Review: Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing

freelance-lowerleftI sometimes receive emails asking me for advice on breaking into freelance writing. I do teach a half-day workshop on this subject from time to time (preceded by a list of resources and Q+A call), it’s hard to walk someone through the ins and outs of a career choice without hands-on time working through the process of finding viable markets, writing query letters and LOIs and so forth. So I was excited when I learned that Amber Adrian was working on the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing, and happy to contribute.

What’s in it:

The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing is a 55-page guide is broken up into four different sections: Getting Started and Setting Yourself Up, Getting Paid and Other Practicalities, Getting Out of Bed Every Morning and Facing the Fears of Freelancing and Getting Bigger and Building Your Business. The writers featured include the fabulous Linda Formichelli (who was one of my mentors when I was first getting started 4 years ago), as well as Kristin Luna, Jessica Manuszak, Linda Sharpe, Carol Tice, Zach Urbina, Sara Von Bargen and Non Wells.

There are two different versions of the guide. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten my hands on the final version and have only seen an earlier draft, and have been unable to access many of the materials. However, here’s what’s advertised as coming with each version:

Pen-for-hire ($39): This has a list of links and resources (which I did read an early draft of), as well as supplemental tools to deal with the emotional rollercoaster of freelancing (which I haven’t seen).

Editor-in-chief ($58): This also includes samples of query letters and LOIs as well as interview transcripts with writer and an audio interview. (I wasn’t able to get my hands on any of this material, so can’t really review it, unfortunately.)

My thoughts: It’s really difficult to offer a thorough review of the guide having only seen an early version of the PDF and resource list and being unable to access the rest of it. From what I did read, I think the guide is accessible and fun to read. However, I have a feeling it would leave a brand new or aspiring freelance writer with a lot of questions, since some of the bits of advice are a bit simplistic. I do think, though, that it would give a newer writer a very good place to start to determine what types of information they want to get ahold of or what to start asking questions about–which is very valuable in and of itself. The resource list is pretty thorough, so the guide would be a good start.

Bonus: This review includes an affiliate link; if you buy it through this site, I will give you a free 20-minute phone consult on an aspect of freelance writing of your choice…provided that you read the guide (or look through the links in this post) first.  (I’m honestly not sure if the aff link button is working (someone bought through my FB page and it didn’t seem to go through), so please just email me your receipt and we’ll schedule a time to talk.)

Three Problem-Solving Products (Review)

“How does that product compare to this other one?” is one of the most frequent questions I get asked via email, so as I was working through some info products, I thought I’d write up some descriptions for you guys in case you’ve been checking some of ’em out. I didn’t use affiliate links and am just sharing my honest opinion about three products I dig, but I’m hoping to give you enough information to help you figure out if they’re for you. One of these isn’t publicly available yet, but I’ll update this post when it is. The other two are on sale for $10 and $60-125, respectively. Check it.

Product: The Problem-Solving Checklist by Neville Medhora

thumbnailCost: $10

What you get: A gorgeous, 13-page PDF file with 10 problem-solving strategies, and a couple extra links thrown in.

What it’s like: This is that friend you really want to hang out with whenever you’ve got a problem because he’ll buy you a beer and put a positive spin on things and help you see things in a whole different light. (He’ll probably run into a bunch of people at the bar who want to talk to him, too, and he’ll invite them over to your table so you don’t feel left out.) He’s a little crazy and politically incorrect at times, but you can tell he has a huge heart so it’s very forgivable….and you always feel better after talking to him.

How to tell if you’ll dig it: Check out Neville’s blog and his autoresponder series; if you dig that and his writing style (or if you like reading Cracked), you’ll probably like this. He also has a bunch of great videos on AppSumo, but since this is mostly writing, I’m recommending the blog.

What it’s not for: If you have a huge, pressing, ongoing issue that you could spend years in therapy for, this quick and fun approach may not go deep enough. It’s a nice PDF to keep on your desktop to refer to from time to time, and I think it works really well when you know you’re being dumb and just need to snap out of it.

My experience: I got this when I was tripping out over a couple of smaller problems, and I knew that they were minor and stupid and that I just needed to look at things from a different perspective. I LOVED how gorgeous this PDF was. I was able to quickly use one of the techniques to graph out one of my problems and figure out what the REAL issue was and how to address it. I also came up with some solutions (and picked one to implement right away), figured out how the problem was helping me in other ways, and even determined what I could focus on instead. Also, it was fun.

