Monday, September 30, 2013

Why I Write

Writing is something I stumbled into. Literally. (No pun intended!)

Back in high school (seems sooooo long ago), I was blessed with some very good English teachers. Back then, English and writing went hand-in-hand. At the time, I didn't realized the blessing being bestowed upon me and my fellow classmates. Actually, it felt more like torture was being bestowed upon us. Who in their right minds, I wondered, would ever know how to diagram a sentence or conjugate a verb?

Armed with a decent working knowledge of the English language, I went to college to learn enough to go into broadcasting. Radio and TV were where it was at for me, so I majored in Radio-TV-Film. That course of study required more English, as well as Journalism. It was there I learned the importance of stories. Everyone has a story. People like to hear true stories told well. I started writing them. 

My career path led me to advertising, first writing and producing commercials for television, then branching out into print media, writing ads for newspaper, magazines and billboards. Radio ads followed--a challenge, because there were no visuals. "Theater of the mind." I had to write advertising copy that created an image in the listeners' mind, while establishing a need, solution, and call to action. 

My next forays into writing came at Northpark Mall, where I wrote press releases, memos and letters to merchants, corporate communications and more for about ten years. After I left Northpark in 2001, I put out "feelers," trying to see what could be next on my career path. It was then that Annie Oeth ask1 me if I'd like to do some freelance writing for the Madison County Herald. I've been writing for the Herald since 2002. I've probably written over 1000 articles for the Madison County Herald, Northeast Ledger, Rankin Ledger and Clarion-Ledger. I have written regular articles for several other publications, including The Mississippi Business Journal, Portico Jackson, VIP Jackson, Delta Business Journal, Delta Magazine, Our South, eat.drink.mississippi, and many more. 

I love what I do, because it's always new and exciting. I meet new people, learn new things and experience things I may not have unless I was assigned to write about them. My hope is that those who read my articles will be as interested in the stories as I am, and that they'll want to go out and experience things they may not have otherwise. 

So, while I didn't set out to become a freelance writer, I slowly realized that I could build a career around it, and I started to dream of how that career would look. 

So, why do I write? Here's my homage to David Letterman! 

Top Ten Reasons I Write: 
10. It's a fun way to earn a living.
9.   I get to meet new people.
8.   I get to learn new things.
7.   I secretly like to see my name in print.
6.   I have some great tax write-offs.
5.   I can work from home.
4.   I can work from anywhere!
3.   I can work in my pajamas.
2.   I can work any time I want.
1.   I like it when a story comes together and I get to see it "come alive" in print, with photos.

So, thank you, high school English teachers, for being such hard asses. I hated you then, but now, many years later, I realize the gift you gave me, and I appreciate it.

Shine! Be brilliant!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bidness and Bottle Trees

I love writing business stories. For years, I wrote stories for the Mississippi Business Journal under an assumed name. A nom de plume if you will. Long story short: I wrote for a local newspaper as a freelance writer -- I was NOT an employee -- but they didn't want me writing for anyone else. Really? No worries! I
 just used a different name. I don't have much of an ego...put my real name on the check, and you can call me anything you want in print. (OK, not all of the time...see a blog I wrote on bylines:

I really love learning people's stories, and writing business stories gives me the added dimension of finding out not only personal stories, but stories about how people started, built and succeeded in their respective businesses. I find it fascinating. I suppose I have an entrepreneurial spirit, but I lacked the confidence/courage to step out there and just do it. But writing about others has shown me that anyone can be successful in business...with the right amount of knowledge, passion and a good idea. 

One of those people is Stephanie Dwyar. 

She makes a living welding pieces of metal, turning them almost magically into works of art. Some are functional works of art, like gates and light fixtures and such. Others are more aesthetic, like the graceful, twisting Katrina trees--a modern-day bottle tree. 

I wrote about the popularity--and business--of bottle trees in an article for the Delta Business JournalYou can read it here.

