Coffee heat rising

Dog(walk) Days of Summer

Summer is tentatively turning its golden-locked head toward fall. Nights are growing longer, days shorter, and the other day’s violent storm knocked the temps down a few degrees. As I scribble, it’s only 98 out here on the side deck, just fine for breakfast, coffee, and computerized time-wasting.

You think I jest? Yes, it is “only” 98, by comparison balmy with recent days whose mornings have started out at 102. It’s a little drier than it was the other day, too: Wunderground pegs the humidity at a mere 38%, as nothing compared to yesterday’s 64%.

The endless doggy walk…

Ruby-Doo and I got a late start on the morning’s trek — didn’t leave the house till 6 a.m. But to my surprise, we hardly ran into any other dog walkers: only three dogs in a good two-mile perambulation. Which is like…the Twilight Zone, where you wake up one day and discover you’re the only person in the whole town.

What explains this Great Absence? I figure it’s Labor Day: this is the last big three-day weekend of the summer, and anyone who has the means flees the city for one last fling in the cool(er) high country. If you can take off Friday — which lots of people can — you wangle a four-day weekend. And if you work for a government office? Well!

At Arizona Highways — which is run by the Arizona Department of Transportation, making everyone there a state employee — we used to store up our vacation days so they would straddle a three-day weekend. So, for example, my boss would take four days off right after Labor Day, giving himself a week, and two weekends away from the office: (saturday.sunday.monday.tuesday.wednesday.thursday.friday.saturday.sunday) nine days off for the price of four vacation days.

Ultimately, this was remunerative, because the State of Arizona was required to pay you for unused vacation time when you retired. There was a (very generous) limit to the number of days you were allowed to stash for this purpose, but you can be sure that by the end of any given fiscal year my boss was always maxed in that department. 🙂

Didn’t do me much good, because my husband was in private practice and was expected to…oh, you know…show up to work? That kind of unreasonable demand. However, I still got enough vacation days to take off on the junkets he liked to indulge himself in: Hawaii and waypoints.

At any rate, whatever the reason, it was mighty quiet out there between 6 and 7 this a.m.

Susan-B.-Anthony-DollarIn the lengthening shadows of (financial) winter department, I discussed the current budgetary horror show with WonderAccountant. She pointed out that because I never owe any taxes and I get a large refund every year, it’s unnecessary for me to have the feds withhold income tax from Social Security. Cancel that! said she.

Well. Easier said than done.

After some fiddling around on the Internet, though, I finally found a form online. ONE LINE in an entire page of bureaucratic fill-in-the-blanks allows for a “Do not withhold” request. Checking the box and signing at the bottom requires fiddling around with downloading and then printing the form: duly done. then the page suggests you can either mail the form to a Social Security office or drive to an office near you and submit it in person.

So I figured I’d drive up to the SS office in Paradise Valley today and drop this thing off.

But on second thought: There’s no “dropping off” at that place. Dollars to donuts, I can’t just hand this thing across the counter to someone. I would surely end up having to take a seat and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. Depending on the time of day, wait times range from 45 minutes to three hours.

To turn in ONE FUCKING LINE??????????


Now the plan is to drive this over to the post office, stand in line there (almost as interminably, but surely not for one to three hours), and send it Return Receipt Requested. What a nuisance!

Well. The $300 a month that SS is now extracting from my paycheck will re-fund the empty Emergency Savings account, thereby taking up some of the slack.

That will still leave an $8870 shortfall, per annum.

But, noted WonderAccountant, now that we’ve converted The Copyeditor’s Desk from an S-corp to a sole proprietorship (and paid last year’s taxes!), I can take money out of that without tax consequences.

This year.

But then what?

It looks like the choices are…

  • To get a paying job. (Right! Know anyone in the market for a 74-year-old female employee? Har har!)
  • To cut every expense possible. (Done. Now what?)
  • To hustle up at least net $10,000 worth of business in the coming few months.

Ten grand is an awful lot of amateur novels and Chinese scientific treatises.

