Of Scams, Education, and the Freelance Life

July 10, 2013

Being unemployed is hard.

Rmember the somewhat-scammy phone-call I received after responding to a Craiglist ad last week? Well, I caved. They called me again and since you can’t make less money than $0 and since I have tutored before and since they weren’t asking for my credit card information, I decided that I had nothing to lose.


Yesterday, I merrily drove out to Tyson’s Corner to have an “interview” with the “tutoring agency”. I knew something was wrong when I showed up to a sketchy office in the back of a building and nobody was using English as their first language. Or even Spanish.

I had a wave of momentary panic and almost left but then I realized that I could at least write a somewhat amusing blog post out of the experience and so I sat back down in the waiting area. Ah, the sacrifices writers make for their art.

Here are some key tips that I garnered. You should probably not take a tutoring job if:

1. The agency seems oddly under-staffed and unoraganized. For instance, the person with whom you are supposed to interview never shows and the “interview” turns into yet another “initial screening” with the same person who was unable to give you any kind of concrete information over the phone in the first place.

2. You are told that the agency works with foreign students and “high-profile” individuals and embassies from a variety of countries in the Middle East, not all of whom are known for their enthusiastic support of the U.S.

3. You are told that the majority of work you will be doing is not necessarily tutoring, but homework “completion” for aforementioned foreign students.

Folks, I am all about tapping into the system of free enterprise to provide less-than-priviledged students with all of the tools possible to learn and succeed.

But there are also a lot of people making money off of other people attempting to circumvent patience and plain ol’ hard work.

When the interviewee mentioned #3, I flipped. There is a not-so-fine-line between tutoring and making totally illegitimate money off of the cheating techniques of students too smart to plagiarize.

Apparently, I am not able to hold a poker-face, because the interviewer started to backpedal. “Sometimes applicants aren’t comfortable with our processes,” she said. Yeah. I bet.

Allow me to rant a bit. Education is something an individual acquires through dedication and time. Success is something achieved through patience, sacrifice, and perseverance. You cannot write a check and pick up an education and long-term success at the store down the street.

If you are trying to shortcut the system, you will be disappointed and probably lose a lot of money in the process. And if you are making money by promising someone that they can write a check and purchase education and success, you are lying.

In case you are wondering, I did not take the tutoring gig and I am just as unemployed as I was yesterday. Yes, being unemployed is hard.┬áBut at least I know where I don’t want to work.

Share your funny freelance or scam story in the comments!

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Confessions of an Unemployed English Major

June 28, 2013

My blog has been largely silent because when I last wrote Mark and I had just gotten engaged. When you are engaged, lots of people want to congratulate you and give you advice but what no one says is that wedding planning is a schedule-wrecker. If you have a job, you will only go to work and plan the wedding. If you do not have a job you will only plan the wedding, which is why it's probably a good idea to remain employed during engagement.



We are married and I am officially unemployed and trying to figure out what it means to be a wife and a full-time writer. After sending out emails with writing pitches for hours, I remember halfway through the day that my name is supposed to be Emily McCord. Then I remember that the only thing more difficult than changing my name legally will be changing my name on social media. Being part of Gen Y is hard.


I realize now, too, that I will probably never be taken seriously again by many of my professional friends because I am now one of those annoying people who doesn't have a day-job and who complains about things like slow Internet and the price of obscure food products.


I understand now what Donald Miller was talking abut when he wrote "Writers don't make any money at all. We make about a dollar. It is terrible. . . . We are worth so much more." I find comfort by assuring myself that I am worth at least $4 a day because I did not spend any money commuting to work. 


And then I remember that Mark will probably ask me how much money I made today when he comes home. I check the fridge to make sure that I have food for dinner because I have this theory that if I just keep making amazing meals, Mark will not notice that one of us is not producing any income. Or at least he will pretend not to notice because he knows that if I get a full-time job he will have to help out with the cooking.


After I check the fridge I realize that it is almost 11:00 and that I need to send out my resume to at least three more people this morning because one of them just might recognize the inherent and lasting value of two English degrees and hire me. 

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Reflections of a Graduate Student

October 19, 2012
As the last semester of my English M.A. program speeds forward, I grow nostalgic. This period is bittersweet. I’m excited to leave behind late nights of homework and to move on to whatever the next phase holds. But I have never regretted my choice to pursue a grad degree in English. (The night before a final paper is due doesn’t count.)


This is not because it will allow to me to make substantially more money. (It won’t.)

This is not because I think a graduate degree will vastly increase my chances of glittering success in the field I chose as an idealistic, optimistic undergrad. (It hasn’t yet.)

