The Next Generation of Environmental Stewards and How Fantasy Can Help Kids with Such Complex Issues and Ideas

bhbonc07wsi-annelies-geneyn

guest post by: C.J. Quinn

Does your child enjoy reading fantasy books? If so, your child may be smarter than you think. Reading the genre of fiction and fantasy has many social and behavioral advantages.

Intelligence quotient (IQ) was once considered the golden standard for measuring how smart a person was. However, in 1995 Daniel Goleman, an internationally known psychologist, proved that we weren’t taking into account emotional intelligence when determining a person’s intellect. According to Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a person’s ability to identify, evaluate, control and express emotions.” Since Goleman’s theory, both IQ and EQ are now combined in order to study the ‘intelligence’ of a person.

A person with a high IQ as well as a high EQ is a person who has good interpersonal skills and possesses compassion and empathy. As a result, this person is able to develop strong relationships, has greater self-awareness, and operates with the faculty of reasoning and understanding.

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Research consistently shows that the more people read, the more it helps people’s understanding of others. The genre of fantasy is an especially effective way to encourage empathy among children. For example, when children read fantasy that provides valuable lessons, such as environmental awareness, they become more empathetic toward important issues. In the case of environmental fantasy, they learn how to be sympathetic about human impact on the natural world that surrounds them.

In recent years, psychologists and childhood development experts have expressed concern with the apparent decline in empathy among children and young adults. One study found that the number of children’s stories parents expose their preschoolers to can predict a preschooler’s ability to understand the emotions of others.

Fortunately, one can start learning empathy by reading fantasy. The genre of fantasy encompasses a world of imagination and make-believe with myth and legend involved. Fantasy appeals to children because it brings them out of the mundane and into a world of magic. Reading fantasy gives children an important tool in dealing with reality by discovering hidden meanings within the story. Fantasy is timeless and has shaped culture for centuries. The security of knowing that the story is fantasy gives the reader a safe place to discover topics that are sometimes difficult to understand or too frightening to confront. A child’s brain may not be developed enough to understand a subject that is beyond their comprehension. Through the experience of reading fantasy the child’s mind has a chance to make sense of their lives by learning through the sympathetic experience.

Many children today spend more time indoors than outdoors. They are becoming deprived of the connection between who they are and the marvel of the natural experience. America is in the midst of one of the most profound and rapid societal shifts in history. Today’s generation is the first to grow up indoors. Their plugged-in lives are often devoid of exploration of the natural world. It is difficult to teach about nature in the classroom when children are detached from it. In the year 2000, two-thirds of the public failed a basic environmental quiz and 88 percent failed a basic energy quiz. By spending very little time outdoors there are costs to our children’s health: attention difficulties, hyperactivity, childhood obesity, and a diminished use of senses.

However, children who read environmental fantasy may have a more intrinsic yearning to go outside. And, once a child has the opportunity to learn about their environment through reading fantasy, the child begins the transformation of becoming a guardian of the environment, rather than simply being a consumer of it. The child now has the empathy to relate to his environment and the desire to go outside and experience nature. When our youth read environmental fantasy it helps them become ambassadors of the earth. The National Environmental Education Foundation Act of 1990 (NEEF) believes “with increased environmental involvement of individuals on a national scale, their actions, taken collectively, will have a tremendous environmental impact and help bring about a cultural shift in attitudes and behaviors.”

The rewards from reading environmental fantasy for our youth spawns a new empathy and understanding for the natural world. This in turn assists in molding them into stewards of the environment in which they inhabit.

cj-quinnC.J. Quinn is the author of Talia and the Capture of Wrath, a middle grade fantasy novel that promotes environmental awareness. After traveling the world, she settled down to start a family, which has proven to be the biggest adventure yet. She currently resides in Seattle with her family.

Talia and the Capture of Wrath is available talia-and-the-capture-of-wrathvia Amazon wherever books are sold. The audio version of Talia and the Capture of Wrath was released November, 2016.

