Nov 172011

I’m attracted to books that help people explore who they are. I’m also attracted to books that help people figure out what they want to do in life. Why? Well, because for years I struggled with what I wanted to do in life. How do you compete with the big dogs when you don’t even know which industry you belong in? Therein lies the conundrum.

When I applied to the University of Illinois, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then I was accepted. I went in general, major undeclared because I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what I was really good at. And there’s a huge difference between being good at something and then being really good.

The truth is I was afraid of choosing a career. I thought careers were forever and that once you chose one that was it – you had to follow through. There was no turning back. What if I failed? What if hated what I chose? I didn’t want to be one of those people stuck in a career they hated. I didn’t want to be one of those people waking up every day going to a job they despised. I was afraid of disappointing my parents, and worst of all, myself. I didn’t want to ruin my life. It was all rather terrifying.

One day, I realized that nobody could help me choose what I wanted to do in life. No counselor, teacher, parent, or friend. I had to make my own decisions. I had to make some choices. Trying not to make the wrong choice was like treading lightly on a ground filled with land minds; agonizing and stressful.

I chose to major in English/rhetoric with a minor in communications. I didn’t realize until my junior year that I wanted to be a creative writer as well as a journalist, but it was too late. I wasted too much time taking a bunch of classes I didn’t need.

If I knew then, what I know now…

I love English and rhetoric, but there will always be a special place in my heart for journalism, media and communications. I love reporting. I love seeking out the truth. Now that I’m older, I can honestly say that not immediately declaring a major was a mistake. I should’ve double majored in Journalism and English right from the start.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been evaluating my life and reading career-centric books. I believe they are extremely useful for a number of reasons. One, they force you to answer questions you have been avoiding. Two, they make you feel like it’s okay to say how you feel. Three, they encourage you to take risks. Four, they inspire you to take action and everybody knows if you want something in life, you’ve got to take action.

I wish somebody would’ve given me a book like this when I was a teenager. I think it would’ve really made me think about who I was and where I wanted to be.

The books below are excellent in helping people to discover who they are:

The All About Me books are amazing. They are interactive, so you just fill in the blanks. There are questions asking about who you are, what you think and what you would do in certain situations. If you want to learn more about yourself, fill out this book and pick it up again in five years. Your answers will blow your mind. No joke! For an extra challenge, fill out the All About Us book with your significant other.

344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment is a book I picked up a few weeks ago. I randomly stumbled across it and decided to order it and I’m glad I did. This is a book of questions geared towards designers, but applicable to anybody. There are questions in this book I’ve never asked myself and there are others I can’t seem to stop thinking about. This book is written in interactive flowcharts, so you write your answers directly in the book. It took me about three days to fill it out and during that time, I found myself being rather introspective. It’s extremely helpful if you’re interested in doing a life evaluation or are at a crossroads and are unsure about what to do next.

What I’m trying to say is, figure out who you are, what you want and then trust yourself enough to go for it. If you let your fear get the best of you, you’ll never know who you are or what you’re made of. Take a risk. Take a chance. Believe in yourself!

On that note, I’m off to work on my novel. Thanks for reading! Good luck on your life journey.

Sep 102010

Another door will open. Believe that.

There is nothing better than getting the go ahead on a piece you’ve queried out to several publications. It feels like you’re doing something right, that somebody, the universe even, is giving you the go ahead to pursue your writing career. In other words, it feels great.

Most recently, I submitted a query about Chicago Avenue between Damen and Ashland Avenue in Chicago and it got picked up by a well-read Chicago online Chicago magazine called Gapers Block. I was excited to write about a place that I both love and admire.

When I submitted the piece, I was afraid they weren’t going to like it. There were butterflies in my stomach and my hands were sweaty. But this is how I get whenever I submit something to an editor so I just sent it out. A few hours later, my editor contacted me and told me that she liked it. Joy! Two weeks later, it was in the Arts and Culture section. Score!

It was also posted on Windy Citizen, a Chicago-centric site that I am falling in love with. It is dedicated to all things Chicago – news, blogs and entertainment. I received positive feedback about the piece and it was even posted on the Huffington Post Chicago. It’s crazy how the small pieces you write end up on other web sites. This leads me to believe that people still read.

I needed that boost. I felt like GB gave me the opportunity I was looking for – a platform. I was grateful and I still am. You can read my piece here: A Hood in Limbo.

A few days later, I checked my e-mail and there was a request from a DJ asking if I would be interested in being interviewed for his radio show all about Chicago. I said yes and if you ever get the opportunity to be on a radio show you should say yes too. Why? Why not? Opportunities will always present themselves, but will you be aware enough to notice? Luckily, this time I was. You can check out the radio show here: Outside the Loop Radio.

Keep on truckin’ my writing pals.

Oct 172007

They publish things like this:

Writer’s Resources

WATCH OUT: Dangerous Clauses!
(Updated April 2000)

Publishers’ contracts for periodical articles may contain traps for the unwary. If you’re a freelance writer who treats your work as a business, you should never take contracts lightly. Some language to watch out for:“. . .First North American serial rights, which includes also. . .” No. FNA is FNA. It does not include other rights. Don’t read just the contract’s title. Read the whole thing.

