Mid-March Writing Madness: My busiest month yet!

Oof, my weekly “What’s Happening?” posts are going in spurts and sputters, but hopefully I’ll be more consistent in the future. I’d appreciate any help from all 3 of you readers. If you have any venues, websites, or events you’d like me to check out, please send them my way! You can email me at info@jlowatari.com or even leave a comment here.

March has been a particularly busy month of publications for me. ::party balloons fall from the ceiling::

Kermit flails his arms excitedly

I’m very proud of myself this month, and I hope for more and even busier months as my freelance career continues. Without further ado, here are some of my articles and blog posts you can check out!

Edible San Diego

I have not one… but TWO articles in the March/April issue of Edible San Diego. Okay, okay, one of them is a short book review, so maybe it doesn’t count, but I’m excited regardless! The other is an interview I did with date farmer Andrea Hankins, who’s supported the industry and other farmers through her hard work.

You can pick up issues in local restaurants or flip through online.

PASTE Magazine

I’ve been sending in articles once a week to the Drink section of PASTE Magazine. Originally, I started reading the blog for its music section, but one day I strolled to the Drink section and was amazed at the lack of beer material! Though I will admit that I enjoyed reading about the bars highlighted in the Craft Beer Guide to San Diego, so I was inspired to hit up the editor with a few ideas.

And my Beginner’s Guide series was born, starting with the Beginner’s Guide to Craft Beer. I followed that with an interview with two BJCP judges to help give tips to newbies about tasting beer, and have been sending articles going more in-depth into each style. So far, Belgians and porters/stouts have been published, but keep an eye out for sours, lagers, and wheats!

PeriodView Blog

This one is fun, low-stress, and pretty interesting too! I always thought that I was fairly knowledgeable about women’s issues, including reproductive health, but as I’ve researched, what I’ve most learned is that I only have a very basic knowledge. Hopefully I can impart some of new knowledge to you in easy-to-read, digestible chunks.

My first post started off with my menstrual love… menstrual cups! I also talk about yoga and simple stretches to relieve menstrual cramps and tenseness at home or at your office/classroom desk.

I have a few others coming up that you’ll find listed once they’re up.

San Diego Jewish Journal

I met the editor-in-chief Natalie at Show & Tell, a very irregular meetup for creative professionals (or aspiring creative professionals) who are stuck in their home office or studio (or wherever) all day. She encouraged me to send her some pitches. You can see the first of those pitches here, an article about recording engineer and music community builder Roy Silverstein.

Next month, you’ll find an article on Jonathan Eig, author of The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution (<– Amazon Affiliates link). He’s an honest-to-god “real” writer and I was pretty much hyperventilating for the 30 minutes leading up to the phone interview. What if he thinks I’m a crock? I got through the interview okay, and hopefully the article isn’t a complete mess and he doesn’t hate me, but you know, whatever. I’m cool. I’m chill. ::breathes heavily for 20 minutes thinking about it::

What’s to Come

I already have a couple of upcoming assignments for Edible, San Diego Jewish Journal, and another big one that I’m crossing my fingers for. I will also continue writing for the PeriodView blog and would love to continue my relationship with PASTE Magazine. So who knows, maybe I’ll have another cool update in April?

After all my excitement, I leave you with a heartwarming yet sad video of a dog that made me cry for a half hour.

How I Fucked Up My 1st Year Freelancing… and How I’m Fixing It

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve done wrong this year and what I need to fix for 2015, especially when it comes to my finances, and I’ve been developing a sort of New Year’s financial resolutions list that I thought I would share with you.

We’ll start with the things I did wrong in 2014.

My 2014 Mistakes

White dude with a headache.

This is what I look like when I think about my finances, except less white. Photo by Brandon Koger. CC BY-NC-SA.

The first domino of my financial downfall this year: my complacency. I quit my full-time job in October 2013 and had about 6 months of savings. Because I still had this savings, I wasn’t trying that hard to pick up writing gigs, researching publications, networking, etc.

My complacency fed into two more mistakes: eating into my emergency savings for monthly expenses (like rent, bills) and the thousands of credit card debt I put myself into because I thought I could still live my carefree lifestyle — eating out, buying books and music, etc.

It wasn’t until my savings ran out that I started to worry a bit and started cutting down my “fun” spending, but I was still running up credit card debt, this time with cell phone bills, gas & electric, and Internet.

My other mistake was not calculating earlier how much I needed to hustle to bring in income, but part of that came from inexperience. I didn’t realize when I started freelancing that my hustling now might not benefit me until next month. Sure, some publications (especially online ones) and businesses need things done LAST/THIS/NEXT WEEK, but most times, there are negotiations, consultations, approvals, etc. between me and the business or within the business itself. So I might not even hear back on a proposal for a couple of weeks.

