A Hike in the Mountains

What a great trail!

On Wednesday, I went hiking with my new midweek hiking friends, Sue and Jerry. They’re both retired and they know a lot of local trails — including more than a few just a short distance from our homes.

Penny in 2012
I found this photo of Penny shot that day in August 2012. She was probably about 5 months old here.

Wednesday’s hike was actually on two different trails: Devils Spur and Beehive. We drove up toward Mission Ridge on Mission Ridge Road and parked at the last switchback, which is the trailhead for the Devils Spur Trail. There’s a viewpoint there where you can look down into Squilchuck Valley — I’d been there a few times in the past — and a closed road that led off into the forest. I’d hiked a bit on that road with Penny the Tiny Dog back in 2012, but hadn’t gone far, mostly because I was worried about Penny and the potential for encountering predatory animals on a trail I knew nothing about.

But Sue and Jerry knew the trail well. It wound into the forest, a former road blocked off for hiking and biking only. I was surprised to see felled trees and cleared forest a little way in — it certainly hadn’t been like that two years ago — but realized it likely had to do with the 2012 fires that occurred after my hike with Penny. Then the forest returned to its natural dense growth.

Forest Trail
Can you see Penny sniffing at something up ahead on the trail?

It was cool and moist in the shade — so unlike the desert around my home less than 10 miles away. I was glad I’d worn a fleece sweatshirt. But just when it got uncomfortably cool, the trail would open up to a dry, exposed patch, full of warm sunlight. The sweatshirt came off. And just when I was starting to get really hot, the trail dove back into cool, shady forest. It made the switch over and over for the entire length of the hike.

Jerry accompanied us about a mile up Devils Spur trail. Just before the trail narrowed, he turned back. He has a bit of acrophobia and a while later, I realized why he didn’t want to continue with us — the trail wound along a narrow ledge on a cliff face of volcanic talus. Instead, he went back to get the car and drive it around to the Beehive Trailhead where we’d emerge some time later.

Sue and I (with Penny) continued along the trail. Sue is very knowledgeable about the mushrooms we saw along the way and even pointed out some clearly visible fossils on a rocky outcropping the trail passed. Penny ran ahead as she always does, occasionally running back to hurry us along. The trail climbed about 600 feet over about 2 miles — a gentle grade that didn’t require many rest stops. It was a perfect day for hiking, with calm winds, cool air, and clear skies.

Fossilized Leaf
I would have walked right past this rock full of fossils if Sue hadn’t pointed it out. This leaf was especially clear and easy to see.

The trail approached the old Pipeline trail, which runs alongside Forest Road 9712. I’d driven quite a distance on that gravel road in 2013 several times, including with my friend Janet, who was visiting from Colorado. Recently, I’d taken the Jeep up there with my friend Bob and noted that they were doing some sort of work on the pipeline. That Wednesday, they were hard at it and as we got close, we heard the steady beep-beep-beep trucks backing up. We never did see them, though. The trail reached 9712 where it turned back downhill as the Beehive Trail and we started our descent to Beehive Reservoir.

Vista from Trail
There were sweeping vistas down toward Wenatchee from various points along the trail. My home is at the base of the cliffs nearly dead center in this photo.

We were about a mile down the trail when we saw another hiker approaching from the other direction. It was Jerry. He’d parked the car and walked up to meet us. I assumed we were close, but there was still another mile or so to go. I think he got the same length hike we got, but did two out-and-backs rather than a long one-way hike.

Hike Track
Here’s our track as recorded by Gaia GPS. The blue pins indicate places I took photos; the photos are uploaded with the track on Gaia Cloud.

The hike was just the right length for me: just over 4 miles. I tracked it with Gaia GPS on my iPhone, which I highly recommend to anyone who hikes with a smartphone. (The main benefit: being able to load detailed topo maps before starting the hike so a cell phone signal is not necessary to view live location-on-map data.) I took photos along the way and later uploaded the track and photos to the Gaia Cloud.

It was a great hike — one I hope to do again, perhaps with my Meetup group. This is certainly the right time of year for it. Many thanks to Sue and Jerry for introducing it to me!

On Cheapskate Publishers

I really can’t believe this ad.

This morning, I was cruising Craig’s List for some part-time/fill-in work to help get me through my slow winter season. As a writer, I figured I’d check out the writing/editing jobs category. And that’s where I found one titled “Rockstar eBook Writers Wanted (FAST Pay + REPEAT Work!) (Virtual).”