“. . .the right to publish, distribute and license others to publish and distribute the article in all its forms [or in any media] . . . These words do not spell it out, but they mean you transfer electronic rights along with print rights.“. . .only as part of the issue in which it appears. . .” Sometimes added to electronic-rights clauses in an attempt to make the deal sound like simple archiving of an entire publication, for which the author should claim no further income. But whether your article stands with or without other material from the issue in which it first appears, the publisher will earn perpetual royalties from its continued use, generally payable according to how many times computer users “buy” your particular article. So should you.

“. . .for educational or research purposes only. . .” Same problem: Publishers can make a lot of money peddling your article for educational or research purposes. It’s your property; so should you.“. . .the nonexclusive right. . .” This may sound OK, but it often isn’t. Any right –Exclusive or nonexclusive –must be paid for and must be paid for appropriately. You should receive at least 50% of the gross revenue or a fair percantage of the original fee for each usage that occurs as a result of the publisher’s sublicensing or reuse of your work. (The editor of an Australian magazine who loves your piece is going to call the U.S. publisher, who will make the deal; you’ll never know. And if you approach the Australian editor yourself, he may well ask for a month’s exclusivity in Australia; you won’t be able to provide it. Because your publisher in the US may be selling it to the Australian’s competitor, you lose the sale. In market terms, “nonexclusive” wipes you out. Exclusive or nonexclusive, if the publisher wants the right, you ought to have separate compensation for that license.)

“. . .you will be paid at our then standard rate. . .” Would you give someone an option to buy your car at an indefinite future date and let the buyer set the price at that time?“. . .use the article and your name, biography and likeness for promotion and advertising of the publication. . .” Brief excerpts of the article, maybe. The whole article? No. Advertising copywriters are paid for their work. If your work is put to this additional use, you should be paid too. No serious professional photographer would say, “Sure, you can use my photo in the magazine and also put it in your ads, in your direct-mail pieces and on promotional electronic services.”

Making contracts more equitable can mean adding as well as deleting. For example, two smart additions to the rights clause: Make it “First North American English language print serial rights. . . .”

“All rights not expressly transferred herein are reserved by the author.”“. . .if the publisher, in its sole discretion, rejects the article. . .” Could be that your editor changes her mind; a new editor (or the advertising department) changes the direction of the magazine; the competition beats you to the punch; or your interview subject dies. In any of those cases, a piece may be killed through no fault of yours, and you see only a kill fee of perhaps 25 cents on the dollar. Too much of the risk is on your part. You should offer to revise a piece if the editor explains what’s wrong and how to fix it. But the kill fee should not kick in unless your article falls short of what was agreed upon in your Proposal and the editor’s assignment letter. If your work is professionally competent and suitable for publication, you should be paid the full fee promised.

“. . .publisher may revise, edit, augment, condense or otherwise alter the work. . .” Careful with “augment”; you don’t want to be responsible for what someone else writes. And always make sure editing is done with your approval or, at least, consultation. Publisher should agree to provide galleys sufficiently in advance of publication to permit correction of any errors. If editing changes result in an unsolvable dispute, you should have the right to withhold your byline. It’s your name.“. . .you warrant that the work is original, never before published; that you are the sole owner of the work; that the work is not libelous, obscene or otherwise in contravention of law and does not violate the proprietary right, privacy or any other right of any third party. . .” No problem with the first two sections (through “sole owner of the work”); you should be able to stand behind your work’s originality and your ownership of it. But can you honestly and fully warrant the rest—that your article won’t violate any laws anywhere? It should be a publisher’s responsibility, not yours, to have a lawyer check for libel. Obscenity laws are based on community standards; are you acquainted with local standards in every community in the nation or around the world. The last section can only be warranted “to the best of your knowledge.”

“. . .you will indemnify and hold harmless the publisher against any and all claims or actions based on a breach or alleged breach of the above warranties. . .” No author ought to assume a giant financial risk that properly belongs to the publisher. Certainly, you should not agree to cover the publisher for a mere claim or an action based on an alleged breach. If you are to be held liable at all, it should be only for a proven breach, “by judgment alone sustained,” so that you don’t wind up paying the bill for your publisher’s settlement of a baseless nuisance suit. Neither should you agree to pay half the defense costs if you are proven innocent. If you do nothing provably wrong, the risks of publishing should belong to the publisher. You’re a writer. If you wanted to take on the risks of publishing, you’d be a publisher.“. . .any action alleging a breach of this agreement must be brought in the state or federal courts of [publisher’s home turf]. . .” If you get stiffed for your fee, kill fee or expenses and want to take the publisher to small claims court, you’ll have to travel to the publisher’s state. Will the court award you travel expenses and payment for the extra time required? Good luck.

From: ©2007 ASJA, All Rights Reserved

Jan 242007

Lately, I’ve been writing a ton of food reviews and posting them on After visiting a restaurant, I try to write my review within the first 48 hours because the impression is still fresh in my mind. Below is the structure I use to write my reviews. Hope this helps.

In order to write a good, concise review, you will need to include a few elements such as a summary, a critical assessment, and an analysis of the work.

Establish the facts upfront. Give your readers a description of the topic you are going to review. What is your overall perspective?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can write about what strikes you as interesting. What’s so unique about them anyway? What is its relevance and why should they care? 

After you’ve analyzed the work, let your opinion be known. Would your readers like it? Did you? Is there anything you would change? Don’t leave anything out. If you remember it, then it’s worth mentioning.

Get creative and have fun. Good luck!