This is not because I have some idealistic notion about how current research in English departments everywhere is going to change the world. (Unlikely.)

It’s simply because the things I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve garnered during my graduate years have been deeply valuable and truly irreplaceable in more ways than I can count.

This post isn’t meant to be melancholy, though. One of the things I’ve learned, in a program that emphasized writing studies, is how not to teach composition. Students of Writing Studies are hounded, nagged, and lectured until we would die before we would Ever. Teach. Composition. Like. That. 

So chronicled here (with a bit of light-hearted tongue-in-cheek) are some teaching methods that English graduate students, especially those whose programs emphasize composition, are taught to avoid like the plague. I’ve even included some take-aways that writers of all walks can use.

1. In a composition class, a teacher should use lots of literature, especially novels. Students of all majors will naturally be more effective writers if they read a lot of literature, especially poetry from the English Renaissance period.

Take-away for writersNot all reading is good reading. To hone your craft, especially read the kind of writing that you want to master.

2. There is only one good way to teach writing. Hound your students until they master it. Make them practice until they drop. They’ll get it.

Take-away for writers: Someone else’s method may not work for you. If you are frustrated with a method, stop. Drop it. Try something new.

3. Pre-writing is useless. Brainstorming. Looping. Free-writing. Bah Humbug. Make your students write an essay, for crying out loud.

Take-away for writers: Sometimes the long way around is actually the shortest. Stop trying to write the novel, the post, the book and just spend some time doodling or journaling or brainstorming. 

4. Drafts? Excuses. If it’s not there the first time, it won’t be there the second time. Get it right the first time or go home.

Take-away for writers: Write. Then re-write. Then re-write again. Drafts are your friend. The first draft is simply the beginning of a long and painful journey. So get started.

5.A perfect draft, clear as crystal and utterly free from any errors in grammar is the ultimate goal.Get your commas right or stop.

Take-away for writers: Grammar is important. Really important. It aids clear communication and one’s professional image. But grammar is a means, not a goal. Don’t obsess over comma errors at the same time you’re worrying about content. They are different issues. Prioritize accordingly. 

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Destination: Unknown

October 17, 2011

"You don't get to know the ending."
This phrase is one of Mom's most frequent.
But I want to know the ending.
I was the girl who would skip to the end of the book so that I knew what was coming. 
I was the girl who endlessly harassed professors about test material so that I knew exactly what to study.
I was the girl who refused to watch anything labeled "Drama" because that was code for "Potentially Unhappy or Unsatisfying Ending."

No guesswork. No unknowns. No questions.

Clear answers. Clear endings. Clear directions.
But my plans have a way of being foiled.
"You don't get to know the ending."
The more answers I demanded, the fewer I received.
When I planned more, I enjoyed less.
When I insisted more, I appreciated less.
It was exhausting. And frankly, not a lot of fun.
So I gave up. 

I don't want to be the one in the corner, afraid that the story won't end the way she hopes it will. I want to be the one who lives fearlessly.
I don't want to compile a list of all possible pitfalls, dangers, and losses. I want to live without assessing the risk.

I don't want to have safety and comfort and predictability as my highest priorities. I want to live and love and give bravely.

"You don't get to know the ending."

I remind myself of this when I need to commit, when I'm asked to sign up, when I'm called to join. 
I remind myself of this goal when I catch myself compiling a list of "what-ifs?" and "why-nots".
I remind myself to take the scary steps, to agree to the unknown, to avoid the safe corner.
And I don't get to know where this journey will end.

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It’s the Little Things…

June 19, 2010

It's the little things in life that count. Like an organized inbox. E-mail accounts can spin out of control if left to their own devices. My own was becoming overwhelming. As of yesterday I had 150 "new" messages, all of which were over a week old.

There were 54 pages of e-mails, most of which contained at least somewhat relevant records, but the junk was making it difficult to keep track of the important stuff.

It was time to do a little housekeeping. I needed to clear out the advertisements, spam, and automated updates. But who wants to wade through 54 pages of e-mails? So I automated the process:

  • I searched for the e-mail address of the advertisement/spam/automated update in question. This helped me find all the e-mails of any one kind at once.
  • I clicked "Mark All."
  • I clicked "Delete. "
  • I repeated this process until I ran out of junk mail.

Now I was down to 39 pages of mail, but now, at least, most of the e-mails were legitimate records and not useless advertising.

I'm also unsubscribing from automated updates as they arrive. It takes a few seconds, but it should save time down the road.

What did you organize this week?

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