The difference one hour can make

It’s always been tough for me to write during the summer months when the kids are not in their regular school routine. With a houseful of people who have different work and sport schedules and also having an office that’s located right next to the front door of our house, I’m constantly interrupted.

“Hey mom, can you take me to…?”

“What are we having for dinner?”

“Do you know if we have any paper towels?”

“Mom, are you here?”

Writing is not something I can start and stop – just like that. I need uninterrupted time to think, to plan, to design.

I used to rage at the injustice – yelling to the Gods “what about me???”, but these days, I just sort of let it go. That’s because I have (finally) changed my thinking.

When summer first began, I made this small sign and put it on my desk.

One hour.

That was my goal for each day. That was it. Just one hour of writing. Everything else was considered gravy.

There were some days when I got a heck of a lot more than one hour of writing in, but that tended to be the exception rather than the rule.

And then there were the days when I needed to cobble some time together in between driving and sports events to even come up with that one hour.

But for the most part, I got an hour in each day. I reached my goal and I managed to get some work done during the summer.

On Tuesday, my youngest goes back to high school. Two of my other kids will be at college and the rest will be working jobs.

And you know what that means, right?

It means a quiet house where I’m going to have large chunks of time all to myself.

On the first day of school, along with my white pants, I’ll be packing my One Hour sign away. If I need it next summer, I’ll know where to find it.

But for now, look out. If I could still get work done writing one hour a day, just imagine what I can do with six!

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Every Six Months

Years ago, in a management class our instructor said that if you want to be a good manager/leader then you must constantly read new material on the subject. He told us that he had personally made it a point to read a new management book every six months.

Stack of Books

I’ve always thought that was good advice. And so I’ve tried to follow it in my life as a writer. If I want to be a good writer then I must constantly learn about the craft. (Try it for yourself, “If I want to be a good (fill in the blank) then I must constantly learn about the craft”- See? It works pretty well, right?)

It’s why I buy Writer’s Digest every month. And why I fork over big bucks to get a copy of the imported British magazine Writer’s Forum. I read both from cover to cover. But as good as they are, there comes a time when much of the information becomes rehashed old news.

For this post, I thought I’d use you, the readers to come up with a crowd-sourced list of good books, magazines, or publications for writers to read in order to learn more about the craft of writing. What are the ones that speak to you, that offer a new perspective, and that make you learn more about your craft?

May I also suggest that you then bookmark this post and return to it, oh say, every six months?

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Writing about what you know

Ask a writer (any writer) for advice on the craft and chances are at some point you’ll hear the age-old adage “write about what you know.” In other words, write about what you (not someone else) have learned and experienced in your life.

It’s actually some of the best writing advice out there.

When you write about what you know, you bring a voice to the table. You present yourself as an expert on a craft, a journey, an experience. You get to teach people about something they may not previously know anything about. If you write from what you know, people trust you as “someone who’s been there.” You become credible and more importantly, your work becomes credible.

Writing from knowledge will not only engage your readers, but chances are you’ll be able to sell some of your work because what *you* know could be very, very interesting. After all no one else in the world has your exact point of view.

You are the only one who can tell your story.

But what are you qualified to write about?  Here’s a short list, if after reading an article or book you’ve said “I could’ve written this book” then you know about something enough to write about it.

If after reading something, you’ve thought, “Boy would I have liked to include information on …” then yeah, you know enough.

If you’ve taken a journey, had an adventure or have created an entire universe in your mind, then you know enough to write about it. Basically if you are alive you know enough about *something* to write about it.

And what you know constantly changes. Stay on top of it.

Here’s an example:

After years and years of being in chronic pain I decided to enroll in New Hampshire’ therapeutic cannabis program. I’m a middle-aged mother of 6, hardly your average cannabis user, but here I am taking gummies and vaping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been given an opportunity to tell others about my journey into therapeutic cannabis.

I pitched an article to a magazine by saying that I had a first person story on the use of medical marijuana for chronic illness.

The editor accepted the pitch and the story got published. It’s right here if you want to see it.