Find C.J. Quinn on FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterestGoodreads, and at www.cjsoulwriter.com.

The Power of Writing Badly

{by guest blogger:  Marcia Zina Mager, The Write Coach}

{Flickr photo by aptmetaphor}
{Flickr photo by aptmetaphor}

One of my all time favorite quotes about the writing process comes from one of the world’s greatest painters, Vincent Van Gogh.

“Mediocre I do not despise at all. And one does not rise above that mark by despising what is mediocre. In my opinion one must begin by at least having some respect for the mediocre and know that it already means something and that it is only reached through great difficulty.”

Whether you’ve written for decades or are just beginning, Van Gogh’s insightful wisdom can take you far in your writing life. To be able to write badly – to be able to give yourself the freedom, the authentic permission to spit out words, sentences, and ideas that fall short of your expectations is an ability that will ultimately nourish your creative spirit.

Over the many years that I’ve worked with writers, one of the most common myths they believe is this idea that “other writers” must write really great first drafts – these blessed “others” sit down and the words just flow – brilliant ideas tumble easily onto the page – everything somehow comes out ordered and whole.

Well, as we say in Brooklyn, that’s a whole lotta horse @&$!!!

The process of finding the perfect words, expressing that great idea, sculpting that magnificent paragraph is just that – a process. The bottom line is that we must be willing to initially (and maybe for a while!) write badly. We must be willing to put down on paper the mediocre stuff.  But even more importantly, as Van Gogh urges, we must be willing to honor our own tender, imperfect efforts. If we don’t, we will ultimately undermine the entire discovery process. Writing a first draft is never about being an editor; it’s never about what your audience thinks or what your mother thinks or what the publisher thinks. Writing a first draft takes enormous courage because it is about leaping in, picking up the paints, and tossing them wildly on the canvas to see what colors stick. Writing the first draft is about listening to that nagging impulse, that gut feeling. It’s about breaking rules, not following them.

Did Michelangelo start chiseling away at the marble in search of David, only to throw his hands up after a few sweaty hours to lament, “This crappy lump doesn’t look anything at all like a man’s hand! I suck as a sculptor!”  No, he worked tirelessly, draft after draft, willing to form “bad” lumps and bumps in that impossible stone, until one day something glorious emerged.

So it is with all creative processes. We must be willing to trudge through the slush of our terrible ideas, our clumsy words and awkward transitions. We must be willing to follow that goofy impulse down that dead end. We must be willing to explore that crazy idea no matter where it leads. In other words, we must be willing to give ourselves the spaciousness to write badly so we can discover what we’re looking for, even when we have no idea what that might actually be.

If we’re brave enough to honor our own mediocre attempts, here’s what Van Gogh promises:

“Your work is unbeautiful, alright let it be unbeautiful.  It will grieve you but it must not discourage you… It is the experience and hard work of every day which alone will ripen in the long run and allow one to do something truer and more complete. You will not always do well, but the days you least expect it, you will do that which holds its own with the work of those that have gone before.”

 

                                                                        ***********

Mother's chickenMarcia Zina Mager is an author, journalist, performer, award-winning poet & mixed-media artist. Her fiction and non-fiction books have been translated into ten languages. Her international best-seller, BELEIVING IN FAERIES: A Manual for Grown-ups, is now available as an e-book, along with the trendy 31 Words to Create an Organized Life. Listen to an excerpt from her latest book THE HIDDEN KINGDOM: Discovering the Divine Presence in Nature. Marcia is the founder of the original Write From The Heart, a national seminar series on creativity taught all across North America. She studied improvisation with  Academy award-winning actor, Alan Arkin which brought new energy to her writing career. This past November Marcia guest starred on Hawaii Five-O. She brings her diverse creative skills as The Write Coach to anyone with a desire to express themselves.            Find out more at www.321write.com.

 

 

How I Became a Freelance Writer

{Etsy print by LadyPoppins}
{Etsy print by LadyPoppins}

 

{by: guest blogger}

My freelance lifestyle wasn’t born out of a dream to forge my own path, pursue my innate sense of creativity at all costs or even break free from the corporate grind. Nope, my motivations weren’t as lofty as all that.

