Content Mill Writing – $700 To Hit The Wall

by Ron O. on November 18, 2015

Hitting the wall, content mill writingI’ll start by saying I’m not at all critical of the content mill writing I’ve been doing. I think I got into it knowing mostly how it worked, and was fully aware of how much, or how little, it paid. I did start off thinking it was a good way to get some experience, and it was exciting to see stuff I wrote published. I even managed to learn a few things about subjects I could care less about. Plumbing valves? Yes, I wrote about plumbing supplies, for a very nice company who needed blog posts about their products.

But at some point very recently, I have come to understand the meaning of the grind. “Thank God for my day job” is a phrase I’m not sure I ever would have expected to say or think, but I can’t imagine what a full-time content mill writer’s life is like. When I go to one of my sources for writing work, I’m either faced with a bunch of available articles on stuff I, a) Don’t want to write about, or b) Don’t know anything about and therefore can’t write an acceptable article. If I choose a job from the “don’t want to” pile, it’s usually an SEO post for a car or a blog post about killing bugs. Seriously.

What happens next is a scramble to re-write my own posts for different customers. That never feels good, but I got so used to selling a certain number of articles a week that I can’t help myself. And that’s why, after earning about $700 from four different services, I’ve slammed head-first into the creative wall.

I am not ashamed. My goal when I started freelancing part-time was to earn some extra money for a kick-ass Christmas. $700 is a good start, and I have no intention of stopping. I will break down the wall, or climb over it, and write the best-ever article about email marketing or squashing cockroaches.

Whatever it takes.

The Family You Choose

by Ron O. on November 5, 2015

Oh, family. I’m at a loss for how I want to start this post. I know what I want to say – that I couldn’t be happier with the hand I’ve been dealt with regard to how I was raised and who I was raised by and with. They’re really great people and I love them dearly, even though our collective failings as human beings sometimes get in the way of really letting the people we love know that we love them so much. I’m not suggesting or projecting, I’ll cop to being insensitive and aloof sometimes, and really, when it gets boiled down, I’m not that great about communicating.

I’m trying to say that I’m not critical of my family, and certainly not of the family I married into, who are wonderful also, and lightning really struck twice for me in this regard.

I find myself waffling now, and getting off track, because somewhere deep down I don’t want to accidentally leave people out when it comes to showing love and appreciation. Blanket statement: If you’re related to me by blood or marriage, I think you’re great, and I love you very much.

Everyone in my house is sick right now, except me. Stuffy noses, congestion, fevers, it’s really kind of gross, and I hope I’m not going to be affected, because I’m low on vacation and sick days, and I’d rather not dip into the ones I set aside for the holidays.

steve-macaroni

Steve VonMacaroni

As I was considering the possibility that all of my girls would be resting and blowing their noses all weekend, I had a sad thought that had nothing to do with them. If they’re out for the count all weekend, then that means that we probably will miss spending time with our best friends. (For their privacy, I’ll refer to them as Steve and Susan VonMacaroni, and their kids Scott and Sally.) We see the VonMacaronis (VMs) all the time – so much so, that our kids refer to us adults as their Aunts and Uncles. It’s really nice.

The VMs are always out first call for good or bad news, and are our go-to couple to hit the town with. I hope they feel the same way about us. They’re at all of our family birthday parties and band concerts, and we’re at their dance recitals and little league games.

They are not the family we were given, they’re the family we chose. I don’t know why, I just wanted to make a public proclamation about them, even though I used fake names. I hope to see you this weekend, VonMacaroni clan!

Election Day 2015

by Ron O. on November 3, 2015

It’s election day, and I write this with hope in my heart that the assholes in Brookfield, CT get knocked back a few pegs today. Honestly, these are some really bad dudes who just want to screw up our little town to qualify for more state funding. I stopped regularly updating my Brookfield Patch blog (now just called Brookfield Blog for other reasons) in May of 2015, because of some super-deuschy things that happened to me and my family.

I get that the people I criticized were happy to have me gone, and bashing me was expected. I wrote some crude and truthful things about them. They don’t get, or don’t realize, that I never outwardly attacked anyone – my posts were always a response to things that were said or reported publicly. If I was writing about you, it was because you said something in a town meeting or were quoted in the newspaper, and I only wrote about people who were in elected office.

