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Yes, you have to choose. But can’t you choose everything?

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
I am writing this on my iPhone in the backseat of a taxi.

I am coming home from a whirlwind research trip to Nicaragua and I have approximately 30 hours at home before my next flight.

Maybe I should have just stayed at the airport.
*
While I was in Nicaragua, my normally patient and always supportive husband was beginning to show some signs of wear and tear– the collateral damage of being a writer’s partner (especially one who travels so much)– during our nightly gchats. Having recently started a blog of his own in addition to his work as a photographer, he’s finding it tough to carve out uninterrupted time to write AND be a full-time stay-at-home dad, one who holds down the fort and keeps the home fire burning when I’m gone (and, truth be told, when I’m home, too).

“I haven’t had a minute to write since you left,” he typed. “Am exhausted.” The man with boundless energy had hit the wall and was feeling frustrated about it.

*
Over the past 3.5 years our roles have been reshaped to include the title of “parents” in our multi-hyphenated job descriptions. There is never enough time or energy to do everything we want to do. Writing and thinking are always interrupted. And yet, this is what we chose for ourselves– the vocation of parenthood– and we made the conscious decison to add another child to this romper room of a life we’ve made for ourselves.

People– mostly strangers I meet when traveling– keep asking me if I’m ready for this baby yet. “I keep telling him, ‘Just don’t come early because Ive got a lot to get done,’” I say. They laugh. I laugh.

I’m not joking.
*
When I started writing this post a few weeks ago, various writer friends and acquaintances were circulating “10 tips for aspiring journalists” that journalist Michael Hastings dispensed before his death in a car accident in mid-June. Most repostings of the tips were accompanied by commentary like “Solid advice for budding [ugh] writers.” I guess it was/is solid advice, but perhaps most of it just feels so obvious to me that it’s hard to remember what it was like to hear any of that for the first time.

Tip 9 really rubbed me the wrong way, though:

“9) Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it’s more important to you than anything else in your life–family, friends, social life, whatever.”

It’s not the first part of tip 9 with which I take issue… obviously. If you don’t love reporting and you don’t love writing, why would you be in the business in the first place? The answer definitely isn’t “for the money,” and I genuinely can’t think of a single compelling answer why someone would devote herself or himself to writing or journalism if the inherent love for words and reporting wasn’t there.

It’s the second part of tip 9 with which I take issue: “Like it’s more important… than anything else in your life.” I hear this a lot. I have writer friends who defer having children or who are agonizing over whether they will decide to have children because they’re afraid that kids will intrude on their writing career and, especially, their neat trajectory toward the pinnacle of writing success… whatever that is.

Hastings’ advice makes me crazy because it reinforces the erroneous idea that writers have to be of the world yet never quite fully in it. That they don’t have to figure out how to make it all work because, well, writing’s just more important than anything: a healthy relationship, other hobbies and interests, and, possibly, the joys and, yes, the frustrations, of having kids.

It’s a false choice he proposed, in my opinion. Further, where does that leave writers and journalists who do have children or who believe that other parts of their lives are at least as important as writing and that, in fact, those parts of their lives give them tools and resources in their writing that they wouldn’t have otherwise?

It’s not that writers are free from the work of making choices. But I believe you can choose it all. I don’t believe that means anything will be easy. But I also believe that going it alone or that living life as if writing is more important than anything else– than everything else– is probably the hardest choice of all, and one that doesn’t actually serve a writer’s work as much as that bit of advice seems to imply.

Kevin Larimer on excuses

Kevin Larimer is the editor of Poets & Writers, a magazine published here in the US.

In his “Editor’s Note” in the July/August 2012 issue, he offers a novel analysis of an argument against the oft-trotted out advice “No excuses” that I think is worth sharing and discussing. I’ve excerpted a large chunk of the Note here; I recommend picking up the issue and reading the whole thing:

“I’ve read a good deal of writing advice, and I’ve tried to share the best of it with readers…. But in my opinion, there’s one nugget of wisdom that gets dug up in far too many essays on the writing life: ‘No excuses.’ It’s typically used to remind us how, when all is said and done, the writer must write, period. It’s a battle cry against procrastination, and I appreciate its efficacy…. But this prohibition on excuses strikes me as a mere headline, appealing to those who think riches await if only they can commit to a rigorous writing schedule. It’s an example of the five-easy-steps approach to literature that I vehemently resist….