The way it really went was something like this: My husband was given a career-boosting opportunity that involved nine months of schooling in the Washington, D.C. area, with no idea where we would be moving next. We talked it over and decided together that he should take the opportunity, and before we knew it, we were on a flight from beautiful Hawaii to the Mainland and our Nation’s Capitol.

With nine months in a new city and no idea where we’d end up next, I knew I wasn’t exactly an attractive hire for local publishing companies, even with three and a half years as editor of a high-quality Hawaii magazine firmly under my belt. I also knew that taking nine months off might just be a career killer. I loved the magazine industry and didn’t want to give it up, so instead of pursuing another, more temporary line of work, I decided to go freelance. While my income level would go down, at least at the beginning, I knew it was the only way to stay in the game. Plus, I thought, if I decided to go back to full-time corporate work in nine months, I could apply again.

Up until I started freelancing, I always thought of myself as a real brick-and-mortar work type, one who thrived in an office environment, giving presentations, running meetings and performing and receiving scheduled feedback and reviews. I loved issue planning, sales seminars, client lunches and the like, and every time I visualized myself in the magazine industry ten years down the road, an office in a large city with a commute was always involved.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Today, three years later, I can’t imagine giving up my journey from the bottom to the top of the stairs (the exact distance between my kitchen and my home office) for a one-hour commute in rush-hour traffic. I’ll never trade in my jeans and T-shirts for a suit again if I can help it. Though I’ve been blessed with some pretty amazing co-workers over the years, nobody beats our two adorable hounds, George and Patty, for workplace company.

I’ve traded a higher income for lower stress and constant deadlines for creative freedom. And that’s all fine with me. But there are negative tradeoffs as well. I have to be my own financial manager, my own marketing and public relations department and social media consultant. Without my husband’s income, I have yet to work out how I’d support myself writing without taking on a second job. And I do sometimes miss the outside validation that comes from a glowing annual review or promotion.

A lot of bloggers encourage readers to dream big and take the freelance plunge in one fell swoop. Some life career coaches talk about goal setting and pursuing a life or career “with intention” as if all one has to do is dream it in order to do it.

The reality is, for many of us, freelancing is a huge leap off of a very high diving board. Some of us risk our financial heath, our relationship power dynamic or the prospect of falling behind in our chosen field. All of us risk failure. I took a calculated risk with enough water under the high dive to ensure a safe plunge. And to be honest, I might never have jumped off if I had many other options. But today, as I sit here in my comfy home office, with my pooches curled up at my feet and a day of whatever I decide ahead, I can honestly say I made the right choice.

If you’re considering going freelance, I say, more power to you! I know I’m swimming in the right pool. But only you know how high your diving board should be and how much water you need in the pool before you make a splash. So be sure to think it through. Dip a pinkie toe in the water and try one article or two on the weekends for a while if you can. Review your finances carefully. Devour books on the subjects of freelance writing and starting your own business (Check out one of my favorites here). Talk things over with your partner. Attend a few free seminars in your area, if offered, on the subject of starting your own business (I attended a lot of free and low-cost SCORE events, for example, when I was first starting out.) Basically, run through all the boring considerations you won’t find laid out in most blogs that tout creative, freelance lifestyles. There’s no one right path to freelance success, so find the process that works for you, both personally and practically. When you have it worked out, and if you decide to take the plunge like I did, then I say, come on in. The water really is so fine.

Sabra Morris profile picSabra Morris is a full-time freelance writer on topics such as home décor and remodeling, wellness, family life, pet care, ecofriendly living, solar technology, retirement living, food and farm equipment. Her work has appeared in Virginia Living magazine, Northern Virginia magazine, Southern Living, Dog Fancy and Hawaii Home + Remodeling magazine, among others. She blogs at thefreelance-life.com.