Let me say upfront that I knew from the title that the job was going to be full of hype. (Rockstar? Really? Do people still use that term?) But I never expected it to offer a whopping $3 per 200 words (yes, that’s 1-1/2¢ per word) starting pay for original content that the writer wouldn’t even get his/her name on.

To qualify, not only would you have to submit a 200-word minimum sample of your writing work, but you’d also have to have a 15-minute long Skype interview, review (or possibly fill out?) a questionnaire and outline, read other relevant resources, and sign a contract. Then, for each job, you might have to have a 1-2 hour Skype session with a client.

All to earn 1-1/2¢ per word.

The way I calculate it, if you can generate 500 words of original, researched content an hour — which is a lot faster than most people can write — a 1000-word article would take 2 hours. Add 2 hours spent chatting with the client and another hour to prep for the job. Do two of those a day and you’ve made $30 a day. I don’t know about you, but I can’t survive on $30/day.

Because I was so repulsed by the ad, I decided to make a point. I emailed a reply using the magic phrase in the subject line and including a writing sample. Here’s what I sent:

I’ve been a freelance writer since 1990 and have authored numerous books and articles on a wide variety of computer-related topics. I am intrigued by your Craig’s List ad. Here’s my writing sample.

What amazes me most about the current state of the publishing industry is how little some “publishers” are willing to pay experienced writers for original content. Just today I ran across an ad for a company willing to pay $3 per 200 words—that’s only 1-1/2¢ per word! Am I showing my age when I share memories of the days when I was paid $1.50 per word to write for print publications such as MacWEEK and MacUser magazine?

Fortunately, the offer in this Craig’s List ad isn’t representative of the entire industry. The 1,000-word article I wrote yesterday morning, for example, earned me $500. Although not generous, I consider that fair compensation for an experienced writer creating original content for the Web—even if that content includes screenshots and captions.

Back when I began writing for a living in 1990, I learned that success as a writer meant producing content quickly. After more than 20 years, writing now takes very little effort. I don’t need to labor over words like others do. My writing flows naturally, with a good rhythm, and requires very little editing, either by me or my editors. It’s for this reason that I’m able to get enough work to keep me busy—and plenty of offers of additional work.

It also makes it possible for me to whip up a quick writing sample to educate a cheapskate publisher about what experienced professional writers expect to be paid.

I sent it from my NoReply account so it’s unlikely that I’ll hear back from this offensive idiot.

A waste of time? Probably. But it’s all about venting and I needed to vent after this one.

From now on, I’ll stay away from ads looking for rockstar writers.

Just Say No to Writing for Free

Don’t be part of the problem.

Yesterday, an editor of an aviation publication contacted me about writing for the organization’s blog. He’d found my blog through a link from another blog. He’s interested in increasing the amount of new content on his blog and wants to do that by signing up other writers. He already has a flight school operator signed up. One new post a month from each of four writers would get him the one post a week he wants for the blog. Makes sense.

From his email to me:

It’s quite difficult to find working helicopter pilots who can write, as I’m sure you can imagine. But you definitely seem to have the knowledge and interest. Would you consider doing some additional writing for [organization]?

At first, I was thrilled. I’ve been wanting to do some more aviation writing and the publication is well-respected. But then I began wondering whether this would be a paying gig or if I’d be expected to write for free. I worded my response carefully:

I definitely WOULD be interested in joining you folks. I’m an active helicopter pilot with a single pilot Part 135 operation now based in North Central Washington. And you probably already know that I also make a portion of my living as a writer.

Please do tell me more. If you’d like to chat, give me a call.

If you read what I wrote between the lines, the phrase “I also make a portion of my living as a writer” was meant to tell him that I’m usually paid to write.

His response came an hour later:

Thanks Maria. I should tell you up front that our budget for the blog is nil. So as much as it pains me to say it, I wouldn’t be able to pay you for the work. That said, there is always potential for additional opportunities.

I have to give him credit for not telling me that I’d be compensated with the “exposure” I’d get for writing for them. That really told me that he understood the situation — any editor that offers you “exposure” as compensation is either stupid or a manipulative bastard. You can’t pay the rent or buy groceries with exposure and the only thing it really exposes you to is additional editors looking for writers who will write for free.