Also, my “targets” don’t seem to understand satire. That’s on them.

What’s really bothering me is that my writing is still being used as talking points for being the problem with my town. I’m not running for office, I stopped writing for four months, and I removed all old posts that had anything to do with people in office who are not running this time around, yet you (you know who you are) continue to be a dick.

The last time I got fed up, I ended up posting a photo-shopped image that was not well received by you. I won’t do that again, but I’ve got a breaking point. Please stop.

So, this election day, I’m not posting on my old local politics blog. Serenity now and all that.

Back to Local Politics

by Ron O. on October 23, 2015

I finally re-opened my old blog about local politics in Brookfield, CT. For those who don’t know the story, I was publicly shamed and battered to the point where I needed to stop writing it, which was good thing for me personally. For a while I kind of felt like an actor who had been playing the same part for too long. It got to be too easy for me to slip into the Glenn Brown persona and be a dick.

Now, the people I was being dickish to deserved it, but it still weighs heavy on my heart.

What’s nice though, is that my One More For the Road post got a very good reaction, and it was nice to see that people were happy it’s back. I just wanted to check in here and say thanks for that. I don’t do anything on Facebook any more, so I feel funny popping in there to say thanks.

I don’t want to accidentally start a conversation.

Writing Adventures

by Ron O. on October 2, 2015

No, this is not going to be a post about writing adventure stories. Sorry if the title was confusing, and you were expecting to learn all kinds of things about how to write your own version of the Treasure Island or The Goonies. This post is about some things I’ve been up to, and what I learned from them.

Writing Adventures happen here

Adventures happen here

I am a writer, which is to say, I write stuff. I’m not a pro writer. I have a job where I’m responsible for a lot of things, including some writing work, and I take that job very seriously. But in my heart, I’ll always consider myself a writer, and for the sake of this blog, that’s what you should call me too.

For the past month or so, I have earnestly attempted to make extra money by writing. There were some other things I looked into, and I’ll mention them later, but mostly, I wanted to write. So I put myself out there in the world.

I was hesitant at first, mostly because I had registered at Fiverr a few months ago, and got exactly one request that turned out to be spam. But eventually, I came across this blog, and I really got inspired. I registered at a bunch of writing sites, and actually wrote real articles for real websites for real money. Not much money, but legal tender all the same.

I have had success at two sites in particular: Textbroker and Blogmutt. I prefer Blogmutt, and it’s kind of funny that I only found them because Textbroker had to put a hold on my account to review my submissions. But both sites are easy to use, easy to get started with, and have lots and lots of jobs to grab. I’m still feeling my way around and trying to find a niche for my writing, but here are some of the things I’ve written for Textbroker:

  • Webpage descriptions (2)
  • Article for Smartphone Accessory Blog
  • Product Description for Diamond Estate Necklaces
  • Product Description for the UroClub
Writing Adventures

word

For those five assignments, I earned a total of $12.52, writing roughly a penny a word. That’s why I don’t care so much for Textbroker.

For Blogmutt, I’ve written 10 blog posts for companies ranging from microbreweries to dentists, to craft stores, and a lot more. If all of my posts are accepted, are 250-word piece is worth $8, for a potential $80 payout. That’s not bad for writing about random topics requiring minimal research and a coherent narrative. That’s what I mean by needing to find a niche. There are a lot of topics I don’t find interesting on Blogmutt, but they have a lot of jobs. A lot.

What does this mean for me? Well, I think it gives me hope that I can someday make a living like this. There’s no way I can do it as a freelancer yet, but I’ve got hope. Seriously, I earned $92 writing in spare time, basically working on my craft, and trying to improve myself, all while doing something I like to do.

Okay, maybe adventure wasn’t the right word.

Other Things

I also applied to, and was accepted at Crowd Content. They get great reviews, but I can’t find any jobs there. I think that one requires a little more work to figure out.

I mentioned other things I looked into – secret shopping, taskrabbiting, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. As an MTurk worker, I’ve earned $22.31 performing 79 separate tasks. That’s $0.28 a task, and that’s why I’ll stop doing them. You know how many lunches I’ve wasted at my desk doing surveys and entering data?