From Idea to Publication: Lauren Boyd’s Story

{flickr photo}

{by guest blogger: Lauren Boyd}

When I was growing up, I participated in a lot of extracurricular activities. However, I never truly mastered any of them.

I took gymnastics, but my lack of abdominal muscles – and my hearty appetite – kept me from advancing very far. I took tap, but when it came time to wear the high-heeled tap shoes, I didn’t want to, so I stopped taking tap. I played the piano, and was the best among my peers, but when my studies began to consume most of my time in high school, I gave up the piano.

What was my problem? Why did I give up on all these activities before I ever mastered any of
them?

I hadn’t set any goals for myself.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I heard my parents discussing that year’s Chief Junior Marshall and Valedictorian. I had never heard of those terms, so I asked my parents what they were. When they told me, I decided right then that I was going to be both. During the rest of my high school career, I did what it took academically and made sacrifices. Sure enough, I was Chief Junior Marshall my junior year and Valedictorian my senior year. What was the difference between those successes and my lack of long-term success when it came to my extracurricular activities? I’d set a goal and had the determination and desire to see it through – and it worked.

Fast-forward to the more recent past. In 2009, while reading picture books to my own children, I decided that I wanted to write a children’s book. I set a goal for myself. I wrote a manuscript at the end of that year and submitted it to literary agents. While the manuscript was on submission, I researched the publishing industry to learn as much as I could about it. I discovered that magazine publishing credits will build a writer’s resume and may help a writer get noticed by an agent or editor.

With that in mind, I requested a sample issue of Highlights for Children, the magazine I’d grown up reading, and studied it. I found a monthly feature that I felt fit my writing style, so I wrote and submitted my first piece. It was ultimately accepted, and I was offered a contract. I submitted lots of subsequent manuscripts that were rejected, and it was discouraging. However, I knew from my research that rejection is simply part of the publication process. I’d liked how it had felt to have my work accepted for publication – and I very much enjoyed the craft of writing – so I continued to submit my work to Highlights. Over the past two years, four of my submissions have been accepted by Highlights and one by Stories for Children.

It’s still my goal to have a children’s book traditionally published. In fact, at the moment, I have four picture book manuscripts on submission with publishers. I’ve also set a goal to have a book published for adults. In 2010, I wrote a novella, which is currently on submission, and I’m presently writing my first novel.

What’s my point?

If you love to do something, set a goal for yourself related to it. Don’t give up on that goal until you’ve achieved it – because it’ll be so worth it when you do.

Lauren F. Boyd has signed four contracts with Highlights for Children, one contract with Stories for Children, and two contracts with Southern Writers. You can find her on Facebook and G+, as well as @laurenfboyd on Twitter. You can reach her via email at laurenfboyd@.

 

Guest Post: How to Motivate Yourself to Finish That Book

 

{Guest post byJessica Kristie}

Each hand behind the pen is different in flow, technique, and ability. The spectrum covers a massive space and the outcome is always different. With all the many walls thrown up and doors slammed, still the greatest hurdle to overcome is often our own inability to continue. We ignore our unique voice and fall prey to the weight of the world’s negative intervention.

I have been writing for well over twenty years and it has been only the last five to seven that I have been fully dedicated, and giving the attention my pen had asked for. I have often made the choice to let stress or frustrations make huge spaces between the times that I wrote. For some this is only a hobby, but for me, it is a need. My life is much more understood, along with those around me, when I can void myself of my intense emotions. Writing helps me make sense, while bringing peace when it is welcomed the most.

Realizing the importance of penning my thoughts and dispelling my emotions has kept me going. I have found techniques for my own personal brand of inspirations and maintaining a healthy joyous life. Weaving my writing life into my reality full-time was an often difficult road, but one that was captained by the drive to share with others and that urge to write.

“What motivates each person individually is different, but there are many tools that can aide in your attempts to keep going.”

Find your purpose and hold on to that. Don’t ever allow yourself to forget why you began in the first place. When dust starts to accumulate on your one-third finished novel, come back to the basics and feel once again why you began that journey, why it was important. Not only do you need to be in touch with your unique voice, but also your unique purpose. Be honest with your intentions and your inspiration will find its way through.

