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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

A Country Mile

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

“I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story.”

Do you have a women’s story you want to submit for possible inclusion to an upcoming anthology? Please click on the link above and join us. 

 

Have you ever hear the sermon about the guy who’s caught in a flood and ends up on the roof of his house? Cold and scared, he prays for God to rescue him. Before long, a log passes by, and he reaches out, but misses it. Then he sees a guy in a rowboat approaching him. He starts to get excited, but when the boat gets close, he can’t bring himself to step off the roof. Now frantic, he looks toward heaven and makes a more desperate plea.

Eventually he hears a rescue helicopter flying overhead. He’s relieved until a gust of wind swings the basket wildly and he becomes afraid to climb into it. Finally he’s swept away with the current and dies. When he sees God, he’s angry that his prayers were unanswered. God says to him, “I sent you a log, a rowboat, and a helicopter to try to save you.” In shock, the man replies, “You sent those?”

Well, my life reminds me of that story.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tough time figuring out what I wanted to career-wise. Like the man on the roof who got excited each time he thought help was on the way, I’ve gotten my hopes up, only to have them dashed when things didn’t work out. For years I’ve prayed about it and asked for inspiration.

In first grade, I was positive I wanted to be a nun. In the fifth grade, it was a prima ballerina. By high school, my calling became less clear. A good student, I didn’t feel drawn towards any one subject. When it was time to decide on a major, with my anxiety rising, I began to search in earnest. At the last moment, I settled on textile engineering. My mother was a fashion designer, my father an engineer, and I was a people-pleaser.

After two years in college, I lost my way. I quit school, got married, had a baby. I began a series of “do anything for a buck” jobs. I worked in sheet metal, I painted warehouses, I stocked shelves. When my marriage didn’t work out, I took in sewing in order to support myself and my son, and decided to finish my schooling.

Again it was time to choose a major, and the panic returned. As a single parent paying for my own education, I had to make it count. I settled on psychology, since I’d always been curious about people and relationships. I can still remember my excitement as I declared my major. I sailed through my classes and thought I was finally on my way.

But the excitement was short-lived. When graduation time came around, well, you guessed it. I couldn’t figure out what to do with my degree. It appeared that grad school was necessary for most of the jobs in psych. By then I had remarried and my new husband was working on his PhD in economics. It was my turn to help with our financial situation.

I ended up working for my brother’s start-up computer company, at first in human resources, and then writing computer manuals. I found that I had a knack for learning new software and writing step-by-step instructions. Technical writing became my specialty, and eventually I moved on to other software companies. The money was good, and it kept me motivated for a long time. Finally I could not write one more computer guide. I had continued to study personal growth on my own, and felt called to share what I had learned.

The company I was working for at the time was expanding. I switched to employee development, teaching small-group seminars on professional and life skills. The employees seemed to enjoy the classes, and I was finally using my psych training. I was convinced I had found the right career at last. Unfortunately, there was a change in management, and the job was dissolved. Disillusioned, it was time for a real leap of faith.

I’d gotten close to my dream career, but something wasn’t quite right. Then I happened upon an out-of-print book called Living Life on Purpose, by Greg Anderson. The author suggested that the little voice we hear inside, nudging us, is the voice of God. This was a startling idea to me. I’d always thought of God as somewhere out there, not within. As Anderson says, “Spiritually God has already assigned us a unique mission. God has given us talents and has given us the guidance of our Inner Wisdom as to which talents give us the greatest pleasure.”

Shortly after that, I had a dream about my dad, who had passed away that year. He had beautiful handwriting, from the Palmer Method they taught in his day. When I was little, he used to take my hand and help me practice making circles on the page to ensure that I was using the proper motion. When I awoke from the dream, my hand was moving in a circular motion and I was repeating the word “write.” Could there be a clearer sign of what I was supposed to do? I had been writing for years, but not from the heart.

With a new sense of direction, I decided to try freelancing. I wrote a book about the benefits of psychotherapy. I started submitting articles to the local newspaper, and eventually landed a monthly column. I published a book of personal reflections, followed by a book about my parents’ courtship during World War II based on dad’s love letters to my mom. I have become a writer.