Rough Week? – Depends on Your POV

by Ron O. on August 21, 2015

Rough week?  More like weeks.  The last few have been rough.  There’s been lots of traveling*, some birthdays and associated birthday parties, and some health and wellness issues to overcome.  Because I’m writing from the tail end of the health situation, I’m reasonably drained.  The last few days in particular have been especially wearying, and with that weary and defeated feeling sitting heavy on me, I was all prepared to write an “Oh, woe is me” kind of post.

Sleep when, and where, you can - rough week

Sleep when, and where, you can

Then I realized that was kind of silly.  I have very little to complain about or commiserate over.  Like many writers, I am drawn to and prefer to write about conflict and drama.  After all, a situation with no drama is boring.  Who’d read that?

A Rough Week of Travel

I could easily describe the week of coming home from a beach vacation, recovering and cleaning up from that, going to work for a few days, then re-packing and traveling to the Adirondacks for another long weekend trip as a rough week.  Believe me, there’s a lot of behind the scenes theatrics that go along with family vacations.  But really, can I complain about coming home from a vacation, working a short week and going on another vacation?

It’s only been a couple weeks, but I can tell you, my memories of our beach and camping trips are not bad ones.  They’re full of images of beautiful children laughing, boardwalk fun and games (and food), sand, sun, swimming, and smiles.  I’m sure I grumbled about loading the car at some point, or got annoyed about converting a camper table into my “bed,” but those thoughts are buried beneath the memory of eating ice cream every day for two weeks straight.

And a Big Birthday

The reason for our trip to Lake George was to celebrate my Father-in-Law’s, 75th birthday.  (Happy Birthday Dad! aka GHB)  Yes, we stayed in his camper.  Yes, I  had to sleep on a kitchen table.  No, you are not allowed to go Number Two in the camper bathroom, you need to use the campsite outhouse for that business.  (Not really an outhouse, it has plumbing, but totally not convenient.)  And No, you may not use the camper shower to take a shower, you must use the campsite shower facility.  It’s exactly as nice as you’re picturing it in your mind.  Prison-esqe.

My kind of s'mores - rough week

My kind of s’mores (I think this is from Front Street Brewery in Davenport, IA)

Big deal.  We also got to go hiking, biking, swimming, and kayaking.  We ate s’mores.  We played in the pool and I tossed my daughters around like ragdolls.

And to top it all off, GHB threw a giant party on a Lake George dinner cruise.  (Props to JCB!  Can’t forget mom!)  Nearly 50 of GHB’s family boarded the Lac du St. Sacrement to celebrate.  We ate, we drank, we (that is, I) ate a little more, we danced (my kid won the twist contest!) and we packed so much celebration into those 4 hours that they should have charged us for 8.

So, as I sort and catalog my memories of those trips, how could I say it was a rough week?

And Another Birthday

Oh yeah, my daughter’s birthday was still about a week away.  And I forgot to mention, while we were in Lake George my wife was in…

Terrible Pain

…and she had no idea what it was from.  The pain subsided enough for her to enjoy GHB’s party, but slowly returned on Sunday evening.  By Monday night, I was taking her to the ER, where they helped her with some pain medication and some antibiotics.  But, they did not give her a conclusive diagnosis, so we were off to see a few other specialists on Wednesday.

Thanks MC! - rough week

Thanks MC!

Lucky for me, my boss is pretty great about family stuff, and I was able to come and go from the office without much of a problem.  I’m still catching up on stuff at work…

And so, I’m worried about my wife, because she’s immobilized from this pain that no one seems to be able to figure out the cause of.  And don’t forget three paragraphs ago – we’ve got to pull our daughter’s birthday together at the same time.  In between blinding waves of pain Laura is planning and ordering stuff from her laptop, while I’m running from store to store during my lunch hour all week to order cakes, buy party supplies, and reserve a Chinese dwarf hamster from the pet supply place.  Yeah, we added another pet to the household.

I should also break to mention that my daughters were absolutely, without a doubt, the best kids during this ordeal with my wife’s pain.  They rolled with it, taking it easy playing at home, or going to a neighbor’s for a play date, doing chores and cleaning up when we asked.  They rose to the occasion, and that made the rough week not so rough.  If they had chosen this week to act like assholes, it might have been a different story.