Create for yourself an arsenal of motivators and activities that work for you. If something does not help, move on to the next thing. Don’t box yourself into one way, because there are many ways to maintain inspiration and keep the joy of writing alive. Writing prompts, reading, environment, and positive thinking have all played a part in my ability to push through the tough moments.

Take time to find what works for you and finish that book!

Jessica Kristie is the author of several poetry books, and the co-creator for the ArtPlatform book Inspiration Speaks Volume 1 which is now available in print and eBook through all major retailers, and benefits ColaLife.org. She is also the founder of the Woodland, CA, poetry series, Inspiring Words—Poetry in Woodland.

Dreaming in Darkness is Jessica’s first volume of poetry; the winner of the 2011 Sharp Writ Award and nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize. Jessica’s second book, Threads of Life, is available through Winter Goose Publishing along with her eBook offering to writers, Weekly Inspirations for Writers & Creators.

Jessica has been published in several online and print magazines such as Zouch, Muse, A Writer’s Point of View and TwitArt Magazine.  You can find all of Jessica’s appearances under her Press Page at JessicaKristie.com.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jessica Kristie discovered her passion for writing as a child. Her inspiration comes in many forms, often inspired by just a word or quickly fleeting emotion. Through years of writing she has been able to capitalize on her experiences, whether they are painful or joyous. She hopes to draw you close to her world through shared emotion while inspiring you to forgive, remember, and heal. Follow Jessica on Facebook and Twitter @jesskristie.

On Becoming a Writer

{via pinterest from kimberlymy.tumblr.com}

I love hearing about the journey that prompted other writers to write. Some writers believe they were born with it-a passion for writing that began as soon as they learned how to write. For others, writing came later in life. Something spurred them to get words down on paper and their career took off from then. My guest blogger this week is author Jessica McCann. She’s another writer that I’ve admired from afar and it brings me great pleasure to share where her writing story began. It’s a good one!

by: guest blogger

One Saturday morning, not long ago, I sat at the kitchen table with my HP Mini, fingers flying at the keyboard. A cup of creamy coffee and a scribbled-up notepad sat to my right, a paperback novel to my left.

“Whatcha working on?” my teenage daughter asked on her way to the fridge.

“I’m writing a review for this book I just read.”

My daughter stopped and swiveled around, a look of bewilderment on her lovely face. “Voluntarily?”

“Yep!” I said with a giggle and a nod, before taking a sip of my coffee and returning to the keys.

She knows I write for a living. All my family and friends know that. “Jessica is a freelance writer.” Yet, like most people, my daughter has only a vague comprehension of what that means. They have read only a tiny fraction of all that I have written. They believe I’m good at it and that people routinely pay me to do it. They do not understand why I love it or why I do it even when I‘m not being paid.

That’s OK. For a long time, I didn’t fully understand it either.

Throughout school, I was the kid whose heart raced with delight when the teacher announced a book report or persuasive essay, while my classmates moaned and broke out in a collective cold sweat. I didn’t necessarily dream of being “a writer,” nor did I believe I could earn a living doing it. It was just something I enjoyed. I loved putting words to paper, playing with them, moving this one here and that one there, replacing yet another with something better — like assembling a black and white jigsaw puzzle (for more about my jigsaw approach to writing, here’s another post you might enjoy).

A strange twist of fate my senior year of high school landed me in newspaper class. I needed an elective and figured it would be an easy A to boost my grade point average. It was there I stumbled upon the idea that I might be able to earn a living as a writer. (Cue the chorus and bright light from above.) That year, I landed my first freelance gig at the age of 17, writing for a hospital newsletter. I was hooked. During my 20s, though, I worried about the reality of freelancing full-time and felt compelled to seek out a “real” job. That led to salaried positions as a communications coordinator, a magazine editor and a book editor. All good jobs. But the flexibility, variety and income potential of freelancing beckoned me constantly.