So what does all this have to do with the man on the roof? Well, for years I prayed and cried, cried and prayed about my career “block.” But when I step back to look at how my prayers have been answered, it’s kind of embarrassing that I didn’t recognize the clues. Over the years I’ve had: grammar drilled into me by the nuns; a huge family and rich life experiences to write about; years of computer experience; and my own dad appearing to me in a dream, taking me by the hand and showing me my future.

As if that weren’t enough, I found a friend and mentor in the person of Earl Hamner, creator of The Waltons TV show. One of my early newspaper articles was about the strong family values inherent in the series. Mr. Hamner and I began corresponding. I have adopted his personal philosophy: “We are human and small and vulnerable but our journey can be magnificent and memorable and worthy, valuable to us and to those whose lives touch our own.”

You hear musicians say they don’t write their music, they just hear the songs in their heads. Writers experience a similar phenomenon. The words don’t come from me, but through me. The work is effortless, and energizing, because I’m finally doing what I love: using my voice to inspire others. All my life, I’ve been told that I’m smart. But on this career issue, as my friend Earl would say, I didn’t see it coming for a country mile.

 

My writing buddy

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know that, in addition to psychology, I’m very interested in the WWII era. My parents were married in 1942, just five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Last fall, I wrote a freelance article about a place called Solomons Island in southern Maryland, which is where the amphibious training took place before the actual landing in Normandy on D-Day. My sister lives on Solomons, and when I learned about its WWII connection, I decided to pitch a short article about it to Military Officer magazine. It was published in October of 2011.

My Uncle Dick was in the infantry in WWII, and wrote a book about his experiences called Normandy to the Bulge. Before he died, I helped him re-publish it on Lulu. If you truly want to understand the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, this is a good book to read. Even if you don’t like combat books, you’ll appreciate Normandy because it’s not gory. Based on his wartime diary, it covers more of the everyday experiences and the friendships that developed out of the hardships they endured.

In 2007, my mom and I self-published her WWII memoir, All on Account of You. It’s interesting to read these brother and sister books from the same time period. My dad was stationed on the homefront, in Key West, FL, during the war. Together the memoirs give you the whole picture of the time period.

Also, not long before he passed away, my uncle wrote a short book, Painting the Milkweeds, about their experiences growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. With the three books together, you can follow the evolution of one American family and their experiences in the first part of the twentieth century.

My uncle died several years ago, but when I re-read the stories, I can still hear his rich Irish storytelling voice relating them to us. We shared a love of writing and I miss his weekly letters of encouragement. I know he’d be proud that his books are still selling, and that I’m still writing.

Reading at The Storyteller’s Bookstore in Wake Forest

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Weather permitting, I will be reading from All on Account of You on Saturday, September 6th, at 3:00 p.m. at The Storyteller’s Bookstore in Wake Forest, as part of the store’s Grand Opening event. Please come by if you can! Here is the schedule:

Author Readings and Storyteller Events

Saturday, September 6, 2008

10-11am              Anita Stone, I Never Met a Flower I Didn’t Like
11am-12pm         Roz Grace, Trina’s Family Reunion
3:00pm-3:30pm  Elaine Klonicki, All on Account of You
6:00-7:00pm       Storytellers Ron Jones and Claire Ramsey

Sunday, September 7, 2008

3-3:30pm             Alice Osborn, Right Lane Ends
3:30-4:00pm       Sharon Wood, Writing From the Authentic Self

Drew Bridges, owner of the store and a semi-retired psychiatrist, opened the store in order to return to his English major roots. Drew Bridges describes himself as an “early career storyteller.” He is well known around the Wake Forest area, having performed at charity events and at local events including Herbfest.

Drew emphasizes his belief that, “Even in today’s world of iMax and iPods gee-whiz technology, there is still room for a more personal form of entertainment.”

The store is designed with open areas for activities and is furnished with a grand piano and a red leather antique barber chair, the “storyteller’s chair.” Paintings and photography from local artists adorn the walls and are for sale as well.