The doctor said my wife needed a procedure (Pardon my vagueness, my wife’s privacy prevails), and that it has to happen on my daughter’s birthday.  Crap.  Then the scheduler calls and says it can happen on the Friday before.  Then they call again and say, Psych!, it has to be Monday, meaning Laura has to deal with this pain throughout the weekend, and at my daughter’s party at Sky Zone, and then throughout her secondary party, a slumber party the same evening.  It just killed her that she was going to be so uncomfortable throughout it all, and it broke my heart to see it.

My breakfast, slumber party morning

My breakfast, slumber party morning

But it went great.  It’s not like we were the ones expected to jump around.  We got to sit on the balcony and watch the fun.  We got to see our kids being kids.  Jumping, running, eating cake, being silly.  And the slumber party – 3 extra girls aside from my 2 – was a critical success too.  There was a slight issue with a cucumber facemask peel, but that’s what makes these things memorable.  They all left with their eyebrows intact.

By Sunday morning, I served breakfast to 5 tired kids and 1 tired and uncomfortable wife, and didn’t think anything of it.  The biggest problem I foresaw that morning was how I was going to get a hamster in the house and hidden until the next day.

Conclusion and Aftermath

The procedure went great, although it kept Laura out of commission for a few days.  I was lucky to have plenty of help from JCB and GHB, the best mother- and father-in-law a guy could ever ask for.  Laura is back on her feet, and ready for whatever comes her way, most likely something stupid, caused by me.

go-kartAnd the actual birthday was memorable.  Laura FaceTimed a happy birthday from the recovery room, and was home before lunch.  I took the girls go-karting and miniature golfing, and then made pierogies for dinner, by request of the birthday girl.

These last few weeks were not rough weeks.  They were merely challenging.  Challenge accepted, and dominated.  What’s next?

Who’s About to Have a Rough Week?

Josh and Jared.  Yeah, their lives suck, but they kinda deserve it.

*I just realized that the words traveling and travelling are both valid forms of the word. Two L’s just doesn’t look right to me.

The Family Vacation

by Ron O. on July 24, 2015

I think I'll get this tattooed somewhere - family vacation

I think I’ll get this tattooed somewhere

Nothing gets me excited like a family vacation week at the Jersey Shore!  And yes, I mean THAT Jersey Shore.  My parents bought a house in Lavallette, New Jersey about 25 years ago – about 3 miles north or Seaside Heights – and they’ve been kind enough to grant me and my family a week there every summer.

But this summer is extra special.  It’s the first time we’ve gotten to use the house since Hurricane Sandy hit.  The old house is gone, and a new one, one that sits on stilts 8 feet off the ground, has been built in it’s place.

Side note – if you’re interested in knowing which contractor you shouldn’t hire in the area, drop me a line.  The one my parents hired was not great.

Anyway, I need a break, and I intend to take it.  No silly local politics.  No margin analysis.  No lawn-mowing.

Just a beach.  A boardwalk or two.  Maybe a movie if it rains.  My wife, and my daughters.

Family Vacation Bliss.

An easy walk from our house - family vacation

An easy walk from our house

And since I (wrongly) equate happiness with eating, here’s my vacation to-do list:

  • Dairy Queen Blizzard
  • Pizza from the Jenkinson Beach Boardwalk
  • Cheesesteak from the Seaside Heights Boardwalk
  • Jelly Donut from Donuts Plus
  • Coffee Cake from Donuts Plus
  • Ice cream from some dude selling it on the beach
    • It’s funny, they don’t allow you to bring food on the beach, but they do allow this guy to sell it, and for you to eat it.  It’s the only caveat to the food rule.
  • Pancakes from the Sunny Hunny Pancake By The Sea (Why don’t these places have websites?)

Yes, I like to eat, but I intend to offset it all with lots of playing int he waves with the girls, and maybe even an actual run (or two?) on the Ortley Beach Boardwalk.  Maybe.

So, see you in August, I’m on vacation!

Rono, Friend of Bono, Going to See U2

by Ron O. on July 16, 2015

I’m going to see U2 this Sunday at MSG, and I’m pretty friggin’ excited about it. The new album is great, their old stuff is great, and they always put on a great show. I’m not much of a gushing fanboy about anything, but I guess this is as close as it gets.

I met Bono when I was 11, back in 1984. I was already a big fan back then, when Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day were all over MTV.  You remember, back when MTV played music videos?