…To which I cry out, “No excuses!” The truth is, if we’re doing good work there is no need to justify it. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many revisions have been scrapped or how many agents and editors have rejected us, we shouldn’t have to offer excuses for how we got here. Living a life… and writing a great poem or story or essay or book are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite. The writing life is messy, and there’s no secret to success. Instead, there are many paths leading to where you want to go….”

What are your thoughts about Larimer’s take on excuses?

The memoirist’s notebook

Last fall, I was asked by a prominent public figure if I would be interested in helping her write a memoir.

Though I don’t have experience writing memoirs, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.  The opportunity to sit alongside this strong, remarkable woman and be entrusted with the responsibility of hearing her stories and helping her find a way to shape them into a cohesive narrative that would be relevant and meaningful to a mass audience was impossible to decline. Plus, memoir is one of my favorite genres, so I felt I had a solid sense of the elements a powerful and marketable memoir requires. I reckoned I’d figure out the finer points of writing in this genre as I’ve figured out most things in life: by simply doing it.*

*

I enter her home, which is immaculately clean, for our first “formal” interview session. We have agreed we will meet as frequently as feasible in person and weekly by phone so that I can begin recording her history. Out of these early audio files and pages upon pages of written notes, including reminders about follow up questions and other sources I should contact, we will build the eventual book.

But even before I sit down to talk with her, I am distracted. Beyond all she will tell me over time, there will also, I am suddenly realizing, be all she won’t tell me. I am seized with wonder and worry; there’s more to attend to and consider than I initially thought. What is on the record and what is off? Will the books that are sitting on the coffee table–the books that cement an image of her as intellectual and worldly–eventually have some significance? Is she even reading them or are they her husband’s? I don’t know this now, of course,  but I make a note of them. Soon, my notebook is divided into two distinct sections- the notes about what she has said, and the notes about what she hasn’t: the objects in her environment; the places in her home that I’ll ask to see eventually but for which we haven’t yet developed enough rapport; the people whose contact information I’ll ask for months from now.

*

After this first session, which was nearly three hours, I sit down and review my notes. Five pages of what she has told me and my parenthetical notes. Everything seems important, even the details that probably aren’t, like what time we met and where, and what she was wearing. I type the notes and save them in a file and allow myself the little luxury of imagining that someday, these may be part of some university’s or institution’s archives.

Then, I shut the notebook and make an entry on my calendar about next week’s meeting.

*or, as they say in Spanish, “aprender caminando,” or “learn while walking.”

How do you decide when to take on a passion project?

Much of the work I do has a “passion project” element to it. 

What that means is that it’s something I’m passionate about… and it’s something the people I’m working with are passionate about, too, but the project pays below market rate, if it pays at all.

As part of my annual end-of-one-year-beginning-of-another analysis of my work and lifestyle choices, I’ve been thinking a lot about passion projects, and though it may sound Scrooge-y to say so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to be much more discerning about the work and projects I’ll take on that don’t involve (fair) compensation in 2012.

I’ve always been a hard worker and I’ve always given my all to support projects I felt were worthy of my time and energy, even if there was nothing but good feeling in it for me. But as a mom and a wife who wants to be present to her family, and as a person who has many interests she doesn’t have time to explore as much as she’d like, it’s time to prioritize and get selective. I won’t be taking on work–writing or otherwise–that pays below market rate, and the “feel-good” projects to which I lend my time have to pass a “major impact” test (as in: Will they have a major impact? For who? How?).

Sure, the world economy (still) sucks. No, writing has never paid exceptionally well. But unless we each set down a quantitative and a qualitative accounting of what we believe our worth is, no one is going to step up to change either of those conditions.

How do you decide when (or if) to take on a passion project? Have a specific example you care to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

 

In 2010, there were 82 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 129 posts. There were 26 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 36mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was March 12th with 363 views. The most popular post that day was 4 Places to Write in Peace in NYC.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, stumbleupon.com, facebook.com, matadornetwork.com, and thetravelersnotebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for clever bios, cuaderno inedito, best places to write in nyc, places to write in nyc, and clever twitter bios.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

4 Places to Write in Peace in NYC March 2010
10 comments

2

About August 2009
9 comments

3

Indistinguishable Places: Some Notes on Adjectives in Travel Writing May 2010
19 comments

4

How to look for untold stories July 2010
33 comments and 2 Likes on WordPress.com

5

Is travel blogging a closed circle? September 2010
51 comments

Notes on (almost) giving up on Puerto Rico

[Note: It's been quiet around here, I know. I was away for a week in Mexico City working on an assignment for Sherman's Travel; five days in South Carolina to celebrate Mariel's birthday and continue researching an essay I'm working on about the redevelopment of Southern towns; five days in Puerto Rico, working on features about Puerto Rico's "culinary scene" and about conservation, and, finally (hopefully)... the conclusion of the iPhone app project.]

