last week was my first day back in the States in 2.5 years, and I about had a heart attack when my sister and I went to Old Chicago’s in Ft. Collins and had a build-your-own pizza. I didn’t think about the price because I’m used to things in Europe, where I can get a large, custom pizza for 8-10 Euro (10-12 USD). Imagine my surprise when, after two glasses of water and a pizza, I get the bill and see a 28 dollar tab staring me in the face. On top of which I’m supposedly expected to tip 20% gratuity for a waitress who did nothing more than come to our table twice to bring us our water + pizza.

Needless to say, the value of a video game, for example, that will last me for a week or two (at minimum, such as was the case with Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect: 2) has far more inherent value to me than the cost of a meal out. Which is what we would have spent had we ordered beers (which were 5 dollars a pop, so 30 dollars + 20 for beers + a tip would have come to 60 bucks for two people, or the cost of a video game), yet at least with a video game I’m getting my money’s worth. All I’m getting at the restaurant is a meal that will last me for a few hours.

While the math is a bit skewed considering you CAN go out and get a meal with another person for under 20 bucks if you know where you are going, I’m still somewhat shocked at the high cost to “go out” and do anything. At least movie tickets are still somewhat cheap, and give you a couple hour’s worth of entertainment, but going out to eat? I don’t see myself doing that anytime in the near future.

Plus, buying a video game/book/watching TV means you don’t have to spend gas to go anywhere :)

Anyway, that’s the rambling thought of the day.

Posted in Being a Green Freelancer

New location

I’ve currently relocated up to the family ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I flew into Colorado on Thursday of last week and spent a few days with my sister down in Fort Collins before I headed up the mountain. In any case, now that I’m settled in I’ll be getting back into the blog-o-sphere and should have some more juicy tidbits for folks in the near future.

I’d like to thank everyone for their support while I worked through the difficulties of the past couple of months. It was a crazy ride, but things look to be smooth sailing from this point forward, and I’ve got plenty of worked line up, a couple of new clients that I’m working with, and amazingly good weather up here in the high country of Colorado.

I’ll see about taking some pictures and getting them uploaded for people soon. This is a great place to spend the summer, and I am looking forward to getting a lot of good writing done with such a beautiful area to keep my inspiration soaring.

Here’s to creative writing on all fronts :)

Posted in Uncategorized

Swimming!

I realize it’s been awhile since I put up a meaningful post for the readers of my little blog here, and for that I apologize. But it’s been for a good reason!

I’ve been busy. And I’ve got steady work coming in, plus an expansion planned into my local market here in Bulgaria that I hope to put into effect by the end of May, or perhaps early June, depending upon a couple of variables.

I’m also working with new companies, including an SEO firm out of Germany for whom I’ve been working for the past 6 weeks or so in addition to a project for a golf and travel magazine that I wrapped up in early May.

I’m hoping to get an actual, meaningful post up for my readers by next week. This week I’m swamped with contracts, and next weekend I’m taking a 2 day trip to Plovdiv for some exploration, then a trip to Varna in June and a trip to Burgas in July. The reason? I may be moving my base of operations out of Sofia in the fall, and I’m exploring other cities in Bulgaria. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to be leaving the capital or not, so stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, I’m going to finally take some time to go see a couple of movies, mainly Iron Man 2 tonight and then Robin Hood tomorrow evening.

So! With that being said, I’m still around, and Complete Writing Solutions will continue its work in providing solutions for not only clients around the world but also other freelancers who are working on a global basis. Good luck writing, and thanks for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized




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