I am the only person in the world who could have written that exact article.

I’m new to the world of therapeutic cannabis. I had authority to talk about my own personal experiences but had I tried to talk about dosages or equipment I would have been completely out of my league. An article on that would not have been authentic.

My article was only on what I know.

We’ve all read articles by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Usually they are filled with lots of quotes and descriptions, but very little substance. We end up turning the page pretty quickly.

So do yourself a favor. Take a look at your life – where you go and what you do. Write a list of topics that you know enough to write about.

And then choose one and follow the best advice out there and write about what you know.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

A Demonstration of Point of View

Two Points of View

Despite the events of Labor Day Weekend 2004, Tim and I are not only still married, we’re still hiking together.

Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told.

One of the best ways to understand Point of View is by example, so here are two versions of the same story told from two different points of view.

A Touching Reunion is a story about a time when my husband and I became separated while hiking. I told it to a live audience at a Vermont Public Radio event. It was subsequently broadcast. If you read it or listen to it, you’ll understand why my husband wanted to tell his side of the story.

He’s too busy to write it down, so I’ve taken the liberty of doing it for him. It follows below.

Searching for My Wife

I don’t know that I’ll ever live down forgetting the color of Deb’s eye ever since she broadcast what happened on the radio the time we became separated on the Long Trail.

We didn’t get on the trail until after 3, but Deb was right behind me – right on my heels – even though she was carrying a heavy pack. So I walked faster and pulled ahead.

The next time I stopped, she wasn’t behind me. I doubled back and couldn’t find her, so I hurried ahead.

Desperate, I called the police from a woman’s trailer just before dark. Then I headed back to the trailhead and slept in the car. Or tried to, but a carload of guys from out-of-state pulled in about midnight and started to barbeque. They offered me a burger and beer, said they were heading out first thing to climb Killington. I told them I’d be searching for my wife.

“Sorry man,” they said. If any of these frat boys were married, they didn’t act like it.

I liked being married. I liked being married to Deborah. And I was worried: where was she? What happened? Was she okay? I wouldn’t allow my mind to go further than that.

At first light, the frat boys were snoring in tents pitched in the parking lot. They didn’t even stir when the rescuers started to pull in.

A woman named Josh was in charge. She asked me Deb’s height, weight, hair color, eye color, and her birthday. Deb’s always riding me about getting her birth year wrong, always making her younger than she is. It isn’t intentional, but it’s become one of those tics that’s hard to correct once you’re unsure. So I was afraid they wouldn’t believe I was really her husband if I didn’t get it right, not after being unsure about her eyes. So I guessed a year earlier than I usually do. I think that was right, but what would they do if her ID didn’t match what I said? I couldn’t even prove we were married. Sure, both our names were on the car registration – our different names. Was that going to be another barrier to my credibility? If they didn’t believe I was her husband, how would I ever get her back?

Just then, Josh stepped away to the radio. When she came back, she said, “Your wife’s just called in. A trooper’s gone to pick her up. She’s okay.”

I was so glad to see her, and I did look deeply into her eyes. I wasn’t ever again going to be in doubt to their spectacular, loving, hue. So I did shout, “They’re blue!”

But really, how important was it to the search – if there had been one. As far as I was concerned, the Search and Rescue people could just round up every medium sized, brown haired forty-eight year old white female lost in the woods and we could sort them by eye color later.

 

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin tells a story every Wednesday at Living in Place.

Do all you possibly can

 

It’s that time of year for kids and young adults to graduate. In our family we have at one end – a college graduation  (and he goes right into the army from there) and at the other end, we also have one who will be entering her senior year in high school.

She’s not sure what she wants to study when she goes to college. She’s got a few options in mind but hasn’t come to a decision.

“What do you think, mom?” She asks.

“Take a bunch of classes,” I tell her. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field. Don’t make the mistake I did. I took English and writing classes, but because they were so easy, I didn’t think they counted. I thought that you had to really work at what you wanted to be and it had to hurt. It was the remnants of the no pain- no gain philosophy i was taught as a youth.  As a result it took me three years to figure out I didn’t want to be a Pharmacist.”