After the birth of my second child, I quit my editing job to freelance full-time and I haven’t looked back since. I threw myself into building my business and my portfolio. And success smiled upon me.

Much as I enjoy writing for a living, maintaining a freelance business is grueling work that often includes a whole lot of not writing. About the time I hit my five-year anniversary of full-time freelancing, I began to question whether I was still “a writer” or simply an entrepreneur who could successfully string together words.

I swore that I would never let freelancing become my own version of the 9-to-5 grind, nor let the business of writing dampen my joy of writing.

That’s when I started dabbling with fiction, as a way to breathe new life into my work and flex my creativity in a new way. Once I realized how much I loved writing fiction, I found myself scheming for ways to work more of it into my day-to-day writing life. (And I keep scheming, especially now that I know I can actually make money writing fiction. Check out my debut historical novel, All Different Kinds of Free.)

I’m fortunate to have figured out how to be “a writer” on so many levels. Some days I’m penning an annual report for a corporate client. Other days I’m crafting scenes for my next novel. And on the occasional Saturday morning, I may even write a book review “voluntarily,” simply because I loved the book. Deep down, I guess I’ll always be that kid whose heart races with delight at putting words on the page.

 

###

Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free (Bell Bridge Books, April 2011) is her award-winning debut novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website (http://www.jessicamccann.com) and on Twitter (@JMcCannWriter).

Why You Should Consider Getting a Writing Mentor

{guest post written by: Mahesh Raj Mohan}

I’ve always liked the concept of a mentor: a sagacious master of an art, craft, or trade who passes knowledge to seekers, students, and adventurers. Bonus points if s/he is a kind person who patiently corrects rookie mistakes and helps an apprentice grow. Teachers usually fill that role for us, as well as parents and siblings, if we’re fortunate.

I’ve been taught by many wise mentors throughout my life. But more importantly, I’ve learned to face several challenges on my own. Getting to a place of self-reliance can be difficult. But I believe that stretching beyond a mentor’s teachings is just as important as finding a mentor.

Writers just starting out (or still in school) can benefit from a mentor. For instance, writers often learn about form, composition, style, and how to tell a story.

Then there comes a time when you have to move beyond a mentor’s advice. For example, it used to be comfortable for me to perform writing and research tasks exactly as I was taught.

After awhile, I wrote faster and more efficiently using some techniques I’d learned on my own. It was also a huge confidence boost.

Trusting our instincts or critical reasoning can be very uncomfortable. We’re usually scared of making mistakes. But even the wisest among us became wise because they made lots of mistakes!

Mentors also have their own biases, so a mentor’s choices or solutions are not always right (or right for you). This also goes for me. I’ve been a mentor to several writers or editors, and I certainly have my own preferences and biases. (Yay, Oxford comma!) But watching former mentees flourish professionally has been tremendously rewarding. And I’ve learned a few things
from them.

As writers or freelance professionals, the most important thing we can do is to think for ourselves. Mentors can guide us on our journeys, but it’s up to us to plot the course.

What about you? Have you had many mentors in your life? Or are you self-taught?

Mahesh Raj Mohan is a freelance writer/editor based near Portland, Oregon. His reviews have been published by Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper The Oregonian and Hugo-nominated website Strange Horizons. His screenplay, “Indian Errand Day” is a 2011 Kay Snow Award Winner.

What’s Going On Outside of This Blog

{via pinterest}

Ever feel blogged out? Or that your world is filled with headlines and blog ideas?

I sometimes get so zoomed into social media that when I zoom out to real life,  my head spins. (Not the exorcist kind, the vertigo kind)

So to take us all beyond this blog, I’m doing a short post to a few things outside the box:

1. Bit o’ holiday inspiration.

You probably know that I write an online column for The Writer called, “Inspiration Zone.” Well this month I was fortunate enough to interview author and writing coach Rochelle Melander. She’s got great tips on how to make time to write and enjoy the holidays. And she should know. She basically wrote a book on it from participating successfully in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

2. Bit o’ Creative Inspiration.

I was in love with Jill Badonsky’s book The Nine Modern Day Muses. And fell even harder for her blog and email newsletters. They crack me up! Talk about getting out of your box. Instead of boring links taking you to predictable sites, she embeds things like hilarious photos and meaningful and creative quotes to mix things up and keep things on your toes. It’s a fun way to recharge your engines, take a writing break and refuel.