The Storyteller’s Book Store is located under the bridge, at 100 E. Roosevelt Ave, Wake Forest, NC.

For more information about the grand opening or other programs and activities at the store call 919-554-9146 or send an email inquiry to storystore@nc.rr.com.

What can you offer?

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I’ve been having a pull-back week this week. It’s kind of like a mental health day, only longer. On emotional overload after my uncle’s funeral, and after seemingly every one of my close friends has had some kind of crisis, I finally had to pull back. To limit phone calls and emails and invitations in order to process some of what I’ve taken in. Death often causes us to do this. To look at how we’re living, to see if we have our priorities straight and our “house in order,” even to the extent of updating our wills and health care powers-of-attorney.

Before I learned about the death of my uncle, I had been struggling with a career decision. An agent expressed interest in my first book, Thinking About Therapy. She wanted to try to sell it to a mainstream publisher–every self-published author’s dream–except that, in her opinion, re-marketing it would require pulling it off my website. At first glance, it seemed like a no-brainer. I could have an agent! One who doesn’t intimidate me, is passionate about my topics, and returns my phone calls.

On the other hand, I had a visceral reaction when she mentioned pulling the book, especially after the enormous effort that went into redesigning my website last fall. Add to that the fact that I’m getting some traction on various fronts online, and the timing felt completely off. It would have meant switching gears, perhaps even backtracking. In the end I decided to decline the offer, although we left the door open for working together on future projects.

Then, this week, the webmaster for an online magazine for women responded to my request to blog on their site. A few weeks ago they had put out the word that they were looking for bloggers, and, in a high-energy moment, I had signed up. They sent me an application, and asked if I was interested in writing a regional or national blog. As my husband likes to say, “Is that a trick question?” Don’t all writers want as much exposure as possible? At any rate, the application asked me to explain what I thought I could offer to their readers.

Isn’t it amazing how hearing the right question can set your brain straight to the task of answering it? Part of my emotional funk this week has been due to a lack of focus. Self-published authors face a dizzying list of shoulds. In order to build an audience and sell books, we are told that we should blog, set up book signings and speaking engagements, send out books for review, write magazine pitches and sell articles, create book trailers, mine the web. And, oh, by the way, write the next book. I’m guilty of switching haplessly from one to the other, sometimes getting overwhelmed in the process.

Which brings me back to the “What can I offer?” question. I know the big-picture answer because I’ve done a lot of work in this area and I have a personal mission statement: “To inspire others to live a more joyful, purposeful life.” I want to share my personal experiences with other people, particularly women, in the hopes of saving them some of the emotional struggles that I’ve been through.

I just needed to be asked the question again. Refocused, I know where to put my efforts going forward. I have a feeling that, as a result, next week is going to be one of those pull-ahead weeks.

As Greg Anderson says in his uplifting book Living Life on Purpose, “You have a mission in your life…Truly, the world has need of you…You are here, now, where you are, how you are, given the personality you have, with the unique abilities you possess because this is your moment to contribute to the world.” 

How about you? What can you offer to the world? Do you need a pull-back week to figure it out?

Take all the time you need. We’ll wait.

 

The chicken or the egg

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

This is the final installment of my three-part blog from www.triangleareafreelancers.org, originally posted on October 15th, 2007.

 
Remember when you tried to get your first job out of school? More than likely, you were told you needed experience, but you couldn’t figure out how you were supposed to get that experience without a job.

The publishing world works much the same way. You can’t get published without an assignment, but you can’t get an assignment without being published first. What to do?

Now, more than ever, there are solutions, both in print and online.

Most newspapers accept Point of View pieces from readers for their Op-Ed pages. If your newspaper has a community column section, you can submit an essay in the hopes of becoming a guest columnist. Magazines such as Writer’s Digest run regular contests where they ask you to write based on a prompt, and publish the winning entries. There are a number of non-paying print magazines, such as Reminisce, which will publish your story if it is accepted. Some writers’ groups publish anthologies of their members’ short stories or essays.