As you might imagine, I put it out on Facebook to get feedback from friends, many of whom are freelancers. I was careful not to identify the organization. After all, does it really matter?

My post got lots of comments that are really worth reading. As my Facebook friend Carla said:

Comment from Carla

But this editor didn’t suggest such a thing. And I respect him for that.

The “additional opportunities” line, however, was obviously a lure — whether it was real or just a fabrication I’ll likely never know.

My response was frank:

We can still chat about the blog posts. I am willing to help out if it leads to other paying work. But if the additional opportunities never materialize, I probably won’t be motivated to continue writing without compensation.

Unlike the flight instructor you’re working with, I don’t have a flight school that might benefit with my name or company name getting out. My blog is already very well read by helicopter pilots — for good or for bad — and if I’m going to write for free, I’d rather write for my own blog.

I didn’t get a response.

The comments kept coming in on Facebook. All the publishing professionals and freelancers understood the situation perfectly. One of the commenters, a friend of Carla’s as a matter of fact, had this to say:

Comment from David

And that really hit home hard. The reason I couldn’t make a good living as a writer anymore was because too many people were writing for free. Publishers didn’t care much about quality when they could get free content. All they really want are hits and if something is interesting enough to attract the hits, they’re satisfied. Who cares about how it’s written? This is what’s killing the publishing industry — and giving those of us who actually enjoy reading well-written content a lot less to read.

I chewed on the comments overnight and when I woke up I knew I needed to send a new response. Here’s what I sent:

I’ve given this some more thought. I’ve decided that it would not be in my best interest, nor in the best interest of professional writers anywhere, to write for a commercial publication without compensation. Professional writers are paid for their work. Amateurs are not. I am not an amateur.

Maybe you don’t realize that I’ve written more than 80 books and hundreds of articles since 1990. Maybe you don’t realize that the money I earned as a writer enabled me to learn how to fly a helicopter and eventually buy my own. Maybe you don’t realize that my writing income kept my helicopter business afloat for its first eight years.

So not only did I earn a living as a writer, but I earned a very good living.

Sadly, those days are over. It’s now very difficult for freelance writers to find decent paying outlets for their work. I’m fortunate that my helicopter business became profitable when it did.

The way I see it, the reason [organization] is able to ask people to write for them without compensation is because too many people say yes. That’s the problem. That’s what’s bringing down publishing and the overall quality of what appears on the Web. Publishers settle for whatever they can get for free.

You say that it pains you to say that you can’t offer compensation. As a writing professional, I can understand that pain. But what I can’t understand is why someone in your position doesn’t push back and argue in favor of the writers. What’s a few hundred dollars a month to [organization]? You realize that’s all it would take. It’s the principle more than anything else.

I love to write; that’s why I have a blog. But I need to limit my uncompensated writing to my own blog — not one used to support an organization that generates revenue off the work of uncompensated writers.

I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Say No to No PayI emailed it this morning. I suspect the editor I sent it to will understand completely. But I don’t expect to be offered any money or any opportunities to write for them in the future.

Did I burn a bridge? Perhaps. But is it a bridge I really wanted to cross? I doubt it.

Are you a writer who can create quality content? If so, don’t sell yourself short. Demand compensation for your work. Don’t be part of the problem.

Postscript

Just moments after clicking the Publish button for this post, I got a response to my last email (quoted above). I was offered a reasonable amount of money for my work. I’m just hoping this blog post didn’t piss off the editor enough to make him retract his offer. (I really do respect the guy, especially now.) Yet I won’t delete this blog post because the message remains the same: professional writers should not write for free. If I lose this opportunity for making this statement and using my situation as an example, so be it.

It really is the principle of the matter more than anything else.

One more thing…

Another Facebook friend reminded me that I’d embedded a rant by Harlan Ellison in my blog years ago. Mr. Ellison says it a lot better than I could.

On Last Vacations

A blog post triggers memories.

On this date in 2011, I wrote the last of three blog posts about what would be my last vacation with my wasband. There was supposed to be six in the series — one post for each day of the trip — but I must have gotten busy or distracted or simply lost interest and never blogged about the other three days. They’re lost in time like so many things I experienced in life and now barely remember.

(That’s why I blog about my life. So I remember things. This blog has 11 years of memories stored in it. So far.)

