Interestingly enough, I never give much thought to the notion that because I’m legally blind, that I should not be writing for a living. In fact, I’ve been writing online in some capacity or another for the better part of 10 years and frankly, I do not know if there is any other way for me to bring in the kind of income I do with writing in another way.
How I wound up writing
Some time ago, I put up a blog post called “Accidental Freelancer“. You see, freelancing was not something that particularly interested me, but at a time when I needed to do something to survive, it turned out to be the best option for me. I had worked for several years as part of a program that allowed full-time employees to work at home so I knew I had the discipline needed to work at home but what I was not sure of was if I could find something that fit my particular knowledge base and skill set.
You see, for years, I worked in the financial services industry; I worked as a stock brokers assistant, a mortgage broker, a data entry clerk in the retirements division of a mutual fund company and later as a offshore accounting clerk at a mutual fund company. Finance was my specialty and I was not really confident I could transfer those skills to working online.
When I decided to really put my mind to finding something I could do from home, I actually took a class for people who were blind to help them talk to potential employers without their vision “getting in the way” as it were. It was there that I discovered oDesk.
oDesk was the first step of many
When I was referred to oDesk I was frankly terrified because I was not sure exactly what I should be looking for. Naturally my base instinct was to head for the data entry assignments particularly those that involved finances. Boy was I in for a shock — super low rates and a lot of con artists. But, unlike too many freelancers, I got really lucky and I had two clients who were willing to take a risk on someone who was relatively new and did not have a ton of experience. Those two assignments were eye-opening — one was to draft an Ebook about oDesk (I knew the system like the back of my hand) and the other was drafting content for a legal website.
Then the real shock came
The people that hired me actually liked my work and because of their encouragement I branched out of oDesk and started exploring content mills and other sources of income. What I discovered along the way was that a few simple tools would make my life a lot easier if I was going to write full time. So here is what I use for “tools”
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 13.0, English – this was an important investment because it meant that when my eyes got tired I could still work. There are some days when my eyes just plain are too tired/sore to work so when that happens, I depend on this. Keep in mind it does require extensive practice and you really do need to proofread your work.
- Plantronics Audio 478 Stereo USB Headset (Audio 478) – you need a good audio system to make sure that Dragon picks up what you are saying. I had used Plantronics equipment when I worked at an answering service so I knew how good they were. The one I have is five years old and still functions perfectly.
- Windows Eyes – This was actually provided to me by the local Commission for the Blind so I did not have to depend on the free version (which by the way works perfectly!). This is a screen reader and it will help tremendously with proofreading and with research. There is a STEEP learning curve and it is NOT particularly friendly with Dragon so you have to shut Dragon off to use it.
- RefDesk – This site is free to use (with advertisements) and it’s where I turn for nearly all of my research material. There are plenty of other sites so you should find the ones that work best for you.
Naturally you will also need a word processing program like Microsoft Office but you can use Google Docs, Open Office or a whole host of other options that are almost all free, you pick.
What is the process for writing and proofing when you are blind?
As I have mentioned before while I’m classified as “legally blind” I do still have some vision. That said, the more tired I get, the less I can see so that makes life interesting and makes writing more interesting. However, I suspect that the process I use is not that much different than what most people use except I do it in a more “automated” manner than they do.
- I pick out what I’m going to write – I use a number of writing sites and I am also a bit overly-cautious about what type of work I pick up. My “speciality” categories include law, real estate, finance and Internet topics (though nothing too technical!)
- I do my research – this is when Windows Eyes first comes into play; I do my research before I start putting one word down. For something that is relatively new to me, I usually spend 15-20 minutes reviewing “highlights” of what I am going to write about
- I start writing – at this point, Windows Eyes gets shut off and Dragon gets turned on. I “write” by dictating my initial thoughts and I do not worry about order for the most part, though it is easier to edit and proof if you have it in a reasonable order ahead of time.
- I then proof and edit – like any good writer, I proofread and edit my work. Now one thing that is important to note that while I often shut Dragon off and use Windows Eyes for this, it is sometimes better to put your screen magnification on and try to read the article. Words like “there, their, they’re” (similar sounds, different meanings, different spellings) are not distinguished and since they all sound the same you will often have to correct these manually.
The submission process
Once I feel confident that my work is (a) complete, (b) accurate and (c) proofed to the best of my ability I go ahead and submit it to whatever site the piece was for or in the case of private clients I send it off to them in an email as a document attachment.
Now many people wonder how time consuming this is based on what a person who has full sight can do: In fact, I can do in excess of 4500 words in a day if I really work at it, and I’ve been known to do more than that in a day when necessary. I don’t really recommend that though. If I get a subject that I am well versed in, I can do a 400-600 word piece in 20 minutes from start of writing to the submission. When I’m working on pieces that require a great deal of fact checking – especially legal titles – as a rule they will take me the better part of an hour because the last thing I want to do is provide bad information. So, there you have it, it’s not as complicated or as onerous as it sounds.
For the record, this is what people who have RP (which is what I have) see “normally”