Online there an endless number of websites that need content—it’s just a matter of matching up what you want to write about with someone who wants to publish on that topic. One way to get started is to post material on a “content” site, such as Constant-Content.com. These are basically auction sites which allow you to offer your work to the highest bidder, but they do allow you to post free content, which may get picked up by a website with a small budget.  

Many startup e-zines are non-paying at first and then graduate to becoming for-pay sites once they gather enough advertisers and readers.

Writing sites which cater to specific genres, such as HumorPress.com, run bi-monthly contests and offer publication and small monetary prizes to the winners. Humor Press then publishes books of the winning essays. 

If you like to write book reviews, you can submit them to online review sites such as Blogcritics.org or BloggerNews.net.

With the proliferation of blogs, you might want to offer to be a guest blogger on a friend’s site. Or you can create your own blog for free on places like WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal or OutBlogger. The December 2007 issue of the Writer’s Digest magazine compares the features of these sites.

Finally, you can create your own website using free services such as Geocities.Yahoo.com

Once you get a few publications—print or online—under your belt, you’ll feel more confident about writing queries in order to get paying assignments. If you’re a good writer, and you’re professional, it’s just a matter of being persistent. It will all be worthwhile when you get the first “Yes” from an editor!

 

What’s unique about you?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

This is part two of my three-part blog from www.triangleareafreelancers.org, originally posted on October 13th, 2007.

 

Beginning writers are often told, “Write what you know.” This is because what you know—and especially what you feel passionate about—will roll off your tongue (and on to your computer screen) more easily than a researched topic. If you write about an area in which you have some expertise, your depictions will feel more authentic to the reader, and your words will ring more true.

Some aspects of freelancing are counterintuitive. It might seem to make sense to write about topics with general appeal in order to attract the greatest number of readers. In fact, it’s better to create a market for yourself by writing about what other people aren’t writing about.

This is one of the joys of freelancing. It gives you license to indulge your obsessions, to embrace your inner nerd, so to speak. The most quirky topic or hobby may prove to be the most interesting to a potential editor.

Think about what’s unique about you. What fan clubs do you belong to? What online forums do you contribute to? What hobbies do your friends tease you about? Try writing about your favorite episode of The Waltons, the best Clay Aiken concert you’ve attended, or the farthest place you’ve traveled to attend a Star Trek convention.

As a former columnist for The News and Observer, Don Vaughan, says in his April 20, 2007 column, “Don’t be ashamed – be proud! Stand up and let the world know. By admitting your passion, maybe, just maybe, you’ll open the eyes of someone who has never before experienced that particular joy. And that’s a wonderful gift to share.”

Don happened to be referring to his life-long interest in comic books. I would reveal what my personal obsession is, but I can’t right now. John-Boy’s coming on TV.

 

Walk like a duck

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

I’m having a super busy week–a good kind of busy–so over the next few days I’m going to post a three-part blog I originally published at www.triangleareafreelancers.org.

People often come to freelance writing later in life and from other careers. Some switch from other writing fields, such as technical writing. Others have done business writing, including press releases and marketing materials, as part of their job. Exposure to a variety of knowledge bases can be a boon for a freelancer. The more exposure you have to the world, the more you have to write about.

But one pitfall for beginning freelancers is that they often don’t see themselves as writers. New members who come to our group often say the same thing. “I’m not really a writer—I don’t have anything published.”

Although some people have a more natural aptitude than others, thankfully, writing is primarily a learned skill: the more you write, the better you get. There is no acid test to determine whether you are, or are not, a writer. You are a writer if you write.

But thinking of yourself as a writer is a critical step towards being one. If you’re not there yet, you can borrow a role-playing technique psychotherapists use to help people get a jump-start on learning new behaviors. It’s called “acting as if” (known in laymen’s terms as “Fake it until you make it.”)

For example, if you’re uncomfortable in social situations, you can “act as if” you are extroverted. You can walk into a room of strangers, make solid eye contact, introduce yourself, give a firm handshake, and smile warmly at everyone.