The vacation was in September 2011, a trip around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I’d finished up my last cherry drying contract before my wasband arrived. I was living in my RV, as usual, which was parked across the street from the last orchard on my contract, a beautiful and quiet place overlooking Squilchuck Canyon. The plan was to take a nice, leisurely drive west and hop a ferry to the Peninsula, then circumnavigate it. I think my wasband took a whole week off from work to do it.

This wasn’t my wasband’s first trip to Washington that summer. He came twice.

As usual, he came for my birthday — which I really wish he didn’t do. Back in those days, my summers were usually spent at my computer, revising one book or another. That year, I’d been working on my Mac OS X 10.7 book, which had a very tight deadline. For the previous editions, I’d worked closely with my editors to get the book in Apple stores on the date the OS was released. That quick publication, which required intense, often 10- or 12-hour days at my desk, was partially responsible for the book’s good sales figures. It didn’t matter if my birthday or a visit from a friend or loved one happened when the deadline was looming: I had to work until I was finished.

My wasband didn’t seem to understand this and always scheduled a visit for my birthday. It caused a lot of stress. He seemed to think that my birthday was a special day that required his attendance. I considered it just another day in my life, one that often required me to work. That’s part of the life of a freelancer: you work when there’s work and you play when there isn’t work.

In the summer of 2011, I managed to finish the book before he went home and we had some time together. But still, I clearly recall being in Leavenworth with him, just walking around the shops, when a panicky call came from my editor. I can’t remember the details, but it required me to get back to my trailer, which was an hour’s drive away, and email or ftp him a file for the printer. It couldn’t wait — the book was going to press and that file was absolutely needed. So we hurried to the truck and rushed back, thus pretty much ruining what should have been a stress-free day.

Picnic Spot
Our picnic spot along the bank of a river on Day 3 of that last vacation.

My wasband returned in September for our Olympic Peninsula trip. You can read about the first three days starting here. It was a great trip, possibly one of my Top 10. It was like the old days, when we did long road trips together: Seattle to San Francisco, the Grand Circle, Death Valley and Las Vegas, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway by motorcycle. We explored back roads, did the tourist thing, hiked, picnicked with cheese and crackers at roadside stops, photographed the scenery, and ate all kinds of foods. We stayed in great places and crappy places. Not everything was perfect, but what trip is?

Sunset over Victoria
On the second day, we took a ferry to Victoria, B.C.

When the trip was over, he headed home to Arizona without me. He had to get back to work, back to a job he hated, working for a micromanaging boss who’d fire him less than eight months later — even after I took him and his wife on a dinner trip by helicopter in an attempt to help my wasband score points.

Based on blog posts, it looks as if I headed back to Arizona with my helicopter in early October. Not sure why I stayed so long, but there must have been a good reason. I suspect I drove the RV back before that, but I don’t have any blog posts with details and my calendar doesn’t go back that far.

Yes, I made two trips to and from Washington each year — once to move my RV and again to move my helicopter. My wasband made the RV trip with me once in six years, taking a vacation through several national parks on the way home. I think he made the helicopter trip with me twice. It was a lot of traveling. The RV move was particularly stressful and lonely, especially if the weather turned bad along the way.

When I got back to Arizona, I started noticing a change in my wasband. He was cold and distant and never seemed happy. I assumed it was because of his job. His roommate had moved out of the Phoenix condo and I moved in. We fixed the place up nicely, with new furniture and my office set up in the guest room. Now we could spend more time together without his roommate criticizing half the things I did or said. But things just weren’t quite right.

It wasn’t until much later that I’d discover he’d been emailing an old friend back in New York that autumn about how I was “driving him crazy.” He never did tell me. I never knew that I was the cause of his unhappiness — even after visiting a marriage counsellor (at his request). I did know that he was making me miserable.

Later, at his mother’s 90th birthday party in September 2012, a few months after he’d ended our marriage with a phone call on my birthday — no visit that year! — as he was introducing the desperate old woman he’d replaced me with to his family and friends, he told a mutual friend that he was divorcing me because I hadn’t told him I loved him when he came to visit me on my birthday in 2011.

Draw your own conclusions. I did.

Anyway, the blog post I published on this date back in 2011 represents one of the last few times I was happy with my wasband. When the man I’d fallen in love with 28 years before returned to do something we loved to do together: explore new places and see new things.

I miss that guy.