That’s a lot of wasted time.

I didn’t realize that part of the reason the English and writing classes were so easy was because I loved them. Journalism? Fantastic. Shakespeare and Melville? Out of this world. Learning about writers and how to work with words floated my boat. I loved reading. I loved writing. It took me far too long to figure out that it’s absolutely okay to work in a field that you absolutely love.

Love creates enthusiasm.

The same thing can be applied to what you write about. As an example, I’ve written white papers – far, far too many. I don’t like writing them, in fact I’d rather have my teeth pulled (and I hate the dentist) than write them, but I do it (always dragging my feet) because they pay the bills. White papers are a necessary evil to surviving as a writer.

Compare that to when I get to write about stories and lessons learned (the genre I feel most comfortable in.) The words virtually fly out of my fingertips. I hear the stories in my head, I know exactly where I am going. It’s like talking with old friends, we finish each other’s sentences.

And yet I don’t schedule enough time to write *my* stories because they don’t bring in the money., They are something that’s too easy and therefore I think not as valued.

Perhaps I should take my own advice. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field.”

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Dress the part so you can (maybe) act the part

 

Writers are rare birds. We like to separate ourselves from the rest of the flock when we do our work.  Solitude is our natural inclination.

We also like to be comfortable. So, so very comfortable.

When I was in college, I could only write if I was wearing my “writing shirt” – a grubby, hole-filled, but incredibly soft and heavy shirt. It kept me warm. It anchored me – a security blanket across my shoulders. It wasn’t meant for others to see, it was only meant for me.

These days I don’t have the luxury of wearing “comfortable” (read – not appropriate for public viewing) clothing. My office is on the first floor and it’s me who has to get up to answer the door. I’m there when the kids come home from school and work.

I don’t wear pajamas. I don’t wear sweats and I’ve long lost that beautiful (to me anyway) writing shirt.

That doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable, of course I am. Discomfort takes away from creativity.

But it does mean that I am a little more put together than I was in earlier writing days.

And guess what? My writing is a little more put together as well.

Co-incidence? Maturity? Experience? Who knows.

But here’s a suggestion. If you have a  comfortable uniform that you wear when you write, and you find that your writing may be getting a little sloppy, a little too relaxed – try mixing things up a bit.

Put on a button down shirt.

Wear shoes instead of slippers.

A cardigan instead of a stained sweatshirt.

Even consider upgrading your writing utensils to something a little more polished.

We’ve all heard the advice to “dress for success. In this case”, why not try to dress the part of a successful writer? Updating your outfit may turn out to be nothing. It may not change your writing one bit,  but then again maybe, just maybe it might jump start some creative spark.

You’ll never know until you try.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

DIY MFA – you’ve got to check this out

Every year Writer’s Digest puts out an issue with the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Cited as one of the “Best of the Best” is the DIY MFA website.

I decided to go take a look at that website and Holy Cow! If you’re a writer who is working on a project then you should definitely check this one out.

WD’s description:

Offering a do-it-yourself alternative to a master’s degree in writing. DIY MFA provides all the tools you need to “write with focus, read with purpose and build your community” – ked by prolific teacher, speaker and writer Gabriela Pereira (author of the companion book DIY MFA, from WD books) via articles, classes and a podcast. The e-newsletter brings regular updates to your inbox with the friendly greeting “Hey there, Word Nerds!”

If you visit the website you’ll be asked for your email in order to get a writer’s Starter Pack which is filled with tools that are used in a free mini two-week course that will be delivered through email over the next two weeks. I understand that her book is considered a companion to the site, but it’s in no way required for anyone to use the information.

This website is a gift. It’s a way to learn (at no cost) and a way join a community of like people. Your tribe.

From what I’ve seen this is indeed a website filled with great and relevant information for writers. Truly worthy of the title of Best of the Best.

Do yourself a favor and check DIY MFA out.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.