People are funny. If they see something that “walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck,” they think it’s a duck. If you appear to be outgoing, they assume you’re outgoing. If you appear to be a writer, they assume you’re a writer.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Sue Monk Kidd’s Firstlight, which is a collection of her early inspirational writings, is her description of how she announced to the world that she was going to become a writer. (She had had a long career as a nurse.) “The world” turned out to be her husband and two-year-old, who were sitting at the breakfast table eating cereal. Her point was that she had decided.

If you’ve decided you want to be a writer, start “acting as if” — by doing the things that writers do. Establish a space in your home to write, buy writers’ magazines, join a writers’ group, take a writing class, talk to people about what you’re writing, and most importantly, write!

 

Books for Memorial Day

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I’m back from vacation and will post an entry about our adventures in a day or two, but today on Memorial Day I wanted to recommend two WWII books to you. Both are excellent, and will give you a very clear picture of what day-to-day life was like for those who served during WWII.

The first is my uncle’s book, Normandy to the Bulge, which I wrote about in a previous post. My uncle was a Pfc. in the army, in the 26th Infantry Division. He and his buddies fought across Europe, enduring mud and rain and a constant lack of food. He was trapped in a foxhole for 17 days, and later helped to liberate several concentration camps. He kept a diary of his experiences, always intending to write a book about them. He finally wrote and published it, 51 years later.

The second book I discovered by accident while searching to see if there were many other WWII books with letters in them, similar to All on Account of You. It is called At War and At Home, edited by Bob and Gale McClung, and contains the correspondence of an entire family: three brothers (one of whom was Bob McClung) who served in three different branches during WWII, their parents, and their little sister. I posted a review of it on Goodreads.com. Sadly, Bob passed away shortly before the book was released, but Gale and I have become online friends.

Last night I watched the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C. on PBS and was moved by it. It’s good to see that we’re finally paying attention to those who haved served and are serving to keep our country safe, and it’s important that we keep telling their stories. God bless all of them.

Happy Memorial Day.

 

Giving the little guy a chance

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

We’re getting ready to go on a family vacation on Tuesday (Vegas, baby!) and I’m trying to decide which book to take along. I read a lot of nonfiction, but on vacation, I have to have my fiction. While looking through my nightstand stacks, which my husband has been reminding me are overflowing, I noticed one of the most recent fiction books that I really enjoyed. It’s called To Truckee’s Trail, by gifted writer Celia Hayes.

To Truckee’s Trail is a fictionalized account of the first wagon-train party that successfully crossed the Sierra-Nevada mountains and arrived in Sacramento, California. The journey took place in 1884 and spanned 2,000 miles. I posted a review of the book on Goodreads.com, which is a site where you can recommend to your friends what you are reading.

I hope you will all get the chance to do some reading this summer. If you’re getting ready to buy a book soon, consider buying a self-published book online. They are growing in numbers and their authors are working hard to promote them. Print-on-demand (POD) publisher sites work just like amazon. You can search based on topics, read reviews, and purchase using major credit cards. (The books take a few extra days to arrive because they are printed as they are ordered.) The POD site I’ve been publishing with in recent years is Lulu.com. Other top sites are iUniverse.com, BookLocker.com, AuthorHouse.com, and Xlibris.

This is the kind of purchase you can feel good about. It’s kind of like buying hardware at the local hardware store instead of the Home Depot, or coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop instead of at Starbucks. On behalf of all the “little guys” out there, we appreciate your business!

 

Writer’s Digest website contest

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The Writer’s Digest magazine editor, Maria Schneider, is running a contest on her blog, The Writer’s Perspective. It just started yesterday–here’s her post. You can nominate your website or blog (or another writer’s) and it will be judged based on presentation, ease of use, and marketing effectiveness. Winners will get some pretty cool prizes such as a listing in their October print issue, their e-newsletter, and on WritersDigest.com.

The website must be created and maintained by you personally. (Read the comments to her blog if you’re not sure what that means. She answers several questions about it.) Unfortunately mine doesn’t qualify because I have both a designer and a webmaster. :(

Don’t be shy–nominate yourself! You may also get some traffic to your site from the people who read her blog. Good luck!