3. Bit o’ Meaning Please.

I just added this one because I’m over on my writer pal Cathy Miller’s blog today writing about meaning in your life. How do you get it when your days are swamped with work, kids, bills, the musts in your day-to-day living? Try reading this.

Anything that you’d like to share in our outside your blog? Please do. I’m always interested in adding to my list of creative and inspiring resources.

From Corporate to Freelance Business Writer in Just 30 Years

{found on Pinterest, but originally from Etsy.com}

 

{by guest blogger Cathy Miller}

I cherished my sister’s Nancy Drew books.

Like so many things in a family of seven children, the books I loved were hand-me-downs. Okay, to be honest, they were never mine. But, I read them from cover to cover and back again.

I think it was then I realized I wanted to write. To say there were a few twists in my journey is putting it mildly.

Doomed From the Womb

I am the middle child of those seven, and the first born under insurance.

Little did I know that sealed my fate. I like to say I was doomed from the womb to be in insurance. And that’s what I did – for over 30 years.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being in insurance. I made a very good living at it and it helped finance my new business.

Practically Speaking

I have two sides – a practical side and a creative side. I like to blame that on my parents. Hey, don’t we blame everything on them? My Dad was the hard-working, support-your-family type of man. My Mom is more of the dreamer, anything’s possible person.

My practical side took over at an early age.

  • I worked the first year out of high school – I didn’t have any idea what direction I wanted to go, and unlike what was the norm, I did not see the point in going to college with no direction
  • I researched fields for a good career choice – that is how I ended up in dental hygiene school (yes, cleaning teeth) – being even more practical, I enrolled in the two-year course so I could start working sooner
  • I switched careers when thrown a curve – I always said I felt I put my brain in mothballs after the hygiene program – when I was laid off because the dentist did not want to pay for my benefits that came with one year of employment, I took that hygiene background and moved into health claims

For the next thirty-four years, I worked for insurance companies, then major consulting and brokerage firms. You name it, I did it – claims, customer service, provider relations, account management, consulting.

But, I had an itch that I barely scratched.

The Words Inside

I have been writing as long as I can remember – even in the insurance/employee benefits industry.

When I worked for insurance companies, I wrote:

  • Training manuals
  • Provider marketing brochures
  • Sales and provider newsletters

When I moved into consulting and brokerage work, I wrote reports and eventually moved into managing communications for sales and client services.

While my creative side snuck into my practical side’s world, I wanted more.

Breaking the Silence

We all have dreams. Mine was to write – whenever and wherever I could. My practical side allowed the creative side in, but largely silenced the dream.

Like any good writer with a flair for drama, my exit from Corporate America involved hitting my breaking point and quitting on the spot. Fortunately, my practical side (and a very understanding boss) had me apologizing for the emotions, but not the outcome.

We worked out a transition until I was officially a freelance business writer – with my former employer as my first client.

So, here I am in a marriage of the practical and creative. Of course, that cannot be the end of the journey. Surprise, surprise, I dream of writing fiction. My freelance business writing is helping me move down that path. Hopefully, it won’t take another 30 years to achieve it.

Regrets? Not really. My mantra is everything happens for a reason. I would not be the person – or the writer – I am without my life’s experiences. I close my personal blog posts with a favorite expression:

Live…Laugh…Love

It’s all about the journey.

======================

Cathy Miller is a freelance business writer with over 30 years of professional writing experience from small businesses to Fortune 500 customers. Cathy started her own business in 2008, providing all forms of online and print business writing. Cathy has a business writing blog at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal bog, millercathy: A Baby Boomer’s Second Life.

