The Self-Employment Chronicles Part 4

Question Person

by Keith A. Owens

So last week our hero (that would be me) was sorely distressed to discover that the amount of money he had been planning on receiving from his retirement account – and other sources – than had been anticipated and planned for. As a matter of fact your hero wound up receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000 less than he had originally been told he was going to receive from his retirement funds.

Gee. Tough break, you say. Yeah. No kidding, I say (because this is a family-friendly discussion and I cannot say how I would truly respond to someone whose only reaction to my predicament would be to say ‘Gee. Tough break.’ Right?).

So exactly how did this happen? You might also ask. Well, in a nutshell it has to do with something known as the stock market. My retirement funds were invested in a variety of relatively (so I had been told) moderate risk stocks. Even if I had chosen to take the riskier option to get more return (which I did upon my employer’s advice) the company investing our funds still had a policy that kept them from investing employee retirement funds in the really wack funds, because that would be wrong. So this is me, being fiscally responsible and planning for my family’s future, right? Because for every dollar of my income that goes into the mandated retirement fund, my good government job invested a five-to-one match, meaning $5 was being invested on my behalf for every $1 of my income. Or something like that. And every so often throughout my employment I would get these statements showing how my stock portfolio was performing and how my money was just growing and growing and growing and…

And then the bottom fell out of the economy.  But even after the initial earthquake, my portfolio did semi-decent from what I could tell. Not like I’m an expert in reading stock reports. But from what I could see, the ticker was still pointing upwards and that was a good thing.  Mo’ money, mo’ money, and all that. So, cool. All I need to do is just keep this good government job for at least 5-10 more years and I figured me and the wife would have a decent amount saved up, plus some other things should be in the works that should have put us on a fairly stable path, or at least stable for us.

Then I was laid off.  So immediately I call up the retirement folks to find out the procedure for getting my money out so we could have something to, you know, buy food and all that. Because the unemployment insurance to which I am entitled only covered the mortgage. Period. So the guy does the math and tells me how much to expect. It’s a decent amount and I’m glad. Then the check arrives about a month later and a significant chunk of what had been promised is missing. What gives? I ask after calling back. Stock market goes up, stock market goes down, is essentially what he said. The amount I had in the stock market a month ago had dropped by $8,000 by the time the paperwork was all approved and my money was pulled out.

Gee. Tough break.

The lesson here for a fledgling self-employed person? Don’t count on not one dime, not one penny, until that dime and/or penny is resting comfortably inside your warm little hand. Make your plans based on what you know you have, not on what you hope and pray you will have once this and that comes through from wherever whenever.

In short? Be honest with yourself. Because you’re only hurting yourself, your family, and your business if you aren’t.


Do you have a self-employment story? Let us know in the comments!

Would you like Keith to write your story with wit and empathy? Contact him!




The Other Side of the Writing Wall

Keith and his iMac
Keith writing on his new iMac!

Keith says: I’m a writer. You’re a writer. How did we get here?

The Other Side of the Wall

Part 3

Because it bears repeating:

“The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day. There are two reasons for this rule: getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind.

“If you want to finish this novel of yours within a year, there’s not a moment to lose. There’s no time to wait for inspiration. I write three hours every morning. It’s the first thing I do, Monday through Sunday, 52 weeks a year.”

This is a direct quote from master storyteller Walter Mosley, one of the nation’s best mystery writers and one of my all-time favorites. And as I also said last week, I would be lying if I said I was able to maintain a regimen as disciplined as Mosley’s, but it definitely gives me something to aspire to. And I can honestly say that I do write, on average, at least five days a week, and usually six. And one of the reasons why I can’t dedicate three hours every morning to the craft like Mosley is because I am also a full-time musician so I have to divide my time and then still leave enough time for family.

I know. Excuses, excuses, excuses. But hey, it was a nice try, wasn’t it?

Anyway, moving forward I thought this week I would talk a bit about how I got into the business of writing. Or, more specifically, how I knew I had been called to the craft. Because, truth be told, I don’t think most writers – or musicians – choose to become either. The truth is that the craft chooses you.

Where it all began for me, at least according to my mother, was when I was about three years old. She still has the photograph she took of me wearing nothing but my pajama top reaching up on tiptoe trying to hammer out my frustrations on the typewriter. But even before that my mother used to read Dr. Seuss stories to me practically every day.  Dr. Seuss and my mother are the ones who taught me how to read. Also my father would frequently come to my bedside and tell me stories that he made up on the spot just to help me get to sleep. And one thing they both agreed on for sure was that there would be no baby talk. I never once heard any such word as ‘pee pee’ or ‘wee wee’ or any other such garbage. I was taught that if I needed to use the bathroom then to say so using those exact words. I think they figured if I started off talking like a blubbering idiot then that’s very possibly how I might end up.