Product: True Mind on Mixergy (with Andrew Warner and Olivia Khalili)

Cost: This product isn’t actually publicly available yet, but I’ll make sure to update this post when it is. It was available for premium Mixergy members, and Andrew shared it at the most recent World Domination Summit. You can find a lot of information about it online, and maybe even someone who can teach you the process in person.

What you get: We received access to a series of 8 videos and exercises on “true mind” and “counter mind”–how to deal with your inner critic and find ways to clear your mind of false beliefs that hold you back from reaching your higher purpose. We also got some lovely beads in the mail to do the exercises with, access to a shared Google document (about 15 pages) with examples from Andrew, Olivia and various people taking the course,  and even the amazing opportunity to work on the issues that arise (by emailing Olivia herself). Aside from addressing false beliefs of the counter mind, we also worked on creating true mind statements, which are sort of like affirmations, and repeating them with the beads.

What it’s like: This is that advocate you always wish you had, who has a certain purity that you can’t quite put your finger on, and who you know will always have your back. They’d turn to that bully (your biggest critic) and explain to them firmly but politely exactly why what they’re saying is wrong…and then help you rebuild your confidence without skipping a beat. Over green tea at Seven Cups (or your local equivalent). They may not have memorized parts of the Tao Te Ching, but they’re living it.

How to tell if you’ll dig it: If you have negative thoughts in your head you’d like to overcome so you can do what you’re supposed to accomplish on Earth.

What it’s not for: If you don’t want to deal with it.

My experience: I went through the videos and used this to help me with areas of my life I was usually pretty confident about, but it wasn’t until I turned around and worked through the process with an area I was really struggling with and beating myself up over that it really had a positive effect–not just in my state of mind, but in what I was able to accomplish afterwards. Working on true mind statements with the beads has given me a newfound clarity, and I bring them with  me when I know I’ll be dealing with difficult situations.

Product: The Monster Manual (and Coloring Book) by Havi Brooks

Cost: $60 for the basic package, $125 for the larger one.

What you get: The basic version comes with a 15-page talking to monsters coloring book PDF (it literally has 13 monsters you can color), and a 38-page manual on talking to monsters, complete with 13 techniques for tactics on how to respond to monsters. (For example, one monster is the “You don’t want to fail horribly and fall on your face LIKE YOU DID LAST TIME DO YOU REALLY WANT THAT TO HAPPEN AGAIN DO YOU DO YOU DO YOU?” monster. This is followed by a strategy to ‘talk to’ this monster (or have a mediator you invent do so on your behalf), and potential monster responses and how to go from there.

The advanced version (or “extra destuckifying package) also comes with a collection of Havi’s posts on talking to monsters (a 73-page PDF), an mP3 (67 minutes) and chatroom transcript (10 page PDF) from a teleclass on this topic, and an ebook (24-page PDF) of useful stuff to know about monsters, complete with a glossary and 3 case studies.

What it’s like: This is your friend who wears funny hats and costumes and is really crazy and creative and sweet. She’s a natural mediator who will help you when you’re feeling ridiculously sensitive, to the point where you want to curl into a little ball in a closet and rock back and forth. (She’s the one person you’ll let in, and she’ll bring you spring water an blankets and cushions and boas and semi-precious stones and shiny things to look at, and give you a hug when you cry and compassionately help you deal with what ails you.

The approach is playful and experimental. Basically, Havi uses monsters as a metaphor for the negative voices in your head that cause pain and keep you stuck. The focus is on the intention behind the ‘monsters,’ as they actually often mean well and want to protect you from something or keep you from getting hurt but are going about it in the wrong way. Instead of trying to kill them or disappear them, you listen to them and try to understand them and explain to them why their approach is ineffective. They usually morph into something else or go away on their own.

How to tell if you’ll dig it: If you like having conversations with people who aren’t there in your head, or different aspects of yourself, and are into being experimental. If you’re a fan of non-violent communication, especially with yourself. If you like some of Havi’s other posts on monsters (like this one: or her other work in general. If you like plays and costumes. If you are a highly sensitive person.

What it’s not for: If you have a lot of rage and want to smash all of your monsters. If you want something very practical that doesn’t involve a lot of emotional processing. If you’re short on cash.