Never the Same Journey Twice: On Writing Books & Starting Over

{She’s one of the first people I connected with via social media and one of the kindest. Since then, Natalia has continually impressed me with her talent, wit and her ability to draw people together. I was so honored when she agreed to write something for my lil’ blog on her journey as an author. Read what she’s learned in the process of writing her first book and how she’s using that knowledge to make her next book that much better.}

photo via pinterest. originally from here.

by guest blogger: Natalia Sylvester

The hardest thing is to keep starting over. Each book starts with a blank page. Each scene starts with a new idea. Each chapter starts with a new direction. When I finished book 1 and moved on to book 2, I thought this process would get a little easier. But experience can be a double-edged sword.

An Easy Start

I began writing my first novel a little over four years ago, back when I had just started freelancing full-time. Too naïve to realize how difficult the process was supposed to be, I wrote every day, letting the words just flow out of me. To be honest, writing that first draft was easy. I was so proud of it I even printed out a copy, took it to Kinko’s and had it bound for easier editing. I took a few weeks off to put some distance between me and the words, then dove back in for revisions.

This is where the work really started. The draft was terrible. It was clear I’d need a complete rewrite. Over the next three and a half years I rewrote the book probably three or four times. Out of the 90k words now in the final version, I think only two thousand are from the original draft.

I changed the book’s point of view, then changed its setting. I killed off characters, then brought them back to life. I created entirely new characters, only to realize that one of them was the true protagonist. The deeper I got into the process of writing this book, the more I realized I’d have to start over once again.

Let’s Do This Again, Shall We?

It sounds like a lot of work, but I realize now that all that rewriting was simply what it took to get to the book I wanted to write. Now that the book is in the hands of my agent, I’m focusing on writing a new one. After several weeks of research and outlining, I finally sat down in front of the first blank page about a month ago.

And guess what? I’d forgotten how hard it was.

Maybe I’d imagined that since I’d done this once before, this time around it’d be easier. But here’s the great paradox: sometimes knowledge and experience as a writer will help you, and sometimes it will hinder you. It’s your job to use the good stuff and lose the bad.

This time around, I didn’t have the same fearlessness I had with my first book. You know that fearlessness: it comes from not knowing what challenges lie ahead. Four years ago, I didn’t know how many drafts I’d end up writing, how many scenes my critique partners would suggest I cut out entirely, how many agents would end up rejecting it before saying yes. I surrendered myself completely to the unknown.

I also didn’t have an audience at the time. Twitter was just a startup only techies used and blogging was something I didn’t think I had time for. As I write this new book, I do so knowing that there are people I’ve never even met who are rooting for it—it’s encouraging but also daunting. It makes me fear that I might let them down.

Overcoming the Challenges of Knowing

One of the members of my writer’s group once said: You can’t unlearn what you know. And even if you could, would it be worth it?

Now, every day I go back to my new WIP, I push away the knowledge that scares me and hold on to the pieces that help. The things I learned about plot and character development from those countless rewrites far outweigh the fear of having to toss several thousand words in the trash.

The feedback I got from agents when I first started querying are tips I keep in mind as my new story slowly takes shape. And as distracting as Twitter and blogging can be, I wouldn’t know most of what I’ve learned about publishing if it wasn’t for this supportive community of writers we’ve built.

Writing my first book was a blissfully innocent experience. Writing my second book will be a much more informed process. It might not be as exciting or romantic, but it’ll be true and stimulating in its own way.

The book after that? Who knows. I’m starting to think that’s the whole point.

Bio: Natalia Sylvester is a fiction writer represented by Foundry Literary + Media. Her articles have appeared in publications such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Latina magazine. A proud English major, she studied creative writing at University of Miami. After graduating in 2006, she worked briefly as the managing editor of a start-up magazine before deciding to freelance full-time. Natalia has since worked with several editing clients on their novels, non-fiction book proposals, short stories and feature articles to help them improve their craft and move closer to publication. Visit her online at www.nataliasylvester.com.