Saying all of this to say that I didn’t stumble upon my love of words and stories by accident. There was definitely some help from the family. But despite the commitment my parents made to teaching me how to read and write at a very early age, I am convinced that my evolving passion for writing stories came from somewhere else, somewhere inside of me. My parents brought the wood, but the fire came from within.

If you’re a writer, then you know it. And don’t ever let anyone tell you different. Because you have a job to do, and time spent arguing with those who are trying to convince you to do something else that makes sense for them but not for you, the more essential time you waste being somebody else for the sake of somebody else instead of being you. And being happy.

There’s no law against that, you know. Being happy is still legal. Check it out if you don’t believe me.

You can find Keith A. Owens on the other side of the writing wall at Writing It Right For You or and on Twitter.

From Unemployed to Self-Employed Pt. II





Question Person

Keith Owens became a full-time member of the Writing It Right For You writing team on August 1, 2011. An award-winning writer and journalist, Keith also is a regular contributor to the Jack and Jill Politics blog. He is writing a series for Jack and Jill Politics about starting a career as a freelancer as a Black Liberal Boomer. You can read the 1st installment of “The Self-Employment Chronicles” here at the Jack and Jill Politics Blog.

The Self-Employment Chronicles Part II

Like I said in the last post, I gave myself no more than 24 hours to suffer from the shock of losing my “good government job” with Wayne County. Then it was time to get busy. Although I had some reasons to suspect that something may have been coming down the pike, that my job was not exactly as stable as I would have liked, I still simply did not expect to walk in on a Monday morning and then, within 45 minutes, be walking back out the door with what little personal belongings I had bothered to bring with me to the office over the previous five years.

And now? Looking back? I have to say that my small amount of personal belongings is a bit of a revelatory peek into the somewhat subconscious state of mind I was in throughout the entire time I was working my day job. The fact that after five years as a department executive with considerable responsibilities I could nevertheless easily leave the office carrying all my personal belongings in a medium-sized box?  I mean, if you peeked inside the office of just about anyone else at the job, any executive or manager, you would likely see pictures of family, stuffed animals, plaques, plants, you name it. Stuff to make the environment seem more homey.

The only thing I had on my wall was a calendar provided by the office. I didn’t even have a photo of my wife in there. Nothing. Just office stuff.  Looking back it’s like I went in there with the feeling that I did not plan on being there long. Maybe I always knew what I really needed to be doing was working for myself because that was likely to be the only time I was truly willing to commit myself all the way. Committing yourself 100 percent to somebody else’s company or vision is great for them, but what does it do for you in the long run? For me, I will easily concede it was a fine learning experience where I picked up some valuable skills that will serve me well as I move forward in pursuit of my own life’s fulfillment, but in no way was it ever where I was destined to spend any length of time.  Not to say that getting laid off was a great experience – it wasn’t – but I am definitely saying I have yet to miss anything about the place. It’s amazing how fast some things can disappear into your rearview mirror.

That’s the good part. The more, oh, let’s say ‘challenging’ part, is what lies ahead. I know exactly where I want to go and what I want to do. That’s not the problem at all. I also feel for the first time in a very long time that I am headed in the right direction and that what I am doing is right for me. I have quite honestly never felt this right about anything except marrying my wife. But how to get there?

Time to sketch out the plan. The clock is ticking, and it’s getting loud…


You can contact Keith for your writing, blogging, social media, and journalism projects here.

Have you faced an employment uncertainty or challenge? Let us know in the comments section!

You’ve Got E-mail! No, You Don’t

emailIf you are like me, your computer inbox is always full. No matter how hard I try to achieve “Zero Inbox”, I send and receive hundreds of messages per day. But help is on the way! I will no longer be inundated with “e-mail”, because the proper spelling for electronic mail is now “email”: no hyphen! According to the AP Stylebook, which is one of the standards for writers, “e-mail” is now to be correctly spelled “email”.

The “e” in email of course stands for “electronic”, and when sending electronic messages first became popular a few decades ago, it seemed natural to hyphenate the term. But AP now says that “email” qualifies as a term in itself and has standardized the new spelling. Of course, AP adds to the confusion by stating that other forms of “e” communication, such as e-books, e-commerce, and e-business will retain their hyphens, for now.