The annoyance is rising up before we’re even out of the terminal. I feel it in my right shoulder, in my stomach, behind my eyes. It’s familiar; it’s the same feeling I had every time we landed when we lived here. The 30 minutes to get out of the plane because of overstuffed bins. The interminably slow delivery of bags. The unannounced change of carousel where the bags eventually make their appearance. The inevitable search for baggage tickets, which are always, always, matched to luggage tags in a spectacularly useless display of authority.

By the time Francisco has strapped the baby’s seat into the rental car, I’m full on furious. In addition to the expected surcharge for using a debit card, there’s a host of new fees I didn’t figure into our budget. Some are optional, some aren’t, but I haven’t heard of these anywhere else, not even in New York City, where we rent a car at least once a month. Francisco documents all the car’s scratches. We know from experience that missing a scratch here will cost us a lot of money. I look at all the flattened Heineken and Medalla bottle caps on the parking lot and wonder how and why they’re here. I’m muttering to myself about the tourism board’s lack of helpfulness and wondering where we’re going to stay as I strap Mariel in.

We’ve been on the ground for an hour. Mariel is out of milk, so we stop at two grocery stores; neither carries organic. “What should I get, then?” Francisco asks me, calling on the cell phone as I drive around the parking lot and marvel, as always, that people just leave shopping carts wherever they finish unloading them, that they block handicapped spaces so they can idle their cars as close as possible to the store entrance. I flip through the catalog of phenomena that annoyed me when we lived here.

Nothing has changed.

“Dammit, just get regular milk then,” I tell him, hanging up so I can call the hotel where we intended to stay. “Nope, sorry, reservations is closed. We’re sold out.” I don’t know why I’m surprised that the arrangements I’d made–a media rate, not a comp–have fallen through. Here, I’ve always got to have a Plan B. Or C.

Francisco hustles back to the car, a 1/2 gallon of milk in hand. He looks a little defeated. I choose a cheap hotel in Miramar. The desk agent is slow and he’s the only person on duty. In addition to check-ins, he’s also, apparently, the valet parking attendant. Forty minutes later, the car is parked, we’re in our room, and we’re hungry. We’re also late for an appointment I’d made with a chef, who is waiting for us. Back in the car, we’re sitting in standstill traffic. Mariel starts howling. She hates restraints and she’s hit the wall. “Just go back to the hotel,” I tell Francisco. “I’ll reschedule.” I do–twice–but we never make the appointment.

“We’ll get a cream of corn soup and some water and everything’ll be cool.” I go into trip manager mode because travel–the logistics part, in particular–makes Francisco anxious. As soon as he stops the car, I bound into the hotel’s restaurant to place our order. “Um, we’re closed,” says the girl behind the bar. “But hey, you can order drinks!” I want to say “Look at me. Are you fucking kidding?” But I don’t. I don’t say thank you or good night. I scoop up Mariel and go upstairs. Francisco goes to a Chinese joint and brings back some shitty noodles, which we eat as we watch a show on Discovery about prisons.

It all feels metaphoric.

*

There’s a lot to get done in five days. Too much. Photos of at least 100 places. Meetings with chefs and hotel managers and conservation people and art collectors and artists. I need to maximize this trip, need to advance or finish multiple projects while I’m here. I need, for once, to not go home in overdraft.

Another frustration pops up, and then another, and it shouldn’t break my stride, really, because I’m so accustomed to this here, but I hear myself as I get close to my breaking point. “Why do I keep trying?” I say to Francisco. “Why do I keep working on Puerto Rico?” He is patient as ever as I complain about all the annoyances that he already knows about. “Honest to God, I’m so over this place.”

I go quiet, thinking about why I keep coming back: because I think there’s something worthy here even if it’s really, really hard to see. Because I keep learning more that helps me understand why everything here is so very often so very, very fucked up. Because for some crazy reason, I actually do care and there’s nothing I like more than the challenge of helping lost causes.

But still.

It would be easier to give up.