Stephanie is part of Mississippi's Creative Economy. She's doing something she is passionate about and making a living loving what she's doing. What she does has a ripple effect...she purchases metal, welding equipment and such and then she wholesales some of her work to merchants who sell it at a profit. And think of all those bottles...someone had to buy them and consume the contents! 

If you could start a business, and do anything you wanted, what would you do? I hope it's something really groovy, and I hope it's successful, and I hope that one day, I'll get to use what I'm passionate about -- writing -- and write about your business for a newspaper, magazine or business journal! 

Shine! Be brilliant!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This Ol' Dog Loves Learning New Tricks

You learn something new every day....
I believe that to be true!

You can't teach an old dog new tricks...
Hey....I take offense to that!

I just spent two days in a training session at Holmes Community College. It was a course on "training the trainer," aka "how to teach adult learners." It came just in time, as I'm about to teach a course in business writing to a group of electrical engineers.

Back when I was in school, there were classes I was required to take, but hated, because I believed I'd never use them. Like Spanish. (I married a Venezuelan!) And Algebra. (OK, haven't found a use for that one yet.) Thankfully, I didn't feel that way about creative writing. I liked it then, and I like it now. And lucky for me, it's how I make my living.

When my son, a student at Millsaps, stresses over writing a paper, I tell him that most of the articles I write for newspapers and magazines are no different from what he is doing. I have to do research, gather facts, and write them in a cohesive manner so that they make sense to the reader. The key is to always have the reader in mind. I've told him about Anne Lamott's book,"Bird by Bird."    If you're not familiar with it, read about it here. You just have to start, and tackle whatever your project may be, one step at a time.

As I sat in the classroom the past couple of days, I thought back to my days in college, when most of my thoughts centered on when I'd finally get out of class. How I wish I could have a "do over," and really absorb the knowledge that was being poured over me.

The truth is, I've passed the double-nickle mark, officially putting me in my late fifties, or "old dog" status. And I've learned that this old dog loves to learn new tricks. (I often follow learning anything new with saying "God, how I wish I had known this 30 years ago!") And I look forward to teaching other old dogs some of my time-worn tricks on how to write a more effective letter, email or memo.

There's nothing new under the sun...
Unless you've never heard it before!

Shine! Be brilliant today!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Art Imitates Life

I never lived in the Mississippi Delta. I never really visited there as a child. It was when I was a student at Mississippi State University back in the mid-70's that I first met people from the Delta. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but they were different from the kids I grew up with in Jackson.

The Delta kids were much more independent. They knew how to work hard, and they knew how to play hard. They kind of scared me.

As the years have gone by, I've befriended many a person who grew up in the Delta. Folks from Yazoo City, Greenwood, Greenville, Clarksdale, Itta Bena, Indianola and Cleveland. I've been in their homes through the years, and one common denominator with all of them is that they always have copies of Delta Magazine laying around.

I started reading Delta a few years back. I picked one up on a visit to the Shack Up Inn and I've been reading it ever since. The articles are great--smart, informative, interesting and entertaining. I already had a good feel of the Delta through the people I've gotten to know who are from the area, but it was the pages of Delta Magazine that I learned more about what the Delta is all about.

A couple of years ago, I contacted Melissa Townsend, the Editor-in-Chief of Delta Magazine. I already wrote for the The Delta Business Journal, another publication in the Coopwood Magazines, Inc. umbrella. I told Melissa I loved the magazine and I'd really love to write for her. She gave me an assignment, and I've been writing ever since!

Melissa tends to give me assignments about Delta artists, which is great, because they are usually the most interesting people to write about, and I am a big lover of art. One of my favorite articles I've written for Delta Magazine was about several up-and-coming Delta artists. Entitled "Young at Art," it ran last November.

This month's issue is a favorite. I love fall, and this one just exudes all that is wonderful about the season.

In this issue, I have an article about Earl Robinson, who, with no art training, paints spectacular real life scenes from his memories of growing up in the Delta. 

I loved interviewing Earl, and getting to know his story. His art truly imitates his life. Whether you're from the Delta or not, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Delta Magazine and read about Earl, and all the other wonderful articles the magazine offers this month. 

Happy fall, y'all!