If you need assistance with e-spelling, contact the writers at Writing It Right For You! We’ll get right back to you; via email, of course!

Top Ten Reasons to Work with Keith

Keith A. Owens

1)    Keith has more than 25 years of experience as a professional journalist. Keith knows what makes a compelling news article, as well as a compelling piece of commentary that is likely to get the attention of editors.

2)    Keith has also published works of fiction and is an avid reader of all sorts of fiction, with a special attraction to sci-fi, horror, and character-driven literary fiction. If you need someone to read over your novel, or short story, and make helpful suggestions about how to make it better, Keith is your guy.

3)     Keith has experience writing/creating his own blog site as well as writing for others. He is currently a regular contributor to the widely-read political blog site Jack and Jill Politics. If you would like to know how to write tight, compelling blog posts that will attract readers, Keith can help with that. Keith is NOT the guy to see for improving blog design, however. Words are what Keith does best, and he prefers to stick to that.

4)    Keith has a lot of patience, and does not believe in beating up aspiring writers to make them better writers. Keith believes this method only results in adding to the already overflowing pool of beat up aspiring writers. If you’re serious about getting better, Keith will do everything in Keith’s powers to make you better. And if you happen to be a better writer than Keith, Keith will quickly recognize that and bow down.

5)    Keith has a great sense of humor, which helps Keith survive those who don’t.

6)    Keith prefers not to handle numerous clients at a time so that he can devote more quality time to the relative handful he may be working with at any given time. The top number of clients Keith will work with at once will range from 3 to 5. Apologies in advance to those who may not be included at first, but this really is done to maximize devotion of time and resources toward the needs of my clients.

7)    Did I mention that Keith has a great sense of humor?

8)    Keith also has experience writing press releases, and will gladly provide assistance to anyone wishing to write a concise, strong press release likely to get the attention of readers and editors. Keith would prefer not to get involved in the distribution and marketing aspect of press releases. In other words, Keith will help you write it, but it will be up to you to know where you plan to send it.

9)    Keith asks that each client have a clear set of goals to work toward, which makes everything easier. If this area is still somewhat murky, Keith is willing to work with clients to help them better define what those goals are and/or should be.

10) Keith is good to work with because Keith actually loves good writing as much as he hates bad writing. The army of good writers needs reinforcements, and this is where you come in.

Editing or Proofreading?

Editing and ProofreadingWriting your document is just the first step. Whether you are writing a letter, a report, web content, marketing materials or a dissertation, your writing must be edited. It must also be proofread. What is the difference? Many people think that editing and proofreading are the same thing, but actually they are two different processes. Think back to your school days: your teacher usually told you that the paper you were writing was only the “first draft”. (And you thought you were finished with that assignment!) Once your first draft is completed, the two-part editing process begins.

The whole process is all often called “editing”, but editing is actually the first component, and should begin as soon as the first draft is completed. There are several levels of editing:

* How well is the actual content written? Does it make sense? If instructions or guidelines were given, were they followed? Does the overall document have a smooth and consistent flow?

* How is the document structured? Is everything clear? Are the topics and sub-topics logical? Does the writing move smoothly from one idea to the next?

* Is your writing clear to the reader? Is everything explained clearly? Is everything cited or hyperlinked correctly? Is the tone and “voice” consistent? Is your writing too brief or too long or too repetitive or too bland?

These are just some of what is involved in the “editing” part of the process. Often it will take several revisions to reach the final draft.

Then the document is ready for proofreading, which is the last step of the editing process. Proofreading should be done after all of the revisions are completed. Proofreading involves checking for misspellings, incorrect or missing punctuation, grammar, and formatting.

Although all word processors have spelling and grammar checkers, they are not foolproof. A word can be spelled correctly, but used incorrectly. For example, many people confuse “your” and “you’re”. Both words are spelled correctly, but are used differently. A word processing spell checker would not recognize the difference. There are similar problems with relying only on the grammar checker in a word processor. English is a very complicated language, and the grammar checkers in word processing programs are too limited in their scope.

Finally,y the formatting and citations or references must be consistent. When your writing has been edited, proofread, and formatted carefully and in detail, it is finally ready for final distribution or publication. Your writing needs both editing and proofreading.

If you need professional editing and proofreading for your academic or business documents, contact us for a customized project plan.