*

There are three things that convince me not to give up on Puerto Rico:

1. Francisco has gone out to Guaynabo to meet up with Curacao’s baseball team, which is in town for the pre-mundiales. I’m determined not to be late for a meeting and dinner with Chef Wilo Benet, so I pack Mariel up and walk to the bus stop. I’m resigned to this particular annoyance- the exact change, the inexact schedule, the guaranteed wait, the traffic as we crawl along to Condado. There’s no use in getting worked up about it. Mariel is tired and cries as we wait for the bus. I’m tired, too; we’re not getting nearly as much done as I’d hoped. I hold her and try to soothe her, but I probably have one of those vacant mom stares that can scare a person. An older woman walks by and then turns around “Quieres un pon, mija?” she asks me. I’m startled by her kindness, as well as the state I must look like I’m in to warrant her offer of a ride. “No, gracias,” I tell her, not wanting to put her through the inconvenience of a drive to Condado at this hour. But I think about her all afternoon with a gratitude I can’t quite explain and don’t tell anyone about.

2. We’re talking with Wilo over dinner at Pikayo. The conversation is in Spanish and English and it’s honest and it’s easy and it’s interesting. Wilo says something that explains everything: “Puerto Ricans are the nicest, most helpful people in the world. Until money gets involved.” It’s a simple statement, an obvious one, a thought that’s almost cliched and feels that way as I write it. But it’s not and as the thought rests in the space between us, I try to think about how I might explain this to someone else.

3. We drive west out of San Juan to visit Hacienda La Esperanza, an old sugar plantation now under the auspices of Fideicomiso. The trip is part of my research for an article about the state of the environment in Puerto Rico. We’re far enough from the highway that we can’t see it at all; we’re surrounded by sugar cane and tall grasses that will become heno. The light is strange and beautiful, the way it meets the land and I feel sad and hopeful and angry, but committed. To help save this place and share it is part of my work.

 

3 Ways to Invest in Yourself as a Writer

If you want to be a writer* I don’t think you need to go to school and earn an MFA.  It’s not a bad idea and you’d probably get a lot of value out of it, but necessary? I don’t think so.

That being said, I do think that if you invest in yourself as a writer, you stand a greater chance of fulfilling clear and specific professional goals related to getting published.

Some writers realize this. Alyssa Martino of The Pen and Paper Chronicles is one, and she wrote about the investments she’s considering in making to promote her development as a professional writer here.

If I were making recommendations to Alyssa or other writers just getting serious about publishing, here are the resources I’d recommend investing in:

Media Bistro:  For $55 USD, you’ll get a one year membership to Media Bistro’s AvantGuild program. There are many benefits associated with the AvantGuild program, but the best one for my money is the How to Pitch board, which provides detailed specifications for pitching dozens of publications. Most of those publications are based in the US (and hint, hint Media Bistro- I’d pay double the price of membership if you expanded your listings to include a respectable representation of international publications).

MatadorU:   I’m obviously biased about MatadorU, as I work for Matador and helped develop this 12-week travel writing course. But apart from the lessons themselves, which were written by published travel writers, one of the most valuable aspects of this program is the instant access you get to other writers who are eager to support and promote your writing and share resources, as well as instant access to a market leads board, which lists paid and unpaid gigs and assignments. And a special insider’s tip? I’m working on developing paid travel writing assignments for U students and alumni. It’s a hefty investment at $350 USD, but we offer a payment plan, and the long term return will be worth the investment.

Poets & Writers: I started reading Poets & Writers as a teenager and then abandoned it throughout my 20s. I happened to pick up the most recent issue a couple weeks ago and found myself so taken in by almost every single article that I was underlining sentences as if reading some important academic text.  A subscription to Poets & Writers is an excellent investment not only because you’ll gain insight into your craft, but because the magazine (and its equally useful website) give you access to submission guides, contest calendars, and other ways to actually get your work out into the world.

What are some of the ways you’ve invested in yourself as a writer? What resources do you view as indispensable? Share your recommendations in the comments.

*which I’ve always thought is a somewhat silly articulation of an aspiration. You’re either a writer or your not. You’re not an aspiring writer (or a “budding” or “burgeoning” writer)… you’re just a writer. Perhaps you’re aspiring to be a published writer, but that’s different.

The life of a working travel writer

We left New York on Sunday and headed to Boston for one night, before driving on to spend two nights in New Hampshire and two nights in Vermont.  Over the course of those five nights and six days, we’d be staying at three properties. Among the articles and photo essays we’d be working on were pieces about what makes hotels “green.” Two of the three properties promote themselves as sustainable, trumpeting environmental values as a reason why guests should choose them over competitors. We’d be meeting with managers, talking with staff and guests, and walking the properties to see whether their claims were true.  Our hotel stays and most meals were comped, though some other expenses–transportation and parking, for example–were out of pocket.