Those are main mistakes I made. If I keep listing the other mistakes, I’ll just get depressed, so let’s skip to my goals (in order of importance) and what I plan on doing (and what I’ve already implemented) for the new year.

My 2015 Goals

  • Double my freelance income… which sounds crazy but not really if you consider I made shit this year.
  • Pay off as much of my $6000 in credit card debt as I can
  • Start building my savings account
  • Start contributing to retirement
  • Start saving for business purchases
    • Wishlist: AP Stylebook, Writer’s Market, Scratch Magazine subscription
  • Start a club savings for holiday/birthday presents

How am I reaching my goals?

Pretty lights coming down from storm clouds.

The heavenly host coming down to deliver the book that kicked my ass into gear. Photo by Matthew Perkins. CC BY-NC-ND.

Using The Money Book as my guide — I wrote about that book here — I’ve implemented the most important step to reach my goals: my savings percentage spreadsheet. For each payment I receive, whether it’s from my part-time job or from freelancing, I take a pre-determined percentage and transfer it to different savings accounts. I take 25% of my freelance income and move it over to my tax fund, 3% to savings, 7% to credit cards, etc. I have different percentages for my part-time job income because they take out taxes already. The remaining money stays in my checking account and I use it for bills, groceries, rent.

When I pay 2014 taxes, I’ll adjust how much I save in my tax fund for 2015… and actually pay quarterly taxes. I didn’t this year because I wasn’t sure how much I was going to make. Next year, I plan on having a bigger income *crosses fingers* and don’t want to be penalized.

Which leads me to my plan on getting more gigs.

I need at least one big web content or copywriting job a month but I would like 2-3/month. In-between, I would like a pathetic bare minimum of one article a week. Ideally I would have at least one a day, if not more!

How am I getting there? I’m researching, pitching, and bidding every day… while still being selective. On Elance, oDesk, Reddit, and Craigslist, I’m only hitting up bigger web content/copy jobs with higher budgets. For articles, I’m always searching for new blogs and publications (online and print). I’m reading a lot more pubs that I never thought I’d ever read so I can get inspiration for possible articles.

And is it working so far? Kind of. I’m hoping for the snowball effect… once I get a project here and there, I start getting more and more projects.

And like I mentioned earlier… some of these bids I won’t hear from until next month.

What was your first year freelancing like? Did you fuck up as badly as I did?

Or are you thinking of quitting to become a freelancer? Because I can tell you all the things NOT to do when first starting off.

Things I’ve learned in the past 9 months as a freelance writer…

Some quick thoughts since I haven’t updated in a very long time.

  • Don’t sell myself short. Sure, as a beginner, I had to start with lower rates, but I soon learned that it wasn’t economical for me. So I started to slowly increase my rates between each job I had, each article I wrote.
  • Don’t sell myself short!!! Don’t reduce rates just because someone balks at the proposal. Reduce the scope of work.
  • Networking and referrals are awesome. I heard this a lot when I first started off, and I hated it. I’m a beginner. Of course I can’t get referrals. And networking is all-around terrifying, especially as someone with anxiety. But referrals are like the snowball effect… the more work I did, the bigger the network I had. And referrals go two ways! I just worked with an awesome graphic designer that I think would be a good fit for a record label that I had done work for… so why not shoot them both an e-mail saying, “HEY, in case you need a graphic designer, here’s this awesome one…”
  • I wish I hadn’t quit my job right away. Well… kind of. If I hadn’t quit my job when I did, I don’t think I ever would have started my freelance career, not even part-time on the side. I just didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to take on any projects, personal or otherwise. But financially, I really, really, really wish I had built up a writing portfolio BEFORE I went full-time freelancer. Then I would have started off with higher rates, more of a network, etc.
  • Freelance writing is 20% writing and 80% sending off proposals, writing emails, following up, and waiting. It may even be closer to 10% writing and 90% everything else. It’s really tough. Every day I’m sending off more proposals and pitches. I’ve gone weeks without work.
  • Money is really fucking tight. And of course I’m stressed about it… but I don’t think I made the wrong choice.

A memory from Valley Center

Perks of Being a Wallflower cover

If you click on this picture, you’ll be taken to an Amazon Affiliates link to buy one of all-time favorite books.

My legs were splayed out in front of me. My pajama bottoms led up to my bare feet and my toes stretched into the sunlight. I had set my book facedown in my lap. The yellow cover stared up at me. I held my prized coffee mug in both my hands, warming my palms with the heat. The mug had been a gift from my piano teacher, years ago. Musical notes spiraled around the cup.