My experience: I received the destuckifying version as a present from a friend, as I’d been looking at it for a long time but thought the price was quite high. I am very grateful for the gift, as I probably wouldn’t have bought it and really got quite a bit out of it. The audio took me through the process of creating a force field and feeling safe enough to have conversations with my monsters. (You put them in a separate monster room and visualize a mediator who can negotiate with them on your behalf.) I felt that the process helped me understand the reasoning behind why a particular issue came up for me, and was able to negotiate a way to help mitigate the worst case scenario that could happen, while asking the monster to ease up on an approach that would’ve made it inevitable. I think this is a good way to deal with pervasive, ongoing emotional issues, but I’m not sure it’s practical for day-to-day problems, and I still think the price is a bit steep. However, if you dig Havi’s monster posts and want to test it out for yourself, it’s a really gentle (dare I say fun?) way to deal with what can be a pretty painful process.

Feel free to share your comments on these courses or any others in the comments! (Remember, while criticism is fine, rude comments will be deleted.)

Why Medical Experts Disagree

I wrote an article on medical decision-making for the July issue of the Performance Menu. Here’s a short excerpt:coverIssue99

Have you ever wondered why it is that two different doctors, presented with the exact same information, would come to two entirely different conclusions? Whether they’re evaluating a medical study or determining the safest option for treatment, medicine is rife with disagreement. And hearing differing expert opinions can make a decision even more difficult for a patient considering whether or not to undergo a procedure, take a medication or decide between competing options to treat a disease (or the risk of one). We know that the science is uncertain, but why can’t experts make up their minds?

I’ve assumed in the past that this had to do with people’s respective medical backgrounds, or perhaps one expert isn’t as up-to-date on the latest research or as experienced as the other. But while attending the Health Journalism 2013 conference in Boston last month, I heard endocrinologist Pamela Hartzband and oncologist Jerome Groopman present a different case while speaking to a packed auditorium of conference attendees. Even though they both attended Ivy League medical schools, completed their residencies at Massachusetts General and eventually got married, their opinions on medical treatments are as different as night and day.

Why is that? Groopman and Hartband actually discussed their different temperaments in a book they co-wrote, Your Medical Mind: How To Decide What’s Right For You. In the book, and the talk they gave, they define four different temperaments that affect the way decisions are made and information is interpreted— both in a patient and in a healthcare worker. While these temperaments can change situationally and over time, being aware of the fact that people view medical decisions through these frameworks was eye opening.

You can read the rest of this article for $2.75 at, or pick up the issue for $6.99 (or, better yet, an annual subscription for $29.95.)

Book Review: Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook by Sarah Fragoso

picture-5When I did a 30-day Paleo experiment, it was Sarah Fragoso’s first book, Everyday Paleo, that I used. I interviewed her for issue 78 of the Performance Menu because I was so impressed by her recipes: economical, quick, easy and far less complex than ones I’d found elsewhere. Yummy yam spears and dry rub burgers have become staples, and her Paleo apple-cinnamon muffins are a household favorite.

Although I don’t have a family, the Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook is perfect for me. There are time-saving tips (and who doesn’t need those) and recipes with larger quantities of food to provide leftovers. In addition to family-specific chapters, there are 15 quick and easy recipe suggestions, and a nice chart of what  you need to have in your pantry and fridge…and where to find it, information which is startlingly missing from most cookbooks.

The Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook has an emphasis on slowing down and enjoying the moment. Each recipe listed has prep time, cooking time, and something extra–usually a story or some thoughts about what to pair the dish with. The ingredients are not that exotic or extravagant, but do provide variety. Lots of curries and good sauces and dips. I also appreciated the visual table of contents.

This is a great addition to Fragoso’s first cookbook, which is probably the Paleo cookbook I use most often. It’s great for families or those struggling with some of the same issues (such as a lack of time and money). It’ll run you $29.95. If you’re looking for your very first Paleo cookbook, I’d recommend Everyday Paleo. If you’ve had that for a while and are looking for a bit more variety with the same user-friendly style, or want to feed your entire family, this is a very good addition to your library.

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Book Review: Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

When I started hearing the hype about Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle, I assumed it was just another cookie cutter cookbook, but Diane Sanfilippo’s masterpiece is much more than that.

Yes, it’s loaded with recipes, each of which includes prep time, cooking time and yield, along with notes about whether the dish includes nuts, eggs or nightshades, as well as helpful tips or suggestions for replacing certain ingredients..and gorgeous photos, of course. The comprehensive recipe selection includes breakfast foods, entrees (categorized by the type of meat used), sides and salads, sauces and dips, and desserts. The recipes are quite forgiving, which is always nice if you’re trying something new or aren’t used to cooking, and everything we’ve sampled so far (about 15 recipes) has been delicious. The spice blends section alone will help provide flavor and variety to your dishes.