Rono-and-Bono

My brother (left), Bono, and me

It was early in the spring of 1984, just months before The Unforgettable Fire was released.  My mom, brother and I were tagging along on a business trip with my dad, in Marco Island, Florida.  It was a beautiful resort, which is probably why we tagged along.  Dad would go to meetings and we would hit the beach, never fully appreciating how lucky we were to be there.

And so, one day we were just doing beach stuff, and there he was, a mulleted and speedoed Bono.  At 11, I did not find either of these things awkward – I was too awed by the fact that this rock star and I were sharing the same sand.

After the starstruckiness faded, and I bravely waded out into the ocean where Bono was minding his own business.  (My brother stayed on shore, because no one had a waterproof camera in 1984.)  My DeNiro level performance went something like this:

Young boy casually swims in the ocean towards a young man in a skimpy bathing suit.  Boy feigns a look of surprise and recognition.

Me: Hey, aren’t you Bono from U2?

Bono smiles, chuckles to himself, probably rolled his eyes a little

Bono: No, no.  Hey, aren’t you Eddie Van Halen?

Me: No…you’re Bono.

Bono: Yes, I am.

He must have shrugged it off, in that familiar way we see Bono handle his celebrity today.  As I recall, he was a bit sheepish about the whole thing.  It was clear he liked being recognized, but it was also pretty clear he wanted to not hang out with some random kid on his vacation.  It continued:

Me: Can I get your autograph when you come out of the water? (Yes, I was this blunt.)

Bono: Sure, but could you just [I can’t remember his exact words, but he very nicely asked me to leave him alone while he was in the ocean.]

The boy swims to shore and stands sentry, awaiting the celebrity’s return to land.  The boy realizes he has no shirt on, and anxiously wonders what this will mean for his photo op with Bono.

That explains why I’ve wrapped myself in a hotel towel in the picture above.

Bono was extremely gracious.  He signed an autograph (Bono, to Ronald), and asked if Ronald Reagan was my father.  I vaguely remember some political comment that went over my head.  This was my first ever experience with a celebrity, and it really couldn’t have gone better.  I was a fan before I met him, and have been since.

And yes, this is a lame attempt to see if someone in the U2 organization will see this post (keyword: U2), and pull that picture above and flash it on the screen on Sunday, July 19th.  After all it is the Innocence and Experience tour, and doesn’t that picture capture a certain innocence?  (U2 people – You have my absolute permission to use that image.)

If you read this, please consider a donation to one of the organizations U2 supports.

Marco-Island

The Importance of Having a Nemesis

by Ron O. on July 10, 2015

thinking about my nemesis

I ruminate best when naked and turned to stone, in a garden

It has come to my attention, thanks to my wife and best friends, that I thrive on negativity.  We were discussing my writing, and they pointed out that I tend to get drawn in by pessimistic events and critical comments, and my typical reaction is to parry and counter-strike to such a degree that my message, and the conversation in general, were rendered impotent.  No man likes that word, and it was a pretty jarring revelation.  Unfortunately for me, after some heavy, brain-hurting deliberation, I would have to agree with them.

This is not to say I’m a negative person.  I think I’m quite the contrary.  I’m downright pleasant in real life.  To me, the glass is not empty or full, it’s merely at 50% capacity.

Negative energy is my muse, is what I’m saying.  Being in a bad mood or hearing lousy news inspires and compels me to write.  This revelation was also helped along by a another comment from my wife.  She explained that when we met, I had piles of short stories that I shared with her, mostly written before we started dating.  As I fell deeper and harder for her, the stories stopped, and they stopped for a long time.

Because – I was happy.

My wife is pretty smart, right?

What does any of this have to do with having or needing a nemesis?  Well, maybe it means nothing to you.  Maybe you’re happy and successful and content without one.  But me, I need opposition.  I need obstacles.  I need drama?  I don’t like to call it that, I call it inspiration, and here’s how it works for me.

The Professional Nemesis

I used to work in Telecom, as a Network Engineer.  I would tell people that, and they would say, “Oh, you put up cell towers?”  No, that wasn’t me.  I was the guy working in the office in a cubicle behind a computer making your phone calls work once they magically transported themselves from the cell tower to the central office.  But, I did work with those guys who did the field installations, and you should know that your ability to watch YouTube videos on your phone is all because of a delicate balancing act of antenna aiming (them) and bandwidth resource management (me).