Truth to tell, the amateur novelists are paying one helluva lot more than the Chinese scientists. This is because a budding author’s draft magnum opus typically runs upwards of 30,000 words. At 4 cents a word, that’s $1,200. Or more. Usually more. The last two authors who hired me paid over $3,000 apiece. But even at only $1,200, that’s…what?  Three amateur novels would yield $3600, leaving a mere $6,400 in the shortfall. This would require about 20 Chinese scholarly articles to cover.

And that ain’t a-gonna happen. It might be workable if I could extract $3,000+ from every wannabe novelist. That is the going rate – 4 cents a word – if you look it up on the Net and you believe what other editors publish on their websites.  To make enough to generate at least 10 grand a year, then, I’d need to land three or four budding Herman Melvilles. Or Isaac Asimovs…most of them dream of writing science fiction.

The only way I could make that happen would be to really hustle the editing bidness. This would mean showing up at every local club of wannabe writers in the Valley — and showing up regularly. And handing out professionally written and laid-out marketing junk at every meeting. It has to be said that the last two novels I picked up came from members of the West Valley writer’s group.

That outfit meets in Tolleson, almost an hour’s jaunt from my house. It’s a horrible drive, and then you have to sit through three hours of palaver. The members are very nice and a delight to socialize with. But because nothing very useful — for my purposes — is said, it feels like an aching waste of my time. Especially if I have paying work in-house.

If I’m having to go to four or five such groups’ meetings, we could be talking about 12 to 15 hours a month of achingly boring time suck…plus drive time. I cringe! Surely there must be a better way??????



Want To Become A Freelancer? Build An Emergency Fund First!

From your seat at your desk, chained to your cubicle, the gig way of life looks like a refreshing alternative to your fluorescent 9–5 reality. Freelance workers get to choose when they want to work, where they want to work, and for whom they want to work. Being your own boss offers you newfound freedom and flexibility, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. It’s not always easy to leave behind what you know for something entirely different.

Change to your routine won’t be the only difficulty you face. Going it alone as a freelancer can also be financially challenging, as you won’t have many of the same support systems to help you prepare for emergencies, disability, or medical issues.

You can still survive these crises, but it will take careful planning before you can cut your shackles. The following tips will help create a financial cushion for your new life as a freelancer.

Figure out what you need

Some financial experts suggest you squirrel away as much as one year of wages to cover unexpected issues that limit your ability to earn a living. Others suggest saving 20 percent of your income to cover smaller emergencies like surprise household or auto repairs. If you aren’t sure which is more appropriate or realistic for your circumstances, you may want to speak with a financial advisor about your options. They can help you create a plan that gets you where you need to be.

Automate savings

Saving doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For some, it’s a lot easier to let go of their hard-earned dollars than it is to keep them. If that’s the case for you, you may have better luck with tricking yourself into saving.

One old-fashioned method of trickery is putting your extra change in a piggy bank — though this only works if you rely primarily on cash to make your purchases. In an increasingly digital world, where you can use your phone to buy office supplies or your morning cup of joe, you won’t always have physical change to save.

Automating your savings is an easy workaround that lets you save without really thinking about it. You can pre-authorize automatic withdrawals from your account and put them into savings at the start of every month.

Skimming off the top of every month has a trickle-down effect. You’ll have less money left over to cover the necessities once you’ve contributed to savings, so you’ll have to be careful with how you spend it. By working with a smaller monthly budget, you’re less likely to spend your money on unnecessary things.

Though you can achieve this through any basic e-banking account, you can also turn to automatic money-saving apps, such as Acorns or Chime’s savings account, to help you make saving easier than ever.

Search out fintech alternatives

Life is full of surprises, and many of them aren’t the happy kind. Sometimes, they arrive in the form of an unexpected bill or traffic accident that tests your finances. If this happens before you’ve built up a considerable emergency fund, you may not know how to cover a fender bender paid outside of insurance. While traditional advance loans can help cover some financial issues, they aren’t always the right solution thanks to your career choice. They can be difficult to secure, or they may take too long to arrive in your bank account.

When you’re missing critical funds during an emergency, a company like MoneyKey can help. They’re part of a bustling fintech industry that provides alternatives to the traditional borrowing experience. While many retail banks follow outdated methods to review and approve cash loans, these fintech lenders have a fresher take on lending. Unlike conventional banks, online lenders like MoneyKey remove some of the complexities that act as barriers to getting the help you need.