There’s also 30-day meal plans, and the thing that’s so great about them is that there are so many to choose from…and each include some information on the condition or issue you’re trying to address, diet and lifestyle recommendations, supplements and herbs to consider, supportive nutrients (and the foods that contain them), and, of course, the meal plan. A heart-health meal plan. A meal plan for people recovering from cancer. One for blood sugar regulation. One for digestive health. One for autoimmune conditions. One for thyroid health. Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis… you name it, and there’s a 30-day meal plan for it. There’s also a squeaky clean Paleo plan, if you’re testing out the diet for the first time, and my favorite–a plan for athletic performance, which includes an ample amount of much-needed starchy grains. Diane’s website, Balanced Bites, even has grocery list printouts of a handy guide of ingredients you can download each week for each plan, which saves a ton of time if you wish to follow them. (A word of warning: if you’re used to cooking with leftovers and just eating eggs for breakfast every morning, meal plans can get $$$, even when they do incorporate leftovers, like Practical Paleo’s does. We did notice that a week of meal plan foods lasts us a good 10 days, though.)

What else does this book have? Really great pullout guides and info sheets on everything from what foods you can eat to tips for travel and eating out. Guides to Paleo foods, how to stock the pantry, food quality, fats and oils and cooking fats (as in, which to use depending on what temperature you’ll be cooking them at.) A guide to dense sources of Paleo carbs. A guide for sweeteners to use. These guides are all simultaneously easy to use and incredibly comprehensive. Sanfilippo must be one of those hyper-organized people, because all the recipes have specially designated key codes for types of foods–so if you want a quick visual guide to avoid using nightshades, for example, or would prefer to cook without fish, you’re set.

Most Paleo cookbooks explain the diet, and this was no exception–comprehensive yet highly accessible information on all things Paleo. One thing that was unique to this book (which isn’t sexy to write about, but is a great feature), was detailed information on different types of poop (complete with drawings of shapes and texture), what’s actually going on in your body, and what you can do to address it. I love that someone actually took the time to discuss this, because bowel movements are largely ignored, except by acupuncturists.

My new favorite Paleo cookbook is always the one I’m using, but Practical Paleo has quickly made its way to the top of the list. It’s available online for $26 or so,  and is well worth the price. Very highly recommended.


Book Review: Bones of Iron – Collected Articles In the Life of a Strength Athlete by Matt Foreman

I was pretty psyched when Matt Foreman said he’d send me a copy of his book, Bones of Iron. Matt’s an English teacher, weightlifter and coach, so he’s the perfect person to write about Olympic lifting–and he does it beautifully.

The book is a collection of articles he’s written for the Performance Menu between 2008 and 2011, along with some newer, shorter material. As the managing editor of the journal, I get to read his essays each month before they go to press, and I always look forward to it. Foreman’s writing is as entertaining as it is informative. His topic of choice might be weightlifting, but in many cases this theme is simply a backdrop as he delves into a combination of personal anecdotes, historical details and philosophical musings on the topic at hand. His writing is as witty and humorous as it is practical, and personal anecdotes and the lessons he’s gleaned are often applicable to more than just lifting a bar overhead, but to life in general. Sure, you’ll get some training tips and tricks, but amidst the training information are all sorts of stories which are often hilarious and always enlightening. If you’re a weightlifter, a coach or are simply interested in the sport, if you’re interested in witty and engaging writing on the topic and could use some tips and tricks, pick up Bones of Iron. It’s all of that and more.

The book is 182 pages and runs for $16.95 in paperback or PDF. Pick up a copy on Amazon or through the Performance Menu store (not an affiliate link).

E-Book Review: Thank You For Not Laughing by Chris Illuminati

First I must start with a standard disclaimer. Chris Illuminati is an editor at TownSquare Media, and that’s how I know the guy–I send him blog posts to edit and try to get him to talk to me. Since I’m a fan of Robert Anton Wilson (of Illuminatus Trilogy fame), I immediately googled Illuminati’s name and found his web site, which had all kinds of comedic writing that sent me into fits of riotous laughter (and only made me feel a little like a stalker.)