*

We arrived in New Hampshire last night and hurried to dinner before the kitchen closed. Though the property has several restaurants, only one is open during our stay. Bummer. In researching this hotel before the trip, I’d read about its chef table service and was prepared to pay for that meal if it was not included.

The menu is uninspired–”New Hampshire comfort food”–pot pie, a flavorless ribeye with potato au gratin and maple glazed carrots, roast beef with boursin, duck breast with an orange glaze, lobster stew. Our appetizers of crab and lobster cakes and calamari get cold as Francisco moves the plates around, testing the dining room’s low light for a photo shoot.

“Sir, you can just tell us if there’s a problem,” a manager says, discouraging the photos.  I explain why we’re taking pictures (so many people mistakenly believe properties and their staff treat you better when you’re a visiting travel writer/photographer, but I’ve rarely found that to be true; most staff are totally unaware that you’re not visiting solely for pleasure).

“Why are you taking photos?” the woman at the neighboring table asks. We explain that I’m a travel writer.  “Ooh… sounds fun!” she says. “What a glamorous job!” her husband says. “Fun, definitely,” I tell her. “But glamorous? I don’t know. It barely pays the bills.” He looks at me like he’d give his right arm to not have to go to an office. “We have vacation twice a year,” he says. “I like the idea of vacation all the time.”

I didn’t want to disabuse him of his fantasy.

Besides, you’ll never catch me complaining about this job; it is pretty incredible. I get to travel with Francisco and Mariel frequently, and we’re able to share experiences that we’d not be likely to have otherwise.  And then we write about it and spend whatever we earn on new experiences.

Such is the life of a travel writer.

*

“So what do you do when a place isn’t good?” the woman asked as she waited for their daughter to polish off a cup of vanilla ice cream. “I’ve never really seen any travel writing that isn’t positive.”

Yep, that’s the tough part.

On this trip, for example, the properties themselves haven’t been particularly impressive.  Because this property has won numerous service awards, I’ve been surprised to see that the service isn’t simply unimpressive; it’s not consistent or attentive. After one dinner and one lunch here, we’ve scoped out options off property that we’ll have to pay for ourselves. And most importantly for our present purposes, I haven’t yet seen compelling evidence to support claims that this property is green.

This kind of let down is not uncommon. The more you travel, the greater your frame of reference becomes for evaluating properties, food, service, and experiences, and the more demanding you become. The better your filter becomes for marketing speak, too.

*

Before we leave on a trip–before we even propose one–we discuss ideas about articles and angles. These ideas are provisional- they’re the angles we want to scope out while we’re on the ground, but they’re not non-negotiable. Often, a more interesting and totally unanticipated story will emerge. And just as often, a story idea will be retooled or scrapped completely when the on the ground experience simply doesn’t support the original angle.

Since we’re not yet finished with either of the “green” properties, no decisions have been made yet about what stories will be written after this trip. But to answer the woman’s question, I told her that we won’t write positive articles about places or properties we genuinely can’t endorse. Nor will we drag them through the mud. There’s always a way to angle for a new story– you just have to be willing to look for it and continually adjust your own plans and expectations.

*

This aspect of travel writing is one of the issues I’ll address on the ethics panel at TBEX10. If you have questions about this aspect of travel writing or related ethical issues, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer them.

Poll: Will I see you at TBEX?

I’ve been invited by Kim Mance to be a panelist  at TBEX10, a travel bloggers’ conference taking place here in NYC in late June. I’ll be speaking about travel writing and ethics.

I’m curious to know whether you’ll be at TBEX. If so, where will you be coming from, will you be staying beyond the conference, and what do you expect from the conference? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


**

If you're interested in travel writing and ethics, be sure to read Do Freebies Undermine Honesty in Travel Writing? by David Page.

Covering your ass(ets): How to protect yourself & your money as a freelancer

Until recently, the work that paid my bills (because travel writing doesn’t, fully) was editing dissertations and theses. It was steady work, a mostly go-at-my-own-pace gig that paid well. I learned a great deal, reading about topics that interested me but which I’d never have time to investigate myself because of my own interests.

I did this work as a freelancer through a New York City-based company. I’d be offered projects to accept or decline, and I’d generally be paid within a week or two of completion. Then, the economy started tanking. But projects continued coming in and I continued taking them because I needed the money. The market for this kind of work remained curiously robust. I was lucky. I felt recession-proof.