They do it all online, so they can help you faster with online payday loans that you can receive in as little as one business day. Online lenders even have apps, so you can solve your cash flow problems faster and easier than ever before.

Know your online resources

As an office grunt, you have access to an HR department that can answer questions about benefits, insurance, and other money-related concerns. You won’t be able to rely on these professionals once you quit your job and start freelancing.

You need to be proactive if you expect to find the answers to your burning questions about the gig life. Luckily, in the age of information, you can find every answer to your questions online — and then some.

When you want basic information about how to budget or save wisely as a freelancer, personal finance websites like CNBC, Nerd Wallet, and Wise Bread offer simple tips to balance your books. Freelancers themselves often write these guides, making them reliable sources for advice on how to build a retirement fund, contribute to benefits, and make an emergency fund.

Freelancing takes work, but it’s worth it

Freelance work can seem like an amazing opportunity when you feel like you’re stuck in the office. Before you take a flying leap into freelance-hood, you need to face the financial realities of this career choice. While it offers your more freedom, it may be more difficult to recover from emergencies. Prevent this from happening by developing a robust emergency fund before you quit your day job. You’ll be better prepared to appreciate your new line of work.

Retirement: Not for the faint of heart

Nor, one might add, for the young.

O…M…G….  I can not believe I worked on course prep until midnight, bolted down a few bites of nondinner, fed the dog, wrung the dog out, and then read copy until 1-flicking-30 in the morning. Back at it by 5:30 ayem.

Just finished plowing through the paid detective novel, absorbed a Guinness with some cheddar, a handful of baby romaine, and a pile of olives niçoises, and now am about to go to bed. How many hours of the past 24 have I been working? It’s 2:19…hmmm… about 20.

ohhhhhhhhh….. 😯

OMG…Never rains but it pours

Just when you think you can loaf (make that “get caught up with all the survival chores you haven’t done”), in rolls another gigantic wave of work. The semester’s end brings three huge piles of student papers. Two of the piles comprise about twenty 2,500-word papers apiece! Those gems, 100,000 words of them, arrive on Monday; grades have to be in on Friday, May 14.

The 101s turned their pile in yesterday—portfolios plus a retrospective essay. Pedagogically correct but just another pointless mound of papers for me.

Meanwhile, one of my clients has been given a deadline of May 15 to submit his huge, arcane project. He wants me to read the entire darned thing. Now. And while I’m at it, format his tables to fit APA style. So, these student papers are going to have to be shoveled off my desk as fast as they come in.

So focused was I last night on finishing the 101 papers before bed-time that I worked without lifting my head until 9:30. About that time I looked at the clock and realized I’d missed choir practice!

Egregious. Especially since it’s my birthday and the choir probably bought a cake to celebrate. Damn it.

Today I’ve got to read the client’s copy. Since I haven’t had a chance to do the laundry in two weeks, the washing will have to be shoved in around that job. Given the time crunch, once again I’ll be working for six- to eight-hour stretches without looking up, stopping long enough to grab a meal, and then going back for another six to eight hours. God only knows how long it will take to read this copy: it’s arcane, complex, and turgid. Not as annoying as freshman copy, but extremely difficult.

I suppose it’s a time management thing. I need to figure out ways to balance this workload so it doesn’t all come pouring in at once.

Of course, I had no way of anticipating that the client would show up on my doorstep with a massive project just as the students disgorged a river of trash for me to read. Well…yes, I did: Murphy’s Law!

Time management lessons learned:

Always assume that when your workload is greatest, a mass of extra work will land on your head.

Whenever possible, arrange to do the largest part of a project’s labor near the beginning of the project. Thus when the mass of extra work comes crashing in, you’ll have some space before the project’s deadline.

Never procrastinate.

Delegate whenever possible.

Next time I teach 102, I think I’m going to assign the huge research paper at mid-term. It will interfere with the students’ mid-term exams, but tant pis. When it’s due at the end of the semester, it interferes with their finals. If the big research paper is out of the way, then the last set of papers will be relatively easy to dispense with.