This is Network Engineering.

This is Network Engineering.

Anyway, we used to have weekly conference calls with all hands on deck to discuss the status of every new site on the map.  And every week this one guy, Siddiqui, a field guy, used to say he couldn’t complete something because of incomplete design of network resources.  His job had nothing to do with the network resources, and I always fumed when he said such things.  I really took it personally, and in my irrational way, Siddiqui became my nemesis.

Mind you, I never met Siddiqui in person, and never spoke to him outside of this weekly call.  I don’t know how good or bad an employee he was.  But his flagrant and blatant and numerous finger-points in my direction drove me to be a better engineer.  Every day, the first thing I would check in my work queue were Siddiqui’s sites, and I engineered the crap out them.  My goal, even though my tasks occurred downstream in the process, was to not give Siddiqui an excuse.

The funny thing is, I got really good at my job because of it.  I figured out how to streamline my own set of tasks, so I could design connections and assign resources for all of the field engineers, not just Siddiqui.  I got way ahead of everyone else’s work queues, often to the point that I had to stop myself.  After all, I worked for a phone company, I wasn’t allowed to be too efficient.

The Nemesis as Inspiration

I viewed my old blog in the same way, where I played the part of the oppressed everyman against the big machine of local politicians.  (Okay, maybe I am dramatic.)  But it worked great as a creative writing tool, and I never lacked for inspiration, even if it was fueled by anger and frustration over the people who run my town right now.  If I had writer’s block, all I’d have to do is wait a day or two, and something would happen.  There would be a town meeting or a newspaper article to comment on.  I might have focused on a few specific people, but as a focus for my blog, my nemesis was the local government.

However, you could argue that I may have taken that particular nemesis relationship a bit too far.  I miss that old blog, but I don’t miss the shadowy anonymity it required.

Sadness, Loneliness, Frustration – these are all powerful and terrible feelings.  It’s easy to view these negative forces as adversaries in your own mind.  Consider the stereotypical moody and angry artist.  The fact that that stereotype even exists validates that my own use of negative expression as something common, and maybe a little hackish.

And so I guess that leads me to my final thought on my nemesis.  Perhaps, for me, my challenge needs to be to take that exasperation and irritation, and to not churn it up and spit it back out.  Maybe I need to hold onto it, consider it, re-shape it like a ball of clay, and turn it into something better than what it was.

So, now that I said all that, I’m in the market for a new nemesis.  Apply at your own risk.

Not exactly like this...

Not exactly like this…

Maybe not a whole limb – I guess it’s more like missing a finger.  But hey, some fingers are more important than others.  You wouldn’t want to lose either of your thumbs.  Or ring finger with your wedding band.  Or, if you’re an angry person, the emotionally charged middle finger.

I recently stopped writing a blog I’d been writing for about 18 months.  I’d gotten about 240 posts into it, and hell broke loose.  Did I mention I wrote it anonymously?  Also, it was political and a bit too sarcastic-turned-nasty at times.  Some people didn’t like, and life got a bit uncomfortable, so I shut it down.  I’ve been writing a short history of the experience, but it’s not ready for print yet.  Yet…

But losing that blog has had a real affect on my state of mind and my usual chipper attitude.  I miss it.  I miss the feedback from readers and the sphincter-tightening feeling I sometime got when I wrote something provocative.  I miss looking at stats.  I still check the site’s stats, out of habit.  Also, I’m sure I don’t know any better, but I think I check them to see if anyone’s hacked it and put it back up.  But they haven’t.

I used to write fast, posting 3 or 4 times a week, waking up early to write before work, reading the newspaper to see what happened that needed my commentary.  And now I just wake up and don’t write, because it’s not there anymore.  Phantom limb?  Phantom blog.

I fill the time where I was writing with some reading, some TV, some extra snacks.  A lot has happened that I could have been writing about, and I wonder if my readers miss me as much as I miss them.  Some yes, some no, is my guess.  Kinda like the way I felt about them.  I miss most of my readers, and I’m glad not to hear from a few.

That was good.  Like scratching an itch.  I should do this more often.