Illuminati’s e-book, Thank You For Not Laughing, is a comedic journal which will lighten up your mood without taking up too much of your time (unlike the Illuminatus Trilogy, which is encyclopedic in volume.) It’s got 40 pages of musings, which are sort of like a cross between going to stand-up comedy and listening to your really funny but very strange friend rambling about life and other random things. Topics include the types of people you see in coffee shops, stolen office supplies, energy drinks, seizures, karma, death and decaf “coffee”.  Each “chapter” is brief, witty and entertaining. It’s snarky, but  not overtly sarcastic, and is easy to relate to despite sometimes being mildly disturbing.

Thank You For Not Laughing is 40 pages and only $1.99, which is crazy cheap,  and you can read a small sample on Tumblr, if you’re so inclined. And you can read the book for free if you’ve got Amazon Prime. But if you had Amazon Prime, you probably wouldn’t be hard up for a couple of bucks.

Illuminati’s also got another funny Tumbler site called Message With A Bottle, which has personal messages to himself about what to not do when raising a child. Oh, and he has other books for sale, but I haven’t read them yet.

Book Review: Olympic Weightlifting For Sports by Greg Everett

Greg Everett is the king of coaching Olympic weightlifting, and the author of Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Coaches and Athletes… but unless you’re really into the sport, you probably won’t make it through that 423-page tome. Olympic Weightlifting For Sports, however, is a sleek 120 pages jam-packed with useful information on the lifts and highly accessible to coaches and athletes of all stripes.

This book is not for competitive weightlifters (his other book’s for that), but that level of detail isn’t exactly essential for the rest of us. If you simply want to learn the Olympic lifts (or variations thereof) to improve your athletic performance in a different sport, this book has everything you need.

Olympic Weightlifting For Sports begins with an explanation of the benefits of Olympic weightlifting, including kinesthetic awareness,  knee and hip extension power (aka explosiveness), the ability to effectively decelerate or oppose force (which is really useful for anyone in a sport where you need to “stop, change direction or absorb the force of colliding opponents”) chief among them.

Everett, who works as  the head coach of the Catalyst Athletics weightlifting program as well as the director of training at the gym, takes the reader through his 9-part learning progression for the lifts with clear and concise descriptions, step-by-step instructions, and great photographs, so you can learn what you need to without any unnecessary detail — and even refer to the bullet points for the fundamental information.

My favorite thing about the book is that it’s entirely devoid of hype, which leaves room only for information which is useful for the reader. Instead of stating that ALL athletes need to learn ALL the lifts, Everett encourages coaches to look at all the variables in each specific situation–availability of equipment, time considerations, starting competence, and so forth. Not all athletes need all lifts, and it’s refreshing to come across a book that doesn’t read like ad copy.

What else is in it? Everett also included a nice dose of error correction, touches on flexibility, and has a section on program design, which includes a 2-day template, 3-day template, and a sample 12-week training program. And that’s it. Really great, concise information on the lifts and their variants in language that anyone can understand.

Disclosure: I did not use affiliate links in this review. I did received a review copy of the book, and have worked with Greg on various projects over the years–but only because he is awesome. 

Book Review: Sweet Potato Power

If you’re Paleo or simply dabbling with a Paleo diet, and especially if you’re an athlete, there’s times when you just need more carbs. So how do you maintain a healthy diet without feeling sluggish and unable to perform at your peak? Starchy carbs are the answer, and design strategist Ashley Tudor’s book, Sweet Potato Power, celebrates the tasty tuber in all its glory.

The book begins with some basic information about the Paleo diet, and more specifically, about good vs. bad carbs. The second section has a thorough but not overly complicated analysis of nutrition biochemistry. Perhaps the most valuable section for people who really want to get individualized information is the book’s 3rd section, which describes a wide variety of tests you can use to figure out what’s going on in your body. From glucose testing to interpreting bloodwork to looking at cortisol and c-reactive protein, Sweet Potato Power has some details for those who really want to geek out on these details and be their own health detective.

But my favorite part is the 4th section: recipes! Ranging from meals to side dishes to desserts, the book contains over 30 recipes–including a recovery drink, sweet potato cupcakes, sweet potato poppers (and vegetable latkes), a morning hash, sweet potato soup, sweet potato salsa, and more!

If you’re a sweet potato enthusiast and want to get some info on nutrition biochemistry, instructions on individualization and some recipes to boot, this book is a nice combination of all three elements.