And with the 101s, I think we’ll make all their four papers research-based. Delaying until they arrive at the two researched papers that the school’s policy requires means they don’t have enough time to ingest MLA style. About 80 percent of these folks are in community college because they’re not great students. Unless you have a passion for research and writing, which none of them do, you have a really tough time learning the basic principles of citation and documentation. Giving them an entire semester to learn what a style manual is and how to follow it should reduce some of the grading pain at the end of the term. I’m also going to have them buy the MLA manual. I can’t dispense with the textbook, which is largely a waste (it’s wanting in several ways), but I can add something they really will use.

Well, onward. It’s back to work!

Don’t Panic: A sign of light

Frugal Scholar had a bit of a meltdown as rumors of 25 percent cutbacks swirled through her campus. This kind of talk is unnerving, especially since we know that when layoffs loom, the talk that precedes them often comes to pass.

There’s certainly no real evidence that the economy’s alleged recovery is affecting the average Jane and Joe at the state level. Here in Arizona, the state and cities are at the point of canning firefighters and police, and we’re told that unless we vote in the proposed tax hike—which we probably won’t, this being a Kill-the-Beast sort of place—schools will be shut down and cutbacks will be Draconian. Real estate is still worthless, and while the media yelp enthusiastically over openings at this and that megacorporation, they’re all minimum-wage burger-flipping, shelf-stocking, and housekeeping jobs.

But…some individual stories offer a glimmer of  hope. Tina, a.k.a. The Kid, landed herself an editor’s job in the College of Business out at the Great Desert University. Pay isn’t great, but it’s a helluva lot better than the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was paying her. A paycheck could fall way short of that and still be an improvement: she earned more in five hours waiting tables at Applebee’s than we paid her in a week. What she’s earning now at least apes a normal wage. And, because the journal has private funding, she will get occasional bonuses that, mirabilis, will not be paid through the rapacious state of Arizona.

Meanwhile, she had a bunch of freelance gigs pending, all of which had been sitting there for quite some time and none of which were doing anything. She had given up on them, figuring it was all so  much hot air.

Now, however, the largest of those putative clients wants her to manage a textbook project. Pay: $39,000, more than the enhanced new salary at GDU. Add that contract to the day job, Applebee’s, and her other contracts and, says she, in 2010 she could rack up as much as $100,000!

Not bad for a liberal arts graduate. Not bad for cobbling together a living from a bunch of different sources.

She’s now considering farming out this work to her fellow editorialists, keeping a finder’s fee for herself. This strategy will bring a few bucks for her and keep her clients on the string, so if the job falls through for any reason (it is ASU, after all, and ASU is the State of Arizona, an institution in shambles), she’ll still have the freelance work to fall back on.

Another friend was offered ten grand to do a book project but turned it down because she has enough work, thank you.

So, the post-layoff world is not altogether bleak. It is possible to turn up work here and there (some of it paid in cash), and my experience is confirming SDXB’s assurance that it doesn’t cost anything like what you expect to live in Bumhood. I’m now not only not sorry GDU laid me off, I’m glad of it! Wouldn’t go back to work full-time on a bet.


One of the freelance writer’s (and editor’s!) mottoes is “A$k and ye shall re¢eive.” It was coined (as it were) by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the best of the few truly useful writer’s groups in existence. The gist of this bon mot is that you should not accept just any lowball offer a publisher tries to inflict on you, but instead should insist on being paid fairly for professional work.

Well, I just landed a client that pays a moderate but more or less acceptable rate. Only problem is, this company expects contractors to sign a nondisclosure agreement that contains not one, not two, but three onerous indemnity clauses. In a nutshell, the contract proposes that the penniless freelancer will pay all the legal bills for any claim even vaguely related to her or his work that is brought against this international corporation by any wretch who thinks he or she should feel aggrieved.

I’ve been going back and forth with the company’s rep for the past ten days or two weeks over this, they offering one modification or another and me repeating that I’m not signing any agreement to indemnify.

Amazingly, they sat down and rewrote their contract to delete the offending clauses! The thing arrived in the e-mail this morning. So… I guess we’re on.

This is the second time I’ve stood my ground on indemnity clauses, expected to be told to take a hike, but prevailed.

The take-home message here is that if you own a small enterprise, you should stand firm on negotiating your terms and your price, and never accept a deal that puts you at a disadvantage.