I was sitting on the step in front of my parents’ house. The stone under my bottom had just begun to warm from my body heat. It was morning, so although the sun shined on me, the breeze still raised goosebumps on my arms. Next to me was a nearly empty teapot of genmaicha. The neighbor’s animal sanctuary sprawled in front of me. The goats came right up to our fence to munch on my mother’s morning glories. They stared at me, daring me to scare them off.

Behind me, the house was quiet. No. That wasn’t right. Mama was cooking. The sizzle and pop of the frying pan was an uneven, staccato beat on top of the low muffle of the television coming from the living room. She had defrosted the bacon last night. This morning, she would burn half the package for my breakfast – exactly how I liked it.

I rarely had bacon nowadays, not since I had left for college. I never had breakfast in the dining commons. The eggs were slimy and the bacon was floppy. And there was no rice.

My mother used to make bacon for me every day during high school. “Luna! Asagohan!” she’d yell over my alarm clock. The sound of the familiar sizzle and pop – and the whistle of the tea kettle – was the only way I’d get out of bed. I’d trudge over to my dresser, my alarm clock strategically placed far enough away that I had to get out of bed to turn it off, and rubbing my eyes, leave my room.

I would sit alone at the dining table. My mom would set a bowl of last night’s white rice, a little dry but always sticky, a plate of crispy and burnt bacon, and a separate plate for the overcooked fried egg. I never ate the yolk.

As I sat at my parents’ door step, I felt content. Even though I had read this book a dozen times, even though the book dealt with mental illness and sexual abuse, and even though the book paralleled some of the emotional turmoil of my own high school career, I felt content.

It was peaceful at my parents’ house. After breakfast, I would get dressed, maybe walk around my parents’ property. Gone are the days when I could lock myself in my bedroom. My grandmother had moved into my room, and I’d been sleeping on the couch in the living room, watching Law & Order: SVU until late at night.

Nothing to do except finish this book. I took another sip of my tea.

“Luna! Asagohan!”

Interview with my roommate Will, freelance musician and producer

Will Hagan in PrivetI sat down with my roommate Will, who is a freelance producer. Right now, his biggest project is recording a guy up in La Jolla with a musical he’s working on. Most of the article involves the equipment he uses and how he determines payment/what clients he takes on, but my favorite part is the end. Our conversations tend to turn to the absurd.

Anyway, the post is at Creative Edge Music if you want to check it out.

Mindfulness meditation, or how I learned to be an adult

unfocused flowers

A hazy afternoon

“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that -– thoughts.” – Allan Lokos

(Note: Some of the suggested books linked below lead to Amazon Affiliates links that benefit me. If you do end up buying the book from that link, I’ll get some revenue from it. Thank you so much!)

I’ve recently been practicing mindfulness meditation, a form of Buddhist meditation that has branched out into secular practice. There seems to be no end in scientific research and articles done on the benefits of mindfulness, and it — along with other forms of meditation — has been used extensively to treat mental illnesses like PTSD and depression. As someone who shies away from religion, ceremony, and spirituality, the emerging secular language used to describe meditation comforts me.

In this blog post, I’d like to expound on my experience with mindfulness and how the routine has given me valuable skills in combating depressive thoughts.

I’ve divided the post into three sections:

  • why I started mindfulness and a brief history on my illness
  • the basics of mindfulness and how I interpret it
  • the difficulties of starting and maintaining the practice.

Finally, I’ve listed all the books, websites, and apps that I reference.

The article is approximately 1100 words. Click through to read the rest! Continue reading

Thoughts while sitting in Caffe Calabria

Caffe Calabria, San Diego, CA

cc by-nc-sa Lauren Macdonald

This neighborhood is coming to life as I sit by the window, drinking a cocoa. Outside, I watch as two women choose seats in the patio. As they sit, their table rocks, and one coffee tilts, then catches itself. The women don’t notice, but the cup looks embarrassed as it spills its contents.

On the way here, three wheelchairs blocked the bus stop and adjacent sidewalk. I tried to slip around them but discovered more people trying to get by, just like me. That traffic jam of pedestrians was keeping me from my breakfast. My stomach growled but theirs growled louder, and then we were in a face off, hackles raised, tails upright.

I think this cocoa was accidentally a mocha.

Winter in California is a strange thing. The sun is warm and I have to throw off my hoodie, sling it over my shoulder as I walk down 30th Street. But in the shadows, I huddle closer, rub my nose with equally cold hands. We decide to cross the street to get onto the sunlit sidewalk on the other side. We joke about our thin skins, make fun of our winter clothes, but when we get home, we wrap ourselves up with big quilts, make tea, and refuse to leave again.

The transplants mock us, but when January comes they complain – California isn’t supposed to be this cold! Their skins have broken down from sun exposure. They must replace their hides or else they’ll freeze to death come February.