*

I should have known something was up when I started having to chase down my checks at the midtown Manhattan office of the company I was working for. I knocked on the locked door of the office and a woman told me to go away. I told her I was there for my check and she’d open the door in a huff, telling me, “You can’t just come here anytime you please and ask for your check.” “Well, then, send it to me on time,” I told her on two occasions. “It’s not as if I want to come visit you because you’re a particularly unpleasant human being.”

*

Then, the office moved. I still chased my checks. And then, the project assigner let slip that the office was closing altogether. All the office workers were telecommuting. Still, the work was steady, I needed the money, and so I kept at it, even when finished projects were no longer paid on any semblance of a schedule.

*

Back in November, I was regularly wasting hours trying to track down money owed me. I stopped taking on projects sometime in December, figuring that if they were still busy, then my refusal to take on anything new until they paid me would motivate them to cut a check. I’d send emails asking when I could expect the balance due to be paid. “Friday,” the assistant would promise. Friday would come and there would never be any money.

By the time the new year rolled around, I was owed more than $2,000. Over the course of the month, occasional payments would be made, partial payments that pissed me off because each payment was made via PayPal, and each partial payment meant more money deducted for transaction fees.

As of this writing, I’m still owed over $800.

*

Last week, I decided that I’d given the company more than enough time to fulfill its obligations, and I sent an email saying that if I didn’t hear from them by 3 PM on Friday, I’d report them to the state Department of Labor for non-payment of wages. Though I’ve just filled out and submitted the form this morning at the local DoL office and have no idea how this matter will ultimately be resolved, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about how you can protect yourself as a freelancer. Having to chase down money is a waste of your time and not being paid creates anxiety, and who needs more of that?

Keep in mind that this advice will not apply to every situation. No magazine, for example, will pay you up front for a piece you haven’t yet submitted. But increasing your awareness about your financial rights and the actions you can take will help prevent you from experiencing the kind of situation I now find myself in.

*

1. Clarify the terms of agreement.

If you’re writing for a magazine, whether online or print, it should have a clearly stated payment policy. If you can’t find one, don’t be shy about asking the editor (a) at what rate you will be paid (flat? per word?); (b) when payment is processed; and (c) how payment is rendered (check? direct bank deposit? PayPal?). If you’re writing for a publication in a different country, you may be subject to that country’s tax withholding terms or you may have money deducted from your payment for transfer fees. Clarify the terms of agreement and keep these in writing.

2. Keep meticulous notes.

If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to chase down money owed you by pursuing legal or governmental mediation, you’ll benefit from having kept meticulous notes. I appended email exchanges, PayPal invoices, and other written documentation to my Department of Labor non-payment form to substantiate the claims I was making. Other information that is often requested when claims are being made against a publication or employer: the name of the payer’s bank, as well as their bank account number. It’s not a bad idea to make a copy of physical checks you receive. If being paid by other methods, be sure to keep an invoice or receipt in your records.

3. Follow up.

There are lots of reasons why a publication may not pay when it says it will; some of these reasons are legitimate and others aren’t. Make a note of when you’re expected to be paid and follow up if payment isn’t rendered. There’s no need for you to be antagonistic, but again–without any written evidence that you’ve attempted to hold the publication responsible for payment, you’re not likely to receive much help. The New York state Department of Labor does not resolve claims if the individual filing the claim hasn’t attempted to resolve the issue independently first.

4. Do not give in to shame.

Every time I sent an e-mail asking for the money I was owed, I felt ashamed. “You shouldn’t have to justify why you need the money,” my husband repeated in the pep talk that accompanied every one of my e-mails. “You did the work. They owe you the money. Period.” If an employer hasn’t paid you the money you’ve earned, there is zero shame in you asking for that money– and asking as many times as it takes to get it. Don’t simply write it off if you’re owed money.

5. Take action if you must.

There aren’t a whole lot of resources out there to help freelancers collect money they’re owed. The Freelancers Union bulletin board has tales of woe from stiffed writers and other creatives and their experiences yield some useful resources. The catch is that support varies by state (and country). Be sure to start with your region’s department of labor as first recourse.

6.  Keep your eye on the no-pay blacklist.

If you’re a member of Travelwriters.com (and it’s free, so why not?), you can browse through posts from angry writers on the bulletin board to see what publications are alleged to be no pay, slow pay, or problem pays. Though some writers are definitely on a bender there, it’s worth reading about others’ experiences and advice, and participating in the conversation yourself.

Have you had difficulty getting paid for an assignment? Do you have other tips for shaking the money tree? Sound off in the comments!

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